Monthly Archives: July 2013

Are PPP’s Alaska polls pure propaganda?

lies The Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling, also known as PPP, is once again proving that it values publicity above all else. And in Alaska right now, the interest is the looming race against U.S. Sen. Mark Begich. Throw in an off-the-cuff statement that Sarah Palin made about considering running for Senate, and you’ve got the makings for some screaming headlines, no matter that the numbers buried under the headlines are suspect, at best.

A recent poll that the firm conducted via robo calling shows support for Begich’s job performance at about 42 percent. That might make it sound that Begich is in a little bit of trouble. However, Alaska-based pollster Marc Hellenthal, who actually knows the state and uses real-live people to do his polling, has Begich’s approval rate at about 60 percent in a recent poll.

Hellenthal’s got some other numbers which contradict PPP’s poll, but before we get into all of that, let’s get the elephant out of the room: Palin might have considered running for Senate, in the same way that I have considered taking belly dancing classes. I’m not going to take belly dancing classes. Palin is not going to run for Senate. She would lose.

According to PPP, most Alaskans want Palin to run. That might be true, in the way that dogs think they want that car that they’re chasing. But from the headlines the poll has generated, you would think that Palin is still popular in Alaska. Palin is not popular in Alaska.

In fairness, PPP’s numbers show that she’s got a high disapproval rating here. And the firm can be forgiven for not understanding the intricacies of Alaska’s politics, nor is it responsible for a lazy media. What isn’t forgivable is that the group’s polling methodology stinks. In this particular poll, Democrats are way over represented, as are women and older people. Law dictates that pollsters aren’t allowed to robo-call cell phones, so there goes about 50 percent of the population that use them all the time or most of the time. And those are just a few of the problems with using machines to do the work that humans should.

Alaska, as uber poll cruncher Nate Silver points out, “is perhaps the most difficult state in the country to poll. Its residents are in a strange time zone and keep strange schedules; it has very high rates of cellphone usage; it has highly unusual demographics.” (It should be noted here that Silver himself has used Alaska PPP polls and therefore gotten Alaska horribly wrong in the past).

Couple Alaska’s idiosyncrasies with PPP’s sloppy work, and you might as well throw numbers on a wall.

PPP isn’t a stranger to using such suspect methodology. It conducted an absurd poll in May that showed that Sen. Mark Begich actually lost support in Alaska as a result of voting against Obama’s gun control bill. In that poll, Democrats were over represented by a whopping 9 percent, women were over-represented by 12 percent, and the firm just couldn’t figure out the nonpartisan/Alaska Independent Party thing.

They got it a little better on this one. But the sampling error is still way off. Dems in this poll are over represented by six percent, women by 10 percent, and the ages are all screwy. The numbers show it.

Hellethall’s poll was conducted for a private citizen who is not involved in any of the races.

Here’s a few examples of how Hellenthal’s poll numbers compare with PPP’s:

  • Begich has 60 percent approval and 24 percent disapproval rating. Prior to the gun control vote, Hellenthal had Begich at a 53 percent positive and 35 percent negative. In other words, Begich’s vote helped him enormously, which is in direct contradiction to what PPP reported.
  • Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell has a 30 percent positive approval rating, a 16 percent negative rating, 30 percent had never heard of him, and the remaining are neutral about him. PPP reported a 29 percent unfavorable rating.
  • As for unannounced Senate candidate (DNR Commissioner) Dan Sullivan: PPP has his negatives at 28 percent, which is absurdly high for a commissioner. Hellenthal didn’t poll him, but the only thing that could figure is that people are confusing Commish Sullivan with Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan.
  • Gov. Sean Parnell’s approval rating is 57percent positive and 26 percent negative.PPP has those numbers at 44 percent and 42 percent respectively.
  • Both Hellenthal’s poll and PPP’s poll show that Democratic Sens. Bill Wielechowski and Hollis French would have a way to go in name recognition if either chooses to run for governor.
  • Rep. Don Young’s wetback comment didn’t seem to hurt him much. He’s got a 56 percent positive and 28 percent negative approval rating. PPP has Young at 47 percent approval 43 percent disapproval rating.

PPP didn’t poll on her, but another interesting finding from Hellenthal is Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s numbers. According to Hellenthal, she is the most liked politician in the state with a whopping 69-24 approval/disapproval rating. This number might just quell the squirrels who are chirping that Murkowski is so unpopular that she’s not going to run again in 2016.

Another pollster in Alaska, Matt Larkin, who has taken over for long-time Republican pollster Dave Dittman, declined to take on the PPP poll, saying that he didn’t want to get into the back and forth of who was a better pollster. He did say that generally bad polls “undermine the integrity of the whole field.”

He also reminded me how wrong PPP got the 2010 Senate race. In the last poll PPP conducted before the vote, it had Scott McAdams tied with Lisa Murkowski. It showed that Miller would take it by 7 points. On election night, Murkowski had 40 percent of the vote. Miller got about 35 percent and McAdams 23 percent.

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Whittier mayor ousted in recall

Mayor Lester Lunceford, who has served as mayor of Whittier for more than a decade and who also currently serves on the state’s Human Rights Commission, has been officially recalled. On election night, he survived the ballot count. There were 50 votes in favor of the recall and 55 votes opposed. There were also 29 uncounted absentee ballots. On Tuesday night, the absentee ballots were counted and Lunceford lost by 15 votes.

Lunceford, who has been mayor of the town for 11 years, has long been the target of complaints. Most recently, the complaints stem from the way the city’s manager Tom Bolen was hired.

Vice Mayor Daniel Blair will take over the city reins immediately as acting mayor.

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Happy Birthday Bill Stoltze

Birthday Fifty-two years ago today, a boy was born in a hospital that was located at the end of the Park Strip in Anchorage. He graduated from Chugiak-Gruening Junior/Senior High School and then obtained a B.A. In Political Science from the University of Alaska before becoming a legislative staffer and then being elected to the Alaska House of Representatives. He now co-chairs the House Finance Committee. He’s exasperatingly quick witted, vituperate, and has endless energy for his state. He’s loved. He’s feared. And he grows wicked carrots. If you run into Bill Stoltze today, July 30, be sure to wish him a happy birthday.


For the first time Pebble Mine will have a hearing on Capitol Hill

9177798_mFor eight years, even the idea of the Pebble Mine, that humongous gold and copper deposit in Southwest Alaska that sits on the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon run, has fueled heated arguments. More recently, as the companies involved make the slow, steady march toward permitting, the controversy has morphed into an out-and-out brawl, one that’s pitted, villager against villager, family member against family member, Alaskan against Alaskan.

For all the brouhaha that it’s created in Alaska, the fight has managed to largely remain in-state. Some national groups have gotten involved, but given the scope, the size and the potential ramifications, it’s been relatively silent on the national scene.

That, however, appears about to change.

“The decibel level is rising,” Peter Robertson, senior vice president for corporate affairs with the Pebble Partnership, told the D.C. based The Hill. Indeed, and it’s going to get louder.

The final draft of the EPA’s Bristol Bay’s watershed assessment is expected to be released this fall. In earlier drafts, the EPA has said the mine could wipe out as many as 90 miles of streams and alter stream flows. The agency is unlikely to change its mind about that.

So a trove of Pebble lobbyists are hard at work, trying to buffer the outcome. Even the usually reticent Pebble Partnership CEO John Shively took to Washington D.C. with a bang. In early June, he spent four days on Capitol Hill, meeting with members of Congress, including Rep. Don Young.

That lobbying effort has proved fruitful. On Thursday, the Science, Space and Technology subcommittee on Oversight will take on the proposed Pebble Mine. It’s the first time that Congress has taken the issue up.

The hearing has been called a “factual review of a hypothetical scenario,” and is chaired by Republican Rep. Paul Broun, who has already let his views on the assessment be known. In March, Broun wrote to EPA chief administrator Lisa Jackson about the assessment.

“Unfortunately, it appears as though EPA is happy to continue spending scarce resources on an assessment of questionable value all in order to create additional, unnecessary, and duplicative regulatory burdens,” he wrote.

Broun is from Georgia. He’s one of the most conservative members in the House. He proposed making 2010 the “year of the bible.” He’s been married four times. He calls global warming a “hoax.” Last year, he told a church group that theories of evolution and the big bang are “lies straight from the pit of hell.”

Broun also believes that the world is less than 9000 years old and was created in six literal days.

And, most importantly for Pebble, he’s running for U.S. Senate and wants to abolish the EPA.

Four witnesses will testify at the hearing, three whom are considered “pro-Pebble,” by those who label people such things. The other witness is a former EPA administrator.

It’s unlikely that fair-minded people will take much away from such a heavily stacked hearing. But, more are going to follow, and as many Alaskans will tell you, and as many in the country will soon understand, fair minded, when it comes to Pebble, is relative.

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Thank God it’s Friday: The shut the f#%k up edition

Thank God it's Friday facts Wednesday was not the best day for Wilda Laughlin, the legislative liaison for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. In fact, it might be forever remembered as “F-bomb Wednesday.” As many in the state knows by now, Laughlin thought her phone was on mute when she was listening to a House Finance Committee hearing on the department. The hearing was not going well. Legislators were getting frustrated by the lack of answers to their questions. And as legislators are wont to do, they didn’t hide their frustration.

In the middle of a scolding of the department by Chugiak Republican Rep. Bill Stoltze, Laughlin blurted out over the phone, “shut the f#%k up.”

After a long silence, Stoltze recovered gracefully. It’s unclear, however, if Laughlin will, which might seem unfair. The political arena is full of “hot mic” gaffes, and many have committed more serious ones than hers, both inside and Outside. The difference, however, is that Laughlin’s fate is left up to bureaucrats, who tend to be less forgiving than voters. And of course, she is a she and people tend to be less than sympathetic to foul-mouthed women than they are to men.

Below are some more well known “hot mic” mistakes made by both Alaskans and national figures. Some of them were punished for their mistakes. Others, mostly men, were forgiven.

  • Dan Fauske, the director of Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, once called the Senate Finance Committee Chair Steve Frank a “moron,” after a private telephone conference, when he thought the line was dead. Fauske is now the state’s highest paid worker.
  • During the Hickel administration and the huge retroactive back tax fight, there was a teleconference between BP officials and the Speaker of the House Ramona Barnes, who was supporting the industry’s position. She changed her mind quickly after someone from BP called her a “bitch.” He assumed the line was dead. It wasn’t. The mistake looked like it might cost BP billions. However, after an extensive lobbying session, Barnes calmed down, resumed her pro-industry stance and saved BP billions.
  • In South Korea following a 90-minute meeting between Barack Obama and Russian president Dmitri Medvedev, journalists overheard Obama tell Medvedev, on a hot mic, to give him “space” on missile defense, saying, “This is my last election … After my election I have more flexibility.”
  • During his 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush called New York Times reporter Adam Clymer a “major league asshole” just before a campaign speech to Vice-President Dick Cheney, whose response “big time” was also said on a hot mic.
  • Before a Fox-News interview in 2008, a hot mic picked up Jesse Jackson telling a fellow guest that because Obama was talking down to black people, he wanted to “cut his nuts off.”
  • In October 2010, a voice-mail was accidentally left on Joe Miller’s spokesperson’s cellphone. The voices belonged to KTVA reporters, who were discussing a Miller campaign event. At the event, could they find a registered sex offender, they wondered? Will there be violence? And if so, how best to publicize it? Though even Fox News said that there was no bias in the stories that the station produced, two producers were fired after Sarah Palin got involved, calling them, not so originally, “corrupt bastards.”
  • Speaking of corrupt bastards. Who could ever forget oilman Bill Allen getting caught on tape telling former legislator Pete Kott that he “owns his ass?” Or former Rep. Vic Kohring, who is now running for Wasilla City council, all but begging Allen for money for his child’s Easter eggs?
  • Speaking of sex offenders? Unfortunately, there was never a hot mic moment when Bill Allen was allegedly having sex with teenagers in his hot tub.
  • Speaking of animals and Sarah Palin: Everything was going fine. Thanksgiving 2010 was right around the corner. It was a beautiful day and the turkey was pardoned. The trouble started, as it’s likely to start with Palin, when she decided to give an interview to a local TV station. As she spoke about freedom, this great country, blah, blah, the camera focused in on a worker in the background, shoving turkeys neck first into a grinder. That’s not quite a hot mic moment, but anytime a writer can get animals and Sarah Palin into the same paragraph, he or she should stretch to make it work.

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Bye bye oil taxes. Hello gas taxes.

Most of us have been enjoying the glorious summer and trying to forget the last two oily legislative sessions. Trying to forget the endless committee hearings, the excruciating testimony from oil executives. Progressivity. Hyperbolic curves. Internal rates of return. Capital expenditures. New producer areas, etc …

While we have been catching fish and amnesia, ExxonMobil is rumored to be hard at work trying to convince Gov. Sean Parnell to call a special session this fall to create a statutory framework to establish and provide authorization to negotiate issues related to gas commercialization.

In other words, just when you thought it was all over, now gas taxes are going to again rear their gaseous heads.

Currently, gas is taxed at an effective rate of 35 percent prior to credits, roughly the same rate as oil. But it’s much less valuable.

According to sources, Parnell isn’t going for the special session idea. He’s upset, they say, that Exxon hasn’t committed enough resources this summer to advance the fabled, up to $65 billion large diameter natural gas pipeline.

In a press release sent last month, Parnell said that although there was progress being made, the companies aren’t “moving as quickly as Alaskans expect.”

Still, Exxon, the North Slope’s biggest gas lease holder, continues to push, and is trying to convince the other major producers — BP and Conoco Phillips – – to push with them.

The Department of Natural Resources has engaged a contractor to model various tax regimes. Acting Commissioner Joe Balash and Department of Revenue’s Mike Pawlowski are said to be working with the contractors and meeting with the producers.

It’s unclear if Exxon’s push has to do with the large diameter line, the one that has been dreamed about for more than 30 years. Or if the push is about the bullet line that’s supposed to bring natural gas to Alaskans if the big line doesn’t.

Or if has to do with the 200 million barrels of liquid condensates at Point Thomson. By 2016, Exxon expects to be producing 10,000 barrels of condensates per day at the Point Thomson site. Condensates are kind of a liquid gas. As it stands, when they are produces they will be treated like gas for royalty purposes but will be taxed like oil.

Perhaps it’s all of the above. One thing’s for sure: if it there isn’t a special session to deal with gas taxes they will be dealt with in the next session. And the committee hearings again will be endless and excruciating.

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Pioneer Natural Resources looking to sell Alaska assets

Industry insiders have confirmed what has been speculated off and on for almost a year that Texas-based Pioneer Natural Resources might be looking to get out of the Alaska oil and gas market. Pioneer has opened a data room for parties that might be interested in acquiring their Alaska assets to review and examine their leases, well reservoir data and related confidential information.

Pioneer entered the Alaska market in 2002, as an independent oil company with a mindset of more efficiently operating in an area dominated by major oil companies who passed on and left many medium-sized prospects undeveloped. Their first Alaskan development was the Oooguruk oil field. The company was the first independent to operate a producing field on the North Slope.


Oops! Private f-bomb goes public during HSS hearing

The House Finance Committee, as part of their interim overview hearings of the Department of Health and Social Services, held hearings this week from Monday until noon on Wednesday in Fairbanks. It didn’t start well and it ended even worse when an HSS employee dropped a private f-bomb that went public while a legislator was speaking.

Reports indicated that committee members were becoming increasingly frustrated as time went on with what they perceived as the department’s lack of preparation and inability to answer questions. This frustration reached a boiling point earlier on Wednesday during the topic of federal sequestration, when members were scolding department officials for their inability to answer even broad questions on its impact to state programs.

Wilda Laughlin, HSS’s legislative liaison, was on the phone listening and apparently assumed that the phone was on mute. At one point, she shouted “shut the f#%k up,” when Chugiak Republican Rep. Bill Stoltze was talking.

Suffice it to say that she wasn’t on mute.

It should be noted that Stoltze is co-chair of the House Finance Committee, which approves HSS’s budget.

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Commissioner Dan Sullivan is now again Lt. Colonel Sullivan

Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan is now, once again, Lt. Colonel Sullivan. Sullivan, who is in the Marine Corps Reserves, is being called to active duty on Sunday. Sources say that he’ll be heading for Afghanistan to work on an anti-terrorism mission.

Deputy Commissioner Joe Balash is expected to be named acting commissioner during his deployment. It’s been speculated that upon his return, Sullivan will announce that he’s running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat incumbent Mark Begich.

In a state where the number of veterans per capita ranks as one of the highest in the nation, Sullivan’s military service and deployment is thought by many political observers to be a strong political asset should he become a candidate.

Sullivan has served in the Marine Corps since 1993 on active duty and in the reserves as an infantry and reconnaissance officer.

He’s been recalled to active duty in both 2006 and 2009.

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Iliamna Village Council makes a Pebble Mine-sized mistake

14086935_mFor years, residents and members of the Iliamna Village Council, the governmental entity for the village of Iliamna in Southwest Alaska, a village close to the proposed Pebble Mine, have claimed neutrality. For years, they’ve told anybody who would listen that they aren’t for or against the controversial mine, but rather that they, unique among residents and groups in the area, are trying to brush past the huge and confusing politics associated with the mine and are waiting for the science to lead them in the right direction.

The mine, believed to be the largest undeveloped gold and copper mine on Earth, which also sits on the headwaters of the Bristol Bay and the largest wild sockeye salmon run on Earth, is a magnet for conflicting reports and scientific assessment, much of which passes above the head of journalists and the public.

Because of all of this — as well as the lightning-rod nature of the project — reporters like me have long given deference to those who would be living in the mine’s backyard. They have more to gain, and as much to lose as any citizen involved in the fight, many thought. At the very least, many have bought into the argument that the village is a responsible body which should be conferred with when making decisions about the area.

But earlier this month the village made a colossal mistake that threatens to undermine its credibility when dealing with issues involving the permitting of the Pebble Mine. It also undermines its claims of responsibility and neutrality, and gives substance to the long-standing charge that the village and the council have been “bought and paid for” by the Pebble Partnership.

Here’s the gist: the Environmental Protection Agency, which has the power to shut the project down, submitted a report in April about the effects of the mine on the area’s waterways and its salmon, called the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment Report. The assessment doesn’t bode well for Pebble. The EPA said that the proposed gold and copper mine, which also sits in the headwaters of the largest wild salmon run in the world, could devastate that salmon population.

The Pebble Partnership, a joint venture of British mining giant Anglo American PLC and Vancouver, Canada based Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., objected strenuously to the assessment, calling it “biased, manipulative and contrary to EPA’s own guidelines.”

The five-member Iliamna Village Council also opposed the EPA’s assessment and requested that its own, handpicked scientist review EPA’s work and prepare comments to the EPA for the council’s submission.

It hired Dr. Donald Macalady to do so. Macalady is a professor emeritus of chemistry and geochemistry at the Colorado School of Mines, and the school’s previous director of the Center for Environmental Risk.

Macalady’s report was damning, to put it mildly. Among other things, it said the mine would likely eliminate the salmon spawning runs “in a large portion of the area’s watersheds,” and that this “elimination will be essentially irreversible.”

With the fish so go the wildlife. With the fish and the wildlife so go the area’s primary economy, subsistence lifestyle and culture.

What will be left of the area “is a legacy of scarred countryside and continued risk of degradation of water resources,” Macalady wrote.

“You are being asked to make a choice between undeniable short-term economic benefit at the cost of a completely altered environment and little hope of long term benefit,” he wrote.

The president of the village council, Sue Anelon, submitted the report to the EPA as a public comment without reading it. When she, or someone, did get around to reading it, the council, apparently, was aghast. It asked to retract the report. The EPA has declined to do so.

The council is made up of five members, four of whom appear to be related and at least four of whom are employed now or have been employed by the Pebble Partnership. This has for years opened them and the village up to charges that they have been unduly influenced by Pebble’s money.

Prior to Pebble coming in to punch holes looking for gold, the Iliamna area was impoverished. The 2010 census counted a total of 299 residents in both Iliamna and its sister village Newhalen. Out of those, only 26 had commercial fishing permits, and only 22 fished those permits, according to the Alaska’s Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. The estimated gross earnings for both villages from commercial salmon fishing in Bristol Bay was about $1 million.

A large majority of the people in the Bristol Bay region oppose the mine. Bristol Bay Native Corporation, the regional native corporation that has 9,000 shareholders, voted in 2011 to oppose it. However, the closer you get to the mine and the employment opportunities that it provides, the less strenuous the opposition. Indeed, compared to some other villages in Southwest Alaska, Iliamna is booming. Trucks bearing Pebble’s logo zoom around the village. There’s a store with stocked shelves. People have money in their pockets and jobs abound.

Anelon didn’t return a phone call requesting comment, but she did talk to the Associated Press, who quoted her as saying that the materials Macalady produced “stray a significant distance from” the council’s position.

Anelon, who has long claimed to be open to different scientific assessments of the mine, just assumed that Macalady “was all on the same page as the village,” she said.

That page, apparently, is only one that will support the mine.

Here are more key points from Macalady’s report:

  • Not taking into account mining accidents, the mine’s footprint would result in 56 miles of stream channel to be “eliminated, blocked, or dewatered…along with the destruction of about 5 square miles of wetland area.”
  • “Groundwater flow in the region will be diminished and the positive effects of this flow (on salmon spawning) eliminated.”
  • Copper and other metal contamination into the water is “inevitable…This contamination could be expected to enter the watersheds immediately adjacent to the mine site, potentially rendering additional miles of stream and river unacceptable for salmon spawning.
  • The mine would alter water temperatures, which is “likely to adversely influence the suitability of these waters for successful spawning.”

He ends his report with some possible suggestions for an economic future, among them asking that the government and groups opposed to the mine assist in establishing an ecological research and training institute, which would provide employment for people in the region.

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Obamacare: the politics of delay and denial

Obamacare On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Don Young voted on a bill to give President Obama the authority to delay, by a year, the employer health care mandate portion of Obamacare. The mandate was to go into effect in 2014, and would have required businesses that employ more than 50 full-time workers to provide affordable insurance, or else be subject to a fine.

This doesn’t mean that Young approves of Obamacare. Young, who has for more than four decades been the beneficiary of some of the best tax funded health care available, has been one of the bill’s staunchest critics. In a release on Tuesday, he called it “one of the worst bills Congress has ever passed,” and promised to continue to advocate for full repeal.

Many critics of Obamacare crowed after the administration announced the delay in the mandate. Others, however, saw a greater game at work, one that could ultimate strengthen the program.

Now that employer mandates are off the table, at least temporarily, the thought is that people are increasingly going to be signing up for individual coverage. Such coverage was always available to the individual, but often times it was too costly, overly burdensome to get, and many were denied due to pre-existing conditions. However, insurance exchanges, one of the key provisions of Obamacare, are still set to be up and running by the end of this year, and individual coverage could be cheaper and easier to get under those exchanges.

Recently, California announced that such exchanges could cut rates for individual insurance by up 29 percent for some consumers. And on Wednesday, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said that New Yorkers who buy individual policies will most likely see their premiums cut by half in 2014.

Beginning in October, individuals in New York City who now pay $1,000 a month or more for coverage will be able to buy that plan for as little as $308 monthly. The costs could be lower with federal subsidies.

That consumers might find individual health care insurance affordable makes Obamacare foes nervous. The public, once it tries it, actually might like it. They might actually be able to afford the kind of insurance that state and federal officials get. Such a notion is anathema to many, including Young and Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell, as well as other Republican governors. Parnell, among others, has refused to help set up those exchanges. The feds are doing it for Alaska, no matter that if the state cooperated, the exchanges would be better for residents.

Apparently, Parnell and others would leave uninsured Alaskans uninsured in the hopes that they can force Obamacare to fail.

Some Republican governors however, seem to have the health of their residents more in mind than partisanship. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, for example, said that he’s not fighting Obamacare because it was in the best interest of New Jersey for its residents to have access to affordable healthcare.

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Republican strategist eyes Alaska

Texas Republican strategist Chris Turner, with Stampede Consulting, has been in and out of town now for a few months. This time, however, he’s been in Alaska for nearly a week. With his wife and 11-year-old son, he’s here, ostensibly, for a vacation. And he has been on the usual vacation tour circuit: spotting bears in Denali, whales in Seward, etc, etc. . .

But any Republican strategist worth his spit would see a vacation in Alaska right now as more than just an opportunity to spot wildlife, as evidenced by the fact that he showed up at Speaker of the House John Boehner’s Anchorage fundraiser on Tuesday evening wearing a suit.

(The event was officially off the record, but I can report that Boehner lived up to his red wine drinking, cigarette smoking, weeping reputation. He actually wept during a speech.)

The U.S. Senate race is looming. The balance of power in the chamber may very well rest on how Alaskans vote. The technologically savvy, incredibly effective army of Obama Democrats will be setting up in force in the next year to ensure Sen. Mark Begich’s reelection. And the Republicans are not going to give up without a vicious fight.

“Alaska will be ground zero,” Turner said. Big money is coming to the state in a big way on both sides of the aisle. In addition to the Senate race, if the oil tax repeal makes it on the ballot, oil money will gush. If marijuana makes it, pot money will cloud the airwaves. “Alaskans have no idea what’s coming at them,” Turner said.

Then, depending on how the never-ending process known as redistricting is complete, there’s all those state candidates.

Turner doesn’t know who, or if, he’ll be working for. So far, former candidate Joe Miller and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell have announced they’ll take on Begich, DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan is said to have been considering a run, but has recently flat out denied this.

What Turner does know, he said over lunch on Tuesday afternoon, is that whoever it is, he or she needs to have as powerful a ground game as the Democrats have, a ground game that will both challenge Begich on pressing the flesh and on the technological front.

The Dems have gained the ground-game advantage largely because of Obama’s team, which won in 2008 by organizing neighbor-to-neighbor contact, along with the most advanced get out the vote computer applications. That effort has continued to evolve and was deployed to breathtaking efficiency in 2012.

Begich will have all those tools at his disposal, tools that the Republicans have been dismal at deploying.

Team Romney was supposed to change that. His team promised that they had “the Republican Party’s newest, unprecedented and most technologically advanced plan to win the 2012 presidential election.”

That plan, dubbed “Project Orca,” turned into a nightmare. Everything about the system failed. Hundreds of thousands of campaign volunteers were foot-stomping frustrated, and that was before the system crashed on Election Day, leaving senior staff in Boston to tally votes on a calculator.

Turner, who worked on other presidential campaigns but sat out Romney’s, claims that he’s got the ground game answer. He’s coy about the specifics, and so is his decidedly unsophisticated website. But out of 100 races that he was involved with in the last election cycle, he claims to have won 92. (It should be noted that not all of the candidates were the most savory.)

If there’s a good candidate, Turner thinks he can help win the Senate seat for the Republicans.

That’s a big if, however. The only declared or potential candidate so far who has shown even a hint of the kind of tenacity that Begich has is, of all people, Joe Miller. And if Miller wins the Republican primary, Republicans across the land will cry big Boehner tears.

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