Saturday in the Sun: The Legislative Matters edition

Friday in the Sun is here

Welcome to Friday Saturday in the Sun, our weekly column attempting to catch up on and break down the political news of the week. As always, take everything with a grain of salt and trust no one, especially if they’re asking for your bank account number or gift certificates to avoid “significant legal trouble.”

Also, hey, if you’re a subscriber to the The Midnight Sun Memo (and, if not, why?!? It’s so easy to sign up!) you may have noticed the increasing overlap between this column and the newsletter. Here’s a handy way to jump past the reheated newsletter to the new and/or fleshed out stuff for anyone who’s already done the reading: Too long; already read.

Legislative matters

The whole legislators holding the lamest legislator party to ever be held continues to be lame, and continues to eat up attention, with some clutching their pearls and most laughing at these hapless goofs. Instead, I want to talk about a pair of bills that passed the House on Friday.

The House on Friday voted 31-8 on a bill (HB10 by Rep. Hannan) to transfer a 250-acre parcel of land on Admiralty Island to the Funter Bay State Marine Park that includes a cemetery containing the remains of more than 30 Unangax̂ people who perished after being forced to relocate from their homes in Pribilof Island to the internment camp in Southeast Alaska. The forced relocation took place during World War II, ostensibly to protect them from Japanese aggression but unchecked racism against Alaska Native people led to inhumane treatment of the roughly 1,000 people at the hands of the U.S. government. Many watched as soldiers burned and destroyed homes in the islands and their “camp” in Southeast Alaska was an abandoned cannery that didn’t have clean water, basic medical care or even enough blankets. Many who died were the old and the very young. It was bad, and descendants say it’s left a dark gap in their family history as surviving members frequently refused to talk about the events.

The legislation, which now heads to the Senate for consideration, transfers the state-owned land between divisions in the Department of Natural Resources and won’t cost the state. Separate efforts to establish a memorial and other measures are in the works.

Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky, D-Bethel, was one of the several who spoke in support of the measure, calling it a form of reparations for the atrocities committed against U.S. citizens and Alaska’s first people. It’s just one of the many horrid stories of mistreatment of Alaska Natives and U.S. citizens at the hands of their government. The Unangax̂ cemetery represents just one chapter of that story and it’s also one of the easier ones to recognize given that it involves only state land. There’s still serious work ahead but each step represents some meaningful progress in recognizing and appreciating what many Alaska Native communities have gone through.

The second bill was House Speaker Louise Stutes’ HB27 that seeks to rename a bridge at Mile 9.5 of the Copper River Highway after Irene Webber. Webber, an Alutiiq woman from Cordova who recovered from alcohol abuse to become an avid runner and founder of many races in the area, including a cancer walk that has raised more than $100,000 to help residents with cancer screenings and treatment expenses.

Yes, it’s another bridge-naming bill that we often, as legislative observers, roll our eyes at and ask “Don’t they have more important things to do?” Well, first I’d say that the Legislature can do a lot of things at once, but second things like these, as seemingly insignificant as they seem, mean an incredible amount to the people and communities that they recognize. I think we frequently get bogged down in the cynicism of tracking the horse race of session, of trying to figure out what is in and what is out of the budget, and of following every little political machination, forgetting that what comes out of the Legislature can and does mean something to someone.

Even if it is a memorial citation for Hawkeye the Library Turtle.

Session context

Of course, neither of the bills mentioned above saw entirely easy passage. A small group of Republicans worried that the establishment of the Unangax̂ cemetery was a “sweetheart deal” intended to favor the residents in the area. They wanted a smaller allotment of land transferred, arguing that while they definitely respect the Unangax̂ people that maybe one day it’d be prime land for a mine. With the bridge bill, Reps. Kurka and Eastman said the cost of establishing the signage was too extravagant an expense when the PFD may be reduced (The cost is $10,158).

Nearly everyone of those Republicans had to speak, saying that while they understood that the Unangax̂ people should be remembered could it be done in a way that’s more friendly to mines (also, there’s apparently no major prospects in the area). The whole exercise calls to mind of what Rep. Kevin McCabe, one of the head worriers for the mine, said it at a Valley townhall a few weeks ago.

“All 18 of us in the minority agree with that as well and we will do whatever we can to be obstructionists, but in the minority in the House that’s virtually all we can do is be obstructionists. We can put in amendments, we can waste their time,” he said, as was reported by the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman.

I think it’s an important thing to keep in mind as the minority Republicans continue to cry foul over everything from the budget, bill treatment and gym parties. While some minority caucus members in the Senate and House have figured out how to be productive, this line of obstructionist thinking has a growing following as evidenced by all the pearl-clutching over the gym party. Yeah, it was a bad move and, yeah, everyone involved out to apologize, but should anyone lose their job over it? No, but that appears to be the goal behind the last bit of theatrics from Friday’s House floor session.

As the House wrapped up its votes on the two bills mentioned in today’s article, Rep. David Eastman made a motion for the “full and unedited video of the events that took place the evening of March 31st in the Terry Miller legislative gym be made available to the public immediately.” The House adjourned, returning late in the afternoon where the motion was tabled (effectively killing it and circumventing debate) on a 29-9 vote. Unfortunately, that’s probably not the last we’ll hear about this “party” because it’s too rich a vein of right-wing outrage (it certainly helps, too, that the three leading right-wing antagonists: Rep. Zack Fields and independent-minded Republican Reps. Kelly Merrick and Sarah Rasmussen were involved).

And as if it didn’t end there, Eastman objected to the House adjourning to Monday. They adjourned on a 29-8 vote.

What’s so wrong with a little bipartisanship?

That seems to be the line of thinking of those shrugging off the hysterics over the capitol gym “party” where a small group of legislators, current and former aides from the Legislature and the governor’s office and Jeff Landfield apparently hung out in the Capitol complex’s gym last Wednesday night in what can perhaps be best described as a youth group lock-in with some beers. Because of the participants involved, it’s been the source of plenty of feigned anger as if going through legislators’ fridges wouldn’t make for a far better party than what these dorks put together. Look, it should be no surprise that people hang out during session, that people drink during session or that people do dumb things during session. It’s not a new thing and it’s not something unique to one side of the aisle.

Still, I think people are also justified to look at this group and see a bit of entitlement; the cool kids who didn’t stop to think that they might be flouting the rules or didn’t worry if they were. “Entitled dorks leave cups for grown ups to pickup,” as one politico summed up the situation. The most galling thing, if there’s anything to be galled about, is the suggestion that the crew didn’t clean up after themselves particularly well. That’s the lamest part of this whole lame happening that I find myself still writing about on a Saturday afternoon.

So with that, let’s move on.

New supremacy clause just dropped

This week, Sen. Lora Reinbold (is this the farthest into a column that it’s taken me to mention her?) introduced several interesting bills that would seem to directly conflict with each other (but since when has that stopped her?). Senate Bill 119 would require legislators, judges and all other public officers to “read the Constitution of the State of Alaska, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution of the United States” before taking office. What isn’t defined in the bill is just what version of the Alaska Constitution, Declaration of Independence or U.S. Constitution she wants people to read because for anyone who’s been paying attention, it sure doesn’t seem like she’s reading the ones most of us are familiar with. No, these ones have a lot more American flags on them and are authored by “historians” whose title is sometimes preceded by the word “fake.”

It’s, as one politico observed, “brain-breaking” that this bill was introduced alongside Senate Bill 118, seeking to set up a legislative committee that would be tasked with deciding which federal laws and actions to nullify and in doing so find “the state and the citizens of the state may not recognize or be obligated to abide by the federal law or executive order.” Reinbold must’ve skipped out on Article IV, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which, you know, grants the federal government supremacy over state laws:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

U.S. Const. art. VI, § 2

None of this is all that surprising given Reinbold’s musings that legislators give an oath to the constitution so no bills can be unconstitutional and that all legislation should be assumed by the courts to be constitutional, but it’s just the latest look at what’s going on in The Land of Reinboldia. And if you’re wondering how her colleagues are feeling about it, the legislation adding required reading for all public officials got the kiss of death with four committees of referral. Her legislative nullification bill got two and is up for a public hearing on Tuesday in Senate State Affairs.

The Gold Standard

In other head-scratching bills, Rep. McCabe has introduced House Bill 167 that would add gold and silver to the legal tenders in the state. Reading around, it seems like it’s the kind of thing favored by the kind of people that you’d expect to be looking for alternative currencies in 2021. It’d also require the Finance Committees to study whether the state should also start accepting gold and silver to pay taxes and other fees to the state.

What I want to know is how much bullion a crunchwrap supreme will set me back.

Ya love to see it

And the race is off

Hot off taking a cool $81,000 in moving expenses, commissioner-turned-candidate Kelly Tshibaka’s campaign seems to have the momentum of a runaway freight train. Why is she so popular?

Meanwhile, Alaska U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan has already said he’ll back Lisa Murkowski in 2022, and now so too will a Mitch McConnell-aligned super PAC that announced Friday that it’s sticking with the independent-minded Murkowski in 2022. Their announcement notes that Murkowski—who voted for the Trump tax cuts as well as the confirmation of Justices Gorsuch and Barrett—is a Republican, after all.

Anchorage Elections

Friday’s tally includes an additional 7,000 votes that broke conservative. It has given extreme-right candidate Dave Bronson a slight lead over Anchorage Assemblymember Forrest Dunbar in the race for mayor, which is a symbolic victory as both will be headed to the May 11 run-off election. Races for school board have also narrowed but progressives are still holding onto the leads in the four seats on the ballot. The race between Kelly Lessens, extreme-right candidate Judy Eledge and two others has narrowed to 1 percentage point.

The one thing that is certainly not going in conservatives’ direction is the recall of Assembly Chairman Felix Rivera, who’s beating the recall by about 15 percentage points. Perhaps they would’ve done better if they had figured out the different between Assembly District 4, which got to vote on the recall, and House District 4, which is in Fairbanks. The story was originally broken by The Blue Alaskan. From the Alaska Landmine follow up: “The matter was brought to light by Scott Kendall, who has several family members that live in House District 4. Kendall said his family members texted him in confusion about the mailers. Kendall told me, “They texted me and said why am I receiving this mailer? Who is Felix Rivera? After I thought about it I realized the error and it became obvious what happened.” He added, “They might as well have set a pile of money on fire. Arguably it would have been more effective than sending mailers to Fairbanks.”

Road rules

It’s been a year with a heckuva lot of uncertainty, but it seems like the Gov. Dunleavy administration’s proposal to allow ATVs, snowmachines and other all-purpose vehicles (which apparently includes hovercraft) onto all roads with a 45 mph speed limit or lower is peak uncertainty. The administration had trouble explaining the proposed regulation, its potential impact on road safety and how it’d work with communities that don’t want hovercraft driving around town during a pair of hearings with the House Transportation Committee this week. The Tuesday hearing was one of the more… entertaining hearings of the session with committee chair Rep. Grier Hopkins, D-Fairbanks, asking whether his Class D driver’s license would allow him to drive a hovercraft around the streets of Fairbanks without the additional training that, say, a motorcycle would require. The answer is yep, but luckily for the Golden Heart City, Mr. Hopkins doesn’t have a hovercraft… yet.

While the administration largely focused on the 1,900 miles of state-maintained roads affected by this proposal (you can find a by-district breakdown here), the measure would extend to all roads 45 mph or lower unless a community opts out. There’s also a big issue of safety, namely what happens to low-pressure ATV tires when someone hits the brakes at 45 mph on pavement (hint, they sometimes come off the rim). My question, though, and maybe it’s just because I’m getting hungry, is whether the regulations would apply to the Taco Bell drive thru.

And sure, there’s probably plenty of cases where allowing these vehicles onto the roadways makes sense but what’s left incredibly unclear is just what how a community without road powers—like the Fairbanks North Star Borough—would be able to opt out of the regulations. On Thursday, several mayors testified echoing the same concern. Department of Administration Deputy Commissioner Dave Donley said it’s something worth bringing up during the public comment period, which runs through April 16. Find the full proposed regulation and public comment details here.

Have a good (Wrestlemania) weekend!

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