Discover more from The Alaska Memo by Matt Buxton
What a week it's been.
Whew, at least it's Friday.
It’s Friday, Alaska. Whew.
In this edition: A follow-up on yesterday’s newsletter about the undermining of democratic principles; the University of Alaska gets a permanent president; Murkowski gets a mostly warm reception in Juneau (which feels like ages ago); While the not-so-warm side of the reception gets on everyone’s nerves; There’s a lot to unpack in some folks’ response to the feds’ reversal on Ambler Mine; Masks go optional in the capitol to much celebration; Masks go optional in Anchorage schools to much celebration and quite a bit of roasting; the reading list; and a light and fluffy weekend watching.
Understanding our freedoms
Thanks, everyone, for the kind and encouraging feedback on yesterday’s post. At some of your encouraging (including someone who took the liberty of editing it, which admittedly tightened it up), I went ahead and submitted it to the Anchorage Daily News’ editorial section, who were gracious enough to publish it and it should be in the print edition this weekend! Thank you. It’ll be my first time in a long time having my political writing in print (My video game writing can be found in the News-Miner every other week).
I wanted to follow up by calling attention to this excellent post by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in his latest newsletter that delves into the free speech issues around Joe Rogan, Whoopi Goldberg, book bans and Neil Young’s response. It’s a good read and makes a really key distinction between how the left broadly and the far-right specifically approach the idea of free speech, with the former relying on the free-market approach and the other taking the authoritarian approach:
In general, conservatives have tried to muzzle free speech of their opponents through legislation. They pass laws to restrict voting access for minorities and legal rights for women, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ and to ban books and diverse curriculum in schools, which is the worst form of cancelling free speech. Ironically, though they often complain about the interference of government, they use government to silence those they disagree with. That’s what China, Russia, and North Korea do. Have doubts? Check out Mississippi Republican mayor Gene McGee who’s decided not to release funds to the public library until they remove all “homosexual materials.” He’ll tell you what you can and cannot read.
Liberals tend to take a more capitalist approach and use boycotts: forcing pressure on private enterprise by threatening to withhold business. Liberals actually fight for their enemies’ rights to speak, even when they abhor the speech. The one area they are unforgiving is hate speech, which includes using pejorative terms that dehumanize people and incite others to violence against them.
It’s important to remember that, as Abdul-Jabbar writes, our free speech is more like “free-ish speech.” The First Amendment only applies to a government’s control of someone’s speech, it doesn’t mandate private entities grant you space to speak and it certainly does not spare you from the consequences from speech. But more importantly, as he continues, words have incredible power to inspire both good and bad. Your freedom to do something ends where it harms others.
Freedom of speech is even trickier because words have the power to inspire action. Ask any general on the battlefield, coach at half time in the locker room, or civil rights activist proclaiming “I have a dream.” Powerfully articulating the cause can convince people to rise above their fears to risk failure, humiliation, their jobs, and even their lives. A few right words in the right ears can change the world.
Unfortunately, words can also convince people to commit atrocious acts that are the opposite of everything they claim to believe in: Christians lynching Blacks, a country founded by immigrants now attacking other immigrants, and self-proclaimed “freedom-lovers” attempting to overturn a democratic election, violently invade their seat of government, and knowingly spreading a virus that kills their friends and family.
Because words have the power to destroy our country and to kill our people, we need to keep a robust conversation about free speech.
Drop the interim
University of Alaska Interim President Pat Pitney is now University of Alaska President Pat Pitney today following a unanimous vote by the Board of Regents to make her the permanent leader of the state university system. Pitney—whose recent credentials include director of the Legislative Finance Division, state budget director under former Gov. Bill Walker and vice chancellor of administration at UAF—is well-liked, especially in the halls of the Legislature, and has a view of the state’s fiscal reality that’s more grounded than most.
Also, hey, she’s an Olympic Gold medalist!
That’s reportedly how much Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski raked in at a who’s who of fundraisers in Juneau this week, following her address to the Legislature. Judging by her reception for her address and the fundraiser’s attendance (and all the endorsements that have already been announced), she’s got broad support from across the political spectrum. Turns out that bringing home the big bucks through the federal infrastructure legislation—giving legislators some spending money, thereby making their lives significantly easier—goes a long way.
It wasn’t a broadly positive reception and the sour, extreme-right faces in the audience—like Reps. Eastman, Kurka and Carpenter who in one form or another were part, wished they were part or have defended the Jan. 6 insurrection—definitely stood out as a reminder of just how focused the increasingly far-right Alaska GOP is in unseating Murkowski. While the stony disapproval may have reminded us of that split, it also should remind us that this faction’s chosen Murkowski defeater, one extreme-right Trump-endorsed challenger Kelly Tshibaka, has made clear that would’ve fallen in line with all the other Trumpers and opposed the infrastructure bill.
Not a lot to clap about.
‘It seems like I’m not being allowed to speak,’ says conservative man with microphone
A day after Sen. Murkowski delivered her address, Rep. Christopher Kurka took it upon himself to badmouth her on the floor. Accusing her of working to drive Alaska into “dependence and servitude” and of forcing Alaska into a violent domestic relationship with the feds, the extreme-right GOP candidate for governor was harshly reprimanded by House Speaker Louise Stutes, who said that kind of language would not be allowed on the House floor especially when it was directed an elected official. It kicked off the usual procedural bickering with the usual interjections from Rep. David Eastman and several, lengthy gesture-filled breaks.
“It seems like I’m not being allowed to speak,” Kurka said after what was either the third or fourth interruption before standing silently for several moments, the mic free for him to speak, and sat down.
What was less usual was that the minority House Republicans weren’t all willing to cover for him and the subsequent antics out of Eastman. Rep. DeLena Johnson addressed Kurka’s speech with one of her own, arguing that such disparaging language was uncalled for: “We stand together, we want to show our strength, our courage, our graciousness and ability to govern.” When Eastman attempting to snarl business with a flurry of his own speeches, the House remarkably drew enough minority Republican votes to shut him down and then more than enough votes to adjourn for the day.
It’s a reminder that while they’ve stood firmly by Rep. David Eastman’s side on issues around his membership with the Oath Keepers, there is apparently still a line to cross.
Follow the thread: Rep. Kurka throws an Eastman-like tantrum on the floor, which brought out the rare chiding from a member of his own caucus and as well as many votes to essentially shut him and Eastman down.
Follow up: By the sounds of it, Kurka also didn’t have a heckuva lot to say during the budget subcommittee markups—particularly in the DHSS subcommittee—this week where he lodged loads of objections to budget proposals put forward by the majority without being able to even muster and explanation. See, he really is being silenced!
Masks become optional in the capitol
The Legislative Council voted unanimously today to end required masking and testing within the capitol building, cementing the end of what had already been a lightly enforced policy. The new rules maintain some leeway for offices, committees and non-partisan staff to enforce masking where needed. Suffice it to say, Sen. Lora Reinbold hasn’t been this happy in a while.
“It will be a setback,” said U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski during her address to the Legislature this week of the pending setback to the Ambler Road, “but it will not be a burial.”
At the time, she didn’t offer information about just why the Department of the Interior would propose revisiting a decision on the right-of-way permit on the proposed 211-mile limited access mine road that’d cut across the Interior. As the court filing later that day explained, it was because the Biden administration argues that in the Trump administration’s haste to approve the road before leaving office, they didn’t adequately consider the input of tribes or the impacts to subsistence activities, particularly the road’s potential impact to caribou and fish habitat in the region.
That was completely omitted from statements from Alaska’s congressional delegation, which opted for the milquetoast territory of hollering about federal overreach and that nasty Biden administration. It’s, frankly, par for the course, but what really caught my eye more was the statement that came out of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office. Contained lower in the news release was an unsigned statement that suggested mining is, in fact, essential to supporting subsistence activities.
“Mining would also provide a needed source of revenue for communities in the region, many of which continue to practice subsistence fishing and hunting,” said the release. “Alaska’s most vibrant subsistence cultures are those that have an economic foundation. Revenues from mining would also help fund public safety, education, and health services in Northwest Alaska.”
There’s a lot to unpack with that, but for now it’s important to highlight as it’s part of this ongoing, bad-faith pitch from pro-resource extraction Republicans that mining and drilling are the solutions to everything that ails rural Alaska and Alaska Native communities. Southeast Republican candidate Leslie Becker whatever chance her campaign might’ve had evaporate once people caught on to her blogging that isn’t too far off this statement.
And, sure, while there are some resource projects that do offer jobs and economic activity to their region, there’s a world of difference between the set up with the Red Dog Mine and the Interior river communities that would be affected by the Ambler Road. For one, it’s not like there’s an easy way for folks in Alatna, Allakaket, Huslia and Tanana to easily catch a ride to the mine. The economic benefits are vague and uncertain while the threat of an east-west road cutting across caribou habitat and the many dozens of rivers and tributaries is far more clear and worrisome.
How do you do, fellow kids?
The Anchorage School District’s mask mandate is coming to an end on Monday, following immense pressure from pro-covid groups. Funny thing, if you head over to the district’s Instagram page and check out the comments (as was suggested by several folks) you’ll see that the kids might feel a little differently. A sampling:
cannot wait to go back online and fail all my classes again!
Bro if we lose our prom
asd read your comments challenge!!
notice how all the people celebrating are 40 y/o parents
wtf, i ain’t tryna go back to online school
have fun having to teach us online again and making graduation rates drop, whilst covid cases and deaths increase! WOOHOOO!!! 🍅🍅🍅🍅🍅🍅🍅🍅🍅
That is an awful call, Covid is still so bad now. Should of gotten feedback from the students because we are the ones moving around class room to class room. People have family at home who are elderly, terminally ill, young, ect, this is ignorant. The vaccine only works against one strain which means Covid is still contagious. We aren’t ready for this yet!
It’s a good reminder that calling all these adults who’ve been throwing tantrums over masks “children” is an insult to children.
Follow the thread
The Senate Finance Committee heard about how the Alaska Permanent Fund stacks up to other endowments and sovereign wealth funds. (In short, it’s very unique and worth defending.)
While the Legislature struggles with the idea of tribal compacting with schools, it seems like there’s general agreement that the charter school system may serve as a potential model for what AFN hopes can be a demonstration project for increased tribal involvement in education.
The House budget subcommittees are getting through their closeouts this week. It’s a largely mundane process, the culmination of several weeks of overview hearings of various department budgets, with the odd bit of excitement when it comes to amendments or votes that run contrary to Dunleavy’s budget requests. There’s:
The first half of the Department of Public Safety budget, where they didn’t get to any of the amendments dealing with rural public safety priorities. They were set to take it up again on Thursday… which I just realize I forgot track. I’ll check back in and have an update in the next edition.
Say goodbye to the Department of Law’s “Civil Division Except Contracts Relating to the Interpretation of Janus v. AFSCME” and hello to the Department of Law’s “Civil Division.” A weird quirk of budgeting that attempted to halt the Dunleavy administration’s insistence on wasting money fighting unions, which the Dunleavy administration ignored to spend the money anyways, has come to an end with everyone agreeing that it was, in fact, a waste of money. Also, they advance a recommendation to proceed cautiously with the settlement payouts.
Highlighting stories about Alaskans with ties Ukraine.
From the News-Miner: For Fairbanks residents with relatives in Ukraine, a nightmare unfolds
I had a video all lined up for this week that was, well, a little grim. Given everything, instead I want to share an old light and fluffy animation that I rediscovered while looking up another bit of animation a while ago. Enjoy.
Take care, be kind and have a nice weekend.