Welcome to a late edition of Friday in the Sun, where we try to make sense of the week’s news and find some levity where we can.
Happy Solstice—and happy belated Juneteenth/happy Juneteenth if you’re going by Alaska statute—go out and do something fun with all this extra daylight because we’re not entirely sure what to do without Fairbanks’ Midnight Sun Festival celebrations.
As always, hit me up at [email protected] with any tips, comments and grammatical fixes. We’ve been spending the last few weeks going through some tech side updates so things should be going a little smoother.
With the COVID-19 pandemic and an administration that seems deadset on acting like everything’s normal (at least that’s the most charitable explanation for what’s going on), the state is running head-first into a disastrous election day (at least if you’re interested in fair and free elections).
They’re so in need of poll workers that they’re begging groups to adopt precincts, warning that some polling stations may be closed (one guess on which ones those may be). They’ve sent out by-mail absentee applications to voters over 65 (and, no, it’s not because they typically vote conservative) and promised that poll workers will be decked out head to toe in PPE because nothing says everything’s fine like a face shield.
This week, Lt. Gov. Kevin “Finger on the Scales” Meyer gave an update on elections where he said, sure, everything will be fine and there’s absolutely no need to even begin to consider vote by mail, which Anchorage was able to do no problem in the middle of the lockdown earlier this year. Most of the presentation seemed to be focused on how vulnerable vote-my-elections are to fraud, a favorite talking point of conservatives.
Everything about this stinks.
The adopt-a-precinct-or-you-might-lose-it plan gives the advantage to districts where folks can afford to pick up a 14-hour workday on a Tuesday. The plan to mail out absentee ballot applications acknowledges the risk of COVID-19 to seniors but ignores the risk to everyone else, particularly minority communities where COVID-19 poses a higher risk of death. Sure, anyone can apply for by-mail absentee ballots for any reason but even that has its roadblocks, requiring people to mail in ballot with their own postage and have their votes witness by another person.
Taken together, these are all roadblocks small—like the cost of a stamp—and large—like your life—to be able to vote that Meyer and company don’t seem particularly keen on truly fixing, instead offering inequitable band-aids for a problem that could really be resolved with a switch to vote by mail.
And the resistance to move to the vote-by-mail elections allowed by the Legislature is just more partisan fearmongering, with Meyer worrying about the mountains and mountains of paper ballots that campaign workers may be tempted to snap up.
As for those ballots, one politico points out that the ballot system the state uses could easily programmed to count only certain questions on a ballot. The state could print both the Republican and everyone-else questions on a single ballot and filter them by whatever ballot the voter has opted for.
We’re trying our best to pretend that campaign season isn’t already underway, but a tipster alerted us to a candidate forum out in Mat-Su this week where Rep. David “Everybody’s Second Least Favorite Legislator” Eastman made a nearly unrecognizable appearance:
So, wait, you’re saying all the mask-wearing on the floor was just big political theater?
We’re shocked. Shocked! Well, not that shocked.
One weird trick to getting Republicans to care about racism
At long last
This week’s press release from the Interior Delegation caught my attention: Interior Alaska lawmakers praise investment in kiln that will reduce PM2.5 emissions.
You see, back in the day when your humble editor was a bright-eyed dweeb covering the Interior for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner no other story dominated my attention as much as the Interior’s continually terrible wintertime air pollution. It was a long-running story filled with local infighting, Tammie Wilson, gimmicky solutions pushed by Tammie Wilson, the we’re-still-waiting arrival of widespread and affordable natural gas, dire health warnings and Tammie Wilson.
One of the big problems is folks in the Interior refuse to stop burning wet wood, which not only produces a bunch of smoke but also doesn’t produce much heat, requiring people to throw even more wet logs into the stove. One of the many solutions floated at the time was a wood-drying kiln.
The idea being implemented now is a bit different than what was proposed back then but, hey, eight years isn’t too shabby.
The Alaska Federation of Natives announced this week that the keynote speaker for its annual convention—still TBD if the Oct. 15-17 event be online or in-person—will be House Speaker Bryce Edgmon. The theme of the convention this year is “Good Government, Alaskans Decide.”
University of Alaska
The University of Alaska faculty union kicked off the week by calling for the resignation of University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen, who has just last week found out why everyone else had withdrawn their names from the University of Wisconsin president search and withdrew himself from consideration. Turns out applying for another job at a fiscally fraught institution in the middle of upheaval while your fiscally fraught institution is in the middle of its own upheaval isn’t a great look.
Faculty has long felt Johnsen, who had previously been the labor negotiator for the university, doesn’t have the best interests of the faculty in mind and smell blood in the water but it seems like the underlying issue is the pervading sense that they aren’t being heard in these big discussions.
There was a moment this week where it seemed his resignation may have been imminent, at least from rumblings we heard, but so far that has not come to pass.
While the faculty group certainly wouldn’t mind seeing Johnsen go, it doesn’t seem like that’s necessarily the goal here. The University of Alaska is pushing ahead with the plans to potentially fold University of Alaska Southeast into the University of Alaska Fairbanks in what looks like a lite retread of last year’s plan to consolidate the university under a single accreditation.
Johnsen’s certainly on thin ice, but if he and the regents can prove that they’re really intent on including the input of faculty and students this time around it could go a long, long way.
One last thing
The men known as the Fairbanks Four, released from prison in 2015 after the state basically (but not technically) admitted they had been wrongly imprisoned in their teens for the murder of teenager John Hartman in October 1997, have been in and out of the news since their release, mostly making headlines for crime.
Because of the way the release worked, the men were largely ineligible for any of the reentry services the state would offer to convicted criminals. It’s been a tough go of things, and this gleeful scrutiny on men who had their young lives ripped away from them from shoddy, racist police work doesn’t help.
What’s gone less noticed by the press is the hard work and success story of Marvin Roberts, who now works as a prevention coordinator for Tanana Chiefs Conference and sits on the Board of Directors of Doyon, Limited. I’ve met Marvin before and he’s a kind, driven person who wants to give back and help others.
This week, he announced that he’s closed on a house with his adorable daughter Lorelai.
Congratulations, Marvin. You deserve it.