Friday in the Sun (Sept. 13): The Infighting and Indecision edition

Friday in the Sun is here

Happy Friday the 13th, everybody! Welcome to your latest and sometimes greatest Friday-based roundup of political news and gossip from Alaska’s political world.

As always, this is all best-enjoyed as a recreational activity—as best we know, we haven’t been added to the list of banned activities at breweries and distilleries so we’d recommend pairing it with a craft beer or cocktail.

University of Alaska infighting

The University of Alaska’s Board of Regents wrapped up its two-day meeting this afternoon. Action included approving an expedited review of all its programs with the intention to begin the potential elimination of academic programs by the end of this year. Faculty and programs wouldn’t actually be eliminated until near the end of 2020.

The board also stepped back from the appearance it was gung-ho on the controversial proposal to consolidate the university system under a single banner (The Seanooks?). This ended up being more on the end of symbolic moves as the board had never really pulled the trigger on consolidation but had only ordered up a proposal on the matter.

Still, it’s an important symbolic move when it appears that faculty and students are busy sharpening their pitchforks. Though the university has a survey in hand that shows a more mixed opinion about the consolidation, public testimony this week has been nearly unanimous in opposition to consolidation—and, honestly, in most cases cuts in general—and the speed of the decision-making process.

Some of it was particularly brutal as people accused the regents and UA President Jim Johnsen of abandoning the university and its mission. Gone seemed to be the understanding that much of this pain is driven entirely by Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy and the Legislature, which has been obsessed with the idea of consolidating the university under a single banner.

From the outside looking in, it seemed that the factions of the university system had forgot their common enemy and once again returned to their classic infighting. Campus vs. campus, campus vs. statewide and faculty vs. administration.

It’s that kind of infighting—embodied in that letter from the UAA faculty senate that suggested the $136 million cut could be borne entirely by UAF—that really underpins the entire push toward consolidation in the first place. Chancellors and campuses have promised that they’ve really figured things out as they advocate to keep their independence in a new consortium model, but the regents and Johnsen have been less than convinced.

The question moving ahead is just how firm the Board of Regents will be with any decision they make. It’s certainly not unfounded to worry that indecision might set in, dragging everything out into a painful, costly mess.

Factions in action

On next week’s legislative agenda is a Senate State Affairs Committee, chaired by Sen. Mike Shower, on the University of Alaska. On the list to testify are a bunch of faculty members, including UAA Political Science Chair Forrest Nabors, and Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. Nabors was involved in the UAA faculty members filing a grievance against the Board of Regents for its declaration of financial exigency so you can probably guess where this meeting might be headed.

What’s not on the list are any UA officials or any regents. Also, it’s the State Affairs Committee and not the Senate Education Committee. Ought to be interesting.

The regents clued into this meeting during the government relations update, where one regent noted that they hoped they’d remember that the budget cuts handed down by the Legislature are very real.

Still, aside from all of this we’ve heard there may be talk of no confidence votes in the works aimed at the administration. We’ll see where things go after the Regents’ meeting and next week.

With friends like these

Former University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton has been busy stumping for Pebble Mine as Northern Dynasty’s Executive Vice President of External Affairs. The Alaska Landmine caught wind of his recent talks with Anchorage community groups to prop up the incredibly unpopular project, spawning the headline: “Pebble Mine spokesperson compares Canadian mining disaster to 9/11 hijacking – on 9/11.” Yep.

In other legislative news

The last we had heard was the Senate Republicans were taking their sweet time with getting around to the appointment of Rep. Laddie Shaw to fill the late Sen. Chris Birch’s seat. The stakes are the same as they’ve always been with the appointment bringing the possibility of switching the balance of Senate Republicans on a full PFD (which, newsflash, is a big reason why the nomination process is so suspect).

Currently, the Senate Republicans are split 6-6 on the issue. Shaw is on the opposite end of where Birch, who was a frequent advocate for the smallest proposed PFD as possible, stood on this issue.

One political observer points out, though, that what kind of difference would it make for Shaw to no longer be in the House and move over to a Republican-led Senate. Shaw, among some of the other “moderate”-ish minority Republicans, seemed to rally together with the far-right members of the caucus out of solidarity against House Speaker Bryce Edgmon and his attempts to keep a lid on the nuttiness.

Oh, but anyways the latest gossip we’ve heard is that the Senate might maybe be considering starting its interview process of the Shaw in the next few weeks.

There’s no firm deadline for this process, which will end with the Senate Republicans voting on the appointment, but it seems like they would want to get it settled before any potential PFD special session. It would also open up a seat in the House, so if Shaw’s appointed, we can look forward to yet another busted nomination process.

Education cuts

Speaking of the House minority members sticking together, there’s quite a bit of talk about how the caucuses’ more “moderate”-ish members might handle what everyone’s expecting to be a pretty deep cut aimed at K-12 schools in Dunleavy’s budget. Recall that he already proposed cutting about $400 million from the K-12 budget but meekly walked away from the position, instead satisfied to make noise about the legality of the Legislature’s forward funding scheme.

There’s pretty much no other way for him to reach the $800 million in cuts he’s hoping to achieve.

K-12 cuts—and whatever kind of proposal the governor might be considering for education (vouchers, anyone?)—would be precisely the sort of thing to relight a fire under the recall campaign.

Boon for initiatives

We wrote about it earlier this week, but it’s important to highlight this week’s ruling that will allow the ranked-choice ballot initiative group to gather signatures while the group appeals Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer’s rejection of the initiative to the courts.

It’s particularly important for the oil tax initiative, which pretty much everyone expects to get canned by Meyer and Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, because that initiative will have a month less to collect the signatures needed to get on the 2020 ballot.

Initiative groups have to have their signatures turned in before the start of the 2020 legislative session in order to qualify for the ballot. In addition to having the option of booting an initiative off the ballot by passing something substantially similar, the Legislature can also bump the initiative from the primary ballot to the general election ballot by staying longer in regular session.

The real question is would the recall group also be able to cite the ruling on the ranked-choice ballot so it can begin collecting signatures while they duke it out with Clarkson over the legality of the recall.

KUAC gutted

This week, the Fairbanks-based public radio station KUAC announced that thanks to the vetoes handed to public broadcasting and the University of Alaska Fairbanks, which supports the station, it would be eliminating multiple television stations and radio stations.

On the chopping block is the television channel that carries 360 North, which means Fairbanks television viewers no longer be able to watch the legislative session via Gavel Alaska. They’ll be able to get it over the Internet, but anyone who’s been outside the Fairbanks city limits will tell you that Internet service of any kind is spotty, expensive and slow.

KUAC also said that it may have to look at eliminating staff because of the vetoes.

Fairbanks’ public media is particularly hard hit by the vetoes because it draws funding from both the Alaska Public Broadcasting Commission, which was defunded by Dunleavy’s vetoes, and the University of Alaska, which was cut by $25 million by the Legislature.

End of an era for Anchorage

This week marks the sad end of an era in Anchorage with the end of one of the city’s hallmark attractions. We’re, of course, talking about Taco Bell’s decision to stop selling the Double Decker Taco.

Oh, also Nordstrom is closing its doors today and plastic bags are on their way out as of Sunday.

Dems endorse Galvin

The Alaska Democratic Party announced this week that it has officially endorsed Alyse Galvin, an independent running for the party’s nomination, against U.S. Rep. Don Young. Seems early, but I guess they might as well just cut to the chase.

He’s running

Leave it to Jeff Landfield to confirm one of the worst-kept secrets in Alaska politics with a simple phone call: Forrest Dunbar is going to run for Anchorage Mayor in next year’s elections.

He might not be running

Also, on the election front is the seemingly biennial rumor that Fairbanks Rep. Steve Thompson, who’s the current House Majority leader, is considering retirement and might not be running for this next year. This wouldn’t be the first time that the well-liked Republican would be rumored to be looking at retiring—we can think of hearing this for the last two election cycles at least—but it seems like there’s at least more talk this time about people gearing up for a potential run for the seat.

It’s a district with a lot of generally business-friendly, establishment-y Republicans who’ve been biding their time for this opportunity to open up. Thompson, the former mayor of the city of Fairbanks, has been so popular in the city that no one has really dared give him much of a challenge.

It could be a competitive Republican primary. Democrats haven’t been particularly competitive in this district, but we’d chalk that up, again, to Thompson’s popularity. He’s been an effective representative for Fairbanks, carrying much of the community’s must-pass legislation for the community, in Juneau.

Speaking as a former Fairbanks resident: If only there were a few of those lush capital budgets when he was co-chair of the House Finance Committee!

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5 Comments on "Friday in the Sun (Sept. 13): The Infighting and Indecision edition"

  1. Thomas A Atkinson | September 13, 2019 at 8:56 pm | Reply

    The legislature did NOT cut the university by $25M. The governor vetoed $25M. Remember?

    • I do! The series of cuts went like this: Legislature cut $5M, Gov. vetoed $131M, Legislature restored all but $25M of the cuts in new budget, Dunleavy accepted the budget passed by the Legislature while promising an additional $45M. Gov. certainly forced their hand into making the cuts but it was the Legislature who technically did the deed.

  2. Also pour some Baja out for the chicken chipotle grilled

  3. Buxton fails to mention a recommendation to the regents signed by all three faculty senates and over 300 faculty, staff, students, and administrators. Why is he pushing the conflict narrative? This is just a Statewide talking point used to get people in line. I’m unimpressed.

  4. I am a UAF graduate student. I have to say, Matt …you not only missed the target, you missed the barn. President Johnsen used our vulnerability from Dunleavy’s vetoes to do a powergrab in the UA system. We are against Dunleavy AND President Johnsen, who is riding on the governor’s wave of mayhem. That’s why the Consensus Recommendations from faculty, staff, researchers and students across the UA system have almost 40 pages of signatures appended to that document because NONE OF US support what President Johnsen doing. We know his plans will essentially destroy our universities – Johnsen’s plans will offer students a subpar education and they will degrade our research capabilities.

    Doesn’t anyone find it strange that President Johnsen is gleaning his bad ideas from his 2006 dissertation? That suggests to me that his is a personal vanity project. He’s been pushing this crap for years, even against UA’s own thorough research (Thomas 2016, which strongly recommended multiple accreditation). When the Dunleavy’s vetoes came in, Johnsen knew he finally had his chance to put a stranglehold on everyone else. That’s why so many of us are fighting this.

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