Welcome to the latest edition of Friday in the Sun, our (mostly) weekly attempt to make sense of this week in Alaska’s political news, rumors and gossip. As always, take everything with a grain of salt and a piece of discount Halloween candy.
Have a nice weekend, everybody.
Before taking on the job as Alaska’s top attorney, Attorney General Kevin Clarkson made a name for himself by losing conservative case after conservative case. Never a stranger to taking the conservative, partisan position, Clarkson oversaw unsuccessful attempts to curtail abortion, religious freedom or investigations in the Palins.
His track record as Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s attorney general so far has been met with several unsurprisingly losses, including an attempt to claim that Janus v. AFSCME required the state to bust public sector unions in what very much looks like an attempt to set up a U.S. Supreme Court test case. The state’s also seen legal loses when it came to its Medicaid “emergency” regulations.
Anyways, this week marked not one but two losses for Clarkson’s Department of Law.
On Monday, the Alaska Superior Court ruled the state was wrong to reject the election reform initiative, finding Clarkson’s argument that it violated the single-subject rule unconvincing. The ruling cleared the way for the group to get its signature booklets but, of course, the state appealed the decision asking for an emergency injunction.
The state’s reasoning essentially boiled down to: Well, we think we’ll win with the Supreme Court (if only they felt the same way about Alaska hire). The Superior Court’s response: Nope.
An emergency appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court will have to wait ‘til Monday because the courts close early on Fridays.
So, while former Rep. Jason Grenn is cracking open a fresh case of signature booklets, many political watchers are busy marveling at the attorney general’s ability to pick losing cases.
Perhaps a custom license plate is in order?
Hey, it’s available.
Legislators fire back
Meanwhile, several legislators have been on a warpath against Clarkson’s questionable decisions. Senate President Cathy Giessel was joined by Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich and Bill Wielechowski in questioning the state’s decision to abandon Alaska hire laws, accusing the administration of making law by refusing to enforce laws. They argue the state has a duty to try to uphold laws until they’re ruled unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, Wielechowski was joined by Reps. Andy Josephson and Gabrielle LeDoux in raising the alarm on convenient new regulations by the Department of Law regulations that allow Dunleavy and Clarkson to essentially give each other free legal defense against ethics complaints.
Backed up by a legislative legal memo on the proposed regulations, the group argues that the regulations that would grant personal benefits to Dunleavy and Clarkson raise a whole host of constitutional issues. The state already will reimburse private legal fees when they successfully defend themselves against bogus complaints.
No wonder the administration is so keen on reopening the constitution.
Next week is already looking like it’ll be a busy one. Top of the list is the state’s deadline to sound off on the recall petition on Monday. There’s not a lot of hope that the state will approve it, but that’s what everyone said about the oil tax initiative before that was approved.
Still, the state’s handling of the oil tax initiative has left a lot to be desired. Namely, that even though the state approved the initiative it did so while dragging its heels, outlining a potential challenge to the law and then printing a booklet cover with some pretty egregious factual errors. We’re starting to wonder if this is a preview of more meddling in elections.
Either outcome for the recall petition is likely the start of a lengthy court battle.
The Senate Republicans are expected to take up a vote on the appointment of Rep. Josh Revak to the late Sen. Chris Birch’s seat. Senate President Cathy Giessel has already indicated that she’ll support Revak’s confirmation, so we’re not expecting many surprises here.
Speaking of things that aren’t all that surprising. Dunleavy wasn’t on hand to toss out the puck at the UAA-UAF Governor’s Cup. That honor went to Sen. Natasha von Imhof.
In our own installment of people creeping on Alaska political types, we bring you our one-time (hopefully) installment of the MidnightCrawler (because naming a column “Stalker” allegedly promotes criminal stalking).
A reader sends in this picture of what they’re pretty sure is ousted Office of Management and Budget Director Donna Arduin’s departure from the Juneau airport. Arduin’s officially off the state’s payroll, but we still haven’t been able to get an answer if she’s landing a swell contract to advise on OMB/prison privatization.
We’ve heard that Arduin is keen on working with another governor. You’d think that a budget that’s fueled a recall and plummeted the governor into the bottom barrel of popularity nationally wouldn’t be a great resume, but then again Dunleavy has also formed a chummy relationship with Trump and that recall has helped propel Dunleavy into the national conservative spotlight.
‘That’s enough. Get out of here.’
That’s how U.S. Rep. Don Young ended his interview with Alaska’s lone congressional reporter in Washington, D.C. Liz Ruskin after she asked if “seems appropriate for a president to ask for an investigation into a political rival,” capping off a sterling week for the 86-year-old Republican that also included “headbumping” a reporter when that reporter asked a similar question.
For a person who seems so convinced of the president’s innocence, he doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in answering the question about foreign influence in U.S. elections. Then again, Young didn’t come across as particularly well-versed in the call, telling Ruskin that he didn’t know why Biden came up in the call with Ukraine or even which Biden it was.
Go check out Ruskin’s write-up of the interview—which includes a paragraph that starts with an “actually” so you know it’ll be fun—and consider contributing to Alaska Public Media to help keep at least one eye on D.C.
Dan Sullivan’s bill
In a week where the Alaska-related headlines out of our nation’s capital were dominated by tweets, Twitter beef and “headbumps,” there wasn’t much attention for dear ol’ Alaska U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan’s new bill with Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ed Markey on ocean acidification.
Sullivan took to Twitter to complain about the lack of Alaska-based coverage of his new bill.
So here goes: The proposed Ocean, Coastal and Estuarine Acidification Necessitates (OCEAN) Research Act would reauthorize a federal program to research and monitor ocean acidification. Ocean acidification is due to the concentration of carbon dioxide in saltwater and can mean some pretty disastrous things for sea creatures and, thereby, the seafood industry.
The bill proposes some $35.5 million annually to the effort from 2020 through 2024 for monitoring by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. There’d also be some money for, yawn, research.
End of an Era
Bartlett High School football coach Daniel Esparza announced this week that he’s hanging up his coaching headset and stepping away from the school. Esparza was one of my roommates when I first arrived in Alaska, and I remember plenty of afternoons of watching tape, game planning and researching jerseys. His love for the sport–and more importantly, for the kids playing the sport–was unparalleled. Alaska will be a little less without him and his adorable family.
You humble editor was recently gifted a collection of Alaska political merch dating back to the 80s. His Ghost of Elections Past costume last night included a 1982 Red Boucher for governor shirt, which prompted a little research into the former lieutenant governor, Fairbanks mayor and co-founder of the Fairbanks Goldpanners.
Revel in this interview he gave, cigarette in hand and vigilante justice on the mind, during the 1967 Fairbanks flood. He’d fit right in modern Anchorage politics.
Wheres our Mayor
Speaking of Fairbanks mayors.