I’ll likely come to regret it, but because my predictions for both the primary and the general elections were pretty…good…I thought I’d try my hand at predicting political events for 2015. It’s risky, because for the elections, I had at least fundraising reports to go by, say nothing of candidates. Here, mostly I just have gut, and the only big Alaska election in 2015 will be the Anchorage mayor’s race. However, this year will be a big one in politics nonetheless. As oil prices continue to decline—which I predict that they will–the state will face one of the biggest fiscal crises in its history. Tensions, particularly during the legislative session, will be high between the Legislature and the new administration. And there’s the U.S. Senate race right around the corner.
So take my gut as you will. But remember, so much about politics is unpredictable. Few, if any, foresaw Sarah Palin’s rise. Six months ago, few, if any, could envision that Bill Walker and Byron Mallott would team up and that they would win the election. Who knew that the FBI was camped out in room 604 at the Baranof, their listening devices taped to the wall? Only a few saw Joe Miller coming in 2010. More than a few, including me, see him coming back in 2016. Read on for that one and more predictions.
Walker’s Medicaid expansion campaign promise
A major campaign promise of Gov. Bill Walker was that he would expand Medicaid. “I will implement Medicaid expansion on Day One,” he said repeatedly on the trail. The line was on his campaign website, which is still up. Its day 34 as I write this, and the state still hasn’t expanded Medicaid. He did try. Shortly after he was elected, he directed the new DHSS commissioner to try to make it happen. However, the current Medicaid payment system is such a mess that it’s virtually impossible to add a new wave of recipients to it. That’s not his fault. However, it could be argued that it is his fault for repeatedly make such a big campaign promise without checking to see if it’s doable. Also, he said that he could expand Medicaid without legislative approval. That’s true, technically, however expansion is going to cost and the Legislature needs to appropriate those funds, and it’s hard to fathom that given the fiscal crisis, they will.
Prediction: Walker didn’t live up to his campaign promise on day one, and I don’t think he’ll be able to do so this year.
Rep. Don Young
Rep. Don Young has seen better election cycles than the last one, when he ran against under-funded and relative unknown Forrest Dunbar, and only won by 10 percentage points. Many have since said that had the Democrats put some money behind Dunbar’s campaign, he could have very well won the race. In other words, Don Young, who has been invincible, is vulnerable.
Prediction: In 2015, Young will see a significant primary challenge develop, and a credible Democratic opponent like Hollis French or Sen. Bill Wielechowski will also file.
The next president of the University of Alaska
There are big changes in store for the University of Alaska. UA president Pat Gambell and UAS chancellor John Pugh will be retiring mid-year. Also, Governor Walker will have four board of regents slots to fill which could significantly alter the school’s direction.
Prediction: Brian Rogers, former legislator and current chancellor of UAF will be the next president of the University of Alaska.
Will Mark Begich run for mayor?
Rumors have swirled about whether or not Mark Begich will run for Anchorage mayor, spurred on in no small part because he hasn’t dispelled them and no other Democrat has filed. However, Begich is nothing if not politically savvy, and he has scads of other opportunities in the upcoming years, including the U.S. Senate, Congress and possibly taking a run for governor. Running, and risking losing the mayor’s race would be bad for him, say nothing of being mayor of the largest city in Alaska at a time of major cuts and declining state dollars.
Prediction: Mark Begich sits the mayor’s race out.
Anchorage mayor’s race
The two dominant candidates that will emerge in the Anchorage mayor’s race will be Dan Coffey and Andrew Halcro.
Prediction: Dan Coffey will be Anchorage’s next mayor.
Laying the groundwork for the 2016 Senate race
As chair of Energy and with control of the purse-strings of the Interior Department, Sen. Lisa Murkowski will be a powerful force in Washington D.C., and has the ability to get big things done for Alaska. However, that doesn’t necessarily translate into a powerful force with Alaska conservatives, who care less about practicalities and more about ideology. I’ve been told by pollsters that although she’s very popular among the general public, she’s in big trouble among primary voters, a problem that she seems to be assiduously avoiding. She didn’t tackle it in 2010 either, and look what happened. Neither I nor the pollsters are the only ones who see the problem.
Prediction: Before the year is over, both Mark Begich and Joe Miller will begin to lay the groundwork for a 2016 Senate bid.
A new political powerhouse
Last month, the Alaska chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers-funded group, held a dinner where the seemingly impossible happened: the tea party and the establishment GOPers were eating a meal together without a pie being thrown in someone’s face. At the start of the dinner, the head of the group vowed that it was in Alaska for the “long haul” and would be a force in Alaska politics.
Prediction: Americans for Prosperity will lay the groundwork to be a force in Alaska politics, and will work to counter the power of the unions.
Showdown in Juneau
Of all the governors in recent history, Gov. Bill Walker probably has thxe most personal touch. Word is that he’s in close contact with some key lawmakers—kibitzing, asking their advice, making them feel good, which is really smart and something his predecessor hardly did at all. However, it won’t likely be enough to overcome the building animosity between Walker and other legislators, particularly the ones who Walker’s COS Jim Whitaker accused of being corrupt in a 2006 ADN column. And it won’t help in the long-run that Walker’s surrogates are trying to push the narrative that the budget crisis, which Walker repeatedly vowed to solve, is really a legislative problem. That might give Walker some temporary breathing room with the public, but in the process, it’s dragging legislators through the mud, something that so far at least, surrogates on the other side have refrained from doing. And, in the end, as governor with line-item veto power, the budget will be his, and he’ll be ultimately responsible for making the tough decisions.
Prediction: Expect a chilly and contentious relationship between lawmakers and the governor in the upcoming legislative session, which will deteriorate as the session goes on.
Showdown in Juneau part II
As I predicted above, the relationship between the Legislature and the governor isn’t starting off smoothly, and I don’t see it getting better. I predict that one way that shaky relationship will manifest itself is through the confirmation process.
Prediction: At least one of Gov. Bill Walker’s nominees–DNR Commissioner Mark Myers, and/or Attorney General Craig Richards–will have a tough time getting confirmed.
The Fairbanks LNG trucking project
In 2013, the Legislature passed and the governor approved a bill that would provide $363 million to help finance a project to truck LNG from the North Slope to Fairbanks. Many legislators knew then that it was a half-baked measure, and that it was unlikely that Fairbanks could ultimately afford the trucked-in gas. Now, as the numbers are being crunched, their suspicions are proving prescient. Initial estimates of the costs are expected to be roughly $19 per thousand cubic feet, $4 more than what Fairbanks said it could afford.
Prediction: The LNG trucking project, like so many other ideas to economically power Fairbanks, will go gently into the good night. The good news: Few will protest, because as oil prices decline, so does the cost of heating fuel.
The role of Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott
Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott was never as “anti-oil” as many in his party, and certainly not as anti as Gov. Bill Walker, and those who are surrounding him, are perceived as being. Also, unlike Walker, Mallott, who hasn’t spent nearly all of his professional life fighting the oil companies, is free of conflicts of interest.
Prediction: Mallott will emerge as “the” key player for oil and gas in the administration as Walker’s and his attorney general’s conflicts, both real and perceived, become more front-and-center.
The LNG line
The LNG line, the big one, has been a dream in the state since the 1970s. Now, estimated to cost as much as $65 billion, it’s still an incredibly iffy proposition. Before leaving office. Gov. Sean Parnell took it as far as it has ever gone. Now, it’s up to Gov. Bill Walker to take it further. In order to stay on track, legislation that dictates municipal taxes must be passed, and in the next year, how much and how the state will tax the gas needs to be hammered out. On the campaign trail at least, Walker was not a fan of the way state ownership in the line was envisioned, say nothing of the confidentially agreements inherent in the negotiations between the producers and the state.
Prediction: Will Walker change the way the line’s structured? Will he push for legislation to keep the project on track? I have no idea. What do you all think?
Contact Amanda Coyne at email@example.com