Speculating on rumors and gossip surrounding Alaska politics is a time-honored tradition best done with a heaping helping of salt. It’s time for our weekly trip through the grand, gross, weird, wild and wonderful world of Alaska politics. (Also if you feel like you have something good, you can always shoot me a tip via email at matt at midnightsunak dot com.)
A “ticking time bomb”
Juneau is once again grappling with allegations of reprehensible behavior on the part of freshman Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla. This time his behavior during an interaction with a staffer during the tail end of the session is now prompting the Legislature to reconsider its sexual harassment policies.
Just a short four months later.
Out of deference to the victim, we’re not keen on republishing the details of the altercation in this post. Juneau Empire’s James Brooks has a detailed account of the incident that includes his own first-hand observations and a clear explanation of the staffer’s desire for privacy at this time, which also serves as an explanation as to why the event went unreported for so long.
What is clear is Wilson’s behavior in Juneau is troubling–the alleged slap of a reporter and this incident just happen to be the best-sourced of the examples we’ve heard–and the handling of the latest allegations should raise serious concerns about the Senate.
From what we’ve come to understand is efforts to get to the bottom of the incident by the House were thwarted or at least threatened to be thwarted by leadership in the Senate. There is in fact video surveillance footage of the altercation, but attempts by House leadership to access it through the Legislative Council for review immediately after the event were allegedly stymied with a promise of action.
That action never materialized, but then came former Republican Senate candidate turned gossip blogger Jeff Landfield who published an account that surfaced the incident.
Sources say fed-up members of the House–who are unable to discipline a member of the Senate themselves–decided to take action to establish a clear reporting structure for sexual harassment and other threatening behavior. They hoped to establish a joint policy with the Senate, but instead the Senate members of leadership rushed into action so as to seem like they were taking the lead.
Senate President Pete Kelly, in a briefing with reporters, said a letter asking for legal advice on improving the harassment policies and Wilson’s alleged actions aren’t “necessarily directly related.”
The first-take of Kelly’s handling of the situation rings hollow to many of the people who’re familiar with what’s occurred over the past four months. From the reluctance to review the surveillance tape and the lack of discipline to the dismissal of a connection, there’s growing speculation about the Senate’s priorities.
“It’s like we’ve got this ticking time bomb that the Senate seems hell-bent on protecting,” one legislator said.
Though the window is fast closing on taking up revenue during this special session, the House and Senate have at least held a few hearings on Gov. Bill Walker‘s proposed wages tax, which is decidedly balanced toward the middle- and low-income Alaskans because its cap comes into play at higher incomes.
Tax Division Director Ken Alper has been fielding question after question about why the tax bill is structured the way it is. He’s been polite about it, but his message has been clear: the Senate simply won’t accept a progressive tax bill like the one already passed by the House earlier this year.
At this point, he said, it’s more important the Legislature do something to address the fiscal crisis.
There’s been a lot of behind-the-scenes debate about just what to do with the amendment that set the penalties for first-time class C and class B felonies to the same sentencing range, creating a constitutional problem that could invalidate that key part of the bill.
There’s been talk about just passing the bill, reducing the class C sentencing range or just increasing the class B felony range. It’s still unclear just what direction the Senate will go on this, but suffice it to say that the continued distraction of the crime bill is a welcome sight to many legislators who’d rather sidestep the whole issue of revenue anyways.
After all, the sky isn’t falling.
With an ‘if’
Both Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan said Republican senate candidate Roy Moore should step aside IF the allegations he preyed on underage women are true. Murkowski, of write-in winner fame, has since urged Republican primary runner-up Luther Strange enter the race as a write-in.
It’s an issue that rankled Joe Miller, of losing to a write-in fame, who took to Facebook to say Alaska is “one of the worst states in the union for vote integrity.”
A new job
Former UA President Mark Hamilton, a retired major general of the US Army, has been hired to serve as the executive vice president of External Affairs for the company developing Pebble Mine, which has been on a hiring spree.
And then there were two
The race between Sen. Pete Kelly and Rep. Scott Kawasaki has been shaping up to be a hard-fought battle, but the outlook of the race was complicated by the looming possibility that independent challenger PJ Simon would enter the race, which could come down to a point or two.
The latest news is that Simon has decided not to run for Senate.
He is instead considering a run for Kawasaki’s vacated House seat, which also already has established candidates in Kathryn Dodge, a Fairbanks Borough assemblywoman and a Democrat, and Bart LeBon, the recently retired executive vice president of Mt. McKinley bank and a Republican. It’ll be interesting.
Following the filings
The big news this week is the filing by Juneau Deputy Mayor Jerry Nankervis, a Republican, to run for Juneau’s valley seat, which is currently held by Democratic Rep. Justin Parish. Nankervis is a retired Juneau Police Department Captain who’s been on the Juneau Assembly since 2012 and held the seat of deputy mayor since 2016.