Welcome to Friday in the Sun, our weekly column that dips into rumors and attempts to make sense of the week in Alaska politics.
As always, take everything with a grain of salt and enjoy your weekend, especially if you’re hanging out in Fairbanks for AFN.
‘I do have a website’
Among the many head-turning statements from Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s “Everything’s FINE” tour was his overt request last week to the Valley Republican Women’s chili cook-off last week for campaign contributions to the group defending him in his recall.
“I call upon you to help out—to help with this recall effort. I do have a website: standtallwithmike.com.”
Setting aside the fact that this is an admission that he everything isn’t quite as fine as he’s made it out to be with his right-wing media buddies, it caught a lot of attention to see the governor drumming up support for a group that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of cash in his favor.
Recall that typically candidates and these kinds of groups must stay at arm’s length or else they’ll run afoul of laws against coordinating. But it turns out that this request, in a vacuum, is legit.
The issue, as we were told by APOC, is that the anti-coordination issues only apply to candidate races. The recall is a ballot issue, Stand Tall With Mike is a ballot group and the governor coordinating with them is all cool. Neat!
Well, at least when it comes to those specific set of laws.
What a lot of people we’ve talked to are still wondering, though, is where does this run into issues with the state’s ethics laws that ban the use of state resources for any personal gain. Would big ol’ campaign contributions to help fend off a recall fall under that? Where does the line fall on what’s a state resource and what’s not? (We reached out to see if his appearance at the chili cookoff was an official appearance and, unsurprisingly, got no response.)
The public request is far from the first, from what we’ve heard, and there have been much more explicit requests made to donors over the phone.
The idea that he can ask for unlimited contributions from individuals and companies is, well, amazing. It’s really uncharted ground.
The governor is already playing fast and loose with these with his state-funded advertising campaigns bolstering his legislative allies and going after the opponent of the day, but, hey, he’s also conveniently getting the ball rolling on some free, state-funded legal defense against ethics complaints thanks to those new, conveniently timed Department of Law regulations.
We wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some kind of complaint filed on this—recall after all that Rep. Tammie Wilson got dinged for putting a legislative return address on a mailer that went outside her district—but, surprise, those same Department of Law regulations will make much of any ethics dispute confidential.
He listened so we didn’t have to
Speaking of all those right-wing media appearances, we all owe a big thanks to columnist Dermot Cole for gutting it out and wading through several of Dunleavy’s appearances so we don’t have to. Cole’s done an excellent job at pointing out how the governor is singing very different tunes depending on his audience.
To the conservative crowd, he’s a victim of the lefties along with dear ol’ President Donald Trump. To on-the-fence Alaskans and to AFN, he’s got the conciliatory “I’m promising to listen to you while strictly sticking to the script” message.
“Everyone at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Fairbanks should have a chance to see the distorted portrayal Gov. Mike Dunleavy is giving right-wing media outlets Outside about the reasons for the recall campaign against him,” Cole writes. “This interview ought to be played at the Carlson Center before he speaks at 9 a.m. so those attending the convention can see how his in-person message differs from the fable he is selling Outside.”
Cole’s been keeping track of governor’s appearances. Here’s a rundown of the recent write-ups:
- Dunleavy claims his support of Trump is ‘big part’ of recall
- Dunleavy says he can’t get ‘fair shake’ with Alaska media; seeks national help
- Dunleavy claims that like Trump, he is ‘swamp’ victim
The recall numbers
Speaking of the recall, we heard that the Fairbanks fundraiser held last night after the first main day of the Alaska Federation of Natives’ convention drew somewhere between 150 and 200 attendees. To date, we’ve heard that some 1,400 Alaskans have given to the campaign.
Speaking about recall fundraising, the group doesn’t have to disclose any of that information until the recall election becomes a reality after the second round of fundraising. Whether or not they have to reach back and disclose any of their fundraising will rely on whether or not they bring over any cash.
As a fan of wasting an afternoon digging through APOC reports, I can’t say I’m much a fan of any of these laws.
Not meant to be
We were bummed that the rumors that Dunleavy would be making a hasty exit to join Trump’s cabinet as energy secretary were shot down about as quickly as they crossed our radar. Trump even personally shot down the rumor, saying both Dunleavy and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott “would both be very good.”
It always seemed like a long-shot rumor based more in wishful thinking than reality but, hey, stranger things have happened to Alaska’s governor.
An oil tax of his own?
Still, it sounds like the year ahead will certainly give Dunleavy some resume building if he ever does want to ditch out. This week, the oil tax initiative got a surprising OK from Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer and Attorney General Kevin Clarkson and can start its signature gathering with a tight 90-ish day deadline to get the necessary signatures.
What’s more interesting is rumors that Dunleavy, gasp, is considering—or at least shopping around—his own oil tax proposal. From what we’ve heard, it would come in slightly less than what the initiative is proposing and raise somewhere in the neighborhood of the remaining half the full PFD.
It’s all about the PFD, but there’s speculation that he hopes to also win some support from a standoffish industry for bumping the Robin Brena-backed initiative off the ballot and sparing them from having to plunk down the campaign cash (perhaps putting it elsewhere).
We’re not so sure, but he’d probably love to add “Delivered a full PFD” to his state-sponsored propaganda posted around state offices.
Sure, it seems like a bizarre gambit for a governor who doesn’t have a sterling relationship with the Legislature but about $1 billion in additional annual revenue would certainly go a long way to smoothing just about every problem in his budget over. Except for, you know, the whole part where he’s been rabidly anti-tax, aligned with the anti-tax, anti-government Americans for Prosperity and proposed his own anti-tax constitutional amendment.
Then again, a $3,000 entitlement isn’t the most conservative thing in the world.
If the Legislature doesn’t pass a materially similar oil tax bill, the initiative will head to the ballot. Which ballot is a matter of when they adjourn. According to state law, the initiative goes on the first ballot that’s 120 days after adjournment.
If the Legislature wants to keep the oil tax initiative and any other initiative off the potentially tough general election ballot, they’ll need adjourn on time on April 19. Tough task.
Fairbanks Mayor Jim “My Girlfriend Did It” Matherly secured his re-election last week and looks like he got some new ink to go along with it. The race might be over, but it’s not stopping the fabulous Hrrrl Scouts from continuing to drag him. 10/10.
Happy Alaska Day!
As brought to you by Juneau Assemblywoman Carole Triem:
Happy Alaska Day! 💛💙
The holiday is supposed to commemorate two colonizing nations buying and selling land that was never theirs to begin with, but I always see people using it to celebrate how great this state and its people are, and I like that interpretation a lot better. pic.twitter.com/wpjs6b71A4
— Carole Triem (@TriemTeam) October 18, 2019
Revak vs. Shaw
Senate President Cathy Giessel said this week that she would vote to confirm Rep. Josh Revak to the Senate (never mind his position conflicting with the late Sen. Chris Birch or the fact that he was an off-list pick) when they meet in early November. This is after the group rejected Rep. Laddie Shaw.
To us, it seemed like a surprising turn of events but one insider says it’s not that surprising.
Revak went into this actually doing his homework of meeting with Republican senators ahead of time instead of walking into it with the apparent expectation that he’s owed the seat. Turns out that a little legwork goes a long way.
Revak hasn’t had a particularly great freshman so it’s with all that in mind, we say it’s a big stock down for Shaw.
When the crowd at the Alaska Federation of Natives’ convention was asked if they have a public safety crisis in their communities everyone stood up. Public safety in rural Alaska and especially the safety of Alaska Native women has been a key theme of the convention with a fair bit of shade being thrown at the governor and Department of Public Safety Commissioner Amanda Price, who’s been accused of not taking the job protecting rural Alaska seriously (though she’s very serious about policing the Alaska Stalker).
When she took the stage to proclaim that public safety was her top priority, it fell on some pretty unconvinced ears.
What speaks far louder is the administration’s hassling of non-profit groups’ attempts to recruit and hire village public safety officers. On the AFN stage, Dunleavy promised to fund VPSO recruits but behind the scenes it sounds like his administration has done everything it can to throw a wrench into recruitment efforts.
“All I can answer is what we’re going to be doing forward,” he said after getting cornered by Kyle Hopkins. “That’s going to make sure we’re funding all the hires and all the recruits that the non-profits are able to find.”
It’ll be an easy promise to keep when there’s no recruits to be found.
We can do better
The reporting on the horrific murder of Kathleen Henry has ranged from, well, problematic to appalling. The failures are well-documented in this editorial by Jenny Bell-Jones, who explains how doing things like including the criminal record of a murder victim only serve to pin blame on them.
It’s an issue that featured in AFN Chair Julie Kitka’s keynote address at AFN, during which she held a moment of silence for Henry, and we wanted to highlight it.
“We call on the media, which really sensationalized this including getting national media coverage on that, to start paying more attention to the needs of the people and the family and the victims and not glorify or over-expose the perpetrators on that,” she said. “We can do better. It’s too heart-breaking for families and friends of the victims.”
To that end, we’re excited to see the entrance of Indian Country Today to the Alaska media market. The digital news outlet is dedicated to employing solely Native journalists, which is incredibly invaluable at a time a diversity of voices and perspectives are more needed than ever.
- While Dunleavy’s appearance at AFN may have been a flop, the audience welcomed former Gov. Bill Walker with a big standing ovation.
- Alaska Supreme Court Justice Joel Bolger asked AFN to stand with him in resisting political influence over the courts (a not-so-subtle jab back over Dunleavy’s court vetoes).
- A lot of Republican legislators were spotted at the event with an earnest engagement that folks hope will last past the weekend.
Citizen of the Year
And finally, congratulations to Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, who was awarded the Alaska Federation of Natives’ Citizen of the Year Award. He spent most of his speech thanking his family for their sacrifices and for the many other rural Alaska legislators who made critical progress for rural Alaska. There are few legislators more dedicated to their community than Hoffman.