Welcome back to Friday in the Sun, your weekly roundup of rumors, gossip and hot takes from the political world. As always, political gossip is best enjoyed as entertainment and with a pinch of salt.
And thanks for bearing with us for the last two weeks while your ever-so-humble editor took a real-deal break while bouncing around the Lower 48 to drink beer, pet dogs and eat pizza. We’re excited to get back into things.
Walkin’ it back
Staring down the barrel of a bipartisan recall effort, Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy announced that he won’t be vetoing the funds that the Legislature restored for the University of Alaska, early education programs, senior benefits and legal assistance to poor Alaskans. He might call it a restoration of funds and credit himself for starting the “conversation” with his vetoes, but it’s a complete and total capitulation that makes much of his administration an exercise in senseless pain for thousands of Alaskans.
There was never a conversation, at least never an honest one between the administration and the public about the vision or the purpose behind the cuts. At every turn, his administration seemed to be actively disinterested in understanding the impacts of the cuts on the public and local communities.
For the public, it’s caused very real pain. Pain for seniors who’ve literally gone hungry because of the actions that he’s taken on senior benefits, young Alaskans who’ve started to look elsewhere for their future and for the University of Alaska system that seems intent on pushing ahead with a consolidation.
That’s not to mention all the other vetoes that were restored by the Alaska Legislature that will likely be nixed on Monday when Dunleavy says he will finally cap off his “Restoration” tour and sign House Bill 2001 into place. That pain will live on.
Even for Dunleavy it’s not been a painless exercise. He’s embarrassed himself, alienated a majority-Republican Legislature that should have been eager to enact an “Open for Business” agenda, spent down his political capital, been booed on flights and drawn the target of a recall campaign that’s chaired by man who made his fortune on coal.
Nationally, he’s viewed as another patsy of the far-right, anti-government experiment that hasn’t created a fraction of the promised economic boom anywhere it’s been given a chance.
“It should be viewed as an example of a governor demonstrating how not to govern, the result of hubris, haste and heedlessness. The Governor’s approach to his state’s budget brings to mind the image of the fire-setter who turns fireman and then wants to be admired for heroism.”
Another word for it would be “The Domestic Violence-Cruelty Method of Governing,” explains Libby Bakalar.
“This is cruelty, full stop. It’s cruel to veto funds for early childhood education and senior citizens, causing lapses in services and elders to write their elected officials, quite literally begging for their lives, while experienced staff leave and look elsewhere for work. It’s cruel to intentionally incentivize the decimation of education and research, causing professors to flee the state, critical science to go unstudied, and students to wonder if they will be able to get a college education at home.”
And how about that $3,000 PFD?
Still, even in the face of the recall it’s been a remarkable about-face for a governor who’s approached everything so far with the hardline unilateral approach of a partisan trapped in an echo chamber.
There’s certainly been increased talk about the potential for veto overrides for some of the key programs targeted by Dunleavy’s vetoes—the Senior Benefits Program as well as a number of items that were already eliminated from the capital budget by veto dealing with homelessness and substance abuse programs—but the path for those ever becoming a reality is still difficult to see.
Instead, a reliable source shared an interesting story from the last two weeks with us.
Last week Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy made a surprise appearance at the “Thanks a Million” victory cruise for hovercrafting folk hero John Sturgeon up in Fairbanks last week, reportedly sneaking onto the Binkley family’s Riverboat Discovery II for the celebration. It a fine event that drummed up more than $70,000 from deep-pocketed Fairbanks conservatives to cover Sturgeon’s legal costs for heading to the U.S. Supreme Court.
But according to our reliable source, it may have been a rather uncomfortable scene for Dunleavy as he waited in the wings for his grand appearance (side note: How does a 6’7” person sneak anywhere?).
That’s because the crowd of traditional red-blooded, hovercraft-loving, pro-business Republicans were all pro-recall.
And they reportedly weren’t quiet about their talk, either, and a few of the more prominent Republicans (we didn’t get names, unfortunately) were out there encouraging people to sign onto the recall petition. Attendees included Ed Rasmuson, John Binkley, Craig Compeau and others.
In normal years, under normal circumstances and with a normal traditional Republican, this should have been a safe space for the governor, but we imagine that the event was eye-opening for the Tall One. Especially when a vast majority of those names would likely be far happier with a Gov. Kevin “Probably a Sean Parnell Lite” Meyer in office.
Credit where it’s due
Let’s be clear, though, with the reality of this entire endeavor. None of this would have been possible without the Alaska Legislature coming back together in Juneau and passing a budget that put back most of Dunleavy’s vetoes.
This was done under the united, steadfast leadership of House Speaker Bryce Edgmon and Cathy Giessel, who brought along doubters. There were plenty of legislators who doubted the good in restoring the vetoes when it looked like it would be a lost cause in the face of a governor hellbent on delivering on the budget assembled by Outside budget director Donna Arduin.
They stuck to their guns and with a little help from 29,557 Alaskans they were proved right.
It can’t be a good time to be a pro-PFD Dunleavy ally at this point. They’ve hitched their horses to upholding his vetoes—shirking their duties as legislators—in hopes of delivering on that sweet, sweet $3,000 PFD. Now it looks like the governor is on the verge of giving up on that, too.
Despite the efforts to spin this as some kind of 4D chess by a master deal-maker, the allegiance was and has always been to a $3,000 PFD. Dunleavy just happened to be the person promising it.
The best sign of trouble has to be the $35,000 Democrat Liz Snyder reportedly raked in during a single fundraiser as part of her bid to take down Rep. Lance Pruitt. That still has heads spinning all around the political spectrum. And you can bet that many of those donors will be ready to break out the check books next year, too.
Gee, Brain, what do you want to do this fall?
Before we can all get too excited about next year’s general election or any intermediary special recall elections, there’s a whole bunch of local elections to look forward this fall. For once, there’s quite a few contested races up in Fairbanks and across the spectrum more and more younger people are stepping into the race.
It’s an exciting time.
— Carole Triem (@TriemTeam) August 13, 2019
Blink and you’ll miss it
Just a few minutes into the attention-grabbing meeting between Dunleavy and the University of Alaska, the Department of Health and Social Services announced that Alaska Psychiatric Institute CEO Matt Dammeyer has filed his resignation letter.
No hard feelings, he explains, in the letter. He’s taking a job in Wyoming.
He had joined API in April.
Another new job
Word is that Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association President/CEO Becky Hultberg has accepted a position down in south and will be leaving at the end of the year. She’ll be the new CEO of the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems. A vocal and effective advocate of Alaska’s health care system, Hultberg will be missed.
Another new initiative
Word is that another fourth initiative petition is in the works and will be filed soon, possibly today. This is the big boogeyman that Dunleavy and others have been worried about: Oil taxes.
It’s been a week since Alaska was shocked by the news of the death of Anchorage Sen. Chris Birch. Last night, hundreds of Alaskans attended a memorial service to remember Birch and the time that he spent serving Anchorage and Alaska.
In a year that tested political lines, relationships and character, Birch was a stand-out legislator who stood up to the challenges and spoke with conviction about his beliefs and in defense of Alaska.
He will be missed.
According to reports today, Chris’ daughter Talia Birch Kindred has applied to fill her father’s seat as has Albert Fogle. The decision will ultimately rest with Senate Republicans. The appointee will serve through the next general election when a special election will be called to fill the final two years of the term.