Welcome to the latest edition of Friday in the Sun, where we try our best to unpack the political news of the week.
As always, I’m sure there are tons of things that I could have written about but the weather is nice, the dogs are crazy and I’m tired of being angry about things. Have a nice weekend y’all.
With by-mail absentee ballots set to be counted starting Tuesday, we’re still in waiting mode on most legislative races but we know enough after in-person election day voting to say that we probably will be saying so long to Senate President Cathy Giessel, Reps. Chuck Kopp, Jennifer Johnston, Gabrielle LeDoux, Mark Neuman and Sharon Jackson. All trail by huge, nearly insurmountable margins after election-day voting that would require something like a minimum of two-thirds of absentee ballots to go their way and, in some turnout scenarios, as a minimum of 80%-plus ballots to go their way.
It’s not entirely impossible given that by-mail voters are likely to be more moderate and progressive than in-person GOP voters, which is why we doubt folks who’re trailing challengers narrowly like Sens. Natasha von Imhof and John Coghill are likely not too worried about things.
And thanks to how these districts are drawn, most of the winners have clear paths to the capitol (though never count out progressives’ knack for thinking otherwise).
I don’t really want to spend a whole bunch of time unpacking why any of this happened or continue to crunch numbers on absentee ballots (you can find a now-outdated version of that here), but I do want to talk a bit about what all this will mean for the Legislative session and what’s ahead.
The Republican goal in this election, plain and simple, was to give the boot to independent-minded Republicans in favor of legislators who’re keen on taking their marching orders from Tuckerman Babcock Gov. Mike Dunleavy. They’re united by pretty much the following issues: The Republican Party over everything, the PFD over everything and most say they’re against binding caucuses.
In most cases they’re against taxes while some have suggested generally naïve plans to generate new revenue. Asked about his plan for achieving the unachievable, racist conspiracy theorist Stephen Duplantis (whos’ narrowly beating Sen. von Imhof) resulted in the following excerpt from Alaska Public Media reporting on the primary:
Duplantis said he couldn’t answer a question about whether the larger dividends would force sharp cuts to core state programs like public schools and the Medicaid health-care program for poor and disabled Alaskans — as the Legislature’s own budget analysts suggest.
“I don’t know, because I’m not there,” Duplantis said. “I don’t see the numbers.”
Never mind that the numbers are all public for him to find if cared to look instead of taking the fanciful numbers of Dunleavy and company without question, the response underlines what’s in store if these results hold and they prevail in the general election: That at a time when Alaska is facing a grave economic crisis that washed away the fragile recovery from our last, yet-to-be-resolved financial crisis, Alaska’s Legislature is going to be filled with a new slate of legislators with an incredible lack of experience and no interest in learning how the system works (and that’s not to mention the kind of staff they’re be bringing with them). And looking at the bulk of the surviving GOP incumbents, words like “experience” and “learning” aren’t exactly qualities that come to mind.
Columnist Dermot Cole explains it all well in his latest column excoriating the GOP’s anti-math movement: “Candidates promoting completely unworkable schemes and giant Permanent Fund dividends are hardly conservatives. Many of those who did well against incumbent Republicans promoted some version of the fiscal fantasy that Gov. Mike Dunleavy championed in 2018, founded on imaginary promises and platitudes. … Dunleavy’s supporters say the strong showing of Anti-Math candidates in the GOP is a win for the governor. If so, it’s temporary. It’s a loss for Alaska and the biggest threat to the survival of the Permanent Fund.”
I imagine that’s the plan of Dunleavy and company—get a Legislature that’ll serve as a faithful rubberstamp without asking too many questions—but I wonder how it’ll actually work out in reality when so many of these folks have outlined staunch opposition to a binding caucus.
Recall that the whole other side of the plan for a more compliant Legislature has relied on giving the boot to Rep. David “I Blew up the 21-member GOP Majority over the binding caucus” Eastman. Not only is Eastman currently ahead—and while we can make some educated guesses about how by-mail voting will go when it’s moderate versus conservative, I can’t begin to guess how conservative versus Eastman will go—but they’ve just went and elected several more Eastman types.
My prediction is that if Republicans take over the Legislature, many of the folks who’ve been so deeply opposed to the binding caucus will have a new appreciation for its importance is getting shit done on time.
And now about that if.
Of course, flipping a Senate seat and four House seats (Johnston, Kopp, LeDoux and the late Rep. Gary Knopp) from independent-minded Republicans to party-approved loyalists does not guarantee anything. There are few, if any, places where Republicans stand to flip Democratic seats and, in many cases, I’d argue, that progressives, moderate independents and Democrats are in far better positions to flip Republican seats.
While it may be enticing to look at the apparent GOP winners from primary night as vulnerable in the general election, I’d be wary about any all-in efforts to go up against them (especially if it’s a drop-the-placeholder-with-a-last-minute-relatively-unknown-candidate-with-no-fundraising-or-campaigning plan).
Instead, if folks want to keep the likes of Duplantis and Eastman away from the wheel, look at candidates like Liz Snyder, Julia Hnilicka, Kelly Cooper, Lyn Franks, Marna Sanford and Stephen Trimble (if he gets his signatures in). A couple of these races and things start to look a little less rubberstamp-y.
‘I’ve got the feeling you’re going to see something big happen in the next 30 days on Pebble.’
That’s what Andrew Sabin, a precious metals magnate who was at an early August fundraiser where Donald Trump Jr. twisted his pop’s ear about the problems with Pebble Mine, told The Washington Post this week for a very D.C.-centric report about the political machinations moving against the controversial mine.
The takeaway from “Republican push to block controversial Alaskan gold mine gains the White House’s attention” is pretty much in line with what we’ve been hearing for the last week or two: That Trump and company are starting to get cold feet about the rush job on the mine. We imagine there’s quite a bit of behind-the-scenes talk to figure out how Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who’s been not-so-quietly boosting the mine behind the scenes, and Sen. Dan Sullivan, who has generally maintained the “I’m not so sure about the process, guys” stance on the mine, can minimize the damage/capitalize on it.
The other interesting takeaway from The Washington Post report is Sabin’s pessimistic outlook on the project itself: “I’ve produced millions of ounces of gold, silver, platinum. I own a silver mine in Canada. In Cobalt, Ontario, I recycle precious metals. So I know the precious metals business,” he said. “How did it ever get this far?”
USPS Post Master General Louis DeJoy plans to eliminate bypass mail and jack up postal rates in Alaska after the election, which ought to be a grave unifying concern for all Alaskans. Yet, alas, we’ve seen some conservatives trot out the ol’ “It’s your choice to live there, why should we pay for it line” that we saw with the Alaska Marine Highway. It’s a shitty and racist thing to say about ferries and it’s a shitty and racist thing to say about rural mail service.
Aviation writer Colleen Mondor (who penned an excellent piece for us on the New Ravn, by the way) had this to say about it.
It’s amazing to me to see Alaskans write “let the Bush die – if they can’t afford to live out there, leave.”
As if your address on the Parks Hwy isn’t going to see a big increase in postal charges too.
All of AK is rural compared to the rest of the US – all of it.
— Colleen Mondor (@chasingray) August 21, 2020
Luckily, we can count on our Congressional delegation to—checks notes—stand “silently behind Mr. Trump in the Oval Office when the president threatened” the future of mail service.
One last question
Ya think today’s Republican Party would have primaried Ted Stevens?