Loose lips: Inauguration fever. Transition buzz. Walker to meet with Obama.

loose lipsInauguration fever: Alaska Airlines added an additional flight just to get folks to Juneau. Some of the out-of-town faces spotted included former Gov. Bill Sheffield; AFN’s Julie Kitka; Honorary Consulate of Canada Karen Mathias; Malcom and Cindy Roberts, UAF’s Brian Rogers, Vicki Otte; Chugach Corp’s CEO Cheri Buretta; Janet Weiss and Phil Cochrane from BP; former state senator and labor leader Joe Thomas; former DOL commissioner and Fairbanks mayor Jim Sampson; one of the Valley’s three amigos Roger Purcell; AOGA’s Kara Moriarty; Stephen and Dana McAlpine, Paul Brown; former Juneau legislator and Obama administration employee Beth Kerttula, and Sen.-elect Dan Sullivan to name a few.

Only two members of legislative leadership attended the inauguration—House Majority Leader Charisse Millett and Majority Leader John Coghill. The other House members attending the event: Reps. Sam Kito III, Bob Herron, Benny Nageak, Lora Rinebold, Harriet Drummond, Scott Kawasaki, Rep.-elect Jim Colver, Rep.-elect Liz Vazquez. Senators: Click Bishop, Lyman Hoffman, Bert Steadman, Gary Stevens, and Dennis Egan.

Some of the food served at the VIP party of about 300 at the governor’s mansion after the swearing-in: Smoked salmon, scallops with béarnaise sauce, prosciutto and lots of Christmas cookies. The “little squid” were much discussed, as was the foie gras, which freshman Rep.-elect Jim Colver—a salmon and moose burger kind of guy– gave wide berth to. Colver did want to make the point that he’s not a culinary rube. His wife is Dutch and he’s spent time in Europe. And “I do like a good pinot noir,” he said. Alas, only punch at the mansion.

Where in the world has Hollis French been?

Hollis French

Gov. Bill Walker is headed to D.C. Wednesday to meet with President Obama and his cabinet as part of a meeting Obama has requested with all new governors.

Many news agencies on Monday were touting Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott as the first statewide elected official with Native ancestry. Wrong. Former Lt. Gov. Loren Leman wasted no time setting the record straight. This is from his Facebook page:

Byron Mallott is now the second person of Alaska Native ancestry elected to statewide office in Alaska.  I was the first.  Several media reporters today didn’t do their homework very well and misreported this fact, forgetting my Alutiiq and mixed stock heritage from Afognak, Kodiak and Ninilchik.

Special section: Transition buzz

Sources say that DOT and DEC commissioners Pat Kemp and Larry Hartig have been asked to stay. Word is that Kemp completed retirement paperwork and submitted it on Monday, but I guess he’ll have to try to build a few more roads and bridges before heading back to fishing and wintering in the desert.

Emily Ricci, one of the bright lights of Parnell’s third floor operation, has been hired by DHSS Commissioner Val Davidson to be part of her senior management team. Her title is unknown.

They shouldn’t have left this one off the hook: DOR deputy commissioner Mike “Fish” Pawlowski—a man with a unique talent at explaining complicated oil and gas issues to barely-awake legislators–left DOR at noontime on Monday. It’ll soon be announced that he’ll be joining Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s US Senate Energy Committee staff.

This one will grab the attention of the oil industry: Democratic leg staffer and often times industry critic, Ken Alper will be named as director of DOR’s Tax Division.

He’s back: Jerry Burnett, previously retired from DOR, is back as a deputy commissioner.

I previously reported that Marcia Davis, former deputy commissioner at DOR, will be the new deputy chief of staff. As far as I know that’s still true. However, she’ll be acting DOR commissioner until the new commish, Randall Hoffbeck, starts in January.

This seems unlikely to me, but the rumor persists: Former DHSS commissioner Bill Streur is going to work in the legislature for Sen. Pete Kelly.

Bloodbath at Department of Administration: So far, and as far as I know, DOA has seen the worst, or the best of it, depending on your point of view. The commissioner and both deputy commissioners at the DOA are now out. This department has 1,000 employees and a $350 million budget. Among other things, it oversees state employee payroll, employee and retirees’ benefits including $600 million worth of health care benefits, technology for the state, DMV, the public defender’s office, and houses the budges of APOC and the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

One of those deputies who was fired was Mike Barnhill, who had been with the state for 14 years—10 years at the Department of Law and the last four at DOA. He had survived many administrations, mostly because he’s smart, capable and non-partisan. However, DOA is the department that negotiates with the State Employees Association, and word is that Jim Duncan, who heads the union, had it out for all of them over there. Barnhill was a particular target, people say, because Barnhill contradicted Duncan’s flimsy attack on GOP Senate-elect Dan Sullivan, who Duncan claimed took a lousy settlement deal while he was AG that Duncan said negatively impacted the state’s retirement account. Barnhill, who worked at law at the time and was the one who negotiated the settlement, talked to the media, including to me, to try and set the record straight. If it’s that’s why he was let go, let’s hope that this isn’t a pattern. (Let me be clear: I haven’t spoken to Barnhill about any of this.)

Anyway, the new acting commissioner of DOA, Amy Erickson, was the director of DMV, who is said to be very smart. However, there were a few big fires in the pan at DOA that anybody new to the game might find challenging. One, there’s a few union contracts still to be negotiated. Secondly, on June 1, a new $80 million software system for the state is supposed to be up and running. But most importantly, the department was in the final stages of drawn-out negotiations with Aetna, who got the contract last year to administer health care for all the state’s 14,000 employees and 60,000 retirees and their families. Barnhill was heading up the negotiations. Now he’s unemployed.

The pinot-appreciating Rep.-elect Jim Colver has hired Dave Scott, who was Sen. Donny Olson’s staffer, and Angie Stephl, a Valley paralegal who helped in his campaign.

End transition buzz

Alaska factoid brought to my attention by former Ketchikan Rep. Kyle Johansen: Ranch dressing was invented right here in Alaska by Steve Henson who, while working as a plumber somewhere in Rural Alaska in the 1950s, dreamed up the dressing. When he amscrayed, he and his wife opened Hidden Valley Ranch in California, which was bought by Clorox for $8 million in 1972. There’s a lesson here somewhere.

Save the date:

Dem holiday auction

I guess the closer you get to North Pole the greater the holiday spirit. It might be the candy-cane shaped street lights, and all the Santa look-alikes, some intentional, some not. In any case, the North Pole holiday spirit has caught the Fairbanks legislative delegation. This Friday, December 5th from 4:30 – 6:30 p.m. they will be hosting a holiday open house at the Fairbanks Legislative Information office, located in the Alaska USA Financial Center, 1292 Sadler Way. They promise cookies. Hey, Anchorage legislators, get in the spirit…. Wait! The Anchorage LIO is still under construction! Otherwise, we’d show Fairbanks up by toasting the holidays riding up and down in the new glass elevators. sipping on Dom Pérignon and munching on Russian caviar.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com


24 thoughts on “Loose lips: Inauguration fever. Transition buzz. Walker to meet with Obama.

  1. Billiam

    Walker laid out his agenda in his inaugural speech. But, as always, that’s for the first part of his term. Every governor–every executive–has to change their agenda to fit what’s happening. But Walker laid out his priority to develop resources and expand Medicaid. He faces a huge budget deficit that will need immediate addressing. Every governor expands on that vision in their State of the State speech later in January.

    A winning number of voters were clearly OK with his vision and now is time for him to act. How successful he is will also depend on how well he works with the Legislature.

  2. Third Anonymous

    The governor’s mansion was decorated early, thanks the Parnell’s seeing to it that it would be done in advance of transition to make it easier for everyone. Walker’s new governor’s website is up and running, also thanks largely to existing professional staff with the governor’s office who have been and still are working for the office and the people of Alaska.

  3. Rudy

    You’re clearly not very smart to make slanderous remarks about Gov. Walker’s “agenda.” He is NOT anti-oil. He is the most pro oil governor we have ever had! Is he going to fight harder to do what’s best for ALASKA when it comes to oil issues? YES! He does not have an adversarial relationship with the oil companies. The oil companies are always going to work to do what’s best for THEM and Gov. Walker has stated many times that he understands that and he knows that they are great companies and Alaska has benefitted because they have utilized our resources. The difference is that Gov. Walker is extremely knowledgeable about oil and gas issues, unlike our other recent governors. He will be able to utilize this knowledge to fight for what’s best for Alaska, instead of conceding to the oil companies, that are trying to do what’s best for them. We will finally get representation on Alaska’s side of the table, instead of everybody sitting with the oil companies. Excited to have a Governor that is always going to step up to the plate, and bat for Alaska.

  4. Anonymous

    If you must know the Senate President is on a family vacation that has been long termed planned. After every election year the family goes on a much deserved family vacation. So to answer your question Lynn, no a Senator Meyer would also not be there if it were Parnell’s Inaguration.

  5. Jacob

    “Am I the only person to appreciate the irony of the “family values” crowd not understanding the impact on a family when a health issue drains all family resources?”

    Thank you Lynn…that was the best line of commentary I’ve read in a very long time. I strongly agree, and this issue is the one that should be near the very top of our discussions about local, state and national spending.
    We tend to argue about who should pay for health care, when I believe we really should be asking, “why are we paying so much?” Additionally, we should be asking if the some of the factors that could drive down costs in the lower 48 (competition and variety of providers) truly exists here in Alaska. Are we content with the current health care model left alone? Can a resident of Alaska be an informed consumer of health care? (as if it’s like shopping for Christmas presents!)

  6. JoEllen Hanrahan

    Blood bath? That’s a little “sensationalism” in the headline ( or a bias showing) given Parnell also fully cleaned out the DOA Commissioner’s office and started with new players. Whole or partial clearning out of a Commissioner’s Office is standard procedure when there is an administration change.

    Tactical error for requesting resignations? That is also standard operating procedure for at least the previous seven administration changes. Not all of them have been quick in determining who gets to stay either.

    Let’s save stirring the pot for something of substance rather than the standard operating procedures of nearly every administration.

  7. REsponse to Billiam

    You speak of Walker’s agenda. Does it include something other than hating the oil industry? If so, please share.

  8. Another Anonymous

    Anonymous, there is reason to fear your less than optimistic view is right. Both DNR and Revenue are to be led by anti-oil industry people. Well known Democrats are overwhelmingly staffing the cabinet for a governor who is a life-long Republican. The new Chief of Staff backed Obama. The old Knowles COS is in Juneau at the behest of the people you cite, and he is expected by some to take a position in this administration. Look for historic explosions within the administration until or unless this group is able to dispense with the governor. The Dispatch will blame the discord and explosions on the Republican led majorities in the 29th Legislature, and we will depend upon Ms. Coyne to tell us what actually happened. The big question in Juneau; if the Capital City Republican Women are not going to decorate the Mansion for the Christmas open house who will? Or will the Democratic Party cabinet rule that a Christmas open house is politically incorrect (and save us from the kale cake and oat chaff cookies one would expect from an administration ruled by this cabinet)?

  9. Auke Bayer

    Mike Barnhill’s comment was a classy and professional response. Every new administration has the opportunity to change political appointees at will. Some employees lose their jobs as collateral damage. Some lose their positions simply because the new administration is unfamiliar with them. In Mike Barnhill’s case, his departure will be a true loss for the Walker administration and the state. He was a consumate professional, a smart lawyer and carried years of institutional knowledge that would be beneficial to the department. Barnhill embraces what public service should mean. As an average Alaskan who has crossed paths with the former deputy commissioner, I would like to express my gratitude and best wishes.

  10. DB

    Mike, thank you for your outstanding work in DOA. Yes, indeed, you were an asset to Alaska. You always answered emails, phone calls and had a great work ethic and sense of humor. Good luck and may the sun always shine on you.

  11. DB

    One must look at which special interests really stand to gain by expanding Medicaid. The ANTHC is the biggest winner by getting $$ to transport people needing care. Look at those other special interests who stand to get federal $$ from this expansion. That’s the real story.

  12. Anonymous

    This is a nice thought but politics, at its core, embodies values. Most politicians want to put Alaska first. They are also pro family, and like apple pie. But at some point judgments need to get made and these judgments are based on, in part, world views.

    What we are learning is that Walker apparently traded the Governor’s Office in exchange for allowing Bruce Bothelo to pick his cabinet, other than AG, and other high ranking state officials. Bruce may be a good guy, but he is a democrat and his politics inform the choices he is making.

  13. Mike Barnhill

    Hi Amanda,

    No reason was given for the acceptance of my resignation, nor did any need to be. As part of any transition, it is important that the Governor be able to assemble his own team to govern. I think all of us in the appointed exempt/partially exempt class know, understand and support that. We accept the position with the understanding that we can be asked to leave at any time, for any reason or no reason, either by our appointing governor or the next. Until that happens, we seek to serve the public interest of the State of Alaska to the best of our abilities.

    Until reading your blog this morning, I had not heard that speculation as to the reason my resignation was accepted, but it doesn’t matter.

    I have offered to Acting Commissioner Erickson to help with the transition in any way that I can. My hope is that the transition is as smooth as possible, which is important, given the difficulties of our current fiscal situation.

  14. CeCe

    We need to get behind our new leadership-it is clear that the commons wants entities to work together-revenue down, education flat, no coastal management, SB21 may have passed, but many many Alaskans were/are opposed to the lower tax rates, the HB77 bill that all most was it’s time for leadership to put Alaskans first and politics aside.

  15. Billiam

    Oh please. Get over yourselves.

    Every single Governor has come in and replaced most of the commissioners if not all. And they then go through and replace deputy commissioners and directors. Alaska is full of good people. No one person is irreplaceable. Stop grousing about Walker. Give him a chance. There will be changes–get over it and accept it.

    I think Walker has gotten off to a good start. He needs a team that supports him and his agenda.

  16. Mae

    So our south central legislators can’t get it together SOMEWHERE, to dish out holiday cookies? Seriously? Because of construction?

    But, but, but… this state is all about “construction”. Building a better future… Road to resources… A little open house with cookies is minuscule compared to any “construction” happening. Come on we’re better than that. .wait…

    There is something about interior and Fairbanks, the Golden Heart of interior Alaska, and it’s ability to lead the hospitality charge. They welcome you in interior Alaska. They are happy to see you. They want to see you. Hence the holiday open house at their LIO. I must admit, even at the Anchorage held 2014 AFN Convention, a Fairbanks vender was front and center, right there, offering up fresh coffee or tea, to all who entered the craft show. Big smiles, congrats on the safe arrival and safe travels and to just be safe. Offers of your choice of sweetner. This Fairbanks vender had positioned themselves as basically the welcoming party to all who entered the craft show. And they let everyone know, they were from Fairbanks. It was rather crafty and catchy.

    Come on south central. We don’t need a glass elevator to be welcomed and eat holiday cookie. Just sayin.

  17. Lynn Willis

    Symbolism means a lot in politics. Absent a reason that should have already been known, the Senate President and Speaker of the House should have attended the inauguration. I suspect both of them would have been at a Parnell inauguration and that question should be asked of them.
    That said, what a tactical blunder to have demanded the resignation of all Parnell administration appointees. Parnell seemed to favor loyal party members for appointments. Governor Walker instantly sustained at least the appearance of that partisan tradition which certainly bodes poorly for “unity”. A good chess player knows when to hold his position to force the opponent to make the offensive move when that attack will be more costly to the aggressor. Now in at least several instances, after this ritual “blood letting”, did Governor Walker just trade a Queen for a Rook or Bishop.
    Alaska is about to learn the folly of “trickle down” economics when this unsustainable state spending to “create jobs” by increasing government employee numbers or increasing capital funding directed to private business comes to a rather screeching halt. As to providing health care to Alaskans by expanding Medicaid, that is the kind of spending priority we now face (and will face) for the foreseeable future. Am I the only person to appreciate the irony of the “family values” crowd not understanding the impact on a family when a health issue drains all family resources? When jobs go away so does employer provided health insurance yet government funding for emergency room care for the destitute does not – and what is the solution to that problem?

  18. Jon K

    Fish and Barnhill will be missed. They served the state well. Non-partisan. Smart. Hard working with a sense of humor.

  19. Q2 49 SK8

    Couple of thoughts:
    1) The Walker administration’s loss of Fish P is Lisa’s gain. Pretty dumb getting rid of the smart guy at Revenue. The again, he obviously isn’t qualified to work in the Walker administration with the producer companies because he fauls to hate them.
    2) Cleaning house at DOA speaks to the new administration’s rookie status. Barnhill’s institutional knowledge will be missed. He’s anything but a political hack.
    3) Good luck Bill Walker. You’re gonna need it.

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