Best and worst of Alaska politics in 2014

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:Don Young yucking it up

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:

Worst television political ad: Mark Begich’s Jerry Active ad. By now, most of us have heard about the infamous ad made by Mark Begich’s campaign. Many lower-48 pundits said that this is the ad that cost him the race. I wouldn’t and didn’t go that far, but it certainly didn’t help.

Best political spokesperson: There was lots of competition for this category. On the campaign front, Lindsay Hobson did a great job for her father’s winning gubernatorial campaign. Fred Brown, albeit a short run before relocating to Arkansas to help Tom Cotton’s winning senatorial campaign, did a great job for Mead Treadwell’s senate campaign. And Mike Anderson’s earnestness served Dan Sullivan’s Senate campaign well.

Worst political spokesperson: Remember this?

Best government flack: On the “official” side, Sen. Murkowski’s Matt Felling and Sen. Begich’s Josh Stewart were top shelf. And state Senate majority’s Carolyn Kuckertz is a real workhorse.

Best political decision: Creation of the Unity ticket.

Worst moment for a politician: This one has to go to Rep. Don Young, who managed to offend high school students by nonchalantly referring to bull sex when talking about gay marriage, and then went on to speak nonchalantly about suicide, while many of the students were still mourning a classmate’s recent suicide. All of this on one visit.

Worst political decision: This one is a tie. One of them goes to the decision made by Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration to withhold the media’s FOI requests on the National Guard documents. The second was Hollis French’s decision to drop out of the governor’s race and run for lite governor. He ended up with neither and gave up his Senate seat to boot.

Worst political expenditures: The two really bad expenditures that we know about so far were the Parnell’s campaign purchase of pre-emptive radio time to save a few dollars–which meant that most of it got knocked off the air–especially in a year where the Senate campaign alone spent more than $60 million. And then there’s Ketchikan legislative candidate Chere Klein’s purchase of Christmas cards with campaign funds well before the Nov. 4 election, which she lost.

Most promising new legislator: Adam Wool, from Fairbanks, because an intelligent pro-business Democrat is a valuable and rare breed.

Best decision made by voters: Not to repeal SB 21. Had the voters chose not to reject repealing SB 21, and to revert the state back to ACES, the state would be tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars poorer now, due to declining oil prices and budget-busting credits.

New legislator most likely to hit the ground running: Mat-Su/Chugiak’s Cathy Tilton. As a legislative staffer in both the Senate and the House, she has a good understanding how the Legislature works. The past two years, she helped her boss, Rep. Mark Neuman, write two of the more complicated operating budgets for both the Department of Health and Social Services and the Department of Transportation.

Best campaign manager: Ben Sparks who ran Dan Sullivan’s campaign. He successfully built a statewide organization and grassroots campaign that delivered the votes on Election Day.

Best campaign consultant: The best campaign consultant doing business in Alaska this year was D.C.-based Mike Dubke with the Blackrock Group who directed Dan Sullivan’s win over Sen. Mark Begich. Locally, the best consultant was Art Hackney who won all his races: Bill Stoltze’s Senate bid, the re-elections of Reps. Gabrielle LeDoux and Lynn Gattis, and the Bristol Bay Forever Initiative. He also ran the pro-Sullivan Alaska-based super-PAC. Hackney was brought into the Parnell campaign in the 12th hour, but it was too little too late.

Biggest underrated political force in Alaska: Bob Gillam, the force behind the Bristol Bay Forever Initiative, which created a nearly impossible permitting process for the development of Pebble Mine and which passed by about 65 percent of Alaskans at the ballot box. It should be noted that when Gillam started his fight against the Pebble Mine in 2006, more than 70 percent of Alaskans supported it. Through pure will, and lots of money, Gillam went to work to fight the biggest mining companies in the world. He fought them at political conventions, with end-user jewelry companies, in the courts, before the state Legislature, at corporate shareholder meetings, at the federal regulatory level, before APOC and at the ballot box.

Worst run state department: The Department of Health and Social Services has to take this one, if for nothing else because of the way the department mismanaged the Medicaid management payment system, which left health care providers all across the state in near ruins.

Best dressed: Former Gov. Sean Parnell won this one last year, because he’s always so neat and tidy. However, this year it goes to Sen. Bert Stedman, who for years now, shows up in a three-piece suit. But it’s the pocket watch that really does it.

Best shoes: Nobody yet has managed to kick out Sen. Lesil McGuire in the footwear (21)

Worst direct mail campaign: Former GOP head Randy Ruedrich’s independent expenditure committee’s effort to help boost Parnell’s campaign. He spent lots of money on direct mail. The flood of ObamaCare pieces he sent out did little to move independents and Democrats to the governor’s column.

Worst political family event: The Palin family birthday brawl wins this one by longshot. Or should we say long-punch?

Best new capital city restaurant: Legislators and lobbyists often complain about the limited number of good restaurants in Juneau. Now they can put a sock in it. Salt, in the old Zephyr’s location, has arrived. Their crab soup is to die for.

Parnell cabinet member who best landed on their feet after leaving the administration: Former DNR commissioner now Sen.-elect Dan Sullivan wins this one. His successor, Joe Balash, and now Sullivan’s chief of staff, didn’t do too badly either.

Biggest special-interest winner: AFL-CIO wins this for helping to orchestrate the creation of the Unity ticket.

Biggest special interest loser: NEA-Alaska. In a year of contentious issues involving education and school choice, NEA – Alaska just can’t seem to get their candidates across the electoral finish line.

Best legislative staffer: As was true in 2013, so was true in 2014. Tom Wright, who works for House Speaker Mike Chenault, rules the roost. His experience and institutional memory of the Legislature is unmatched. And it doesn’t hurt that he has a temper and knows how and when to use it.

Biggest winners in the 2014 election cycle: The TV stations. With over $60 million being spent in the U.S. Senate race alone, Alaska’s TV stations had record revenues, charging super-PACs and independent expenditure committees huge sums for their 30 second TV ads.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


42 thoughts on “Best and worst of Alaska politics in 2014

  1. AH HA

    That ‘Scott Kawasaki’ impression by Don Young was even better than Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin Impression.

  2. XYZ

    Amanda Coyne – Best political reporter and news source hands down. You broke more political stories than any other news source in Alaska. The Alaska Dispatch should be embarrassed if they compared their political coverage to yours. Not only did they break few stories, I felt their coverage was sophmoric, biased and seldom offered any institutional perspective. To think that they had a full newsroom and editorial staff to put up against you, they failed miserably. Unlike Ms. Rogoff who must have been born with a silver spoon stuck in her, you’ve worked hard to provide a good product. Also unlike Ms. Rogoff, you are respected and people don’t laugh at you behind your back. Amanda Coyne, you’ve done a great job keeping us informed. You are the best political reporter of 2014. You are the best political blog and news source of 2014.

  3. SoPolSoAnc

    How abouit a PETTY PRINCESS AWARD ?
    And the award goes to …………………
    Lisa Murkowski for her refusal to support the Republican gubernatorial ticket because they supported the Republican nominee for senate 4 years earlier. A lot of us, Republican party stalwarts, will remember her slight 2 years from now. I think in 2 years, Lisa Murkowski will be unemployed. It’ll be great to have the Murkowski’s not representing us anymore. They are an arrogant elitist family that we can do without.

  4. Ginger

    You should have created a category for most deceptive politician. In my estimation, Mark Begich would have won hands down. I supported Mark but was disgusted with his gamesmanship, deceit and political spin. He basically lied during the campaign too much for my taste.

  5. SouthPaw

    Chris – My son went to school with her son as well. I have seen her come in waves of being involved then being absent. Same as her public service. When she’s on, she’s on. What she does in her personal time and as a parent isn’t any of our business though. It’s what she does when she is supposed to be on the clock, representing the people who live in her district. She does NOT do that. Unless she is representing those who don’t care to show up to meetings on time or stop popping pills and drinking long enough to even appear to be sober enough to be at work or in public. She’s a mess and she needs help. She’s young enough that she doesn’t have to throw her future away. She needs to stop embarrassing herself, her family and her colleagues and just get herself into rehab.

  6. Amanda Post author

    AH HA: Thanks much. Frankly, I think many readers come here as interested in what you and Lynn Willis and Jon K and Garand Fellow and a few of the anonymous folks have to say as for me. Thanks so much for helping me out here.

  7. Naked Mabel

    I enjoy your blog, and thank you for including me as it gave my campaign some viability. I was successful in winning more votes than had been expected for being a progressive in a very conservative district.
    I was able to run a zero waste campaign donating funds to AWAIC.

  8. Anonymous

    Such strong words. First, your assertions are based on…? You speak as if you’re a knowledgeable source. More like a bitter person who is envious of another’s life. Get over yourself and stop attacking others.

  9. Chris Sture

    Sure seems like a lot of haters like to cast aspersions on Sen. McGuire behind their cloak of anonymity. Jealous? Probably. She’s an attractive smart young lady. She is also an involved parent at our elementary school and comports herself well. Keep your negativity to yourself.

  10. AH HA

    Most undersized Media Business:

    Amanda Coyne

    This Blog generally only covers Political happenings but has built a statewide reputation for unbiased reporting that is absolutely refreshing to read. Because Amanda tends to stick to politics, I generally get news at other sources as well and on many occasions after having read and re-read an article at a different source my first thought would be ‘I don’t think I can trust this…’ I wonder how this article would read if Amanda Coyne had her name on the byline?

    Amanda: The Alaska News Market is begging for high quality unbiased reporting…and to be frank, I think a lot of advertisers are hanging their hats at other sources as a last resort.

  11. Anonymous

    You’re as delusional as she is. She needs to leave the senate and get healthy. Showing up to work under the influence is not okay-any job, anytime. Forget higher ethical standards for lawmakers and lawyers, of which she is both. You can throw away greatness with addictions. And you don’t know the truth about her compass if you think she’s moral. Get your head examined!

  12. KR

    I usually enjoy reading the many and varied comments. Many of the commenters are very bright, well-oinformed individuals and represent the gamut of political philosophy and positions. The comments I like least are the mean-spirited ones. I find it ironic that people chirp about Sen. McGuire’s drinking; yet, I never hear similar criticisms about her male colleagues. Most people I know occasionally drink too much. What I do know about Sen. McGuire is that she is hardworking, tenacious, articulate and smart. I’m glad she is in our state senate and feel that she has a better moral compass than many of her male colleagues. Be fair and quit the cheap, mean-spirited jabs.

  13. AH HA

    @Jonk; I agree that Dermot is a pretty smart guy and that he does have a history of pretty good reporting. It seems to me that Dermot’s recent reporting reflects the employer that he is working for…Not necessarily his fault.

    Perhaps Amanda will hire him?

  14. Shattered

    Opinion supported by facts. It’s a dangerous combination.

    I have a question. I seem to recall reading that the oil industry spent something in the neighborhood of $17 Million in advertising against the repeal of SB 21. Why did they do that? Why do they care what’s best for the State? I assumed they would be more concerned about what is best for their profitability.

  15. Madge

    Worst CAMPAIGN FAILURE: Chris Tuck (Bernadette’s baby daddy) using campaign funds at the Alaska Bush Company and giving his state plates to his girlfriend for her car-who has a thing for guys with power and/or money. Funny she landed with a guy with neither. (cue depressing music)

    WORST DRUGGIE-Lesil. Lesil. Lesil. It’s not all vodka folks. Xanax mixed with vodka, mixed with a white powder substance that keeps you up for days of partying while out of town…..that’s where it’s at. It’s hard to remember what husband is which when you’re high as a kite. Yep, people notice Ms. McGuire. Time to go to rehab, please don’t say no, no, no.

    Biggest local FLOP goes to Tiger Hellgensen and his new cheating wife Elizabeth, trying to break into the political scene. What’s sad is they watched the real dad go to jail, pay child support, suffer alone while they move to Alaska to “start over” with kids in tow. Could Elizabeth be the next Lesil? Let the dysfunction begin. Grab the popcorn.

  16. Andy


    Did you read the anonymous ( get a blog name dude…or dudette ) blurb about Lesil dropping out , forcing Sean into excepting a lesser running mate? Wow… he calming that Sean would have won with Lesil ? Talk about a bizarre conclusion.

    Lesil did not run because she had zero support. Why no support you ask? Your blog statement is correct, many sessions have been disrupted due to her absence , causing all sorts of consternation due to her leadership positions. Lack of showing up for your paid position due to an alcoholic stupor or wedding announcements is very unprofessional.
    Hissy fits, cat fights and public melt downs are childish behavior.

    That is why the public does not support her. Being best buddies with Mr. Sheffield is not the only requirement for election to high office positions. Showing up to meetings sober, with good shoes or not, is a bare minimum….very sad and shameful indeed.

  17. Garand Fellow

    Now that I look at it I see I did not attribute that too long statement to myself. Happy New Year from Garand Fellow.

  18. Anonymous

    Ms. Coyne, I agree with most of your best and worst but I am fascinated by many other aspects of Alaska politics during the year just ended. Mark Begich lost his own race but he brought (or bought perhaps) an upset in the gubernatorial race. The mess he left in Anchorage, especially unsupportable union contracts, created the problems Mayor Sullivan fell on his sword to fix. That made Big Labor take out after the Parnell-Sullivan ticket, and along with the Begich Brothers create the Unity Ticket. Labor said they had nothing against Parnell, even said he was good at creating jobs, but Mayor Sullivan scared them silly. Parnell had no choice as to running mate of course; Lesil dropped out, Mead decided to go for the US Senate, etc. The Parnell campaign never knew what hit them. This was unique and remarkable, and may deserve some sort of mention.

    The Begich campaign also sought and found candidates for legislative races and directed money to them. The Sullivan campaign did none of this on the Republican side so far as I know or have heard. I hope we never again have that kind of money pour into Alaska and shape the political landscape.

    I agree that Joe Miller came back. He never could have won the senate seat but he won all the debates I saw, and beating Mead Treadwell was redeeming for Old Joe.

    Mead Treadwell missed an incredible opportunity as an attendee of the CT grade school that had the terrible shootings in not speaking to the nation about the futility of gun control. Had he used the spotlight placed upon him momentarily as a state lt. gov. who had strong ties to that school and that small town he would have endeared himself to Alaska Republicans.

    Defeating Ballot Measure 1 required a surprising grass roots effort. The majorities in the legislature deserve much credit so far as what was on the ballot and when. There are some sore losers now operating in the Walker administration, and it will be fun to see how all that works.

    The purchase of the Anchorage Daily News and use of its successor to defeat Governor Parnell is notable. I suspect in most states power like that would cost a lot more money.

    I take my hat off to the marijuana ballot people. Without money or influence they won quite handily. I flipped a coin before voting on that one.

    Yes, Bob Gillam is the stealth political king maker. The Pebble Mine owners have been badly outclassed and they have wasted a ton of money in Alaska. The world mining industry can see how challenging development in Alaska can be. Is this really all because Gillam owns a lodge?

    The education lobby just doesn’t get it. They are the most spoiled constituency in Alaska. Big Labor spits when anyone mentions the Alaska Education Association. Most Alaskans might rather entrust their children to the oil industry than to AEA.

    The state Retirement Management Board pushing back against legislative power and obtaining a $3 billion deposit against the past-due PERS & TRS liability, and trouncing the Permanent Fund in returns for the past 2 years deserves recognition.

    How about the state revenue forecasters missing the severe and relatively sudden drop in oil prices? Will the new administration and legislators now be able to buy the price uptick those same forecasters claim will happen? Is that forecast adequate cover to drain the SBR and CBR (when the Sources Book missed this drop)? Do those forecasters deserve some sort of award?

    Finally, I am compelled to mention one unsung hero of the national scene this year. That is the National Rifle Association. That outfit saved America in 2014. Here is how: Without the NRA there would be only limited private firearms ownership in the United States today. By the time something like the Heller decision came along, if it ever would have absent the NRA, the decision would have been something like the Second Amendment authorizes the National Guard. And if there was not strong private ownership of firearms in America today then President Barrack Hussein Obama would have telegraphed to the rioters and looters in places like Ferguson, MO that they should not burn their own communities but should instead head to the suburbs. All that kept Obama and Sharpton from doing that is the ability of working class Americans to defend their homes and families. Lawless looters torching small town America would be shot. In small town and suburban America people don’t gather to torch their neighbors, they rush to help put out the fire. That is why the National Rifle Association will soon have its 5 millionth member. Sam Colt made all men and women equal, but it took the NRA to allow us to understand that.

    By the way, we did not see them in Alaska because here all candidates supported the Second Amendment but the NRA had some of the best and most compelling political ads in 2014.

    Thank you Amanda Coyne for your great reporting and hard work this year.

  19. Lynn Willis

    Most threatened group of Alaskans at the end of 2014: Those not yet born whose benefit from the extraction of non-renewable resources was seriously jeopardized over the past decade by a woefully incapable group of Alaska elected officials.

    Most ill-served group of Alaskans at the start of 2015: All of us who must depend on the current secretive caucus legislative process which grants defacto veto power to senior legislators who can simply refuse to hear any bill.

    Most useless job skill to possess in the future as Alaskans realize what has been done to them by those in power: A thorough knowledge of the Alaska legislative process coupled with a intolerant political philosophy, a sense of entitlement, and a bad temper.

    Still the best place to live, still with a tremendous potential: Alaska

  20. Jon k

    Because he is (was) one of the state’s best reporters but he consistently misleads his readers on oil and gas issues. Nearly all of Dermot’s SB 21 articles are opinion pieces and they get run as hard news.

  21. Truth Teller

    Biggest Special Interest Loser: while I agree that NEA-Alaska did poorly at making an impact at the ballot box, Bradford Keithley’s independent expenditure committee that targeted a handfull of relatively weak legislators failed to eliminate even one of them. Keithley had the issue on his side, had the money, had weak legislators in his sights and failed to take out even one. This had to make him the biggest loser hands down.

  22. SouthPaw

    McGuire gets best shoes and the drunkest, most embarrassing mess that has hit the chambers of the Senate in decades. Floor sessions delayed to allow her to sober up, her vote may have been needed when she was drowning in a bucket of vodka at the Viking, she was absent from caucus meetings because she was recovering from a heavy night of boozing in hidden dive bars all over town (as not to be recognized – nice try) and enjoys a good boogie in the disco tech in some foreign country on the state’s dime. But she sure does have purdy shoes!

  23. J.R.Myers

    Best wishes to Amanda for 2015 and beyond. I missed you at the United for Liberty gathering and recognition awards at the Cuddy’s tonight. I was hoping to glean your insight on the evening.

  24. Casey Chapman

    2014 was most entertaining. I particulary enjoyed the following:

    Dan Fagan’s return
    Alaska’s best politicians underestimate The Other Dan Sullivan
    Breast feeding is sexy
    Pregnancy tests in bars
    Kawasaki gets caught on camera
    Treadwell announces he’ll only raise money in Alaska
    Charles C Johnson threatens AK politicians but flames out
    Parnell had it in the bag, until he didn’t
    Baltrami calls out Stieren for working with Dan Sullivan and Democrats attack
    Joe Miller sets himself up for 2016
    Conservative Patriot Group dissolves and Alaskan Republican Assembly forms
    Cruz and Romney visit AK
    Parnell couldn’t find a single item to veto
    Bernadette’s voice, love life, and passion for Treadwell
    Begich had the best ground game ever assembled, until he didn’t
    The Alaska Agreement
    Mayor Dan soon becomes The Other Dan Sullivan
    ARWC supported all R senate primary candidates as long as the candidate’s name was Mead
    Brad Keithley spent $200K of his own money
    Democrats didn’t fundraise for Forrest Dunbar and blew a good chance to win

    I don’t think 2015 will be this good, but 2016 will have it all.

  25. Twig

    Good call on best radio ad. Gattis’ radio was brilliant. It cut thru the clutter, made people laugh and did a ton to support the candidate’s name.

  26. Art

    And what about Brad Keithley and his much ballyhooed campaign against Gabrielle LeDoux, Lance Pruitt, Geran Tarr, Matt Claman and Mia Costello? Some of the most expensive ignored political messaging created per-capita.

  27. CPG49

    The best political reporting: Amanda Coyne.
    The best political blog/news site:
    The best political writer in Alaska: Amanda Coyne
    The best political columnist: Amanda Coyne
    Thank you for all you do Amanda.

  28. Jon K

    Biggest Untold Story: in 2013, our utilities convinced legislators and others that Cook inlet was running out of gas, that we should prepare for rolling blackouts, and that we were going to have to import LNG or CNG at 3 times the cost. One year later, after an infusion of capital and the arrival of new companies, we have had old fields brought back to life and several major discoveries. Consequently, we now have so much stranded gas that at least three different companies are looking to build new LNG facilities to liquefy the gas and move it to Fairbanks and rural Alaska; Conoco reopened its LNG facility and resumed shipments of cargo to Japan; Agruim is looking to reopen; and the Railbelt utilities now have plenty of gas into 2018 and will be entering into long term contracts over the next year with prices that are likely lower than what they are paying today. How did this happen? Bipartisan legislation that changed the cook inlet fiscal regime and attracted new investment coupled with DNR Dan Sullivan’s relentless pursuit of companies and investors. We often focus on government incompetence and failures, but this is an example of where government worked.

    Biggest Untold Story #2. Over the past several years the North Slope has seen a huge uptick in drilling, new companies, and record levels of employment. Capital spending has increased dramatically and is expected to continue to rise over the next two years. We now have 15 different companies on the north slope pursuing exploration or development programs. The TAPS throughput decline has been arrested. The legacy producers are finally investing in new production in the legacy fields. New rigs are coming to the slope. We had the best lease sale in decades. New companies like Caelus, Hilcorp, and Brooks Range are moving fields into production. Thanks to Point Thomson, the Eastern North Slope is finally opening up – check out how much acreage was acquired in the last two lease sales and the amount of exploration activity that is planned for 2015. Conoco continues to pursue new projects in the NPRA. Great Bear, Repsol, Nordaq, and Royale are going after new plays. Independents are also finally able to access lower cost capital – Alaska is back on the map, which means there are groups looking to invest. As a result over the past two years the cost of capital has dropped from around 18 percent to 8 percent. There are several reasons for why the North Slope is thriving, but one major reason is SB 21. The amount of activity, the level of investment, the diversity of players, and the arrival of the capital markets is a reason for hope. Just don’t tell Dermot Cole.

  29. Pat Race

    Best Policy Blog News Thing: Amanda Coyne

    Thanks for your coverage, insight, opinion, gossip and curation of diverse comments. You’re doing excellent work and I know a lot of people around the state who deeply appreciate it.

    Also, did you know there’s apparently a gigantic freshwater lake in the middle of the Arctic Ocean? Fascinating. Beaufort Gyre.

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