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:
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 department.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org