It’s been a surprisingly productive week for the Alaska Legislature, but that won’t take the wind out of our weekly trip down the iced-over, unplowed and unsubstantiated streets of Alaska’s political rumors and gossip.
It’s day 39 of the 90-day session.
This week, the Senate State Affairs Committee took up a handful of measures that would update the Legislature’s conflict of interest rules. They are generally pretty simple measures–a change proposed by Sen. Berta Gardner would require the legislative record take note of whoever objects to a legislator’s motion to be excused from voting over a conflict of interest. That measure in particular even seemed to have some support from Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, who admitted the Legislature has been “sloppy” with conflict of interest votes.
What caught interest of observers was the insistence by Sens. Cathy Giessel and Kevin Meyer that the measures were simply not needed. It’s not missed on anyone that both Giessel and Meyer are pro-oil Republicans who still fume at suggestions that Meyer and Sen. Peter Micciche shouldn’t have voted on the 2013 oil tax bill Senate Bill 21 because they were employed by oil and gas companies. (Micciche, for his part, has actually co-sponsored Gardner’s proposed change and for the record, they both declared potential conflicts of interest that were, in this blogger’s recollection, were objected to by Sen. Pete Kelly).
“In the 18 years I’ve been here, I don’t know what that issue has ever come up when someone has a true conflict of interest and shouldn’t vote,” Meyer said, later adding. “I’m not sure this is really necessary.”
When Rep. Jason Grenn presented his conflict of interest bill–some parts of which are mirrored in a voter initiative that’s backed in part by Midnight Sun publisher Jim Lottsfeldt–Giessel responded with a lecture about democracy.
I’ve been miserably under the weather this week, but the headline would have been “Pro-oil Senate Republicans bristle at proposals to update Legislature’s conflict of interest rules.”
The week started out with what looked like a promising end to the debacle that has been Senate District E appointment process. Gov. Bill Walker appointed the GOP-approved Mike “Dozer” Shower, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, to fill the seat. But, alas, things were not meant to be.
Before long, it became clear that whether through error on the part of the state, Shower or the Republican Party that Shower was not, in fact, a registered Republican. Oops. Still, it gave time for people to begin to voice their concerns with Shower’s very conservative, Rep. David Eastman-esque politics and urge Senators to reject the appointment (they didn’t). One line we saw raised often was the involvement of Eastman’s wife, Jennifer Eastman, had in singing people in during the meeting and checking their registration.
Regardless, Shower’s now a Republican and Senate District E finally has representation. It only nearly took half the session.
Vexed by vetting
The Alaska Republican Party hasn’t been the only group with questionable vetting procedures. The Alaska Democratic Party and Gov. Bill Walker have also made errors, too. It’s time to take stock in the latest headaches in vetting candidates:
- The Alaska Republican Party is facing questions over its endorsement of Rebecca Logan for Anchorage mayor. Thanks to excellent reporting by KTVA’s Liz Raines, Logan’s past legal troubles including a DUI arrest, financial troubles and a particularly problematic issue dealing with the garnishment of her own wages came to light this week. It’s a headache that neither Logan nor the party would like at a time when Logan trails Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s in fundraising by a wide margin heading into the April 3 election.
- There’s the Alaska Republican Party’s nomination of Tom Braund to fill Senate District E. He’s the guy with all sorts of easily discovered social media posts on abortion, women and immigrants. GOP head Tuckerman Babcock said he was “shocked” that Walker picked a candidate who was approved by local Republicans after comparing the governor to a dictator for refusing to do so earlier.
- There’s Walker’s maverick-or-muttonhead appointment of Braund in the first place. Walker’s faced scrutiny over the decision to appoint Braund at all, with questions focusing on the governor’s vetting process. The announcement of the appointment of Shower included this little disclosure: “The Governor and the Administration were not aware of Mr. Braund’s controversial social media posts which would have disqualified him from consideration.” Whoops.
- There’s the Alaska Democratic Party‘s backing of now-former Reps. Zach Fansler and Dean Westlake. There’s also Politico Magazine’s fawning profile of the work to turn Alaska purple, which outlines the efforts to recruit Fansler (which said Fansler “has the good-guy air of the frat bro you trust to protect you from other frat bros” and was published the day before Fansler allegedly assaulted a woman), to run for office. Both Fansler and Westlake faced questions over their behavior prior to the election, but those questions were either overlooked or ignored in 2016.
- In replacing Westlake, local Democrats put forward a new slate of similarly problematic candidates.
Across the board, everyone seems to have fallen on their face when it comes to vetting the candidates they back for public office. There are already serious discussions going on in reviewing and improving the process, but
Perhaps everyone should look to Ben Anderson-Agimuk, the former legislative aide who helped oversee the replacement process for House District 38. Local Democrats were able to put together an impressive list of candidates with the newly confirmed Tiffany Zulkosky getting the pick from Walker and House Democrats.
The Alaska Democratic Party’s leading defenders of the dividend and leading prospects for Democratic gubernatorial candidates, former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich and Alaska Sen. Bill Wielechowski, were reportedly seen having coffee last Saturday at the Kaladi Brothers down on Muldoon. In addition to Wielechowski’s PFD lawsuit and Begich’s recent editorial calling for PFD to be added to the constitution (though at a reduced rate with money going to K-12 funding), the pair seem to certainly be building a election-focused platform.
Still, with fundraising already well underway the door’s starting to close on big entries into the race.
GOP PFD plans
There was an interesting line in last week’s House Majority Coalition press conference when House Finance Committee co-chair Rep. Paul Seaton accused some unnamed members of the Senate majority of planning to continue to cut the dividend down to zero before being forced to implement some sort of income tax. The Senate doesn’t seem to have taken that line publicly–simply suggesting that taxes aren’t needed according to current budget projections–but we did hear this interesting line from Rep. Chris Birch at this week’s House minority Republican press availability.
“There is very little interest in seeing an income tax to sustain or perpetuate a dividend.”
House increases spending
This week, the House has been a flurry of action as House Finance subcommittees close out their individual work on different department budgets. There’s a lot of increases to be found across the board with the biggest going to the University of Alaska. Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks, put forward the amendment to increase University of Alaska funding by $19 million during the close out on Thursday night and it was approved. Turns out that legislators were listening to UA President Jim Johnsen‘s state of the university address earlier in the week calling for the Legislature to reverse its “divestment” in the university to be reversed.
Up in the rankings
Alaska’s race for governor has climbed in Politico’s ranking of the top 10 governor’s races of 2018, going from the 7th most important race to the fifth. The article takes note of Walker’s lowly approval rating, a field of Republican challengers and Begich’s teases of entering the race.
This week 24 legislators joined together to call on Gov. Bill Walker to issue an order defending net neutrality in the face of the Trump administration’s to roll back protections for internet users. The letter, signed by members of the House Majority Coalition and Senate Democrats, urges the governor to sign an executive order prohibiting state agencies from entering into contracts with internet service providers that don’t support net neutrality. GCI pledged in the immediate aftermath of the rules repealing net neutrality to stand up for a free and open internet.
Gov. Bill Walker’s deputy press secretary Jonathon Taylor is leaving the office to take over as the communications director for the Department of Public Safety in Anchorage. Taylor filled in admirably as the governor’s lead spokesman before the hiring of Austin Baird as spokesman. Best of luck in the new gig.
Former Anchorage Daily News reporter and now-former KTUU investigative reporter Kyle Hopkins is back at the Anchorage Daily News this week as special projects editor. Hopkins has always done a fantastic job wherever he’s worked, and we look forward to his next project.
Well, Midnight Sun Publisher Jim Lottsfeldt beat me to the punch in calling out the phony Maria Cantwell fundraiser touted by Must Read Alaska with yesterday’s editorial Fake News from Suzanne Downing. But, hey, at least the
Alaska Republican Party site offered this correction of sorts.