Welcome to Friday in the Sun, our weekly column attempting to make sense of the news and gossip from the week. As always, Alaska political news is best enjoyed as a recreational sport where the record doesn’t matter and everyone gets ice cream after the game.
It’s been a rough week for all of Alaska but extra thoughts and prayers for what matters most: The fragile male egos.
But, really, the situation in Haines is a disaster. Please, if you can, consider a contribution to the Salvation Army’s Haines relief fund or Tlingit & Haida’s Tribal Emergency Operations Center efforts.
And for all of Alaska, please, wear a mask.
As always, you can get ahold of your editor with tips, thoughts and corrections at [email protected].
Of course, the biggest political news of the year is that the Congressman for All Alaska, the Dean of the House and co-founder of the House Cannabis Caucus U.S. Rep. Don Young returned to work this week after his coronavirus diagnosis to be one of the five House Republicans to vote in favor of the MORE Act, a measure that would decriminalize and tax marijuana on the federal level. It’s the first time such a legalization measure successfully made it through one chamber in Congress.
“This bill isn’t perfect, but it takes important steps to safeguard our personal liberties and freedom,” says a statement posted to Young’s Twitter account. “I am a passionate supporter of a states’ rights approach to cannabis policy. For too long, the Federal government has stood in the way of states that have acted to set their own marijuana policy, and it is past time Congress modernized these outdated laws.”
If passed (which isn’t likely as long as the GOP holds the Senate), it’s not going to make marijuana legal everywhere but basically turns over the decision to the states without fear of an eventual federal crackdown. It also contains some pretty substantial measures that would make it easier for people of color to get in the marijuana business, create a process to expunge records for low-level, federal marijuana convictions and would send some of the tax revenues to communities disproportionately affected by the War on Drugs.
It doesn’t appear that it will open access to banking, however (that’s the SAFE Act that passed the House in 2019 and was never taken up in the Senate), one of the massive headaches for cannabis businesses, regulators and customers.
Speaking about a relatively small number of votes: The recount of the House District 27 race is underway, where Democrat Liz Snyder holds a 13-vote lead over Republican Rep. Lance Pruitt.
As of writing, the recount confirmed the results of in-person election day voting, and it sounds like the review of absentee ballots resulted in, at most, one additional new vote each for Snyder and Pruitt. That would leave rejected ballots, of which there are a grand total of 20, left to review.
Just as we hit publish on this post, the state announced it had completed its recount. Pruitt added one vote to his total while Snyder lost one. Her final margin of victory is a slim 11 votes.
The statement from the Division of Elections is a nod to the accuracy of the Dominion voting machines. A friend of the blog also had remarked upon their considerably improved accuracy compared to the old Diebold machines.
The recall comes at the request of a group of 11 individuals—which does not include Pruitt—and the bill will be picked up by the state as the certified margin is within the 0.5% margin necessary. You can check out the application here, which is more interesting than most as it lays out some conspiracy-tinged reasons for why the recount is needed, including the following claim: “Failure to properly confirm the results following an electronic count given publicly reported issues with the Dominion voting system recently acquired by the State of Alaska.”
Yup, Dominion voting machines, the thoroughly debunked plot of the dead-since-2013 Hugo Chavez to undermine President Donald Trump’s presidency (while not giving Biden a critical Senate majority).
I can’t really speak to the rest of the claims (other than the fact that, at least according to a friend of the blog, typically all you need to request a recount is to believe there’s a chance the outcome could be changed by a recount, but hey) but the whole thing gives me the sneaking suspicion that today’s recount might not be the end of this whole thing.
Whether it’s a well-founded legal challenge or an increasingly bizarre and desperate attempt to yell fraud at results you don’t like has yet to be seen.
That’s the correct number to call if you want to know if your personal information was exposed—and possibly used to sow disinformation about the election—as part of a vulnerability in the state’s online voter registration system. The state is adamant that only the voter registration system, which was in place since 2015, was affected and that the “outside actors” were not able to access or change anything in the voter registration system or the vote tabulation system.
As far as election security goes, the key thing seems to be that the Division of Elections parcels out a lot of its election infrastructure onto different servers with varying levels of Internet access. That means a vulnerability on one doesn’t make it possible to affect another.
Still, Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer is pushing ahead with his requested audit of the Ballot Measure 2 vote, which he really couldn’t explain all that coherently during the Thursday news conference on the hack.
“Simply to confirm that the count on Ballot 2 was correct. As you know that one was failing on election night, but I think what people forget is that almost as many people voted absentee and early as those did on election day,” he said. “So, when the absentees started to be counted, the vote changed and I think some folks thought something may have gone awry there so keep confidence and trust in the elections, I ask that we do this audit to confirm the count.”
Then he later added the helpful statement: “I understand some people aren’t happy with the outcome, but that’s elections.”
So, if Pruitt isn’t going to be speaker, do we know who will be?
How about Senate President?
Aside from the whole recount, the potential FBI investigation into pay-for-play schemes and whatever else there might be, it seems like one of the big data points on a decision is going to be Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s initial budget proposal due out in mid-December.
Interestingly, it seems that someone is out there conducting polls on messaging for the budget rollout.
Questions, which our tipster says are expectedly about as biased as you might expect in this kind of polling, include Dunleavy’s approval and support for the recall. It gauges interest in further cuts, gambling, income taxes, sales taxes and the permanent fund draw and asks questions about putting various things, including the PFD, to a public vote.
Some of the other interesting questions on the poll include:
- Would you support a special tax for education and pre-K?
- Do you support defunding public education and giving money directly to families?
- Do you support repealing Alaska’s judicial appointment process?
- Do you trust Democrats or Republicans more?
So just like most of the governor’s other activities as of late, no mention of covid.
definitive crowd-sourced ranking of state senators
To everyone who was bummed out that I didn’t actually sit down and rank all 20 state senators on who’d be most likely to participate in a pay-for-play scheme (essentially low-key accusing several people of committing a crime), I do recall that we actually do have some rankings that could be put to use for this very issue. Our very own The Good, the Bad and, wait, Who? The Midnight Sun’s 2020 legislator rankings!
But, no, this is not a list of who’d be most likely to commit a felony but simply who’s the most and least ethical senators according to you, dear readers. You–and whatever legislator reads this–have only you to blame.
|Sen. Jesse Kiehl||Q-Juneau||D||3.75||4.05||4.04||3.16|
|Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson||I-Anchorage||D||3.39||3.4||3.76||3.01|
|Sen. John Coghill||B-North Pole||R||3.43||3.23||3.61||3.45|
|Sen. Click Bishop||C-Fairbanks||R||3.47||3.33||3.61||3.48|
|Sen. Bill Wielechowski||H-Anchorage||D||3.5||3.93||3.56||3.02|
|Sen. Gary Stevens||P-Kodiak||R||3.46||3.69||3.55||3.13|
|Sen. Tom Begich||J-Anchorage||D||3.53||3.74||3.53||3.33|
|Sen. Bert Stedman||R-Sitka||R||3.8||3.93||3.48||3.99|
|Sen. Scott Kawasaki||A-Fairbanks||D||3.39||3.64||3.36||3.18|
|Sen. Cathy Giessel||N-Anchorage||R||3.64||3.78||3.35||3.8|
|Sen. Natasha von Imhof||L-Anchorage||R||3.54||3.98||3.09||3.54|
|Sen. Lyman Hoffman||S-Bethel||D||3.46||3.69||2.83||3.86|
|Sen. Donny Olson||T-Golovin||D||3.07||3.51||2.68||3.02|
|Sen. Josh Revak||M-Anchorage||R||2.57||2.66||2.62||2.44|
|Sen. Mia Costello||K-Anchorage||R||2.56||2.77||2.54||2.36|
|Sen. Shelley Hughes||F-Palmer||R||2.23||2.18||2.49||2.02|
|Sen. Peter Micciche||O-Soldotna||R||2.8||3.18||2.41||2.81|
|Sen. David Wilson||D-Wasilla||R||2.32||2.46||2.39||2.12|
|Sen. Mike Shower||E-Wasilla||R||2.11||2.22||2.35||1.76|
|Sen. Lora Reinbold||G-Eagle River||R||1.61||1.51||1.88||1.45|
The race for Anchorage
This week began with the news that Eric Croft was withdrawing from the race for Anchorage mayor, warning that the crowded field may squander whatever advantage progressives have and “elect one of two extreme and inexperienced right-wing candidates, who will take Anchorage backwards.”
The question ahead is if and when and to what extent will the progressive side of the ticket will consolidate ahead of the election. Anchorage progressives are a… multi-faceted bunch with a lot of different, at-odds camps so it might be an impossible task.
The obvious choice here (from someone who still knows Anchorage politics about as well as I understand fish politics, which is to say not at all) would be the guy who’s been running for the seat the longest: Assemblymember Forrest Dunbar.
We do, however, know fundraising numbers and we’ve heard Dunbar already crossed the $100,000 mark back in September. It also sounds like the union endorsements, another pot of money and potential independent expenditure cash, could be heading his way sooner than later.
Speaking of things related to the office of Anchorage Mayor, .301 is the alleged breath-alcohol content of one Maria Athens when she was arrested for an alleged DUI on the Monday before she blew up her career and the remaining term of now-former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.
New court filings related to the DUI as well as updated filings related to her misdemeanor assault following her accusations against Berkowitz, which now include a failure to follow the conditions of her release, were posted this afternoon by Alaska Cases Bot. You can find the thread breakdown here:
BREAKING: Recent court filings bring to light new details in the timeline of the Maria Athens saga. Athens was charged for a DUI that occurred on October 5, the Monday before the Friday that she posted allegations involving former Mayor Berkowitz #aklaw pic.twitter.com/lS13ubaWTf— Alaska Cases (@AK_cases_bot) December 4, 2020
Athens returned to Twitter this week, where on Nov. 30 she pledged “REDEMPTION TOMORROW.”
That was the same day that her attorney, Michelle Nesbett, filed a motion to withdraw as Athens’ counsel because “communication between Ms. Athens and myself has deteriorated to the point that I can no longer effectively represent Ms. Athens.”