AKLEG Week 4: 'It's gonna get weirder'
“The future has already happened in the past, and it’s gonna happen again if nothing changes,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy.
Happy Friday, Alaska. It’s the end of the fourth week of the legislative session.
In this edition: Hooooooooboy. I don’t know if there’s any other meaningful political news beyond what was just about the weirdest news conference I’ve seen in more than a decade of covering Alaska politics. In this edition, I’ll break down some of the most head-turning moments.
Current mood: 😬
‘It’s gonna get weirder’
“The future has already happened in the past, and it’s gonna happen again if nothing changes,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy said on why he opposes what would be the first meaningful increase to baseline school funding in six years.
Throughout his time in office and before Alaska, Gov. Mike Dunleavy has consistently dodged the public and press, refusing to offer substantive answers to questions, sit down with editorial boards, or participate in debates and candidate forums. He was sued for blocking a blogger from news conferences and lost.
After his news conference on Wednesday, I can start to understand why.
It was nearly an hour of what could be charitably described as a gripe fest, filled with rambling, often incoherent diatribes that seem to suggest the governor is consuming an unsettling amount of conspiracy theories. Tilting at public teachers, school districts and younger Alaskans in the public sector, he bet his top-tier public pension that increased school funding wouldn’t make a difference and that young teachers would rather have a few car payments than a pension like his. We had tangents about how some unnamed nefarious powers are pushing for the depopulation of Earth and how public schools are hellbent on teaching kids to hate the Second Amendment and love equity. He was effusive about Texas’ standoff with the feds over the border and how he’d like to send down the Alaska National Guard in support—if only legislators want to “help” with the $1 million monthly deployment cost—and that it’s definitely not an attempt to start a new Civil War.
Before I break down some of the most head-turning moments, you can find the full news conference here and my real-time coverage of it here, but my partner in occasional podcasting, Pat Race, put together a cheeky supercut that compresses it all into a few minutes.
Claimed young Alaskans don’t want a good retirement
The latest line in far-right Republican opposition to restoring some kind of pension system for public employees in Alaska – who aren’t eligible for Social Security – is to claim that younger workers (really, anyone who started working for state or local government after 2006) couldn’t possibly want a pension. That hopping from job to job – the only way most of us can get a raise anymore – is more attractive than building a career. It’s a claim that Palmer Republican Sen. Shelley Hughes made during the debate on Senate Bill 88, and it’s now one that Dunleavy is parroting.
“Full disclaimer, I’m a Tier I retiree — I was a teacher — but younger folks appear to be less interested in that. I'm sure somebody will trot out research that shows some younger folks are interested in it, but I could tell you this, if you are a new teacher and you have student loans and you have car debt, and if you come to Alaska and this bill is passed, with $5, $10-, $15,000 dollars, you’re going to be able to pay off your student loans or make a big dent in them, you’re going to help make some car payments.”
And he capped it off with a particularly petulant line: “I’ll tell you this: We’ve gotta stop being a Make-a-Wish foundation.”
As for that top-tier retirement plan, Dunleavy bragged about it in a 2009 interview with The Times-Tribune in Scranton, Penn.
“The system has been very good to me,” he said. “I could retire with retirement income that many people would envy as a working income.”
Yeah, sounds terrible.
He’ll ask the Legislature to ‘help’ send the Guard to Texas
“I’ve made it clear that I support — and I think most Americans support — the battle that Gov. Abbott has on his hands with regard to open borders,” he said. “I’ll get a read on the Legislature if they want to help appropriate money for that, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I think it’s a good thing.”
He insists, though, that such a move is not an attempt to start a second Civil War.
“There’s some nonsense that by doing that you’re setting up a new Confederate Army against the Union, or you’re setting up a flashpoint against Americans,” he said. “That’s not the case, and that’s not something I want. And I know (Texas) Gov. (Greg) Abbott, and that’s not what he wants.”
He wasn’t elected to fund schools
“If I stood at this microphone today and said we’re going to shove in, with a D9, tons of money into the BSA, and that’s it, I’d be lauded as a hero, but I didn’t run on that ticket,” said, later adding, “I would bet my retirement, if you just put money in the BSA there will be no change in performance.”
If only Alaska had legalized gambling, as Dunleavy had suggested in 2021.
Questioned the competency of local school districts
As several dear readers have reminded me this week, it bears repeating that both Dunleavy and Department of Education Commissioner Deena Bishop have run school districts, with Bishop recently finishing stints as the superintendent of Anchorage and Mat-Su school districts. That’s why it’s so disconcerting that much of the latest arguments against increasing baseline education funding seem to rest on the notion that school districts have a long history of being mismanaged and that everything would be fine if administrators could just do it right.
“Certainly, there are school districts that aren't managing their budgets. There’s one here in town,” he said of the Juneau School District before adding, “I’m not indicating anything illegal is going on.”
Then he turned his scorn to the Anchorage School District, which this week laid out a plan to cut 100 jobs and increase class sizes, and suggested they need help doing their books. The school district that Bishop was running up until 2022.
“If Anchorage is having a hard time accounting, let us know, and we’ll come in and help you with it. We’ll help Anchorage if they can't do it the right way or if they're having a hard time with it. We’ll help them,” he said. “The help that a lot of school districts want is the BSA, and that’s like some type of salve or poultice; you put it on a wound, and it makes it better. I don’t know what it really means. But we'll partner with you, Anchorage, and we'll go in and help you understand the books.”
(It should also be noted that the governor’s budget isn’t balanced and relies on a $1 billion draw from the state’s savings account.)
Insisted the framers would support his power grabs
The Dunleavy administration has been generally mum about an expansive use of executive orders at the start of this session—a flurry of orders that accounts for 10% of all executive orders since statehood—other than to give bland answers about streamlining efficiencies. Asked about them and how, specifically, the Alaska Marine Highway Operations Board would be improved by a board that answers only to him rather than having input from the Speaker of the House and Senate President, Dunleavy conceded it’s about consolidating power and silencing dissenters.
“If they're at odds with the DOT Commissioner or the executive, if they want to go one direction or another we may not be able to fix the problems with the Marine Highway system. That's the answer,” he said adding, “The framers of the constitution wanted a very strong executive, and in many cases for that reason. They wanted decisions made and things executed. I believe if they were awake today, they were with us today. They would be somewhat shocked at the lack of problems that have been solved in this state over the decades."
“Are there some people who aren't going to like it,” he added. “There are some people who aren't going to like paying teachers more.”
“People aren’t having kids like they used to.”
“We are in a population decline. The entire world is peaking out. What does that mean? What does the future look like? I don't want to stand here and wax and wane about AI and robots and how you don't need people, etc. That’s kinda crazy. We got to this point in civilization—and this is really important—because we've had so many people.”
The threads from this week
If there was a YouTube version of Tracy Chapman’s performance of “Fast Car” from the Grammys, it’d be here. She was the soundtrack of my childhood car trips, and the performance was wonderful. Here’s her performance from 1988.
Have a nice weekend, y’all.