Discover more from The Alaska Memo by Matt Buxton
Republican legislator's bias proves hairstyle protection bill is needed
Also: Testimony on the anti-trans athlete bill; The House Republicans go to bat for unlimited money in politics; and Dunleavy boasts about windfall... by asking for the same thing.
Good afternoon, Alaska!
It’s been a very busy couple of days! Just a reminder that if I’m quiet on here, it’s likely because I’m spending the whole day tweeting about whatever latest amendment-o-rama Rep. Eastman and his Republicans are running. Only so many hours in the day.
In this edition: A Republican legislator puts his biases on full display, making the case for legislation to protect the natural hairstyles of people of color; Testimony on the anti-trans athlete bill isn’t nearly as depressing as I expected; The House Republicans love
unlimited money in politics free speech and they’re not afraid to show it; and Dunleavy flaunts the windfall in oil revenue… by proposing the same PFD he’s been calling for since the start of session.
Legislative day: 57
Spice level: 🐕🐕🐕🐕🐕🐕🐕🐕🐕🐕🐕🛷
Good news for the sleep-deprived: A Groggy Senate Approves Making Daylight Saving Time Permanent
‘When is it OK for us to feel threatened?’
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the race of a testifier as white. That testifier is mixed race.
That was one of North Pole Republican Rep. Mike Prax’s many questions during Monday’s hearing on House Bill 312—legislation that would protect people’s right to wear natural hairstyles at schools and on the job (with exceptions where it’d be a health or safety issue)—making the point that the legislation is sorely needed.
The legislation is an effort to specifically protect BIPOC (Black, indigenous and people of color) people from the kind of actions that led to a 16-year-old high school wrestler Andrew Johnson being forced to cut his hair moments before a wrestling match by a white referee. Several people testified in support of the bill, arguing it goes a long way to protecting the culture and health of BIPOC students and employees. The U.S. Army adopted similar changes last year to accommodate BIPOC soldiers.
It’s a matter of health, culture and basic existence, argued Alyssa Quintyne from Fairbanks, and BIPOC people should not be forced by schools and employers into hairstyles that simply make their white colleagues feel comfortable. Like many other testifiers, she noted the legislation doesn’t force anyone to love BIPOC hairstyles.
“The issue isn’t necessarily what people think of us or how they perceive us. The issue comes in when that person that has a particular perspective of us or feeling of us is in a position of authority over us and lets that perception change the outcome of that job interview, class, whatever it is. It is the reason I’ve experienced so much is because people’s right to discern me, people’s opinions and perspective is more legally protected than my actual right to exist the way that I exist,” she said, adding that it’s not just about cultural representation and expression but about keeping hair healthy. “We braid and twist and lock our hair to keep our hair neat, to keep it healthy. ... This is something to keep our bodies neat. When we let these perspectives get in the way of that we are literally harming people’s right to exist. What’s more important? Somebody’s right to discern or somebody’s right to exist?”
Rep. Prax seemed more than ready to make the point as he gave long, rambling examples of a time when he and his son were felt uncomfortable around a man his hair in locks on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. “He looked, to me, scary. We went around him. We didn’t want to associate with him.” He then went onto question a bald testifier about how he was supposed to tell the difference between him and a skinhead.
“I would say I think that the purpose of this bill is people are not judged by their hairstyles but rather by their actions,” replied Planned Parenthood’s Morgan Lim. “If that person were to be a member of a skinhead or neo-Nazi movement that they would be judged specifically on that. ... We all seek not to be judged by our hairstyles.”
Danyelle Kimp, the president of the Alaska Coalition of BIPOC Educators, testified in support of the measure. He referenced the incident with the wrestler Andrew Johnson, noting discrimination is still very much an issue in schools and workplaces, including the committee.
“Those microaggressions even come in the form of an earlier comment from a gentleman legislator who said a man with locks was scary to him, right? You can't change how he feels, I understand that, but HB 312 can help prevent new discriminatory actions or inactions toward the man with the locks because someone thought he was scary,” he said. “My son wears locks. HB312 will help protect him and other Black kids. ... Just because you won't be able to discriminate against BIPOC folks for their natural hairstyles, I say too bad, so sad.”
Prax replied by asking if there were a set of pictures, he could provide to illustrate natural hairstyles so he could know what’s acceptable and what’s not.
“Is there some boundary that those of us who feel threatened, honestly, by certain people and certain appearances of people,” he asked. “When is it OK for us to feel threatened and when should we react by accepting?”
As Kimp had said earlier in the testimony, the legislation isn’t about requiring white people to change their minds about BIPOC people’s existence, but about ensuring that BIPOC people don’t suffer for it in school and in the workplace. As for the request for photographs, Kimp said it shouldn’t fall on people of color to help educate everyone else on what’s racist and what’s not.
“The burden shouldn’t always be on people of color, the folks who are historically repressed,” he said. “Do some digging, get into it, find out for yourself, hangout with some Black folks, you know, and just get to know and understand what’s going on.”
Follow the thread: The House Education Committee hears HB 312
A show of support
Public testimony can often be a draining experience, particularly when it’s covering divisive legislation that draws out the worst in Alaskans. That’s what I was bracing for when the Senate Education Committee held a public hearing on Senate Bill 140, Sen. Shelley Hughes’ anti-trans athlete bill, over the weekend. The legislation is part of a nationwide effort to identify and ban trans girls and trans women from competing in girls’ and women’s sports. Hughes and other backers of the measure claim they’re motivated by protecting the sanctity of women’s sports, not transphobia, but their rhetoric from start to finish tells a completely different story. During the first hearing on the legislation, where the committee pulled a bait-and-switch on public testimony, the committee heard from a cherrypicked group of supporters who accused trans girls and trans women of seeking an unfair advantage in sports… an argument that isn’t too far off the hysteria over bathroom bills. So, it’s all to say that I wasn’t looking forward to several more hours of hearing the same from Alaskans.
I was wrong.
Alaskans showed up in force on Saturday to oppose the bill, showing nothing but support and compassion for trans athletes. The testimony came from just about every corner of the state and represented a wide variety of perspectives. They raised a ton of concerns that ranged from the constitutionality of such discriminatory policies, the logistics of enforcing something like this and, critically, what this legislation does to trans youth who have to hear legislators talk about them as if they are criminals.
A mother of a trans child said that her child asked her “What did we do to them?”
Given the political makeup of the Senate, the testimony is likely not enough to cool the Senate pushing forward with this legislation, but it will almost certainly be dead if and when it reaches the House.
Follow the irreverent thread: Public testimony on SB 140.
Republicans stand up for money in politics
The House on Monday was dominated by another amendment-o-rama, the third in as many weeks, that ate up most of the day as minority Republicans—well, mostly Reps. David Eastman and Christopher Kurka—pushed a litany of changes on legislation that would =restore some kind of campaign contribution limits on state elections. House Bill 234 by Rep. Calvin Schrage, I-Anchorage, seeks to restore campaign contribution limits for this year’s elections in light of the Alaska Public Offices Commission opening the door to unlimited campaign contributions in light of a recent court ruling. It would transition the contribution limits from a per-year limit to a per-election cycle limit with a $2,000 limit on contributions directly to candidates. It would also retroactively apply, meaning anyone who’s been taking unlimited contributions since APOC opened the doors to them on March 3 (legislators are barred from fundraising right now) would have to return any over-the-limit money raise.
Republicans harped against the underlying bill and offered a slate of amendments that would have largely undermined the limit, arguing that the Citizens United decision from the U.S. Supreme Court should mean money in politics should be unlimited in all cases (a funny thing to hear coming from Rep. Eastman, who also doesn’t believe in the Supreme Court’s ability to review laws and interpret the U.S. Constitution). Any limits, they argued, were an infringement on free speech.
Democrats and independents argued in favor of restrictions, noting that the whole point of limiting contributions to candidates is to combat corruption. To which Nikiski Republican Rep. Ben Carpenter preposterously claimed had never been a problem in Alaska (Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, had to remind him about VECO).
Following a handful of amendments that dealt specifically with contribution limits, Republicans also offered several election-focused amendments that would’ve done things like throw the some of the state’s election databases open to the public, alter how ballots are printed or set up a process where a minority of voters could force an entire district’s ballots to be counted by hand (a process that opponents said would not only be costly but could actually have lower accuracy than modern voting-counting machines). Several others were ruled out of order as not germane to the underlying bill, which prompted several showdowns over the rules that saw Republican support in Eastman falter a bit.
They didn’t wrap up with amendments until it was nearly 10 p.m. The legislation was held over and should be on the floor for debate and a vote on Wednesday.
More money, same ask
Gov. Mike Dunleavy had a news conference this afternoon where he bragged about the state’s windfall oil revenue (which isn’t actually quite in the bank) and made the same pitch for a combined payout of $3,700 that he’s had all legislative session. The state, he said, is now expecting oil prices to average above $90 per barrel resulting in a surplus between this year and next of $3.4 billion, not including the proposed dividend. The $3,700 PFD figure he’s demanding is the same amount he’s been pitching since the start of the legislative session, which calls for a dividend equivalent to 50% of the Alaska Permanent Fund’s market draw for 2023 and the amount to bring up the 2022 dividend to 50% of the draw. All of this is completely contingent on the Legislature agreeing to his proposal, which Dunleavy conceded is not a given.