Like many of you, that’s pretty much all I knew about Jeff Landfield before he made his debut in the Alaska media world with the Alaska Landmine in October 2017. The party animal had run a few long-shot campaigns with his most notable accomplishment beating former Rep. Craig Johnson in early returns for the Republican primary for Senate District L before they’d both finish far behind Sen. Natasha von Imhof.
With the launch of the personality-infused Alaska Landmine, we’ve all gotten to know Jeff a whole lot more—for better or for worse—and, personally, as a political reporter who made the leap into the blogosphere just months before the arrival of Jeff, I’ve had a front-row seat.
I’ve given him some advice on some stories, ran an intermittent political radio show with him (we never did come up with a better name than “The Jeff Landfield Show,” though I was always partial to Blog Boys) and frequently found myself feeling conflicted about my ties to him.
There have certainly been times when I’ve been disappointed with Jeff—sometimes calling him out and more often just enjoying the backlash to his worrying about “woke warriors”—but there have also been times where he’s surprised me, offering a far-more empathetic and nuanced understanding of some issues—particularly immigration—than people would ever expect out of the “Speedo Guy.”
When I saw Jeff was making his third bid at running for Alaska Senate as an independent, my first thought was likely the same as many others. “He can’t be serious, right?” So, when I sat down with him on my back porch—at what was hopefully a Dr. Anne Zink-approved distance—that’s where I started the interview.
(Note, some of these responses and questions have been edited down a bit for brevity and readability. Some have also been rearranged. If I’ve missed anything, I’m sure Jeff will let me know.)
TMS: So… ya serious?
Landfield: Dead serious
TMS: You sure?
Landfield: So serious, I’ve already got my petition already certified. … It took me six weeks and I’ve raised ten grand from a lot of good donors. … I think being able to get those signatures and busting my ass shows how serious I am. Some people say it’s a joke or a gimmick or pumping up the Landmine. I’ll be very honest with you that the very moment I decided to run was in the end of March, I was in Juneau on a Sunday afternoon in the hotel writing my column. I got a text saying, ‘Get to the capitol right now.’ … I get to the Senate Finance room and there’s all these senators in there, half the senate, there’s a meeting being run, von Imhof’s at the head of the table and there’s a sign on the door saying ‘Private conference call, stay out.’ (Eventually, Sen. Bert Stedman came out, crumpled the sign and let Jeff in) … Every single CEO of the 12 Native corporations are on the phone, testifying on the budget, dividends and big votes coming up. It was clearly a way to provide cover for some of the senators who may be wavering on how they’re going on the dividend. So, I’m tweeting this out … and then von Imhof figures out I’m tweeting this out and she just loses it on me, just loses it. Screaming, “Blogger, blogger in the room!” and apologizing to these millionaire CEOs. It just right away hit me that the times she’s been taking public testimony on the budget, the dividend, whatever and the public gets limited to one minute or two minutes and when it’s too many people, she slams down the gavel and walks out the room. It was the moment I decided I don’t want to be represented by somebody like that, who caters to certain people who are campaign contributors, who are friends or are insiders. People with power, wealth or connections. I don’t care if you’re the CEO of the company and making $20 million a year or if you’re working in the cafeteria or a janitor or you’re a teacher or a stay-at-home mom. Everybody gets the same time, in the open and in the public. That’s the moment I decided to run.
I’ve grown very frustrated with the partisan politics in general because in the Legislature—and I spent the last two years in Juneau—I got to know almost all of them very well and it’s funny because they all basically agree what needs to happen but then when it comes to the actual voting, public comments or policy that changes and, frankly, that needs to stop. We’re out of money.
TMS: So…. You’re serious?
Landfield: Oh yeah, I’m very serious. We’ve put out a series of videos, we’ve got a website we’ve put up. I’ve been going door-to-door, wearing a mask—knock at the door and back up—maintaining the distancing. It’s difficult but necessary. I’ve raised $10,000 and I’m planning to raise as much as I can. My goal is $50,000. … von Imhof is interesting because she’s managed to make some convenient alliances against the governor but she’s also managed to upset a lot of Republicans, a lot of Democrats, her style of running meetings and insulting people is wrong. … I don’t care how smart you are—you can have all the solutions—but if you’re not willing to listen people, work with people—constituents and your colleagues—to find consensus and find compromise, which is required, then you’re not going to get anywhere.
TMS: Well, I was going to ask if you’re serious like three more times, but it sounds like you’re serious.
Landfield: I think we all know what a not serious candidate looks like because there’s many of them.
TMS: Do you feel like you’ve made mistakes and how do you learn from them?
Landfield: We all make mistakes. I think I look at, for example, my last campaign and I took, in my mind, seriously but I went back and watched some videos and it was not a serious campaign. It was fun, we had a good time, but I think to earn people’s votes you have to rightfully convince them and show them you’ll be serious. Legislator or senator, that means something.
I’ll never forget this interaction a few months after the last election in 2016, and it was a woman who said “I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you,” and I said, “At least I didn’t lose by a few votes, I lost pretty bad. Well, at least I got your vote.” And she goes, “Can I be honest with you? I didn’t vote for you.”
And this was someone I had no doubt would have voted for me. I said, “Why not?”
And she said, “I’ll tell you the truth, I was planning on voting for you. I had every intention of voting for you. I went into the booth, close the curtain and looked at your race for about a minute and I voted for Natasha.”
I said, “Really, why?”
And she said, “Because i couldn’t picture you as a senator.”
And that was about all the things I did, the video of me coming out of the water. All these things that I did that were fun, they were entertaining. I like to have fun, maybe more than a lot of people but there’s a time for fun and there’s a time for serious. And now is about one of the most serious times Alaskans face. No savings, big issue of this dividend that we can’t seem to solve after five years and a fundamental question about how the Legislature is going to fund our state government.
And sometimes, when I feel attacked, I’ve learned to step back and maybe wait before saying something. When you’re angry and you’re emotional, it’s very easy to write or say something that’s reactionary. I have made mistakes. I have spoken too quickly; I’ve written too quickly. It’s important to learn and I’m still learning to back up and understand why someone is doing something.
TMS: One of the things I think people have criticized you about is your relationship with women, but I’m curious if there are women in Alaska who you respect as leaders in that realm?
Landfield: Senate President Cathy Giessel. She’s been working with Minority Leader Begich, working with everybody in the Senate. She saw and observed how bad it is to be a leader in an organization like the Senate and be very our-side-versus-their-side and the Senate’s been very copacetic, 20-0 votes, 19-1 votes. … I respect her—we used to not get along—but I thought she did a very good job in the Senate with how she was working with everybody.
One of my very good friends is Margaret Stock, who’s done great work with immigration and helped a friend of mine come back from Russia when he was trapped there. She’s a brilliant woman, done great work with immigration and a military colonel. One of my donors is Ella Ede who is a great friend of mine and runs Alaska Resource Education and is very involved in politics. Allison who does the Stalker is great, good friend of mine and her column is awesome. People love it. … I worked for an IT firm owned by two women and loved working for them, they were incredible.
The speedo thing created that narrative. People are going to say what they are going to say.
TMS: Next session, I think there’ll be a lot of attention on policing issues that have been raised in the Black Lives Matter protests. Sometimes you’ve seemed to dismiss them as “woke warriors” and can you talk about your relationship with that. What do you think about this movement and the discussion of reallocating those resources?
Landfield: I absolutely think there’s a police issue in this country, especially when it comes to the militarization. I think a big part of it is going back decades of militarization. I think like most people, I haven’t had very many positive interactions with the police … so I think improving the way police interact with the community is important. I acknowledge that a Black person or a person of color has a rougher time. That’s clear. … I know as a white guy, I’ve had a better go of it and acknowledge that that’s a problem.
When it comes to the “Woke” stuff that is a problem on the far-left, just like we have on the far-right. On the far-left, it’s a problem of people who are in their mind very virtuistic and always right and if you don’t agree with them and challenge them you are whatever you are, you’re racist, alt-right or whatever and I believe in talking to folks and having a conversation. I don’t believe in people being ridiculed, attacked or going after your employers. … I think so many people are afraid to speak up because they’re afraid of the reaction. It’s impossible to live in a free society if you’re afraid to say something because of what might happen to you for what you say. There are bad people who say bad things that we can absolutely all condemn but when you’re just a person who wants to say this but, geeze, I don’t want to get attacked by the woke mob.
I think sometimes those people who are the hardcore woke folks, in a lot of cases act like bullies and was taught as a child to stand up to bullies otherwise they’ll keep bullying you.
There are a lot of systemic problems in our country—racism and inequality—and I believe a lot of it has to do with class. If you’re poor and Black, you have a big problem. But if you’re poor in general you have problems. … We have to look at ways to improve peoples’ economic situation and that extends to the justice system. If you look at how many trials to jury, it’s very few. People plead out, go to jail, sit in jail for months or years without bail.
TMS: The other major issue facing Alaska is going to be the COVID-19 pandemic. What should we be doing now and what should we be looking at ahead for the next year’s session?
Landfield: First thing, imperatively we have to figure out a way to get the money we do have out. It’s been a challenge to get the money out to businesses and local governments and that’s sitting in the bank. The small business program is just a disaster. … Credit Union 1 as of last week was still processing applications from June 2. There has to be a fix for that and it’s just a general failure of government of not being able to do something that should be simple.
Some legislators want to campaign but your first job as a legislator is to do the job for the people. They only went back because of the lawsuit. The legislature could have done a lot more in this deal and a lot of legislators want to go back, but the ones that make the call are against it. I think unfortunately it’s gotten so bad and a lot of legislators and the governor aren’t able to talk and work it out. Overall, it’s a failure in government.
Moving forward, for example, is the issue of kids going back to the school. … The government needs to do as much as it can to help people out. … The state and federal government need to help people out as much as they can to help people out. People also need to be told to act appropriately, be safe and not go crazy and go to the bars and be responsible and take care of themselves.
TMS: The biggest issue next session, right, is going to be the budget. That’s what you were talking about when you said, ‘everybody knows what needs to happen.’ So, what does need to happen?
Landfield: Three things need to happen. Responsibly reducing spending, resolution on the permanent fund dividend formula, which is clearly the major issue for the last five years—we can’t afford to pay it, we all agree with that—so there has to be some kind of dividend change, but there has to be an agreement on that going forward, and there has to be some kind of additional revenues going forward, and cost-shifting.
A lot of things happened where the state started contributing more to things like education, you can look at a lot of cost-shifting back to municipalities and say we’re not going to back 30 years, we’re going to back eight years to how the state was funding this stuff and say, “Look, the municipalities are going to have to step up and they’re going to have to fund their cities and their boroughs more efficiently.”
These people who are saying the budget has not been reduced or cut are totally wrong. It’s been cut by almost half. … (Loud airplane noises while Jeff talks about being on his condo board and working on a budget there) … There’s always ways to find efficiencies and decide what are the policies, but the reality is 70 percent of the budget is health care and education, we can’t just cut those things so we need to really look at what the role of the state is. How are we going to get not just the money but the results? If you’re going to spend money on something, we want to have value.
We need resolution on the dividend. Lot of ideas out there. … The time of running deficits and paying for it is over because there’s less than a billion dollars in the CBR and we’re not going to overspend form the earnings reserve because that’s a horribly irresponsible thing to do.
It’s frustrating because everybody sees it. Everybody can look at the problem and understand it but there’s so much politics about it. That’s why I’m running as an independent. I have relationships with a lot of legislators, and I think I can be a part of a solution for working with everybody, not just one side. … And now we have COVID and impacts on local communities. Southeast is really hurting, Denali Borough something like 90% of their tax receipts come from tourism, we have the oil problem–we have production down, the price is down. We’ve got to find solutions.
And I’m serious.