Saturday in the Sun (Jan. 9): The Alaska Broken edition

Friday in the Sun is here

Welcome to another Saturday edition of Friday in the Sun, our weekly column attempting to catch up on the mountain of news and rumors from the Alaska political world and, hoo boy, it’s been a week.

Murkowski in the Middle

After spending Wednesday fleeing from violent pro-Trump insurrectionists, Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has had enough of concerned disappointment and on Friday became the first Republican U.S. Senator to call for the president to resign from office.

“I want him to resign. I want him out. He has caused enough damage,” she told the Anchorage Daily News in a remarkable interview. “He hasn’t been focused on what is going on with COVID. He’s either been golfing or he’s been inside the Oval Office fuming and throwing every single person who has been loyal and faithful to him under the bus, starting with the vice president. He doesn’t want to stay there. He only wants to stay there for the title. He only wants to stay there for his ego. He needs to get out. He needs to do the good thing, but I don’t think he’s capable of doing a good thing.”

Murkowski blamed the president for inciting the mob to violence, blamed him for dragging down Republicans’ performance in the Georgia runoffs that lead to the loss of the Senate to Democrats and, in an interview with Alaska Public Media, blamed Republicans for being silent as things got worse and worse. She includes herself among those Republicans.

“I allowed myself to refrain from speaking my truth,” Murkowski said. “And I can’t just be quiet right now.”

She even went on to say that she questions her future with the Republican party if it continues down the path of blinding supporting Trump, telling the ADN, “if the Republican Party has become nothing more than the party of Trump, I sincerely question whether this is the party for me.”

Can the Democrats bank on Murkowski now? Of course not, and she said as much in her interview with Alaska Public Media (“No. No. Absolutely unequivocally not”). But there’s also a wide gulf between staying on the sinking Team Trump and fully throwing in with the Democrats.

With a Democratic 50+1 majority that includes the pretty conservative Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, Murkowski as an independent or even an arm’s length Republican would be in a powerful position to drive things from the middle. That’s probably less appealing than most progressive would hope for but it’s a fair deal better than how things have been with Mitch McConnell running the show.

Of course, Murkowski’s move is certainly aided by the passage of Ballot Measure 2’s open primaries and ranked choice voting. There may be a big reckoning coming for the Republican party—whether the party goes off into the wilds of Trump mania or reverts back to its primary interest of corporate tax policy—but it’s not likely to change primary voter minds between now and the 2022 elections.

Off in the corner being quiet

Murkowski has finally found the courage to stand up against what has been so plainly wrong for the last four years. That’s not been the case for the rest of Alaska’s statewide Republicans who’ve reverted back to tiptoeing around suggesting that Trump could possibly have any responsibility for the events he so clearly incited.

At least with the banning of Trump from Twitter, we’ll no longer have to put up with their lame excuses that they “haven’t seen the tweet.”

Slurpees and insurrection

We’ve heard legislative offices have been getting calls from constituents who have concerns and questions about Rep. David Eastman’s involvement in the riots, of which we’ve covered here and here. There’s been calls for Eastman, who’s already been censured and booted from the Republican minority, to resign as did West Virginia delegate-elect Derrick Evans did after he livestreamed himself inside the U.S. Capitol with the mob.

It should be pointed out, though, that there’s no evidence that Eastman stormed the building (who he suggests are actually Antifa)… but he did have this to say before everything went down:

“There are times when push comes to shove and now seems to be one of those times. So, all the more important that you recognize that simply rolling-over is not going to do anything good for Alaska or for our country.”

Would you feel great about relying a caucus where Eastman is the deciding vote? Especially when there’s been threats of violence at other capitol buildings. Shit like Oregon Republican Rep. Mike Nearman opening the door so a Trump mob could enter the Oregon Capitol Building aren’t likely to help.

And, hey, his removal would probably be a relief for Republicans, particularly the cadre of Anchorage Republican representatives who went out to Wasilla to campaign for his opponent. It would take a two-third majority—or 27 votes—to do the deed.

Legislative organization

No, we still don’t know what the legislative majorities in the House and Senate will look like. The Senate Republicans reportedly met this week to try to hash it out but there’s still nothing to report (gotta wonder how much Sens. Reinbold and Shower continue to peddle conspiracy theories about everything is helping).

Interestingly, we got word that over in the House Eagle River Republican Rep. Kelly Merrick hopes to break through the gridlock with a four-hour—FOUR HOURS—zoom call on Monday entitled “49 First: An Honest Conversation about the future of Alaska and how the House of Representatives can lead the way.” The thrilling agenda includes general introductions for everyone, 10 minutes of remarks by Merrick and “presentations by speaker of the house candidates.”

This invitation went out to all representatives and representatives-elect.

shhhhhhh it’s a secret

If you read the print, “for secrecy security purposes, attendees will be required to enable camera for this event.” So it’s not looking like think this one is going to be on This sort of thing would be a violation for most local governments, but the Legislature has given itself pretty wide latitude to skirt the public.

“Legislators may meet in a closed caucus or in a private, informal meeting to discuss and deliberate on political strategy. Those meetings are exempt from the legislative open meetings guidelines. For purposes of this subsection, “political strategy” includes organization of the houses…” AS 24.60.037.c

But, hey, blabbing to political blogs is always an option!

Long-term revenue options

Merrick’s secret meeting is particularly interesting after Friday’s House Finance Committee meeting where Larry Persily and House Legislative Finance Division Director Alexei Painter went over Gov. Dunleavy’s loose budget proposal.

There’s a lot of significant takeaways from the meeting, which gave us one of the clearest looks at the governor’s light-on-details budget plan, but the key takeaway is that behind Dunleavy’s plan to pay out mega PFDs is an overly optimistic 10-year plan that includes significant cuts and—drum roll—new revenues! Just what revenues? Who knows!

Persily noted the contradiction contained in Dunleavy’s plan: It not only calls for unspecified new revenues but also calls for the passage of a constitutional amendment that would effectively make it impossible to pass broad-based taxes in Alaska. Persily said if that were to pass, the Legislature would effectively be painted into a corner on raising oil taxes.

Painter agreed, likening the passage of a mega PFD to desserts. Both Persily and Painter agreed that if new revenues are to be part of the plan, they’ll need to be put into action… this year given the amount of time they take to spin things up.

“Delaying just keeps digging this hole deeper and deeper,” Painter said. “One analogy I would use is the governor’s stimulus is your dessert, you get your dessert up front, you get this great stimulus spending that’s going to politically popular but in the governor’s plan you only get that if you also eat your vegetables, which is the budget cuts and new revenue.”

Perhaps Dunleavy’s Republicans understand that? Or perhaps they’re just spooked about talking about a binding caucus publicly after effectively using it as the bogeyman to oust several moderates from their ranks. Who knows.

Lance Blewitt

Regardless of what happens, Anchorage Republican Rep. Lance “I Wanna Be the Speaker” Pruitt will not be a part of it following the Alaska Supreme Court’s rejection of his Trumpian effort to overturn his 11-vote loss to Democratic Rep.-elect Liz Snyder. Read about that over here.

Pruitt had his day in front of the Alaska Supreme Court on Friday morning, where GOP attorney Stacey Stone couldn’t muster even the bare minimum of evidence that errors regarding public notice of a last-minute polling location move—the state SHOULD have notified the Anchorage Municipal Clerk but didn’t, which is the entirety of the complaint—cost them the election. Stones case was essentially, “We don’t know how it might have impacted the outcome so therefore NEW ELECTION PLZ.”

It’s not the last time that Pruitt will be appearing before a panel arguing over his political career. Pruitt will be in front of the Alaska Public Offices Commission on Wednesday for a likely decision on the complaint regarding years of inaccurate financial disclosures and self-dealing from the 2016 and 2018 races.

For a quick reminder, Pruitt racked up violations that would amount to a maximum combined civil penalty of $1,022,250 thanks to APOC’s use of a ticking clock for determining penalties. He’s had incomplete financial reports, improper personal reimbursements and illegal campaign contributions that have been accruing for between 1,549 days to 607 days at about $50 per day.

APOC staff recommends a reduced penalty of $10,222.50, a 99% reduction in the maximum penalties but a still-significant amount in terms of APOC violations.

It’s not the only particularly egregious APOC violations that have been floating around, but we’ll try to get to those next week. I think I have an APOC hangover after the 2020 elections.

Other court/appeals

Even setting aside everything else, the courts provided plenty of news this week:

  • Superior Court Judge Pallenberg rejected the Alaska Legislative Council’s request for a preliminary injunction against the governor’s lapsed appointees. Pallenberg does, however, seem to generally agree with the Alaska Legislative Council that Dunleavy is definitely not following the law by allowing a bunch of appointees and commissioners continue to serve but isn’t convinced that any harm (which so far includes AIDEA spending $14 million ANWR oil lease bids) would be irreparable. Find his order here.
  • Dunleavy is doing Pebble Mine a favor even though he’s totally 100% neutral on the project by using state resources to appeal the rejection of the group’s permit. If it’s not clear by now, Dunleavy’s not as interested in cutting government as much as he’s interested in selling it off.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear cases on whether Alaska Native corporations were eligible for CARES Act funding. They were denied access to the funds over objections from Alaska’s congressional delegation who argued they were intended to be included in the eligibility for some $8 billion in federal relief funding set aside for tribes.

On the race

Anchorage mayoral candidate and holder of most if not all union endorsements Forrest Dunbar hired Clair Shaw this week as his campaign director. Shaw ran independent Alyse Galvin’s campaign for Congress, which might be the sort of thing to goof on if not for the fact that Galvin won Anchorage.

A final note

Go check out that new “The Great North” show! It’s set in Alaska and is the perfect amount of escapism for right now, I watched it a million years ago when we were all waiting for Georgia runoff results. It’s kinda like Bob’s Burgers set in Alaska: a little sappy, mostly silly.

And major points for snowmachine and the introduction of “Is it broken or Alaska broken?”

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