Monthly Archives: August 2013

Conoco applies to drill a new well in NPR-A

Reuters is reporting that ConocoPhillips has applied for permits to develop a new field in the Mooses Tooth unit of the National Petroleum Reserve. It also applied for permits to build roads and other infrastructure needed to access the site.

The company hasn’t yet decided whether to sanction the project, however. That decision will come in the second half of 2014.

According to Reuters:

“The plans to expand in the reserve come after Conoco put ambitious offshore Arctic plans on the back burner. It said in April it would not seek to drill in 2014 in the remote Chukchi Sea off northwestern Alaska, where it spent more than $500 million in 2008 to acquire leases. Other companies also have plans to drill in the reserve. Three permits are held by Australia-based Linc Energy and two by Houston-based Hilcorp, both relatively new operators in Alaska.”

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Thank God it’s Friday: the independence edition

Thank God it's Friday facts As many readers know, Bill Walker is no long running against Gov. Sean Parnell as a Republican. He is an independent candidate. Some, including pollster Ivan Moore, have been pushing Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski to run with Walker as his lieutenant governor. Moore has said that it’s the only way to win against Parnell, and that the two have a shot at the seat as long as the Dems don’t come in and muss things up by putting someone on the ticket.

Indeed, anything can happen in politics, particularly in Alaska, where independents (or non affiliated candidates) outnumber Democrats and Republicans combined.

In the spirit of independence, below are a few facts about Alaska’s past and present relationship with those who choose to go outside the two party system.

  • Out of the 23 legislators who convened for Alaska’s first territorial Legislature in 1913, only six belonged to one of the two major parties.
  • In the 1980 presidential campaign, U.S. Rep. John Anderson, running as an independent, finished second in Alaska behind the winner, Ronald Reagan, and in front of the incumbent, President Jimmy Carter.
  • Alaska state Rep. Carl Moses served in the House having been elected as a Republican, Democrat and as a member of the Alaskan Independence Party.* (He was also defeated once by a flip of the coin which was the way they broke the tie between he and current Rep. Bryce Edgemon).
  • U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, having lost the R nomination to keep her seat in the US Senate, waged a successful write-in independent campaign defeating Democrat Scott McAdams and Republican Joe Miller.
  • Wally Hickel served as the second and eighth governor of the 49th state, first as a Republican and the second time under the banner of the Alaskan Independence Party.*
  • When Alaska’s first state Legislature convened on Jan. 26, 1959, there was one independent in the two chambers: a man from Naknek by the name of Jay S. Hammond.
  • The last independent to serve in the Legislature was Edward Willis of Eagle River who served from 1993 to 1996.
  • In the last election cycle (2012), Ron Devon ran as an independent against Republican Sen. Cathy Giessel. He lost the race, 58.8 percent to 40.7 percent.

Note: there is a difference between being an independent (declining to affiliate with a political party) and the Alaskan Independence Party which believes in seceding and becoming its own political entity.


Mat-Su legislator’s son pleads guilty to federal drug charges

KTUU is reporting that the son of Mat-Su Valley Rep. Lynn Gattis pleaded guilty in federal court to being the ringleader of an international “bath salts” distribution ring. Robin Gattis is 20 years old. He was arrested in 2012, first by the state and then by the feds, and has been in custody since. The distribution ring had tentacles in China. According to KTUU, drugs from that ring were used by another 20 year old, only described as MGS, in a fatal overdose. Bath salts have nothing to do with either baths or salts, but are a stew of nasty chemicals that when used, act like speed.

Robin Gattis faces 20 years in federal prison. Gattis’ co-defendents include Anchorage residents Kevin Rupp, 21, and Haylee Hays, 19; Palmer residents Chad Cameron, 18, and Bren Marx, 20; Stephen Kimbrell, 20, of Soldotna; and Shane O’Hare, 23, of Wasilla.

Lynn Gattis was elected to her seat in 2012, despite her son’s problems. She beat her Republican primary challenger Mark Ewing with 61 percent of the vote, and won in the general with 73 percent.

She’s smart, quick witted, and is considered one of the rising stars in the Republican Party. Her chief of staff, Erick Cordero Giorgana sent out a statement that said Lynn Gattis and her husband appreciate everyone’s prayers and they also appreciate their privacy during this difficult time.

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Former Alaskan Pete Rouse is said to be leaving the White House

The highest ranking Alaskan ever to work in the White House is talking about leaving his position. According to Politico, Pete Rouse, President Barack Obama’s former chief-of-staff and one of Obama’s most-trusted advisers, has told friends he will be leaving the administration this fall.

Many, including Obama, credit Rouse with playing a key role in Obama’s rise from a little- known U.S. senator to the presidency and he’s been silently, yet influentially,working behind the scenes since.

Rouse’s mother was the daughter of Japanese immigrants and grew up in Anchorage during World War I. His cousin was a municipal attorney for the City of Palmer.

Rouse came to Alaska in 1978 and stayed to work for Lt Governor Terry Miller, the first and last Republican he worked for. He left in 1983 to work in D.C. But he kept his Alaska voter registration and has always reserved a special place in his heart for the state, its citizens and their interests.

He was instrumental in placing some Alaskans in the Obama administration, like former state Sen. Kim Elton, who is the until 2012, was the director of Alaska affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior.

When he was U.S. senator, Frank Murkowski praised Rouse on the Senate floor in 1999, and former Gov. Tony Knowles credit’s Rouse for Obama’s inclusion of the natural gas pipeline in his primary speeches.

Even today as one of the most important and powerful men in government, many Alaskans tell of meeting him in the White House, just steps from the Oval Office. .

It appears that he’s leaving the White House in the months ahead; however, given his role and behavior to date he’ll likely continue to be an adviser and confidant to Obama and he’ll always have a soft spot in his heart for Alaska and his friends here. The feeling, for many, is mutual.

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F-bomb repercussions

The legislative liaison for the Department of Health and Human Services who told Rep. Bill Stoltze to “shut the f#%k up” over what she thought was a mute phone has been removed from her position. Wilda Laughlin will no longer be the face of the department to the legislature. Her replacement has yet to be chosen, HSS Commissioner Bill Streur said.

She’s not leaving HSS, but because of the incident, she will be doing more behind the scenes work. “She’s been a good worker,” Streur said.

The “shut the f#%k up” snafu happened on July 24, during a particularly tense House Finance Committee hearing on HSS’s budget. 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.

Laughlin was on the phone listening and assumed that the phone was on mute when she screamed, “shut the f#%k up” as Chugiak Republican Rep. Bill Stoltze was talking

Stoltze is co-chair of the House Finance Committee, which approves HSS’s budget.

Streur recently spoke to Stoltze about the incident. He described the representative as “amazingly gracious.”

(Update: Jason Hooley, who is the director of Boards and Commissions, will be taking Laughlin’s job).

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More strange things done ‘neath Whittier’s midnight sun

Whittier There are only about 200 who live in the strange little town perched on this harbor in Prince William Sound. But in Whittier’s case, size doesn’t much matter. The people sure know how to kick up the controversy. First, in July, the citizens of the city recalled Mayor Lester Lunceford for supposedly violating an open meetings act during one of the city council meetings. Now Pete Heddell, one of the city council members who pushed for the ousting, has himself resigned on the heels of accusations that he violated city code.

Lunceford had the position for 11 years. After the recall vote, the talk of the town was that many of those who voted to oust him were actually residents of Anchorage rather than of Whittier. So, ten residents signed a petition to try to contest the recall vote, but they didn’t read the fine print that stated that all of them had to be present when they turned in their petition and that their signatures needed to be notarized. Only five showed in person and none had their signatures notarized, said city manager Tom Bolen.

It’s unclear however, even if they had done everything right, that the recall would have been overturned.

The city goes by where the state says someone is registered, and the state is less concerned where a person claims his or her home to be than if they are voting twice. In other words, residency documentation is relatively loose. Whittier city code does little to clarify the state’s position.

City code is clear, however, that a person’s primary residence must be in Whittier if they are on the city council.

Councilman Heddell had been receiving the senior citizen tax exemption for a property that he owns in Anchorage. In order to get that exemption, he claimed that the Anchorage house was his primary residence.

On Monday, Heddell told Bolen that he was resigning to spend more time in Washington state.

Bolen who took the job in March, has also been caught in the controversy. The open meeting act that Lunceford allegedly violated involved the firing of the former city manager and Bolen’s hiring. Bolen, however, has no plans on going anywhere. He just hopes all the drama is over and everyone can focus on running the city.

When he walked into the job there were about $8 million worth of state grants to the city that had yet to be used and some of those grants are on the verge of expiring. In other words, if they don’t use it, they could lose it. Some of the money is for projects that had never moved forward from design to construction. At least one of them—a $325,000 grant for railroad improvements—had even yet to be conceptualized.

The city is now working with the Railroad to push that project forward. It’s also working on replacing a culvert, a road project, and environmental restoration project and is applying for grants for harbor and road improvements.

The big issue, however, the one that’s plagued the city for nearly a half a century, is what to do with the Buckner Building, the dilapidated concrete mammoth structure built in 1953 with the intention to withstand bombs and keeping as many as 1,000 soldiers safe if a Cold War army invaded.

It now sits on the edge of town, bruised but not broken, taking up precious land, but because it would be so expensive to tear down, no one knows what to do with it.

“It’s so amazing that Whittier’s such a small town and that there’s so much going on,” Bolen said. “It’s somewhat overwhelming to grasp it all.”

Amanda Coyne


DOR Commish Bryan Butcher takes over AHFC

Bryan Butcher, the commissioner of the Department of Revenue, will now be heading up the Alaska Housing Finance Corp., the corporation announced today. Butcher will be taking over from Dan Fauske, who will be running the Alaska Gasline Development Corp., where he hopes to oversee the construction of an in-state natural gas pipeline.

Fauske is making $366,000 a year. Butcher was making $135,000 when he took the commissioner job in 2011. He will now be making $250,000 a year. Angela Rodell will be the acting commissioner of Revenue.

AHFC is a state owned corporation formed in 1986 and finances roughly 30 percent of Alaska’s mortgages. In 2012, it financed $416.2 million in such loans. The corporation also has bonding authority. At the end of 2012, it has more than $4 billion in assets and contributed more than $9 million to state coffers during that year.

Butcher has a Bachelor of Science in Speech Communications from Oregon University. Before working for Revenue, Butcher worked for AHFC as a legislative liaison and in public relations and government affairs.

Butcher took the job as revenue commissioner in 2011, and was put in the hot seat nearly immediately over oil taxes, where he was often criticized by legislators over his sometimes confusing and contradictory statements.

He was all but absent during the last legislative session, when an oil tax bill passed. Mike Pawlowski was Revenue’s face and voice for the tax break. Nonetheless, Gov. Sean Parnell praised Butcher’s role in the tax debate.

“Under Commissioner Butcher’s outstanding leadership, the More Alaska Production Act became a reality, Alaska achieved and maintained a AAA+ credit rating, and Revenue put in place a more reasoned and accurate long-term oil production forecast,” Parnell said.

AHFC’s board made the hiring decision. The job was not advertised. In an interview, Frank Roppel, chair of AHFC, said that because Butcher was such a good candidate, there was no need to conduct a hiring search.

“We felt that we had a very capable person and I doubt that we could do better in the open market,” Roppel said.

Roppel also said that it gives Wall Street comfort to hire a known quantity. Such comfort, he said, can translate into lower interest rates which are passed on to borrowers.

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Roundup of super exciting local utilities news

Utilities aren’t the sexiest of subjects to write about. But they do keep the lights on, the heat running, text messages coming, etc…And there’s a lot of big money at stake for those who run them. So, though the subject makes me nearly soporific, the past week or two have been busy times for many of our local utilities. And some of it’s actually interesting enough to wake me up. Here’s a rundown of the highlights:

    • The FCC approved the ACS/GCI wireless deal, forestalling what some predict as the imminent death of ACS, the one that’s been coming since Liane Pelletier took the reins, over-inflated the value of the stock by guaranteeing high dividends, and then left the company with an unsustainable business model. She was either a hero or villain, depending on when you bought or sold your stock in the company. One thing’s for sure: private equity puts her in the former category. In any case, both of the companies have done well with the announcement, and will need to continue to do well if they want to compete against Verizon and AT&T. GCI’s stock closed on Tuesday at $9.43, up from $7.69 on June 26, a week before the FCC approved the merger. ACS’s stock was as low as $1.55 this year. Tuesday it closed at $3.40.
    • Speaking of AT&T: the company announced yesterday that it has invested $45 million in its wireless and wired network in Alaska during the first half of 2013. Among other things, the investment now provides mobile AT&T broadband to Healy, Whittier, Hope, Gustavus, Angoon, Hydaburg and other sites along Sterling, Glenn and Richardson Highway
    • ML&P requested that the RCA consider and approve a 22 percent rate increase and it’s rumored that Chugach Electric maybe also looking at a rate increase. I’ve overheard people saying that the ML&P rate increase could provide an avenue of attack if for whatever reason at ambitious politician wanted to go after Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan. But then again, ambitious is the operative word here.
    • FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai toured the state meeting with regulated industry types and policymakers. I don’t know if he learned anything about, say, how important the Universal Services Fund is to Alaskans and a certain high profile, politically connected telecom business in Alaska. But I’m told he did learn quite a bit about how silver salmon run.
    • ENSTAR had a ribbon cutting ceremony in Homer commemorating the first delivery of gas to the community. Dozens of business leaders were there. Gov. Sean Parnell showed, as did a handful of local elected officials. After the speeches the ENSTAR meter was turned on and the crowd cheered for the community’s first delivery of natural gas. Unfortunately, the contractor was behind schedule, the invited guests we’re already committed and the decision was made to move forward with a commemorative event knowing that gas was just days away.

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BW2 : A “squared” idea that sounds cool to some of Parnell’s opponents

Bill W2Fourteen percent of Alaska voters are registered Democrats. About 27 percent are Republicans. The rest belong to the Libertarians, Alaska Independent Party and the vast majority are undeclared. So those who want to beat Republican Gov. Sean Parnell, whose term is up next year, had an idea: put parties aside and join the independent candidate for governor with the likely Democratic nominee.

And if those candidates are both named Bill, and both have last names that start with W, you’ve at the very least a good campaign logo: Meet “BW2.”

It also doesn’t hurt that Bill Walker, the gubernatorial candidate, is a Republican at heart and that he’s friends with Democrat Sen. Bill Wielechowski, the potential lieutenant governor, and that both have the potential for populist appeal.

To be clear: right now, the scheme seems more of a quixotic Facebook campaign than anything. But the two have been talking about the possibility. Walker said that although he’s a Republican, he and Wielechowski agree on more issues than they disagree, particularly oil taxes.

Walker isn’t the firebrand on the issue that Wielechowski is, but he doesn’t think that the bill that passed, SB21, had the necessary investment assurances and said that he wouldn’t have voted for it if he were in a position to do so.

Pollster Ivan Moore, whose been pushing the BW2 idea, is sure that this is the only chance to beat Parnell, whose support is relatively strong statewide and especially among Republicans.

“The only ticket that could possibly beat Parnell right now is a ticket that unites moderate Republicans, independents and Democrats,” Moore said.

“If the Democrats put someone in the race now, it dooms the Democrats and independents and instantly reelects Parnell,” he said.

Word is that the Democratic Party is none-too-happy about the possibility and has been trying to pressure Wielechowski to abandon the idea. But the party doesn’t really have that much leverage these days. Its numbers are down. Campaign finance reform that the Dems pushed for has greatly limited its fundraising ability. And its bench of candidates is dismally short.

If nothing else, it would be fun and could provide the kind of excitement that Parnell seems incapable of generating.

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Washington Post sold to founder

The media world is being rocked by news that the Washington Post has been sold to founder Jeffrey P. Bezos, ending the Graham family’s more than 40 year ownership. Bezos will pay $250 million in cash for The Post. No word on the fate of the other products owned by the Washington Post Co., including Slate, Foreign Policy, and The Root. This follows the sale of the Boston Globe to billionaire Red Sox owner John Henry, which was announced on Saturday.

Why the Washington Post sale?

“Our revenues had declined seven years in a row,” writes Don Graham, CEO and chairman of The Washington Post Co. “We had innovated and to my critical eye our innovations had been quite successful in audience and in quality, but they hadn’t made up for the revenue decline. Our answer had to be cost cuts and we knew there was a limit to that. We were certain the paper would survive under our ownership, but we wanted it to do more than that. We wanted it to succeed.”

Read more here.

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The GOP and Obamacare

From The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein on Obamacare:

The current crop of Republican strategies ask conservative congressmen to hurt their constituents and their political prospects, conservative governors to hurt their states, and conservative activists to hurt themselves. It’s a kamikaze mission to stop Obamacare … But behind all of it is a mounting desperation. Obamacare beat a filibuster. It beat the right’s legal challenge. Its namesake beat the Republican Party’s nominee for president. Come 2014, it will start helping millions of Americans afford health insurance, and come the 2016 election it will have been delivering health care to tens of millions of Americans for almost three years. That’s not the kind of program that just goes away in American politics.

Read more here.


Walker goes Independent and Wielechowski takes his time

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker is now Independent candidate Bill Walker. Walker thinks that he’ll have an easier time bypassing the primary and challenging Parnell as an Independent, and he’s likely right.

Parnell’s numbers are strong. A recent poll conducted by local pollster Marc Hellenthal shows Parnell’s approval rating is 57 percent positive and 26 percent negative.

Where Parnell could be vulnerable is on oil taxes. Hellenthal said that his poll showed that roughly as many people would vote for a candidate who would support repeal of the oil tax bill than a candidate who wouldn’t support repeal. However, 22 percent are undecided.

That’s a lot of undecided voters and a big opportunity to change some minds. And the next legislative session will likely provide that opportunity. Because of the tax break, the state will likely be facing a deficit. Oil production will not have increased, and the opportunities for talking points and great campaign ads will be numerous, on both sides of the issue.

Because Walker has been more focused on issues surrounding a natural gas pipeline than on oil taxes and has never fully embraced the repeal crowd, there’s also room for a Dem in the race to take on that issue. Both Democratic Sens. Bill Wielechowski and Hollis French are considering a run. Wielechowski, whose seat isn’t up, has less to lose than does French. However, French has a strong challenger in Rep. Mia Costello. And he can only run in one race.

Wielechowski, apparently not an Andrew Marvell disciple, said that “there’s plenty of time.”

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