Monthly Archives: March 2013

Don Young: Alaska’s Archie Bunker

For years, there’s been no comparison. Few, particularly the East Coast punditocracy, had no idea what to make of it when U.S. Rep. Don Young brandished his 18-inch long walrus penis bone on the House floor and waved it at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service chief, who happened to be a woman. Or when he called environmentalists a “self-centered bunch of waffle-stomping, Harvard-graduating, intellectual idiots.”

Or when he called anal sex an expletive that can’t be repeated here in front of a school assembly.

Or when he put his own wrist in a steel trap. Or when he endorsed and shot an ad for a Democratic Senatorial candidate over a fellow Republican. Or when he defended Rep. Joseph Cao, R-La., who came to this country as a child from Vietnam, for not toeing the party line on health care reform.

The love of his life, the late Lu, was Alaska Native, and he has two Alaska Native daughters from that marriage.

None of these things, nor the man himself, make for gluey moniker’s or easy catch phrases.

The Archie Bunker of the GOP, however, might have some staying power. This came from a Washington Post article entitled Don Young and the GOP’s Archie Bunker problem, after Young gave a speech where he referred to illegal aliens as “wetbacks,” in a Ketchikan radio interview.

“My father had a ranch; we used to have 50-60 wetbacks to pick tomatoes,” he said. “It takes two people to pick the same tomatoes now. It’s all done by machines.”

It was a dunderheaded thing to say and shortly thereafter, Young issued an apology.

In 1954 the feds began a program called “Operation Wetback” to remove illegal Mexican immigrants from border states. The term lives on among a certain kind of person. And it’s that certain kind of person that the Republican Party these days want to keep their distance from, as evidenced by the statements made by those in his own party in the wake of the gaff.

The Democrats are foaming with glee. And the GOP is falling in line. One Republican operative went as far as to call Young “a dinosaur on the bridge of political insanity and irrelevance.”

Dinosaur he might be—he is, after all, 79 years old– but at least, unlike today’s young Turks, Young is willing to stand up to his party to protect someone in need of it, or cross the aisle and endorse a woman Democrat when he thinks it was the right thing to do.

For that, in this current partisan climate, one that he continually bemoans, he might indeed be insane.

The Archie Bunker of the GOP might stick. But is that really so bad? The show was one of the most popular shows in history and most remember it, and its leader character, fondly.  It was so beloved that Archie and Edith’s chair sit at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

We looked on benevolently when Archie referred to Germans as “Krauts”, or Irish as “Micks”, Italians as “Dagos”, Polish persons as “Polacks.”

We did so because he was our grandfather, our father, our uncle and we knew that he could say those things and still mean well.

Young sometimes says and does some outrageous things and nobody will ever accuse him over being overly sensitive. But after his first election in 1973, and he’ll likely have that seat, a version of the Smithsonian chair, for as long as he wants. Alaska has chosen to keep him there because, just like Archie, though he sometimes says stupid things, he’s more than his gaffs.

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Hello small gas pipeline. Bye bye big gas pipeline.

House Bill 4, the one that would facilitate the building of a small diameter natural gas pipeline running through the center of the state from the North Slope to Southcentral Alaska, is increasingly looking likely to pass.

And that passage will likely take with it the decade’s long dream of a big export line, a line that’s been the center of so much talk, the line that was going to bring the next boom to Alaska, the mythical line that made and broke careers, the line that was going to save the state when the oil ran out.

Although most know that the small line puts the final nail on the big line’s coffin, Bill Walker, spokesperson for the Port Authority, the group that’s been pushing the big line, has been the only one in Juneau to put it so starkly. Testifying against the bill in House Finance on Thursday, Walker said that the small line would kill the big line for the foreseeable future. “There will not be two mega gas projects in Alaska,” he said

(The big line was probably dead for the foreseeable future anyway.)

Roughly 700 miles long and costing about $8 billion, the small, or bullet line, is indeed a mega project.

But because it’s not as mega as the big line—the price of which is as much as $65 billion–and because the legislature, instead of ConocoPhillips, BP and Exxon, have the power over the line, and because Alaska needs the gas, it’s the only one that’s likely to be built.

The agency in charge of facilitating the project, the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation, is asking the state for more than $320 million to complete planning and to take the project to “open season.” That’s in addition to the $70 million it’s already received.

But because the state which has the largest energy fields in North America has for so long hinged all its hopes on the big line, which would not only provide exports but provide Alaska gas too, it’s at the point that there’s little choice. Fairbanks residents are cutting wood to stay warm. Residents in Southcentral are facing blackouts. The rest of the state is going broke paying to heat their homes.

A committee substitute of the bill is now in House Finance, and although there was a brief dustup over it on Friday, it will probably head to Rules on Monday. From there, it’ll go to the Senate and from there, and if egos can remain in check and the House plays nice with the Fairbanks natural gas trucking bill, it’ll land on Gov. Sean Parnell’s desk.

With some changes being proposed, Parnell has signaled that he’ll probably sign the bill. But he hasn’t been touting it, standing by instead while others fight the battle. Nor has he had the political courage to honestly tell Alaskans what others already know: that a large diameter pipeline isn’t going to happen anytime in his lifetime, and that the bullet line is the only dream we have left.

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Juneau gets gassy

Up until recently, almost every pundit and seasoned political observer in Juneau would tell you that Gov. Sean Parnell’s oil tax bill, SB 21, was the legislation that was driving the mechanisms of the legislature.

How things change.

Now, the 800 pound gorilla is two bills, both related to gas.  Speaker of the House Mike Chenault and Rep. Mike Hawker’s HB 4 by which would facilitate the development of a small diameter in-state pipeline running from the North Slope to Southcentral Alaska, and SB 23, which would truck LNG from the North Slope to Fairbanks. (Read more about the details of both here and here).

Both bills are in House Finance and both sound like relatively simple, albeit expensive, solutions to both areas’ natural gas shortage. (But if things were simple, then the citizens of the state with the largest energy fields in North America wouldn’t be chopping wood to stay warm or buying generators in preparation for energy blackouts.)

That is to say, everything seems simple until politics comes into play. So, here’s some of the scuttlebutt: The Fairbanks delegation is ready to take a sword for its trucking plan, and Chenault and Hawker and other Southcentral legislators are ready to fall on their swords for theirs.

They both need the approval of one another. But not all of the Fairbanks folk are crazy about the small line. Some want to hold out for the dream of the big line. Some think the small line is too expensive and the agency that will be in charge will be too powerful. Some of the Southcentral legislators see trucking as a waste of money and believe that the small line would solve their natural gas shortage.

Then there’s Valdez, which has appropriated $500,000 of public money to oppose pay for ads opposing the instate line and promote the big one, not to mention the myriad wants and needs of legislators in other parts of the state.

Parnell, as is his wont, doesn’t appear to be providing anything like strong leadership on this issue, but he does seem to support trucking while leery of the small line, for whatever that’s worth.

In any case, the oil tax bill might be used as leverage by all in order to pass either or both of these bills.

HB 4, the small line, is in House Finance and a committee substitute of it is expected to move as early as tomorrow, with trucking close to follow. Both bills will move to Rules where HB 4 will likely be quickly calendared for floor action. And trucking, or SB 23, will be held pending Senate action on HB 4.

In other words, mine is better than yours and I’ll move yours when you move mine.

Updates to come.

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Borderline abusive astrologer meets Alaskan pols

On the face of it, Seth Partnow (hi Seth!) and Rep. Ben Nageak would have little in common. But according to borderline abusive astrologer published at TLC,“An Aries born on March 26 will be a bright individual. Although they appear capable, they possess a deep insecurity that can create emotional distress. They are unlikely to reveal these vulnerabilities, preferring to solve their own problems.” It goes on: “March 26 individuals… may be blessed with only average good health, they are capable of developing a great deal of life-enhancing energy.”

Humph. Doesn’t sound like the either of them would be a blast at a party, say nothing of the gym. Another, less abusive astrologer is more generous towards those born on March 26. (You can really spend all afternoon on this stuff) ”Your friends and family have always marveled at your ability to dedicate yourself fully to any endeavor you take on,” it says, “Likewise, it is this same energy and passion that makes you a natural leader. You would be surprised to realize how many followers and admirers you have amassed!”

(Speaking of the beloved Ben Nageak: after a scare with his heart, he’s back at work attracting admirers and smiling as widely as ever.)

Then there’s Reps. Gabrielle LeDoux and Kurt Olson, who were both born on March 24 and who also, according to the abusive astrologer, have admirers. (Or so they think). As for them, they are described like this: “Creative and sympathetic, the Aries born on March 24 sees their life as an expression of their deep inner creativity. Their good nature extends to everyone around them, and they are unlikely to have enemies. They possess a credible simplicity that attracts enthusiastic admirers.” The abusive one tells them to stay away from coffee, but doesn’t mention wine at the Baranof, where admirers, also known as lobbyists, are known to extend their hospitality.


Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of day stays these recallers

Many, me included, thought that the effort to recall Rep. Lindsay Holmes, the West Anchorage Democrat who turned into a Republican legislator shortly after she was elected, would dissipate in the way that these things do, particularly in Alaska, when protest movements often involve frozen fingers and toes, when well lighted rooms and dim  bars beckon.

But the handful of committed activists are still at it, pounding recall signs in the frozen earth, standing on street corners waving signs on snowy afternoons, inching closer to the 800 or so signatures that the recall requires before it has to go through its next arduous phase. As of March 23, they’d gotten at least 332, counting the signature of the man who pulled up in the Northern Lights Carrs-Safeway parking lot, fuming about the switch. He had voted and given money to her campaign. He’s pissed. He trusted Holmes, he said. He gave her money and his vote. He doesn’t trust her anymore. He wants her gone.

The handful of people on that corner holding signs determined to make her pay for switching sides will all tell you a variation of the same thing. They talk about trust, about deceitfulness, about surprise.

You heard much the same talk among Republicans when, in 1988, the Dems were in charge of the House, and the late Republican Rep. Curt Menard switched his party affiliation. Just like with Holmes, it was the timing that seemed to rankle most, or so they said. (Is there ever a good time for such things?) Holmes switched shortly after she was elected, signaling to her voters that she had been planning to do so all along. Menard switched just in time to prevent the Republicans from putting up a challenger in his primary race.

This is how Menard put it then: “I had inklings toward the end of this session that maybe I was serving with the wrong group. The Democratic Party just fits me better. I’m more comfortable. Certainly, you’re going to make some people happy and you’re sure gonna make some enemies. I’m willing to live with that.”

This is how Holmes put it recently: “”I think in a lot of ways it has been something I’ve been moving toward for the entire six years I’ve been in the legislature. I’ve realized over time, working with members on a number of the issues, particularly economic development issues, I’ve found common vision with members of the majority.”

In other words, they both did it because they being in the minority sucks for them and their constituents, and they found enough that they liked about the other side that they could talk themselves into switching.

Back then, the Dems celebrated and the Republicans vowed revenge. Eventually, as these things go, most, and most importantly Menard’s constituents, forgot what they were so upset about. He served for eight more years. He then became mayor of Wasilla, where the sports complex bears his family name.

Things will likely go this way for Holmes, eventually. Unless the recallers help strengthen a Republican primary challenger, who will likely be a radical right winger. One of those fire-breathers. One of the intolerant, misogynistic, homophobic, oil-loving Republicans. One of those Republicans that the Dems love to loathe.

An ideologue, a scoundrel for whom patriotism and party is the last refuge. One who would never consider crossing over.The recallers are fired up. They believe they were wronged and they’ll brave snowy days to have their say, but is this what Alaska needs?


Poll shows Alaskans support oil tax break and school choice

A poll conducted for and released by the Alaska state House majority on Friday might provide a window into why Democrats in Alaska continue to lose legislative races and why the party is losing members in droves.

If the numbers are right, the Dems are simply out of step with mainstream Alaska public opinion, at least on oil taxes, school choice, and gun control. (To be fair, other issues like abortion, Pebble mine, and Medicaid expansion, questions that Dems might have some traction, were conspicuously absent.)

The poll, conducted by Dittman Research shows that by a 54-32 percent margin,  Alaskans support lowering taxes on the oil industry. Fifty six percent support placing a constitutional amendment that would allow for school choice, an issue Dems seem to be opposed to. And a majority approve of Gov. Sean Parnell, as well as the Republican dominated legislature.

There’s strong public support for school choice (56-36%), with Alaskans supporting placing a constitutional amendment before voters that would open up the question. Also, by a 2-1 margin, Alaskans believe that school choice will create competition that will improve schools.

All might not be well for Parnell, however. Although he has a 51 percent approval rating, 11 percent didn’t have an opinion, which seems a high number for an incumbent this far into his term.

Surely bucking the national trend of approval ratings for political institutions, Alaskans seems to like their legislature. Fifty four percent approve of the House and the Senate. If it’s true that familiarity breeds contempt, it’s a number that might give legislators who have been pushing for a capitol move pause.

Alaskans also overwhelmingly support an instate gasline over a large diameter export line, numbers that will likely be continually touted by House Speaker Mike Chenault, and Rep. Mike Hawker, whose commitment to build an instate gasline has been unwavering and unrelenting.

Finally, a sad commentary on the Alaska PR firms that have oil company accounts: only 1 in 10 Alaskans know that oil taxes contribute 90 percent of state revenues.

Read the poll here.

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Who isn’t going to run against Begich?

Rumors have it that former senatorial candidate Joe Miller recently approached some high level political operatives about making another run for U.S. Senate, this time against Mark Begich, whose seat is up next year. The rumored operatives–Carl Forti and Michael Dubke– are founding members of the consulting firm, the Black Rock Group, so named after neither race nor rock, but a town in New York that could or should have been the state’s economic hub, or something. In any case, the group is housed in Alexandria, Va. and has big clients and deal in big money.

If Miller runs, he’ll likely face Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell in the Republican primary, and a host of others, including former Lt. Gov. Loren Leman—who told me recently that he’s “seriously considering” it, which means that he’s in. And then there’s Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan. He’s been mum about his intentions, but word is that groups have been gathering with the intent of recruiting him.

Some have speculated that even Sarah Palin might throw her shoe into the race. That seems unlikely—considering that she’s now serious about entering the pantheon of the literary–but she’s been known to surprise.

And the list will likely get longer. When asked once who he thought was going to run against him, Begich said, “Who isn’t?”

Current Republican governor Sean Parnell’s name has been bandied about as a possible candidate, and a recent poll shows him as the Republican primary front-runner. But Parnell hasn’t shown any interest, perhaps knowing how brutal the race will be and how little stomach he has for such things.

Indeed, a Democrat in this Republican dominated state, Begich relishes a fight. His approval ratings are high, and members of the national party will be here in droves to help him out.

It’s hard to say how much cred Miller still has in Alaska since his dramatic implosion after winning the Republican primary against current U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski. He does have a small, ardent, and sometimes oddly dressed following of people loosely affiliated with the Tea Party. And recently, that group got together with the small, ardent oddly dressed Ron Paul supporters to make dramatic hay at GOP meetings.

Miller, a West Point and a Yale law grad can be a good candidate. Until he isn’t. He can be  articulate, and had he kept his good candidate face on and won the race, he’d likely be a leader in the nascent national Tea Party movement.

Perhaps during the break he’s gotten things together and can now fully explain why his family has benefited from some of those entitlement programs he so loathes. And perhaps he’ll be smart enough this time to keep his paranoia in check and resist hiring a security firm to protect him during those rough and rowdy party meetings where donuts are strewn after pots of coffee are slugged.

According to the latest FEC filings, Miller still has more than $425,000 in his political action committee account.

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APOC on a ‘witch hunt?’

What began as a lawsuit in November brought by anti-Pebble mine crusader Bob Gillam against the Alaska Public Offices Commission has seeped past the confines of the suit and now involves allegations that APOC– the agency that’s in charge of regulating campaign finance laws–has acted improperly not only with Gillam, but with others as well.

The allegations, some of which come from former APOC employees as well as court filings, range from wrongful termination to arbitrary, improper and perhaps illegal assessments of fines against Rep. Bob Herron, D-Bethel, Sen. Lyman Hoffman D-Bethel, and Republican Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell.

One former employee said that the director of the agency, the assistant director, and the agency’s chairperson were on a “witch hunt,” against Gillam and Treadwell.

Gillam’s suit alleges among other things that APOC is biased against him and that the commission tolerates behavior that’s “pervasive and corrosive” to Gillam’s rights. It wants the agency to bow out of any further investigations against Gillam.

Gillam owns a money market firm as well as a private lodge in the Pebble area, and has devoted gallons of financial and sweat equity into fighting one of the largest proposed copper and gold mines in the world, slated to be in Gillam’s back yard. Because much of the fight has involved elections, Gillam has often appeared in front of the commission with an army of well paid lawyers who have been able to continually settle with APOC and keep his name out of court records.

Paul Dauphinais, the director of APOC, allegedly wanted to change that. According to court filings, he told Department of Administration Deputy Commissioner Curtis Thayer that the agency needed more state money to fight Gillam in order to “get” and “ruin” him.

Gillam’s firm is regulated by the U.S. Security and Exchanges Commission, which could pull Gillam’s license if he breaks state laws. Dauphinais allegedly told Thayer that he had a conversation with the SEC about Gillam and that Dauphinais wanted to prove that Gillam had broken the law.

APOC is autonomous but is housed under the Alaska State Department of Administration which reviews its budget prior to being submitted to the governor.

After the conversation with Dauphinais, Thayer went to a friend for advice about that situation. Unbeknownst to Thayer, the friend is also a lawyer for Gillam.

Gillam then filed his lawsuit and the story began to build. That story now involves former employees, and at least three state lawyers– one for Dauphinais, one for the chair of the commission Elizabeth Hickerson, and one for the Department of Administration. The Legislative Budget and Audit Committee has approved an audit of the agency as well.

Whatever comes out of the audit and the suit, one thing is for sure:  turnover has been high at the agency since Dauphinais took the executive director job in February 2011. The five member commission hires the executive director, who then hires staff. Since Dauphinais took the reins, nine of 14 APOC staff have left the agency over the last 18 months. At least one of those staffers is considering suing for wrongful termination.

The Department of Administration has interviewed some of those former staff members and at least one of those exit interviews has been submitted by Gillam as evidence.

Martha Tansike, who was a staff lawyer for APOC from 2011 to 2012, said that she left the agency because Dauphinais and Assistant Director Jerry Anderson told her to file a case against Gillam. Because her husband works for a firm that represents Gillam, she told them that she had a conflict of interest and could lose her law license due to a conflict of interest. They ordered her to do so anyway.

Further, she said that Dauphinais, Jerry, and Hickerson were on a “witch hunt” against Gillam. “Paul/Jerry would go out of their way to dig up info against him,” Tansike told the interviewer.

She said Dauphinais and Anderson were also on a “witch hunt,” against Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, who in January was fined $3,166 for reporting violations and $3,538 in staff costs for issues related to his 2010 campaign.

“There was no evidence to support what they were asserting, but Paul/Jerry would not back down off their position,” Tansike said. “He was accused of taking discounts but he had not. It had to do with standard billing practices and they would not back down.”

Tansike could lose her bar license if she were found to be lying about her time at the agency.

Vullnet Greva, who was with the agency from 2007 until September 2012, said in an affidavit that the agency was biased against Gillam and that complaints against him were subjected to greater scrutiny than complaints against others. He said that there is an assumption that Gillam and his lawyers are “trying to hide something or are up to no good.” He believes that the commission chair Elizabeth Hickerson, “is aware of the Dauphinais’ bias and condones or approves of it.”

Sources say that another employee, whose exit interview doesn’t appear to have been filed in court, said that he or she was ordered to withhold information that might have proved helpful to Herron and Hoffman, who in September 2012, were both fined more than $7000 for failure to file complete financial disclosures.

The DOA exit interviews were sent to the five member commission. They were not discussed at the last commission meeting early in March.

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This is the way Senate oil tax debate ends: not with a bang but a whimper

As senators thrashed through a bill in Senate chambers that would give the oil industry billion dollar tax breaks, as they made thinly veiled threats and promises, as the five lonely members of the minority offered 11 losing amendments. As the bill moved towards final passage and the senators gave their long speeches filled with words like crapshoot, giveaway, hyperbolic curve, internal rate of return, capital expenditures, new producer areas, middle earth, and of course, legacy fields.

As what was billed as an “historic” vote, the halls of the Alaska state capitol building were uncharacteristically empty. Only a few lobbyists sat on the various 2nd floor benches that separate the House and Senate chambers, giggling and gossiping mostly.

In other years, during other such historic votes, these halls would be thronged with oil company posse. Lobbyists would be whispering urgently. Notes would be passed back and forth from the halls to the pages to the senators.

And the security guard, Mel Personett, who’s been pacing these floors for ten years, would at the very least have more faces to look at, if not more heated conversations to overhear.

Personett is nothing if not security-trained tightlipped, particularly when I, a reporter or a blogger or whatever I am, tries to get him to spill the goods. On what, neither of us knows, but aside from saying that things are quiet, he’s not taking chances.

One person said that the lack of interest in Juneau might have something to do with the lack of interest across the state.

Indeed, the legislature has been nearly singularly dominated by the discussion since, well, since 1968 when Prudhoe was discovered, but particularly since former Gov. Frank Murkowski began a complete re-write of the state’s oil tax policy in 2005. That debate has stretched through a huge corruption scandal, through Palin drama, through a recalcitrant bi-partisan Senate, through hours and hours of testimony, and now, here we are. Billions of public dollars at stake, a nearly empty capitol building, and a few people on twitter vying for the best sound bites. (Although not normally known for its wit, the Alaska Democratic Party surely won that battle by referring to either Sens. Kevin Meyer or Peter Micciche as Senator “Crapshoot” (R-ConocoPhilips)).

Sen. Bert Stedman said that he too noticed that the halls were quiet. He thought that it was because the vote was in his words, a “done deal.”

Indeed, word was yesterday that Senate President Charlie Huggins had a lock on 11 votes, which was enough to ensure passage. And at about 9 p.m., the tally was 11 to 20. (Read the details of the bill here, and here.) Huggins, who can do more one-armed push-ups than you, runs a tight ship.

After reconsideration on Thursday, the bill is expected to be read across the House floor on Friday morning, where it should find a more sympathetic audience, that is, if egos can be kept in check. Already the bill is already scheduled for its first hearing in House Resources Committee Friday afternoon. Stay tuned.

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