From the Sarah Palin family brawl, to profiles of Alaska’s first ladies, from oil taxes to the natural gas pipeline, from the Senate race to politicians sharing childhood Christmas memories, here are my top 11 favorite stories on this blog from 2014. If you click on any of the links below, make sure to scroll down to read the comments. To the extent that I’m proud of what I’ve done, it’s that I’ve attracted some really smart people on this site who put a lot of time into trying to inform the public, me included. Thanks so much for that. Happy New Year to all.
In news that doesn’t surprise anybody, the Juneau Empire reports that Gov. Bill Walker will not put into play tactics to delay commercial marijuana.
Roll Call has a great piece about how although the professional pollsters and prognosticators got North Carolina’s Senate race wrong, the real tea-leaves could be found on twitter.
My take on the best and worst of 2014 Alaska politics here. Make sure to read the comments, many of which are more interesting than what I came up with.
Gov. Bill Walker released a letter that delegates his authority to Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott on any lawsuit he took part in against the state, pointedly mentioning Point Thompson. The new AG Craig Richards, who was Walker’s law partner, also similarly delegated authority earlier this month.
The Business Insider has the postmortem on the oil market’s first casualty. It turns out that it is a Texas LNG terminal plan, but it could have implications for other LNG export projects.
The Peninsula Clarion announced that the Alaska Legislature has a new snazzy website that will do something the older version couldn’t: automatically resize the format to fit the different types of devices that are commonly utilized now.
Because making lists appears an imperative for opinion writers and bloggers everywhere, I tried my hand at it, culling together the best and worst of Alaska politics and government in 2014, with some random mentions thrown in. It was a tough one, because it was such an exciting year for us political junkies. And there are no doubt things left out and things people will disagree with. And no doubt, you’ll let me know if you do. But as Rep. Don Young put it in one of his finer moments this year:
Best political radio ad: The best radio ad of the Alaska campaign cycle was created for Rep. Lynn Gattis’ campaign. The ad was produced by Hackney & Hackney advertising. Who would have thought that “skinning rabbits with their bare teeth” would be a winning political message? Listen here:
Best television political ad: This is a tie between Dan Sullivan for Senate ad featuring Wayne Woods who lost his son in combat in the Middle East, and the pro-Mark Begich super-PAC Put Alaska First’s ad featuring a breast cancer survivor. The first made the list because of its obvious emotional punch. The second because of the punch, and because of the fact that it was one of the few, if not only, ads to run in the election cycle touting the benefits of ObamaCare. Watch them both here: Continue reading →
Gawker has the latest on the House Minority Whip’s speaking gig at a David Duke organized conference in 2002 on behalf of EURO, an organization which has been identified as anti-Semitic by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti Defamation League. How he’ll play the ‘I didn’t know I was speaking to a bunch of racists’ card will be interesting in the days to come.
In actual Alaskan news, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports that AIDEA is considering giving MWH a three months extension on their deadline to get the LNG trucking project in order, if there is order to be found, which is seeming increasingly unlikely. Don’t blame AIDEA, however. The LNG trucking program was the brainchild of the Legislature, not of the agency. And things tend to go bad for AIDEA projects when politics gets involved.
The State Supreme Court invalidated the emergency bison hunt on Kodiak Island by declaring that Bison that roam off of their owner’s land are not feral and cannot be hunted, according to the Kodiak Daily Mirror.
Politico reports that AZ’s Sen. John McCain is being really smart about the state’s tea party, which censured him last year and hopes to replace him in 2016. His political team is “engaging in an aggressive and systematic campaign to reshape the state GOP apparatus by ridding it of conservative firebrands and replacing them with steadfast allies.” A certain senator might take note.
Gov. Bill Walker announced that he appointed Sheldon Fisher as the Commissioner of the Department of Administration, and that he re-appointed Mike Hanley as Commissioner of the Department of Education, who has been serving in that capacity since 2011. The release, below, has bio material on Fisher, who ran to the right against Rep. Don Young in 2010, and was most recently a COO for Bob Gillam’s McKinley Capital Management. But for those who want to know what Fisher’s like at home, watch the 2010 Dispatch video of him at home here.
Here’s the release:
Governor Bill Walker is pleased to announce the appointment of Sheldon Fisher as Commissioner of the Department of Administration.
“Sheldon has 20 years of management experience in the private sector that will be helpful in some of the challenges we have,” Governor Walker said. “He’s dealt with cost-cutting while increasing revenues. I’m very pleased to have Sheldon heading up the Department of Administration; it’s the center of state government operations.” Continue reading →
Charles Koch, the billionaire CEO of Koch Industries and the modern-day Machiavelli of American politics, sent shock waves through the country when he told the Wichita Eagle that he wanted to reform the criminal justice system. Politico was one of many media outlets that featured the story.
Eni Petroleum had a fire at their North Slope drilling project. Nobody was hurt and the fire will not halt continued operations.
Brazil’s Petrobras made history by producing 2,286,000 barrels of oil and NGL.
In underreported news, The Hill reports that U.S, Japan, and South Korea have signed a pact to more easily share information (spy secrets) about North Korea with one another.
Trident Seafoods is in talks to purchase Western Alaska Fisheries in Kodiak with a price tag of $37 million, so sayeth the Kodiak Daily Mirror.
CNN/ORC released a poll yesterday regarding support for prospective Republican presidential candidates. The Hill took that information and divided up the results into sections: the establishment candidate, Gov. Jeb Bush, is out with 23% support among Republicans and 10% more than 2nd place finisher: Gov. Chris Christie.
This Loose Lips is coming to you from Iowa, where all the nieces and nephews are good looking, and the siblings are above average, and where their U.S. senators might castrate pigs, but as far as I know, do not do things like jump into frozen waters, wearing a skirt. By now, many have seen and some have commented on the rather unflattering image that the Dispatch chose to use of Sen. Lisa Murkowski preparing to jump into those freezing Goose Lake waters last Monday to raise awareness of the Special Olympics. But the good news: she got more flattering coverage of the event on NBC’s Today Show Monday morning. And, according to TVEyes Media Monitoring, the local market viewership was 78,283 which amounted to a local publicity value of $4,516.75 for the thirty second spot.
Walker Administration buzz: Word is that former ACS executive Sheldon Fisher will be tapped to be commissioner of Administration. The appointment is expected to be announced on Monday. Fisher ran to the right of Rep. Don Young in 2010, in large part running on a family values platform. He got 24 percent of the primary vote. (Watch him at his home then here.) Most recently Fisher’s been a COO at Bob Gillam’s money firm McKinley Capital Management. In 2010, he and Gov. Bill Walker hosted a fundraiser at Walker’s home to raise funds in support of Alaska Family Council’s Parental Rights Initiative. Currently former DMV director Amy Erickson is acting commissioner.
People are also saying that Bill Popp, the CEO of the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation, has been interviewed for Commerce commissioner.
If Popp and Fisher make the cut, that’ll make a gaggle of men and only two female commissioners. Not that we’re counting or anything, but Gov. Sean Parnell at one time appointed five female commissioners. Continue reading →
Alaska’s new Attorney General, Craig Richards, has delegated authority of certain cases that he was working on as a private attorney which might be at odds with the state’s interests. In a public notice, Richards said that Chief Assistant Attorney General Martin Schultz, who is with the Oil, Gas, and Mining section of the Department of Law, will now handle those cases, which, among other things, involve property tax assessments of the trans-Alaska pipeline and litigation involving Point Thomson.
Richards was a partner with Gov. Bill Walker before Walker won the governor’s race. Their firm, Walker & Richards, filed a lawsuit in 2012 challenging the Point Thomson settlement between the state and Exxon, claiming that the state acted unconstitutionally when it settled the long-disputed field without legislative approval. Both Walker and Richards have been highly critical of the settlement, as has Robin Brena, the lawyer who is buying the law firm of Walker & Richards. Walker said on the campaign trail that as governor, he would drop out of the suit, which is now in front of the Alaska Supreme Court. On Dec. 1, Walker filed a “Substitute Counsel” motion with the court. As of Saturday night, it was unknown who took over the case for the firm.
Updated with press release from Gov. Bill Walker below: On the heels of a letter that the Legislature sent to Gov. Bill Walker imploring him to take immediate action to reduce the budget, Walker issued Administrative Order No. 271 on Friday night, demanding that agencies halt to the “maximum extent possible” discretionary expenditures for the following projects:
Kodiak Launch Complex
Knik Arm Bridge
Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline project (AKA the bullet line.)
The order demands that the agencies in charge of the projects not incur additional spending, including hiring new employees, entering into new contracts, and not to spend any unobligated funds from state, federal or any other sources.
The governor is also demanding that agencies produce discretionary-spending reports and other information, such as project-operating costs, by Jan. 5.
Alaska’s legislative leaders in both the House and the Senate sent a letter to Gov. Bill Walker on Dec. 24, urging him to take immediate action in cutting the budget, including calling for a travel and hiring freeze. That letter was released to the public today.
Walker responded with his own letter to legislators, thanking them for their recommendations. Walker said that his administration had already been considering many of their suggestions, and that he wouldn’t call for the implementation of his own until after Jan. 1. Read his letter here.
Walker also sent out a release today, announcing that he was asking his commissioners to identify potential cuts in their departments by January 10 and to “look at the potential effects of a 5-percent and 8-percent cut.”
He will also send out a survey where state employees can weigh in anonymously to identify government inefficiencies. (Note to state workers: This blog is a good place to do so also.)
The public is invited to weigh in here. Those who offer the top five suggestions will be invited to a private lunch with Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott. Continue reading →
Leaders of the Alaska state Legislature wrote a letter to Gov. Bill Walker, urging him to immediately enact policies to cut the budget.
The letter was signed by Senate President Kevin Meyer, Speaker of the House Mike Chenault, incoming Senate Finance Co-Chairs Senators Anna MacKinnon and Pete Kelly and House Finance Co-Chairs Representatives Steve Thompson and Mark Neuman. The letter calls on the governor to, among other things, implement a hiring freeze, restrict non-essential travel, and re-appropriate unused capital funds. It also calls on Walker to introduce amends to the operating budget as soon as possible instead of waiting until the statutory deadline of February 18.
Some legislators that I’ve spoken with have been surprised that the governor hadn’t taken on some of these initiatives on his own according shortly after taken office on Dec. 1.
The Peninsula Clarion has a doozy of a story about the use of a “working title” instead of his official title with Alaska Department of Fish & Game on his resume that landed him a plum position with South Dakota’s Fish & Game department. There’s more, lots more to the story. Might I suggest some popcorn?
Seeking Alpha has a summary of how ConocoPhillips plans to expand in NPRA due to tax cuts.
Get ready to hear more Y’alls and colorful Texan sayings-and LIKE IT-because the New York Times was the first to crunch the numbers and realize that Texans will dominate the congressional committees in 2015.
The Department of Corrections claims that the only way to meet the 10% drop in budget the governor proposes is to close jails. This announcement comes on the heels of their annual audit that found systemic problems within the department.
A recent study backs Flint Hill’s argument that the EPA should be more lenient about how they measure the pollution around North Pole, according to the Dispatch.
The LA Times reports that the FDA is just now going to allow homosexuals to donate blood but only if they are celibate. The Huffington Post explains why the new, yearlong moratorium on gay men from their last sexual encounter before they can donate blood is dumb and discriminatory. Blood banks across the country are constantly screaming for blood donations. If you would like to give the gift of life this holiday season, contact the Blood Bank of Alaska.
Today Gov. Bill Walker signed a non-binding agreement with Japan-based Resources Energy, Inc., which, according to a Walker press release “is an extension of Alaska’s longstanding partnership with Japan in energy markets.”
The state already has such an agreement with REI, which is working with AIDEA on the planning stages of an LNG facility in the Kenai which will send LNG to Japan. The project is expected to cost about $2.5 billion, including the gas. The company also has an eye on North Slope gas. It has an office and staff in Anchorage. The state’s agreement with REI was set to expire at the end of this month.
The major difference between this one and the last agreement is that the governor’s signature will be on this one. “That was signed by the commissioner and this was signed by the governor,” Walker said at a press conference announcing the agreement.
Already Alaska has a few natural gas-related agreements with Japan. Last year, then-DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan signed one with the government-controlled Japan Bank. And in September, then DNR Commissioner Joe Balash signed one with the government of Japan.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner is reporting that Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins will be creating a working group to help write regulations regarding commercial marijuana, while Tribes are also carefully wading into marijuana policy.
APRN’s Liz Ruskin crunched the latest numbers to find that Democrat Mark Begich spent nearly $10 million, and Sen.-elect Dan Sullivan spent $7.6 million in the Senate race. She also writes how donors are still eager to give post-election.