Friday in the Sun (Dec. 11): The ‘Outside Chance’ edition

Friday in the Sun is here

Welcome to Friday in the Sun, our weekly column attempting to make sense of the news that was from this week. Though, to be honest, there’s not a whole lot of sense to be made from a week filled with a preposterous and deeply unsettling effort to undo the election.

Your lawsuit’s bad and you should feel bad

What a bizarre saga this week has been as Texas’ meritless lawsuit to overturn the presidential election and hand an unearned second term to President Donald Trump came and went, but not before many, many Republican officials from states real and imagined rushed to support the lawsuit.

Among the list of Alaskans is Sen. Lora Reinbold, Reps. David Eastman and George Rauscher along with Reps.-elect Ron Gillham, Christopher Kurka, Kevin McCabe and Tom McKay. This ignoble group joined on with several other Republicans from Arizona and Idaho to file an amicus brief alleging an “elite minority” committed “a fraud, a deception of epic proportions which defies the imagination, the pretense of an election where there was only computerized, mechanized manipulation.”

Yup. (Also when will freshmen legislators learn that being involved with Rep. David Eastman in any capacity is not a great way to start your time in the Legislature?)

Not on the list is Alaska itself after the Three Stooges-esque performance of the Dunleavy administration.

First, the governor–who also this week said Biden has “an outside chance” of becoming president–claimed that they didn’t have enough time to evaluate the briefing filed by 17 other states, but they sure would have liked to have a part in dictating how other states should run their elections. Then after conservative blowback, Dunleavy announced that they had, in fact, joined the other states (they sent a letter asking to be added)… only for that claim itself came up short because, as it turns out, that’s not how the U.S. Supreme Court works.

As the briefings wrapped up and the Supreme Court got to dumping the lawsuit, Alaska was not on the list and, hey, it MIGHT have made a difference! Sad!

(See also: Rep. Lance Pruitt’s Trump-y lawsuit aimed at overturning his defeat because of reasons.)

Just kidding… unless?

As several people have pointed out, including former Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth, Dunleavy and company’s positioning on the lawsuit not only would have invited other states to interfere in Alaska’s elections but stood to undermine Alaska’s very own elections after the Alaska Supreme Court put the state’s witness signature requirement for absentee ballots on hold as an unconstitutional burden on a person’s right to vote.

And we should note that not even the state could muster any evidence that the witness signature requirement had done anything other than prevent people from voting. During the lawsuit, the state’s attorneys admitted that the requirement had never been used to identify a single case of fraud in the state.

Though, interestingly, the state did warn against suspending it because people might be worried the state would just find another way to invalidate their votes. Turns out they may have been… right?

While Dunleavy never weighed in on the Texas lawsuit’s impacts on Alaska—specifically that it’s the very overreach everyone in Alaska has been hollering about for years—Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka did go there, posting a post to Facebook (which, given all deeply embarrassing statements made by the administration’s key folks, we can only assume was done in her personal capacity) that someone ought to use the Texas lawsuit to invalidate Alaska’s election.

“If TX prevails, Alaska’s 2020 election results also can be revisited: the AK Supreme Court changed election rules for absentee ballots after our voting already had begun,” she wrote. “Imagine what this could mean for Proposition 2 (where absentee ballots tipped votes in favor of the jungle primary) and for certain State Legislature races? Alaska can throw out all absentee ballots without a witness signature, for example.”

Setting aside the deeply embarrassing/infuriating fact that one of Alaska’s top officials is suggesting that tens of thousands of ballots cast by Alaskans under the guidance of the Alaska Supreme Court and the state’s election officials shouldn’t be counted, it also displays a deeply wrong understanding of how Alaska’s elections are run.

The main issue is the state cannot, as Tshibaka claims, “throw out all absentee ballots without a witness signature.” Once ballots are removed from their identifying envelopes, they’re put into a mass pool of absentee ballots and there’s no way to separate them (which, if it were somehow feasible, you’d have a path to be able to find out how people voted).  

But don’t worry, in a follow-up comment the esteemed commissioner said, “I’m not suggesting we join the suit; I’m saying we leverage the potential victory to fix the problem our court created.”

For those keeping track, the “problem” is people not voting how you want.   The post has since been deleted.

The budget

Anyways, by the time the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it had tossed Texas’ lawsuit into the trash bin, the governor was already most of the way through presenting his proposed budget for the upcoming year.

It’s a pandemic-focused budget that’s draws deeply from the Alaska Permanent Fund’s earnings reserve account to fund a largely status quo budget and pay out a full dividend in both the upcoming year and the current year (an additional $1,916 that’d be paid out before July 1, 2021).

The governor called the budget an “anomaly” driven by a recognition that the last thing the state needs now are additional job cuts (though he is proposing some $294.6 million in unspecified cuts) and that Alaskans and the economy would benefit from a direct infusion of cash.

Setting aside the long-term impacts of the budget that I’m sure far more qualified people than me can opine on, the governor’s not entirely wrong here. A lot of the early economic pain caused by the pandemic was blunted with the help of the boost to federal unemployment and direct cash payments in the form of the federal stimulus and the early dividend.

The general line of thinking is that it’s better to blunt the pain now with measures to keep household spending power relatively level than be dealing with increased homelessness, foreclosures and bankruptcies later.

It’s about as good of an argument the governor will ever have for a mega-sized dividend.

Obviously, in an ideal world with a functioning Congress we’d be looking to additional federal stimulus to get us through these next few months instead of nearly depleting our own savings accounts and selling out the future—including the future of the dividend itself—to help everyone survive the winter.

Other takeaways:

  • No additional cuts for the University of Alaska beyond what the compact outlines ($20 million cut this year). Dunleavy acknowledged concerns that the falloff in oil revenue could drive him to renege on the plan, but he says it’s going to stand… “at this time.”
  • A $3 million cut to the Alaska Marine Highway System. The governor talked a bit about the Alaska Marine Highway reshaping committee, which much to Year One Dunleavy’s chagrin did not recommend privatizing the service.
  • No changes to the education funding formula.
  • $4 million for “statehood defense,” presumably to go after other state’s election results.
  • A $300 million to $350 million general obligation bond project that Dunleavy claims could somehow get out this year even though bonds take many years to be deployed.
  • He’s renewed his call for a slate of Americans for Prosperity-approved constitutional amendments to enshrine the PFD, put in a strict spending cap and require all taxes be put up to a vote of the people. It’s the same slate Dunleavy proposed in year one and none are likely to get the super-majority support needed to be put on the ballot.

Hard to say what this might mean for organizing, but I imagine that little has changed for the legislators who’ve been resistant to breaking the spending limits they set on the Alaska Permanent Fund’s earnings reserve account, which this would definitely do.

Ultimately, this budget really punts on the question of an overall financial plan for the state. Dunleavy had a lot of talk today about “starting a discussion” and involving The People in determining the course of the state… as if these are not conversations Alaskans have been having for much of the last decade. The underlying problems are the same as there ever have been: There’s not enough money to pay for what a majority of Alaskans (through their legislators) think should be spent.

Any durable financial plan is going to require some kind of new revenue, some kind of rework to the state’s statutory spending (hopefully in a fair and equitable manner, but we’ve got our doubts) and a final decision on what’s going to happen with the dividend. Very little about today even begins to answer that question, but then again the economic turmoil that the pandemic poses for Alaska is no small matter either.

Organizing

Speaking of majorities, there’s still no news on the House and Senate organizations.

The House is officially split 20-20 after Kodiak Republican Rep. Louise Stutes formally announced that she’ll be sticking with the bipartisan coalition in order to defend key rural services that Dunleavy and a slate of far-right legislators and legislators-elect had eyed for cuts.

The Senate Republicans are still no closer to an organization after their second meeting this week amounted to little more than, as one person described to us, a healing session. There’s a lot of significant bad blood among those 13 Republicans, who have little more than party affiliation in common.

Complicating the issue there is the increasing attention Senate Republicans are facing over the whole FBI investigation… thing. The Anchorage Daily News dived into it in full this week, finding that many more legislators have been interviewed by investigators with the general consensus being something along the lines of “We don’t think anyone’s about to be arrested…”

As we wrote about before, the going rumor is it has something to do with some anti-binding caucus ranting done by Sen. Mike Shower about “sold legislators” and other nefarious-sounding hyperventilating. If that’s the case, which seems to make sense given several legislators telling the ADN that the FBI questioning largely seemed to be research in nature, then there’s probably not much meat to the bones.

Then again, Sen. Shelley Hughes—one of Shower’s allies—told the ADN that it’s definitely NOT about the binding caucus.

Personally, I’d be a bit skeptical of that take simply because there’s certainly some benefit to be had in the organization race if everyone’s looking over their shoulders. Keeping the rumor alive that there IS something could undermine some folks’ efforts to coalesce a majority around themselves.

And if anyone was selling access, it likely wasn’t the sidelined Shower, Hughes and Reinbold…  

News and notes

It’s 6 p.m. at the time I’m writing this, so let’s just do a quick rundown of everything else:

  • U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan apparently sounded really hoarse at a virtual panel today and told everyone that he definitely does not have covid. Definitely.
  • Anchorage Assemblymember Forrest Dunbar secured three more major union endorsements this week in his run for mayor: Alaska District Council of Laborers, the IBEW and UA Plumbers and Steamfitters. It ought to be a significant development for the crowded progressive side of the ticket coalescing around one candidate but, after all, this is Anchorage progressive politics.
  • The lawsuit trying to undo the Anchorage Assembly’s actions when it closed its doors to public testifiers hit a snag today. The oral arguments by former Judge Michael Corey were less-than-convincing, particularly when their proposed remedy was essential “you only have to undo the stuff Save Anchorage doesn’t like” didn’t seem particularly convincing to Judge Una Gandbhir, who wrote that such a measure “is an extraordinary remedy, and at this time, the evidence before the Court simply does not support injunctive relief.”
  • Speaking about long-shot lawsuits, Rep.-elect Liz Snyder has officially intervened in Pruit’s lawsuit attempting to overturn his loss. Here Pruitt is asking that a bunch of ballots be thrown out or the redo the election but given that it’s arguing that the Alaska Supreme Court decide that the Alaska Supreme Court unconstitutionally put the witness signature requirement (again, a thing that has never once been used to identify fraud).
  • Covid is still really, really bad in Alaska so good thing the governor announced he’ll renew his largely meaningless, legally questionable emergency declaration next week.

And on the final note

Hey! The covid vaccine has been approved and should start arriving in Alaska as early as next week for front-line health care workers and others in high-risk groups. It looks like Regular Schmoes will need to wait until June or July for their turn in line but, whew, can’t wait. I mean I can, but grabbing a beer and a burger is going to be so dang nice.

Have a nice weekend y’all.

More from TMS

1 Comment on "Friday in the Sun (Dec. 11): The ‘Outside Chance’ edition"

  1. More great work, Matt. Thanks.

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