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One Last Time

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We couldn't have built Alaska Commons Media without you, and we’re so grateful you could be a part of it. We gave it a try, and now it’s time to move forward. From all of us, to all of you: thank you.

When we started this experiment, a newsroom made up of volunteer editors and contributors, we didn’t know what would happen. We had some ideas, tried them out, adjusted the ideas, and kept moving forward.

The goal of Alaska Commons Media was to provide a space for voices in Alaska that weren’t getting heard, either because of the (occasional) cutthroat nature of the news cycle or the pieces of a story not coming together easily. Because of the nature of our newsroom, our team was able to spend a little more time on reporting on stories than most journalists are typically allowed. That extra time and patience made it possible to feature stories that influenced policy, held the powerful accountable, and evoked discussion. (Sometimes these discussions were productive, and sure, sometimes they devolved into a flame war. But, they were generally engaging.)

Occasionally, our stories moved people to action in ways we didn’t expect and are proud to have had a small part in stirring up.

One of the lasting lessons from this project is you can’t be afraid to try something different, even if you don’t have it all figured out. While we may have not been able to find a way to sustain our publication financially, we see other small newsrooms trying new ways to fund themselves and we hope they succeed.

Journalists in Alaska need your support. They need your defense when their access is restricted by those in power, and your funding when they lose advertisers or underwriters over controversial stories. Without your support, the state of Alaska journalism, the journalism field in general, is at dire risk.

Over the five years we’ve been in operation, our publication has featured stories from dozens of contributors. We were honored to receive 34 Alaska Press Club awards, which are judged and awarded by our peers in the Alaska journalism field. That recognition helped keep us going, despite our struggle with finding a sustainable model. But recognition does not necessarily translate to income, not matter how much you want it.

We are shutting our doors for now. One day, with the right funding and willpower, we may find a way to bring this project back to life. Until then, we will archive the site so it remains accessible for our contributors to demonstrate their work, or for new readers to find if they’re interested in one of the topics we’ve covered. (Yes, even the memes.)

Our readership was the thing that truly sustained us. Many of you have contributed stories or let us know about things we should cover. Your encouragement and criticisms helped us become a stronger publication, and we can’t thank you enough.

We couldn’t have built Alaska Commons Media without you, and we’re so grateful you could be a part of it. We gave it a try, and now it’s time to move forward.

From all of us, to all of you: thank you.

Sincerely,

Alaska Commons Media LLC
Heather Aronno, John Aronno, Chris Bailey, Jamey Duhamel, Tonei Glavinic, Warren Jones, Kokayi Nosakhere, Natalie Snyder, Tristan Walsh

This Week’s Top 10 Internet Memes

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Every week, we trawl the tubes to bring you the best internet memes. Why? Because we still want you to start your Saturday morning with a smile, a spit-take, and maybe a chuckle. Because you’re awesome, and you’re reading this. And. Thanks.

Randi Loch (FB)
The Josh (FB)
Last Unicorn (FB)
G. Prickette (FB)
(at)Mad_Hil (Twitter)
My Favorite Daily Things (FB)
Doggo (FB)
Deja Napoleon (FB)
Narcoleptic Panda (FB)
Bearmageddon (FB)

 

Bonus Gif!

Turn and Face the Strange (Ch-Ch-Changes)

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As some of you may know, our managing editor, lead writer, and good friend John Aronno has resigned from his role with Alaska Commons.

Since its inception, Alaska Commons has been a volunteer effort – none of our writers, illustrators, or board members have been compensated. This has been a challenge for all parties involved, and due to his depth of involvement and passion, it affected John and his family the most.

During John’s tenure we’ve grown from a blog nobody had heard of to an award-winning media outlet, punching above our weight and gaining the respect of our journalism colleagues, public officials, and most importantly you, our readers. His voice and his direction were invaluable in making Alaska Commons what it is. We are grateful for all he has done and hold nothing but love, respect and admiration for him now and in all his future ventures.

As you can imagine, this is a bit of an upset to our operations. We don’t know what this means for Alaska Commons moving forward. We ask for your patience and understanding as we regroup.

If you’re interested in lending your support in helping us move forward, you can contribute to our work at patreon.com/alaskacommons.

Latest Attempt to Roll Back LGBTQ Equal Protections Law Approved by Anchorage Municipal Attorney

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Photo by amboo who?, Creative Commons Licensing.

In a legal opinion issued Friday, April 21, Anchorage Municipal Attorney William Falsey recommended certification of a ballot initiative petition application aimed at allowing the restriction of bathroom and locker room access according to sex assigned at birth, rather than one’s gender identity.

The switch to provide for such access according to gender identity changed when Anchorage passed Ordinance 96 (AO96) in September of 2015.

AO96 was a sweeping piece of legislation updating the municipality’s antidiscrimination laws to include LGBTQ residents of Alaska’s largest city. Among the provisions adopted, gender identity was defined as “a person’s gender-related self-identity, as expressed in appearance or behavior, regardless of the person’s sex assigned at birth.”

In mid-November of that year, Jim Minnery, president of the far-right advocacy group Alaska Family Council/Action (AFC/A), told attendants of the organization’s annual dinner that he wasn’t ready to “throw in the towel” yet.

Two weeks later, former radio talk show host and AFC/A surrogate, Bernadette Wilson, introduced the first challenge to the law, applying for a referendum on the entirety of AO96. That failed to pass the criteria established by the Anchorage Charter on requirements for initiatives and referendums, said Falsey.

“Within a few weeks, Alaska Family Action will be submitting to the Municipal Attorney significant amendments to Ordinance 96 as a citywide initiative,” Minnery responded in an email blast last March. “While not fully repealing the misguided law, our intent is to bring back balance and create equal protections for people of faith who want to live and work in the public marketplace without fear of governmental intrusion and legal intimidation. It’s time for the pendulum to swing back our way.”

He added that AFC/A was enlisting the help of David Sears, president and chief counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a conservative, Christian, nonprofit that litigates cases involving religious freedom, access to abortion, marriage equality, and antidiscrimination laws.

In January, 2017, the AFC/A president’s wife, Kim Minnery, introduced a second attempt to roll back AO96, entitled the “Protect Our Privacy” initiative. Once again, Falsey was asked to review the application and recommend if it met the requirements to be submitted to voters.

“Subject to the following discussion, our brief answer is no,” Falsey replied. “The Anchorage Municipal Code mandates that initiative petitions may address only ‘a single subject.’ … No single subject unifies the various, disparate components of the law sought to be initiated by petition 2017-1.”

Kim Minnery resubmitted a third application for petition on the topic February 18. The language adopted Falsey’s recommendations and honed in on bathroom and locker room facility access, asking,

Shall the Anchorage Municipal Code be amended to: protect the privacy of citizens by requiring that certain intimate facilities such as locker rooms, showers, changing rooms, and restrooms within municipal buildings be designated for and used only be persons of the same sex; and provide that private employers, public accommodations and other persons may lawfully choose to designate intimate facilities for use only by persons of the same sex?

The petition, if it were to garner the necessary signatures and end up on a ballot then approved by voters, would redefine “sex” to mean “an individual’s immutable biological condition of being male or female, as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at the time of birth.” This could be verified and regulated by private and public officials overseeing activities in such venues according to an individual’s original birth certificate.

Falsey says the narrowing of subject matter accords it the chance to go through that process, saying the “brief answer” to whether or not it could be brought in front of voters, “is yes.”

However, in his opinion he noted, “The measure proposed in the application raises a number of significant legal and constitutional questions[.]”

We do not conclude that the measure proposed in the application would be lawful if adopted by voters. We conclude only that it comports with the limited requirements of Anchorage Municipal Code 2.50.020B.: the measure does not concern a subject-matter prohibited by the Alaska Constitution or the Anchorage Municipal Charter; the measure addresses only a single subject; the measure is legislative, rather than administrative in nature; controlling authority does not clearly preclude the enforcement of the measure as a matter of law; and we cannot, at this time, conclude that the measure is “clearly unconstitutional.”

Whenever an application for an initiative or referendum is received by the municipal clerk’s office, it has 30 days in which legal counsel can review the submitted application and recommend whether or not it should be certified or denied according to the regulations laid out in municipal code. This does not include a review of the application’s constitutionality under local or state law. Thus, the noted caveats by Falsey.

The application submitted by Minnery satisfied the requirements of attaining basic information: that of two primary contact people, 10 qualified voters serving as sponsors, and whether or not it passed the basic test of clearing municipal code. This third attempt checked all applicable boxes. It does not, in other words, “run afoul of the restrictions set out in the Anchorage Municipal Charter,” Falsey wrote.

It also, by narrowing the scope to bathroom access, does not violate the Anchorage Charter’s single-subject rule mandating that an initiative or referendum be isolated to one topic.

But Falsey entered the policy realm of “in the weeds” when he addressed the enforceability of such a law, should it clear nearly certain judicial challenges and arrive on next year’s municipal ballot.

He noted that the proposal “prompts a number of practical enforcement concerns.”

“It is not clear how the municipality, practically, could assess a person’s ‘anatomy and genetics at the time of birth,'” Falsey wrote. “Individuals do not commonly carry copies of their ‘original birth certificate[].’ Further, in many cases, it will simply not be obvious that a person is aiming to use a sex-designated facility that does not correspond with their sex at birth.”

Falsey cited decisions made by the First, Sixth, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuit Courts which have held that discrimination against transgender citizens based on a transgender status “is discrimination because of sex under federal civil rights statutes and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.”

“Numerous district courts have recognized that sex discrimination includes discrimination against transgender persons because of their failure to comply with stereotypical gender norms.”

Falsey referenced Glenn v Brumby (2011) specifically, where the 11th Circuit Court ruled in favor of Vandiver Elizabeth Glenn. Glenn was determined a biological male at birth, but identified as a woman since puberty. In 2005, she was diagnosed with “Gender Identity Disorder (GID).”

Glenn was employed as an editor with the Georgia General Assembly’s Office of Legislative Counsel (OLC) and was fired because of sex discrimination. She showed up to an office Halloween party “presenting as a woman,” the court wrote. Sewell Brumby, in his position as the head of OLC, told Glenn her appearance was inappropriate and asked her to leave, describing said appearance as inappropriate. Termination followed shortly after. Glenn sued.

Judge Rosemary Barkett wrote in favor of Glenn, calling Grumby’s complaints speculative and without “important” or even “sufficiently important government purpose” resulting in her termination.

Falsey noted that, just last year, a federal court decided in Grimm v Gloucester County School Bd. that “Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act of 1972 can be interpreted as forbidding schools that receive federal funding from requiring students to use the restroom consistent with their birth sex, rather than their gender identity.”

But he admitted that the issue remains contentious with ongoing litigation proceeding throughout the country. The application meets the requirements that necessitate the role of the municipal attorney in qualifying it to proceed.

An additional recommendation was made, however, that the title of the initiative be changed. The “Protect Our Privacy Initiative,” he said, “is not neutral.”

As identified in the discussion above, many in the transgender community would see the measure as undermining their privacy interests by compelling them to request a single-occupancy facility or, if they comply with the proposed law, to enter a multiple-occupancy facility consistent with their biological sex at the time of birth, and yet inconsistent with their physical appearance, thereby forcing them to reveal the otherwise-private fact of their being transgender. We believe a title that does not inject bias or partisan coloring should focus on the primary effect of the proposed measure in comparison to current law. We suggest the petition be given the short title, “Regulating Access to Facilities Such as Locker Rooms and Bathrooms On the Basis of Sex at Birth, Rather Than Gender Identity.”

Additional recommendations were made about the proposed initiative’s summary.

The new initiative would need an amount of signatures equal to or more than ten percent of votes cast in the last general mayoral election. That number is 5,754. Considering the runner-up in that election, Eagle River Assembly member Amy Demboski, campaigned against an equal protection law for LGBTQ residents and received over 27,000 ballots cast, that is not a significant challenge.

In the meantime, expect this to head to the courts.

This Week’s Top 10 Internet Memes

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Every week, we trawl the tubes to bring you the best internet memes. Why? Because we want you to start your Saturday morning with a smile, a spit-take, and maybe a chuckle. Because you’re awesome, people love you – or in some cases don’t at all – and you deserve it.

 

John Johnston (FB)

 

Rave Humor (FB)

 

Brett King (FB)

 

Petty Memes (FB)

 

TheyCanTalk(dot)com

 

Cheezburger

 

Dwayne Savedgang Ouzts (FB)

 

The Geek Strikes Back (FB)

 

My Favorite Daily Things (FB)

 

Disney Memes (FB)

A Letter to the Editor from Anchorage School Board President Tam Agosti-Gisler

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Photo by Alan Levine, Creative Commons Licensing.

Dear editor,

It’s disheartening to hear comments made in the legislative halls and offices of Juneau which are based on incorrect information and hyperbole. At a time when state legislators are making important decisions which will have far-reaching impacts on our state, it’s critically important they use facts to inform their decisions.

Here’s how the Senate Majority’s 5.7 percent proposed reduction in state education funding would impact the Anchorage School District (ASD). ASD stands to be cut $19,838,000 from the State. Additionally, ASD is one of only five districts in the state which also will be impacted by a state-mandated corresponding local reduction in support. That adds another $4,562,000 for a total of $24.4 million in cuts. This reduction would be on top of the $15 million ASD has already cut from the operating budget in February, preceded by several years of additional cuts!

It’s also disconcerting to hear a statement that ASD could reduce its administration by 4.72 percent. In fact, ASD spends the least on district administration of the “Big 5” school districts (including Mat-Su, Fairbanks, Juneau, and Kenai). The total expenditures on district administration, as well as district administrative support, is nearly $29 million — or 4.79 percent — of total operating budget expenditures. Let me paint a ludicrous picture of the consequence of a cut that large in district administration and support:

Human Resources — no hiring or firing of employees, no contract bargaining or administration, no benefits management, no labor law compliance, no workmen’s compensation, no risk management nor liability claims processing, no health clinic contracting, no coordination of school nurse services

OMB/Finance/Payroll — no payroll for employees, no budgeting, no fiscal management or audits

Information Technology — no use of the Internet or technology for operations or educational purposes, no device maintenance or repair

Communications — no ASD website, no ASD communications with the community via electronic newsletters, news releases, social media, or local news media

ESEA Federal Programs — no compliance with federal laws with resultant suspension of federal funding

Grant Writing — no grant applications with resultant loss of numerous district and school programs

Security/Emergency Preparedness — no coordination of safety and security in the district or with the Municipality

Community Services — no rentals or use of ASD schools for community events, no field trip coordination

Purchasing — no bidding, no district procurement, no interschool mail, no supply delivery

With the remaining 0.07 percent, the Superintendent could have an academic chief and an operating chief to run the instructional (regular and special education and support services) and operational functions (transportation, food services, school maintenance, and construction), but without the above-stated services, I’m confident the board would have a hard time retaining any leader.

I’ve also heard inaccurate statements that many of the district’s administrative services could be handled on site by the school administration. Once again, that shows a gross misunderstanding of the work performed by ASD principals and assistant principals.

The district has already increased the workload of principals in some schools by reducing the number of assistant principals. Yet, their duties continue to include: staffing and teacher evaluation, instructional leadership, course scheduling and teacher assignments; student registration and scheduling; student decorum: referrals, reports, behavior expectations and consequences; attendance monitoring and truancy processing; student assistance: peer helpers, and drug/alcohol intervention; assessment planning and oversight; staff professional development coordination; parent and community relations,; unit budget preparations and oversight; procedures and approvals for requisitions; supervision of student activities; staff and student recognition; school climate; accreditation reporting; building maintenance supervisions; student remediation efforts; graduate support services and graduation planning; student records; department chair supervision; Freshman fair and fall orientation; open house planning; zone exception determinations; student activities; and more!

Here are the facts:

  • Public education is a people intensive industry.
  • 79 percent of ASD’s budget is dedicated to instructional functions.
  • For all school district functions, 90 percent of ASD’s budget is applied towards payroll and benefits.
  • The largest percentage increase in personnel costs for the last 35 years is medical costs; salary costs have remained steady with inflation and are not inflated.

When the cries of “cut the fat in administration” are heard, please know this is a smoke screen. The proposed funding reductions will result in more administrative trimming on top of the 25 percent the Board has already reduced, but the majority will be in teacher reductions because that’s where the vast majority of ASD funds are spent. Those positions most vulnerable are the new hires whom staff has worked so hard to recruit and train.

If the budget is not finalized within a few weeks, the churn will begin as state law mandates districts issue pink slips by May 15, regardless of whether the state budget has been finalized. How many of those treachers are going to stick around Alaska in the hopes they are recalled in August when they have rent or mortgages, groceries, or other bills to pay?

Is this healthy for our students, their families, and our community? Does this community want our public education system dismantled? Give your answer to your legislators.

Alaska’s Veterans and Pioneer Homes are Here to Stay

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Photo by Wonderlane, Creative Commons Licensing.

This goes out to those lawmakers who had the audacity to propose closure of the Veterans and Pioneer Homes of Palmer and Juneau this summer in a budget cut move.

It’s not going to happen, get it?

This was wrong on so many levels right from the get go. What were you guys thinking? Because all it succeeded in doing was tick off a slew of veterans and their families with one stupid notion.

I’m one of them.

I first found out about after an article by Zaz Hollander appeared the Alaska Dispatch News last week. I couldn’t believe it. In fact, I still had a hard time thinking of what kind of person or persons would even suggest it. Yet, it came up again in an opinion piece by Dermot Cole, also of the ADN, which basically said, no they couldn’t close the homes. What was going on?

A game of political football had broken out. The most vulnerable people of our community — seniors and aging veterans — became the ball. A despicable move that was wrong in so many ways. The uproar it caused rallied many in support of the veterans and seniors that called this place home. So much so that the offending lawmakers retracted their move, basically saying: “Whoops! Sorry. We didn’t mean it. Our bad.

One word? Bulls***!

The governor was falsely accused by some to be involved. He wasn’t and he has openly opposed this bad idea and pledged his support for these homes.

I believe him. Why? His father — a World War II veteran of some renown — was a resident of the Palmer home for a number of years before passing away in 2011. He was the last of Castner’s Cutthroats, the unofficial name given to the 1st Alaskan Combat Intelligence Platton; a tough fighting force of Americans and Native Alaskans who fought the Japanese in the Aleutian campaign. I met him many years ago.

Gov. Walker thanked the state senate for their Sense of the Senate, supporting the Pioneer Homes and bringing the issue to an end. He added: “I will continue to do everything within my power to assure no Pioneer Home will be closed while I am Governor.”

You know what? I trust him to keep his word.

Still, the notion of shutting these homes down and moving their residents out to other homes galled me. It should never have been brought up in the first place.

This is personal. I am a veteran of the U.S. Army — retired after 21-plus years of service, an Iraq War veteran of OIF II from ’04-’05. That could be me someday, a resident of a place like this. These lawmakers messed with my family.

Big mistake. A very big mistake.

When I got word through social media, i.e. Facebook, that a rally was planned at the Palmer Veterans Home at 1:00 pm on the 15th of April, I was determined to attend it. Besides, it was my 56th birthday and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate it by standing up for my fellow GIs and telling those who pushed this idiotic idea, “Not on my watch. Not ever.”

Would you believe close to 150 people showed up? It was amazing and heartwarming to see veterans of all the services showing up at the head of the Palmer Veterans and Pioneer Home driveway on that sunny April day.

Some of the Combat Bikers Association rode in on their Harleys to make a very loud statement of support. And, boy, were they ever loud. Even some of the residents wheeled themselves in walkers and wheel chairs out to join us on the sidewalk as a camera team from Channel 2 KTUU News filmed it all. The ADN covered it as well. Along with myself covering it for Alaska Commons in this column.

It should be noted that Governor Bill Walker (I-Alaska) and First Lady Donna Walker stopped in at the Veterans and Pioneer Home in Palmer that same day to assure the residents that this was their home and no one was going to force them out.

He stated he could not make the rally because he had to be in Anchorage to meet up with Vice President Mike Pence, according to an article published by the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman April 15th by Matt Hickman.

I find that a good and heartening thing that our governor took the time set the record straight for these proud veterans and seniors of this home. I found out about this as I was writing this piece.

There were some short speeches made. The Mayor of Palmer, Edna DeVires, issued a proclamation saying the home would never be allowed on the chopping block and the residents that called the place home would never be allowed to be uprooted, ever.

Other speeches were by members of the Palmer City Council and one by Mat-Su Borough Assembly member Jim Sykes, which echoed the mayor’s sentiments.

The rest were made made by veterans and residents of the home behind us in thanks for those who showed up to stand with them.

This was democracy in action. This was the American will making their case known. This was American veterans from WWII to Afghanistan telling politicians and state lawmakers in one voice: “NO! You will not mess with our kind — ever.”

I believe those lawmakers in question got the message, loud and clear. Just in case there were ever any doubts: The Veterans and Pioneer Homes of Alaska are here to stay.

Period.

Emotional and Epic Changes to the Anchorage Assembly. Here’s An Illustration

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The photo will make sense if you read this article. I promise.

Nothing gets me more excited than the annual Anchorage municipal elections. Barely anyone shows up — less than 20 percent of Anchorage voters turned out in this year’s municipal elections, even though 55 percent of the body governing Alaska’s largest city was up for grabs. We spent much more attention to safe seat Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) held by 15 points over her closest opponent.

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) similarly won easily with roughly the same margin.

Nearly 62 percent of registered voters turned out, despite Murkowski’s presence in the senate equating to one percent of the body and Young’s a dismal 0.23 percent in the House.

So, the biggest turnout shows up for the least immediately important elected posts. Fun. Neat. Great priorities.

Moving on.

As a college professor once told me, the world belongs to those who show up. Evidently, the same goes for municipalities.

My favorite moment in politics happened tonight, as the Anchorage Assembly thanked four retiring members for their service and welcomed their newly-elected replacements.

The Assembly has struggled with its identity over the past ten years. The body is nonpartisan by Charter — our city’s constitution — but has begun to mimic the state and federal legislative bodies in recent years. That is unfortunate. The objections from the electorate, who, broadly, seem to only opine when the people they didn’t show up to vote for or against do something they haven’t bothered to research but heard they should object to, are kind of annoying. But, hey, democracy! (Rebuttal: It’s a republic! Re-rebuttal: it’s a constitutionally limited, representative, democratic republic — google it.)

But the Anchorage Assembly is still, in practice, small enough of a body to offer up a beacon of hope.

Tuesday evening was that annual event. I’ve sat through a decade of these. This was the most emotional — though now-Rep. Harriet Drummond’s (D-Anchorage) puppet show send-off to Sheila Selkregg was a notable second.

It was emotional for many reasons — and, admittedly, struck close to home. I was a staffer on the Assembly for three years for Patrick Flynn, the sole representative of the downtown district. And tonight, I saw my boss term out. I saw a close friend replace him. Christopher Constant and Felix Rivera broke a giant ceiling with their electoral wins this year, becoming the first openly gay elected officials to ever be elected to office in Alaska’s largest city. They burst through that barrier and accomplished something amazing — twice in one night.

On the other hand, well over half a century’s worth of institutional knowledge just walked out the doors of the Assembly Chambers in the heart of the Loussac Library with the departure of Bill Evans (South Anchorage), Patrick Flynn (Downtown), Elvi Gray-Jackson (Midtown), and Bill Starr (Eagle River).

Bidding Farewell

Flynn, Gray-Jackson, and Starr are terming out after three three-year terms. Evans chose not to seek reelection after an effective first term, including drafting the first version of AO-96 — an ordinance protecting LGBTQ residents of the municipality from discrimination — despite being a conservative representing a deep red district in South Anchorage. He also took on the taxi cab union and expanded the amount of permits accorded in an attempt to create competition. Voters backed him up on that move, by the tune of a near 20 point advantage.

“I don’t think all conservatives are cut out of the same cloth or believe exactly the same things, although some demand that they do,” Evans told me shortly after introducing the anti-discrimination ordinance, which was a significant plank of the Berkowitz Administration’s mayoral campaign. “No, I fully support what I’m doing. I think it’s the right approach to this.”

Berkowitz’s opponent in that election was then-freshman Eagle River Assembly member Amy Demboski, who credited Evans for her decision to run and then ran opposing such an ordinance.

“It’s always fun when you have people who are independent thinkers, because it challenges you to look for creative solutions. And Mr. Evans, there’s no question. You have left a mark on the Anchorage Assembly and the Municipality of Anchorage,” she told Evans Tuesday evening. “I’ve watched you. I’ve learned from you. And I just appreciate the way you critique issues and the way that you challenged me on my own ideas. I will miss you. Believe it or not, I will.”

“We’ve got two types of people working on this Assembly: potted plants and people who want to get things done. Thank you for not being a potted plant,” Dick Traini (Midtown) said. “You shook things up. I may not always agree with you, but you shook them and I appreciate you for that. Thanks for working with us.”

Some were happier to be moving on than others.

“I’m not going to be here after tonight. That’s probably a good thing,” Starr told a crowded room. Starr has been a consistent voice for the shrinking conservative contingent on the body. “I think we all came into this with the idea that we were going to change the world and, to a certain degree, we did change our little world.”

It should be noted that, in my experience, if Starr found a topic that he thought he might presumably take issue with, he would study it with a veracity and devotion that gave him an advantage over anyone else on the body. And anyone who ended up on his bad side immediately regretted their error.

“I take credit for some of it. I also really commend the folks that stayed up here with me and we did it all together,” he added.

“Bill, you’re going to go back, but you’re going to watch us. You’re going to know what’s going on,” Tim Steele (West Anchorage) responded. “And I hope to hear from you when you’ve got something positive to say.”

“I’m looking forward to leaving, actually,” Flynn half-joked. “And I had a few friends over, and one of them who couldn’t make it [tonight] said, ‘Well it’s only one-fifth of his life. What’s the big deal?'”

Flynn thanked his neighbors, who, he said, “were kind enough to let me be their voice on this body for all these years.”

“That’s the privilege of representing a district where you grew up and where people may not necessarily agree with you, but they know you and they trust you to do your best,” he added. “Maybe we’re not necessarily always going to get it right, and I certainly did not every time, but you do your best.”

There is no one who has taught me as much about politics, public policy, and public service as Patrick Flynn during my three years as his staffer on the Assembly. (I say that with apologies to the amazing professors at UAA, but I’m fairly sure they will understand.)

Elvi Gray-Jackson was emotional as the notion of leaving the body after the closing moments of her two years as chair, nine years as an Assembly member, and 29 years of public service within the municipality set in.

When it was her turn to speak, she said she had been crying all day and asked Municipal Clerk Barbara Jones to read a statement she penned.

My goal for Anchorage was to improve public safety, support public education for our children, maintain integrity and ethics in government, grow our economy, and enhance the quality of life. I did my best,” Jones said in her steed. “I know I haven’t always voted the same way some of you may have hoped, but I am proud to say I’ve always listened, never made any decision based on personal opinion, and did what I thought was best for the community as a whole.

“I am grateful to have worked with all of you, whether it’s been one year, for years, or nine years,” she concluded.

“I’ve seen firsthand just how much your community means to you. You always fought on behalf of your constituents and represented them well,” Starr told Gray-Jackson.

While reading her statement, Jones stumbled on one sentence. Gray-Jackson wrote, “To the Assembly staff, I hope you’ve enjoyed the personal notes written to each of you.”

Jones interrupted her own reading to interject, “We have.”

New Members Sworn In

Christopher Constant replaced Flynn representing the sole downtown district seat.

Felix Rivera fills the vacancy left by Gray-Jackson, who offered him her full support.

“There will be nobody, Elvi, that can replace you,” Traini opined to his longtime colleague. “Although Felix has been trying, I’m told he’s almost to where he can get into size 12 shoes. That’s some big shoes to fill.”

Suzanne LaFrance cleared a major hurdle as, after Weddleton’s victory last year, both South Anchorage seats are now held by center-left candidates.

After the new members were sworn in — and Traini was returned to the chairmanship (a position he’s held more than anyone else in the city’s history) and Forrest Dunbar was elected as vice chair — Christopher Constant raised his voice during the closing minutes of Tuesday’s brief meeting.

I just want to take a moment to put on the record that Anchorage has crossed a threshold: that for the first time, openly gay elected officials now serve this city; that the process has been long and hard; that this city’s gone back and forth for 40 years determining representation for LGBT people should be equal and that protection should be provided by law. And we’ve gotten there. And we’ve taken the next step. And I look forward to serving this body and taking care of our roads, and our streets, and our public safety, and all the issues that are important therein. And I’m glad that I’m not there alone.

From Potted Plants to Comic Books, and Credit Where It’s Due

“Let’s talk about comic books for a moment,” freshman South Anchorage Assembly member John Weddleton said, breaking the emotionally fraught proceedings.

Weddleton, aside from being an Assembly member, is the owner of Bosco’s Comics, Cards, and Games.

He noted that, during the last meeting before Christmas, he handed out custom-made buttons linking his colleagues to superheroes. “And I gave a little thought to the buttons before I gave it to them.”

Bill Evans was Magneto. And, you know, Magneto – a lot of people loathe him, a lot of people champion him. Magneto doesn’t care. But, wherever Magneto is going to go, big things are going to happen. And that was Bill Evans and he did not stop after Christmas with big things. Very, very impressive. Enjoyed working with him.

Patrick Flynn was, of course, Loki. Like Loki, if he’s only half as smart as he thinks he is, he is the brightest man in the room, and does everything with some degree of mischief. Sometimes a lot. So, it was a perfect fit.

For Elvi, interesting enough, they have been drawing the character Storm to look like Elvi for decades. So, I chose Storm not just because of that, but also because Storm is a force of nature, as is Elvi. And it’s been a joy working with her. I’ve learned so much. Not just in this year, but even in my involvement prior to being on the Assembly.

Bill Starr got Iron Man —  not just because he’s a rich guy who likes to fly, but, also, you know, one way or the other, he ends up fighting really hard for what he thinks is right and that’s really important.

 

House Punts on REAL ID Act, Offers Objection in Lieu of Action

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Photo by Josh Hallett, Creative Commons Licensing.

On day 90 of the 90-day legislative session, the Alaska Legislature finally passed legislation responding to the federal government’s required compliance with the REAL ID Act of 2005.

The federal requirement, signed into law as part of an omnibus bill entitled, “Emergency Supplemental Appropriation for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief,” dealt with myriad new regulations — including security measures “for the state driver’s licenses and identity documents, as well as various immigration issues pertaining to terrorism.”

The new standards were a result of the 9/11 Commission as a necessary precaution to combat terrorism.

“Fraud in identification documents is no longer just a problem of theft,” the commission found. “At many entry points to vulnerable facilities, including gates for boarding aircraft, sources of identification are the last opportunity to ensure that people are who they say they are and to check whether they are terrorists.”

They recommended a requirement that all state-issued licenses and IDs must “bear digitally encoded personal information and possess physical features designed to prevent tampering, counterfeiting, or duplication for fraudulent purposes,” according to the Migration Policy Institute, a D.C.-based nonprofit.

Lisa Murkowski and Ted Stevens were among the 99 U.S. senators who lent the measure their stamp of approval (the late Sen. Daniel Inouye was absent for the vote).

The result was an unfunded mandate requiring the states to comply with the new federal standards.

12 years later, 26 states have done so. Alaska is not one of them.

Alaska passed a law, carried by Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage), that prohibited the use of any state funds “for the purpose of implementation of the requirements of the federal Real ID Act of 2005.”

The objection remains law today.

But, so does the federal law requiring state compliance. That could soon be a significant issue for Alaskans hoping to get out of dodge this Summer.

In March, Governor Bill Walker (I-Alaska) warned about potential threats non-compliance could translate to:

“Starting June 6, Alaskans who work or live on U.S. military bases will not be able to gain unescorted entry using their Alaska driver’s licenses or any other form of state identification — if the legislature does not pass bills to ensure Alaska’s compliance with the federal REAL ID Act,” Walker stated in a press release. “Also, starting January [22, 2018], Alaskans will need a U.S. passport or other REAL ID Act-compliant forms of identification for domestic travel.”

As I noted at the time,

In past years, Alaska has received a series of three-year waivers exempting the state from enforcement of the REAL ID Act, but DHS has told the Department of Administration (DOA) that, unless the State passes legislation this year, there will not be another waiver.

As soon as June 6, state employees, private contractors, teachers, and others will not be permitted on base without action by the legislature.

“That would directly impact 14,000 local contractors and service providers who could be denied access to federal and military installations,” Brian Duffy, representing the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, told lawmakers during a hearing on SB34 — a bill that would bring the State into compliance with the REAL ID Act.

“In the future, without a State ID option, parents won’t be able to attend a school event or participate in parent-teacher conferences, or even pick up a sick child [on base] without a passport,” Sharice Walker, with the Fairbanks North Star Borough, added.

Compounding the issue off access to military facilities is the looming threat of Alaskans being unable to pass through Transportation Security Information (TSA) checkpoints at airports without a passport.

Only 55 percent of Alaska residents have a passport or a passport card, meaning 45 percent will not be able to use one in lieu of a READ ID card. Obtaining a passport can cost up to $150 and the process of doing so can be both lengthy and cumbersome.

SB34 is unpopular in the halls of the Capitol. The objection to the initial passage of the federal legislation still permeates the overall conversation: a national ID card is an overreach of the U.S. government, in violation of the Tenth Amendment, creating a national database of private information and making the states and citizens pay for it.

And those allegations are viable. Though the REAL ID Act was passed as a safety precaution, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) objected to its requirements, noting,

If fully implemented, the law would facilitate the tracking of data on individuals and bring government into the very center of every citizen’s life. By definitively turning driver’s licenses into a form of national identity documents, Real ID would have a tremendously destructive impact on privacy. It would also impose significant administrative burdens and expenses on state governments, and it would mean higher fees, longer lines, repeat visits to the DMV, and bureaucratic nightmares for individuals.

But, regardless of the federal law’s popularity, it is federal law. Whether or not one approves of the trade off — personal information for the right to travel — does not change the fact that without a passport or a REAL ID recognized by the U.S. government, one could be barred from military bases as soon as June, and boarding an airplane as early as January.

SB34 froze after stumbling out of Senate State Affairs with only Sen. John Coghill (R-North Pole) recommending “Do Pass.”

“It becomes a pain the neck to think that the federal government can force us to surrender to their description of an ID card that is a federal ID card. Especially when it’s really supposed to be about driving,” Coghill said last month. “I think we’re supposed to be a free people and right now the fear of government is too high.”

The Database

During SB34’s first hearing in Senate Finance, Sen. Anna MacKinnon asked what about current Alaska ID cards was non-compliant with the REAL ID Act. Commissioner of the Department of Administration, Sheldon Fisher, responded,

Today, when someone submits primary documentation – primary documentation – we, the DMV, accept that on face value. And the real ID requires that we validate that information. So, whether it’s a birth certificate, whether it’s passport information, whether it’s visa information, we’re required to access certain databases to validate that that information is correct. We’re also required to take a picture at the beginning of the process… when the person presents the documents and then validate that at the end of the process so that there’s not an opportunity for a person to switch in the middle of the process and a different person present the documentation and receive the license.

Alaska State Troopers Captain Dan Lowden said that there were about five cases a month where people were “attempting to get IDs that shouldn’t be.”

He said the database is used for missing person and wanted person reports, as well as for lineups attempting to identify suspects.

Fisher said that passing legislation would allow the State another two-year waiver which would ensure that there would be “no disruption using existing licenses to get on the bases during this Summer or to access flights after January,” and that the waiver from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would be extended until final legislation could be passed.

“We’ve also been assured that if this legislation doesn’t pass that we should not expect any additional waivers,” he added.

If the legislature sits idly by, without passage of SB34, it means that travel without a passport could be prohibited before the next legislative session commences.

No waiver.

Go fish. But, you know, in state.

#AKLeg Solution: We Object!

Given the impending deadline, and looming consequences, the legislature took an admittedly horrible federal bill and — rather than acquiescing — decided to play a game of chicken.

SB34 has stalled out in Senate Finance with another hearing scheduled for Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the House passed HJR15 Sunday afternoon. The measure doesn’t do anything, except thumb a nose at the federal government objecting to the aforementioned bad REAL ID Act while doing nothing about the potential consequences to constituents (while, it should be noted, the information required is already being submitted to that dreaded database).

Rep. Tammie Wilson (R-North Pole) called the REAL ID Act another infringement of Tenth Amendment rights.

“Driver’s licenses were meant that you said you could pass a driving test of that state, and all the other requirements, and given a driver’s license. I don’t think any of us ever thought, when we went to get a driver’s license, now, that all these other things were going to happen,” she told her colleagues in support of HJR15. “But, this is really a security problem as well of privacy. We don’t know where it’s going to go. We don’t know whether or not it’s going to be contained in a warehouse of some kind. Maybe sold overseas. I mean, you just don’t know.”

“This is states’ rights. We have a right to take care of these issues ourselves,” she said.

“Do we trust government, and if so, to what extent do we trust government?” Rep. David Eastman (R-Wasilla) added. He said the federal government, instead, declared, “Here’s a mandate. We’re not necessarily going to fund that mandate. We’re going to tell you how to do it. Oh, and, by the way, if you don’t, we’re going to threaten to withhold your citizens’ rights to travel and other things. And I don’t think that our legislature should encourage that type of relationship.”

“This whole scare tactic that you cannot fly unless you have a REAL ID is scaring Alaskans and saying, ‘Hey, we need to push this through,'” Rep. Chris Tuck said (D-Anchorage). “I think the better route is this resolution — that we fight back and say, ‘Hey, if anyone — if any state has a right to fly, the State of Alaska has a right to fly.’ We have no other way of getting in and out of villages. We have no way of being able to drive without going through Canada to get to another state.”

Valid points, for sure. But, each bears little on the fact that people could lose access to places they need to be and/or wanted to go because of the legislature’s objections according to principle.

And, I mean this with all due respect, but do they know who occupies the White House right now? Does he seem amenable to objections of state legislatures?

This might appear a popular and uncontroversial decision. It passed with just Rep. Sam Kito III (D-Juneau) dissenting and probably won’t make headlines.

Then comes June. Then comes January.

But, hey, on the bright side, at least we’re trapped here. Always look on the bright side of life.