Loose Lips: Balash heads to D.C. Parnell without IT support. GOP establishment and tea party break bread.

Loose LipsJFK’s Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara once said that you can judge the quality of an administration by where the people go to work after they leave the administration. Using this standard, my hat is off to former DNR commissioner Joe Balash who, it’s said, will be joining Sen.-elect Dan Sullivan in D.C. as his chief of staff. Expect an official announcement soon. It’s an interesting choice for Sullivan. Although Balash doesn’t have D.C. experience, he worked under Sullivan at DNR and has long and deep experience in state government, which began in 1998. He’s worked for legislators, committees, and two governors. He’s smart, canny and knows Alaska politics, which is going to be really important to Sullivan who’s new to this game.

Speaking of former Parnell staffers: It’s been two weeks and they must already miss each other. A closed Facebook page has been established for Parnell alumni to stay in touch. As of Sunday night, 24 have joined.

Two of those staffers, Parnell speechwriter Suzanne Downing and former deputy commissioner for the AK DMVA McHugh Pierre were spotted having coffee on Friday at Café Del Mundo.

More from the Friday episode of “As the Café Del Mundo Turns:”  Wendy Chamberlain and mayoral candidate Dan Coffey were at another table, while at another sat Sen. Mike Dunleavy with Anchorage School Board member Natasha von Imhof, who is “seriously considering” running for state Sen. Lesil McGuire’s seat in 2016, who is rumored to be planning on not running again. Dunleay left and was replaced by Sen. Anna MacKinnon, the senator formerly known as Anna Fairclough. And Roger Shaw and his wife and new Walker administration deputy chief of staff Marcia Davis made a cameo. There was a thick plot somewhere in all of this, something that likely involved amnesia.

As his former staffers are commiserating over coffee and on Facebook, word is that the former governor has already rented office space where he’ll be hanging his shingle for legal and consulting work, and getting used to life in the private sector, which appears already to be challenging:

Sean Parnell facebook

(Just wait until he realizes how much he’ll have to pay in insurance premiums. Mine, through Premera with a $2,500 deductible, is increasing from $580 a month to $783 a month.)

Transition buzz

Suzanne Downing, the aforementioned Parnell speechwriter, and Heath Hilyard, whose name I have repeatedly misspelled in this columnwill serve as legislative staffers for freshman Rep. Cathy Tilton.

Randy Ruaro, Parnell’s Deputy COS, will be joining Sen. Bert Stedman’s staff in mid-January.

I haven’t heard much in the way of names slated to be special assistants in the governor’s office. The rumor, unconfirmed of course, is that the Walker – Mallott team may be reorganizing the management structure that governors have used for the past 35+ years in Alaska by eliminating the bevy of gubernatorial special assistants that act as a buffer between the governor and cabinet members. People with third-floor experience roll their eyes at this notion and all say something along the lines of “that’ll work, until it doesn’t.”

Speaking of special assistants: Craig Fleener is now one for the Arctic. The announcement came somewhat as a surprise because as far as I know, he’s never made anyone’s list of having any special or significant expertise on the Arctic and most thought he was slated for an appointment for a cabinet seat. However, word is that there were real concerns about his ability to get legislative confirmation as a cabinet member. Why special assistant to the Arctic? Why not former Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, who forgot more about the Arctic than most of us will ever know? Maybe it was this Facebook exchange about Russia that cinched it:

Landfield russia

craig fleener FB post russia

Fleener, who used to refer to himself as “Johnny Appleseed” will be replacing Stephanie Moreland who was doing double-duty as Parnell’s Arctic advisor and Deputy Commissioner of ADF&G. Moreland previously worked for U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

I had heard rumors that Gov. Walker was thinking of changing up his security detail, one of whom has been guarding governors for more than 30 years. Let’s put that rumor to rest: the governor’s spokesperson said that it wasn’t true.

End Transition Buzz

On Thursday, the Alaska chapter for Americans for Prosperity held a dinner. Read about what was said at the event here. A view from a table in the back of the room confirmed that the seemingly impossible was actually happening:—the tea party and the establishment GOPers could actually eat a meal together without a pie being thrown in someone’s face. Unity must be contagious. Legislators spotted: Reps. Shelley Hughes, Lora Reinbold, and Sen. Cathy Giessel. Others: former Lt. Gov. Loran Leman, UAA’s Forrest Nabors, KFQD’s Glen Biegel, former and current GOP chair Randy Ruedrich and Peter Goldberg, former Mead Treadwell staffer Cale Green, Judy Eledge, conservative activist Mike Coons, Anand and Shivani Dubey, Brett Huber, Wasilla Assemblywoman Gretchen O’Barr, everywhere woman Angelina Burney, Cheryl Fresca, and Jeannie and Frank McQueary, among others.

Who of AFP’s general ilk wasn’t there on Thursday evening? Anchorage Assemblywoman Amy Demboski held her second fundraiser for her mayoral candidacy that night. This one was held in her hood in Eagle River. Surprisingly, I heard absolutely nothing about it.

State candidates have until December 19 to continue to raise funds for the 2014 election cycle. Sen. Mike Dunleavy is taking advantage of the extra time. He’ll be holding a reception  having a fundraiser on Dec. 15, from 5:00-7:00 p.m. at the New Horizons Hanger in Palmer. The event will feature Sen.-elect Dan Sullivan. Also, on December 16, former Gov. Bill Sheffield will be hosting an event at his Susitna View home in Turnagain for the Walker-Mallott ticket.

Political and corporate D.C.-based pollster Bill Cromer was spotted in Anchorage this week. Word is that he was here on corporate work for ConocoPhillips.

A hand full of legislators and staff traveled to the Heart of Dixie, Alabama, this week for Energy Council. The Yellowhammer State’s governor, lt. governor and speaker of the house all turned out to show their enthusiastic support for the event and to greet Alaska Reps. Charisse Millett, Dan Sadler, and Eric Feige, who were there along with staffers Rena Delbridge and Tom Wright. Wait…Eric Feige was there? Did someone forget to tell him that he lost to Jim Colver, and as such, perhaps he shouldn’t be attending conferences on the state dime in this time of fiscal uncertainty?

Speaking of belt-tightening: A bunch of legislators and staff are off to D.C. for the National Council of State Legislators Fall Forum December 9 – 12. Registration fees for legislators and legislative staff are between $425 and $500 per person and that doesn’t include airfare, hotel or meals.

You won’t see many Alaska Republican senators in D. C. next week. Beginning December 11th, most of them will be at the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, where for two days they’ll hammer out their priorities and make plans for the upcoming session, which likely involve belt-tightening, and perhaps talk about how the state probably shouldn’t be paying for things like retreats at Alyeska.

Sunday, Pearl Harbor Day, was Sen. Bill Wielechowski’s 47th birthday.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com


20 thoughts on “Loose Lips: Balash heads to D.C. Parnell without IT support. GOP establishment and tea party break bread.

  1. CPG49

    This Loose Lips column rocks. Laughed my hindside off regarding Craig Fleener’s post on face book. Really disappointed that Governor Walker has hired this guy. Sickening example of political favoritism over merit. Fleener isn’t fir for public service. Bill Walker should know better.

  2. AH HA

    @Bill, my fault, I stand corrected.

    BTW: It’s all about point of view isn’t it? Depending on how you look at them, the difference is either big or minuscule.

  3. Andy Mattoon Scott

    30-06 Dude,

    The useless and very expensive boondoggles have yet to begin. Now that most of the new team are in place, the first thing is to figure out where to party. After all, they spent exhaustive hours campaigning for the new King.

    Usually this time of year they head for warmer climes, the south, South Africa, South America…go south my son and the sun shall bathe you in renewing powers. With Ms. Marty
    now being the queen bee, and the push for yet another feckless fantasy, all the in crowd will be heading south ( note south=nice weather) , and I would bet the new cool spot for the jetsetters will be Australia.

    Linc Energy is owed some big bucks for paying for Ms. Martha R., and they will get their
    pound of flesh. Look for lots of trips down under, and lots of monies being syphoned away from Sean’s study buddies to Linc Energy. Will this be the new TransCanada ? Yet another black hole for precious petrodollars from our diminishing coffers?

    I would bet on yes, the previous fleecing by Buccaneer ( ruthless pirate) was probably discussed with Linc folks , over a Fosters in a pub far far away. After a few laughs and bragging of the millions absconded by these foreign thugs, we are in for round two of senseless studies.

    Martha R. needs to park a bunch of her useless buddies somewhere, with six figure salaries , and flights to wherever for fun and games. It never ends…..

  4. Anonymous

    I could not agree more. Well said. I feel the same way when solicited by United Way, the PFD check-off, etc. And soon the working people of Alaska, especially those working people who are producing goods for Alaska to sell (as opposed to government workers) will be asked to do with less and to pay something more for state and municipal government. This will happen even while those on the SNAP program, Medicaid and the like will still demand and receive full payment and even receive extra PFD money to hold them “harmless” (an ironic term, no?) for the impact of their PFD on their welfare payments, and while legislators and staffers are going on junkets. State and municipal workers will still be demanding and receiving salary increases! So I will still throw a couple bucks in the Salvation Army kettle this Xmas because I like the Salvation Army but all these other whiners can go straight to Hell.

    I expect the Alaska delegation to Congress to vote to repeal ObamaCare at the first opportunity, and as I went door to door for (now) Senator-elect Dan Sullivan I told people that is what he said he would do and that, as a Marine, he can be trusted.

  5. Russ

    Fleener’s Facebook post re the Arctic makes him look foolish. I thinlk Governor Walker needs to revisit this appointment. It doesn’t begin to pass the smell test.

  6. AH HA

    @Amanda I do sympathize with you on the Insurance cost increase… Mine has jumped up more than $125 a month as well and from what I hear, this is a widespread problem in Alaska.

    Here’s what I do to feel better about it; Each month when I write the check I try to remember that this extra $125 is paying for someone else’s healthcare and I’ll remind myself that its not socialism (even though it is) and I’ll say a little thank you to Barak, Nancy and Harry. Then when I leave the house to mail the check and I pass by the guy in the intersection waving the sign begging for money instead of knocking in doors offering to shovel snow or do chores in exchange for a few dollars, I’ll smile and wave. I’ll not be giving him any money from now on. I know He’s already into me for $125…I’m on the way to pay his health insurance bill for him.

  7. AH HA

    Perhaps our new Attorney general could weigh in on this issue with Mr. Fiege? I suspect that Fiege technically maintains his position until the swearing in of the next legislature so he probably acted with in the letter of the law. However, It does not appear that there is a decent argument for his making this trip on state money since even though he may still be a legislator, he is certainly a lame duck and his constituents and the state cannot possible derive any benefit from this expenditure.

  8. AH HA

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Co-Governor Walkers new Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Valerie Davidson is sighting a multitude of long term problems at DHSS that are making it impossible to expand Medicare at this time….. She also took time to point out that Medicaid cannot be expanded without the support of the legislature since they will have to approve receipt of the funds from the Fed’s. Is this the start of the walk-back on Medicare?

  9. Claire W

    I think it’s refreshing to see Parnell become human again. He’s smiled more, talked about his family, life after service in the public sector, his precious first grandchild, even showing IT woes on FB. Parnell has every right to let loose (as much as that guy can, hehe) and although some will, who are we to judge?

  10. Garand Fellow

    Outstanding column! Never has an Alaska communications and media outlet done well at this until amandacoyne.com.

    Rep. Feige should reimburse the state for his travel to the Energy Council. The attendance by legislative staffers, and the upcoming NCSC Fall Forum, show how far we have to go in accepting the new fiscal reality. Don’t expect administration bureaucrats to adopt austerity when it is now so easy for everyone to learn of these junkets! Symbols matter, especially when the chips are down and all hands are needed. Still, in reference to one comment here, the EC junket and the NCSC junket combined cost far less than Medicaid expansion and is easier to curtail.

    Congratulations to Mr. Balash. This is a great time to sell any Alaska real estate he may own. He can think about replacing it in a few years when he can no longer stand DC (and Alaska real estate is a better value perhaps).

    Ms. Coyne, I am sorry your health insurance costs are steeply rising. I know it isn’t helpful for me to comment that is what I expected of government becoming even more involved, especially with legislation no one read until long after it became law.

    Alaska is on the edge of a deep, dark chasm. We can jump off together and make the best of it. We can stand at the edge and spend our savings before circumstances push us into the chasm. We can try to tax those few who have incomes and cannot leave while promoting an every-man-for-himself response. Legislators and staffers going on junkets while government is spending $10 million per day more than it takes in promotes the every-man-for-himself response and makes needed sacrifices less likely. Governor Walker will have to be a real leader, the sort one often finds in the private sector but seldom finds in government except on the battle field to get us through this. And thanks again for and to amandacoyne.com.

  11. Mark Springer

    Wow. No internet but he can still google! I’m either really impressed with Sean’s skilz or scared as hell of Google!

  12. Birchstick

    Reading this post tells me that policiticans, past or present, should not take to Facebook if they still want to be taken seriously. That probably applies to Tweeter too.

    And Feige…Jesus, what is wrong with that guy? “Get a job,” he’d probably tell the rest of us state welfare recipients. I hope Millett gave him several dozen “tut tuts” over those couple days, bc I believe I’ve heard the fiscal responsibility line come from her many times.

  13. Lynn Willis

    Soon enough we will be losing our PFD and paying taxes to fund not only the critical functions of state government yet also the “lifestyle of the rich and famous” our legislators insist on living. We will soon face critical choices for the use of our revenues and I would much rather see my tax dollars pay for Medicaid expansion than to fund a closed door senatorial retreat at Alyeska or to send a lame duck legislator to a national conference.
    I am encouraged to see Governor Parnell at least attempting to return to the private sector instead of simply finding another “teat” on the government hog as so many staff and politicians will do following an election loss.

  14. erin

    Government needs to get control of their travel. Sure, we all like “free” trips; unfortunately, they’re NOT free. Eliminating these unnecessary trips will save millions. Cutting the little things will add up and won’t put our economy at risk. Rule #1 should be: NO MORE TRIPS FOR LEGISLATORS NOT RETURNING EITHER BY RETIRENENT OR DEFEAT. There simply is no rational public purpose.

    Craig Fleener’s statement on Facebook would be laughable if it were not so serious. This guy as the state’s Arctic Advisor would be laughable if it weren’t so sad. Come on Governor Walker, I thought you were going to give jobs based on merit, not as political paybacks. Thjis is what you promised. I see this as a huge broken promise and am disappointed that I voted for you.

  15. R. Morris

    That FB post of Fleener’s speaks to his arrogance and lack of decorum. I agree he offers little, if any, knowledge or expertise on Arctic issues.

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