It’s been a week.
Welcome to the latest edition of
Friday Saturday in the Sun, where we try to make sense of the news, gossip, rumors and innuendo from the Alaska political world. As always, we really meant to fact check everything in here but ran out of time so stay skeptical and, as always, watch the skies.
Comments? Criticism? Juicy gossip? Hit up your ever so humble editor at: [email protected] (and don’t forget that ak).
‘It’s called discovery, dickheads’
Former assistant attorney general and conservatives’ favorite bogeywoman Libby Bakalar was in Anchorage on Thursday night for a seminar on the First Amendment in the age of social media. It was a well-attended event filled with a lot of fanboys and fangirls of One Hot Mess that I’m sure had to be reenergizing after a year of being put through the wringer.
“Thank you for dealing with all that crap,” one attendee told her.
The speech was largely biographical, mapping Bakalar’s rebellious nature—“I was congenitally incapable of shutting up,” she said—from the green couch outside the principal’s office to her political activism and eventual firing by Gov. Mike Dunleavy and now-former Chief of Staff Tuckerman Babcock as part of the loyalty pledge firings.
She talked about the heartbreak of losing her job and her work family and how the experience has radicalized her into one of the administration’s biggest headaches. There’s a lawsuit over her firing, she’s become a strong organizer of opposition efforts, and she’s even put her legal background to work with a lawsuit on behalf of Pioneer Home residents over the administration’s poorly planned rate hikes (oh, yeah, the administration is asking the Legislature for $5 million after they realized they couldn’t extract as much money out of the residents as they hoped).
What one attendee wanted to know was, though, was “Why?” Why did Dunleavy and Tuckerman Babcock have it out for her? Is her opposition to Trump really enough to stir up the mess they’ve created? She doesn’t know, but she hopes her lawsuit will provide some answers.
“It’s called discovery, dickheads,” Bakalar said, directing the dickhead comments at Dunleavy and Babcock.
She didn’t have much of an update to offer on her lawsuit against the administration but said that she believed the ACLU-led case is in the discovery stage where both sides get to run depositions and dig through emails and the sort. The key thing about Bakalar’s case—and likely part of why Babcock didn’t get to stick around for too long—is that the case has been cleared to not only go after the state but also Dunleavy and Babcock in personal capacities.
I’ve seen a lot of tough talk and legal posturing vanish as soon as they reach the discovery stage. A lot of damaging and embarrassing stuff could come out through this process, so stay tuned.
But, ultimately, what ended up being the most resonating thing from Bakalar’s talk was a discussion of all of this under the lens of the First Amendment.
“We don’t need the First Amendment for speech that is easy,” Bakalar explained, noting that Dunleavy and others have no problem with speech that is praising, subservient and loyal to those in power.
It’s not, for example, for speech like this:
“We need the First Amendment for speech that makes government uncomfortable. … Speech that is challenging, offensive and disloyal,” she said.
It’s for speech like this:
She said the goal of all these cuts to health care and education are in line with the greater goals of keeping people sick, stupid, scared and divided.
She argued that taking care of yourself, educating yourself, being brave and being empathetic to one another is a form of resistance to the modern forces like Dunleavy and Trump.
“We need to be brave because they want us to be afraid,” she said.
“I have come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate (So, whatever, why even try).”
It’s those last lines from Bakalar that I think serve as good guidance to responding to the bitter–but ultimately expected–disappointment from Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s explanation of why she wouldn’t be calling for witnesses in the impeachment process. Don’t count on anything, whether it be in politics or in your personal life, to get better without putting in the effort. Focus on what you have the power to change.
Still, if you need to wallow in the disappointment, The Washington Post editorial’s, “The cringing abdication of Senate Republicans,” is a good place to start:
“The public explanations the senators offered were so weak and contradictory as to reveal themselves as pretexts. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she weighed supporting ‘additional witnesses and documents, to cure the shortcomings’ of the House’s impeachment process, but decided against doing so. Apparently she preferred a bad trial to a better one — but she did assure us that she felt ‘sad’ that ‘the Congress has failed.'”
Lessons in shade
Back in the Legislature, it’s been a busy week as legislators in both the House and Senate have gone to work unpacking the governor’s budget proposal. There’s a lot to get through, so Senate Finance Committee Co-Chair Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, has been running a tight, minimal-nonsense ship this week. A highlight being this interaction with temporary Revenue Commissioner Mike Barnhill:
Perhaps that explains why Barnhill doesn’t have a ton of interest in sticking around as a permanent commissioner. But, hey, if that whole lottery thing comes together, he would make a great host as evidenced by his legitimately fun performance at the education raffle drawing this week:
‘Public safety delayed’
Gov. Mike Dunleavy gave his State of the State address on Monday night to a less-than-enthused Legislature. It was a sloppy, scattered and generally detail-free address seemed largely aimed at praising Trump while unconvincingly taking the heat out of the recall effort. The muted legislative response made a lot of sense the following morning, when legislators started to dig into the budget, finding that even the most basic of promises weren’t really represented in the document.
Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, was one of the most blunt in his assessment of the budget, particularly when it came to rural public safety. There’s no additional money for Village Public Safety Officers and, instead, there’s about $7.5 million for 15 additional troopers, which the Office of Management and Budget folks said is even better.
“Will there be a trooper in Hooper Bay?” asked Hoffman.
“Not necessarily in the rural areas, but part of their coverage area,” replied OMB analyst Brian Fechter. “They may be Anchorage-based.”
That’s not what Hoffman wanted to hear, pointing out that that’s part of the problem with public safety.
“Even if there’s good weather it may take a day or two to get there,” he said. “It’s public safety delayed.”
Speaking of delays, word has it that despite all the talk about how the Mat-Su doesn’t use the Alaska Marine Highway System so they can’t be bothered to care about it, “a large number of staffers” and some legislators from the Mat-Su have been without their vehicles for more than two weeks due to ferry problems. Surprisingly none of this has come up in their opposition to funding the system.
Though, in the logic that conservatives have applied to schools, if the system isn’t working as intended the solution will be to cut it.
And that’s (not really) all, folks!
There’s a ton more on the radar this week–particularly lots of juicy stuff emerging from the finance subcommittees’ budget reviews putting heat on the administration on everything from its questionable lawsuits to the dairy program–but we’ll save that for another day (probably Monday). In the meantime, go make something good for The Big Game or go cheer on the dogs and teams running the Yukon Quest, which is getting underway currently.