Welcome to the latest and sometimes greatest roundup of rumor, gossip and speculation from the Alaska political world.
Or is it 20-Eastman? Either way, the House Republicans were quick to stake their claim on the House majority this week with a bare-minimum 21-person majority that relied on two very uncertain factors: the yet-undecided House race in Fairbanks and everyone’s favorite representative to trash Rep. David Eastman.
At the news conference announcing the majority, members said The Censured One was definitely onboard with the new—probably non-binding—majority, but then Alaska Public Media reporter Nat “Scoops” Herz thought to check in.
Well turns out N-Eastman isn’t ready to “sign on the dotted line” with a majority whose unifying mission seems to boil down only to “Hey, we’re Republicans, isn’t that special?”
“I think we’ve got the right 21,” Eastman told Herz. “But that still leaves 21 options for speaker. And I haven’t figured out which of those options is the best one for my district and the things I care about.”
So if you can’t solidly count either it’s really more like a 19-member majority. A 20-person majority at best.
It’s hard to argue with Eastman’s resistance as it puts him in a spot to thwart anything that doesn’t pass his muster–especially when he may have new buddies in Ben Carpenter and Sarah Vance. He is the guy who did after all cast 67 solo “no” votes this last session.
A watcher’s takeaway on the conundrum: “He’s a real pain in the ass.”
Overall, though, it makes you wonder why then the Republicans would rush to take responsibility for what looks like a session-long headache but, hey, after so many attempts at organizing a caucus around herself, it looks like Rep. Tammie “OCS is committing legal kidnapping” Wilson will take it.
Another takeaway: “It will be great fun.”
The tenuous majority’s co-chair of the House Finance Committee Lance Pruitt was heard the Alaska Miners Association breakfast saying the reason Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux wasn’t invited into majority is that her fingerprints are apparently on the fraudulently cast ballots cast in the House District 15 primary.
We don’t really know what to think on this one, but we’re not going to hold our breath. It may just be rumor mill combined with a healthy dose of wishful thinking, particularly when that wishful thinking would help you secure your majority.
That’s how long it took before House Republicans responded to the question “Will you keep his promise?” at their majority announcement. The question was, of course, about whether or not those Republicans (six of whom, including House Speaker-elect Dave Talerico, voted for putting the PFD cut in state law) would support a full dividend next year.
The pause, of course, isn’t that big of a deal considering they had just put the bow on their precarious majority, but it should serve as a reminder of just how split Republicans were the last time they were given a chance to vote on the PFD. It’ll be interesting.
Missing in action
There were plenty House Republicans in the audience for Dunleavy’s transition team announcement at the Alaska Miners Association convention in Anchorage on Thursday—the Republican’s chosen house speaker, Dave Talerico, has more than 24 years on the job at Usibelli coal mine, after all—but there was one group of Republicans that were notably missing: Any Republican senators.
One observer noted their complete absence from the meeting, though I did spot Democratic Sen. Donny Olson making his way through the audience after Dunleavy’s announcement. He appeared to be the only senator in attendance.
It’s likely that the senate is keeping a low profile while they await an outcome in the Fairbanks senate race where just 11 votes separate Senate President Pete Kelly and Rep. Scott Kawasaki. Kelly’s currently in the lead and no one really seems to have a good feeling of which way it’ll go.
There’s certainly ongoing efforts to organize the Senate that long predated election night. While we were expecting some kind of announcement by the end of this week, it might be delayed while awaiting those results.
The Senate has had the good sense to at least keep its own internal power struggles out of the public eye, but from what we’ve heard it’s just as fractured as the House majority is. It could make things really interesting. Stay tuned.
Shrug of the week: He’s back
Yep, lameduck Rep. Dan Saddler was announced today as the executive director for the Dunleavy transition team’s policy council.
Oh, and former Gov. Sean “Captain Zero” Parnell is back in the mix as Governor-elect Mike Dunleavy’s special adviser on the AKNLG project, which has got to be just about the most stinging thumb-in-the-eye to Gov. Bill Walker.
Also, is it bad when Parnell is your most exciting announcement of the day?
Well except for this tantalizing and un-clarified line about “constitutional reform” that will be headed up by Dick Randolph, a former legislator who gets credit for repealing Alaska’s income tax. There was no clarification of just what “constitutional reform” might be other than how it deals with the PFD (Dunleavy picked up on Democrat Mark Begich’s proposal of putting it in the constitution).
But it’s not that hard to imagine what else might be covered by that.
Dunleavy personally pushed a resolution that would have lifted the Alaska Constitution’s ban on school vouchers (though he refused to talk about what a voucher program would actually look like) and supported Sen. Pete Kelly’s proposal to re-balance the Alaska Judicial Council.
Perhaps, he’s also keen on putting something in there that would put any new revenue up to a vote of the people, as he’s suggested doing with any changes to the permanent fund dividend. And, hey, while we’re at it perhaps Hammurabi’s Code will be a good replacement for Senate Bill 91?
Realistically, though, any attempt to alter the Alaska Constitution for anything other than the PFD is likely a fool’s errand. Amendments to the constitution must be approved by two-thirds of each chamber of the Legislature (27 in the House and 14 in the Senate) before even going to the ballot.
Just in case you were thinking things couldn’t get any more exciting and optimistic, oil prices dipped below $60 for the first time since April today and oil prices are down 20 percent from the year’s high.
Dang! And just when it was looking like we could stop caring about the budget deficit ($72 per barrel is the magic number to balance the budget, roughly speaking).
After the usual extra few days it takes to get results from every precinct in Alaska, the vote count now stands at 100 percent of precincts reporting. The next major update will be on Tuesday of next week, when we’ll get the count of the early ballots cast on election day, the first count of verified questioned ballots and the second count of verified absentee ballots.
The races to watch, of course, are House District 1 where Republican Bart LeBon leads by 79 votes over Democrat Kathryn Dodge and Senate District A where Republican Sen. Pete Kelly leads Democratic Rep. Scott Kawasaki by 11 votes.
What’s particularly notable about this is just how many crossover votes Kawasaki’s won in this race. The thinking on the ground seems to be that the absentee votes will lean Republican, but that might not matter for Kawasaki. The Democrat received 278 more votes than Dodge did in House District 1, which means that as much as 11 percent of LeBon’s voters are also Kawasaki voters.
We’ve heard things have been pretty tense between the Kawasaki and Kelly camps over at the Fairbanks Division of Elections office.
There were seven independent candidates who ran on the Alaska Democratic Party’s ticket Tuesday night, and precisely zero won. Granted, they were all running in tough match-ups that would have been near-impossible for a Democrat to win, but so far it doesn’t look like a winning strategy.
That’s the number of women who are currently slated to go down to Juneau, positively smashing the old record of 19 women in the Legislature set when Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky was appointed last year. Three of the newly elected women will be Republicans—Nancy Dahlstrom, Sara Rasmussen and Sarah Vance—and two will be Democrats—Sara Hannan and Andi Story.
This number, of course, could grow if Kathryn Dodge pulls out a victory in the race for House District 1 (though even the once-hopeful-now-disappointed Democrats aren’t particularly hopeful about that) or shrink with, you know, whatever happens with House District 15.
Senator-elect Elvi Gray-Jackson will also become the Alaska Senate’s third black senator elected. This year there were seven black candidates running for office, according to a story by Alaska Public Media, in mostly difficult-to-win seats.
Gray-Jackson cruised to a huge victory in the progressive Senate District I, beating Trump’s Alaska campaign chair by nearly 20 points.
The Juneau Empire’s jack-of-all trades James Brooks announced after election day that he’ll be joining the Anchorage Daily News as their Juneau-based reporter and will cover the legislative session for them. Congratulations, Brooks is one of the hardest working journalists in the state and it’ll be nice to see what he can do when he’s not also juggling reporting with most of the day-to-day operations of the paper.
Goodbye, sweet prince
The Fairbanks Sears is finally on the cutting block after escaping so very many rounds of closures. The shop will always have a warm, polyester-lined place in my heart as it was the source of the two sport jackets I took to my first session down in Juneau.