Friday in the Sun (Jan. 14): Twas the Friday before Session

Friday in the Sun is here

Welcome to the latest edition of Friday in the Sun, our weekly column that attempts to catch up and poke fun whatever news that’s worthy of being caught up and poked fun of. As always, take everything with a grain of salt because, after all, speculating and prognosticating on Alaska politics is the state’s favorite pastime after only playing bumper boats with the state’s ferries.

You can always get ahold of your humble editor at [email protected] with any tips, tricks or grammatical advice (I’ve actually got some half-way decent advice lately, which I will not follow).

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Pre-filed bill-mania

Ah, pre-filed bills. Every year, legislators can get bills in ahead of time with two waves of releases ahead of the official start of the legislative session. With most legislators and staffers in the process of relocating to Juneau, it at least gives fodder to reporters who have stories to file. But like most things with the Legislature, these pre-file bills rarely amount to much more than pre-session posturing. There’s a reason why I’ve put off writing anything significant about them for the last week and let Larry Persily beat me to the punch with his excellent op-ed on the issue: Cockamamie pre-filed bills won’t solve Alaska’s real fiscal issuesFrom that:

Just as cities and boroughs statewide submit their annual wish lists of local projects for legislative funding, the pre-files are a wish list of each lawmaker’s priorities.

And just as most local projects will not receive state funding, most pre-file bills will fail to become law. Most will not even get a hearing before a legislative committee, which is OK. Lawmakers have a lot to do in the next four months, and holding hearings on nowhere bills is no bridge to productive results.

Honestly, many pre-files are directed more at making friends with supporters and donors than they are well-reasoned efforts at reaching a successful compromise between differing opinions.

So, let’s talk about the bills in some very broad terms.

The biggest area of interest is covid-19, or, to put it more accurately, efforts to undermine the public health response to covid-19 by doing everything from creating some stiff penalties for people, to making it fine to opt out of any vaccine mandate for any reason, to just an outright ban on mandating the covid-19 vaccine. Also, protecting the rights of the unvaccinated. These all come from the extreme-right wing of the Republican Party in a reflection of the hijinks that were on display at Thursday’s Legislative Council meeting.

There’s a hodge-podge of other conservative bills pulled from whatever hysteria national right-wing media has drummed up: Anti-critical race theory, an anti-trans student athletes bill that goes so far as borrowing from Texas’ anti-abortion bill by allowing people to file civil lawsuits over it, several permanent fund dividend bills, and a bill that would bar the state from working with any contractor that was involved in any kind of boycott against Israel (part of a national conservative anti-BDS movement).

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s several pieces of legislation that would reinstate campaign contribution limits in Alaska (which, while we’re bringing them up, isn’t it odd that they were completely omitted from Dunleavy’s big election “reform” legislation?), Sen. Elvi-Gray Jackson and Rep. Geran Tarr both have several bills addressing police use of force policies, and there’s a slate of bills attempting to address the state’s financial woes.

Again, most of these are little more than posturing and pandering. The Legislature faces an incredible time crunch going into the next session and there’s simply not going to be much room for any of this legislation to pass. That said, I did want to highlight one specific bill: Anchorage Republican Sen. Mia Costello’s Senate Bill 159.

The legislation proposes making a significant change to how unemployment eligibility is determined. Under the current system, the length you can be on unemployment is determined by how much you paid into unemployment insurance, ranging from 16 weeks to 26 weeks. Costello’s legislation would instead tie the duration to the state’s overall unemployment rate. For instance, if unemployment is under 7%, one can get up to 12 weeks of assistance, and if it’s over 9.5%, up to 20 weeks.

If pre-filed legislation is a demonstration of values, this is about as clear a statement of priorities as we can get from Sen. Costello. This elitist, anti-worker sentiment clearly ties into the current popular talking point of “well, nobody wants to work these days,” which completely disregards the low wages, non-existent benefits, and lack of workplace protections that have plagued many workers for decades. The pandemic has shone a light on these inequities, and responses like this are, well…telling, to say the least.

Oh, and by the way—this is the same Sen. Costello who worried that a 2021 bill that would provide essential workers with university or vocational education scholarships would leave no one to bag groceries:

“I keep coming back to the fact that if they have an opportunity to go to school, they’ll leave their position. Have you talked to any grocery store managers in Anchorage or in the state about how this bill might impact their workforce?”

Hot mic-ing it

In a hot-mic moment for the ages, the Rogers Park Community Council got an earful of Bronson administration members Terrence Shanigan and Portia Erickson on an unmuted call following what were largely milquetoast reassurances that the city’s covid-19 testing situation and mitigation is not the complete trash fire that it appears to be. In it, Erickson thanks Shanigan for jumping in to answer the group’s questions to which Shanigan replies: “I figured they needed a little slapping around.”

Shanigan then asks Erickson if she got the song lyrics that he had texted during the meeting, adding: “Hush, hush, hush, let’s lie. I know it’s wrong, but let’s lie together, in a way.”

Erickson laughs, deflects, then turns attention to a (never-released) news release about “testing and numbers” and some sort of statistics that her husband found through the CovidSecure app while members of the community council try to get their attention.

See/hear for yourself:

I reached out to the administration hoping to get some clarification on the whole thing. While I wasn’t really expecting a response (I’ve stopped getting them from the Bronson and Dunleavy administrations for the most part), the administration ignored the pressing questions that I would’ve liked to see answered, like:

  • “Who did Mr. Shanigan believe needed the ‘slapping around’?”
  • “What was Mr. Shanigan doing texting innuendo-laden song lyrics to another employee?”
  • “What did Mr. Shanigan mean by all the references to lying?”
  • “What song was he referencing?”

Personally, I’d really like to know what song he was referencing. It’s a question that’s dominated much of my headspace and google searches this week. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of songs out there with some form of “hush, hush” and agreeing to lie out there, and also unsurprisingly, a lot of said songs are about having affairs. Few of them are any good.

As @Akroadweed put it on Twitter, “If he’s not talking about lying as in telling a lie this is very likely sexual harassment. This should not (be) swept under the rug.”

The closest we’ve gotten to an answer is in the response to the Anchorage Daily News. Sort of.

“Mayor Bronson does not condone the statement Mr. Shanigan said ‘I figured they needed a little slapping around,’” spokesperson Corey Allen Young told the ADN by email.

But, given the Bronson administration’s historically loose definition of facts, one might question whether that’s even the truth. At the core, it’s one more brazen display of inappropriate and inept behavior by members of the administration.

Also, I do appreciate that the term “clown car” is catching on as a descriptor for the administration. As Palmer resident Hal Homer said in a letter to the editor on Bronson’s preposterous “worldwide” search for a qualified library director: “Guess what? This clown car has officially left the roadway and it’s now in the ditch, probably for good. Good luck on the worldwide search for a tow truck that can respond.”

Pressure tactics

Andrew Halcro’s latest “All Due Respect” podcast has apparently ruffled some feathers in Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration, resulting in yet another round of Twitter beefing. So, in case you haven’t heard it, then you should probably go give it a listen. It’s mostly a clip show reviewing the year’s pods about Dunleavy but closes with an update on the firing of Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation Executive Director Angela Rodell. The juiciest revelation is that one of the commissioners on the Board of Trustees—which would either be Revenue Commissioner Lucinda Mahoney or Natural Resources Commissioner Cori Feige—was overheard saying something to the tune of “It was either my vote, or my job.”

Also, yeesh, you know things have to be bad when former Gov. Frank Murkowski is raising alarm bells about the stewardship of public dollars under the corporation’s new direction: Is Alaska’s Permanent Fund in peril?

Wah-wah

In a belated blast from the past, former Dunleavy budget director Donna Arduin teamed up with Art Laffer, Stephen Moore and Jonathan Williams to author the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council’s 2021 Report on Economic Freedom, Grading America’s Governors. Its ratings are based on specific criteria such as “sophisticated analyses of each governor’s policies and the context in which each governor operates.”

So, is Dunleavy a five-star governor along the likes of Florida’s Ron DeSantis (which ought to tell you everything you need to know about this report) or South Dakota’s Kristi Noem or even Colorado Democrat Jared Polis? No. How about in with the four-star governors like… Nebraska’s Pete Ricketts? No?!? Well, how about in the three stars along the likes of Washington’s Jay Inslee or Wisconsin’s Tony Evers (both Democ-RATs)? NO?!??! C’mon! Nope, you’ll find Gov. Dunleavy down among the two-star governors at rank #37, tucked between Louisiana’s John Bel Edwards and Delaware’s John Carney.

Per the report, Dunleavy’s lowly score is the product of Alaska’s 49th-best economic performance rank (which is based on 40th interstate migration, 47th education quality, 48th gross state product and 49th unemployment rate) and 34th-best fiscal policy work (42nd in debt, 45th corporate income tax, 12th on personal income tax, 50th on spending per capita and 2nd on federal unemployment benefits). He gets a middling 26 when it comes to his executive policy rank (27th in union control, 12th in education freedom and 38th in welfare dependency).

And before you go and blame the legislature, the report says its rankings “strive to isolate the actions and policy prescriptions of solely the governor.”

Well, you can’t win ‘em all.

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