Monthly Archives: March 2014

Mallott calls on Parnell to accept Supreme Court subsistence ruling

On Monday, the State of Alaska lost a big case involving federal subsistence rights. Here’s a summary of the case from the Anchorage Daily News:

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up a long-running dispute over management of Alaska’s waterways.The decision effectively upholds a lower court’s decision in what’s become popularly known as the ‘Katie John case.’ This continues the federal government control’s over hunting and fishing on navigable state-owned waters adjacent to federal land. The decision, a blow to the state and a victory for the Alaska Federation of Natives, upholds a 2013 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The state of Alaska had petitioned the high court, seeking review.

In a release, Alaska Native leader and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Byron Mallott praised the decision and called on Gov. Sean Parnell to abide by it:

Rather than pursue senseless litigation, the state should engage in meaningful dialogue with its rural residents and Native peoples to protect the subsistence way of life.   I call on Governor Parnell to accept the Supreme Court’s decision and direct his administration to work constructively towards a solution that is fair and lasting.

In 2001, when Gov. Tony Knowles was governor, the state also lost its challenge in the Ninth Circuit. Knowles declined to take it to the Supreme Court.

Many in the state were puzzled when Parnell decided to revisit the issue, which outraged many in the Alaska Native community, who described it as an “assault” on their subsistence rights.

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Begich rides through NPR-A in third TV ad of campaign season

On Monday, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich released his third TV ad of the election season, featuring Begich riding a snow machine through the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, or NPR-A, the source of an ongoing development battle between D.C. and the state.

“We had waited decades to drill here in the National Petroleum Reserve, but Washington was still saying no, all because they didn’t want to build a road here…” Begich says. “It took five years before I got the road approved. Next year, the oil starts flowing,” he continues after stepping off the snowmachine.

If approved and drilling begins, it could produce as much as 45,000 barrels a day, and would be the commercial production of oil from the reserve.

The end of the ad says “To be continued.” In other words, watch for a serious of similar action ads.

GOP candidate Dan Sullivan is also releasing two ads this week.
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Alaska politics meets the Pillsbury Bakeoff Contest

I’m calling it. It’s officially breakup. Matching my heart, also breaking up, burdened with grief and shame. My mother had worked for months on a secret mango recipe for the Pillsbury Bakeoff Contest, which offered a grand prize of more than $1 million. I insisted on proof-reading the recipe for her. As I was doing so, the time slipped away. And so did the deadline. Poof went the $1 million do-the-fandango-mango dream.

There’s always next year, she said. Which is what those lawmakers who have been pushing for a constitutional amendment to allow for vouchers are thinking. Poof went the educational no-more-slouchers-choose-vouchers dream. What happened? Teachers. Some people like to beat them up, but I challenge you to find a more committed, organized and hard-working group in Alaska.

Anyhow, it’s not all bad, waiting for the next year, the next big thing. We Alaskans are really good at it. The bridge to Point McKenzie? Boosters have been pushing that dream since 1925. The Susitna Dam? That idea has come and gone and come and gone since the 1940s.

And then there’s the large-diameter natural gas pipeline.

Those perpetual projects and more are all back. Parnell’s really good at keeping all the flickering hopes alive. How does he do it? Even though deficits loom: he never says no to any of them. Keep them all funded just enough so they won’t go away, but don’t give them enough to actually do anything.

Nor does he apparently say no to raises for some around him. If Parnell’s FY 2015 budget goes through, the salary of his chief of staff, Mike Nizich, will have increased from $148,000 in 2010 to more than $209,000, or about 40 percent, not including benefits.

Speaking of money: The former Atwood Mansion was the site of a fund-raiser this past week for U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan. The house now belongs to John and Candace Hendrix. It was packed with about 100 of Alaska’s best dressed, including real estate pro Lisa Herrington, railroad chair and ACS exec Linda Leary, BP Alaska prez Janet Weiss, and many more. Sen. Hollis French might have called them la haute bourgeoisie.

Sullivan charmed as he does with certain deep-pocketed types. Although he needs to work on his common touch, people like giving the man money — witness the checks reportedly pouring in from everywhere. According to one recent poll, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell is the candidate with name recognition. But few want to give him money and many are writing him off, which surely feels worse than missing the Pillsbury Bakeoff.

Going nowhere? Rep. Lora Reinbold, reportedly perturbed that I write so much about her, seems perturbed about many things, most recently about educational issues and the Common Core curriculum, the current Tea Party bogeyman, on which she recently held a two-and-a-half-hour hearing. What did she learn?

No, Bill Gates didn’t fund it. No, the feds haven’t foisted it on the state. Surely, though, there’s something nefarious in the works, and she’s going to find out what it is. “This is going to be a series. This is only Part 1,” Reinbold said after the particularly torturous first part. “We don’t know how many more meetings . . . This is going to be ongoing for many, many years . . . I’m not going anywhere.”

Going places? Anchorage Sen. Lesil McGuire hired Harmony Shields, Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux staffer and Veep of the Young and Restless, to run her campaign after the session’s over.

Spotted on the tank of the toilet in the unisex bathroom on the fourth floor of the Capitol: a pregnancy test, sitting sad and lonely in a Tupperware bowl.

Only in Fairbanks: Did you hear about the priest for UAF who was pulled over in Fairbanks and blew three times the legal limit? When stopped, he remembered that he had a.357-caliber handgun in the back seat but forgot to mention the 9mm pistol in his back pocket. He was also carrying a bag of pot in his hoodie. Many punch lines with the phrase “higher calling” followed.

More news: Mary Halloran is reportedly going to try to breathe some life into Democratic gubernatorial candidate Byron Mallot’s campaign. Halloran has been around for a long while. She worked at OMB for Gov. Steve Cowper, and was a staffer for the late Speaker of the House Hugh Malone.

Mallott will also get some help from a newly formed SuperPAC called Mallott One Alaska, which has the sweet smell of union money.

Speaking of sweets: It’s Sen. Mark Begich’s 52nd birthday on Monday. The National Republican Senatorial Committee was thoughtful enough to send him a cake, on which was written, “Happy Birthday to the Senator that votes with Obama 97 percent of the time.”

Good enough for the Pillsbury Bakeoff? Nah. Begich’s office said that, like the NRSC itself, the cake was “just plain vanilla with artificially sweetened facts.”

More chow! The Alaska Mental Health Board on Tuesday afternoon hosted a wild game feed in the Capitol’s parking lot. Served up: bear, goose, reindeer, halibut, salmon and deer. There followed a couldn’t-miss reception co-hosted by the NRA, the Alaska Outdoor Council, the Safari Club and the Kenai Sports Fishing Association. Lots more food. Probably some guns. No fandango mango, pot or priests in sight.

Don’t be like me and let your dreams and deadlines pass by: Remember to vote on Tuesday.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


This piece was originally published in the Anchorage Daily News 


GOP Senate candidate Dan Sullivan hits the airwaves

GOP Senate candidate Dan Sullivan is on the air with two ads this week, his first televised broadcast ads of the campaign. The first, below, highlights Sullivan’s experience in the military, as DNR commissioner and attorney general. The second, narrated by his wife Julie, highlights a more personal side of the candidate. See that one here.

In the meantime, the pro-Begich super-PAC, Put Alaska First, disclosed on Friday that it was spending another $72,613 to extend its most recent ad questioning Sullivan’s Alaska residency. The ad is working, according to Jim Lottsfeldt, who runs the super-PAC. “If we’re doing it, it’s because it’s a good idea,” he said. This brings Put Alaska’s First total spend to date at $758,994.
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Loose Lips: Smith falls out of GOP favor? Palin up to her tricks? Happy B-day Dexter!

— Randy Ruedrich isn’t the official chair of Alaska’s Republican Party anymore. But everyone knows that he’s still highly involved, if not still in charge. An email from him is as good as getting an email from the party itself. Anyway, a reader alerted me to the following:

At 5:42 pm, Randy R sends out an email endorsing local candidates in the muni race. In that email, he says, ‘Your votes for Dean Williams and Don Smith will remove liberal Democrat spenders from the School Board.’ At 10:53, he sends out the same email, except now it says, ‘Your vote for Dean Williams will remove a liberal Democrat spender from the School Board.’ Wanna bet that he didn’t hear about Smith’s comments until after 5:42 p.m. and then retracted his blessing?

Most know by now that Don Smith said some offensive things about refuges, people of color and those with special needs during an Alaska Public Media interview. He might have survived to get the Republican’s endorsement even after that had he been contrite. He wasn’t. He came back swinging and blaming liberals.

— It appears Sarah Palin is up to her old tricks of getting media attention by criticizing all the attention the media gives to certain issues and politicians, not so much her these days. In a Facebook post on Saturday, she slammed the media for “ridiculous overkill” in covering Gov. Chris Christie, who she initially called “Chris Christy.”

Good Lord, media — distract much? The Middle East isn’t a tinderbox today? Our economy isn’t in the tank today? Scandalous liberal politicians aren’t getting busted in rapid succession today?” she wrote.

And Palin herself has a new reality show that involves guns and people who aim them at animals and call themselves patriotic for doing so.

— Rep. Bob Lynn’s cat had a birthday. Lynn is my favorite legislative Facebook poster and a cat lover to boot. Who knew? Read all about Dexter on Lynn’s Facebook post here.

— GOP Senate candidate Mead Treadwell’s last fund raiser of the quarter will be held Monday evening at the Embassy Suites from 5:30 – 7:30 pm. His host committee is: David and Connie Morgan, Lynne Curry, Patricia Kriendler, and Dr. Adrian Ryan.

— Insiders say DNR Dan Sullivan continues to rake it in and that he’s on track to be the first second candidate in the state’s history to have back to back seven figure totals. FEC reports are due April 15th. The first one was Begich in 2008.

— Going into the final weekend before the local elections in Anchorage, Sen. Mark Begich has doubled down in his support of D.C. Ward 6 candidate Darrel Thompson., according to CQ’s Roll Call. Read more here.

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The NRSC sends Begich a b-day cake. Any good? Nope, his office said.

It’s Sen. Mark Begich’s 52 birthday on Monday, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee was sweet enough to send him a cake to his D.C. office, onto which was written, “Happy Birthday to the Senator that votes with Obama 97 percent of the time.” Any good? I asked his office. Nah. They said that much like the NRSC, it was “just plain vanilla with artificially sweetened facts.”



Spotted in the Capitol: Because you never know when you might be pregnant

A thoughtful soul left a pregnancy test in the fourth floor unisex bathroom in Alaska state Capitol Building. Because you just never know! I’m told that this particular bathroom has some, ahem, history. Anyway, let’s hope that this is a symbol of resistance by one of the many Republican women in the building who ardently disagrees with the way some of their male colleagues have been speaking about birth control, but haven’t yet found the nerve to speak up.

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GOP Senate candidate Sullivan doubles down on repeal of ObamaCare

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced on Thursday that more than 6 million people across the country, including more than 6,000 Alaskans, have signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, the act that all three GOP senate candidates have vowed to work to repeal if they were elected to office. Enrollment is surging as the initial deadline to sign up approaches.

Candidate Dan Sullivan again sent out a press release, doubling down on his promise to work to repeal ObamaCare if elected.

What would happen to those more than 6 million who have signed up? Who knows? What would it be replaced with? Market based reforms, he said, but he shied from specifics. Tort reform is one such solution that’s often talked about in Republican circles. But most states have enacted some form of tort reform and it hasn’t helped. Alaska passed tort reform in 1997, and according to the American Medical Association, Alaska was one of five states where, between 1998 and 2007, an increase in population did not lead to a proportional increase in the number of doctors.

Buying insurance across state lines, is another GOP idea. It sounds good. Except experts roll their eyes when you mention it. Alaska has the highest medical costs of any place in the country, and we’re a sick bunch to boot. No reputable insurance company based in Virginia, say, or Delaware, who doesn’t already have a presence in this state is going to want to take Alaskans on.

If Sullivan focused on this issue, he might join the group of more thoughtful lawmakers who are talking about finding fixes for the law, fixes that wouldn’t leave those 6 million and many millions more who have yet to sign up, out in the cold.

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Murkowski votes in committee against Suh. Begich will likely vote against her on floor.

UPDATED: U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted in committee on Thursday against approving Rhea Suh to be assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the Interior Department.

The Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where Murkowski is the ranking minority member, voted to approve Suh along party lines, 12-10. Suh’s nomination now heads to the Senate floor, where she needs 51 votes to be confirmed. U.S. Sen. Mark Begich’s office said that he would likely vote against her confirmation. Begich is up for relection. A vote for Suh would likley be used against him by his Republican opponents. GOP candidate, Dan Sullivan, put out a release in February urging him to vote against Suh.

“Given his blind support for President Obama’s earlier Interior Department nominees, and his record of voting with the President 97 percent of the time, I won’t hold my breath,” Sullivan said.

If confirmed, Suh would head the Interior Department division that has decided against allowing a potentially life-saving road from King Cove to Cold Bay. Eleven miles of that road would cut through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. The road has received much attention in the state recently, largely thanks to Murkowski.

Suh has also in the past been critical of oil and gas development. While working for an environmental foundation, Suh said in 2007 that “the pace and magnitude of this [natural gas] development is easily the single greatest threat to the ecological integrity of the West.”

However, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, who chairs the committee, said that Suh has assured the committee that she would “absolutely support the responsible development of natural gas and other fossil fuels from our public lands.”

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More on the Dittman annual legislative poll: School choice has support

Last night, I wrote about Dittman Research’s annual poll commissioned by the Alaska state House Majority. The sample was 800 Alaskan residents from all over the state, and across party lines. It showed that marijuana legalization has the support of 52 percent of the public, with 44 percent opposing it. Raising minimum wage, another initiative on the upcoming ballot, has the support of 69 percent of the people. Gov. Sean Parnell has good job performance ratings at 54 percent, but not nearly as good as last year’s numbers.

What I left out, because I didn’t have the poll then, was what the public felt about education. Now I do. Despite what you might think and have heard, allowing for the use of public funds to go to private schools appears to have wide support across the state.

Here’s the intro paragraph into one set of questions, for which the polling sample was split:

A school choice program allows parents the option of sending their child to the school of their choice, whether that school is public or private, including both religious and non-religious schools. The goal is to improve overall performance by creating healthy competition among the schools. If this program is adopted, a portion of state funds that are currently allocated to a student’s school district would instead follow the student to the school of their parents’ choosing.

Based on that intro, here’s one question:

Would you support or oppose amending Alaska’s constitution to allow a school choice program in Alaska? …and is that strongly or somewhat support/oppose?

  • Strongly support: 32%
  • Somewhat support: 22%
  • Somewhat oppose: 9%
  • Strongly oppose: 33%
  • Unsure: 4%

Here’s the other question which was asked to the other half of the sample:

Please tell me which of the following two statements comes closest to your view:

  • Allowing public funds to be used for private schools will lead to an erosion of Alaska’s public school system: 31%


  • Allowing parents to choose where to send their child to school, and allowing a portion of the public funds to follow the child, will create a healthy competition and improve the overall performance of Alaska’s schools: 61%
  • Neither/Other: 5%
  • Unsure: 3%

The 61 percent who said that public funds going to private schools would increase performance were asked the following:

Would you support or oppose amending Alaska’s constitution to allow a school choice program in


  • Support: 74%
  • Oppose: 13%
  • Unsure: 13%

Notice that the word “voucher” wasn’t used in the poll. Even so, it appears that support is wide and deep. However, it’s still unlikely that a resolution that would put a state constitutional amendment up for vote of the people will pass the Senate this session. Sen. Mike Dunleavy, who is sponsoring the resolution, hasn’t been able to muster the votes. The resolution is in Senate Rules.

A few other issues: Only 13 percent know that oil funds 90 percent of state government. A whopping 16 percent think that it funds anywhere from 1 to 25 percent. This begs the question: why can’t the state and the oil companies do a better job of informing the citizens?

And 31 percent of Alaskans think that making deep budget cuts, at the expense of state services, is the best way to make up for budget deficits. That said, the public always wants budget cuts, until it’s a program that effects their lives.

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State of same sex marriage

From the blog Middling America:

As expected, the Michigan marriage ruling has been indefinitely stayed while the appeals process proceeds. Over the weekend 4 Michigan counties did issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  As with the couples who married in Utah, the state government is questioning the legal status of these marriages.  For now Michigan joins Utah, Texas, Oklahoma, Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio where Federal judges have ruled in favor of same-sex civil marriage’s legalization and where these rulings are now being appealed.

Civil Marriage March 26 2014

Note about the map: The state Supreme Court has ruled that the state must provide benefits to same sex couples.


Murkowski fights for what’s right, channels Ted Stevens for King Cove road

When the late Sen. Ted Stevens was gearing up for a fight, he wore a tie with images of the Incredible Hulk. In a Senate hearing on Wednesday where she confronted Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Sen. Lisa Murkowski channeled Stevens by wearing an Incredible Hulk scarf. In the audience were members of the community of King Cove, a village of about 900 on Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. They traveled roughly 4,000 miles to petition their government.

The fight, which has Murkowski and her staff as passionate and committed as I have ever seen them, is over 11 miles of a potentially life-saving gravel road from King Cove to Cold Bay. Cold Bay has an all-weather airport. King Cove does not. When the residents of King Cove need serious medical care, they call the Coast Guard, which picks them up and takes them to Cold Bay, in all kinds of dangerous weather. So far this year, the Coast Guard has been dispatched to the village seven times. Watch the video of one of those dispatches here to see what that’s like.

The 11 miles cut through a piece of the Izembek National Wildlife Reserve, a stop-over for migrating birds who feed on the grasses there. Ironically, the feds say that bird-hunting opportunities in the reserve are “world famous.”

A land swap was proposed and rejected. The refuge covers 300,000 acres, and the community and the state were offering to add 61,000 more in exchange for the road. The road is 206 acres. On Dec. 23, Jewell refused the deal .

For two decades King Cove residents have asked for permission to build the road on a piece of land that their ancestors have inhabited for thousands of years. A frustrated Stevens was able to broker a compromise. In 2007, the community got a hovercraft to transport residents between the two communities. The problem? Weather kept the hovercraft from operating most of the time, and cost about $3 million a year. For years, the hovercraft lay abandoned.

Environmentalists are worried about the precedent. They are staunchly against the road, and have dispatched bloggers and editorial writers across the country to write that the struggle for the road has more to do with a fish processing business than the safety of the residents of King Cove.

“But despite pledges and promises to the contrary, the real purpose for building the road is the same as it ever was: moving fish and workers to and from King Cove’s canneries,” wrote former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt earlier this month. Babbitt himself said no to the road.

That the legislation which would authorize the road would forbid commercial use of it doesn’t appear to matter.

Nor, apparently, do the residents of King Cove, or the safety of the Coast Guard members.

Sen. Mark Begich, it should be noted, has also been fighting for the road, but not with nearly the tenacity of Murkowski.

She and the community will win on this, eventually, because they’ve got right on their side.

And in the process, the environmentalists who have demagogued this issue at the expense of real lives will have lost allies across the state, and perhaps across the country. Including this one.

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Dittman poll: Parnell’s support strong but eroding, marijuana legalization iffy and a go for minimum wage hike

Anchorage-based Dittman Research presented the results of its annual Legislative-sponsored poll to Alaska state House members this week. The poll was conducted between March 4-9. Questions ranged from the governor’s job approval, to upcoming ballot initiatives, to state spending. The Legislature’s job performance was also polled. The sample was 800 Alaskan residents from all over the state, across party lines.

In a nutshell, the initiative to increase minimum wage is popular, marijuana might see a struggle, Gov. Sean Parnell’s support is eroding and the people like the state Legislature.

I don’t have the whole poll in front of me, but here are a few tidbits.

    • Minimum wage – 69 percent support increasing the minimum wage, 29 percent oppose and 2 percent are unsure. It has support across party lines. Democrats 87 percent, 52 Republicans percent, non-partisan 78 percent, and undeclared 71 percent support it. Women support it more than men: 74 and 65 percent respectively.
    • Marijuana initiative – 52 percent support legalization, 44 percent oppose it and 4 percent are unsure. Males are more likely to support legalization over women, 55 percent to 49 percent respectively. Surprisingly, the only geographic location where legalization fails is Anchorage, where only 47 percent support it. The biggest areas of support are Rural Alaska and the Interior.
    • Gov. Sean Parnell’s job performance – 54 percent say that the governor is doing a good job. Of those, 6 percent say he’s doing an excellent job. 41 percent say the governor isn’t doing a good job. Compared to last year’s poll, this one reflects a 23 percent slippage in job approval ratings.
    • Legislature job performance — 52 percent say that it’s either doing an excellent/good job and 42 percent say that it’s not very good/poor. Only 6 percent are unsure. Rural areas gave the Legislature the best performance review with the Interior and Southeast giving the poorest.

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Winners of the award for the most creative way to petition your government

This award has to go to Lucky Raven Tobacco in Soldotna, who are Sen. Peter Micciche’s constituents. Take note. It appears to be working.

From Micciche’s Facebook page.

It’s an amazingly positive and creative way to get my attention. Now do you see why I love my Senate District! Lucky Raven Management and Customers – I wish folks would create similarly positive messages when concerned about other issues as well. Just want you to know that I’m always open to discussing any issue…including this one. I will call Lucky Raven tomorrow and see if we can arrange a group teleconference!