Friday in the Sun (Aug. 7): The ‘Diners, Drive-Ins and COVID’ edition

Friday in the Sun is here

Welcome to Friday in the Sun, our column attempting to make sense of some of the news that happened this week with a bit of humor, insight and typos.

As always, all this stuff is best enjoyed as a recreational activity. Send you news, notes and copy edits to [email protected].

‘A property interest cannot outweigh a person’s interest in life.’

On Monday, Anchorage did just what many people warned would happen when the city, state and country rushed to reopen having just barely got a handle on the COVID-19 pandemic. With cases hurtling out of control, the city shut down an established vector of transmission: Dine-in services at bars and restaurants.

While I’d hazard a guess that most people and most businesses looked at this as an unfortunate development in what has been a badly managed disaster from top to bottom, conservatives saw opportunity.

An opportunity to distract from the failures of their managers—President Donald Trump and buddy Gov. Mike Dunleavy—whose lack of leadership continues to confuse and prolong the pain, an opportunity to score cheap political points ahead a mayoral election, an opportunity to own the libs and an opportunity to, I guess, avoid eating what must be some pretty miserable home cooking.

The reality is that the pain brought by these closures is entirely predictable. While the Dunleavy administration and his allies have turned to blame Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, teachers and whoever else, they’ve failed to meaningfully stave off the resurgence in cases and have failed and continue to fail to help small businesses weather the economic pain.

The state just announced THIS WEEK that it had finally expanded the eligibility of the state’s small-business relief program, which has paid out an abysmal $18 million of $290 million over TWO MONTHS. That’s the real failure.

That same failure extends to Congress, which broke for the weekend without agreement extending any of the unemployment benefits (Alaska’s on track to lose more than $87 million in monthly household income, by the way).

Look, in case you were living in a conservative echo chamber: No one—not even Mayor Berkowitz—wants to close businesses. No one wants to put people out of work. No one wants businesses to fail (well, maybe except whoever’s running the state’s small-business relief program).

But what separates folks like Berkowitz and those in the conservative echo chamber is that Berkowitz and company are, apparently, the only folks who don’t want people to get sick and die in the name of the economy (which by the way doesn’t do super well when people are worried about getting sick and dying). It’s a long-term view of things versus the reactive short term.

It’s resulted in a complete lack of responsibility from Trump and Dunleavy that could go miles to helping keep a lid on things and shorten the pandemic. Instead, we’ve been inundated with conspiracy theories downplaying the virus and downplaying its health impacts.

In some way, I feel bad for the folks who live in this media world. Because at the end of the day no matter of twisted statistics, outright falsehoods and blaming [insert the latest conservative boogeyman here] for the fearmongering on the virus will make the virus go away.

By rushing to get your chicken-fried steak (oh man, I do miss chicken fried steak but not that much), they are exposing themselves, their families and anyone else they come into contact with to the chance of contracting a virus that doesn’t give one damn about whatever fatality rate you’re bandying about.

Oh, anyways, and Judge Eric Aarseth weighed in on the whole Kriner’s Diner thing today, finding that the closure was well within the city’s interest.

“The economic interests of Kriner’s Diner and businesses similarly situated are adequately protected by the ability to continue business operations by serving food outdoors, curbside, to-go orders or for delivery. That the nature of the potential harm to the Anchorage public is of such significant importance, that the closure of a business would be warranted,” he said. “A property interest cannot outweigh a person’s interest in life.”

Damn those LIBERAL courts are at it again!

‘This is a naïve perspective on how large public organizations function.’

Continuing in the theme of turning to political opportunity instead of responsibly governing through the worst economic crisis to hit Alaska, Department of Administration Commissioner/Anchorage mom Kelly Tshibaka launched an online petition demanding that the Anchorage School District pay parents if they’re going to keep schools closed amid the spike in coronavirus.

This is apparently what the administration has been up to while they’ve been so busy skipping out on legislative hearings on workplace safety (by the way, COVID’s in the Anchorage Pioneer Home).

Tshibaka’s screed is heavy on the aggrieved parents and no-good-very-bad teachers who are SELFISHLY not running back to work because they’re worried that teachers, kids and said aggrieved parents will get COVID. Tshibaka has spent her time in office largely working to dismantle and undermine public unions but this was a particularly low turn.

Like the businesses closed, parents are in an incredibly difficult position with schools closed but to turn to blame teachers and the schools and not, say, the larger failing that has placed eating out at diners over safely reopening schools is rank political opportunism (apparently folks think she’s keen on running against Murkowski?) that also yielded this solid gold op-ed from Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop: Petition for school district to pay families a dividend is unrealistic and misinformed.

The takeaway being that Tshibaka, who in additional to being an Anchorage mom is the COMMISSIONER OF THE DEPARTMENT OF ADMINISTRATION, doesn’t have a clue about how large public organizations (organizations like, you know, the State of Alaska) work.

“This is a naïve perspective on how large public organizations function,” Bishop writes of Tshibaka’s wild claim that the district could just eliminate anything that doesn’t go directly into the classroom and hand out the cash to parents like some kind of sole-sourced contract.

“The request to eliminate all district functions outside of instruction is misinformed and unrealistic,” Bishop continues. “Employees couldn’t be hired or paid, all district support functions would stop, hundreds of contracts with local vendors would end and the local economic downturn would be further exacerbated. Once the danger of this pandemic passes, Anchorage would be left with a school district unable to reopen its doors to its students and staff in a safe and timely manner.”

An adult in the room

In case you thought there was a complete lack of ideas on what to do to get a handle on the pandemic, Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky penned a lengthy letter outlining some sensible steps the state can take to help curb the pandemic sooner than later (we assume they’ll take the later, though).

“Choosing between a healthy economy and a healthy population is a false dichotomy,” writes the one person who apparently gets it.

She calls on the state to implement statewide regulations that would limit the size of group gatherings, mandate masks, physical distancing and capacity restrictions, establish transparent goals for when easing of regulations is possible.

Read the full letter here.


That’s how many people have applied for an absentee ballot as of this afternoon, have you?

The deadline is tomorrow and you can apply online for any reason (though you’ll have to supply your own return stamp if you can’t make it to one of the handful of drop boxes the state has set up).

What’s really interesting about all of this is the fact that Democrats, who have comparatively very little at stake on this ballot, outpace Republicans by nearly 2,000 ballots. Democrats, who have a grand total of two legislative primaries in addition to the congressional races, have requested 14,302 ballots while Republicans, who have the very character of their party on the line, have requested 12,357.

For the record, 23,490 independent voters (who can vote in the closed Republican primary) have requested an absentee ballot.

It’s almost as if the only people listening to the conservative’s griping about election safety were other conservatives. While who knows what this means for the primary, it could have some potentially very big impacts come this fall.

That one contested Democratic primary

While there’s a whole bunch going on in the many, many contested Republican primaries, the primary race between incumbent Rep. Adam Wool and challenger Taryn Hughes got interesting this week. And no, sigh, not that tweet but we’re talking about the endorsement from Mark Begich.

Begich appeared in a Facebook video this week endorsing Hughes over Wool in the House District 5 primary.

“There’s no better time to have someone like Taryn serving in Juneau,” he said. “Alaska faces some incredible challenges and we need people like Taryn, who have new ideas and innovative approaches. Her experience as an educator, businesswoman, community activist and mother brings a wealth of knowledge and ability to stand up for what’s right.”

Update: Some insiders have been befuddled by this whole thing. There’s worry about Hughes’ competitiveness in the general election as Anchorage Republican donors have gone in big on this district before, but also we’ve seen growing support for her and she’s raised about $6,000 according to APOC. Those befuddled insiders also pointed out that Wool rather publicly said Begich jumping into the 2018 gubernatorial race was a bad idea. Whatever it is, it’s keeping things interesting. 

Redistricting comes to shape

After a quick pace of redistricting board announcements last week (honestly, we’re still kind of puzzled why Senate President Cathy Giessel picked before a bunch of PFD-driven party loyalists decide her fate in the primary), Alaska Supreme Court Justice Joel Bolger kept us waiting.

He didn’t disappoint with the announcement of Melanie Bahnke, the president and CEO of Nome-based nonprofit Kawerak Inc., as the fifth and final pick to the board, ensuring Alaska Natives will have two seats on the high-stakes board.

If you’ll recall, Bahnke is also the woman who held her hand raised at Dunleavy’s disastrous budget road show stop in Nome last year, where she put a fine point on how Dunleavy’s proposed budget focused the budget harm on rural communities.

She’s a great addition.

A final note

As always, there’s a load more that I can talk about but the weather is nice and the salmon is coming out of the oven, so I just wanted to end on a positive note that not ALL colleigate sports have been cancelled. Congratulations to Palmer High School graduate Tobin Hushower, who signed his letter of intent this week to play Rocket League at Wichita State. Coolest dude out there.

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