It’s already that time of week when we head down the icy, snowy, car crash-filled alleyways of the Alaska political world for our weekly roundup of rumors and gossip.
As always, take everything with a grain of salt and send your comments, questions, tips and hate mail to [email protected] (and thanks to the unnamed heroes who’ve reached out over the past few weeks, I appreciate it).
Can’t do anything without Anchorage
Action in the Legislature slowed to a crawl on Thursday and Friday as Anchorage legislators departed for a weekend the Anchorage Caucus meeting this Saturday at UAA’s Rasmuson Hall between 2 and 4 p.m. Plenty of other legislators are also taking the opportunity to get out of town. Anchorage residents will also face a tough time conflict during the area’s public testimony slot on the operating budget.
Anchorage residents face a difficult choice on Saturday — testify to the legislature on what Alaska should do about its budget OR cheer on the start of the Iditarod: https://t.co/YayX5QghMu
— Elizabeth Harball (@ElizHarball) March 2, 2018
Speaking of Anchorage, there’s a mayoral race going on. Even though for some bizarre reason, the only Anchorage outlets to have delved into the criminal and legal history of mayoral candidate Rebecca Logan are KTVA (which broke the story) and Alaska Public Media (which just had a simple rewrite of the claims), it sounds like other politicians have at least caught on.
Despite her “grace under pressure” handling of the allegations, we’ve heard that at least one Republican Senator won’t host a fundraiser for the GOP-backed mayoral candidate. Not great news when Mayor Ethan Berkowitz has double the fundraising of his opponent. The election is a month away.
Anti-Prop 1 ad campaign underway
Fair Anchorage announced its first television and radio ads this week opposing the Prop 1, the anti-transgender bathroom bill.
It’s all about Anchorage, apparently
Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott will also be up in Anchorage this weekend. They’ll be hosting a fundraiser together tonight timed alongside the start of the Iditarod. The fundraiser touts an appearance by band Hobo Jim, photos with some unnamed mushers and dog sled rides. It’s set for between 5 p.m. at 1433 W. 9th Ave. and is hosted by Robert Gottstein.
The Legislature reached the halfway point of the 90-day legislative session this week. With 45 days in the bag, legislators have sent a grand total of three bills to the governor’s desk (they’re not actually sent to his desk quite yet because bills are held onto for signing purposes later in the year, but these are the bills that have passed both bodies and are awaiting transmission to the governor). Here’s the bills:
- House Bill 186 by Rep. Talerico making it easier for grocery stores and restaurants to donate food.
- House Bill 195 by Gov. Walker making it easier for insurance companies to factor in a person’s credit score when setting premiums. This is a retread of a bill Walker vetoed last session over concerns it didn’t adequately protect consumers. Those concerns are still there.
- Senate Bill 6 by Sen. Shelley Hughes clearing the way for the farming of industrial hemp.
Not the only ones
Up in Fairbanks, Reps. Adam Wool and Scott Kawasaki will be hosting a town hall of their own. Expect Wool to be taking a victory lap over the additional $19 million in University of Alaska funding he and Rep. David Guttenberg secured during the subcommittee process.
A new challenger
We haven’t been keeping super close track to filings in the last few months, but Rep. David Guttenberg has a new challenger as a few weeks ago in Republican Jim Sackett. Sackett’s running on an regulatory restraint platform, which might be the only thing close to a convincing platform in the heavily Democratic, heavily off-the-grid House District 4.
25 percent tariff
President Donald Trump’s tantrum that led to a 25 percent tariff on foreign steel won’t mean anything good for the hopes to build the Alaska natural gas pipeline. Then again, early in his term he also put a ban on pipelines being made with anything but American steel, which would be tough for AKLNG because there’s no plants in the U.S. currently capable of making 800 miles of 42-inch pipe.
‘You have to let emotions settle’
The House Minority Republicans sure had an interesting time trying to answer questions about gun violence and House Bill 75 during Thursday’s news conference. Legislators seemed to offer stiff opposition to House Bill 75, which would allow immediate family and law enforcement to petition a judge to temporarily take away someone’s guns if they’re at immediate risk of harming themselves or others, without seeming to have read the bill or listened to the hearing.
Rep. Lance Pruitt said multiple times that the best thing to do right now is “let emotions settle” before launching into an unrequested defense of the NRA.
“When the right time comes, we can sit down breath and have a good, intelligent conversation,” he said. “Maybe we can come up with something.”
The particularly good point of the news conference came after Pruitt brought the focus onto mental health, missed warning signs and bad actors. One reporter said “It sounds like you support House Bill 75.”
Senate President, the bill runner
Senate President Pete Kelly‘s decision to carry a bunch of bills is raising eyebrows in the capitol. Ahead of the personal bill filing deadline, Kelly introduced work requirements for Medicaid, a bill studying long-term contraception on fighting birth defects (which is admittedly one of his long-running policy interests following up on a resolution passed a few years ago that as much a people liked to lambaste, actually did good work), another allowing people to use the Dalton Highway corridor to access other lands with off-road vehicles and one creating a defined benefit retirement system police officers and firefighters (correction from earlier). What’s interesting about the last bill is that from what we’ve heard is even though people appreciate and support the bill, no one was really pushing for it ahead of this session and that it appeared was a surprise to many.
Department of Interior Assistant Secretary Joe Balash, a familiar name in the Alaska political world, is expected to be up in Alaska on official business next week along with other Interior officials. They’ll be making stops in Anchorage and then Fairbanks.
Slow public testimony
Public testimony on the House version of the operating budget was surprisingly slow on Thursday, even accounting for a burst pipe in one of the legislative information offices. There was testimony in support of the University of Alaska, public defenders and other social programs. We might have missed it, but we didn’t hear anyone ask for the government to be “right-sized.”
The state’s marijuana tax revenue broke $1 million for the first time since the tax was instituted in January receipts. Don’t count on it making much of a dent in the budget if at all once the session is over. Currently, half of the money already goes to drug treatment and prevention and legislators are currently looking at allocating the other half to a youth education and awareness program.
We’ve heard talk making the rounds about a certain lobbyist making certain lobbying efforts for a certain Department of Corrections program even though he or she certainly doesn’t have a lobbying contract for that certain interest.
You could be forgiven if you’ve forgot the feud between Rep. Tammie Wilson and Rules chair Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux over Wilson’s refusal to attend sexual harassment awareness training. Wilson was sitting out to demand a third-party investigation into the House Majority Coalition’s handling of allegations against now-former Rep. Dean Westlake while LeDoux threatened to take away Wilson’s staff.
We reported that this all came to a head a few weeks ago (back in the Feb. 9 edition of Friday in the Sun), but Wilson addressed it at this week’s House Minority Republican news conference, saying they agreed on a third-party help for the Legislature’s crafting of an updated sexual harassment policy.
Longtime legislator-turned-labor guy Tom Brice is retiring.
— Scott Kawasaki (@alaskascott) February 26, 2018
It’s becoming increasingly clear that Rep. Sam Kito has a foot out the door. He was a no-show at a few hearings this week, there are more and more people looking at his seat and, besides, look at that beard.
Republicans have said hell no to any new taxes, but the part they’ve been far less willing to talk about is it means deep cuts and a deeper draw on the permanent fund, which means deeper cuts to the dividend. We’ve seen this position begin to play out in policy plays over the last few weeks, so here’s an opportunity to collect them all in one place:
- Senate Majority votes down Sen. Bill Wielechowski‘s effort to advance a proposed constitutional amendment guaranteeing the dividend closer to the ballot. Caucus-less Sen. Shelley Hughes, who like Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Dunleavy departed the majority to fight for the dividend, voted with Wielechowski.
- Minority Republicans oppose the House Majority Coalition’s efforts to shrink the draw on the Permanent Fund earnings reserve, which would boost dividends by $54, calling the move an effort to get an income tax.
- Last week, Rep. Chris Birch said “There is very little interest in seeing an income tax to sustain or perpetuate a dividend.”
As budget commentator Brad Keithley would like us to point out, cutting the dividend has the greatest negative impact on the overall economy of any of the proposed options. This issue and Keithley will likely be the thorn in the side of many dividend cutters come election time.
Instead, the Republicans are pushing for a constitutional spending limit.