Discover more from The Alaska Memo by Matt Buxton
Everyone's running for Congress
From Santa Claus to, sigh, Sarah Palin and everyone in between, Alaska's special congressional election will be crowded, unpredictable and hopefully fun.
Happy Friday, Alaska!
Sorry for the quiet week! I’ve been slammed with a load of freelance work this week but, hey, at least the Alaska Legislature hasn’t been up to much with the least-surprising bout of covid-19. At least there’s plenty to talk about today.
In this edition: We really didn’t think out the implications of having the filing deadline for the congressional special election land on April 1, did we?; Anchorage is having another election (who do they think they are having them every year!) and it’s just about the most boring and consequential election since the last boring and consequential election that yielded Mayor Dave Bronson; Your humble blogger and his publisher got to talk about Lisa Murkowski and the calculus around the 2022 election; The week that was supposed to be budget week in the House turned more into a sick week for the entire Legislature in what’s probably a pretty good look at “post-panny” life with middling vaccine uptake and continued conservative freakouts over masking; Redistricting heads back to the Alaska Redistricting Board for fixes ordered by the Alaska Supreme Court, if only we could be confident they don’t have anything up their sleeves; Meanwhile, anti-discrimination legislation quietly advanced in the House, marking a first for the long-running bill; Another sobering look into the world of Lora Reinboldia; the reading list and weekend watching.
Legislative day: 74.
Spice level: 🎅🏽
‘It’s a $100 lottery, baby!’
Santa Claus, Christopher Constant, Jeff Lowenfels, Nick Begich, John Coghill and Lady Donna Dutchess are just some of the names to have filed to run when I started writing this column. With the close of the election filing deadline, that field has grown to include Andrew Halcro, Tara Sweeney, Emil Notti, Rep. Adam Wool, Sen. Josh Revak, former legislator Mary Sattler Peltola and, sigh, Sarah Palin.
There’s reportedly somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 candidates to have filed, but a final count and breakdown won’t be available until the Division of Elections has certified all the candidates and uploaded them to the website here. Candidates have until noon on Monday to have second thoughts and withdraw from the race. Election day is June 11 and will be Alaska’s first all-mail election.
On a quick hot take note, the national media is just going to have a field day with a race that includes Santa Claus and, sigh, Sarah Palin. At least this will all be over quick enough and hopefully all this chaos will be entertaining. Also, talk about a bad day for Nick Begich. While Democrat Christopher Constant’s lane got a bit more crowded today, it’s nothing compared to the conservative side of the ticket dominated with heavy hitters like Sweeney, Revak, Coghill and, sigh, Sarah Palin.
Also, remember, that it’s not ranked-choice voting until the special general election. You only get to vote once in the open primary race, so make your vote count.
If you want a really good breakdown of all the candidates, the team over at the Anchorage Daily News has the election offices staked out and has been reporting on filings throughout the day.
Also, shoutout to KPen's favorite progressive stoner Karyn Griffin, AKA Twitter’s Krazy Thee Alaskan, for what has got to be the best and most-Alaskan of campaign announcement videos. “My family and I would also like to have health care for life, wouldn’t you?” she said. “Medicare for all, Medicare for me, Medicare for you, It’s a $100 lottery baby!”
Anchorage is having another election
I haven’t written very much about Anchorage politics because, well, who would want to? This election is perhaps the least exciting and most consequential we’ve had since, well, the last boring and consequential election we had (which gave us Lyin’ Mayor Dave Bronson). While we can talk about all sorts of various issues at hand with this election and the various things that they should be focused on, it’s really about whether the Bronson-skeptical incumbents hold onto their seats and continue to serve as a check on the mayor’s worst impulses, or a surge of Bronson Believers take over their seats, erase the Assembly’s veto override numbers and effectively give Mayor
Demboski Bronson carte blanche.
There’s really not a lot more to it than that and it’s, frankly, just about the most depressing thing about politics these days.
It all comes as the Blue Alaskan has been doing yeoman’s work in digging through the Denali-sized mountain of suspicious crap surrounding the city’s relationship with tactical bros-turned-covid treatment bros WEKA. Here, Blue details how WEKA scored a lucrative contract to provide covid-19 treatments after donating some serious cash to the Bronson campaign. If you had concerns about a company that seemed to be primarily focused on selling holsters and providing armed security getting involved in administering medical treatments, then it sure sounds like you had something to be concerned about. In one anecdote about care, which was reported by EndPoints News earlier this month and brought to my attention by Blue Alaskan, an immunocompromised man went to WEKA’s location at the muni-owned Golden Lion Hotel—which is a whole other can of worms—to receive the government-supplied shots only to A) be charged $550 up front and B) be administered the drug incorrectly by injecting it intravenously instead of in the hip, as was required. It’s truly so horrid that here’s the entire section from that EndPoints News write-up:
He pulled up not to a doctor’s office, but to the wide-open parking lot of a shut-down hotel. When he walked inside, there was a registration sign above the check-in desk and signs offering various treatments outside the guest rooms. A receptionist took down his information and told him he would have to pay $550 by credit card before he could even be treated. They would then bill his insurance another $950, she explained, and if insurance didn’t cover it, he would have to.
Selman thought it sounded bizarre — thought the whole thing was bizarre, from the repurposed hotel to the upfront cost, to the mysterious absence from the site — but felt he didn’t have a choice but to hand them his Visa.
“I’m extremely susceptible. I feel desperation,” he recalled. “My team said I need to get this. I want to get it because I had exhausted all my other resources and the state has sent me there, so okay.”
Then things got stranger, Selman said. Evusheld is authorized as two shots in the hip, but a nurse gave him the antibody by IV infusion. Selman, deferential to doctors since they saved his life a decade prior, said nothing. But afterward, he said, his transplant team called and reprimanded Weka, who said they hadn’t known and recommended Selman come back in 45 days.
Just weeks later, though, he got a call from a state official saying that Weka had shut down. The official pointed him to a site at a nearby mall, where he was given the antibody properly free of charge. He never heard from Weka for the $950, but they also never refunded the $550 charge.
A spokesperson for AstraZeneca said it was “concerning” that the clinic administered the drug by IV and referred Selman’s case to the medical affairs team for investigation.
Blue’s continued the digging and has turned up stuff that is quickly throwing this all into the Very Serious realm of malfeasance. And it sounds like the Anchorage Assembly has been bulldogging it behind the scenes to get answers, something a Bronson-pliant assembly would never imagine.
So, yeah, I guess that’s what to think about when you’re filling out your ballot.
Hey, ma! I’m in the Washington Post!
In addition to all the action going on in Alaska politics, folks are pretty interested in what Alaska’s U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski might do when it comes to voting on Biden Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson. They even asked me about it! Find that story here: On the other hand, Buxton said Murkowski has “a lot to lose” if she opposes Jackson. “There’s a lot of people who would support her who I think would be really soured by that, especially running into an election year, especially at a time when the Supreme Court is more tense and political than it’s ever been,” he said.
Of course, Midnight Sun publisher Jim Lottsfeldt raised with an appearance in the New York Times, where he really hit the nail on the head with the decisions so far: “There’s no right to shore up,” said Jim Lottsfeldt, a lobbyist and political consultant based in Alaska who is close with Ms. Murkowski. “The people who love Trump will not forgive her for the impeachment vote; it’s a waste of time to chase them.”
Also, there’s this really fun anecdote from the NYT story:
Ms. Murkowski has often recounted to friends back home a story about a private meeting of Republican lawmakers where senators were reviewing the political makeup of each state. When Alaska flashed on the screen, showing more than 60 percent of voters not registered as Republicans or Democrats, Senator Joni Ernst, Republican of Iowa, gasped.
“Oh!” she exclaimed. “That’s why you vote the way you do.”
The reality of that map appears to have stuck with Ms. Ernst.
“It is very complicated, but I know Lisa will do what is right for her constituents,” she said in an interview on Wednesday. “I trust her judgment, and she knows her state best.”
This week was supposed to be the operating budget week in the House, a milestone in the legislative session where legislators’ one constitutional duty of keeping the state government open and functioning clears its biggest and most aggravating hurdle of the session. I’m talking, of course, of the countless amendments that Reps. David Eastman, Christopher Kurka and their merry cadre of extreme-right buddies can dream up and that the rest of the Republican Minority will happily humor if for no other reason but to aggravate everyone involved. Last year, we saw 70 amendments drafted up, several amendments to the amendments and many more process battles that have come to define Eastman’s time in the Legislature.
Anyways, that was the plan until it seems just about everyone in the Alaska Legislature was exposed to covid-19. The floor sessions in the House have been canceled as have loads of committee hearings, bringing pretty much everything to a standstill in the building. A big problem, it sounds like, is that folks just aren’t exactly being all that straight-forward about their covid-19 cases, leaving some people finding out they’ve been exposed well after the fact if they ever find out and potentially spreading it more. It’s marked the return of masking in the building, but not everyone is playing along because, after all, there’s political points to be scored.
From a process standpoint, it makes sense to delay the House floor sessions even if there’s technically enough people to meet. The House Majority Coalition is already right on the edge with just 21 members. As we saw with the Turo bill debate, things can quickly get out of hand if the majority is missing a few people. As one legislator explained to me, why push ahead with a disadvantage? It’d be one thing if the House Republican minority was more willing to work with the majority, but they’re not and it’s unclear if the budget itself could even pass given the absences.
Also, hey, it’s probably also a good example of what the “post-panny” phase of the pandemic is going to look like with middling vaccine uptake, ongoing freakouts over middling mitigation and, truly, the lack of any actual middling mitigation efforts. It’s almost like the vaccine is good for business.
Back to the drawing board
The Alaska Redistricting Board will be back at it at 2 p.m. this Saturday with a hearing to go over the Alaska Supreme Court’s decision that, most significantly, strikes down the Senate pairings in East Anchorage. While it’s a pretty clear decision with little wiggle room—especially since it appears the Alaska Supreme Court didn’t buy into the “hard look” standard, which would’ve let the board sidestep public testimony by pretending to consider it. The ruling found the board definitely committed a political gerrymander that benefited Eagle River over East Anchorage. It should be an easy enough remedy, but given this is an Alaska Redistricting Board that has regularly been pushing the limits on what they can get away with, I’m not quite so certain that the outcome will be completely above board. And to that end, the board has already scheduled a trio of meetings for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
It’s important to note the court ruling struck down the East Anchorage/Eagle River Senate pairing but wasn’t prescriptive with the solution. From a mere logistical point, it’d be hard for the board to do anything other than put Eagle River with Eagle River as all other pairings would likely run afoul of the Voting Rights Act, the Alaska Supreme Court or basic logic. Still, that means there’s plenty of potential for hijinks when it comes to redoing the Senate pairings and it could result in a full shakeup that could make life significantly more or significantly less complicated for incumbents.
Board member Bahnke has an alternative proposal for the Senate maps that at least one of the conservative members has already conceded was fair and reasonable, but I wouldn’t bank on those words mattering much as the board’s conservatives have already proved willing to bend things to their advantage. Here’s her plan:
And here’s what the board had approved that was struck down:
Similarly, the Alaska Supreme Court’s ruling to delete the Cantwell Carveout should be easy enough. By moving the 200 residents from the rural Interior House District 36 to the Denali Borough/Mat-Su House District 30, it would bring HD36’s population deviation to near-perfect while HD30’s would remain within the acceptable margin. That’s a point the Alaska Supreme Court made in its ruling, getting about as close as possible to a prescriptive solution. Still, the board could probably think up a way to do it differently.
At least board members Nicole Borromeo and Bahnke will be there, keeping everyone as honest as possible, ready to tell everyone when the emperor is wearing no clothes.
The Alaska Superior Court has set an April 15 deadline to hear back from the board.
Alaska’s anti-discrimination laws don’t cover sexual orientation and gender identity, but it’s not for lack of trying. Legislation that would add both as protected classes to the state’s anti-discrimination laws have been introduced in some form or another for the past decade only to find little broad traction.
Backers are hoping that this year might be different following House Bill 17’s advancement out of the House Judiciary Committee earlier this week, which marks the first time the legislation has ever advanced from that committee. The measure is sponsored by Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, and has the backing of several other Democratic and Independent legislators.
“I want people to feel like they are equal in my society and that they are welcome,” he said, adding that the legislation would address outstanding issues following the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality. “Some of this is when you have the Obergefell decision that two men can marry, but you’re then going to say they can marry but they can’t occupy the same rental? It’s illogical.”
The measure would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s anti-discrimination laws, which currently protects race, religion, color, national ancestry, physical or mental disability, age, sex, marital status, pregnancy and parenthood as classes protected from discrimination in the areas of employment, credit and financing, public accommodations, rent and property sales.
A 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County found that protections for sex extend to both sexual orientation and gender identity at least in the areas of employment. The Alaska Human Rights Commission has aligned its work with that ruling, but Josephson said that this legislation is needed because it would clearly address protections in other areas like financing and rentals. Passing a state law, he added, would also more clearly extend protections to people who live in cities where there’s not equal protection measures, like Fairbanks.
Josephson also recognized that it’d be a moral victory for people who’ve long been fighting for equal protections. The legislation still has a ways to go. It still has a stop in the House State Affairs Committee, where previous forms of this legislation passed in prior years, before it could reach the floor for a vote.
Josephson said that’ll be a matter of the support from the public as well as timing with the clock ticking on the legislative session. He also acknowledged that the legislation would likely face a long-shot in the Republican-controlled Senate.
“I’d be happy to do that because even though the Senate may be unamenable to it, it’s the way these things have been historically, to get it one step at a time,” he said. “I would love to bring this to a floor vote even if the Senate didn’t take it up or give it a hearing. That would be a step in the right direction.”
Elias Rojas, the board president of Alaskans Together for Equality, celebrated the legislation’s advancement and said it’s a rallying moment to build support to push it further into the process.
“No matter our differences, all Alaskans are entitled to the security of knowing that we can’t lose our jobs, our housing, or our families because of how we were born, where we worship, or who we love,” he said, calling on people to reach out to legislators in support of the legislation. “If we work together, we can make 2022 the year that we finally secure equality under the law for all Alaskans.”
A merry trip into the world of Reinboldia
There’s not a lot of Twitter threads to be had this week, but be sure to check out Don Larson’s thread on Sen. Lora Reinbold’s “egregiously unconstitutional online censorship bill.” (And here’s the Thread Reader version of it.)
A lot of the remembrances we’ve seen of Don Young have leaned heavily in one direction or another. Effusive praise that overlooks his many transgressions to pure condemnation. Young was, well, complicated and I think former Alaska Public Media reporter Libby Casey’s write-up is the best at looking at Young for who he was. From the ADN: Remembering Rep. Don Young
Officials believe fentanyl is driving a new surge in opioid overdoses in Alaska. One mom is working to tell her son’s story in the hope that others won’t have to experience the pain of losing a loved one to the dangerous drug. From the ADN: ‘People will listen to a grieving mother’: An Anchorage mom who lost her son to fentanyl wants to tell her story
From Alaska Public Media: What’s wrong with the word ‘colony’? Here’s what’s behind a Palmer festival’s name change controversy.
The fate of campaign contribution limits now rests with the Republican Senate. From Dermot Cole: Senate had time for a proposed law creating 'Truck Driver Day.' It certainly has time to create campaign donation limits
The Alaska high school basketball championships wrapped up last weekend. It’s a great event that sees teams from throughout the state compete on the court. For the Tanana boy’s team, though it was a bittersweet end to the season with several players set to graduate and leave the school without the numbers to field another team. From Alaska Public Media: In Tanana Alaska, ‘a way of life’ comes to a bittersweet close
We need to rethink the way we talk about mental health. From Alaska Public Media: How to help people understand the complexity of mental health
It’s Wrestlemania Weekend, baby!
And, finally, it’s apparently Wrestlemania Weekend. Admittedly, I’ve completely fallen off a cliff when it comes to professional wrestling in the last few years, but Wrestlemanias (and Royal Rumbles) are always great fun. And sometimes, wrestling also pays off with long, multi-decade storytelling that’s just not possible in most other forms of media. Here’s a great look back at the career of the dead man, The Undertaker.
Have an excellent weekend, y’all.