Welcome to the latest edition of Friday in the Sun, our weekly column that attempts to catch up and break down whatever neat stuff has caught our attention in the week. As always, speculating and prognosticating on Alaska politics is a favored pastime of many, second only to questionable papercraft.
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First, a shout-out to all the reporters, photographers and sharp-witted twitterers who braved the Anchorage Assembly chambers this week.
They’ve all provided a meaningful and, hopefully, eye-opening look at what the extreme-right disinformation machine is doing to Alaskans, and in doing so hopefully prompted people to hopefully reconsider what and who they support (admittedly a long shot) and spur into productive action (which is hopefully not a long shot). On a logistical level, they’ve all made a considerable investment of time, resources and personal risk. For the outlets, they’ve dedicated reporters, photographers and editors to cover the slog of night meetings that have ranged from the absurd to the outright hostile. And, sure, while there’s typically plenty of criticism to level at the Alaska’s mainstream media has reports on just about any issue—just ask columnist Dermot Cole—there’s a lot to commend here across the board.
I think there’s particular credit for the to-the-point headline run by the Anchorage Daily News: “Mayor Bronson defends use of Holocaust imagery by mask mandate opponents during heated second night of Anchorage Assembly hearing” that remains online and unchanged by the mayor’s milquetoast “Sorry if I offended you” non-apology. It’s what happened and no amount of attempting to walk it back—or, speaking from personal experience, might be high-pressure phone calls from officials—will change that.
Bronson’s hasty retreat from openly supporting antisemitic appropriation of Holocaust imagery serves as a reminder of what a healthy dose of public condemnation can still do (though, let’s be honest that the mayor and his allies will turn to what politicians have been doing for a long time: supporting such imagery at arm’s length with a wink and a nod). Still, it’s hard to overstate the importance of unflinching coverage and a surge of letters to the editor.
Since I’ve moved to Anchorage and been forced to pay more attention to the Anchorage political world, it’s still hard to overstate just how much sway the mainstream outlets carry with politicians… or at least some of their backers. Critical coverage and a scathing editorial go a long way in making most Anchorage politicians—whether they be in local government or the state—jump. Seriously, most are so deeply concerned with how they appear in the press that there have been times where coverage turns into near-instant action (typically in the form of shaking loose some bill that has been languishing in a committee).
I’d like to imagine that may be the case with Bronson waving the white flag on openly supporting antisemitism (though, to be fair, I’m sure there’s still plenty that can be done with a wink and a nod) and if not, then at the very least I think that the coverage—from the images splashed across the newspaper down to Facebook posts and Twitter posts—has shown just how ugly things are getting, which goes well beyond the brandishing of the Stars of David and everyone should remember that.
The homophobic slur hurled at Assemblymember Christopher Constant came from a frequent flier Paul Kendall, a weirdo who’s been aggravating elected officials from the fringes for years. As Constant pointed out following a “Gosh, I didn’t even know what was happening” apology from Bronson, it’s not entirely surprising to hear that coming from a man who earlier in the hearing had been calling them enemy combatants, but what was shocking was the raucous applause and cheering that followed.
“The part that in fact shocked me to silence was when roughly 200 people cheered zealously. That was the part that zinged me and really took my breath away for a minute,” Constant said.
The fight is still a long way from being done. The Anchorage Assembly will be back at it on Monday (they couldn’t meet on the weekend because Mayor
Amy Demboski Bronson said the administration won’t approve the overtime for the security and for the AV crew to run the cameras). It’s likely that we’ll reach the actual debate and vote on the measure at that meeting, which will get us all rolling on the political maneuvering with the anticipated veto by Bronson, a likely override and then the waiting game as the mayor is tasked with enforcing it.
In the big picture, the fight is a very long way from being done. More work needs to be done to actively confront the disinformation engine that is fueling so much of this hate and division. A strong, accountable media landscape is part of that picture, as is organizing and mobilizing. Speaking of which…
About the potential for a recall
What’s so remarkable about all of this is that with the near-inevitable recall effort against Bronson looming out in the ether, Bronson and his gang have done zero to grow their base of support. Instead, they’ve only diminished it with a slate of shady business deals, a smugly hands-off approach to the pandemic and now they’ve shown just how ugly they can get with furor over the mask mandate. Yes, any recall effort is going to be a long shot in the best of cases, but some things to keep in mind: Bronson doesn’t have all that much margin of error after only securing a margin of victory of 1,194 votes out of more than 90,000 cast, a difference of 1.4%, and even more importantly he won’t have the benefit of running against Forrest Dunbar, who probably lost a point or two for the simple fact that he’s Forrest Dunbar.
Bronson will have to stand on his own record, which is turning out to be pretty grifty, childishly partisan and generally fumbling all with a stench of antisemitism and homophobia built in. The fact that the Red Shirts so swiftly ditched the Stars of David at his bidding ought to be pretty telling about why they were there in the first place.
And while I’m sure whatever recall effort comes to be will be cast as an rabidly liberal Assembly that just hates freedom and loves masks for some reason, the real dynamics between the mayor and the assembly shouldn’t be ignored.
There were a lot of olive branches from the Assembly in the early “Well, we owe it to the voters to give this guy a chance” days that Bronson administration turned around and used as kindling for their witch hunt intent on putting more of those Red Shirts in the Assembly chairs. Instead of trying to bridge divisions and work together for the betterment of the community, the Bronson administration has fallen back to the petty partisanship that has come to define the extreme-right. The efforts to reach agreement on the shelter was met with bad-faith bargaining that gave way to a litany of shady dealings and contracts, work with the Assembly has soured into accusations of spying as justification for a city-wide mandate to funnel everything through
Mayor municipal manager Amy Demboski, they’re putting public resources into promoting the recall election (and when called on it by the Municipal Clerk, the response was essentially “No, you’re the one playing politics” (more on that below)), there’s the whole antisemitism thing and, oh right, the angry mob that they’ve been whipping up.
It’s increasingly hard to see what priority other than “Owning the libs” is on Bronson’s to-do list.
Even Thursday’s public testimony session on the proposed mask mandate devolved into another childish mess as Bronson attempted to veto the assembly’s plans to continue the meeting on Monday—something so insipidly stupid that it ought to be disqualifying on its own—and then denied the Assembly the resources to hold a meeting over the weekend because of the administration’s cut backs on the fire department’s overtime (something that was apparently not an issue when Bronson and Allard held their little pro-covid pep rally last month).
Alllllll of that aside, though, there needs to be some strategic thinking in all of this, especially when time, resources and energy need to also be spent on holding onto the Anchorage Assembly seats.
All part of the plan
Which speaking about the long-term outlook, I wanted to highlight
Mayor Municipal manager Amy Demboski’s response to Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones’ concern over the administration’s use of public resources to promote the recall election—an admittedly innocuous-looking banner on the muni’s homepage that actually raises a load of troubling albeit wonky problems with separations of powers, the fairness of elections and the public use of money to influence campaigns. Jones’ accusation is that the Bronson administration is using public resources—after all, APOC has already ruled that pretty much everything from websites to emails are public resources—to illegally promote and influence the upcoming recall election.
Demboski’s response is, essentially, “No U.”
In it, she calls the accusations that the Bronson administration would be trying to put a finger on the scales (in an recall election targeting Assemblymember Meg Zalatel, one of the co-sponsors of the mask mandate who has been phoning into the meetings out of concern for her personal safety) “salacious, unfounded, lacking of logic or common sense.” She then goes on to suggest that it’s the Municipal Clerk’s office who’s trying to play politics… by trying to keep elections free from the appearance of partisan influence… right.
“I never thought it would cause controversy because people are directed to your webpage for election information. In my humble opinion, it is a totally nonsensical and an indefensible position,” Demboski wrote. “Unfortunately, I fear the this reaction has done a great deal of harm to the Clerk’s office leadership’s appearance of neutrality.”
Ahhh, so that’s the point of this whole thing.
It’s turning out to be a whole lot less about the election at hand than it is about the raptors testing the fences… and setting the stage for a bad-faith effort to upend the way Anchorage conducts its elections. While accusations about Anchorage’s election system have generally been reserved to the fringes—as well as legislators from the Mat-Su Valley and Kenai Peninsula (see also: Sen. Shower’s bill that would have barred by-mail elections at the local level)—this is putting down the foundation to justify a litany of “election reforms” akin to what we’ve seen everywhere else in the country and, more worryingly, is providing yet another target for Bronson’s Red Shirts.
So, uh, yeah, just keep that one on your radar—along with a constitutional convention—if you’re having too easy of a time falling asleep at night.
The special session drags on[Sad trombone noise]
Oh, and the fourth special session that was set to start today was pushed to Monday. Following a lot of chatter about whether the special session would actually amount to anything, House Speaker Louise Stutes put that uncertainty into writing today with a letter asking Dunleavy to just cancel the special session altogether with a range of concerns from the surge in covid-19 cases to the simple fact that absolutely nothing is expected to happen.
Cliff Groh put it well in a thread that matches what I’ve been hearing. There’s been no significant movement from the Dunleavy administration on new revenues (which, by the way, we’re still waiting on that DIY fiscal plan tool that was promised all the way back in August) that’s needed to convince folks that dipping into savings with no real plan is his actual plan. Tempers are already short and neither chamber really has a particularly firm grasp on things (which, hey, is probably the point). After an extended session and three special sessions, both legislative staff and nonpartisan legislative staff are pretty much tapped out and unable to really provide meaningful analysis and backup to legislators (which, hey, is probably the point).
Anyways, we’ll see y’all at 2 p.m. Monday in Juneau. No word if/how Sen. Lora Reinbold will be able to make it.