Monthly Archives: October 2013

Senate candidate Treadwell’s latest campaign video

Senate candidate Mead Treadwell posted another campaign video on Tuesday, the same day that former DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan announced that he’s entering the race. This one, like the last, stays with the homespun theme. The video signals that he’s an average Alaskan who just wants to do good by his state and his country. Notice the slight stutter, the hesitancy, the reference to allergies in D.C., trying to turn what many view as a lack of charisma to his advantage.


Hollis French is running for lieutenant governor

From Alaska state Sen. Hollis French’s Facebook page:

“Politics is an odd combination of individual effort and team effort. I have stepped forward many times and enjoyed your support. Tomorrow I am taking a step back for the good of the team. I’ve decided to run for Lt. Gov and to support Byron Mallott for Governor. I will need your help. Byron will need your help. I firmly believe that Alaska will be better if we win. Go team!”

Mallott’s Anchorage campaign kickoff is today at 11:30 at the Discovery Theater.

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Dan Sullivan finally announces for U.S. Senate

In front of a crowd of about 60, former Alaska Attorney General and Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan at long last announced that he’s running for U.S. Senate, a fact that took few by surprise. For months, rumors have been swirling about his impending run.

Sullivan will be taking on Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and Joe Miller in the Republican primary. The victor will then go on to try to beat Democratic Sen. Mark Begich. Miller issued a press release welcoming the competition and Sullivan into the race. Shortly after his speech, Alaska’s Democratic Party sent out a release trashing Sullivan, calling him an “establishment” candidate who has the “stamp of approval from Washington insiders.”

At the announcement, Sullivan billed himself as the candidate who was both experienced and optimistic. A Marine and the tough “fighter” who can beat U.S. Sen. Mark Begich in the general election. The one who sees Alaska’s future as one that will help the rest of the country grow. The father of three young girls and the husband who is in love with his Athabascan wife. The one who can be both simultaneously detached and engaged enough to display to the audience that illusive quality best known as “charm.”

During his speech, Sullivan touched on the general themes of this campaign, mostly about how the state can take the lead on what he called the country’s “energy renaissance,” but didn’t get specific. How would he help try to save the government from impending financial collapse? What about the shutdown? Where does he stand on the hot button social issues? How is he different from his Republican rivals?

The answers have to wait for another day. For all the months that Sullivan had to plan for the announcement, for all of his supposed “establishment” credentials —  including being a former U.S. assistant secretary of state under President George W. Bush — apparently no planning went into answering media questions following his speech.

“There’s plenty of time to answering questions,” he said. “You know me,” he told members of the media. “I’ll answer your questions,” before walking away to talk to people in the crowd.

It’s true that since Sullivan took the job as attorney general in 2010, and then later as DNR commissioner, he’s been generally available to the media. The fact that he wasn’t on what could be the biggest day of his political career was puzzling.

Indeed, there’s time. The primary election is more than 9 months away. But one of the biggest issues for Sullivan will be differentiating himself from Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, who is running for lieutenant governor. It also doesn’t help that there’s another Dan Sullivan in Arkansas who is also running for U.S. Senate against a Democratic incumbent, a state whose postal code often gets confused with Alaska’s.

When Bill Clinton was running for president, some of his mail ended up at the post office in Hope, Alaska instead of his hometown in Arkansas.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


‘Trusted news’ source Maria Downey takes on GCI

Maria Downey, a longtime anchor with KTUU Channel 2 News, entered the fight on her Facebook page between her station and cable company GCI. GCI is threatening to black out the NBC affiliate in rural areas if the two can’t come to an agreement on fees that GCI would pay KTUU to carry its content, including the news show where Downey works.

On her Facebook page, Downey calls the fight “unfortunate,” declares KTUU a “trusted” news source, and urges readers to go to for more information.She also makes allusions to the fact that the fight is transpiring as GCI is trying to get a station up and running that would directly compete with KTUU.

Some of the information that she points readers to are strongly worded press releases from KTUU claiming that GCI is holding its rural viewers “hostage,” and that GCI is using rural viewers as a “negotiating tactic.”

There are, of course, two sides to this story, which Downey doesn’t mention. In a nutshell: KTUU is demanding that GCI pay the station $2.5 million for its content, which until now has been free. KTUU says that it’s offering GCI use of its content for free until Dec. 2014 and that GCI is trying to lock in agreements for too long.

Here’s Downey’s Facebook post in full:

Hey gang, I am out of town and staying off Facebook but I felt I needed to respond to all of the concerned posts from our friends in rural Alaska and the other communities about GCI dropping Channel 2 from cable in some areas. It’s unfortunate that our faithful viewers are caught in the middle of this issue when all you want is to find out what’s happening in your state through a trusted source . Channel 2 has even offered not to charge GCI for using “our product” on it’s cable until Dec. 2014 out of consideration for our viewers. For more on this issue you can go to In the meantime I want to thank the hundreds of people we have heard from in support… From longtime viewers to officials and other respected journalists who have been expressing concern at a time when GCI is awaiting FCC approval to buy KTVA … We hope to keep coming into your homes everyday to share what’s happening around our state. Go to for more details and thanks again!”

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Robert Gibbs on ObamaCare exchange: ‘excruciatingly embarrassing’

I’ve been a supporter of ObamaCare, but it’s now been 14 days since the federal healthcare exchange has launched and it’s only been able to handle signing up more than a handful of people, at most. It’s probably the worst roll out of any core domestic presidential initiative in history. Former Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs called it “excruciatingly embarrassing.”  It’s more than that. It’s a stunning debacle.


Sarah Palin storms the gates

Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin followed the crowd and the cameras to appear at a protest in D.C. at the World War II Memorial on the National Mall on Sunday, where the crowd pushed past barriers to protest the memorial’s closing under the government shutdown.

Prior to the rally, she met with some of the architects of the government shutdown: Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee.

It’s unclear what they talked about, but it was unlikely that they discussed how the Veterans Affairs Department has furloughed almost 8,000 employees, half of whom are veterans. Or how they should do all that they can to open up the government so that servicemen can get their disability payments on time.

The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf has more to say on the subject:

[E]ven when the federal government is functioning normally, it fails to adequately care for the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, who are suffering from high rates of suicide, PTSD, and joblessness, in large part due to the wars of choice they were asked to fight and that conservatives, who are still allied with a faction of hawks urging even more wars of choice, overwhelmingly backed.

This, it probably goes without saying, will not change by storming the barriers to a monument in D.C.

Here’s Palin’s speech in full:

We were proud to stand with thousands of America’s vets and other patriotic Americans today in Washington, D.C. This morning, Todd and I met with Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, and they joined us and other Americans at the World War II Memorial and then at the Lincoln Memorial, where we were met by a SWAT team in full riot gear! Watching those who have fought to protect freedom prevented by barricades from visiting these memorials to freedom was truly heart wrenching. Seeing the unity of the American people as they joined together and rose up against this out of touch government was an inspiration. God bless our veterans, those who continue to serve, and their families.

I’ll be posting an album of some photos from today. Below are the brief remarks I gave today:

We’re here to show that the size of America’s heart for our veterans is immeasurable! But look around – barricades to shut down our memorials? Is this how a Commander in Chief expresses his gratitude? This “shutdown” priority proves a shameful lack of respect. It reflects a person’s lack of valor.

But, Vets, We the People have learned from you! We know America will only remain the “Home of the Free” so long as we are the “Home of the Brave!”

So, as we honor you, U.S. Military, know that our gratitude will not sleep! We will be brave! You were not timid, so we shall not be timid in calling out ANY who heart-wrenchingly would use you as pawns in a political game.

America’s finest paid the price for our freedom today. Vets, you protected us from tyranny then. Rest now, it is OUR turn to protect against tyranny again.

Ronald Reagan said, “Some people live an entire lifetime wondering if they ever made a difference in the world.” YOU, vets, need never ask that of yourselves. You made ALL the difference!

Our war memorials remind us of the cost to keep us free. YOU paid the price! Rest now! We will pick up the mantle. We won’t let you down. We now take up the fight for freedom!

Contact Amanda Coyne at


Thank God it’s Friday: The shutdown is a human condition edition

Thank God it's FridayThe government shutdown is now on its 11th day and doesn’t appear to be ending anytime soon. From many of our perches here in the far North, from thousands of miles away from the heart of the fighting, it can all look as abstract as a Pollock painting. All drips and splatters, until something that we recognize jumps out. A friend, perhaps, who doesn’t get a disability check. An uncle who’s a trying to get into a government-funded medical study. A trip to the social security office. A neighbor who can’t send her child to Head Start.

Others, like me, have no connection whatever to the shutdown and the abstraction remains until a good story catches our eye. And it becomes even more real when we’re confronted with a series of them.

The list compiled by Zack Fields, communications director for the Alaska Democratic Party, did this for me. It turned what I had been viewing as a political story into a human one.

I’ve taken the liberty of cutting and pasting Fields’ work for my Friday facts column. I don’t usually do this and I won’t make it a habit in the future. But it’s likely more of an exhaustive list than I could come up with. And I’m currently in Iowa visiting relatives, four of whom are under the age of 15. None of them are in danger of shutting down anytime soon.

Here’s the list of some of the stories about the human toll of the shutdown from around the state:

  • Veteran couple denied benefit claims [KTVA, 10/8/13]
  • Alaska quietly losing jobs as shutdown grinds on. [Anchorage Daily News, 10/6/13]
  • Homeless, Disabled Anchorage Veteran Turned Away From Veterans Benefits Office Due To Shutdown After Attempting To File A Claim For Medical Care. [KTVA, 10/8/13]
  • 35 Civilian Coast Guard Workers, Including Boating Safety Specialists, Planners & Administrators, Placed On Furlough Due To Shutdown. [Anchorage Daily News, 10/5/13]
  • Alaska National Guard Forced To Furlough 700 Federal Technicians Due To Shutdown. [Alaska Dispatch, 10/1/13]
  • Alaska military medical facilities’ services are being scaled back. [KTOO, 10/1/13]
  • Benefit claims for Alaska’s 74,000 veterans will be processed “at a much slower rate.” [KTOO, 10/1/13]
  • Nearly 25 Percent of Alaskans Face Financial Hardships in Government Shutdown” [KTUU 10/8/13]
  • Unemployment in Alaska rising due to shutdown [APRN 10/8/13]
  • Fishing guides, others, feel effects of shutdown. [Peninsula Clarion, 10/7/13]
  • Shutdown Put Crabbing Industry At Risk – Hundreds Of Fishermen Earn Half Of Their Annual Pay During Four-Week King Crab Season.  [NBC, 10/8/13]
  • Kenai Fishing Guide Reported Losing $1500 In Revenue Since Shutdown Due To Suspension Of Permits. [Peninsula Clarion, 10/7/13]
  • Furloughed Employees Struggle To Pay Bills. [KSTK, 10/7/13]
  • Wrangell Family, Impacted By Government Shutdown: ‘You Know, The Power Company Doesn’t Accept IOUs.’ [KSTK, 10/7/13]
  • Federal shutdown could delay crab fisheries. [KUCB, 10/4/13]
  • Commercial Operators Unable To Take New Clients To Hunting Spots Within National Parks. [KTUU, 10/4/13]
  • Government shutdown stops timber sales. [Associated Press, 10/4/13]
  • The U.S. Forest Service confirmed Friday it is shutting down logging operations on national forests across the country due to the partial shutdown of the federal government. [Associated Press, 10/4/13]
  • Local businesses feel impact of furloughs.  [Juneau Empire, 10/7/13]
  • KTUU: Furloughs Take a Toll on Alaska Families, Could Hurt Economy. [KTUU, 10/2/13]
  • Due to high percentage of federal workers, ‘Shutdown could have huge effects in Alaska.’ [APRN, 10/1/13]
  • Shutdown puts thousands in Alaska temporarily out of work, close National Park facilities, send air crash investigators home and shut down Head Start centers. [Anchorage Daily News, 9/30/13]
  • Shutdown places thousands of Alaskans on unpaid furloughs. [Anchorage Daily News, 9/30/13]
  • Coffee Shop Across From Juneau Federal Building Saw Downturn In Business – If Shutdown Continues, Employees May Be Let Go. [Juneau Empire, 10/7/13]
  • Furloughed Alaskans go home.  [KTVA, 10/1/13]
  • Shutdown Means Limited Access to Federal Lands in Alaska. [KTUU, 10/4/13]
  • Hunting In National Wildlife Refuges Prohibited Under Government Shutdown. [KTUU, 10/4/13]
  • Anchorage Social Security office is unable to process new Social Security cards, access records due to shutdown. [KTUU, 10/1/13]
  • Government Shutdown Expected To Delay Closing Process On Home Sales In Alaska. [KTUU, 10/4/13]
  • School Field Trips Cancelled As A Result Of BLM Property Shuttered Due To Government Shutdown. [KTVA, 10/1/13]
  • Government Shutdown Stalls Aviation Oversight.  [KTUU, 10/3/13]
  • Only 10 Out Of 172 Aviation Safety Inspectors In Alaska Remained On Job Due To Shutdown. [KTUU, 10/3/13]
  • Maintenance Of Automatic Systems To Monitor Geological Activity, Including Volcanoes, Had Stopped – If Shutdown Continues, ‘Eventually We’ll Start Seeing Some Serious Problems.’ [KTUU, 10/3/13]
  • Alaska NTSB plane crash investigators placed on furlough – incidents now being reported to skeleton FAA crew, attempting to operate 24-7 with just three employees. [Anchorage Daily News, 9/30/13]
  • Who Won’t Be At Work: Those Tasked With Enforcing Laws… [Alaska Dispatch, 10/1/13]

Contact Amanda Coyne at


Taxpayers pay $500 million for a healthcare exchange that doesn’t work

From Andrew Couts in Digital Trends:

“The site is so busted that, as of a couple days ago, the number of people that successfully purchased healthcare through it was in the “single digits,” according to the Washington Post…. But the fact that can’t do the one job it was built to do isn’t the most infuriating part of this debacle – it’s that we, the taxpayers, seem to have forked up more than $500 million of the federal purse to build the digital equivalent of a rock.”


Sarah Palin’s money-pit of a sports complex

According to the Anchorage Daily News, former Palmer Mayor John Combs resigned Wednesday as Wasilla’s recreation and cultural services director because someone ratted on him about having a few beers while on duty at a boxing event at the city’s sports center. Also, someone, perhaps the same person, reported him as a possible drunk driver after he left the event.

He wasn’t. He only registered .06. The limit is .08.

Apparently, Combs has an enemy or two. In March, members of the Wasilla City Council proposed firing Combs ostensibly to save his $90,000 a year salary. The amendment didn’t pass.

Wasilla grudges can be fascinating. But the most interesting part of the story was about the financial shape of the Wasilla Sports Complex. Alaskans might recall that in 2002, Wasilla passed a .5 percent sales tax to pay for what was then billed as a $14.7 million multi-use center. The measure passed by only 20 votes, 306 to 286.

One of the major proponents of the center was then Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin. She and a group of boosters sold it the public by assuring them that it would be profitable.

Getting the tax passed was one of her biggest achievements while mayor. The vote’s slim margin, Palin said, was proof of the city’s fiscal conservatism.

How’s it doing now? In 2010, the city subsidized the center at a cost of $800,000. Things haven’t improved much since, according to the ADN:

The Menard Center has struggled financially in recent years since it opened in 2005. The center’s total operating revenues peaked at $728,000 in 2007 and dropped to the lowest level, $544,000, in 2011 according to a July report from Wasilla finance director Troy Tankersley. Total operating expenses, however, swelled from $789,000 in 2005 to $1,169,000, a 49 percent increase.

At least now the city will save $90,000.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


Another prayer from Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black

Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black hasn’t stopped petitioning. Some might remember that last week, referring to the government shutdown, Black implored God to “save us from the madness.” Black was at it again on Wednesday morning. “Lord, when our federal shutdown delays payments of death benefits to the families of children dying on far-away battlefields, it’s time for our lawmakers to say enough is enough,” he prayed. Watch below.


Lester Lunceford: Down but not out in Whittier, Alaska.

Whittier It’s been a big news day. The wind whipped up on a few houses. The governor spoke to a business group in Wasilla. The Anchorage mayor gave up on plans to build a homeless housing project on the west side of town. President Obama gave a speech about the shutdown. And then there was the possibility of a big Lester Lunceford comeback.

Lester Lunceford, some of the readers of this blog might know, is the former, ousted mayor of Whittier, Alaska, which should not to be confused with Whittier, Calif., the sunny, vibrant, boyhood home of President Richard Nixon. Our Whittier is a dot of a town hugging Prince William Sound with about 220 residents, most of whom live in one of two buildings in the city. To get there, you have to drive through a 2.5 mile tunnel. In the winter, the city sees about 22 feet of snow every year. Our Whittier is filled with residents with very strong feelings about their town, particularly when the snow piles, the tunnel only opens part time, and the towers begin to feel like crypts.

Last winter, during one of those spates of strong feelings, the city council held a meeting where Lunceford and other council members allegedly violated the open meetings act by going into executive session to discuss the hiring of the new city manager.

Lunceford got recalled in July. Out of a total of 134 votes, Lunceford lost by 15.

Some politicians would have hung it up after getting recalled, moved to sunny Whittier, Calif. perhaps. Our Whittier’s Lunceford hung in there and began a write-in campaign for city council.

Last Tuesday, Oct. 2, when the polls closed, Lunceford appeared to have lost his bid, coming in third in a three-way race. Even I wrote a column wishing him well in his future endeavors.

Au contraire mon cheri! It appears that Whittier has not seen that last of Lester Lunceford. Turns out that Lunceford got half of the absentee votes cast for the council seat. At last count, according to Lunceford, it was Peter Denmark with 45, Lunceford with 25, and Arnie Arneson with 24. Because no one candidate got 40 percent of the vote, there will be a runoff election in three weeks, right about the time the snow begins to pile up.

One of Whittier’s political analysts, which would be me, thinks he has a shot.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


Up next: Natural gas taxes?

Natural gasLate last week at lunchtime, members of the Alaska state Senate leadership team were seen going into a private dining room at the Glacier BrewHouse in Anchorage. They were there for a meeting with Department of Natural Resources Acting Commissioner Joe Balash and Department of Revenue staffer Mike Pawlowski, also known as “Fish.”

The Senate Rules Committee Chair Lesil McGuire was noticeably absent. Was she busy with official legislative duties? Was she campaigning for her bid for lieutenant governor? Or was she simply not invited? Why do people call Pawlowski “Fish”? What was the group discussing? They weren’t likely discussing an oil tax overhaul. That, after all, is so last year. Natural gas taxes? Probably.

On Monday, ExxonMobil, BP, ConocoPhillips and TransCanada announced that the terminus to the mythical natural gas “big line” would be in Nikiski. Say what you will about the project bypassing Valdez, the fact that the three producers who don’t often agree on anything, agreed on this is kind of a big deal.

Embedded in the announcement was a message to the state: “A competitive, predictable and durable oil and gas fiscal environment will be required for a project of this unprecedented scale, complexity and cost to compete in global energy markets.” Translation: They also all agreed that they need a tax break on gas to build the line.

Currently, natural 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 and the producers aren’t going to invest up to $65 billion on a project that won’t result in a hefty profit.

However, even if all the evidence points to the fact that the producers actually do need a tax break to move forward, it’s unclear if legislators have the stomach for more talk of tax breaks for the producers.

A repeal of last legislative session’s oil tax break is still in the works and won’t be voted on until the primary election in August 2014. Taking this one on next legislative session might invigorate those who would repeal that tax.

Besides, creating the kind of “competitive, predictable and durable” tax regime takes tons of political capital from the governor’s office. And it’s unclear, in an election year, if Gov. Sean Parnell will have that much to spare.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


The roll of ‘moderate’ Republican House members

“If you look at members’ actions and votes instead of their statements, the number of Republicans in the House who favor a clean CR and oppose the Cruz-driven strategy of shutdown and hostage-taking is not 21. It’s 0.The entire House Republican caucus is responsible for its shutdown-based legislative strategy. The only difference among the members is that Tea Party conservatives have the decency to admit what they’re up to.”

Josh Barro, in the Business Insider.


Quote of the day: Michele Bachmann

“Your listeners, US taxpayers, are now paying to give arms to terrorists including Al Qaeda.This happened and as of today the United States is willingly, knowingly, intentionally sending arms to terrorists, now what this says to me, I’m a believer in Jesus Christ, as I look at the End Times scripture, this says to me that the leaf is on the fig tree and we are to understand the signs of the times, which is your ministry, we are to understand where we are in God’s end times history.”

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann in a radio interview on Saturday.