Welcome to the latest edition of Friday in the Sun, our weekly column trying to catch up and break down the political news of the week. As always, speculating on Alaska politics is best treated as a recreational activity where the points are made up and everyone gets a participation trophy at the end of the season.
You can get ahold of your humble editor with tips, tricks and unsolicited grammar advice at [email protected].
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.
New election bill
Sen. Mike “Dozer” Shower, R-Wasilla, rolled out a near-complete rewrite of his “everyone has lost trust in elections so let’s make ‘em a heckuva lot more complicated and also have you heard of blockchain?” bill, Senate Bill 39, on Thursday. While it ditches some of the most egregious changes from the initial version (a common tactic with these kinds of bills) like the blanket ban on local by-mail elections and taking the automatic out of the automatic voter registration, it adds a lot more that ought to create some concern.
At its core, Shower’s legislation seems to be primarily concerned with creating a Domino’s Pizza Tracker-style system for ballots (which also includes an opportunity for ballot curing, which is legitimately good). Everyone’s confidence in the elections would be restored, he claims, if we could just track our ballots with the same kind of system that we use to track our pizza orders to make sure to put our barky dogs in the backyard in time. Never mind that much of the lost faith is directly a result of a reality-adverse political party that has been happy to proliferate the Big Lie to set the stage to make sure that the legitimate results of the 2020 election don’t happen again.
Shower’s legislation doesn’t contain the overtly headline-grabbing anti-voting measures that other states have used (well, there is a provision requiring four hours of police training on identifying election fraud, which is definitely not problematic). Instead, it seems like he’s really bought-in on an esoteric digital solution arguing that if we can just track the location of every ballot at all times, if voter rolls are more regularly scrubbed, if we assign every voter a “digital multi-factor authentication security identifier,” if we require multi-factor authentication to vote and if we log each individual vote on a publicly maintained database known as a blockchain then we can all finally, at long last accept the election results. To be honest, if a Dominos’ vote tracker is all that it’d take for Republicans to finally accept reality, then great! I guess it’s easier than expecting their leaders to start telling the truth about the election.
But the reality is that this just ain’t it. With database breaches and escalating cybersecurity threats, is a digital-driven system that includes a “well, have you heard of bitcoin?” to explain it really going to instill broad confidence that our elections are fair and free of interference? At the Thursday hearing, Shower pitched this system of multi-factor authentication, unique digital identifiers and a blockchain voting database as the perfect, impenetrable system used by the world’s snazziest tech companies. Anyone in tech will tell you otherwise. Nothing is truly free from attack, especially when people are involved. Instead, what I see when I read through all the provisions calling for digital identifying codes to be attached to ballots and public databases—with your identity hidden behind that “digital multi-factor authentication security identifier”—is a step towards the end of secret balloting. What happens if someone drops the keys?
And what about the equity of voting? How does this multi-factor authentication work for those without access to cellphones, for those who don’t know how to use their cellphones all that well or for those who don’t have great internet access?
Oh, and the legislation contains provisions that could invalidate an election in the event of data breaches or if the convoluted ballot accounting process doesn’t follow the letter of the convoluted law. And while the measure no longer bars local by-mail elections, it would require local governments to abide by the same convoluted system pieced together in this bill.
As Shower conceded, this latest rewrite is just the first step of the process. Maybe there’s a way to thread the needle on security and accessibility here that can satisfy the very real concerns about voting access with the more made-up concerns about rampant election fraud. We can only hope.
The view from Anchorage
Speaking of local elections, Anchorage has one going on. With a dwindling number of ballots left to be counted, extreme-right conservative Dave “Small $5,000 Mistakes” Bronson has extended his lead over progressive Assemblymember Forrest Dunbar to about two percentage points. It’s a symbolic victory as both will be heading to the May 11 run-off in what will largely be a battle of turnout and wooing the 36% of voters who didn’t vote for either of these guys in the first go around.
On the other races, Anchorage Assembly Chairman Felix Rivera is handily beating the attempted recall effort and progressive school board candidates are holding onto the lead in all four races with wide to extraordinarily close margins. Perhaps a bit prematurely, Pat Higgins today claimed victory in the race for School Board Seat E with a 395-vote lead over Sami Graham (a 0.6% lead). He also gave a nod in his announcement to other progressive candidates Dora Wilson and Carl Jacobs (who are on the wide end of the margins) as well as Kelly Lessens, who’s on the extraordinarily close end of things. As it currently stands, Lessens is up by 252 votes or a 0.39% margin, which is within the margin of an automatic recount.
The next big nexus is the public canvassing process scheduled for tonight at 5 p.m., where challenged and rejected ballots will be reviewed to either be accepted or rejected. The election results are set to be certified on April 20.
It’s a small mistake of $5,000
The Alaska Public Offices Commission met on Wednesday in one of more bizarre meetings in a while. The main takeaway is that the Dave Bronson campaign has admitted that its campaign finance reports have several errors that, whether intentional or not, masked the campaign’s fundraising and spending from the public view. Some things were rather innocuous like $25-over-the-limit contributions while others were more blatant attempts to mask spending by bundling several expenditures into a single line (honestly, something I see a lot of campaigns doing) and reporting them well after the fact (something I don’t see a lot of campaigns doing).
When asked about why one it looked like the Bronson campaign was reporting expenditures well after they had been expended, Republican attorney Stacey Stone (who you might know from Rep. Lance Pruitt’s unsuccessful attempt to overturn his loss) said, “With all due respect, I think you’re looking for a simple answer to a very complicated question.”
To which Paula DeLaiarro, the Dunbar campaign treasurer (who you might know from Rep. Lance Pruitt’s $1 million in campaign violations), retorted, “It’s a complicated matter because the reporting is so bad.”
But the heated back-and-forth wasn’t the most bizarre part of the meeting. No, that came from several interjections from unmuted Bronson supporters. It’s not clear exactly who was interjecting, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they’re from the Save Anchorage crowd that seems so unable to mind its manners at assembly meetings. Here’s it all in one silly clip:
Man, in reference to the third outbreak (which is not Stone) could you just imagine what kind of oversight Dunbar would bring to city service if this is the kind of oversight he’s bringing to the campaign? Imagine! And, conversely, if the APOC reports are anything to go by, Bronson’s accounting skills may leave quite a bit to be desired.
As for action on the Bronson’s messy and inaccurate reporting, the commission decided to simply take Stone’s word for it that they were auditing the reporting and would be issuing amended reports. The complaints weren’t dismissed, but will likely be taken up well after the May 11 election.
Several have already been issued, including a whoopsie of a previously unreported $5,000 spend on polling (which still seems like lowballing the cost of a poll), and, coincidentally, so have several amendments to far-right school board candidates Judy Eledge and Kim Paulson. Weird!
‘Dripping with xenophobia’
Sticking around Anchorage for the next bit, Anchorage Assemblywoman and Bronson pal Jamie Allard is back at tooting on the racist dog whistle again. After making headlines for defending clearly pro-Nazi license plates earlier this year, Allard was at it againt this week foisting about intentionally misleading and racist information about immigrants and covid-19. It was all too much for Assembly Chairman Rivera, who’s clearly had enough of it.
“I implore that the member from Chugiak-Eagle River refrain from making misinformed comments that stoke fear division and hatred in our community. It is not representative of who we are as a community and frankly, reflects poorly on us as a body,” Rivera said the following night. “Enough is enough.”
But for Allard, enough is never enough, and she interrupted Rivera and when the meeting was called to a close—without her mustering the proper objection—but not before one last furious interjection.
“The next time you turn off my mic, we’re going to have an issue and don’t think I won’t take you to court over it,” she hollered and would later claim that Rivera was bullying her. THESE PEOPLE.
Find the exchange here:
You can certainly take issue with Rivera’s approach here, a borderline sanctimonious speech that kinda dances around the issue, but a racist dog whistle is a racist dog whistle and good on him for calling it out.
The view from Juneau
If you haven’t heard, it’s very, very, very nice in Juneau right now, which might explain why things are kinda plodding along. Here’s a rundown of some of the big things and some of the interesting things that I haven’t really been able to delve into:
- The budget is very slowly coming together in the House. It sounds like House Finance is planning on taking it up in earnest next week after what was largely a week of informational hearings on the latest influx of federal relief dollars. Just how those dollars get spent and who gets to decide how to spend them is going to be the big question in the remaining days of session. It seems like they’re hoping to get the budget passed by Day 121, but it’s going to be a big lift. Today is Day 88.
- There’s a lot of rumblings about something going on with Sen. Lora Reinbold (though, let’s be honest there’s always something going on with her) and it appeared that today may be the day when push comes to shove. Alaska Landmine’s Jeff Landfield said she was spotted at the courthouse this morning, but the floor session was anticlimactic.
- Ballots aren’t the only thing that Senate Republicans are keen on meddling with when it comes to elections. The Senate State Affairs Committee advanced Sen. Josh Revak’s SB 23 that would make it easier to knock voter initiatives off the ballot. Under current law, a legal challenge that successfully invalidates part of an initiative doesn’t kick the rest of it off the ballot. Revak argues that it should and, surprise, several pro-industry anti-tax groups agree.
- The House Democrats have an election bill of their own in Rep. Chris Tuck’s House Bill 66. It’s far more to the “Let’s make voting easier for everyone” side of things and would include permanent registration for absentee ballots, a curing process and same-day voter registration.
- The Senate is taking a stab at passing Sen. Shelley Hughes’ anti-abortion constitutional amendment in SJR 4. While it wouldn’t outright ban an abortion, it just says that nothing in the constitution says you have a right to one. It also would open the door to nixing funding for abortions. The Senate Judiciary Committee heard invited and public testimony on the bill today with all the invited testifiers being, surprise, a bunch of anti-abortion men. Public testimony was a different story, though, with 22 offering fiery opposition against it and just seven in support. Unfortunately, I doubt it’ll slow them at all.
‘The Ultimate Value of Child Care…’
…is if a mother can raise a child,” argued Rep. James Kaufman during this morning’s House Labor and Commerce Committee hearing on legislation that would allow child-care providers access to pseudo-unionization. Whether the mother—because dads can’t raise kids, apparently—raises the child at home or on the job seems to be fine with Kaufman because, after all, his mom took him to work.
(I honestly don’t get this Republican obsession with what sounds like pretty objectively bad experiences as a child being held up as the ideal norm. Just because you had to go through it doesn’t mean that everyone should, too.)
Here’s a clip here, but it’s one of those clips worth watching to check out everyone’s response to the outright caveman approach to parenting. In the fuller exchange, which you can find here, Kaufman goes on about how he’s concerned about “the destruction of the dollar” and a “state-ist” approach to parenting. I know, right, I’m utterly shocked that a guy who participated in a candidate forum from behind the wheel of his dimly lit carwould have such outdated ideas about parenting and such conspiratorial notions of government.
In the full clip, you can also hear Rep. Zack Fields point out that stagnant wages have forced both parents into the workforce while Rep. Ivy Spohnholz interjects that, actually, it’s OK for women to have jobs.
That’s the rough difference between the amount of sewage what managers of the Mendenhall Wastewater Treatment Plant would expect and what they’re seeing. Gross! Read more from KTOO here.
And with that, have a nice weekend y’all. Don’t clog your toilet.