My Last Loose Lips: Oh, Christmas Tree. Grabbing a Cupcake in D.C. Au Revoir.

Loose LipsNext holiday season, the U.S. Capitol will have a tree from Alaska for the first time. In 2015, the tree will be chopped down from the Chugach National Forest, unless the environmentalists get involved, of course.

Andrew Halcro has thrown his hat into what is turning into an exciting Anchorage mayoral race. He’s a big personality, as is the frontrunner Dan Coffey. And it’s made all the more interesting that Halcro’s father, Republican booster Bob Halcro, donated $500–the max– to Dan Coffey’s campaign shortly before the first of the year.

The Legislature has a new public website! Click here for information about past and current legislators, bills, floor schedules, and links to live streaming of hearings. This is the first redesign of its webpage since 2007.

Monique Martin from Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium has joined the DHSS commissioner’s office as the Deputy Director of Health Care Policy. This job was previously held by Josh Applebee.

Why is Matt Mackowiak still listed as a state employee? Mackowiak, the relentlessly self-promoting Republican communications consultant from Texas was hired by former Gov. Sean Parnell to provide “communications” advice, coincidentally during the campaign. We all know that it’s against ethics laws for a state employee to work on a campaign on state time. I’m sure that Mackowiak and Parnell and Parnell’s adviser Cindy Sims were all very careful to keep the two separate. Continue reading

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Democrats respond to Senate majority hiring Pierre

On Friday morning, the Alaska Democratic Party put out a release about the Alaska Senate Majority’s hiring of McHugh Pierre on the communications team. Pierre was formerly the civilian deputy commissioner for the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, The release was basically a reminder that Gov. Sean Parnell asked for Pierre’s resignation in the midst of the ongoing National Guard scandal, after it was reported that Pierre allegedly intervened for a soldier and a friend accused of sexual harassment and assault.

Senate President Kevin Meyer made the decision to hire Pierre, who will be paid around $30,000 for a four-month contract, less than what the Democrats say in the press release. Pierre will be replacing a full-time staffer in the majority’s communications office.

Meyer defended the hire. He interviewed several people and Pierre was the most qualified, he said. Pierre told Meyer that he did nothing wrong, and Meyer believes that “everyone is innocent until proven guilty.” He stressed that Pierre is on an at-will contract that can terminate at any time.

Meyer’s chief of staff, Suzanne Armstrong, is good friends with Pierre. Pierre’s wife. Lauren, is Sen. Anna MacKinnon’s chief of staff. Meyer’s own wife worked with Pierre at the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Pierre’s father-in-law was the deputy commissioner of DMVA before moving to the Alaska Aerospace Corp.

Meyer admitted that Pierre was well known to many in the Capitol building, but he said that it made the hire easier. “I felt comfortable hiring him. I knew his talents and abilities, especially as a communications person,” he said.

Here’s the Democrat’s release: Continue reading

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Halcro files to run for Anchorage mayor

It’s official. Andrew Halcro, former state legislator, gubernatorial candidate, political blogger, head of Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, and current executive of the family owned Avis franchise, has filed to run for mayor. So far, Halcro is running against Assemblywoman Amy Demboski, former Assemblyman Paul Bauer, and Dan Coffey, a lawyer who also served on the Assembly.

The money is on Coffey, but Halco will give him a run for it.

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Inside/Outside morning news update for Jan. 9

  • Gallup has released its latest poll on how Americans identify themselves.  This poll has been done annually since 1992 and while 38% identify as conservative and 34% as moderate, this year marks the highest percentage ever of Americans identifying themselves as liberal at 24%.
  • Austin Baird with KTUU has the details of legislation heading to Juneau.  As Rep. Les Gara (D-ANC) put it, “This is going to be a session of bills that don’t cost money.” On deck? A bill that will open up the primary system, which is closed on the GOP side to Republicans and Independents.
  • The AGDC board has slashed spending to the tune of $90 million, but the Dispatch reports that they are seeking clarification from the governor on confidentiality provisions.
  • The Keystone Pipeline has just been gifted the clearance of a major hurdle by the Nebraska Supreme Court. Politico has the details as to why and how this state Supreme Court ruling is important.

Continue reading

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Inside/Outside morning news roundup for Jan. 8

  • The halls of congress are teeming with those armed with the task to whip votes to overrule the president’s anticipated Keystone Pipeline veto. Which blue party members are considering holding hands with reds is detailed in Politico.
  • Another fight over oil taxes? It looks like Gov. Bill Walker is laying the groundwork for another battle, per his column in the Juneau Empire. He says that the state will be paying more in production taxes this year than we’re taking in. Remember, that’s just production taxes. There are others. Too, it’s unclear if he’s including the huge tax credits that the state is still paying from ACES.
  • Tim Bradner, with the Alaska Journal of Commerce, reports that although production is down, employment is up on the North Slope.
  • Bill Walker goes on the defensive over his Alaska Gasline Development Corp. dismissals, while Becky Bohrer with the AP (and me) report that the state GOP sees red.
  • The Globe and Mail explains a report from the Journal Nature that was just released which outlines the importance of leaving oil sands alone in order to meet climate target.
  • KTOO and KTUU have the details about Sen.-elect Bill Stoltze’s legislative plan to move legislative sessions to Anchorage in the new Taj McHawker while keeping the state capital in Juneau.
  • The New York Times reports that the Democrats are adjusting to the new lay of the land on the Hill by going back to what they do best; throw proverbial sand into the gears. According to the Times, they might not have the votes, but they do know their parliamentary procedures like the back of their left hands.

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Legislators push back against Walker’s AGDC/confidentiality decisions

Legislators are pushing back against Gov. Bill Walker’s Tuesday announcement that he was firing three board members of the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation, and ordering his members not to sign confidentiality agreements related to the Alaska LNG project and/or the smaller bullet line.

AGDC is charged with preparing the state to build a bullet line that would carry gas from the North Slope to SouthCentral Alaska. It’s a fallback agency of sorts, in case that a big line doesn’t get built. A subsidiary of the corporation is also in charge of the state’s equity interest in the big line, if comes to fruition.

On Wednesday, Alaska Speaker of the House Mike Chenault, and Rep. Mike Hawker, creators of AGDC, sent a strongly worded release about Walker’s announcement, saying that they see this as a dangerous change of course on gas commercialization. Sen. Cathy Giessel, chair of the Senate Resources Committee, also sent out a release, expressing disappointment with Walker’s firings and also the decision not to allow his cabinet members to sign confidentiality agreements related to the AKLNG project and the bullet line. She went so far as to call it “foolhardy.” (See both of the releases in full below.)

Walker fired former Senate President Drue Pearce, former BP executive Al Bolea of Big Lake, and Richard Rabinow, formerly with ExxonMobil. Chenault said that the state was losing 60 years of knowledge with the firings. The state would feel the loss of Rabinow most acutely, he said, because he’s the only one on the board with gasline construction experience. Rabinow, who lives in Texas, was with ExxonMobil for 34 years, including as the president of ExxonMobil Pipeline Company. He is a former chairman of the Association of Oil Pipe Lines and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) Owners Committee. He was appointed to the AGDC board early in 2014 by former Gov. Sean Parnell.

Here are the releases in full: Continue reading

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Quote of the day: Refusing to sign confidentiality agreement ‘step backwards’

Here’s Brad Keithley on Facebook, who sometimes gets things right, about Gov. Bill Walker’s edict to members of his cabinet not to sign confidentiality agreements on the Alaska natural gas pipeline. Let’s be clear: nearly every single business decision includes a confidentiality agreement. Journalists often sign them. I even have one with the person who helped build this blog. As Keithley points out, the AKLNG line is a business decision, and a mammoth one at that:

Wrong direction. Alaska is part owner of a commercial enterprise competing in a very challenging environment. You and I wouldn’t disclose our commercial strategy in our businesses; neither should the state. And you and I would want all hands important to the success of our business in the information loop; we wouldn’t want to blind key players by keeping them in the dark about our strategy. Neither should the state. Taking this position on confidentiality is two significant steps backward in the success of this venture. Treat it like the Permanent Fund (which regularly enters into confidentiality agreements) and give the LNG project the tools necessary to be successful…Competitive market rules are not suspended merely because one of the actors is a government. In a tightly competitive market — as is the market for grassroots LNG projects — information about what a competitor and potential supplier is doing provides a significant advantage to other projects and potential purchasers. Frankly, the primary beneficiaries of this decision, if it holds, are competing projects in Australia, East Africa, Canada and the US Gulf Coast, and potential buyers in Korea, China, Japan, India and elsewhere within the Pacific Rim market who will use the information to both to undermine Alaska’s competitive position and beat down the price that Alaska can extract from the market (and as a result, return to the state). And for what? Just because you or I can offer a vague suggestion here and there about how we would do things differently? Not worth it. It puts the project in jeopardy, and even if it survives, lowers the return the project is likely able to achieve. (And by the way, in the corporate world shareholders aren’t given this information, either, for the very same reasons.)

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Inside/Outside morning news update for Jan. 7

  • All us media gadflies covered the moment when Alaska’s junior senator was officially welcomed into Congress. KTUU and KTVA have battling video coverage. Becky Bohrer with the AP, and APRN I opted for style over substance here.
  • Nothing says official in the 21st century like an updated Wikipedia page Read Sen. Dan Sullivan’s here.
  • Nothing like a McHugh Pierre hiring to make McScandal headlines. The Dispatch writes about the hire
  • Senate Minority Leader Berta Gardner isn’t expecting a boost in education funding this session, according to the Juneau Empire. In fact, she’ll consider it a win if education doesn’t take a cut. She also said that the minority is going to continue to push for Medicaid expansion.
  • The Juneau Access Road might be part of Gov. Bill Walker’s spending freeze, but that hasn’t stopped forward movement on parts that have already been paid for. KTOO has the details.
  • The Keystone Pipeline might have been the first piece of legislation for the GOP run congress, but don’t get your hopes up on another pipeline building boom. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that the White House intends to veto the bill if it makes it on the president’s desk.

Continue reading

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Loose Lips: The swearing-in edition

capital domeSupposedly, there was a fair bit of noise and rancor in the House today, as Speaker John Boehner, once again, fended off a tea-party challenge to his Speaker’s position. But it wasn’t likely nearly as loud and boisterous as what was going on in room 235, the Commerce Committee room in the Russell Senate Office Building, where, from 10:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m, more than 300 Alaskans, from all across the state, and Alaska-wannabes and lobbyists and D.C. sycophants and loads of Senator Dan Sullivan’s family gathered for a reception hosted by Alaska’s new senator. They drank beer and coffee and soda and ate salmon and cheese and fruit. There were swearing-in receptions all over the Russell Senate Office Building. None were as large or as noisy as the one in room 235, and supposedly, word all around the Capitol was that it was those loud Alaskans down the hall who brought the snow and caused schools to be cancelled in the D.C. area.

Sullivan wore his new cufflinks given as a gift from the Mat-Su Republican Women’s Club for the big day. They were cufflinks signed by the late Sen. Ted Stevens, and were inscribed with his well-known saying: “To Hell with Politics. Do What’s Right for Alaska.” Continue reading

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Inside/Outside morning news roundup for Jan. 6

  • And…They’re Off! The first bill filed in the new GOP-led Senate is to seek approval of the Keystone Oil Pipeline, via the AP. Politico sees the Keystone bill as the piece of legislation that will cause both the Dems and the GOP to go off script.
  • Leave it to Sitka to get practical. According to KCAW, Instead of spending money on repaving roads, they’re just tearing them up and replacing them with gravel.
  • Gov. Bill Walker will be present to watch Dan Sullivan become U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan, according to KTUU and me.
  • The Hill reports that today marks the most diverse Congress in our country’s history.
  • Loose Lips might sink ships, but the amount of CO2 being produced at all of the parties around the state and D.C. area; it would keep the Titanic afloat. Also, make sure to read about the big Senate majority misstep.

Continue reading

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Loose Lips: Majority McScandal. Holmes hunts. Beltway parties.

loose lipsThe session hasn’t begun and already the Senate majority is busy stepping in it. Senate President Kevin Meyer sent out a notice on Monday that the Senate majority hired McHugh Pierre “on a personal services contract, effective January 15 and terminating on May 15” as a communications specialist. He’ll be joining three others on the team and will be, in Meyer’s words, “promoting our priorities, our goals and our individual efforts and leadership on behalf of Alaskans.” Meyer wrote that Pierre “brings a vast amount of experience working in communications and journalism.” Indeed, he does have good experience, and at any other time, it would probably be a good hire. But for one: This is the very same Senate president who called on Gov. Bill Walker to enact a hiring freeze because we are facing an unprecedented fiscal crisis. Secondly, and most importantly, this is the very same McHugh Pierre who Gov. Sean Parnell asked to resign because of his potential involvement in the National Guard scandal. The very same scandal which will likely get hearings this upcoming session, and for which a special investigator will be assigned. The very same scandal that likely lost former Gov. Sean Parnell the race. One thing is clear: The Senate majority truly does need help, but perhaps communication isn’t the issue.

Friday was DNR’s Director of Oil and Gas Bill Barron’s last day. The new acting director of the division is Paul Decker, a geologist with the division. The new acting deputy director is Jim Shine.

Legislative staffer Brett Huber will be moving from the Senate Rules Committee to Senator Mike Dunleavy’s office for the 2015 legislative session.  Continue reading

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Inside/Outside morning news roundup for Jan. 5

  • Republicans are now in control or as The Hill writes, “It’s game time for Mitch McConnell and John Boehner.”
  • Politico has an extensive article about Gov. Bill Walker’s intense pressure due to the oil price crash and the almost non-existent time in which to fix things. One thing is clear: Politico, at least, think this is Walker’s budget, not the legislatures’ budget.
  • Power invites coups and the first this session against House speaker Boehner has risen! The Hill explains that this one is being led by Texas Rep. Louis Gohmert. (Remember how important Texas is going to be for the next two years?). There’s little chance that he will be successful, but it will be fun to watch Boehner out-smart the tea party faction yet again.

Continue reading

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Political predictions for 2015

I’ll likely come to regret it, but because my predictions for both the primary and the general elections were pretty…good…I thought I’d try my hand at predicting political events for 2015. It’s risky, because for the elections, I had at least fundraising reports to go by, say nothing of candidates. Here, mostly I just have gut, and the only big Alaska election in 2015 will be the Anchorage mayor’s race. However, this year will be a big one in politics nonetheless. As oil prices continue to decline—which I predict that they will–the state will face one of the biggest fiscal crises in its history. Tensions, particularly during the legislative session, will be high between the Legislature and the new administration. And there’s the U.S. Senate race right around the corner.

So take my gut as you will. But remember, so much about politics is unpredictable. Few, if any, foresaw Sarah Palin’s rise. Six months ago, few, if any, could envision that Bill Walker and Byron Mallott would team up and that they would win the election. Who knew that the FBI was camped out in room 604 at the Baranof, their listening devices taped to the wall? Only a few saw Joe Miller coming in 2010. More than a few, including me, see him coming back in 2016. Read on for that one and more predictions. Continue reading

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Walker continues to be plaintiff in Point Thomson suit against state

During a gubernatorial forum on Oct. 31, which was moderated by Dan Fagan and me, then candidate Bill Walker said that he would drop his suit against DNR on Point Thomson if he were elected governor.

“You’ll drop the suit?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

Despite what he said at the forum, Walker has not dropped the suit, and is in “no hurry” to remove himself, he said through his spokesperson Grace Jang.

In 2012, Gov. Walker and his law partner Craig Richards, who is now his acting attorney general, filed a public interest suit against the state over DNR’s settlement with ExxonMobil over development of Point Thomson, a mammoth gas and condensate field on the North Slope.

Recently,  Walker gave Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott the authority to decide if Walker’s prior litigation against the state when he was a private attorney should preclude him from making decisions about those cases now that he’s governor. In a letter, Walker specifically mentions giving Mallott decision-making power over whether or not Walker should be involved in Point Thomson.

On Dec. 1, Walker and Richards filed a substitute of counsel motion. On Dec. 16, the Supreme Court granted the motion. The lawyer for the case is now Robin Brena, who is buying Walker’s and Richard’s law firm. Brena chaired Walker’s oil and gas transition-team committee.

The suit alleges that DNR should have had more input from the Legislature and the public before settling the plan of development for the field.

“I filed this as a public interest litigant. The deal was illegal then; it’s illegal now,” Walker said in a statement. “I’m exploring procedural options to substitute myself out with a potential new plaintiff. There’s no immediate hurry. I want to make sure the right thing is done in the interest of the people of the state of Alaska. This has nothing to do with stopping current activity on Point Thomson.”

The field sat undeveloped for decades. Continue reading

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Inside/Outside morning news roundup for Jan. 2

  • RIP Mario Cuomo. You’ll have a lot to pick and choose from, but if you only read one piece today about Cuomo, read this great piece (from Yahoo News?) about how the “Tale of Two Cities” speech he gave at the Democratic National Convention in 1984 forever changed the Democratic Party.
  • With Kenai’s bluffs retreating at an Army Corp of Engineers-estimated rate of 3 feet a year, the Peninsula Clarion outlines the hoops (with a spiffy graphic) the city must jump through to get a project funding.
  • APRN’s Liz Ruskin reports on how Arctic shipping might have been over-hyped in the past few years. It turns out that the ice isn’t melting as fast as has been predicted. In 2014, just “31 ships sailed between Europe and Asia across the Northern Sea Route, and 22 did part of the route. That’s down from a total of more than 70 in 2013,” Ruskin reports.
  • Polls from NBC/WSJ and Fox News regarding how Americans viewed 2014 reveal “how depressingly partisan America has become,” according to the Washington Post. If you are a D, you thought 2014 was groovy. If you pitch for the other team, 2014 was a bummer.
  • The Deck Boss’s Wesley Loy writes about an “intriguing proposal” from the Seattle-based Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association to reduce the minimum size requirement for commercially caught halibut from 32 inches to 30 inches.
  • ISER’s Gunner Knapp and Gov. Bill Walker’s Deputy Chief of Staff Marcia Davis explained to KTUU’s Dan Carpenter (sporting a vibrant Trumpesque tie) how Alaska’s $3.4 billion deficit would impact the state.

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