Saturday in the Sun (Jan. 25): The Relaxed Fit edition

Friday in the Sun is here

Welcome to a special “Friday got away from me so I’m writing this up on a Saturday” edition of Friday in the Sun, our weekly column attempting to make sense of the week that was in Alaska politics. As always, this is a heaping helping of opinion, speculation, rumor and innuendo so take it all with a grain or two of salt.

Have a nice weekend and all see all y’all cool non-session folks at the Royal Rumble.

Bye, Tammie

In what sounds to be a real surprise to Juneau is North Pole Rep. Tammie Wilson’s announcement that she’s resigned from the Legislature. She’ll be taking a spot in the administration as a special assistant watchdog of the Office of Children’s Services, an agency that she once accused of ‘legal kidnapping.’

Her resignation is effective later today, which will give her at least a few more hours to be rock solid that she can take actually the position. The Alaska Constitution bars legislators from taking a state job that was created or saw a pay raise while the legislators were in office (columnist Dermot Cole delved into this issue in greater depth). Still, there was a similar situation back when Dan Saddler took a job in the Department of Natural Resources. A legal opinion from the time argues that it basically comes down to whether the new job was created during her current term.

If it doesn’t work out, then she could always give running for mayor of the Fairbanks North Star Borough another shot.

Also, Wilson passed a bill that would have essentially barred exactly this practice but Dunleavy vetoed it.

Wilson’s departure leaves yet another vacancy in the House, and Gov. Mike Dunleavy has another opportunity to fill a seat with an ally (Wilson was one of the few far-right thorns in Dunleavy’s side during his first year in office). I’m sure that North Pole Republicans ought to run a more normal process than we’ve seen rece—oh, according to the Alaska Landmine, they’ll be holding the replacement meetings down in… Anchorage… for a seat in North Pole. Neat. Everything is fine.

There’s already a good deal of chatter about who her replacement might be. The obvious name is former one-term Rep. Doug Isaacson, who had the opportunity to keep Wilson’s seat warm while the redistricting board figured it stuff out.

Isaacson is the former mayor of North Pole and a solid conservative—who once said the Second Amendment should be so broadly interpreted that it would allow the personal ownership of fighter jets—but it’s less clear if it’s a Dunleavy conservative.

For fun, here’s what he said about F-22s:

“If the state can afford an F-22, and I as a citizen can afford an F-22, this article gives me the right to own exactly the same type of armament that the federal government has. That may sound like it’s way on the edge,” he said. “This well-regulated militia is not a hunting club, it’s not a recreational force. As a matter of fact, it is to keep and bear arms, is a right to have free, non-tyrannical government.”

So, honestly, a pretty good replacement for Wilson.

As far as the Legislature goes, Wilson’s departure ought to put to rest the rumors about a reorganization of the minority Republican caucus. There had never been particularly solid talk about what was going on, but you could assume that Wilson would’ve liked a more prominent role in the group.

As far as the entertainment value of the Legislature goes, Wilson’s departure is certainly a downgrade and we’re not just talking about some of the wilder moments. In a world where everyone seems to be angling for elections, Wilson seemed to truly be dedicated to representing her constituents every day she was in office.

Most of her legislation was brought by constituents and she frequently invited them to participate in the legislative process in a “If you’re willing to fight for this, so am I” sort of thing.

I think it’s that concern for the constituents that drove her to join the majority last year. As one of the Legislature’s most fervent—and frequently wrong—budget cutters, she saw just how wrong many of the cuts proposed by the governor was. Dunleavy was pushing too far and too fast.

And even though she was booted left the majoritry on her own accord after being demoted from Finance Committee co-chair for lending her support to the Wasilla 22 for their “special” session last year, she was the only pro-veto legislator to return to Juneau and actually put her votes and her reasoning on the record.

Her work certainly earned the respect of her colleagues, who gave her a very nice send-off on Friday afternoon. Some are likely happy to see her go, while I’m sure folks in the OCS office might be bracing for what comes next.

Veto overrides

Speaking of which, the Legislature made a run at overriding the vetoes of $5 million in ferry funding as well as two items relate to school bond debt for construction and renovations on Friday. It continued to lay bare the divides in the Senate majority while finally putting the Wasilla 22 up against a vote they couldn’t dodge (though that didn’t stop them from trying anyways).

There’s a lot that can be said about the day, but the takeaway is that it’s now pretty clear why the Dunleavy Republicans ditched out for the Wasilla “special session” last year. All the claims about caring and about having empathy about communities affected by the ferry cuts not only rang hollow but, honestly who do they think they’re convincing?

At least the Mat-Su legislators had the boldness to admit that they and their communities really just don’t care about coastal Alaska and that it’s a “choice” to live there anyways.

Still, given all the “we don’t need the state government”-ing they’ve been doing, we wonder how they’d feel about being forced to finally pick up the bill for their law enforcement. I wonder how folks in Souteast feel about providing troopers to the Mat-Su. They did choose to live there, after all.

As for the absence of Rep. Ben Carpenter, which Sen. Lora Reinbold and Rep. David Eastman attempted to use to delay the vote altogether, it sounds like he had a legitimate reason for being gone. It wasn’t a repeat of the peony business or Sens. Shelley Hughes and Mike Shower bolting from capitol like they did last year.

‘You’re out of order!’

Ah, Sen. Lora Reinbold.

The joint session on veto overrides was particularly heated on Friday as Reinbold attempted to place a call on the house, which would have set aside all business while the Legislature could go track down Carpenter and force him to return from his yet-to-be-excused absence from Juneau.

House Rules Chair Rep. Chuck Kopp made the case that such a motion was purely intended to delay and should be ruled out of order. Senate President Cathy Giessel agreed, which garnered some off-mic shouting from Reinbold that included an “You’re out of order!”

Suffice it to say, things are incredibly tense among Senate Republicans. It’s ostensibly over the PFD, but it’s laying bare political differences that have long been there from more traditional Republicans and the conservative/populist/libertarian/Dunleavy Republicans.

Still, as it currently stands, it appears that everyone’s still somehow in the majority caucus. It sounds like leadership isn’t particularly keen on kicking members out and would rather leave it up to those members to walk away, which has led to many shrugs and “I guess?” responses to questions about who’s in and who’s out of the majority.

The problem for the Dunleavy Republicans is what kind of landing spot they may have if they jet.

To hold any power in the Senate, the Dunleavy Republicans would need to muster at least five members, which would entitle them to seats on committees. Five would entitle them to one seat on most committees. Seven would entitle them to two on most committees. Here’s the full breakdown:

A prospective minority can count on Sens. Reinbold, Shower and Hughes as a lock. That leaves Sens. Revak, Wilson, Costello and Micciche to bring over to fill out the remainder of the minority.

In a sentence that I never thought I’d be writing, it seems like Revak and Wilson are the more reasonable of the four. At least they’re keeping their heads down during this fray, sparing us of lengthy indignant floor speeches about “true conservatives.”

(Side note: What does it even mean to be “conservative” in Alaska anymore? What precisely about emptying savings to cover a $1.5 billion deficit is conservative?)

Whether any of this comes to pass is about as clear as is the ongoing questions of who is actually in the majority and who’s not, but it would certainly make things “interesting.” There’s certainly the possibility of the Senate ending up with three caucuses with fewer than 10 members.

Also keep in mind that every member of Senate leadership except for Majority Leader Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, is on this year’s ballot so there’s certainly some politics at play.

Still, the other thing to keep in mind is that whoever holds the seat of Senate President later this year will get to pick a member of the Alaska Redistricting Board and help reshape electoral maps for the 2022 election and onward. This is an issue that Reinbold has already raised, fearing that departing from the minority could put the pick into Hoffman’s hands.


Speaking about elections, we’d like to think that they’re impossibly far away but, alas, we can’t escape them.

Alaska Survey Research released some new poll numbers this week that show Sen. Dan Sullivan’s favorability rating is below 50 percent, which ought to be at least a little bit worrying. The main point of the poll, though, was to look at Alaskans’ attitudes about the impeachment trial.

It finds that a slight majority of Alaskans oppose the impeachment and removal of President Trump (a surprisingly close 51 percent to 46 percent, but keep in mind that public support for the removal of Trump has climbed up the longer the process has gone). The results don’t show much of a hit to Sullivan if he votes to acquit, but the politically speaking Murkowski is a far tougher spot because her supporters are more evenly split between Republicans and impeachment-supporting Democrats.

In what has become an election year trend, national groups are thinking that Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young is more vulnerable than ever as he prepares for a rematch with Democrat-backed independent Alyse Galvin. Not only have Young’s fundraising numbers left a lot to be desired, which has made national Republicans nervous and put the race on the battleground map of the DCCC.

‘Unforeseen circumstances’

Department of Corrections Commissioner Nancy Dahlstrom made a surprise announcement on Thursday when she said the administration had abandoned plans to ship inmates Outside, canceling the request for proposal and announcing the state would, after all, be reopening the Palmer Correctional Center.

Legislators, who had been in the middle of considering a bill to outright ban the practice, cheered the move but never did follow through with asking Dahlstrom how the RFP had gone. I speculated that given the Legislature’s stance—given the pending legislation and the fact the governor must get the money from the Legislature—that it hadn’t gone particularly well.

Well, that sounds like it’s the case. One source says the state received exactly zero complete responses to the RFP.

The headlines about furious legislators would have enough to scare away any private company and even the proposal includes a section about “unforeseen circumstances,” noting that it “include(s) the failure of the Legislature to appropriate funds.” It also notes that the contract can’t include the cost to lobby the Legislature for enabling legislation or money.

What a waste of time.


Speaking of other administrative bad looks, we’ve heard that the Department of Labor is abandoning part of its controversial regulations that would upend the trades labor market in Alaska, specifically parts of the regulations that pertain to the controversial trainee program. It would still, though, make it easier for people trained and licensed in other states to work in Alaska without going through any of the state’s training requirements.

Still, it’s not entirely surprising given the bipartisan backlash against the measure—getting heat not just from the usual suspects but also minority Republican Reps. Kelly Merrick and Laddie Shaw—as well as opposition from unions and anti-union groups like the Associated Builders and Contractors.

Tweet(s) of the week

Seriously, what’s been going on with KTUU’s social media?

“Your goofy tweets are actually pretty entertaining, I guess.”

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