Friday in the Sun (Dec. 18): The Cautiously Optimistic edition

Friday in the Sun is here

Welcome to the latest edition of Friday in the Sun, where we find our editor tired and wondering why anyone cares about anything anymore… perhaps nine months into a pandemic, the darkness and the outlook of the lonely holidays is getting to me.

But, hey! At least I have some wonky snarking to look forward to. If you have any suggestions or nominations for our best-of and worst-of awards this year, feel free to hit me up wherever you find existentially exhausted editors: [email protected].

Cautiously optimistic

The House Health and Social Services held a refreshingly free-of-conspiracy-theories hearing on the vaccine and its rollout on Thursday where they went over much of the similar material at the Senate’s conspiracy-containing hearing the week before. Given that Alaska was home to the first of a handful of adverse allergic reactions to the virus, it’s probably better that the House went second.

The message for those adverse reactions is that they’re still a very, very small percentage of the overall number of vaccines that have been given out and that the systems that the CDC has in place has worked well to ensure those reactions are quickly identified and treated.

What was interesting from the hearing—other than the complete lack of conspiracy theories—was Dr. Anne Zink’s perspective on those things are going for Alaska with the pandemic: Namely that we are in the early stages of turning the corner where Alaska’s exponential growth is not so exponential anymore.

“This really highlights that mitigation works and so when people physically distance, wear their masks and don’t gather in groups, the cases go down,” she said. “When we get together and don’t follow those precautions, cases go up. … We’re seeing that start to pay off. For the first time in multiple months, we saw our Rt—the reproductive values—drop below one for a bit, which was just really fantastic.”

That means that for the first time in months, one infection wasn’t expected to cause one or more new cases. But Zink warned that it’s not even close to time for the average Alaskan to get back to life as “normal” because, as experience has shown, cases ramp right back up as soon as we start to ease up (aka go out to eat on an idiotic day of “resistance”). And, also, it doesn’t speak to the people already lost to covid, people who will have long-term health impacts from covid or the currently strained hospital system but, hey, even a modicum of good news is good news.

“It’s a fragile, tentative decline at this point and that can change at any second. We’ve seen this with previous spikes where they come up, they flatten and then they just skyrocket right back up,” she said. “I’m cautiously optimistic and encouraging Alaskans to continue with mitigation efforts.”

(And for everyone who’s been calling on Zink to break with the heel-dragging Dunleavy administration and call for a mandatory mask mandate, this is probably as close as you’re ever going to get.)

Her message, basically: There’s an end in sight but still a massive amount of risk between now and then. Don’t be the last person to die before a vaccine becomes widely available.

“I might not live in Alaska if it was eternal winter and I might not be a public health official if it was eternal pandemic,” she said. “These things will end and we’re getting to a better place. We need Alaskans to hang on a bit longer.”

A bit longer

That’s at the very least how long we’ll be waiting for any more significant motion on legislative organizations, especially given Rep. Lance “I asked, but my wife said I can’t come out to play” Pruitt’s efforts to overturn his election loss.

The court has scheduled evidentiary hearings for Pruitt’s effort to overturn his 11-vote election loss on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week with a potential hearing in front of the Alaska Supreme Court set for the first week of the new year.

After a series of vague, conspiracy-tinged filings about just how the election was STOLEN from Pruitt, he’s filed some more-detailed, conspiracy-tinged filings about how it’s definitely not his fault that he lost to Democratic Rep.-elect Liz Snyder. You can find all the filings here.

The claims are, essentially, that the Division of Elections biased the election through “malconduct and corrupt practice” in favor of Snyder (have they not been paying attention to… everything the division has done so far?) by failing to issue proper public notice of a polling site change, allegedly allowed an individual to vote twice and allegedly allowed more than 20 people to vote even though they had moved out of the district (based on records that they had sold their homes) before the 30-day window ahead of the election.

For the witness lists next week, Pruitt’s calling his campaign manager Forrest McDonald (which, hey, this might be your problem), former GOP chairman Randy Ruedrich, Lance Pruitt, Elections Director Gail Fenumiai and several poll workers. Snyder’s calling herself, political consultant/Midnight Sun publisher Jim Lottsfeldt (which was the first I heard of this), data whiz Emily Fehrenbacher and two individuals who’ll testify about “post-election voter inquiries made by individuals identifying as Republican Party representatives post-election and recount and the impact of these inquiries” on those individuals. Interesting.

Given the Alaska Supreme Court’s broad latitude offered to how the Division of Elections runs things and a pretty light approach to residency, it’s probably unwise for Pruitt to be ordering a second round of House Speaker Lance Pruitt business cards.

The remedy Pruitt’s seeking here is to either throw out certain votes, presumably 12 Snyder votes, or hold an entirely new election. Though the court has previously suggested that it’s possible to subtract votes based on some educated guesses from similar elections, in Nageak v. Mallott they noted that it was an unusual election with no real previous analogues.

And considering that Pruitt actually has done decently in split-ticket voting—he outpaced Trump’s performance in this election—it’s entirely possible that some of the Democrat-leaning voters he’s seeking to invalidate (by accusing them of voter fraud) may have actually voted for him.

It all seems like a long shot but, hey, I guess that’s better than doing $10,022.50 worth of chores.

In other lawsuits

  • Jeff Landfield is suing the Dunleavy administration over access to news conferences. If only he could also force them to tell the truth.
  • AOGA and American Petroleum Institute filed their response to a lawsuit filed by Gwich’in Steering Committee and other environmental groups hoping to put the ANWR oil lease sale on hold, writing there’s no rush for a hold because “no on-the-ground activities will be happening under … on January 6, 2020, and, in fact, it may be years before any on-the-ground activities commence (if ever).” The court replied by granting them their rushed review and promises a ruling on the motion prior to the sale.
  • No surprise, but Northern Dynasty announced this week that it plans to appeal the U.S. Army Corps’ rejection of the key Pebble Mine permit.
  • In lawsuits-in-the-making, Dunleavy says that his appointments are still valid after Dec. 16 even though the Alaska Legislature said they would be considered rejected if the Legislature didn’t vote on them by Dec. 16.

The budget

The shine has certainly started to wear off the governor’s no-hard-decisions budget and “financial plan” a week after introducing it.

While there certainly is some merit to avoiding dealing Alaska additional pain through service cuts and in direct stimulus payments to Alaskans (Hey! At least we’re maybe, possibly getting a whopping $600 from the feds!), there’s the whole “Isn’t this going to cause long-term financial damage to the state, forcing us into a tighter and more painful set of decisions in the years ahead?”

To which, I’d say, “Then how would you describe what the Legislature has been doing for most of the last decade?”

Jokes aside, the fact that the governor’s plan for Alaska hasn’t really change with two years in office, a recall effort and a pandemic is, well, disappointing. He’s still gunning for the Americans for Prosperity-approved slate of constitutional amendments (all taxes be put to a public vote, enshrine the PFD and a strict spending cap) under the guise of “engaging the public” that would essentially take the power out of the hands of legislators and into the hands of big campaign contributions.

There’s really very little vision contained in this budget and certainly no vision for how to climb out of the hole created by this pandemic.

Also, Alaska’s expecting the lowest oil revenue since 1979.

One last note

Despite the hiccups this week with the distribution of the covid vaccine, which should probably be expected with such an unprecedented undertaking, it’s really, really nice to see the vaccine going out.

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