Welcome to a special Saturday edition of Friday in the Sun. As always, take the gossip and the rumors with a grain of salt.
Stay engaged, read a lot, use your head and have a nice rest of your weekend. See y’all on Monday.
Women of the week
The scene from Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s road show this week hasn’t been particularly inviting to attendees, whether it’s the whole signing your likeness over to the far-right Americans for Prosperity or the heavy presence of both private security and law enforcement officers. I spotted plenty of people nervously attempting to record the Anchorage meeting with their phones, worrying that they’d get the boot from the meeting organizers.
Hell, I felt nervous after sitting down with my regular-person ticket and spotting all the credentialed media and spent most of the meeting wondering what I’d do if I was asked to leave.
I say all that as a preface to commend the bravery and courage of the many women of color who stood up in protest at these meetings. It was civil disobedience at its finest.
There were the two women who wordlessly unfurled the “Recall Dunleavy” banner in the Anchorage meeting, creating the now-iconic image of Dunleavy peering over the edge of the banner, while bracing for security to inevitably whisk them from the room.
In Nome, Dunleavy was met by Brenda Evak who confronted the governor in the airport and was led away in cuffs, creating another iconic image of the road show. The Nome Nugget reported her account of the event after the district attorney announced she would not face charges:
The energy had been building for a while and boiled over when she saw Dunleavy at the airport, Evak said. “I saw Goliath – Dunleavy, by no means, he is not Goliath, but the people who sponsor him are,” she said through tears. “They’re the people against us and our land. In that moment, I decided to let that energy go and I said what was in my heart and I began chanting ‘When our land is under attack —what do we do? We stand up and fight back.’ We fight for our people, our healing, for our land.” Evak said Dunleavy came up to her, smirked at her.
And inside the Old St. Joseph’s Hall, where Dunleavy was giving his canned presentation to a ticketed crowd and taking pre-screened questions, Melanie Bahnke, the president and CEO of regional tribal consortium Kawerak, raised her hand.
She refused offers to put her question on a card, demanding to talk to the governor without the filter of Americans for Prosperity. Her fellow community members pointed at her, still hand raised, until she was allowed to speak.
“If you want to truly have a dialogue, that’s not the way to go about it,” Bahnke said. “That’s not how we typically do things here in Nome.”
And, surprise, her community was given an opportunity to speak. Whether or not they were heard is another thing.
And in Fairbanks, the scene of one of the largest demonstrations against the governor, women interrupted the meeting holding up signs reading “Dunleavy vs. Democracy #LayOffTheKoch.”
Defend the Sacred AK recorded the event, where you can hear the women echoing the calls of Evak:
“What do we do when our state is under attack? Stand Up, Fight Back!”
Or you could just stand down
Meanwhile, Republican men are calling everyone to calm down. Just calm down! There’s Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce, who was once described to me as a Trump wannabe, telling residents to “stand down” and wait for the final budget.
And developing logic lord Rep. Josh Revak wrote in the weekend’s Anchorage Daily News that everyone just needs to stop with all the “emotional sensationalism” about the budget. This, of course, was heading to the printers just as his staffer was giving Alaska Landmine editor Jeff Landfield a black eye.
Why isn’t this budget an example of institutional racism? ‘Because it’s not’
Meanwhile, the governor seemed more than happy to stand behind his wife when anyone asked about his budget’s disproportionate effect on rural Alaska: With its cuts to the ferries that serve the “south coast,” cuts to education, cuts to Village Public Safety Officers and an change to the rural Power Cost Equalization program that will make it easier to cut in future years.
Here’s his interaction with a caller when he appeared on Talk of Alaska.
CALLER: The policies and the budget cuts that are in place, including the loss of the ferry system, the tax appropriations from rural communities and regards to a lot of other policies that we’re seeing from the administration. Since these disproportionately affect rural communities, which are also in effect mostly minority communities—mostly Alaska Native—how does the budget and the administration’s policies not hold up as an example of institutional racism?
DUNLEAVY: Because it’s not. This is a $1.6 billion budget deficit that affects all Alaskans from all sectors across all corners of Alaska. My wife is Inupiat Eskimo, we’ve been married for 31 years, I think she would probably take offense at the idea that this is a racist budget. My friends in rural Alaska, where I spent 20 years and where my children were born, probably would do the same. This is impacting Anchorage as well, Mat-Su, Fairbanks, Southeast Alaska. When you have a budget deficit of this magnitude it’s going to impact everybody. No, this is not a racist budget. I reject that out of hand.
He made a similar comment at the Anchorage road show event when asked about the budget’s impact on rural Alaska. This question left out the accusation that the budget was racist, but Dunleavy fell back on the same response.
This isn’t the first time Dunleavy has used such a line nor is it the first time that a politician has used such a line. It’s a good time to revisit this column Amanda Frank wrote for us last year, where she outlined just why such words ring so hollow.
“Being married to a native person is fine, but it does not mean that you are an ally or advocate for Native people. It is insulting to imply that marrying into the native community somehow gives you any credibility,” she wrote. “What makes a good ally and advocate is someone who partners with us with good ideas to help us address the issues in our communities. We want real policy discussions from our leaders, not hyperbole about how you went to fish camp.”
As a reminder, when Dunleavy was on the campaign trail, he—and now-Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer—both agreed that Alaska’s state language should be English. Both had supported adding 20 Alaska Native languages to the official list in 2014, but cut a different tune in front of a the Republican candidate forum.
“English is our language, and yes, I would be willing to make English Alaska’s official language–it should be,” Dunleavy said. “We have a number of Native languages in the state of Alaska, which I think we should respect, but the language that we all communicate with is English and English should be our language as a state.”
And not to be outdone, Alaska’s U.S. Rep. Don Young pulled the same thing in Congress this week in a particularly low point for the Dean of the House.
“I’ll tell you, Mr. Chairman, I want to believe the people. Not the Gwich’in because they’re not the people.” –@repdonyoung
— Natural Resources (@NRDems) March 26, 2019
I don’t want to deal with this.
Another week, another Dunleavy nominee is out. This time it’s Joe Riggs, who was appointed to the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, after an internal memo found he made a female employee of the trust uncomfortable during an interaction at a Juneau bar.
Of course, the administration appeared to stand behind Riggs—after all they had already appointed him to the position after he cut homophobic campaign attack ads during the 2018 Republican primary—and Riggs denied it all as some kind of political hit piece.
“I don’t want to deal with this,” he told the Anchorage Daily News.
And he didn’t because as of Thursday afternoon, it was announced that he withdrew from the position. His hearing in front of the House Finance Committee on Friday was cancelled.
Add Riggs to the pile of appointees.
We’ve already seen one commissioner go down, but it sounds like there’s growing concern about Department of Public Safety Commissioner Amanda Price. She’s already had a tough go of things in front of the Legislature, particularly when it comes to Village Public Safety Officers, and the Alaska Landmine suggested that Price hasn’t been able to pass the background check needed to access the criminal database.
“Which, you know, would be a real issue,” the Landmine suggested.
We’ve been hearing similar rumblings about problems brewing for her confirmation, but it’s been light on the specifics. Still, she’s got one last confirmation hearing in front of the House State Affairs committee at 3 p.m. on Thursday so it ought to be worthwhile watching.
It sounds like the annual joint session slog for the confirmation votes is expected in about two weeks, around day 90.
The Senate has a newfound desire to once and for all rework (lower) the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend calculation this week in an effort led by Senate Finance co-chair Sen. Natasha von Imhof, R-The Wealthiest Part of Anchorage, a fact that was not lost on many.
A path out
As the Legislature barrels towards whatever conclusion that it will reach on the budget, there’s the fact that Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy has the line item veto power over the budget, which he pledged to put to use this week in order to “match expenditures to revenues.”
It then raises the question of the possibility of an override with 45 votes, which will be tough given the Republican House Minority already counts for 15 votes. We’ve started to hear rumblings that there’s work being done on this front and it could have something to so with the constitutional budget reserve, the back payment of PFDs and a promise to override the veto.
It’ll make things interesting.