Monthly Archives: April 2013

Nixon and Eisenhower’s strange relationship

Below is an excerpt, with a link to The American Spectator where you can read the rest, from a brilliant book review written by my brilliant father. The book, Ike and Dick: Portrait of a Strange Political Marriage by Jeffrey Frank, chronicles Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower’s strange relationship. My father is a former Nixon speechwriter so he knows a little about which he writes. I’ve been told, mostly by him, that I’m a chip off the old block. I might someday believe it if I can ever write anything as close to as good as this review:

“Damn,” was the initial reaction. Although 40 years have passed, here comes another one: another book by another of those East Coast liberal scribblers—Pat Buchanan calls them “the offspring of the old jackal pack”—out to kick Richard Nixon around one more time, and in the process embellish the Nixon caricature that has replaced the man in so much of today’s popular historicizing.

But as it turns out, that’s not it at all. True, Jeffrey Frank has all of what normally would pass for anti-Nixon credentials: stints as an editor at the Washington Post and New Yorker and author of four well-received novels, including the “Washington Trilogy.” But despite those bona fides, Frank appears, if not admiring of, then not hostile and perhaps even sympathetic to Nixon as a striving politician struggling to win the approval of Dwight D. Eisenhower, one of the truly great figures of the last century. Frank even seems sensitive to the relationship that would necessarily develop between these two unique and highly intelligent men, culminating in the union of their families with the marriage of Julie Nixon and David Eisenhower.

“Nixon’s early relationship with Eisenhower,” Frank writes, “who was old enough to be his father, had a filial aspect, though one without much filial affection.” Eisenhower, Nixon believed, expected “rapid, absolute obedience,” and while serving as Ike’s vice president, he often felt “like a junior officer coming in to see the commanding general”—as indeed he was. And that is no doubt the way Eisenhower looked at Nixon: as a junior and later senior staff officer, with a specific place on the organizational chart. Later, writes Frank, Eisenhower would come to value Nixon’s “logical mind” and his loyalty. He also appreciated the standing Nixon gave him with the anti-Communist right.

Problems first arose between the two in 1952, shortly after Senator Nixon had been chosen as Eisenhower’s running mate, when news stories charged Nixon with benefiting from a secret fund supplied by wealthy donors. Eisenhower was annoyed that his still unproven vice presidential candidate was tainting his campaign with a whiff of scandal, no matter how faint. He gave Nixon a choice, although it was never quite expressed directly, and Eisenhower preferred to send indirect suggestions through emissaries like Murray Chotiner and Gov. Thomas E. Dewey, a political friend of Nixon and an Eisenhower favorite. Nixon was to clear his name or drop off the ticket. He, in effect, was told he was on his own.

In a speech delivered live on television from the El Capitan Theater in L.A., Nixon did just that. In what became known as the “Checkers speech,” called by the author and journalist Sam Leith “a rhetorical classic,” Nixon accounted for every cent that had been donated to his campaign. And when that was settled, in a move he called “unprecedented in the history of politics,” he told his audience he would give “a complete financial history: everything I’ve earned, everything I’ve spent, everything I own.” He referenced Pat Nixon’s “respectable Republican cloth coat” (they couldn’t afford a mink). He added that there was one gift from a supporter his family intended to keep: a cocker spaniel puppy named Checkers. In response, Republican Party headquarters was flooded with some 4 million communiqués.

General Eisenhower, watching from Cleveland where he was to speak, would later tell his audience: “I have seen many brave men in tough situations. I have never seen any come through in such fashion as Senator Nixon did tonight.” Yet, writes Frank, “Eisenhower was not entirely pleased by Nixon’s performance.” It took the decision of whether to keep Nixon on the ticket out of his hands, and when Nixon suggested all candidates reveal their finances, that included Eisenhower. But for the moment, the speech had demonstrated that his determined young staff officer had something extra, and when the Nixons flew to meet him in West Virginia, Eisenhower “came bounding up the stairs” of the plane, put his arm around Nixon, and told him, “You’re my boy.”

According to Frank, that would remain somewhat in question. But perhaps, as he points out, although the ongoing uncertainty about Nixon’s relationship with Eisenhower would make life harder, “there was no way to pretend that important decisions about Nixon’s future belonged to Eisenhower alone.” Or perhaps, put another way, Nixon would have to take his future in his own hands and not depend on General Eisenhower for prompting or direction. Eisenhower liked officers able to take the initiative.

Read the rest here. 


Why is UAA letting hockey go up in smoke?

This is what I know about hockey: that there’s a puck and a net involved and that on the handful of games that I have attended, I can’t keep track of when the puck goes into the net. I know that the people at those games know more than I do, and I know that many of them are die hard, committed hockey fans.

I also know that in Alaska, there are many of those die hard, committed hockey fans and I’m told that there used to be a lot more of them, particularly at UAA Seawolf games.

The seats used to be filled I’m told. Now, when you go to the Sullivan Arena to watch a Seawolf game, only about a third of the seats are filled. I’m here to tell you that it’s kind of a drag to be at a game that you don’t know much about without being surrounded by a crowd that does and can signal when to cheer, when to hiss and when to tell the ref that he sucks.

Unless things change and the crowds get bigger, I won’t go back.

Many, including the person with whom I am currently involved, are blaming the athletic director Steve Cobb for the Seawolf’s continuing decline on the ice and the subsequent lack of enthusiasm in that arena. Many are calling on UAA Chancellor Tom Case to fire Cobb.

Recently, long pent-up frustration among former and would-be Seawolf fans found a vent in the search for a new hockey coach. (Read more about that here and here). I may not know where the puck is, but I do know steam when I see it, and this was a gusher.

It was enough of a gusher that the Alaska State Hockey Association recently issued a vote of no confidence in Cobb. The following Sunday, the UAA Hockey Alumni Association issued their own resolution. About 40 men sat in a small room in an ice rink in South Anchorage on Sunday, working on the resolution. Many of them are fathers with busy lives. Many had never written or even spoke the word, “whereas.” Many of them spent the better part of their 20s bleeding for the Seawolves, and none of them took that resolution lightly.

They thought they could change things.

They were apparently under the assumption that an institution for which they fundraised and were a part of, an institution paid for out of their state funds, cared about them and their passions.

They thought they mattered.

The responses that they and others have received from the university make it very clear that they don’t.

I don’t know if Cobb should be fired, but I do know a few things about communication and I know in a been-there-done-that-way how to alienate a whole group of people. The university has been successful, at least at that.

I know that UAA’s response to the situation has been a PR failure, from one liners responding to heartfelt letters, to an arrogant “no comment” from Cobb in the Anchorage Daily News about the alumni resolution, to the very anemic and very late invitation the university sent out to a select few in the hockey community asking them to be involved in the search for the new hockey coach. (Say nothing about the silence surrounding the allegation of an assault and the cover up of the assault involving the former hockey coach and a student player. It’s the best known secret in the hockey community.  Case, here’s a head’s up: it will come out eventually and it won’t be pretty.)

And then on Friday was Case’s incomprehensible and inadequate defense of Cobb’s job as athletic director in the ADN.

Bradford Keithley writes better than I ever could here about the possible financial implications of UAA’s disastrous response, implications that might have real impact.

Legislators are talking. Headlines are screaming. Talk shows are buzzing. And now, normal, average people, people like me who don’t know a thing about hockey, are wondering how the university can continue to go to the people with hands and fingers out while being so insensitive and non-responsive to the people.

The university is, after all, a very well funded state school. And if there is anything to the owner state philosophy—and I believe there is—Alaskans own the university as much as the oil.

The 40 some guys who sat in that room on a Sunday trying to make their voices heard should matter as much, if not more than one arrogant, chain smoking athletic director. They should even matter as much, if not more, than a chancellor who appears hell-bent on keeping him in cigarettes, while hockey goes up in smoke.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


Will Bill Walker’s big line campaign resonate big again?

The earliest that a candidate can start raising money to run for governor is May 4, yet the once and future gas line candidate Bill Walker has announced that he’s in. On Thursday, Walker said that he’s throwing in his hat for governor on the Republican ticket because, “Alaska needs a strong, aggressive leader with a proven track record of putting Alaska’s interests first,” he wrote.

Walker ran against Gov. Sean Parnell in 2010, after he was handed the reins to his seat by former Gov. Sarah Palin. For a little known candidate who hadn’t held political office, Walker did better than expected in the primary, getting more than 33 percent of the vote to Parnell’s 50 percent.

He smoked Ralph Samuels, the guy who was supposed to be the one who gave Parnell a run.

As a lawyer for the City of Valdez and for the Port Authority, which has paid his firm millions of dollars, Walker has for years advocated that the state more aggressively pursue and even fund the building of a large diameter natural gas pipeline that would run from the North Slope to Valdez, appealing to many who, for years and through subsequent administrations, have seen that dream, slowly slipping away.

Indeed, the final nail on the big line’s coffin was likely hammered with the passage of a bill that will facilitate the building of a smaller diameter pipeline that will carry gas from the North Slope to Southcentral.

That happened last legislative session, under Parnell’s watch and with Parnell’s tacit approval.

It’s hard to say how much momentum Walker will build on the gas line this time around, which seems to be his largest issue. (Say nothing of the potentially telling fact that he announced nine days before he can legally take a check for his run). In 2010, some still had faith in that decades-long big line dream, which would be big enough to both power Alaska and allow for importation.

Now, when residents of Fairbanks are choosing between heating their homes and paying for groceries, when the cost of fuel in threatening to ruin some rural Alaska villages, and when Anchorage is bracing for natural gas blackouts, the public seems less interested in big dreams and more interested in just keeping the lights on.

What Walker’s run will undoubtedly do, however, is to shine a light on the fact that while, under Parnell’s watch, hundreds of millions of dollars have gone to energy projects, many of them competing with each other, while the one project that was supposed to solve all of Alaska’s energy woes has all but died.

What Walker’s run will do is to highlight the fact that, for better or for worse, the dream of the big line died under Parnell’s watch.


Read Walker’s statement in full below:

Bill Walker Announces Run for Governor

ANCHORAGE — Today, Bill Walker announced that he will run for governor in the 2014 Republican primary. Walker said he is entering the race because Alaska needs a strong, aggressive leader with a proven track record of putting Alaska’s interests first. “The only side of the boardroom table I have ever sat on is the Alaska side, and the only interests I have ever advanced are those of Alaskans,” Walker stated.

Walker is the son of Alaskan pioneers, Ed and Frances Walker, who came to Alaska in the 1940’s where Ed served in the Alaskan Scouts in the Aleutian Islands during WWII and Frances worked on the building of the AlCan Highway. Bill was born in Fairbanks and grew up in Delta Junction and Valdez where he worked alongside his dad and brother in their construction business starting at the age of eight, helping later to relocate and rebuild the town of Valdez after the devastating 1964 earthquake that took the lives of many of their friends and neighbors.

To finance his college education, Bill worked summers on the oil pipeline construction as a laborer, teamster and carpenter. After earning his business degree, Walker owned his own construction company, travel agency, hotel, restaurant/bar and gift shop while serving as a transportation commissioner and city councilmember. At the age of 28, he was selected as the Mayor of Valdez. He and his wife, Donna, graduated from Seattle University School of Law in 1983 and relocated to Anchorage where they practiced law for several years with the Hughes Thorness law firm before they started their own practice, Walker Richards LLC, which focuses primarily on Alaska’s oil and gas law and municipal law. The Walkers have four children, all West Anchorage High School graduates, who continued their education and have returned or will return to Alaska to establish their careers and raise their families.

Bill Walker serves also as the general counsel for the Alaska Gasline Port Authority. He is on the steering committee of the North America Gas Summit and participated in the 2011 Institute of the North Norway Policy Tour, the 2011 World LNG Summit in Rome and the 2012 World Gas Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

According to Walker, “Working hard and investing my time, energy and resources into providing for my family and building up Alaska are what make my feet hit the ground running every single day. As governor of the state I love and am fiercely committed to, I am convinced that we can turn Alaska around, grab the reins and assume our rightful position as a global energy leader providing first for Alaskans, and then the world.”


This is the way the oil tax debate ends: not with a bang but a whimper

The session that finally put an end to the current chapter of the decades-long tax debate, the one that has seen political careers ruined, millions of dollars spent, a state fractured. The one that’s pitted Alaskans against Alaskans, party member against one another. The one that began when former Gov. Sarah Palin took the help and helped her rise to the national stage. The one that since, has stoked fear in the hearts of some Alaskans, and the one that made long time Alaskans who were here before oil wonder what had happened to their state.

The one that will now give billions of dollars back to some of the largest companies in the world in hopes that they will stay in the state and produce more oil and continue to nearly completely fund state government.

That very debate officially ended when both chambers gaveled out at midnight Monday morning—the first time since 2010 that it wrapped up in time–to relatively little fanfare. All told, the legislature passed 71 bills, including a controversial 737-mile in-state gasline that had been debated for years. (Read more on that here).

But the real story of the session was the oil tax bill, which for all intents and purposes ended when it passed the in the wee hours of Sunday morning.

In prior years on a night like that, as politicians grandstanded in the chamber, as amendments were offered and killed, hallways would be chalked full of lobbyists and citizens showing up for the spectacle. Pizza boxes would have piled up. Soda cans tipped. Harried aides would have been flitting about carrying stacks of paper to harried legislators.

This time it was different. As Saturday night turned into Sunday morning, there were only a few scattered observers in the hall outside of the chamber. As the last business was wrapping up at 2 a.m., the only person left was the security guard roaming a long empty hall.

The lack of excitement was due to many things, the first being that the votes were locked in early. This, in part, was thanks to Senate President Charlie Huggins, House Speaker Mike Chenault and House Finance Chair Bill Stoltze, all three of whom herded the cats and kept trouble, real trouble at bay. (Gov. Sean Parnell, it should be noted, kept his distance, which is one way of putting it. Others in the Capitol building weren’t nearly as kind when referring to his absence.)

It was also probably due to an electorate that chose to usher in Republicans in both chambers. The Republican Senate Majority’s motto is “Time to Act,” and act they did. Sen. Fred Dyson probably said it best when he said, “What a difference an election makes.”

Mostly everybody just seemed wary from the battle. On the surface, and when the cameras were on them, it looked like the Dems and others opposed to the tax bill were fighting vigilantly. Off camera, they looked defeated. They knew the score, and they knew that it was not in their favor.

Some of them who have lived this battle session after session, year after year, knew that you can only fight so hard against that which you have allowed yourself to become so dependent.

That’s not to say that the oil companies, the majors at least, got what they wanted. (The independents got all they wanted and more. More on that later.) The tax break will cost the state, at current projected prices and at current production, somewhere between $650 million to more than $1 billion a year. During committee testimony, the companies said that it was too little of a tax break to really stem production declines.

They all said the flat 35 percent tax is too high, the $5 per barrel exempted for all produced oil too low, and the tax credit for new oil not generous enough. In fact, there was talk that at least one of the major hated the bill and wanted to kill it through amendments offered in House Resources, chaired by Rep. Eric Feige but controlled by Rep. Mike Hawker.  Among other things, the amendments offered in Resources by Hawker lowered the base rate, and significantly decreased state accounting oversight.

Had those amendments survived the bill would not have passed the Senate. (Rep. Bill Stoltze, who knew that, stripped out the amendments in Finance and kept the capital budget in committee until he was assured that those amendments wouldn’t make their way back into the bill.)

You could heat Juneau with the paper that was printed this year alone devoted to charts and graphs and powerpoints. Citizen legislators worked extraordinarily hard to figure it all out. And still nobody really knows—in this state at least– what the tax break does or how it’s going to work.

But what is clear is that since the state raised oil company taxes in 2007, Alaska has been used by the majors as a cautionary tale around the world of what happens when an oil province dares to take on an industry that feeds it, literally. Raise our taxes and we’ll decrease production, the majors said. We’ll starve you out, they warned. Just look at Alaska, they said.

It may be true. It may not be true. The oil is indeed running out, as it was bound to. Prudhoe Bay—the largest oil field in North America– began pumping from its vast reservoir in 1977. Most of the easy oil from that field is gone. New technology is supposedly available to squeeze more oil out of the ground, but that could only happen if the tax rates were lower, oil companies argued. And argued, and argued. And they did that here in the state with enough Chinese-water torture type insistency that the citizens here said enough.

Now eyes, both here and around the world, are going to be on the industry, to see if those companies will make good after such a large tax break. The testimony that it wasn’t likely big enough to stem decline will be lost on most. All the public will remember is that Alaska reached out its hand. If they don’t take it, then they’ll likely be punished, again, as they were in 2007 after Palin took over.

And it will happen sooner or later. The pendulum will swing back. And forth. Again and again, as it has been swinging since Prudhoe was discovered in 1968. Whole legislative sessions will be devoted to oil taxes. The best minds in the state will be busy working on it. Bumper stickers will be plastered on cars and slogans will be used to further careers, and the state, as it has been, will be consumed. We will all be consumed with oil taxes as our schools continue to be some of the worst performing in the country, as our sexual and domestic violence rates are some of the highest in the country, as our citizens continue to be divided. We will all be consumed with oil taxes as the oil steadily runs out, and we will be consumed with oil taxes as we don’t try other things, don’t try to get our money elsewhere, as we don’t plan for what happens when that day comes.

Indeed, even before the Senate concurred with the House changes to SB 21 on Sunday afternoon, there was already talk about plans being made by the majors to come back next year to get some additions and changes that they were hoping for. That will likely be another fight. It will likely last for years.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


The session that dismantled Palin’s legacy

It took awhile to purge Gov. Sarah Palin. It took longer than people expected. After all, what could one governor do to a state in less than two years?  Ask those who are busy in Juneau dismantling her two big initiatives, ones that she ran on as a vice presidential candidate: oil taxes and her attempt to incentivizing the building of a large natural gas pipeline.

Palin, for better or for worse, was an active governor at a time when the public was ready for action. As most know, she swooped in on the heels of what appeared at the time to be an Alaska-sized corruption scandal. She swooped in on the heels of a split in the Republican Party between the more urban chamber of commerce Republicans and their more ideological brethren. She swooped in during record high oil prices. She swooped in as the first female governor. And swooped with the public firmly on her side.

That gave her a lot of leverage to do big things, for what at the time seemed to many like really good reasons. She pounded the oil industry with a huge tax increase, and she passed law to get a large diameter natural pipeline built by sidestepping the industry. Now Palin in the rear-view mirror, oil production on the decline, and a large diameter pipe dream once again sound asleep within the arms of the industry–those so-called good ideas don’t seem so great anymore.

None of the alternatives are perfect — any policy in reaction to another piece of policy won’t be — particularly ones that’s been leveraged on the state. More specifically, the oil tax revamp probably gives too much away to the big producers — ConocoPhillips, BP and Exxon. It will likely result in budget deficits before production increases, if production does indeed increase. And it has, once again, showed how weak the state has become by allowing itself to be nearly completely dependent on oil revenue. (It should be noted that if oil prices drop, which many predict, this bill gives the state more protection than current law.)

And then there’s House Bill 4 which will facilitate the development of a small diameter pipeline running from the North Slope to Southcentral Alaska. The bill provides funding to bring the project to open season, at which time the economics will dictate if it makes sense, or at least tell us what kind of state dollar infusion it will need. In other words, it’s not a done deal yet, but it’s a big statement that the big dream of a big pipeline is all but dead, as is Palin’s big pipeline plan, AGIA.

HB 4 too is less than perfect and it only passed in tandem with, SB 23, the LNG trucking bill, which has its own problems. The plan to truck LNG to Fairbanks is just a band aid. Everyone knows that, and an expensive one at that. There are likely cheaper, more efficient ways to help solve Fairbanks’ energy crisis. But state leadership is so weak, ideas have been put off for so long, it’s the only short-term, politically palatable solution left.

In any case, no matter the flaws in the bills, this legislative session put the last nail in the Palin-regime coffin. And she’ll never again be able to point to what she did in Alaska to further any political aspirations she has left.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


The final stretch

Adjournment is close at hand. And to the extent that the people knew what they were doing when the elected a predominately Republican legislature to get things done, they got what they wanted. Big bills, bills that have been debated in the Legislature for years, bills that have been the subject of hundreds of hours of committee hearings, of debate, those bills are now a hair’s-breadth from making their way to Gov. Sean Parnell’s desk to be signed. For better or for worse, depending on how you’re wired.

From oil taxes to money for construction of a small diameter natural gas pipeline that would run from the North Slope to Southcentral Alaska. From LNG from the North Slope to Fairbanks. From gun laws to the Knik Arm Bridge, insurance and drug laws, abortion and the Judicial Council. All the pieces seem to be fitting together nicely for an orderly adjournment by Sunday night right before midnight.

That is, of course, barring some unforeseen melt down or huge personality clash, which would likely come from one of the many divisions in the House, particularly from the faction that wants to lower the base rate on the oil tax bill. That amendment would likely come from Rep. Mike Hawker, who lowered the base rate to 33 percent in House Resources. At least two members of the Senate have drawn the line on 35 percent. So, if it succeeds, it will likely kill the bill. Some in the know say that because the tax break isn’t big enough, killing the bill is the goal of at least one of the three major oil companies. (Guess which one?)

However, given how well House Speaker Mike Chenault has been able to herd the cats so far—the demise of KABATA being case and point—the success of such machinations is unlikely.

Here are the four key bills that are “must haves” for adjournment:  SB 21 the oil tax reform bill, HB 4 the small diameter pipeline bill, the operating budget and lastly the capital budget.

What isn’t being reported on much is nonetheless important to note as some of these bills have huge impacts on the lives for average people. One bill that has gotten extremely little media attention–introduced by freshman Sen. Mike Dunleavy, and referred to only one committee which he chairs–was a bill to allow insurance companies to use credit scores as a factor in setting insurance rates.

During the public hearing process, the only witnesses testifying in favor of the bill were employees of the insurance industry and the state’s new Director of Insurance (it should be noted that the previous state insurance director opposed the bill for years). On the other hand, a lot of Alaskan consumers testified against the bill, citing its unfairness and questioning why in the world the Alaska legislature would consider advancing such a measure. Unfortunately, their concerns fell on deaf ears as committee members paid deference to Dunleavy who wanted to move the bill to the floor. (It should be noted that Dunleavy campaigned as the voice of the people.)

The half dozen or more lobbyists working together to advance this bill were gleeful. However, that euphoria crashed when the bill ran into the Senate Rules Committee, which schedules bills for floor action and is chaired by Sen. Lesil McGuire. She thought the bill was against consumer interest and she had enough courage to stand up to the insurance industry and the leaders of her caucus to squash it. Like a bug. With her stilettos.

Then there’s a bill sponsored in the Senate by Dunleavy and in the House by Rep. Lynn Gattis, who’s turning out to be one of the freshman stars, which would bring public education employees into the state’s large insurance pool. As of now, most of them are covered through an National Education Association trust. The state, which already pays for the insurance, says that combining the two pools will result in savings for all. The bill is being fought by the NEA and Sen. Bill Wielechowski, both of whom called it a “big government takeover of healthcare.” If that’s not irony for you, then there’s none of it left in the world.

There’s lots of other bills, but one of my favorites is a bill by Sen. Fred Dyson, a staunch conservative, which would make simple possession of schedule I and II substances a Class A misdemeanor, which still can carry with it up to a year in prison and a $10,000 fine. It’s supported by the ACLU, the Department of Corrections and a bevy of defense lawyers who have long been bemoaning the havoc our drug laws has wrought. It passed the Senate 17 to 2.

Here’s more irony for you: Two of those most vocal Dems in Alaska, Sens. Bill Wielechowski and Hollis French, voted against it after French offered two failing amendments that would weaken the bill.

That bill is now in House Finance, and will likely take a backseat to the other huge order of business on today’s schedule: the capital budget. The committee is expected to release the first draft later today.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


The governor tries to sell the public on oil tax reform

Governor Sean Parnell isn’t much known for using a heavy hand or voice in passing bills. Last year, he got about as antagonistic as he gets when he called the bipartisan Senate a “do nothing” body when they failed to pass his oil tax bill. That kind of backfired, temporarily at least, because for all the world the Senate was working very, very hard.

Anyway, things are going better for the governor this session, at least as oil taxes are concerned. (Trouble is brewing on other fronts, however. HB 77, a major bill that would revise Alaska’s water and land use laws to benefit mining and other commercial interests appears to be in trouble.) Even Rep. Les Gara conceded in a committee hearing that a reform to ACES will likely pass this session.

But Parnell’s success on this front has little to do with his own efforts, which seem to involve only talking to the Legislature through the Associated Press and writing a weekly oil tax message. (If that weekly message had done one little thing to change one heart and mind, then writers and thinkers with any talent everywhere should just give up and declare themselves the uncles of monkeys. The same goes for industry sponsored commercials on Gavel to Gavel, but that’s another story.)

Anyway, Parnell did get a little cutting edge on Thursday, trying to reach the masses today through twitter and urged others to do the same. In his tell-tale, conversational style, Parnell tweeted the following:

As one pundit put it, “The third floor’s political acumen remains less than stellar,” and then, in his real voice, he said, “This is how he’s trying to sell this bill?”

A few made fun of Parnell’s tweet, and two hours after he urged a re-tweet, only ten had done so, including Deputy Press Secretary Luke Miller, who, when he worked for U.S. Rep. Don Young, spent his days reaching out and actually talking to reporters. Strangely enough, that seemed to work.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


Incremental oil tax update

The draft of the House Finance Committee substitute on the oil tax bill emerged Thursday morning, and is likely to take up most of the air in the room of the committee meeting this afternoon and evening. In a nutshell, the bill generally strips the amendments proposed in House Resources and follows more closely what the Senate produced last month, which should make concurrence a relatively painless process. I’ll have more on this later this evening, but for now, below is a list of the main changes in the substitute:

1. The base tax rate has been raised from 33 percent to 35 percent.

2. For now, the small producer credit has been taken out of the bill.

3. A Competitive Review Board that was proposed by Sen. Lesil McGuire and killed in Resources is back in.

4. An accounting requirement called joint interest billing, which the producers lobbied hard for, was taken out.

5. There’s a $5 per-barrel credit for new oil produced and a 20 percent tax break, known as a gross revenue exclusion, for production of new oil. And there’s an additional 10 percent for new oil from fields outside the legacy fields which pay a higher royalty rate that those inside the legacy fields.

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Kaboom Kapow KABTA?

For nearly a century, those who were wired that way–and Alaska always had plenty of that type of wiring–dreamed of a bridge over the Cook Inlet, connecting Anchorage to the mysterious swath of land in the Mat-Su Valley. (One particularly creative idea in the 1960s involved a monorail that would connect Anchorage to a domed, temperature-controlled community.)

If nothing else, you’ve got to give the Kink Arm Bridge and Toll Authority kudos for coming as close as you can get to bridging the divide. If the agency’s bill passed this session–and for awhile it looked like it might–the authority would have been well on its way to building the $1.6 billion bridge (others have estimated the cost to be much more). Had the bill passed, KABATA would have been authorized to sell $600 million in bonds and the state would have set up a reserve fund to pay for the agencies costs. And it likely would have been the agency’s last dance in front of the legislature, for awhile at least.

But as everyone knows, close doesn’t cut it and neither did what appears now to be an ill-fated agency. It’s not a done deal yet, but on Thursday morning, the House Rules Committee is set to vote on an amendment which would put KABATA in the hands of the state agency du jour, Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, run by the man of the moment Dan Fauske.

The buzz is that it’s a fait accompli, as are most bills by the time they make it to Rules.

Fauske is prepared to set up yet another state agency under AHFC that would take over the project and give it a fresh look. KABATA was created by Gov. Frank Murkowski in 2003, and seeded with $110 million in state and federal funds. Since, it has amassed more than $56 million state funded assets.

Ostensibly, the problems with the bridge and the agency arose after a scathing legislative audit concluded that KABATA’s projected revenue through tolls were overly optimistic.

But many legislators had been leery of the project and the agency since its inception and it only got worse as the numbers KABATA released continually bumped up against conflicting numbers and as the agency became increasingly defensive about the project and how it was going to be funded.

Increasingly, it appeared that those who ran KABATA were seen less as objective, trusted stewards of state resources than a group hell bent on getting a project underway, regardless of cost.

What all this means to the fate of the bridge, and the enormous number of bills still yet to pass out of various committees, remains to be seen. The Mat-Su Valley delegation, which has supported KABATA and the bridge,  is a powerful one this year. The delegation is led by Senate President, Charlie Huggins, and House Finance Chairman Bill Stoltze.

Stoltze’s committee still has possession of the oil tax bill and the capital budget, which gives him significant added influence this time of the year.

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Parnell’s BOF choice gets sunk

Monday saw a bit of dramatic theater on the House floor in the capitol building when a re-nomination to the Board of Fisheries went down in a squeaker. The vote against Vince Webster pitted big monied commercial fisherman against powerful sports fisherman, urban and rural politicians, and Gov. Sean Parnell against the chairman of one of the most powerful legislative committee.

The vote tally was 29 to 30.

Webster was first picked by former Gov. Sarah Palin to sit on the board in 2007. He lives in King Salmon and is a commercial fisherman and is said to favor that user group over sports fishermen.

On the floor on Monday, House Finance Chairman Rep. Bill Stoltze, who took the lead in the legislature to capsize the confirmation, said that Webster was a “very clever and effective spokesman” for the commercial fisheries and to that end, he “does things legally but not always right,” to help commercial fisherman.

He also mentioned Webster’s association with Palin. “He was Todd Palin’s guy,” Stoltze said. He hasn’t been “Alaska’s guy,” he said.

Parnell had spent at least some political capital fighting for Webster, though the governor himself appeared to be absent on the debate, as he has been for many debates on important issues. On the night before the vote, an email did emerge from the governor’s office urging support, but it was sent by Parnell’s chief of staff Mike Nizich instead of the governor himself, a small signal that likely ended up mattering.

It also likely didn’t help that the Nizich’s email appeared to be directed at claims against Webster brought by the politically active Kenai River Sportsman Association. Among other charges, KRSA said that Webster “directly participated in precariously and unnecessarily lowering the escapement goal of Kenai River king salmon during a time of record low abundance and uncertain future production.” He did this, the group said, to benefit commercial salmon setnetters at the expense of sports and personal use fish interests.

Nizich called such claims against Webster “misleading, “incomplete,” and “inaccurate.”

KRSA obviously represents sportsman’s interests, as does Stoltze, who has nearly every bill that Parnell has taken interest in in his committee.

In other words, this is not a good time to take on Stoltze. Counting votes, others obviously felt the same. But you wouldn’t know if you were an audience member watching the floor during the debate, where a handful of legislators spoke on Websters behalf, urging fellow members to disregard the attacks against Webster. Indeed, a group of college students from across the state, who were in the gallery, said that they were sure Webster would make it.

Only one other legislator, Rep. Les Gara, spoke against Webster.

At times during testimony in House Finance, the tension between Stoltze and Rep. Les Gara, who sits on that committee, has been knife cutting. They made nice today, however. We’ll see how long the love-fest lasts.

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GOP Chair attempts to bar the door

The Alaska Republican Party State Executive Committee is to meet Monday evening at party headquarters in Midtown Anchorage to discuss dysfunctional party issues and what to do about the current chair, Debbie Brown. Brown’s been a continual thorn in the party’s side since she took over for ousted Russ Millette in February, who was the whole branch of thorns.

Recently, Brown has tried to fire nearly every unpaid party functionary, even the ones who were elected. Among those “fired,” are powerful party activist Paulette Simpson, Rev. Jerry Prevo’s right-hand-man Glenn Clary, and Tom Wright, chief of staff to House Speaker Mike Chenualt. (See Wright’s response below).

There is a little glitch, however. Brown supposedly is out of town. Before she left, she changed the locks on the door to the headquarters. Perhaps knowing that they could always channel G. Gordon Liddy to help with those locks, she sent out an email on Monday morning warning against those who might be tempted.

“No one is to enter the premises without permission from the State Chairman,” Brown wrote. “Any unauthorized attempt to enter the premises will be met by the authorities.”

Here’s Wright’s response to being fired by Brown:

Thank you for your email and attached letter in regards to my termination as the District V finance chair.  Your letter and email are saving me the trouble from having to resign this position.  I no longer wish to be associated with any duties related to the party under your leadership.  I hope the termination is effective immediately.

There’s another chair waiting in the wings. Peter Goldberg is currently vice-chair and thought to be sane and sensible.  We’ll see if that lasts.


Board of Fisheries confirmation expected to be whale of a fight

There are plenty of contentious issues to get through before the Legislature is expected to gavel out April 15. Oil taxes, for one. A bill that would facilitate building a bullet line to run gas from the North Slope to Southcentral Alaska. A plan to begin the work to truck natural gas from the North Slope to Fairbanks. There’s Medicaid and abortion. There’s school choice and guns.

And then there’s the whale of politics: fish politics. On Monday beginning at 10:30 a.m., such politics will come to a head in a joint session, where both bodies will vote on Gov. Parnell’s choice to re-nominate Board of Fisheries members Vince Webster. The fight, which will pit the politically active sports fishermen against the big monied commercial guys, is expected to be brutal.

The powerful Kenai River Sportfishing Association (KRSA) put out an alert to urge members to contact their reps to vote against the nomination. Read the full letter here. In short, the association accuses Webster of favoring commercial interest at the expense of the sports fisheries.

Parnell’s prepping for a fight. His chief of staff, Mike Nizich, sent an email out to legislators (printed in full below) urging legislators to vote for Webster and questioning the veracity of KRSA’s claims.

It’s a risky move and Parnell is not one to take risks. We’ll see if it pays off.

Here’s the email Nizich sent to legislators:

I am aware of efforts to unfairly characterize Vince Webster’s actions as a Board of Fisheries member, including the following claims:

  • he is supposedly singlehandedly responsible for the new late-run Kenai River Chinook salmon escapement goal;
  • he allegedly reframed the Board’s late-run Kenai River Chinook salmon management plan agenda item to benefit setnetters at the expense of all other user groups and escapement;
  • he allegedly drives a personal agenda through unseemly means, including allegations related to specific fisheries.

These are misleading, incomplete, and in some cases, inaccurate statements about Vince Webster’s work on the Board. Indeed, the Governor never would have re-appointed him had if he believed such allegations were true. These claims are now being made by some in the eleventh hour to influence your vote.

Before voting “no” to Vince Webster’s reconfirmation, we ask you provide Vince the courtesy of a phone call to hear his response to recent allegations. Vince will make himself available to legislators to discuss his 6-year record on the Board. Although Vince is traveling out-of-state with his son, he is available to talk with you at (redacted).

Vince’s broad understanding of fisheries issues statewide, experience with Board process, and respect for public input are assets to the Board. Vince has been confirmed twice to serve two 3-year terms on the Board; this is a third appointment. Members are appointed with a view to providing diversity of interest and points of view in the membership (AS 16.05.221). His confirmation should not be blocked due to misinformation.

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Hell hath no fury like a GOP chair scorned

If you thought that ousting her predecessor was going to put any fear in the pure Republican heart of Debbie Brown, think again. The new chair of the Alaska Republican Party is holding her ground, sticking with her principles, shining a light into the dark crony-capitalism infested corners of the GOP.

“Dear Fellow Republican,” the email she sent this week begins. “Today, I took a major step toward changing our course. The Regional Finance Chair positions for each region have been vacated to allow for applicants to be considered from all qualified Republicans, and elections are being arranged for many of the Regional Representative positions which serve on the Executive Committee.”

In other words, she fired all of the regional finance committee directors. On that list are such big names as Tom Wright, chief-of-staff to House Speaker Mike Chenault, and party faithful Paulette Simpson. In the Capitol building, Wright’s known as the 41st member of the Alaska House, and is thought to be more powerful than many of the 40 others.  And everyone knows you don’t mess with Simpson.

This latest salvo came after she had already fired nearly everyone on other committees, even the ones who were elected.

As GOP watchers know, the party has been in nuclear meltdown mode since the Ron Paulers met the Joe Millers and knew that it was much more than a hunch, that this group should somehow form a fomenting family that reviled things like the Law of the Sea Treaty, the gold standard, the federal reserve, the media, abortion, ObamaCare, Lisa Murkowski, the World Bank,  Agenda 21, etc, etc. But the real animus—one to which even the United Nations is second–is reserved for the “old” guard Alaska GOP, including in it nearly everyone who toiled on their own time to raise money for the party.

So, they got rid of the old chair  when the former chair Randy Ruedrich retired, they mustered strength to put in Russ Millette, who was ousted after it became clear that he couldn’t raise the necessary funds that it takes to support candidates.

Brown, formerly vice chair, is now the head. Those who ousted Millette thought that it would be a matter of time before Brown decided that she couldn’t handle the pressure and leave her position in the charge of what they consider the old-guard vice chair Paul Peter Goldberg. (Though there’s some dispute about whether or not he is “old guard.” According to Ruedrich, he first met him at the meeting where Goldberg was elected. But from all accounts, he’s smart and sensible and that’s good enough in some circles to put him in that camp.)

But Brown doesn’t appear to be leaving her position anytime soon. Sources say that she did leave the state to avoid another, upcoming, Republican Party meeting, which was likely not going to be kind to her.

Or she might have just gone on a vacation, Or she might be holed up with her brethren in some bunker, aiming darts at cutouts of Randy Ruedrich, Glenn Clary, Frank McQueary, Susan Rice, et al.

In any case, and just in case people though she was less than serious, she changed the locks on the doors of the Republican Party headquarters in Midtown Anchorage before she left.

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War on war on drugs finds unlikely ally in Sen. Fred Dyson

As anti-oil tax protesters protested outside of the Capitol building in Juneau; as they waved enlarged $5 billion checks from the state to ConocoPhillips, BP, and Exxon; as the chants “it’s our oil,” were chanted. As Democratic politicians took to the microphone proclaiming that they were here for the people, for the least of us, another bill, SB 56, was being debated in the Capitol building.

It’s a bill that takes a stab at undoing what many consider the egregious harm caused by the war on drugs. This is Democrat territory. But it wasn’t sponsored by the politicians who were chanting outside the Capitol building. It was sponsored by Republican Sen. Fred Dyson, a staunch, dyed-in-the-wool Republican if there ever was one.

It passed the Senate 17 to 2. Two of those most vocal Dems in Alaska, two who were shouting the loudest about taking care of the people, Sens. Bill Wielechowski and Hollis French, voted against it after French offered two failing amendments that would weaken the bill.

Here’s what the bill does: As of now, if you’re in possession of small quantities schedule I and II substances, like heroin, cocaine, and oxycodone, you can be slapped with a felony. There doesn’t need to be proof that you’ve ingested the drug. The drug might not even be yours. You still could be faced with a felony for your first offense. It’ll be on your record forever. You’ll not be able to join the military or vote. You won’t be able to carry a gun. You won’t be able to get a federal student loan. You won’t even be able to be a janitor in a public school.

If enacted, this bill would join 14 other states to make such simple possession a Class A misdemeanor, which still can carry with it up to a year in prison and a $10,000 fine. It’s supported by the ACLU, the Department of Corrections and a bevy of defense lawyers who have long been bemoaning the havoc our drug laws has wrought.

It’s also a bill that will save the state millions. The exact amount is unclear, but a preliminary fiscal note puts the savings at as much as $14 million a year.

Each prisoner costs the state $50,000 a year, and most of them are in for nonviolent offenses. The budget for the Alaska Department of Corrections is over $323 million a year, up from $167 million a year in 2005. Incarceration for both misdemeanor and felony drug offenses has increased by 63 percent since 2002. For felony drug offenses alone there’s been an 81 percent increase.

Dyson is trying to save the state money, but he’s also trying to undo some of the real damage done to people by those on his side of the aisle since 1982, when Alaska’s current drug laws were enacted.

“I suspect it was those on my end of the political spectrum who wanted to posture and beat our chests and say we’re going to be tough on crime at a time when lots of these drugs were getting a lot of publicity,” Dyson said on the Senate floor.

“We shouldn’t put you in jail as a felon if you’re doing something unwise,” Dyson said. “Almost all of you at some time in your life have made some mistakes,” he said.

The bill now goes to the House.

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Ben Franklin hundred dollar bill

Budgets and sense in the capitol building?

Ben Franklin hundred dollar bill The first draft of the capital budget emerged from the Senate Finance Committee today with no big surprises, as of yet. At $1.9 billion, the draft looks to be as austere as billed. If it holds to that, which is likely won’t, it will be the smallest capital budget in five years.

The operating budget is currently in conference committee, where the two bodies have appointed conferees to work out the differences between the two houses, line item by line item. And that’s a lot of lines and a lot of discrepancies to get through. It’s a public process. But you’d likely need to be down in Juneau to watch it as the committee can meet at a moment’s notice.

In any case, the operating budget is likely to be smaller than last year’s as well. Part of those savings are going to come from union contracts negotiated by the administration. In the next fiscal year, the 16,000 or so public employee unions will only get a 1 percent raise. That’s less than the unions were asking for, but more than Republican legislators wanted to give them.

The unions also agreed to change the way that leave is accrued by state workers. As it is now, workers can accrue an unlimited number of vacation and sick days, and cash out on those days whenever they want at their current pay level.

If all the accrued leave was cashed out tomorrow by union workers, the state would have to shell out more than $164 million.

The Department of Administration put together a list of the ten workers with the most accrued leave, totaling $1,668,031.

One worker has more 3,838 hours, giving the worker a balance of $240,903. Another worker has more than $239,000 coming to him or her. That’s in addition to their rather cushy retirement package.

Now, workers won’t be able to amass more than 1,000 hours: still many more than most of the private sector would allow, but not enough to provide a cushy second retirement.

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