Monthly Archives: August 2013

Thank God it’s Friday: In the company of women edition

Thank god it's FridayEarlier this year, Alaska state Sen. Lesil McGuire, who is also running for lieutenant governor, released a startling study that she had commissioned about the status of women in Alaska. Among other findings, the review found that when both full and part time work is included, Alaska woman make 67 cents on the dollar for each dollar a man earns. Nearly 56 percent of unmarried men with children under the age of 18 own their own home in Alaska. For a single mother, that rate drops to 42 percent. Nearly 62 percent of all adults with children in a shelter were women.

McGuire is planning a conference, scheduled in October, about the economic status of women in Alaska. The list is growing, but the speakers thus far include First Lady Sandy Parnell, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, and President of BP Alaska. Janet Weiss.

On Thursday, Sen. Mark Begich joined a group of about 20 women, including representatives from Planned Parenthood, to speak about some of the same issues, and federal laws that he’s pushed and continues to push. (Read more about those here). Begich’s ability to connect in small groups is one of his major strengths. And he’s particularly good with women and comfortable discussing women’s issues.

It’s too cynical for even this cynical writer to say that politics is the sole driver in both McGuire’s and Begich’s focuses on women’s issues. There are real problems here that anybody, public official or not, should be concerned about. And anybody with the ability to do something about it should.

But politics can’t be too far away from either of their minds.

McGuire’s report may point to a sad reality for many women in Alaska. But another reality is that they vote in greater numbers than do men. About 257,000 men were registered to vote in Alaska’s 2012 general election. Only 147,588 voted. In that same election, about 248,000 women were registered to vote and 152,075 did so.

Those are numbers to pay attention to. They could easily make or break a candidate.

Below are some random facts amassed about women in Alaska, facts that any politician worth his or her spit should know on the tops of their heads come election time:

  • According to the 2010 census data, women make up 48.3 percent of Alaska’s population.
  • Two women have won the Iditarod: Libby Riddles was the first and Susan Butcher was the second, who went on to win it four times.
  • Three women have won statewide office: Lt Governor Fran Ulmer, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, and Gov. Sarah Palin.
  • Two women have served as Alaska Speaker of the House of Representatives: Ramona Barnes and Gail Phillips.
  • Two Three women have served as the president of the Alaska Senate: Jan Faiks, Drue Pearce and Lyda Green.
  • Out of fourteen total, there are five women in Parnell’s cabinet. They are at Commerce, Administration, Labor, Fish and Game, and one is the Acting Commissioner of Revenue.
  • There are 17 women currently serving in the Alaska Legislature: 13 female members of the House of Representatives and four senators.
  • There are four major publically traded companies based in Alaska with a total of 38 board members. Of these board members only seven are women.
  • GCI recently added one woman to its board of nine. ACS’ sole female on a board of seven is Margie Brown. Northrim Bank’s sole female on the board of 12 is Irene Sparks Rowan. First National Bank has nine members, four of whom are women: Betsy Lawer, Margy Johnson, Jane Klopfer, and Lucy Mahan. Not to take anything away from them, but Lawer is the president of the bank and she Klopfer and Mahan are the chairman’s daughters.
  • Klondike Kate, the most famous female performer during the gold rush days in the late 1800s, fell in love with Alexander Pantages. In 1902, the two left Dawson to set up their own theater company in the Pacific Northwest. While in the lower 48, Kate discovered that Pantages was already married and that he had been stealing all of the money she made from her activities in the greatland. Good on her that she never forgave him.
  • In 1927, Marvel Crosson was the first female pilot to ever get a license in Alaska. In 1929 she set a new altitude record for women. She also died in a plane crash in 1929.
  • The first Latin teacher in Alaska was Ruth Schaefer who arrived in Alaska in 1939 and settled in Palmer. She is this writer’s grandmother and died in 2001 in Iowa City, Iowa. She was 92 years old and she is missed.

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Musings on George W. Bush’s paintings

george w catI’d have to stretch hard to make President George W. Bush’s recently leaked new paintings have anything to do with politics in Alaska. With enough work, I could tie the subject into the 1 percent for art program, or even the film tax credits, or use the paintings to offer advice to Sarah Palin on how to win hearts and minds. But I don’t want to work that hard on a Thursday morning, particularly since this whole blogging thing is a labor of love that’s quickly turning into something else.

The fact is, I like W.’s paintings for no other reason than I like them. I find them fascinating. I particularly like the ones recently leaked to Gawker. And I’m not alone. When the new paintings were leaked, The Daily Beast called on readers to “Rejoice.” MSNBC host Chris Hayes went as far as to write that he was rooting for W. to “become one of the greatest American painters of his time.”

That W. is an amateur artist now going through a “cat period” has probably done more to resurrect his reputation than any speech he could have made, any funds that he could have given to any philanthropic venture.

Why we rooting for his artistic ventures? Why is there something about a former president painting his feet that is so uplifting? Why can’t we stop staring? Psychological theories about the id, the inner versus outer W., abound. But the answer, according to Marc Tracy at the New Republic, might be less complicated, and feels about right:

The paintings are proof that Bush is an artist—that he invests his energies and imagination in creating works that are meant to be aesthetically pleasing and serve no utilitarian purpose. And being an artist is proof that Bush is an honest-to-God person, not the nightmarish, vague presence we all remember. It’s not even that Bush has a soul, just as it’s not even that the paintings are all that good. (And, I mean, are they, really?) It’s that he is of the same species as we are. He possesses an inner life—the very thing whose apparent absence seemed to connect all of his worst outer traits, from his intellectual incuriousness to his bullying nature (the nicknames!) to his economic cruelty to his foreign militarism. The paintings are a reminder that—as Philip Roth wrote of the White House during the Clinton years—a human being lived there. Someone who provided unprecedented funding for combating AIDS in Africa and evinced tolerance at a personal level. A son, a husband, a father.

Read more here.

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Days of ‘spend baby spend’ are coming to an end

Budget cutsCutting government budgets is always difficult. There are always lots of needs, lots of government programs and services. And all of these needs, programs and services have constituencies. And all of these constituencies have a legislator or three who share their values and concerns. This is why government budgets are difficult to cut.

And it’s really hard to cut the budget when oil prices are sky high and revenues are gushing into our state coffers. In 2004, the state’s share of the operating and capital budget was about $2.3 billion. In 2011, it was about $5.4 billion. For fiscal year 2014, it’s expected to be more than $7 billion. Some of the explanation for the increase is the declining federal dollars that are coming into the state. Most of it, however, is simply out-of-control spending.

The budget has increased 55 percent since Gov. Sean Parnell took over.

Both parties bear the blame for this astronomical rise in state spending, but the Republicans bear the majority of it. They have mostly been in control of the Legislature and have held the governorship since 2002. And it’s worth noting that the governor in Alaska has the power of line item veto. Parnell could cut as much as he wants, if he chose to.

Until now, our fiscally conservative governor has chosen not to, mostly because he hasn’t had to. But due to the decline of oil production, coupled with the tax cut to oil companies, coffers are going to shrink in the coming years.

Spending is one of Parnell’s big vulnerabilities. And someone is bound to capitalize on it. Democrats, who are always complaining about budget cuts, aren’t in the position to do so. Independent candidate Bill Walker could be hammering away at this, but since announcing he’s been spending his time dealing in pipe dreams.

So Bradford Keithley, a former lawyer with Perkins Coie and now a consultant on oil and gas issues, looks to be diving into the wreck. On Monday, he told me that depending on how Parnell’s budget shapes out, he might run for governor, implying that he would do so as an independent.

Apparently, even mulling over the possibility is verboten to those fiscally conservative Republicans. Keithley has since been disinvited to speak about fiscal issues at the Republican Women’s Club meeting on Sept. 9, though his name is still on the agenda.

And that is likely just the start of what will be a slow but steady attempt at character assassination.

Nevertheless, Keithley or any other candidate, including Walker or Hollis French, could have considerable influence if they play their cards right and continually call attention to some specifics of what many would consider government gone wild with our money, paid for by big oil, thanks very much.

In 1975, U.S. Sen. William Proxmire from Wisconsin began to hand out what he called the “Golden Fleece Awards” calling out officials for specific examples of wasting public money. The Washington Post  called the award “the most successful public relations device in politics,” and it is still being used by various groups today.

It seems that something like this could be put to good use in Alaska.

There are probably lots of areas where the budget could be cut. Here are a few examples, some of them very small, some not so small, of areas that have either raised eyebrows or will be subject to scrutiny in the next legislative session:

  • The state paid $6.3 million for the movie “On Frozen Ground.” To recap: the state paid that much to help Hollywood make the film about Alaska’s baker serial killer. That might have been all well and good. Lots of Alaskans were hired and got brief roles in the film, and at least one lefty blogger got to have dinner with John Cusack. However, somehow $6.3 million doesn’t even buy you an opening in Anchorage. Worse yet, Anchorage is portrayed in the film as an “anteroom of hell.” As one reviewer put it, “The folk at the local tourist board will watch it through their fingers.”
  • Alaska is one of four states that doesn’t require its state workers, including state legislators, to pay some portion for monthly health care premiums as part of their health care benefits package. The average that other state workers pay is 20 percent.
  • The Alaska Railroad managed to get $14 million put in the last budget in the final hours of the legislative session, per Parnell’s request. And it will need more than $100 million in the next three to five years to comply with federal regulations to continue passenger service. Some members of the Legislature are frustrated with the railroad. First it has a reputation of arrogance, particularly when dealing with the 17,970 acres that it either leases out, or often refuses to lease out. Secondly, it opposes being subjected to the Executive Budget Act, which would give legislators a greater role in its budget.
  • Grants to supposed nonprofits that haven’t gotten it together to become an official nonprofit in the eyes of the IRS could or should be in trouble. I’ve found at least three examples of this during a cursory search, including the Moose Federation, which has gotten more than $2 million dollars to, among other things, keep the boys who run the program driving big, brand new trucks. The Gulf of Alaska Keeper got $1 million for tsunami clean up. At last posting by the IRS, Paxson Community Affairs , which received about $48,000 last year, had its IRS tax exempt status revoked in 2011. Warning: just because they aren’t tax exempt organizations doesn’t mean that they aren’t doing good work. However, it might be telling that they claim to be nonprofits, but aren’t really. As I said, these are just a few examples and there are likely many others.
  • The state gave the Alaska State Fair more than $718,000 in the 2013 fiscal year. The fair paid its lobbyist $110,000. That’s more than the Municipality of Anchorage pays their lobbying team, more than the Mat-Su Borough pays their two lobbyists combined, and more than any utility pays their lobbyist in the entire state.
  • Perhaps it was for good reason, but that the Department of Natural Resources recently paid $20,000 to Bear Mountain Lodge in Southwest Alaska, and $54,000 to Perrins Rainy Pass Lodge in the Alaska Range. Both were categorized as travel expenses.
  • The Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development (DCCED) is spending $700,000 to create a new “brand” for Alaska goods, which is all well and good, and might actually do some good. But the plan will focus on developing the state’s smaller marketing programs like minerals, forest products, agriculture, film, and other Alaska made goods, goods of which — aside from minerals — Alaska produces very little.

Once again, these are just a few examples of what could be construed as government waste. At least some of these programs, and others, will likely come under scrutiny at budget time. More examples to come. Stay tuned.

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Syrian sanity from Rep. Don Young

GOP hawks are ratcheting up pressure as the Obama administration weighs the costs of going to war against Syria in response to the country’s alleged use of chemical weapons on insurgents.

Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, leading the charge in the Senate, took to the Sunday talk shows, calling on the White House to take decisive action against the country. Other members urging action are Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon of California and former House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Peter King of New York.

All of the above want strikes, but many of them have said that they also want Obama to receive congressional approval before taking such action.

In a Facebook post, Rep. Don Young also called on the administration to get approval from Congress before taking action. However, he made it clear that even with such approval, he doesn’t support intervention.

Here’s the full post:

“As events continue to unfold in Syria, I want to make it very clear to Alaskans that we cannot ignore the unthinkable horror of using chemical weapons; however, at the current time, I do not support U.S. military intervention in Syria’s civil war. After a dozen years, the American people are sick and tired of sacrificing lives in foreign wars.

Going forward, I believe that President Obama must consult and receive authorization from Congress before ordering the U.S. military into hostilities with Syria. Rather than the President circumventing Congress, the Founders expected the Congress to share the burden of deciding to deploy our men and women into harm’s way.”

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Efficiency in city government delayed until further notice

From the Anchorage Daily News: “The city is pushing back the start date for a new software system that was already more than a year behind its original launch. The system, known as SAP, is supposed to improve the efficiency of the city’s data processing in the areas of accounting, purchasing, and benefits administration — replacing an aging PeopleSoft application.”

Adding injury to irony, what was once a $10.6 million cost to upgrade the system is now $15.1 million and maybe more.

As Howard Weaver put it on Facebook: “These pro-business Republicans sure know how to run a tight ship.”

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Politics in Alaska: Somewhere between North Pole, Jerusalem and Mead Treadwell’s house

13548052_mA celebration was held at the Westmark Fairbanks on Saturday night in honor of Bishop Otis McCormick, the pastor of New Jerusalem Church of God in Christ in North Pole. McCormick formed his congregation in the area 30 years ago. He was brought to Alaska by the military, and his church offers special outreach to military members and their families. According to one attendee, about 400 people attended the event, including many prominent African American leaders across the state and the country.

It was, to put it in coarse political terms, an event to which any savvy politician should have paid some sort of homage. Apparently, some are savvier than others.

Alaska state Sen. John Coghill and his wife showed. Uber Republican Party activist and former Fairbanks mayor Ronda Boyles was there representing Rep. Don Young. Sen. Lisa Murkowski didn’t show nor bother to write a letter. (Then again, she’s safe until 2016, and she’s acting like it, which itself has been raising eyebrows.) Much to the chagrin of Republican Party activists, Sen. Mark Begich had a letter delivered to the event, and received a standing ovation when it was read. Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell had a free ticket, but was was too busy to attend.

Treadwell isn’t too busy to host an Alaska Family Council fundraiser next Saturday at his house for Bob Cornuke, the controversial amateur archaeologist known to some as the Biblical “Indiana Jones,” and to others as a “con artist.”

It’s unclear whether or not Comuke was the original researcher of the biblical match of Biblical Mount Sinai to Jabal al-Lawz in Saudi Arabia. Others lay claim to that title and still others say that he forged quotes that did or did not prove something or another.

Nor is it clear if he himself believes that the pile of dark-colored rocks in Iran is really from Noah’s Arc. He does appear to believe that the Ark of the Covenant is in Ethiopia at the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion and that contrary to what others believe, the anchors found on the Island of Malta were the anchors from the Biblical shipwreck of the Apostle Saint Paul. The anchors, a fisherman, and a promise got him unsuccessfully sued in federal court by a former U.S. ambassador to the country, who wanted to stop the distribution of a book about the subject. Or something.

In any case, Treadwell, the self professed big advocate of sound science and international treaties, is opening up his doors to Comuke in hopes of raising money for the Family Council, and, in coarse political terms, to cozy up to the right wing of his party. For his part, Comuke’s raising funds to get him back to Ethiopia, to save the Ark from the Nazis, or those ungodly Dems, with Karen Allen at his side.

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Hill reports Begich super-PAC off to ‘slow start’

The Hill is reporting that the new pro-Mark Begich super-PAC is off to a “slow start.”  The Put Alaska First Political Action Committee, run by Anchorage lobbyist Jim Lottsfeldt, received a warning letter from the Federal Elections Commission because it had failed to report how much money it had raised through July 1.

“The failure to timely file a complete report may result in civil money penalties, an audit or legal enforcement action,” the letter says and warns of penalties which begin the day the report is due.

Lottsfeldt told The Hill that he didn’t know about the rules and assumed that because the group had yet to raise any money, it didn’t need to file a report.

When the super-PAC was announced, the goal was to raise between $3 to $5 million. Lottsfeldt seems less than certain about that number, however. When asked if that was still the goal, he said, “I guess so,” and told the newspaper that he was “confident” that he would raise money, but because he was new to the super-PAC world, “(h)ow it all gets quantified in the end is a little bit of a mystery to me”

It probably need not be emphasized, but this may well be one of the most significant races in Alaska’s political history.The makeup of the U.S. Senate might very well rest in the state’s hands. Donors are going to be looking for a good investment. And whoever is running one of the many super-PACs that will likely spring up to support any of the candidates, probably should keep it to him or herself if that the process is a mystery.

Correction: The original story said that Jim Lottsfeldt was a democratic lobbyist. He’s in fact non-partisan.

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Libby Casey rocks it on Al Jazeera

Our own Libby Casey worked her way from a public radio reporter in Fairbanks, where she lived for 10 years, to D.C. reporter for APRN. She went on to host C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.”  And most enviable of all to this shallow writer, she made the list of the Hill’s 50 most beautiful people in D.C.

Casey is now working for Al Jazeera, which began airing this week in this country.

In the lead up to the debut, Al Jazeera has promised that it is working to cure what ails cable news. The channel’s chief executive, Ehab Al Shihabi, said that Al Jazeera was going to be “fact-based, unbiased and in-depth news,” with “less opinion, less yelling and fewer celebrity sightings.”

As at least one writer noted, however, the channel, which is owned by the government of Qatar, has to be careful.  According to the New Republic (peace be upon it):

Of course, in its own sly way, Al Jazeera pushes its politics with the same insistence as Fox or MSNBC, if not with nearly the same theatrics; an undercurrent of Bush-era exasperation with American blinkeredness still runs through every report from the Middle East. And it’s strange to see #pray4Egypt flashing on the bottom of the screen, a subtle bit of community-building that makes audience participation seem more ideological than ever. But Al Jazeera’s coverage is fueled by a placid faith in the reasonableness of its position rather than a knee-jerk ideological defensiveness

I’ve long been a fan of Al Jazeera, and I’ll take placid faith in reasonableness over knee-jerk any day, regardless of the source. And, in any case, what’s most important is that from all accounts, Libby did great and was as beautiful as ever. Unless Alaskans have Dish or Direct TV, however, they’ll have to wait until GCI gets wise.

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Politicking and fishing at the Kenai River Classic

silver salmon IIThe 20th anniversary of the Kenai River Classic, the fishing event to the political stars made famous during Sen. Ted Steven’s reign, was held this week. Much about the event has changed. These days, Stevens has bigger, celestial fish to fry. Veco’s name is no longer plastered about. Back in the day, the river was choked with kings and the little kings caught were larger than the biggest slivers caught today.

And the legion of East Coast political stars and titans of industry who wanted to brush shoulders with those politicians are now, for the most part, spending dog days with dogs, perhaps. But the event still draws a crowd.

Nearly 400 people attended the annual auction and banquet at Soldotna Sports Center Tuesday evening, and Alaska politicians showed. U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich were on hand. A handful of legislators, including Reps. Bill Stoltze, Craig Johnson, and Sen. Lesil McGuire and Kevin Meyer cast their lines. (Rep. Wes Keller netted third place in the Kenai River Classic Cup with a 12.5 pound silver. First place went to Omar Garcia of South Texas Energy and Economic Roundtable for a 13.1-pound silver.)

Bureaucrats, most of whom are involved with fishing issues, showed, as they probably should. But that the Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Bill Streur showed was a little puzzling to some, and plain classic to others who are more cynical about the perks of being a government employee. Indeed, DHSS has been under fire lately, and Streur has been AWOL during legislative hearings where thorny issues like health care programs, federal sequestration, and the department’s more than $2.6 billion budget have been discussed.

It also took Streur away from the only full day of a two day  state Health Care Commission meeting. Word is that when he did show up at the health care meeting, he didn’t give any presentations about the health benefits of eating wild salmon. He did, however, tell a fish story or two.

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Gov. Sean Parnell’s friends with benefits

In 2008, the New York Times swooped into the state after Sarah Palin’s veep announcement and wrote about how many friends she had hired as governor. “The Wasilla High School yearbook archive now doubles as a veritable directory of state government,” the paper wrote. Many of us already knew this to be the case, but we collectively shrugged our shoulders. This kind of stuff happens in Alaska all the time, in a small state with a shallow talent pool, in a place so far away from the rest of the country.

Successful people, in a position to do so, do often hire their friends and people in their social circles. Generally there’s nothing wrong with that. It can get a little murky, however, when you’re in public office and your friends and their friends are being paid with public money.

To be clear: just because something’s murky doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. But it is something to watch. And Gov. Sean Parnell’s penchant for hiring friends and being good to friends of friends, no matter how talented and well qualified, needs many more eyes on it than it currently has.

Parnell was a legislator from 1992 to 2002. It’s said that during that time among his closest friends were Sen. Pete Kellly, former Sen. Gene Therriault and former Rep. Mark Hanley.

Below is a list of what has happened to them and some of their staff since:

  • Sen. Pete Kelly left the Legislature in 2003 to work as a university lobbyist. Parnell hired him in 2009 as a special assistant in the governor’s office shortly after Palin resigned. Parnell supported Kelly in his bid to get back into the Legislature in 2012.
  • Back when Parnell and Kelly hung out together as legislators, Parnell got to know Kelly’s legislative aide Bryan Butcher. After winning the election, Parnell hired Butcher to be his commissioner of Revenue. More recently, Parnell moved Butcher to Alaska House Finance Corp. where he’ll serve as executive director, making a whopping $250,000 a year. It should be noted that Butcher’s qualifications include a degree in speech communication from Oregon University.
  • Shortly after Palin resigned, Parnell hired former Sen. Gene Therriault as a special adviser on energy. The hiring was ultimately deemed illegal by Alaska’s attorney general because Therriault had not yet been out of the Legislature for a year prior to the hire. Therriault then went to work for Golden Valley Electric in Fairbanks, where, among other things, he worked to try to get the state to help finance a natural gas liquefaction plant on the North Slope. After being liquefied, the gas would be trucked to Fairbanks. In 2012, Therriault left Golden Valley and Parnell appointed him to be the deputy director of Alaska’s Energy Authority, a division of Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, or AIDEA. In both of these roles, Therriault was instrumental in getting Parnell’s support for the trucking plan and the liquefaction plant. A bill was passed last legislative session which included $362.5 million of financing for the plan, including giving AIDEA the authority to offer $275 million in low interest financing.
  • Therriault’s staff did pretty well too. Joe Balash for one, went from Therriault’s office to work as a special assistant to Parnell. He then moved to DNR as deputy commissioner and is now the acting commissioner. Heather Brakes, also from Therriault’s office, is Parnell’s legislative director. Former Therriault staffer Wilda Laughlin was the DHSS legislative liaison until a recent ill-fated, hot mic issue. She’s still at HSS, but in a less high profile position.
  • Then there’s former Rep. Mark Hanley. He left the Legislature in 1998 to work for big bucks in the oil industry; however, he also worked closely with Parnell as a kitchen cabinet adviser and helped him prepare his first budget. Possibly coincidentally, in 2011 Mark’s brother Mike was appointed as Commissioner to the Department of Education. Kip Knudson who worked for Hanley was hired to run the state’s airports and later took over Parnell’s Washington D.C. office when John Katz retired. Michelle Toohey also worked for Hanley. She was in Parnell’s press office until moving to Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell’s office, where she is chief of staff.

It’s often the case that politicians hire friends and reward political support and loyalty. But just because it happens all the time doesn’t mean that we should collectively shrug our shoulders.

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Personnel Board to take up same sex benefits

During its next meeting, the Alaska Personnel Board will consider a proposal that would allow same sex partners to take the same kind of leave when their partners have serious health conditions as those who have different sex partners.

As it stands now, even though state employees who have same sex partners are eligible for state benefits, they don’t get the same leave afforded to other employees when their partners get seriously ill.

The three member board is governor appointed. In this case, one of the members was appointed by former Gov. Sarah Palin. The other two are Gov. Sean Parnell appointees.

The board meets in Anchorage at 12 p.m. on Sept. 19, at the Bayview Building, 619 East Ship Creek Avenue.

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Northrim Bank finds business in ObamaCare

Obamacare At least one Alaskan private enterprise believes that there’s money to be made in the new health care law. Northrim Benefits Group, an affiliate of Northrim Bank, has started a service called Enroll Alaska that will help guide individuals through the new insurance marketplaces. Those marketplaces, or exchanges, are a key part of the Affordable Care Act, and will be up and running on October 1.

Depending on whom you ask and how it’s defined, anywhere from 66,000 to 139,000 Alaskans are uninsured or underinsured. Enroll Alaska hopes to be the broker of choice to as many of these as possible.

In the process, the business will also be educating Alaskans on the exchange, a role that our state government has appeared to have opted out of.

Agencies and nonprofits are also doing their part. In July, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services handed out more than $1,800,000 in grants to 25 Alaska health centers operating 168 sites to enroll the uninsured. And on August 15, HSS awarded another grant of $600,000 to be split between United Way and Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium for outreach.

In truth, however, you don’t need any of these services. You can sign up yourself here, and it doesn’t appear to be overly complicated.

Here’s Northrim’s announcement in full:

ANCHORAGE, AK- August 19, 2013- Northrim Benefits Group (NBG) is proud to announce the formation of Enroll Alaska. This new division of NBG is focused on individual health coverage for the nearly 66,000 uninsured or underinsured Alaskans. Enroll Alaska will help guide individuals through the new insurance marketplaces that have been created with the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and help those who may qualify for immediate tax subsidies.

Starting in 2014, there is a federal mandate that all individuals have health insurance, whether through an employer policy or purchased through a Federally Facilitated Marketplace. Individuals with household incomes between 100-400% of Federal Poverty Level may be eligible for premium assistance via a federal tax subsidy. Enroll Alaska will help individuals determine if they qualify for a federal tax subsidy and select a health insurance plan that is right for them and their family.

Enroll Alaska will have locations throughout the state to help individuals and families during open enrollment, which runs from October 1, 2013 through March 31, 2014. Enroll Alaska will be the go-to resource for questions regarding the ACA. Information can be found at or by calling, 1-855-385-5550.

Correction: Northrim Benefits group is an affiliate of Northrim Bank, not a fully owned subsidiary.
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Parnell’s communication team needs to get out more

5475643_mThere are many people in Alaska who believe that cutting taxes on oil companies is something that is necessary for the state’s economy. I’ve met many, from small shop owners to waiters to teachers. They know that more than 90 percent of Alaska’s economy is dependent on oil. They believe the oil companies when they say that the only way to stem the decline of production is to make Alaska a more fiscally attractive place to do business.

These are people who have no direct ties to the oil industry, but somehow they’ve internalized enough of the debate to be able to make up their minds.

I don’t know if I agree with them, but I have at least heard these people talk, and felt the pull of their stories. Apparently, nobody in Gov. Sean Parnell’s communications office has, because if they had, they would have put these people on camera to share their opinions instead of the people they chose to try to help gain support for Parnell’s tax bill and to try to buttress support against a repeal.

The governor’s press office sent out an email today, urging the media to take note of what people are saying about the tax bill. “Alaskans from across the state are speaking up about the opportunities they are seeing in their communities as a result of the More Alaska Production Act,” the press office said.

It then sent readers to the “More Alaska Production Act,” website, where four Alaskans talk about the impact the tax cut is having on their businesses and places of work.

All four Alaskans work for businesses that provide services to oil companies.

Don’t get me wrong. These are important businesses that put people to work. These are businesses that have huge effects on our economy, and the people who work for them are likely good people. Their voices should be heard.

It’s just that neither the engineer working for Ch2M Hill, the company that bought VECO, nor the CEO of Little Red Services, an oil services business, are going to win the hearts and mind of Alaskans who need to be won over.

What the “fiscally prudent” administration has seemingly done, once again, is to waste government money by preaching to the choir about the tax bill.

But what’s more disturbing is that the communications office, the one office that is supposed to actually communicate with the public, couldn’t seem to find anybody who isn’t directly tied to the oil industry to appear on camera. Perhaps stepping out of their cushy government offices and popping out of their tiny social bubbles would require too much work, to say nothing of answering media questions in a direct and timely manner.

Perhaps it’s easier to sit among themselves, chalking up to media bias the 50,000 signatures gathered to repeal the tax bill.

Contact Amanda Coyne at 


State Sen. Hollis French has filed to run for governor

Democratic Alaska state Sen. Hollis French has announced his intentions to run for governor against Gov. Sean Parnell. French filed papers with the Division of Elections on Tuesday. He’s “strongly leaning towards it,” but as of yet it’s a preliminary move to see how deep his support runs in the state, French said.

If he does run, he’ll cede his Senate seat, which is up in 2014. So far, only Republican Rep. Mia Costello has filed to run for that seat.

French, a former oil field worker and Anchorage prosecutor, has been a legislator since 2002. In the field of ever-shrinking Democratic lawmakers, he’s been known to be one of the most outspoken. He played a large role in the Sarah Palin saga known as “troopergate.”  Since, he’s been particularly critical of Parnell’s oil tax break. As a member of what was formerly a bipartisan majority in the Senate, French did support oil tax reform, but fought hard against Parnell’s attempts at cutting taxes for the big three oil companies in the legacy fields.

With a Republican majority in the Senate, Parnell got his bill passed during the last legislative session, cutting taxes up to $650 million to more than $1 billion a year at current projected prices and at current production. The companies have said that such relief will help stem the decline of Alaska’s largest oil fields and incentivize production of the smaller fields.

French, however, sees it as a give away. If he runs and is elected, that’s the first thing he will try to undo.

“There’s a way to reform oil taxes that benefits both the state and industry in a business-like manner,” he said. He’s particularly critical of doing away with the windfall tax, commonly called progressivity, which increased taxes based on the price of oil.

“It was an enormous give for what we got in exchange,” he said. “We got nothing.”

French would also forward fund education, and accept federal money to expand Medicaid, something that Parnell has been on the fence about. Not accepting the money, is “as wrong as wrong can be,” French said, citing the harmful effects that not accepting the funds could have on Alaskans and particularly on small businesses.

“There are tens of millions of free dollars to the state that he’s turned his back on,” French said.

It’s unclear what effect French’s move will have on the nascent movement to draft the other outspoken Democratic senator, Bill Wielechowski, to run with independent candidate Bill Walker. Pollster Ivan Moore has been pushing the ticket, and has warned that it’s all but doomed if a Democrat runs.

French declined to comment on Wielechowski’s role in the race, but he did say that he thinks an independent running helps him. He pointed to 1994, when former Gov. Knowles squeaked with a win, beating the Republican candidate Jim Campbell by only 536 votes. In that race, Lt. Governor Jack Coghill ran on the Alaskan Independence Party ticket and received 13 percent of the vote. Had Coghill not been in the race, many of those votes would have likely gone to Campbell.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


Book review: ‘Big, Hot, Cheap, and Right: What America Can Learn from the Strange Genius of Texas’

In the capital of the world’s mightiest nation, until the recent cloudburst of scandal, the preoccupations were the rights of men who want to be women and women who want to be men; the rights of illegal immigrants (no longer allowed to be referred to as such) to stay here and vote for Democrats; and the right of government to abridge the Second Amendment and confiscate our money to feed an expanding army of bureaucrats managing unworkable programs that no one understands—including the legislators who vote for them.

Meanwhile, in the capital of what was once the Republic of Texas, people tend to view the preoccupations of the Northeast, dwelt on by the national media to the near exclusion of anything of concern west of the Mississippi, as largely frivolous and irrelevant.

Erica Grieder, a senior editor at Texas Monthly and formerly the southwest correspondent for the Economist, has written a splendid book about the rich history and the social, political, and economic strengths and weaknesses of the Lone Star State, where the essentials of the American Dream are still taken seriously. “Americans tend to believe in economic mobility, in the idea that people can get ahead through talent and hard work….Texans are, if anything, even more committed to this belief than other Americans.” She quotes Julian Castro, the Democratic mayor of San Antonio, giving the keynote speech at his party’s 2012 national convention: “Now, in Texas, we believe in the rugged individual. Texas may be the one place where people actually still have bootstraps, and we expect folks to pull themselves up by them.”

Although the state contains the largest part of our border with Mexico, its immigration policy is “relatively relaxed,” and the Republican Party gets a much higher percentage of the Latino vote in Texas than in the country as a whole. The fact that Texas Republicans and Latino immigrants, as well as long-established Latino citizens, share many of the same economic and social beliefs and values casts doubt on the ultimate chances for success of national Democrats who hope to turn Texas from red to blue. Nor are those issues resonating among the left necessarily meaningful to Texas Democrats. “Compared to their national counterparts, they’re in favor of business and skeptical of taxes,” Grieder writes. “If transplanted to California, a typical Texas Democrat would be reclassified as a moderate Republican.”

The Texas Model, or the Texas Miracle, as Governor Rick Perry liked to call it during his disastrous presidential primary run, was based on a four-part “recipe” of low taxes, low regulation, tort reform, and “don’t spend all the money.” If it worked in Texas, Perry asked, why not in the rest of the country?

“The idea,” writes Grieder, “is almost as simple as he described.” Texas is one of only seven states without an individual income tax, and one of four without a corporate income tax. (Businesses pay a small tax on sales instead.) Combined with its coolness toward regulation, its suspicion of government stretching back to Reconstruction, and its respect for private enterprise, Texas provides a model for any part of the country willing to set aside the conventional collectivist economic pieties.

As Grieder points out, from June 2009-2011, the Texas model created over 40 percent of the nation’s net new jobs. And to top it off, she writes that, according to an analysis published in theEconomist in 2011, “Texas was among the 20 states that paid more in federal taxes than they received in federal funds.”

All of which is anathema to the current administration in Washington and to statists, like the hysteric Paul Krugman, who believe our economic problems can’t be solved without substantial tax increases. And when Governor Perry swaggered onstage during last year’s dreadful Republican primaries, asserting that the Texas way provided an alternative model for the nation, the hysteria was palpable. Krugman charged in the New York Times that the Texas miracle was a myth, an assertion vituperatively seconded by all the usual leftist suspects who control the Washington-New York media corridor.

As Grieder writes, Perry’s entrance into the race brought on near-panic, and “the national left’s reaction to Rick Perry’s narrative of jobs and growth in Texas looked like Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief….Before the Democrats could reach the depression stage, though, they got a real miracle. Perry’s presidential campaign totally collapsed.”

In retrospect, what Grieder calls the “‘oops’ debate”—the uncomfortable moment of live television when Perry could not remember which cabinet departments he proposed to eliminate—unhorsed the governor, who entered the race with a certain cockiness that can so irritate non-Texans. (Remember the swagger of George W. Bush.) But like many Texans before him, Perry underestimated the opposition, rode into battle badly underprepared, and took a spectacular spill. As a result, writes Grieder, “Democrats lost interest in the supposed Texas miracle. As long as Perry wasn’t going to be the nominee, there was no longer any reason to worry about it.”

But as General Santa Anna discovered at San Jacinto, Texans learn from their mistakes, and Perry is back in the saddle, recruiting businesses from other states, selling the industrial policy which, as Grieder points out, has effectively saved Texas from becoming a one-horse, petroleum-dependent economy. “The Texas model isn’t an accident, in other words,” writes Grieder, who while not being a Perry partisan (she is rigorously non-political), believes that the economic policies he preaches and puts into practice might well provide a national alternative economic model.

On a recent recruiting trip to Chicago, where he spoke at the 2013 BIO International Convention, Perry delivered his recruiting pitch in a widely aired and much discussed ad:

This is Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and I have a word of advice for employers frustrated by Illinois’ short-sighted approach to business: you need to get out while there’s still time. The escape route leads straight to Texas, where limited government, low taxes and a pro-business environment are creating more jobs than any other state. I’ll be in Chicago next week to talk about opportunities in Texas, where we’re always open for business….it may be time for your company to hit the emergency exit.

The invitation prompted angry responses from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, slipping in the polls and struggling to come to grips with a record rainfall complicated by the inability of the city’s massive and massively expensive Deep Tunnel project, seemingly under construction since the days of Deep Throat, to drain off the flood waters. Governor Pat Quinn, no doubt with rainfall on the brain, responded quirkily, as is his wont: “His state, frankly, is water-challenged, and any company thinking of going to Texas better check their water.”

There are some conservative critics of Rick Perry’s successful campaign to land businesses from states like California and Illinois. Teresa Mull, blogging on TAS’ website, questioned the ultimate results of those efforts: “You can take the liberal out of the blue state, but can you take the blue state out of the liberal?” But many blue-state businessmen, offered the prospect of freedom from onerous regulations and taxes extorted by governments fighting to stave off bankruptcy, have easily shed those blue cloaks and emulated Davy Crockett, quoted approvingly by Mull: “You may go to hell. I’m going to Texas.”

This review was first published in the American Spectator and used here with permission of the author, John R. Coyne Jr., who is my father.