Friday in the Sun (Sept. 4): The “A love letter from your political news blog, TMS” edition

Friday in the Sun is here

Hello All! First, I do realize that this column is a unique one—no surprise, it comes from me and I am, undoubtedly, unique. You probably ain’t eveh gonna get another letter like this… unless you read any of my previous columns or any of ones I write in the future, which I am certainly liable to do, because the love is real, y’all (and it’s also kind of my job).

Please read to the end, it’s long I know, but please do me this honor (or not, it’s a free country after all). I humbly, yet boldly, ask to be met (received, acknowledged) by you because I am working somewhat hard for you. I am your humble political news blogger; my name is Matt.

My Dear Beloved Readers, I really can’t keep writing like this for much longer so let’s get back to writing like the normal self-loathing, tired and humble writer that I am and dive into another edition of Friday in the Sun, our weekly attempt to make sense of the political news, rumors and gossip from the political world that are on our radar.


I don’t really know if there’s a heckuva lot more to be said about Student Regent Cachet Garrett’s “Love Letter” to students. If you’re out of the loop, here’s the 4,200-word-plus letter she sent out to students this week under the ostensible purpose of informing students about a public testimony session—which several used to call for her resignation—and to let students know how much she loves herself:

It’s filled with “Goop”-esque bullshit about your inner alchemy and Truth-capital-T, and the oh-so-helpful advice to suicidal university students (suicide is among the top causes of death for college age students in Alaska) “NO MORE SUCIDING.”

Though to anyone who’s listened to a Board of Regents meeting, her confirmation hearings in front of the Alaska Legislature or had any interaction with her in classes or before that (several of whom have reached out to us) would say that pretty much none of it comes as a surprise.

And of course because the University of Alaska student body is not, in fact, the graduate students that us politico types mostly interact with but a bunch of sharp-witted and meme-loving teenagers, dunking on Regent Garrett’s love letter was easy… at least until several of those students were warned that they were bullying the poor, unapologetic regent and better cut it out.

The whole thing is an incredible mess, especially given that Garrett’s nomination before the Legislature is still pending. Recall that she beefed with Sen. Bill Wielechowski over his daring to ask about her dismissal from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ communications program that led to her texting several legislators demanding Wielechowski be punished for it.

We still don’t really know publicly why she was dismissed from the program but, hey, that’s what anonymous tipsters are for!

We don’t want to spill too much of the details here but suffice it to say that she was not all that great at the job, drew a lot of complaints, didn’t take criticism very well and door codes had to be changed. But to hear it from her, she was the best damned communications TA that those students eveh had.

Also, just for good ol’ times be reminded that Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s other pick for the Board of Regents was a racist QANON conspiracy theorist (who at least had the decency to withdraw).

Guys, I’m starting to think he might not be the biggest fan of UA!

What’s he hiding?

Attorney General Kevin Clarkson would have been back on the job this Tuesday if not for the Anchorage Daily News’ report detailing the 27-day text exchange Clarkson had with a junior state employee, finishing his 30-day unpaid leave that was the result of an internal investigation into his behavior. The core question here is just why Gov. Mike Dunleavy—who knew about the nature of the punishment, Clarkson says as much in his resignation letter—was keen on letting someone like this back into the office.

Just what Dunleavy knew, when he knew it and why it appears it wasn’t that big of a deal are questions that reporters have been trying to get answers to. So far, they’ve been met with resistance from the administration that’s ranged from asking them to send emails that will go unanswered to attempts to pre-screen coverage to threats that they’ll be blacklisted (hey, join the party! The water’s fine) if they dare ask the governor about any of this.

Coming from a long background in reporting, all of this is honestly bizarre.

Crisis communications would call on you to have some sort of response because “No comment” in a situation like this simply is an invitation for people to keep asking and for the rumor mill to fill in the blanks, but that relies on you having a competent press team that understands that ignoring a problem won’t make it go away.

A lot of this situation reminds me not just of Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott’s resignation but of Sen. David Wilson’s slap of reporter Nat Herz. While we all focused on the slap, as a reporter I’ve always been interested in what led up to that: Sen. Wilson had filed a bill that sure looked like it favored a former employer of his, Herz was doing his job and asking questions about it, and Wilson refused to answer anything about the story and let Herz report what he had. Yes, Wilson looked bad in the story, but that’s not the fault of Herz but of Wilson’s refusal to comment on the story.

Wilson responded by slapping Herz in the stairwell of the capitol building.

The whole incident has stuck with me, serving as a lesson for how royally fuck up a story. The best response to a story like that would have been to invite Herz to a sit-down and dump a long, detail-filled and boring response on him, the sort of thing that overwhelms a deadline-based reporter and at least doesn’t give readers reason to wonder “What’s he hiding?”

But that, of course, only works if you don’t have anything to hide.

As an elected official, you need to be able to justify your actions when they’re exposed to daylight. And if your actions can’t stand up to that daylight, then you shouldn’t have been doing them in the first place.

That’s where we are with Dunleavy right now.

Without anything to the contrary, at the very least it sure looks like Dunleavy saw Clarkson’s conduct, saw the punishment and decided to roll the dice on it and hope that no one would find out and Clarkson could get back to being Dunleavy’s personal attorney.

Instead, Dunleavy got caught by the Anchorage Daily News and now he’s hiding because he knows the justification of his actions—that he decided that political victories (which Clarkson wasn’t even delivering) were more important than maintaining the moral and ethical standards of the office—doesn’t stand up in the daylight. Now his office has raised its hand at media, threatening to cut off access if they dare push the issue any further.

From a practical purpose, the threats and the evading answers is an incredibly stupid maneuver that puts an underline on the rank incompetence of the office and its inability to hire and retain competent staff. There are ways that this could have been handled—say, firing Clarkson as soon as you found out the scope of the creepy behavior—that wouldn’t invite such doubt.

But then again, this posture might almost make some sense given that sources say there’s another shoe to drop that will make this all look far, far worse.

Until then, we’ll have to continue squeezing every usable pixel out of this photo.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy. (Photo by Matt Buxton/TMS)

These fish are lousy with Pebbles

Fish politics is largely beyond me—despite me living in the “coastal” city of Anchorage—as it draws largely confounding political alliances that seem to depend on your preferred mode and preferred location for fishing, but one thing is clear after two legislative hearings on Dunleavy’s Board of Fish appointees: People really don’t want to see Pebble Mine employee Abe Williams confirmed to the Board of Fisheries.

The Senate held a hearing on the appointees last week, where the committee heard near-unanimous opposition to Williams, and this Thursday’s House hearing on it was pretty much the same. While many acknowledged that Williams’ experience qualified him for the board, they argued that his employment with Pebble Mine runs contrary to the board’s mission to conserve and promote fish populations, arguing that his mere presence on the board would undermine the value of Alaska’s fisheries.

One of the interesting moments from the meeting was soon-to-be-former-Rep. Chuck Kopp’s full-throated support for fishing, mining, mining and fishing, and Abe Williams’ confirmation. Why did the Republicans hate this guy so much again?

(Speaking of Pebble Mine, I talked with Democrat-backed independent candidate Al Gross this week (I’ll have the interview posted in the next few days) and he once again expressed his opposition to the mine, saying that it should be stopped by any means necessary.)


I’ve heard more and more theories on the House might organize given the expulsion of Kopp, Johnston and LeDoux (as well as conservative Reps. Jackson and Neuman) and, honestly, it all seems like a crapshoot at this point with a pretty much every potential outcome largely depending on the outcome of the general election.

The interesting takeaway this week is Rep. Steve Thompson’s editorial in MRA, where he talks about the need to return the House to Republican leadership. Thompson, of course, caucused with the bipartisan coalition this year along with Rep. Bart LeBon, who both escaped much of the ire that was directed at the Anchorage Republicans. While it’s likely more the sort of thing meant to play nice with Republicans after the last two years, I guess you can probably throw Thompson into play as a nexus of organizational efforts.

If anyone could pluck off rural Democrats, it might maybe be Thompson. Either way, he’d be more moderate than a Mat-Su centered House. But, at this point, might as well write “Speaker Thompson” on a piece of paper and throw it into a bowl with the name of pretty much everyone else on it and toss it into a bowl because who really knows.

ugh (added 6:45 p.m.)

Oh, and this letter by the esteemed Rep. Ben Carpenter has been circulating this week. In it, he suggests that Alaska throws in the towel on the pandemic and get back to business. It’s full of Trump-y talk to excuse the Trump administration’s abject failure to respond to the virus and the economic fallout. We could spend a whole bunch of time dissecting the absurd claims contained in the letter–particularly the absurd suggestion that everything will be fine economically and that consumer confidence will be back to normal if we just let the virus run rampant (Anchorage is back up to 83 new cases reported today)–but that’s more effort than it deserves.

$738 million

That’s how much the state will owe to oil and gas companies for tax credits after the Alaska Supreme Court rejected the Gov. Bill Walker plan to borrow as much as $1 billion to pay off the credits. Admittedly, the state owed the money one way or another but they’ll need to come up with a different way to pay for them.

It’s a bombshell and comes as the fight between new taxes, service cuts and the PFD runs out of runway. What’s it going to mean for next session? Nothing good, but it’ll also create a particularly interesting situation as legislators contemplate their obligations to communities and education–as they’ve already backed out of assurances to help with school bond debt–and these tax credits racked up by the companies.

Given the governor’s politically motivated cuts to the courts, the Court System is gonna have to figure out where to find $738 million in its budget.

1,240 456

Speaking of elections, 1,240 456  is the number of primary election ballots that were rejected for failing to have the witness signature on them. The ACLU, the Native American Rights Fund and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law have called on the state to suspend the requirement and have threatened to file a lawsuit on the matter (a similar requirement has been struck down in Rhode Island).

This is an issue that came up in the Legislature earlier this year, where Democrats pushed to have the measure suspended for this year’s elections because they were worried about precisely this outcome.

Opponents to the measure included Sen. Shelley Hughes, who said “I don’t believe there’s a soul in Alaska” who doesn’t have contact with another person to witness the ballot, and Sen. John Coghill who said, “We always have to guard against nefarious actions.”

Of course, this week Coghill lost his primary election by 14 votes.


Principled to the very end.

Ballot Measure 2 endorsements

Ballot Measure 2 got three big endorsements this week, namely endorsements from incumbent legislators: House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, Anchorage Democratic Sen. Tom Begich and Republican Rep. Louise Stutes. Here’s the prepared statements from the announcement:

Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon (Independent-Dillingham): “As a political independent and the leader of a bipartisan coalition, there’s no question that legislators are at their best when they’re able to put party politics aside. The reforms in Ballot Measure 2 will make it easier for everyone to work together to protect and improve all Alaskans’ way of life. That is why I believe it’s critical for Alaskans to vote Yes on 2.”

State Senator Tom Begich (Democrat-Anchorage): “Our current election system rewards partisanship and punishes anyone who works with the other party. The updates in ballot measure 2 will create an environment where working across the aisle to solve our biggest issues can become the norm again. That’s why I’m voting Yes on 2.”

State Representative Louise Stutes (Republican-Kodiak): “In a far flung coastal district like mine, we look out for each other. We value being Alaskans much higher than which political party we belong to. That’s why I support Ballot Measure 2: Because issues like funding a healthy marine highway system or protecting our commercial fishing industry should never have become partisan. I’m voting Yes on 2 so our leaders can get back to putting Alaska, not the parties, first.”

One last thing

Election season is fully upon us and we’re already over it but, hey, at least the Alaska Division of Elections’ social media game is on point.

More from TMS

2 Comments on "Friday in the Sun (Sept. 4): The “A love letter from your political news blog, TMS” edition"

  1. Entertaining and informative reading, Matt. Please keep it up.

  2. Fish politics 101 – 1 percent of Alaskan “own” or use 99 percent of all fish harvested (about 6 billion pounds annually), about export value at $6 billion annually, pay less in taxes than it costs the state and feds to manage these commercial fisheries, outsource many of the harvesting and processing jobs to out of staters at minimal wages, have coopted the national environmental groups to turn a blind eye to all fishery conservation issues with industrial trawl, hatchery and bottom dragging fisheries, and act as a choke point for any coastal politicians being elected. There, pretty simple politics to understand.

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