Discover more from The Alaska Memo by Matt Buxton
Who's the worst legislator?
You'll decide! (But it's probably Sen. Lora Reinbold.)
Happy Friday, Alaska!
In this edition: The latest round of The Midnight Sun legislator rankings is HERE, the special session drags on, Dunleavy gets to campaigning on the state dime, Anchorage continues to figure out its response to homelessness, Alaska’s elected officials can get back to Biden Bashing and that’s DEFINITELY IT. Definitely no bad political take about Alaska turning blue. Oh, and the reading list and weekend watching.
The 2021 legislative session is trundling to a conclusion amid warnings of government shutdowns and pleas for them to finally, perhaps, maybe, start to think of not kicking the can down the road. This year's highlights include... um... a very lame party in the gym, the Caucus of Equals, a tasteless joke or two, way too many amendments and, of course, Eagle River Republican Sen. Lora Reinbold.
We're putting together our fourth comprehensive ranking of Alaska's sitting legislators and need your totally scientific and totally unbiased help. Below, we’ve got a link to a survey with all 60 legislators and need you to rate them based on their intelligence, ethics and effectiveness. There's also some room, if you so choose, to suggest a nickname and the best will be included in the final results (c'mon, guys, step you your game! Last year's were... just OK.). Everything from your responses to your comments will remain anonymous from the survey to the final post.
All the rest
It’s nice out, it’s First Friday and I just spilled day-old coffee all over myself, so let’s hit the high points of the week:
The Legislature continued to plod along with the budget and Dunleavy’s PFD plan. The House Judiciary Committee held a pair of hearings that poked at the plan from different angles. There, the biggest thing we heard is the governor’s plan does, in fact, balance out if everything goes just right. The state just needs to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from its budget after failing to make significant cuts in recent years, pass a new tax (or make even more cuts), see oil revenue steadily climb for the next decade and see investment income from the Alaska Permanent Fund continue to grow. At least he’s not counting gambling winnings for state revenue… oh, wait, he is. In fact, gambling revenue was once again the only form of new revenue that the administration was willing to name during this week’s hearing (they’ve got consultant hired and everything). On Friday, the committee heard from Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation CEO Angela Rodell who did what she always does and diplomatically told the Legislature that overspending the fund is not great fiscal policy and that consistency is key. Meanwhile, the budget conference committee met a few times with its most significant action being to promptly strip out several meaningless non-binding intent language sections added by the Republican in the House.
Dunleavy’s team seems to be more interested in campaigning on the issue than it is in actually getting the plan across the finish line. To that end, they seem to have taken a two-pronged approach of meeting legislators’ well-founded skepticism by vaguely shrugging while dusting off the playbook of ethically dubious state-funded campaigning. The lack of any certainty or leadership in this whole process, underlined by the governor’s bear hunting trip in the final days of session, would be remarkable if not for the governors’ entire political career. His public pressure campaign is roughly the same retread of promising the public large dividends with no pain. He’s also hitting the oldies of a publicly funded campaign in support of candidates currently running for office.
The last time the governor did this, it became grounds for recall as well as a $2,800 settlement to settle several ethics complaints. The main hitch then, as it is now, is whether or not the politicians targeted in the advertising are currently running for office. On Wednesday, Senate President Peter Micciche filed his letter of intent to run for office. The campaign had began running on Tuesday and wasn’t canceled until today, according to Facebook’s ad library. All that said, the whole over-promise, under-deliver approach has been proven to be a winning formula and what’s a $2,800 settlement in the grand scheme of things?
Incoming Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson’s early task in office will be whatever New Direction his administration has in mind for the city’s homeless population. On the campaign trail, Bronson pledged a more police-focused response that largely sought to demonize the homeless as criminals and bad actors. While he’s not picking Ron “I didn’t spray poisonous chemicals on the city’s busiest gathering spot for the homeless, I sprinkled poisonous chemicals on the city’s busiest gathering spot for the homeless” Alleva for a place in the city’s homelessness response team, he has picked an anesthesiologist with apparently even less experience. Dr. John Morris doesn’t have experience with homelessness and, no, we can’t see whatever his plan is, but he does have strong opinions about lifting the pandemic’s health mandates. Meanwhile, the Anchorage Assembly is considering a big plan that would create a licensing program for the city’s homelessness services. Backers say it’d help head off problems while providers say it could undermine the city’s response.
After a week where we had to start wondering if Alaska U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan might have been wrong to compare dealing with Biden and the Democrats to fighting the Battle of Chosin Reservoir when the president did not one but two good things for Alaska, we were relieved to see things go back to normal with the administration’s hold on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge leases. (Leases that are mostly held by an Alaska-owned corporation, by the way.) Like with many other achievements under the Trump administration, it turns out that things were done in a legally dubious manner—like how a review of whether the state could buy the leases, which typically takes weeks, was done in a day—and made the Biden administration’s actions that much easier to justify. Still, the whole ANWR lease sale is in the law, so stay tuned.
That’s it, there’s nothing else. There was definitely not an Outside political data nerd with an overly optimistic prediction about Alaska becoming the next state to flip into Democrats’ hands based on a handful of cherrypicked statistics and a complete disregard for the on-the-ground political realities of Alaska. Definitely not. Definitely. NOT. I do, however, really like these tweets for some reason:You're all well aware of my affliction at this point. I have half a mind to block and ghost everyone who sent me this article. I read the entire fucking thing. Yikes.alaska - a bizarre political environment - is moving left at an incredibly fast rate, and will soon be in the hands of the democrats. let’s take a look at why! i made an article and a video or, if it’s more your speed, here’s a twitter thread too. https://t.co/8JRDioBSbkDav 🦀🦑 @oldbaystanmoving 70k liberals to alaska so we can what... use more taxpayer money to build more roads that we have to maintain every spring????? the thoughts aren't making senseIf you want real Alaskan advice about reaching Alaskan voters, listen up! Make noise so you don't surprise a voter. Stay alert and look for signs of voters. Never approach or crowd voters; respect their "personal space."
Ah, Alaskans dunking on Outsiders. Some things never get old.
The Division of Elections is rolling out a pilot of the state’s upcoming ranked choice voting system. It wasn’t the most smoothly rolled out thing as it wasn’t entirely clear that, at this round, we’re just doing the top-four primary portion of the election. Thankfully Alaska Public Media’s Liz Ruskin is here to put the whole thing into clear and fun terms. From Alaska Public Media: Would you vote for a king? Alaska pits fin against claw to practice ranked-choice voting
Whenever a photojournalist/multimedia journalist sits down to write a feature story, it’s worth checking out and doubly so when it’s Anchorage Daily News’ Marc Lester. Lester covered Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink’s recent trip down to the Kenai and her efforts to diplomatically navigate the sea of disinformation. It’s very, very good. From the ADN: On the road with Anne Zink: Alaska’s chief medical officer continues the COVID-19 fight and looks ahead as vaccine demand tapers
Health care access and capacity seems like it’s always been an issue in Alaska, but that’s particularly true for treating eating disorders. A new group is working to address that lack of care. From the ADN: More Alaskans are being diagnosed with eating disorders, but treatment options in state remain scarce
Following her transparent effort to, surprise, inject politics into the Alaska Judicial Council, recently appointed member Kristie Babcock is facing some stiff blowback. Former AJC members Eleanor Andrews and Loretta Bullard write, “If Ms. Babcock is unable to participate in the AJC process respectfully, without airing her disagreements publicly and resorting to name-calling, she should do Alaskans a favor and step down.” From the ADN opinion pages: Alaska’s judicial selection system works. Don’t believe the divisive rhetoric.
And now for something completely different
A few weeks ago, I highlighted a big development in the saga that has become the Marble Machine X, a Rube Goldberg-esque instrument that sparked a lot of imaginations back when a rickety concept was released back in 2016. The channel went quiet right after that video because, surprise, there were other hitches with the whole machine. Anyways, Martin finally released a new update on Thursday that serves as an excellent check-in (and jump-in) spot for the project.