Thursday in the Sun (July 4): The ‘I am Starving’ edition

Friday in the Sun is here

In an attempt to prove the impossible is possible, we’ve not only put together Friday in the Sun on time, but we’ve put together Friday in the sun a whole dang day early! (And definitely not because I have a backpacking trip planned for the holiday.)

So welcome to your latest and sometimes greatest weekly political gossip and rumor and something column. You know the drill: Trust nothing, question everything and have some salt, I guess.

Also be kind, get involved, don’t start any new fires and maybe consider reaching out to a senior and see if they need anything.

See y’all this weekend.

The not-so-special session

The Legislature is pushing ahead with its plans to buck Wasilla Middle School and take the special session back home to Juneau on July 8. As of writing, leadership is still a vote short of the 40 they need to call themselves into their own special session, 2015 style, but there’s hope that the Legislature will be able to wrangle the additional vote between now and Monday in order to pull off these shenanigans without the maximum amount of legal jeopardy.

The maximum amount of legal jeopardy is, of course, Attorney General Kevin Clarkson’s “clever” reading that the Alaska Constitution somehow grants the power to the governor to sue individual legislators and use the Alaska State Troopers to round them up and force them to attend session.

If these sorts of attempts to play Dear Leader aren’t enough to convince legislators to circle the wagons to protect the institution, then… oof.

Anyways, because there’s always legal memos on these kinds of things we’ve obtained a legal memo on this very issue exploring whether or not the governor can, in fact, wade into how the Legislature, which is an independent and co-equal branch last time we checked, conducts its business.

There’re dueling memos about the logistics of doing a session as the legislative leadership has suggested, but this memo seems to be pretty clear that, no, the governor can’t do what Clarkson is suggesting. Given Clarkson’s sterling batting average in front of the Alaska Supreme court, this is all very shocking.

The latest legal memo lays out a bunch of different arguments about why Dunleavy and Clarkson can’t pull of this trick ranging from separation of powers to legislative immunity to civil proceedings to the fact that the governor can’t sue the Legislature to the other fact that skipping out on session isn’t actually a crime. Here’s a pretty salient point from the whole thing:

“A person may only be arrested to answer for the commission of a crime. Failure to attend a special legislative session in a location called by the governor is not a crime. Accordingly, a legislator may not be arrested at the direction of the governor for failure to be present in Wasilla at a location and time designated by the governor. Neither may a legislator be subjected to a civil arrest for such a failure to appear. Because a legislator is not subject to arrest at the direction of the governor for a failure to be present at a location designated by the governor for a special session, the governor does not have the legal means to compel the legislator’s presence at the location designated by the governor for the session.”

The memo also goes into great depth about whether or not the governor can sue individual legislators. The constitution explicitly says he can’t sue the Legislature, but Clarkson’s arguing that that doesn’t extend to individual legislators. The memo—and legal precedent—disagree, pointing to cases where the Legislative Council and the Senate President were covered by this immunity.

It also notes that the one time that the governor wanted to involve troopers to compel legislators into a joint session during the 1983 standoff over legislative appointments, the actual call was made by then Senate President Jay Kerttula.

The kicker about the whole thing, though, is that even with the legal opinion on the side of legislators, the advice isn’t to flaunt an attempt to be arrested.

“If the governor should take the highly unusual and unwarranted step of intruding into the legislative branch by suing or arresting legislators to control legislative sessions and members, I do not expect any court to uphold the action. Until an appellate court decides this specific issue, however, I do not recommend disregard of an arrest warrant, should one be issued by a lower court.”

The override

The start of the special session on Monday means the start of the five-day window for legislators to override the vetoes.

There’s a whole lot less clarity about what, if anything, is going to happen when it comes to the veto overrides. There’s a mountain of pressure coming from pretty much everyone who’s not on the governor’s payroll, recently on the governor’s payroll or values a $3,000 PFD over seniors literally having the money to buy food.

The testimony that legislators who had the basic decency to show up and listen to public input on the vetoes revealed just how cruel the cuts really were. Not only are these cuts that are targeting seniors, homeless, the poor and other at-risk Alaskans, but they did so overnight.

Legislators heard stories of seniors who showed up on Monday looking for their monthly payment through the Senior Benefits Program to find that it had been axed. For many, a large chunk of their budget was erased over the weekend with no time to plan, no time to sock away some money and no time to, I guess… cut back… on eating?

Seriously. There were seniors who said “I am hungry” and “Here I am starving” a direct result of the vetoes.

Is this open for business?

On the legislative side of things, the best course of action if you plan to kick and scream and hold out for Dunleavy’s $3,000 PFD appears to be to avoid these meetings altogether.

Credit, at least, to House minority Reps. Kelly Merrick, Sara Rasmussen and Laddie Shaw for attending the Anchorage listening session. We’ve heard that going out in public can be tough for minority Republicans lately—even in normally friendly settings.

Rep. Dave Talerico may have hoped to sneak his Tuesday-night town hall under the radar, but it caught the right people’s attention and it was packed with plenty of locals calling for an override.

Here’s a recap from News-Miner Editor Rod Boyce from Twitter: “Talerico, in the House minority, mostly stood and patiently listened for more than 2 1/2 hours. He would not support an income tax. Did not say he would vote to override university. He did say more revenue could come from fee increases.”

We heard that Talerico had another meeting out in Tok on Wednesday night, which wasn’t publicized electronically from what we know and was a flyer-only sort of affair. Apparently at this meeting, he specifically said he would not help override the veto of the University of Alaska.

The veto of the University of Alaska ought to be one of the biggest issues for any legislator from the Interior as the campus represents an enormous piece of the local economy. The University of Alaska system generated $1.1 billion, two UAF economists note in a story published in the Washington Post with the headline “Alaska is poised to gut its public universities. It would be a statewide disaster.”

Is this open for business?

Another way

We’ve been told that it’s not the end of the line if the vetoes stand because… of course.

The Legislature could restore funding through either the hey-we-still-need-to-fix-the-capital-budget bill or the permanent fund dividend bill. It’d be one last way for minority Republicans to turn the screws in an attempt to hand Dunleavy his $3,000 PFD, holding seniors’ dinner hostage for the political promise.

Of course, this would be one of those heavily negotiated things where none of the actual negotiating has even got underway. That means we could expect a massive lag between when the cuts went into effect, July 1, and whenever the supplemental money would come into play.

Remember, even if the legislation is passed with a veto-proof majority the governor could still delay its impact by waiting to sign it or, hey, veto it just for the hell of it. And with a $3,000 dividend in hand would anyone really trust the minority Republicans to come back and override such a veto?

Call us skeptical.

And even then the timeline for all of this would, at best, leave about a month gap in funding for these vetoes and at worst, in a scenario where Dunleavy waits until the last minute to veto a partial restoration, it could be months.

Cathy “Gidget” Giessel

Senate President Cathy Giessel has a detailed outline of where she stands on the vetoes, the size of government, the dividend and taxes. It’s straight-forward, reasonable and thoughtful approach to some pretty tough issues, but, really, we’re 100 percent here for this surf-related line:


Supreme disapproval

Add the Alaska Supreme Court to the group of Alaskans unhappy with the vetoes handed down by Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy. Dunleavy hit the court system with two vetoes, including a veto because he was unhappy with a recent abortion ruling.

The court, which will soon be the scene of many of Dunleavy’s “clever” readings of Alaska law, released a statement calling on the Legislature to reverse the cuts to the cost of living (which were not specifically tied to the abortion ruling in Dunleavy’s announcement of vetoes) for court employees.

What was particularly interesting, though, was the civics lesson the court included:

“Alaska, like the country as a whole, has a system of government with three co-equal branches. At its most basic, this means that the legislature makes the law, the governor enforces the law, and the supreme court, when faced with a constitutional challenge to a law, is required to decide it. Legislators, governors, and all other Alaskans certainly have the right to their own opinions about the constitutionality of government action, but ultimately it is the courts that are required to decide what the constitution mandates. In a democracy based on majority rule, it is important that laws be interpreted fairly and consistently. We assure all Alaskans that the Alaska Court System will continue to render independent court decisions based on the rule of law, without regard to the politics of the day.”

Translation: Don’t think for a second that we’re scared of you.

For people with those kinds of memories, it raises memories of Supreme Court Justice Jay Rabinowitz’s response to Speaker Ramona Barnes and company threatening to cut the judiciaries budgets over recent rulings. At his annual address to the Legislature, Rabinowitz apparently said something along the lines of “Go ahead, cut the budget. It’s not going to change how we rule. Not. One. Iota.”

For today’s generation, everyone’s favorite former state attorney Libby Bakalar has this tutorial on civics and lipstick:

A parade of horribles

Honestly, it’s hard to keep up with everything and we wish there was the time in the day to fully dive into the impact that every cut has had. At the very least, this moment in time sparked an astonishing level of advocacy and outreach. People are speaking for themselves and they’re doing it with force.

Take some time and read this letter about how the governor’s veto of travel budget for the Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education will hit Alaskans with intellectual/developmental disabilities.

On the horizon

We’ve heard that there’s some polling already out in the field about the vetoes and expect that it’ll have a quick turnaround and release. Stay tuned. Last time the polls were out, it didn’t paint a great picture for Dunleavy.

Campaign season!

Looking ahead, Doctor Al Gross kicked off his campaign this week as an independent seeking the Alaska Democratic Party’s nomination to run against U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan in the 2020 general election. With slightly lagging popularity recently, the optimistic thinking is that Sullivan might maybe possibly be vulnerable.

The ruling question when Gross launched his initial bid was, “Who?” But after an extensive listening tour, Gross officially filed for election this week and dropped a head-turning campaign video that includes killing a bear that looked at him wrong.

There’s been quite a bit of organization around Gross. I guess we’ll have to start paying attention to this after all.

Initiated initiative

Alaskans for Better Elections announced on Wednesday that they had submitted an application for a ballot initiative that would create ranked choice voting in Alaska’s primaries, open the primaries and require additional reporting of independent spending campaigns that take “dark money.” The last part would require clearer disclosure of the source of money because currently some big contributions can be masked by making donations through organizations that effectively anonymize and pass through the money.

Former Rep. Jason Grenn is the chair of the group and the announcement lists co-chairs Bonnie Jack, an Anchorage Republican, and Bruce Botelho, the Democratic former Attorney General and former mayor of Juneau.


We heard former Fairbanks Rep. Joe Hayes is now working over the in the Senate, where he’s joined on as Sen. Scott Kawasaki’s chief of staff. He’s also pretty darn good at trivia, in my experience.

Meanwhile, Dunleavy’s chief economist Ed King had his last day with the administration with the vetoes were released. We thought it odd, then, that King had the duty of shrugging off the impacts of the vetoes in the Anchorage Daily News’ report until we saw this little tidbit buried halfway through the story.


‘Dunleavy Dumpster Fire’

We’ll close out with the latest Alaska-grown summertime protest jam. Don’t expect to hear this in your state hold music anytime soon.


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