Discover more from The Alaska Memo by Matt Buxton
If you thought a case of covid-19 would change some attitudes, you haven't been paying attention.
Good morning, Alaska! It’s Day 42 of the 32nd Alaska Legislature.
The weekend and week ahead
Covid in the capitol: The Legislature saw its first in-session case of covid-19 last week when Tok Republican Rep. Mike Cronk tested positive on Wednesday night, following a weekend trip to a fundraiser in Palmer where he and several other legislators were photographed maskless. The news of the positive test, which came after three days of Cronk working next to other legislators in several committees and floor sessions, shut down much of legislative business on Thursday and Friday. While some meetings moved to teleconferences, it was clearly a suboptimal arrangement that made it difficult for legislators and the public to track just what was going on at the hearings. It looks like things are starting to get back to normal this week but there’s going to be lingering suspicions about the conduct of some legislators, particularly legislators who in light of everything still decided to travel home for the weekend. The Legislature has identified 15 close contacts of Cronk—which seems to be somewhat charitable given Republicans reportedly caucused with Cronk before he tested positive, but I’m not an expert—who are all under a seven-day quarantine. Separately, the Legislature has already identified an additional case of covid-19 in a Senate staffer on Friday and is currently working out close contacts.
Weekend travel: Of course, among those weekend warriors was Eagle River Sen. Lora Reinbold and Rep. Ken McCarty, who went back to the district for a maskless town hall (Rep. Kelly Merrick participated via Zoom). The masklessness of the town hall didn’t go unnoticed by Eagle River resident Margaret Cichoracki, who asked why they thought it was OK to hold a super-spreader event in the making. The whole thing was about as grim as you’d imagine with many participants shouting her down with their own easily debunk-able conspiracy theories, Nazi license plate-defending Anchorage Assemblymember Jamie Allard made an appearance as well as a condescending Reinbold, who concedes that she does, in fact, believe in covid-19. If you feel like being depressed about the state of the world, then it’s worth a watch. But all you really need to know is that the town hall’s participants were so incensed that at one point a man, identified by the Alaska Landmine as Matt Hickey, screams at the woman: “I’m too white. I’m too whiteness too for you!”
The budget: The House and Senate are set to continue to unwrap and understand the budget this week. The Senate Finance Committee has made for excellent watching thanks to some world-wise senators with strong bullshit detectors. The House Finance Committee has also been off to a good start and I’ve particularly appreciated seeing now-former House Speaker Bryce Edgmon’s participation in the hearings. Having Edgmon in a place where he can speak bluntly about the budget, as he did during the committee’s last hearing all the way back on Wednesday, has done an excellent job at framing the issues facing the state and the decisions facing the Legislature. “We go back to the three majors: major cuts, major new revenue sources or major overdrawing of the earnings reserve. I see no plan for any of that in front of us at this time,” he said, noting that the governor has resisted new revenue, that major cuts are unlikely given the years of cuts and that overdrawing the Alaska Permanent Fund is an unacceptable long-term solution. While the governor wants to push all the decisions to public votes in next year’s elections, Edgmon said it’s like the Legislature is operating with “one hand tied behind our back.”
Bills moving. Last week, the Senate passed the first legislation of session in Sen. David Wilson’s SB 70, which extends the availability of opioid overdose reversal drugs like naloxone. Another bill by Wilson, SB 24 dealing with remote meetings of corporations, is on the floor today. After a session that stumbled out of the gates, bills are starting to move out of the Senate and the House is getting underway with bills of their own. A big thing to watch is going to be anything related to elections and the judiciary, which are two big priorities of far-right Republicans in the Senate. Sen. Mike Shower’s voter reform/suppression measure is still working its way through his own committee after some shenanigans with public testimony last week where they effectively dodged much of the public outcry against the measure. It’s likely that whatever is produced is moderately better but still not great, which is part of the politicking on the bill “Look, we heard you and made changes.” As with all election-related legislation, it’s important to remember that this is a lengthy process and the Senate Judiciary and State Affairs committees are the most likely to produce the most extreme-right form of a bill. It still has to go through the rest of the Senate and the House.
Passing of Mike Bradner
Former House Speaker Mike Bradner died over the weekend. He represented Fairbanks for a decade from 1966 to 1976, serving as speaker in his final term. He helped contribute to several significant policies in Alaska like revenue-sharing, pipeline regulations and the formation fo the Alaska Permanent Fund. He continued to be a force in the Legislature since then, working with his brother Tim Bradner on the Legislative Digest and Alaska Economic Report. He was a kind and helpful figure with a deep well of knowledge about the Alaska Legislature who was always game to get into the weeds.
“Mike loved Alaska, and his leadership helped build our state into what it is today,” said Rep. Bryce Edgmon in a prepared statement. “I am heartbroken to learn of his passing. His many loved ones are in my thoughts today.”
On the radar
For a full schedule of the Legislature’s day, go here, but here’s what has caught my eye for today:
The House and Senate Finance Committees are always worth watching. The House Finance Committee is pulling a double shift today with hearings at 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. to review the operating budget and latest updates. The Senate Finance Committee is hearing from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority at 9 a.m.
1 p.m. House Resources — HB 10 by Rep. Hannan, adding the Unangax cemetery to the Funter Bay park, commemorating the Alaska Native people who were forced to relocate from the Aleutians to the camp in Southeast. The effort has long been in the works to remember the tragedy.
1:30 p.m. Senate Judiciary — SB 82 by Gov. Mike Dunleavy on elections and election investigations that creates a process for individuals to request the Attorney General investigate alleged violations of election law, file injunctions and fees of up to $25,000. It seems like the sort of thing that is aimed at Rep. Lance Pruitt’s loss where election officials failed to notify the Anchorage Municipal Clerk of a polling location change (the only actual failing that Pruitt could prove in his long and tortured legal challenge) but just what this bill’s actual impact isn’t entirely clear.
Around the web
One of the most significant efforts launched by the city of Anchorage to combat the pandemic was the transformation of the Sullivan Arena into what may be one of the country’s largest mass shelters. Along with the Sullivan Arena, the city has used warming tents and put people up in hotels, housing more than 3,000 people at one time or another during the pandemic. It’s helped prevent many mass covid-19 outbreaks that had been feared in the community. For a city that has been grappling with how to treat and handle its homeless population, the pandemic is marking a change in thinking with more focus on stable housing with adequate space and resources to help people get on their feet. It’s been made possible with federal CARES Act funding but attention is starting to turn to the future as folks wonder if a large mass shelter or many smaller shelters are the answer. More from the Anchorage Daily News: A year in, Sullivan Arena may be the biggest mass homeless shelter in the nation. What happens next?
It turns out that Sen. Lora Reinbold isn’t alone in her efforts to spread disinformation about covid-19. The Associated Press published a story this weekend taking a deep look at disinformation spreaders around the country—Reinbold included—where the playbook seems to be pretty similar to what we’ve seen come out of the Senate Judiciary Committee so far this session: Invite a bunch of quacks to spread bogus virus information while either ignoring or, in Alaska’s case, getting ignored by state health officials. Oh, and it turns out there’s a pretty clear link between virus disinformation and disinformation about the results of the 2020 elections (remember that Reinbold was one of several Alaska Republicans to sign onto a brief backing Texas’ efforts to overturn the election). From the Associated Press: Some GOP state lawmakers help spread COVID-19 misinformation
Confirmation hearings for Interior secretary-nominee U.S. Rep. Debra Haaland were held last week, during which Alaska U.S. Rep. Don Young staked out firm support for Haaland, who would be the first Indigenous person to hold a cabinet position. While she’s faced pushback from Republicans as part of a proxy fight over fossil fuels, she’s been met with a lot of support and optimism from Alaska Native leaders and women. From KYUK: Indigenous Leaders Hopeful US Rep. Debra Haaland Will Protect Yuuyaraq From Anchorage Daily News: We’re Alaska Native women from across the state. We stand united in support of Deb Haaland.