Monthly Archives: December 2013

Best and worst of Alaska politics in 2013

15540742_mBecause making lists appears an imperative for opinion writers and bloggers everywhere, I tried my hand at it. There are, no doubt, things left out and things people will disagree with. But this is what I came up with for the best and worst of Alaska politics and government in 2013, with some random mentions thrown in. There aren’t many fireworks here. The last year in politics in Alaska was understated. But it wasn’t without its good and bad times, good and sometimes difficult lawmakers, its light controversies and big boondoggles, and great shoes. Read on:

Freshman legislators of the year:  Sen. Peter Micciche (R – Soldotna) and Rep. Lynn Gattis (R-Wasilla) get this award. Micciche got loads of flak last year for being a senator and working as the natural gas plant operator for ConocoPhillips. But he handled the criticism with aplomb and made the bill that repealed oil taxes tougher on the oil companies than it would have otherwise been. In his first year, the former Soldotna mayor has established himself as hardworking, thoughtful and most importantly, not afraid to speak his mind without alienating his colleagues. For her part, Gattis has proven herself to be about as tough, smart and plain spoken as they come. Expect much from both of them.

Worst legislative decision: This award goes to the new lease for the Anchorage Legislative Office building and members of the legislative council who negotiated the lease. Supposedly, Legislative Council Chairman Rep. Mike Hawker (R- Anchorage) alone negotiated the lease with politically active real estate developer Mark Pfeffer. That may be true, but all of the 16 members of the council share the blame. It happened under their watch. The no-bid project expands, renovates and adds glass elevators to the downtown legislative office building. Total renovation costs to the state: $7.5 million. Total yearly rent: $5 million a year for ten years. Currently, the state is paying $682,356 a year.  All of this, and the state doesn’t even get to own the building. Pfeffer and his partners do. It’s surprising that the deal was approved. Hawker, who is a CPA, is also one of the state’s smarter legislators and knows how to read fine print. It’s also surprising that Pfeffer, a master at getting no-bid state contracts, would push for such a controversial deal for the state. Legislators, media and the public won’t soon forget. (Kudos to ADN’s Lisa Demer for staying with this and nearly every other big story in the state.)

Most spiritual: I have to confess, during an interview with Sen. John Coghill last year, I nearly broke down and asked him to pray with me. And Sen. Fred Dyson’s stories about being a Jesus freak amongst the hippies in Berkley in the 1960s gives me hope for humanity, and for myself.

Biggest boondoggle award: The more than $100 million dollars that has gone into the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority, which is charged with building a bridge from Anchorage spanning the Knik Arm. The agency was created by Gov. Frank Murkowski in 2003. By 2006, the idea to involve the private sector in the financing was beginning to take hold. Kevin Hemenway, a senior financial adviser for KABATA, wrote that the private sector involvement was “the best test of all” as to the success of the project. Soon, Valley legislators and KABATA were using the private sector involvement as a talisman against naysayers. Former Alaska state Sen. Linda Menard put it best when she said, “(C)ompanies don’t waste their time on a project unless they know it’s viable.” No, they don’t. Gov. Sean Parnell also came to that same conclusion recently, when he decided the most prudent move would be to cut the private sector out of the project, because the private sector wouldn’t take the risk. His solution? Throw $55 million more of public money at the project in the next budget. It is, after all, an election year, and the Valley vote might very well decide the race.

Best voice of 2013: If you’re ever in a room in Juneau, and hear someone and think, “God, that guy should be on the radio,” chances are that Sen. Dennis Egan (D-Juneau) is somewhere near.

Most intransigent legislators: Take it from me, being “intransigent,” or using the more common patriarchal term, “difficult,” is not necessarily a bad thing. It often means that you’re right. However, sometimes, particularly in politics, you can be so right that you’re wrong. Let me present freshman Republican legislator Rep. Lora Reinbold (R- Eagle River) and Democrat Rep. Les Gara (D – Anchorage). Both are philosophical ideologues from opposite ends of the political spectrum, and both appear to choke on the word “compromise.” Gara, however, has been around for a long time, and he has great, loyal staff, and a Harvard law degree to boot. And although he does so with a grimace, he will give. Reinbold, on the other hand, goes through staff like the state goes through money and she was the only legislator to vote against making July 21 Jay Hammond Day. Whatever you think of that no vote, it took courage to do so. Remember: we always need some of these in government and we have just enough of them. They keep us honest. And keep journalists busy.

Nicest legislators: Once again, this award is shared on both sides of the aisle. Everyone loves Rep. Ben Nageak (D-Barrow). The room lights up when he smiles. On the right side, you’ve got Sen. Kevin Meyer (R- Anchorage). Even as the powerful co-chair of the Finance Committee, he is always one of the nicest and kindest elected officials in the Capitol building. On the left, again, is Rep. Beth Kerttula (D-Juneau), who makes you want to cry sometimes she’s so nice and understanding, particularly when you’re being difficult.

Most powerful legislative staffer: Tom Wright, who works for Speaker Mike Chenault, is often referred to as the 41st House member. He understands the game, the rules governing the legislative process and has tremendous institutional knowledge. He understands power, has it and knows how to use it.

Best dressed: He doesn’t get points for cutting-edge style, but Gov. Sean Parnell is by far the best dressed politician in Alaska. He’s always dressed appropriately, even when he’s wearing jeans.

Biggest political blunder: Gov. Sean Parnell’s decision not to accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid could be considered heartless, but it likely won’t hurt too much at the ballot box. But not naming a labor representative on the newly created Alaska Gas Development Corporation might. Word has it that unions expressed interest, and when Parnell didn’t bite, labor was upset, maybe upset enough to go after him. They’ve got the pockets to do so.

Worst votes for Alaska: This award goes to Alaska’s two U.S. Senators, Begich and Murkowski, for their confirmation votes for Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell. The Secretary has been anything but friendly to Alaska’s interests. First, she’s come out strongly against opening portions of ANWR to oil and gas development and more recently against opening the King Cove Road. Her decisions, particularly the later , which a good Republican candidate could have a heyday with, might just have lost the state not only the road, but the re-election of the last Democratic federal official we’ll see for a very long time.

Alaska’s best political fundraisers: We’ll know for sure on Jan. 30, but word is that political neophyte and former DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan is going to easily out fundraise Lt. Gov. Treadwell, and maybe even incumbent Mark Begich, in the fourth quarter. On the state side, Gov. Sean Parnell is said to be raking it in, and earlier this year, I referred to Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux as an “uber” fundraiser, because she was, and she still is.

Best Alaska political consultant: Art Hackney has worked for Karl Rove and has handled the campaigns for Republican members of our congressional delegation for over two decades. (Full disclosure: he designed the logo for this site.) This year, he took over as President of the American Association of Political Consultants and then got elected to the board of directors of the International Association of Political Consultants, becoming the first to do so simultaneously. He also ran a stealth, winning campaign against alcohol taxes in the Valley, and fought with Bob Gillam against Pebble Mine, which looks all but dead.

Most underrated political force in Alaska: Bob Gillam took on one of the largest mining companies in the world, and it looks like he won. After Anglo America pulled out in September, the Pebble Partnership now has only one partner: Northern Dynasty, of which Rio Tinto owns 19 percent.  And now Rio Tinto is considering pulling out. It appears likely that it will do so.

Best shoes: Let me get something straight: It’s not just the shoes, but it’s how you use them. And for that, Sen. Lesil McGuire gets this award. Not only are hers drool-worthy, but her stilettos double as ice picks down the slippery Juneau streets, she also uses them to grind down bad bills as the chair of Senate Rules.

Best political spouses: Becky Huggins, wife of Sen. Charlie Huggins, is likely smarter, and definitely more charming and tougher than he. That’s saying a lot, considering that he is one of the most decorated veterans in Alaska and can do more one-armed pushups than anybody I know. Speaking of charming, Sandy Parnell’s charm and empathy is the most underutilized weapon that the governor has. Rep. Harriet Drummond’s husband, Elstun Lauesen was writing political analysis before I even knew Alaska existed and is still always one of the smartest guys in the room.

Best posture: While politicians know a lot about political posturing, one legislator stands out for her perfect posture – – Sen. Cathy Giesel (R- Anchorage). Her committees are also run like her gait: with grace and purpose.

Most embarrassing floor action: To give you an idea of how tame the current slate of lawmakers are, Rep. Scott Kawasaki (D- Fairbanks) wins this designation hands down for being caught on camera sticking his tongue out during a legislative debate. I thought it was funny, but Republican legislators were all like, scolding. Like, how could you. They were like, you embarrass us and this great institution. They were all like, next time you stick your tongue out at us, we’ll stick it out at you! Anyway, that’s what I got out of the press conference following the incident, dubbed by the clever folks at KTOO at the “tongue depressor.”

Most courageous thing ever said at a hearing: Speaking of things that weren’t said that we’ve all wanted to say, Wilda Laughlin, the legislative liaison for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, went ahead and did it. During one of those excruciatingly long legislative hearings, Laughlin yelled at Rep. Bill Stoltze to ““shut the f#%k up” over a hot mic.

Biggest government pay raise: This award goes to Bryan Butcher who almost doubled his salary when he left his post as commissioner of the Department of Revenue and became the executive director of the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation.

Most employable politician: If this politics stuff doesn’t work out for him, and he needs to get a real job, Sen. Donny Olson (D-Nome) can always go back to being a doctor, a lawyer, reindeer herder or a pilot.

Wiliest: Although they appear to be diametrically opposites, House Speaker Mike Chenault and Sen. Charlie Huggins have proved to have more in common than what it first appears. They both carry a good-old-boy charm. They’re both extraordinarily patient with the respective members of their caucuses. And while they’re both gentleman, they’ll cut your guts out if they need to. Chenault would likely do so with a fishing knife. Huggins might be more comfortable with the kind of army issue knife they gave to Vietnam combat vets.

Elected officials with the best political instincts: U.S. Sen. Mark Begich and state Sen. Johnny Ellis. Both of them are like animals.They don’t think, they act. They understand how to seize an opportunity and make it work.

Best Trivial Pursuit partner: On my team I’m picking Rep. Billy Stoltze, who has an uncanny memory and recall of facts, and is a tremendous student of history.

Best government flacks: I know that I’m biased here, but I can’t avoid it. This goes to those who, this year and in years past, answered my questions to the best of their abilities or found someone to do so, who understood deadlines, and who didn’t take the process personally. Thanks to Zack Fields with the Alaska Democrats, Stacy Schubert with Alaska Housing Finance Corp., Mark Gnadt with the House Minority, Carolyn Kuckertz with the Senate Majority, DOT spokeswoman Jill Reese, Cori Mills, an assistant attorney general with the Department of Law.

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Confusing quote of the day

“The inadequate rate of reimbursement by the Indian Health Service to Alaska’s tribal health system is another example of a broken promise by the federal government. The State of Alaska should not be expected to backfill this expense.”

Gov. Sean Parnell’s spokeswoman Sharon Leighow in an ADN story about how Medicaid expansion would boost federal funds for Alaska Native healthcare. But had Parnell chosen to expand Medicaid, the federal government would backfill this expense by paying 100 percent of the cost for three years and 90 percent after.


D.C. publications focus on Alaska Senate race

On Sunday, two inside-the-beltway publications, Roll Call and The Hill, featured stories focusing on the 2014 Alaska Senate race.

Roll Call headlined its article as one of its 12 “Most Fascinating Races of 2014: Alaska Senate.” The publication announces what Alaskans had known for years: Democratic Sen. Mark Begich is vulnerable. According to the article, the race is currently rated a Tossup/Tilt-Democratic by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call. Roll Call said the fight between the top two Republican candidates —  Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and former DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan —  is less about ideology and more about who can beat Begich, which is kind of true. However, Treadwell has increasingly positioned himself to the right, particularly on social issues, while Sullivan has steadfastly refused to go there.

In any case, the first real fundraising test is coming up. FEC financial disclosures are due on Jan. 30.

Enter the money game.

The Hill’s article, “Five Fundraising Numbers To Watch,” focuses on the importance of former Alaska DNR commissioner Dan Sullivan’s year-end campaign cash totals as a number to watch:

Republican strategists have been predicting a big fundraising quarter from Sullivan, a former Bush appointee with close ties to a number of national Republicans. His brother is a top fundraiser for Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio).Sullivan’s main primary opponent, Alaska Lieutenant Gov. Mead Treadwell (R), has struggled so far with fundraising, bringing in just $200,000 last quarter. If Sullivan can post a huge fundraising quarter, it could help establish him as the clear front-runner on the GOP side. But if he fails to live up to the hype, the primary could turn into a slugfest.

If nothing else, the article suggests that Sullivan’s D.C. Republican squirrels have been chirping into the ears of reporters, which I suppose is indicative of a campaign that’s capable of raising money. But it’s also worthy of note that those chirpers likely themselves have a financial interest in Sullivan’s fundraising prowess.

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Gay marriage wins in December

Gay marriageFirst New Mexico on Dec. 19 ruled for gay marriage, then Utah did so on Dec. 20. Three days later, a federal judge in Ohio ruled on a case which chips away at the state’s gay marriage ban. Jeff Toobin from the New Yorker calls the Ohio case the most important decision yet:

“(T)wo days before Christmas, a federal court in Ohio issued a lower-profile decision that may have been the most important of all. James Obergefell and John Arthur, who lived together in Cincinnati, married in Maryland at a time when Arthur was gravely ill. In anticipation of Arthur’s death, the couple petitioned the state of Ohio for Arthur to be listed as ‘married’ on his Ohio death certificate, and to record Obergefell as the ‘surviving spouse.’ Ohio, which does not allow same-sex marriages, refused, but federal judge Timothy S. Black ruled against the state and in favor of the couple. The judge said it was ‘not a complicated case.’ Throughout Ohio’s history, Ohio has treated marriages solemnized out of state as valid in Ohio. ‘How then can Ohio, especially given the historical status of Ohio law, single out same-sex marriage as ones it will not recognize?’ Black asked in his opinion. ‘The short answer is Ohio cannot.'”

If the Utah ruling stands, the number of states that allow gays and lesbians to wed will be 18, up from nine states, plus the District of Columbia in January. Still, 32 states prohibit same-sex marriage, and 28 of them, including Alaska, have prohibitions in their state constitutions. None of those states have overturned those prohibitions.

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Reform instead repeal gaining traction

Granted, I’m biased. Thanks to ObamaCare, I’m able to buy affordable health insurance on the private market for the first time. But soon, thousands of Alaskans will be as biased as I am. It’s not happening in Alaska yet, but Republican elsewhere are waking up. From the NYTs:

‘”It’s no longer just a piece of paper that you can repeal and it goes away,’ said Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin and a Tea Party favorite. ‘There’s something there. We have to recognize that reality. We have to deal with the people that are currently covered under Obamacare.'”


Chenault takes swipe at Parnell’s administration

Recently I wrote about how Democratic Reps. Les Gara from Anchorage, and Scott Kawasaki from Fairbanks, sent an email out to all members of the Legislature, trying to get support for a bill that would deny recommended pay raises for Gov. Sean Parnell, Lt. Gov Mead Treadwell, and the governor’s hand-picked commissioners. The bill was seen by some as a partisan move.

Now, however, it looks less so. On Monday, two days before Christmas, Alaska state Speaker of the House Mike Chenault also sent out an email to members of his caucus, which is primarily composed of Republicans, pitching a bill that would also deny the pay raise.

The raises were recommended by a state commission, which said that raises were “consistent with increases received by the majority of state employees.” The Legislature must act in the first 60 days of session, otherwise the pay raise automatically takes effect.

Parnell has already declined his salary increase, which would have bumped his pay from $145,000 to $154,644 by fiscal year 2015.

However, Parnell supports the other pay raises, which include bumping the lieutenant governor’s salary from $115,000 to $122,649 by 2015 and commissioners from $136,350 to $149,796.24 by 2015.

Dozens of state works and at least 40, if not more, members of unions working for the Municipality of Anchorage make significantly more money than either the commissioners or the governor.

The raises would cost the state roughly $140,000 a year by fiscal year 2015.

Some are surprised that the Republican leader of the House has taken such a swipe at his party’s Republican administration. Some see it as a way for Chenault’s caucus to regain the fiscal conservative label following the financial debacle surrounding the lease for the Anchorage legislative office building, the hundreds of millions spent on a natural gas pipeline that has yet to be built, and tens of millions spent on trying to build a bridge across the Knick Arm, famously dubbed one of the “Bridges to Nowhere.” To name a few projects that by most accounts, could be deemed less than fiscally responsible.

In other news: Merry Christmas.

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King Cove decision will provide fodder for Republicans eyeing Begich’s seat

Although both of Alaska’s U.S. senators voted to confirm Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, both Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski expressed outrage over her decision to block the building of a gravel road that would allow King Cove residents access to Cold Bay.

“It’s the same sad story—a federal agency that doesn’t listen to Alaskans,” Begich said. Murkowski called it “heartless.” Rep. Don Young, as is his wont, was more colorful. He called it the “largest pile of horse manure ever delivered on Christmas.”

For dozens of years, residents of King Cove — a village of about 900 on the Aleutian chain –have been lobbying for a small, gravel road that would allow residents access to medical care through the all-weather airport in Cold Bay. The state of Alaska and King Cove Native Corp. have offered a land exchange for the gravel road The state and King Cove proposed giving up nearly 60,000 acres of land for the nearly 2,000 needed for the road, which would include 200 acres from the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.

On Monday, Jewell said that the proposed land exchange wouldn’t compensate for the loss of food for migratory birds that stop in the region. “(T)o place eelgrass and waterfowl above human life is exactly what I would have expected from the Grinch, but not from an Administration that preaches access to quality healthcare for all,” Young said.

Because Young is a member of the House of Representatives, he didn’t vote on Jewell’s confirmation, but Murkowski and Begich both voted yes in April, 2013. Eleven Republicans voted against the nomination. It’s unclear what the ramifications of that vote will be for Murkowski when she is up for reelection in 2016. However, those who are eyeing Begich’s seat have already been making his vote an issue, and the decision today will provide fodder.

Last month, Republican candidate Joe Miller took Begich to task over his vote after Jewell said in a speech that there are areas “too special to develop,” including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. She also said that the Obama administration would consider taking unilateral action to “protect” certain lands.

Begich wrote a letter to Jewell in response, warning that he would “fight any effort by the Obama Administration to make ANWR off limits.”

“It is a mystery to me how Mr. Begich can imagine that he has any credibility on this issue when he is, at least in part, personally responsible for elevating the very people to power who are blocking access to Alaska’s resources,” Miller said.

Begich campaigned on opening ANWR in 2008, when he ran against the late Sen. Ted Stevens. His claim then was that it would be more effective to have at least one Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation to fight to open the refuge. That was five years ago. The area is still closed to drilling and it looks like nothing is going to change soon.

Republican candidate Dan Sullivan issued a press release on Monday, following Jewell’s decision.

“This decision once again highlights Senator Begich’s ineffectiveness within his own party. Sally Jewell should have never been confirmed as Secretary of Interior without a commitment to move this road forward.” Sullivan said. “Senator Begich was sent to Washington to work and educate the White House and his fellow Democrats in Congress, but has again failed to deliver for our state.”

Begich’s staff was immediately unable to say whether or not Begich spoke with Jewell about the King Cove road situation prior to confirmation.

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Pay raise flap continues

Democratic Reps. Les Gara from Anchorage, and Scott Kawasaki from Fairbanks, have gotten a lot of attention recently for opposing a proposed pay raise for Gov. Sean Parnell, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, and the 14 commissioners in Parnell’s cabinet. The publicity has had an impact. On Saturday, Parnell announced that he would not accept the pay raise that would have jumped his salary from $145,000 to $154,644 by fiscal year 2015.

However, Parnell supports the other pay raises, which include bumping the lieutenant governor’s salary from $115,000 to $122,649 by 2015 and commissioners from $136,350 to $149,796.24 by 2015.

“The proposed increases are consistent with increases received by the majority of state employees,” the state commission that recommended the salaries wrote. Indeed, dozens of state works and at least 40, if not more, members of unions working for the Municipality of Anchorage make significantly more money than either the commissioners or the governor.

Parnell’s announcement hasn’t dampened Gara and Kawasaki’s enthusiasm to pass a bill next legislative session that would deny the others the raise. On Tuesday, Gara sent out an email to all 60 legislators, looking for additional sponsors.

Unless the legislature acts, raises will take place automatically, a procedure that Gara and Kawasaki both voted for in 2008, when they also voted to double legislative salaries from $24,012 a year to $50,400.

Since the legislative raise took place, legislators who live outside of Juneau get paid about $238 in per diem a day for the 90 day session, and for any days beyond the regular session. In 2012, the maximum per diem was $24,439.  This is on top of their salaries.

In addition to their salaries and per diems, each legislator gets money to travel for state business and House members get $16,000 a year and each senator $20,000. Ostensibly, this money was to be used for office expenses. However, until recently, legislators could pocket the money to use as income if they chose to do so. (It should be noted that in 2012, Gara only used $8,000 of his allotted funds.)

Neither commissioners nor the legislators have to pay any monthly premium for what’s considered today to be “Cadillac” insurance.

Most legislators do work between legislative sessions. Last session, however, Kawasaki didn’t want to work between sessions, nor do all of them want to stay when a special session is called. Last session, for instance, Kawasaki asked if he could be excused from the call of the House from the time the legislature was set to gavel out in mid-April until the time they are back in session next January. He was told by House leadership that he couldn’t.

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Clarification: Gara and Kawasaki voted against the final bill to establish a salary commission.


Group attacks Begich for packing court with ‘liberal’ judges

The conservative Judicial Crisis Network will begin airing an ad in Alaska today attacking Sen. Mark Begich for voting to confirm “every single one of President Obama’s liberal activist judges.” The group said it will spend more than $100,000 airing the ads.

As of Dec. 11, the Senate has confirmed 211 Obama-appointed judges. However, the ad seems to be more interested in Begich’s yes vote for the two Supreme Court justices, as well as his recent votes, following filibuster reform, on the nominations that had been blocked by Republicans. It should be noted that Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski has also voted to confirm some of these nominees.

The ads might hurt Begich. Most of what Alaskans know about Begich is filtered through news about the state. Aside from the Supreme Court nominees, not much has been made about Begich’s judicial voting record and its potential impact on Alaskans. Nor has much been made about his recent votes on nominees to the D.C. courts .These courts are considered the most important courts in the nation because they handle cases regarding federal regulations, including EPA regs.

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I signed up for ObamaCare. It wasn’t scary, it worked and it’s affordable.

Obamacare I finally got it together, coinciding with the federal government getting it together, to sign up for ObamaCare. Unlike a few months ago, when the site wasn’t working and frustration took hold, I actually got it done today, with the help of a broker from Enroll Alaska, about whom I can’t say enough good things. It took about 45 minutes. It was stress free. It worked.

The most surprising thing for me was how relatively affordable the policy was. Where I used to work, the deductible was $2500 and the premiums were about $770 a month. And that was about half of what I would be paying on the private market. The policy I will have now through Premera, thanks to ObamaCare, is about $545 a month, without tax credits or any kind of government help. The deductible is $2000.

If you make less than 400 percent of the poverty level in Alaska– $57,400 a year for a single person or $117,760 for a family of four—you will qualify for subsidies.

To put this in perspective: The state is paying roughly $1400 a month in premiums for every state worker with a deductible anywhere from $300 to $600.

In other words, the policy I signed up for today is $845 less a month than the state pays a month to insure its workers. Let me repeat:  $545 month is pure private market money, without any government subsides.

It’s the first time in my life that I’ve ever been able to buy affordable healthcare on the private market. And I’m not alone.

Because of the mess of the ObamaCare roll-out, everything that is claimed to be wrong about the health care system has been saddled on the back of this legislation, and now is being used as political propaganda. The politicians who are making the noise are not subject to the cruelties of the private health insurance market. They have government funded insurance. They have tax payer funded insurance. They are simply unaware of how nearly impossible it was for many to get affordable insurance unless you worked for government or for a big corporation. And they certainly seem unaware of the grinding fear and frustrations, of the millions of stories of bankruptcy and financial ruin, all of which was the experience of the healthcare system for so many.

Sure, there’s probably lots about the healthcare law that needs to be fixed. But as I’ve written before, the more people that have the kind of experience that I had today, the more people are going to wonder why so many politicians are hellbent on getting rid of a policy that has made such an enormous difference in their lives.

The deadline to sign up for insurance to start Jan. 1 is Dec. 23.

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Does Treadwell really want to go back to the 1950s?

feminism According to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner’s Sam Bishop, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell sent out a fundraising letter in early November, which told a personal story about his mother and abortion. In the letter, and in others since, Treadwell writes about his 18-year-old mother’s decision not to have an abortion 58 years ago when she discovered that she was pregnant “out of wedlock.”

“We used to be a culture that valued liberty and life,” he wrote. Treadwell said that unlike Washington Democrats, “I am a Republican candidate for the United States Senate because I do not believe the way we used to be was wrong.”

It’s hard to say what rosy past Treadwell is evoking here, but since he brought it up, it appears that the 1950s was the time when we “used to be a culture that valued life.” The time, apparently, that he does not believe “used to be wrong.”

A few facts about the 1950s, the utopian era for which Treadwell apparently longs:

  • Until 1978, women could be fired for being or becoming pregnant.
  • In the 1950s, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower proposed cutting taxes from the the top rate down to 91 percent from 92 percent. Currently, the top rate is in the upper 30s.
  • In the 1950s and 1960s, laws in several states prohibited women from working and banned their hiring for some length of time before and after childbirth.
  • In most states until the 1970s, a wife didn’t have the right to refuse sex with her husband and a husband couldn’t be prosecuted for marital rape. In July 1993, marital rape became a crime in all 50 states.
  • In the 1950s, about a million illegal abortions a year were performed in the U.S. and somewhere between 160 to 260 women died from these abortions, while thousands more were seriously injured.
  • In Alaska, it wasn’t until 1968 that the first two women —  Mary Alice Miller and Dorothy Tyner —  were appointed judges.
  • In 1955 when Treadwell was born, there were no women on the U. S. Supreme Court and only two of the 307 federal district judges were women.
  • In 1955, of the 435 U.S. House members, 17 were women and only one of the 96 U.S. senators was a woman.
  • In Alaska in 1955, there were 16 territorial senators, one of whom was a woman, and 24 house members, three of whom were women.
  • Currently, out of 60 total, there are 17 women serving in the Alaska Legislature: 13 female members of the House of Representatives and four senators.
  • In 1955, the “poodle cut” was all the rage.
  • There was no licensed polio vaccine until 1962.

It goes on, including that Alaska wasn’t a state until 1959 and Prudhoe Bay wasn’t discovered until 1968.

Treadwell was once known in political circles as a forward-thinking, technology-embracing Republican moderate. That began to change when he ran in 2010 for lieutenant governor. Now, he’s even more vocally conservative than his boss, Gov. Sean Parnell, who although plenty conservative, would likely never say in a fundraising letter that he wants to go back to the days of Jim Crow, of separate but equal, of breathtaking sexism. The good old days when Treadwell’s mother could and likely would be kicked out of school or fired from her job because she chose to bring a child into the world.

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Walker fires back at Parnell over Medicaid. ‘Debate me’ he says.

15526075_mIn a Facebook post, independent gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker fired back at Gov. Sean Parnell over what Walker said was a misrepresentation of his support of Obamacare. Last week, Parnell’s campaign manager Jerry Gallagher sent out a fundraising email, calling Democrat challenger Byron Mallott and Walker “two peas in a pod” when it comes to supporting Obamacare.

“Two peas in a pod? How about Parnell and Gallagher as two oil industry lobbyists?” Walker wrote. Gallagher worked with Parnell at ConocoPhillips, where they were both lobbyists.

Walker wrote that while Obamacare isn’t the answer to the country’s health care issues, he did support accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid and thereby insuring up to 40,000 Alaskans through federal funds.

“By rejecting the expansion, Parnell in fact, supports ‘Obamacare; by forcing uninsured Alaskans into the ACA exchanges,” Walker wrote. “I continue to have two words for you, Governor Parnell. ‘Debate me.'”

Here’s the Walker’s post:

Not only is Governor Parnell misrepresenting why he has thrust Alaska into deficit spending, in a desperate attempt he is also misrepresenting my position on “Obamacare” (ACA). In Facebook posts and donation letter statements by his fellow ConocoPhillips lobbyist/campaign manager, Jerry Gallagher, Parnell claims Byron Mallot and I are “two peas in a pod” supporting “Obamacare”. (Two peas in a pod? How about Parnell and Gallagher as two oil industry lobbyists?) Parnell is pulling a play from Gov. Hickel’s playbook when he ran a successful “two peas in a pod” campaign against his two opponents in his Independent run for governor. I knew Wally Hickel. Wally Hickel was a friend of mine and Governor Parnell is no Wally Hickel. Hickel always put Alaska’s interests first.

Is our health care system broken? Yes. Is ACA the answer? No. But in agreement with the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce and other fiscal conservatives, once ACA became law, I supported Medicaid expansion with the caveat of continued federal funding. My support is due to the sheer economics of Alaskans paying for the expansion in federal taxes and increased premiums if we reject the expansion, the creation of 4,000 new Alaskan jobs, billions of dollars flowing into our communities from the expansion and lower cost coverage for 40,000+ Alaskans. By rejecting the expansion, Parnell in fact, supports “Obamacare” by forcing uninsured Alaskans into the ACA exchanges.

Stop trying to pull the wool over our eyes, Governor. Alaskans are smarter and deserve better than this. I continue to have two words for you, Governor Parnell. ‘Debate me.’

Contact Amanda Coyne at


Koniag Inc. selects Liz Perry as its new CEO

Alaska Native Corp. Koniag Inc., the regional Native corporation for the Kodiak area, has hired Liz Perry as its new CEO. Currently, Perry is the Pacific West’s regional vice president for SWCA Environmental Consultants. She isn’t Alaska Native, but she has a Ph.D. in anthropology, and has experience working with Native communities in rural Alaska and in Kodiak.

Perry joins an increasing number of Native Corp. CEOs who are female, including:

  • Michelle Anderson, Ahtna Corp.
  • Marie Greene, NANA Corp.
  • Sophie Minich, CIRI
  • Gail Schubert, Bering Straits Native Corp.

Glitches in Alaska’s DHSS computer system delay Medicaid payments

Gov. Sean Parnell has certainly had his complaints about ObamaCare, some of them—the disastrous rollout and the problem with the federal exchange website, to name a couple—are nearly universal. He has called it a “boondoggle,” and has used those issues, in part, to justify why he declined federal funds to expand the Medicaid program, the health care program partially funded by the federal government and administered by the state.

However, it appears that while Parnell was criticizing the program, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services has been experiencing its own share of computer-related issues with a new system that processes Medicaid payments. In some cases, those glitches have resulted in months-long delays in Medicaid payments to doctors and other medical providers.

In a letter published in the Anchorage Daily News, a long-time Anchorage-based psychiatrist, Aron Wolf, took issue with Parnell for not accepting funds to expand Medicaid and for criticizing the problems with the federal exchange while the state is having very similar problems.

“Gov. Parnell should get his own act together and make payments for services rendered to these needy Alaskans,” he wrote.

DHSS spokeswoman Sarana Schell said that the department is updating its old payment processing system for the first time since 1987, and that with any technology project of this size, “there are bumps in the road.”

The department, Schell said, is working to fix the problems. “We’re not quite halfway through the glitches we’ve identified – about 730 down, 900 to go,” Schell said. “We are, of course, prioritizing as we go, addressing the problems that affect the most providers first.”

Schell said that DHSS processes roughly 100,000 claims a week, and expects to reimburse medical providers about $25 million a week. However, it’s currently only reimbursing about $20 million a week.

In other words, there are still about $5 million of claims each week that aren’t getting paid by DHSS.

Wolf, the psychiatrist who wrote the letter to the ADN, has a private practice. About 12 percent of his patients are Medicaid recipients. He also consults with nonprofits that are more reliant on Medicaid, all of which have had problems with billing.

“These are nonprofits with very limited budgets,” he said in an interview on Thursday. “This is causing real problems for some of them.”

DHSS is urging providers to call if they are having a problem, and assuring them that the state will make sure they are paid. It takes about two days from the time of reporting to receive a check. It also said that the department is holding regular webcasts to educate providers.

According to providers, the checks that DHSS are cutting are based on historic payments and general good faith. They say that the state is considering it an “advance.” Many providers, according to Wolf, don’t know that this is an option. Others don’t trust such a payment from the state.

Senate Rules Committee Chair Lesil McGuire, who is running for lieutenant governor, said that she has heard complaints from those who haven’t received payment for Medicaid services. She was at a meeting recently of medical professionals, many of whom were complaining about the system. One provider said that she cashed out her IRA in order to continue to stay in business rather than accept money that might be later audited and turned into an accounting nightmare.

McGuire said that the lack of communication between the DHSS and the community was frustrating. “One of the things that Alaskans hate most about government is the lack of communication,” she said. “Government should communicate with all businesses anyway, but it’s most fundamental when you’re talking about caring for the most needy, for someone’s son and daughter.”

Wolf doesn’t blame the Medicaid division for wanting to modernize the system. He also praised the Medicaid division and the people who work there. However, he thinks that it should have communicated better with the providers that there was a problem, particularly as the governor was criticizing the federal government for having similar kinds of issues with its website. He discovered there was an issue only after he hadn’t received four weeks of payments from the state.

The changes and the problems, he said, were “snuck under the rug.”

Contact Amanda Coyne at


How to respond to statements like ‘Santa just is white’

From the LA Times’ Showtracker, the perfect way to handle Fox News’ Megyn Kelly’s declaration that Santa is white:

“Were there not a War on Christmas underway…Showtracker would counter that some scholars have debated whether Santa is at all and whether it would be possible to deliver presents to millions of homes around the world in a single night assisted only by a sleigh and a team of reindeer. But such musings might incite further hostilities in this war, which we hope is over soon so the troops can return home to their families.”