Welcome to Friday in the Sun, the latest and sometimes greatest Friday-based political column rounding up the news, gossip and occasional rumor from the week that was in the Alaska political world.
And, whew, it’s been a week.
As always, dorking out over Alaska politics is best done as a recreational activity. Send your tips, complaints and unsolicited-yet-appreciated edits to [email protected].
(Programming note: It looks like we might be finally closing on a Big Life Decision next week so the blog may be more spotty than usual.)
‘I think we’ve really got a problem here.’
The House continued its push this week to get answers about the administration’s handling of the botched Alaska CARES program—more on that here and here—as well as workplace safety at some of the state’s high-risk facilities like prisons, the Alaska Pioneer homes and the Alaska Psychiatric Institute.
While the administration did show up with a retread of promises made a month ago to fix the business relief program, they just completely skipped out on the workplace safety hearing. The following day, the state announced an employee at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute had tested positive for COVID-19.
At that hearing, legislators heard from unions and a former public employee who all warned the state was failing to ensure safety in high-risk facilities and that there’s a general fear of retaliation for speaking up about those failings.
“Basically, I felt like it was a health choice versus an employment choice,” said former Department of Labor employee Corinne Conlon, who said she quit rather than come in to participate in an online training because she had a recent respiratory infection. “I had that option, but I don’t think that’s an option for a lot of people so I think I can speak more freely than others about what’s going on. … I think a lot of state employees don’t have the freedom and the ability to share openly because of concerns about retaliation. Even asking questions during the staff meeting, it felt like we were pushing boundaries.”
Union reps raised concerns about the availability of personal protective equipment in prisons and at API, as well as the administration’s general refusal to notify unions or employees of infections at the workplace. That’s particularly concerning given API’s managing firm Wellpath’s… questionable handling of COVID-19 in the other facilities in its portfolio.
This is all as the state is pushing to reopen the Alaska Pioneer Homes to visitors.
While, yes, the testimony was largely coming from the unions, it sure seems like the administration has extended its union-busting agenda to the COVID-19 situation, refusing to meet with reps about safety in the workplace or even notify them when there’s an infection at the workplace.
Alaska Correctional Officers Association Business Manager Joshua Wilson told the committee that the administration has met with them just once in the last nine months “and that’s just so they could say they have.”
He said while troopers have been able to access PPE, correctional officers have had trouble getting access to N95 masks though they were each supplied with two cloth masks made by prisoners.
When he raised the issue about masks, Dunleavy-aligned Rep. Sarah Vance asked if the dues-collecting union was providing them if they felt it was so important… because of course (this is the legislator who dragged kids for not properly using her title after all).
Wilson said even though that it’s not their responsibility to ensure that it’s a safe workplace, they actually had tried to get ahold of them but have been unable to get them given the supply challenges.
At the very least Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, was able to approach the situation like the compassionate human we’d all hope to send to Juneau, noting that it sure didn’t sound like the Dunleavy administration was working with employees.
“I really think we’ve got a problem here and hope we can do something where the people’s concerns are considered and answered and some of those are taken into consideration,” he said, “because right now it sounds like we’re running by the seat of our pants and whatever happens, happens.”
That’s the deadline to register to vote in the primary election, so if you’re somehow both a reader of a wonky politics blog and not registered to vote go get that fixed!
As for the primary election itself, there’s a whole bunch of interesting races on the Republican side of the ticket. The marquee races will decide the fate of “moderate” Republicans who’ve dared work with Democrats and refused to rubberstamp the Dunleavy agenda. On that slate is Senate President Cathy Giessel as well as Reps. Jennifer Johnston, Chuck Kopp and Gary Knopp.
We’ve heard mixed things about these races but there’s definitely some nervousness going around.
We’ll also be interested to see what comes of the races on the far-right side of the Republican political spectrum. There’s the blood bowl that is the six-way blood bowl for Senate District D, currently held by Sen. David Wilson. Wilson’s obviously got the edge in a divided field, but who knows when one of the candidates has “Santa” as his nickname on the ballot.
Then of course there’s the race for the heart of the insurgent far-right in House District 10 between Rep. David “I gave up on masks when the government started recommending them” Eastman and… Alaska Family Action-endorsed Jesse Sumner.
We’ve written about this a lot before, but at its core Eastman represents an uncontrollable wildcard for the Republican Party, one who’s willing to set his sights on fellow Republicans instead of just Democrats while also tapping into the conspiratorial, often-racist leanings of the modern Republican party.
He’s also the guy who imploded the Republican party’s flimsy grasp on the House (if it can be blown up by Eastman, then it was probably never meant to be) even though he was, gasp, offered a chairmanship for playing nice with fellow Republicans.
APOC filings due
Anyways, we’ll soon get a look at the money behind all these races with the 30-day primary reports due to the Alaska Public Offices Commission this weekend. We’ll break down those numbers in classic belabored fashion next week.
But for now, here’s one of our favorite things we’ve seen on APOC and keep forgetting to share it:
Speaking of which…
Oh no…. it’s really happening.
Election lawsuit season
There’ve been several legal developments in the political world this week—and we’re not talking about the Alaska Bar Association’s invitation of Esptein buddy Alan Dershowitz to speak this fall.
The Fair Share Act initiative is mostly cleared for the general election after the Superior Court Judge Thomas Matthews tossed a lawsuit challenging the initiative over its signature gathering process, arguing that because the group may have paid more than $1 per signature that the whole thing should have been kicked off the ballot.
Judge Matthews’ order (which includes quite possibly the most Alaska line in a ruling) found the limitation unconstitutional and the order is yet another confirmation that, surprise, judges really abhor the idea of preventing people from voting on how government is run.
“The voters will have the final say at the ballot box if the initiative is put to them for a vote. Plaintiffs have the right to comment on the merits of the petition, just as the backers of the Fair Share may comment on their position. By contrast, disregard of thousands of otherwise valid signatures operates like a sledgehammer on a mosquito. It may do the job, but it wreaks havoc in the process,” he wrote. “And there is no justification for such a remedy simply because the circulator failed to meet a technical requirement, something very likely outside the knowledge of the registered voters, limiting their rights and unrelated to the substance of the petition.”
The Alaska Libertarian Party dropped its ballot access lawsuit after running into judicial skepticism about getting on the bamosllot…. If only they had the money to hire signature collectors!
And as of today, The Disability Law Center of Alaska, Native Peoples Action Community Fund, Alaska Public Interest Research Group and two individuals are suing the Division of Elections over its plans to only send by-mail absentee applications to voters 65 and older. Despite a severe lack of poll workers, the state is continuing to push for in-person voting for this year’s elections.
Though both the Republican and Democratic parties are working to get those applications out and while the rate of absentee ballot requests has been historic, the group argues that everyone should get the by-mail applications as a matter of fairness.
“For my part, I think the state had the right idea, ‘Let’s make it super easy,’ ” Scott Kendall, who is apparently the busiest attorney in Alaska, told the Associated Press.
The primary election is Aug. 18 with the deadline for the state to receive your by-mail absentee application is Aug. 8. You can apply online (as long as you have a state-issued ID).
Trump 48.8 – Biden 47.6
Let’s end this week’s column with some fun: Alaska polling!
Alaska Survey Research has got some new results out from a survey of 663 registered Alaska Voters with a self-reported margin of error of +/- 3.9%.
There’s loads more polling over there with trends on Trump, Dunleavy, the recall and increasingly unpopular U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, so head over to the firm’s Facebook page for more.
And, as always, have a nice weekend.