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Rep. Eastman Has Concerns About Commemorating Black Soldiers Who Built the Alaska Highway

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Photo by Glenn, Creative Commons Licensing.

The House passed a bill Wednesday commemorating the work of African American soldiers in the construction of the Alaska Highway, but not before Rep. David Eastman (R-Wasilla) made some surprising statements about race.

SB 46, sponsored by Sen. David Wilson (R-Wasilla), establishes October 25 as African American Soldiers’ Contribution to Building the Alaska Highway Day.

“This is a story we should all know. It reminds us of our journey to become a country where all are treated equal. In fact, some refer to the Alaska Highway as the ‘Road to Civil Rights,’” said Rep. Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage).

Tarr carried SB 46 for Wilson on the House floor.

About 4,000 African American Army engineers in four segregated regiments — the 388th Engineer Battalion and the 93rd, 95th, and 97th Engineer General Services Regiments — helped build the ALCAN in eight months and 12 days.

They endured difficult conditions.

Katrina Beverly Gill, daughter of regimental surveyor Reginald Beverly, testified that her father lived in “substandard conditions such as living in tents with ice approximately one inch thick on the inside while white soldiers lived in buildings.”

Tec 5 James Mitchell’s daughter Ceylon Mitchell, an Air Force veteran herself, writes that African American soldiers, like her father, were not allowed into the villages because of segregation.

Indeed, Christine and Dennis McClure, who identify themselves as the “daughter and son-in-law of a white officer who served… with the segregated 93rd Engineers,” testified that the commander of American forces in Alaska marched the 97th out of Valdez immediately after they arrived because “he wouldn’t allow them near Alaska’s citizens.”

Nevertheless, building from the north and south, two engineering crews met on October 25, 1942, linking and finishing the ALCAN.

2017 is the 75th anniversary of the highway’s completion. Beverly, who is 102 years old, has said he would like to come to Alaska and speak for the celebration.

The contributions of African American soldiers to the ALCAN led to the desegregation of the armed forces, but have since largely been ignored or downplayed.

Wilson’s sponsor statement notes that in 1991, National Geographic deliberately removed them from a story about construction of the ALCAN.

“I had no idea black men had done anything like this,” General Colin Powell said in 1992 at an exhibit in Fairbanks. “They are deserving of recognition.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) recognized them on the Senate floor in 2016, saying, “We thank the thousands of African-American servicemembers who for too long were dismissed and overlooked.

Rep. Eastman (paraphrasing): “All Soldiers Matter”

SB 46 is not a controversial bill. It passed the Senate unanimously and had 17 Senate co-sponsors. It has 23 cross-sponsors in the House.

When — not if — it is signed by Gov. Bill Walker, it will be added to the 38 Designated Days of Honor that already exist in statute.

Eastman listed many of those days. He said SB 46 is different.

“What we are doing in this particular day is something we have never done before as a state,” he said.

We’re encouraging and stating that Alaskans may observe with “suitable observances and exercises by civic groups and the public” the contributions of African American soldiers towards building the Alaska Highway. Now that’s a very different thing than we’ve done in the past. This will be the first time that our state has singled out a particular group or organization for recognition based on their race, their heritage. What we are not doing in this Act is recognizing all of those who have contributed towards building the Alaska Highway. What we’re not recognizing is the 341st Engineer Company, also the U.S. Army, who on one particular event, 12 American servicemen lost their lives constructing our highway. I inquired as to the nationalities and races of those soldiers. I wasn’t able to find it in the historical record. History didn’t seem to distinguish their race or their heritage.

“We’re not recognizing these individuals, and I have to stop, and I have to ask, ‘Why?’” Eastman continued. “Were their contributions any less great than those who are being recognized today? I would say, ‘No, they’re not.’”

“We ought to distinguish the contributions of the individuals and groups that we are recognizing and that we are commemorating and memorializing, and we ought to do that over and above any type of division amongst our population as Alaskans,” he said. “When we recognize veterans, let us recognize those veterans for their service, not the color of their skin, not their particular nationality or religion.”

Eastman said it would be more appropriate to honor the African American soldiers through a citation or resolution than a bill.

“We don’t recognize African American Firefighter Day, and I don’t think we should,” said Eastman, “not because there aren’t African American firefighters in this state who have and probably will lay their lives on the line in sacrifice to their fellow Alaskans. Let’s keep Alaska Firefighter Day for all firefighters. And let’s have a day for all Alaskans and all veteran servicemembers who contributed to building our highway, certainly before we then reach down and choose a particular minority within that group of veterans, who sacrificed in some cases their very lives.”

Ironically, Wilson listened to these remarks from the Elizabeth W. Peratrovich Gallery of the House chamber.

Eastman’s comments drew direct rebuttals from other House members.

“Why are this group of regiments that helped… construct the Alaska Highway being singled out? In simple terms, it’s because they were singled out,” House Majority Leader Chris Tuck (D-Anchorage) said. “They had substandard tools. They had to use hand tools for everything they did. They were not given the same pieces of equipment and machinery that their white counterparts were doing. They were not allowed to stay in the cities. They had to remain in camps in 20-below-zero and even colder, in tents.”

“Why were they singled out? Because they were African American. That’s the reason why they were singled out,” Tuck continued. “Why are we singling them out? Not necessarily because they’re African American, but because they prevailed under those conditions and actually outperformed beyond anyone’s expectations. And they did that in spite of being singled out.”

Rep. DeLena Johnson (R-Palmer) said, “To me, this isn’t the same as saying Black Firefighters Day… because today is very different. But you know what? The division, the racial division, was already made. The government made that racial division. So to acknowledge that and say, ‘These people that the government already separated out did a fabulous job,’ I’m just all for that.”

Rep. Matt Claman (D-Anchorage) noted that his father and two uncles served in segregated units during World War II.

“They would want us to vote ‘yes’ on this bill,” an emotional Claman told the House.

Bill Language Doesn’t Diminish Contributions of Others

While legislators distanced themselves from Eastman Wednesday, he is not alone in his perspective.

“Why… is the state considering recognizing only one race?” asked Anchorage resident Lisa Duntley in the only letter of opposition to SB 46. “If the Legislature wants to publicize the story of the crews, publicize the ENTIRE crew. Use photos and tell the story of how ALL of the men building the Alaska Highway worked equally as hard. Why demean the work of the white soldiers by not recognizing them?” (emphases in original)

“Please don’t make yet another headline about race,” Duntley implored.

Too late.

Eastman’s remarks and Duntley’s testimony are reminiscent of a response that developed to the Black Lives Matter movement: “All lives matter.”

At a rally in July, Kevin McGee of the Anchorage NAACP addressed this response.

“Let’s be clear,” said McGee. “We have said Black Lives Matter. We have never said that only Black Lives Matter. That was not us. In truth, we know that all lives matter. We’ve supported lives throughout history. Now we need your help with Black Lives Matter because Black lives are in danger.”

In other words, recognition of the condition of one race does not necessarily demean another, as Eastman and Duntley suggest.

“I think it’s important that this story be told,” Tuck said of SB 46. “In no way is this putting down anybody else that worked on the Alaska Highway.”

Eastman was the only member of the House to vote against SB 46.

Despite Eastman’s Remarks, Alaska Recognizes Races and Nationalities

This is not the first time Eastman has made a controversial vote.

In his first day in office, Eastman broke with House decorum by voting in opposition to Rep. Bryce Edgmon (D-Dillingham) becoming Speaker of the House. The First Native Alaskan Speaker.

In February, Eastman was one of seven House minority members to vote against another proposed Designated Day of Honor.

HB 78 would make the second Monday in October Indigenous Peoples Day. It would fall on the same day as Columbus Day.

Though Rep. Dean Westlake (D-Kotzebue) said he chose Columbus Day in the spirit of inclusivity and to honor the meeting of Alaska Natives and people of European descent, Eastman supported an amendment that would have moved Indigenous Peoples Day so it did not overlap.

“I rise in support this morning of all Alaskans,” he said on the House floor. “I ask that the amendment pass so that, as a legislature, we can support all Alaskans, not set those who came before against those who came after.”

The amendment failed.

Eastman is developing a theme of not dividing Alaskans, but his claim Wednesday that Alaska has never before honored a group based on race or heritage is not true.

Juneteenth Day, celebrated on the third Saturday in June, commemorates the abolition of slavery and urges Alaskans “to reflect on the suffering endured by early African-Americans.”

Over the last year, Walker has recognized African American History Month, Filipino American History Month, and Hispanic Heritage Month. He also proclaimed the first week of May to be Days of Remembrance of Holocaust victims, specifically Jews, Romas, Sinti, and Slavic people, among others.

House Rules Chair Gabrielle LeDoux (R-Anchorage) reminded Eastman that she has a bill that recognizes Hmong and Lao veterans with a U.S. flag on their driver licenses.

Alaska also honors based on age. Eastman himself cited Older Alaskans’ Day and Children’s Day in his speech, though he didn’t express concern about age discrimination.

Women Veterans Day honors a specific gender. Again, Eastman didn’t express concern.

Tarr noted that part of the 75th anniversary celebration of the ALCAN’s completion includes a Women of the ALCAN calendar. She said she does not feel excluded because women are being honored that way while African American soldiers are getting SB 46.

“This recognition should have come long ago,” Tarr said of SB 46, “but today we stand together in doing it.”

Anchorage Makes History in 2017 Local Elections Despite Ridiculously Low Voter Turnout

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Anchorage’s 2017 municipal elections are behind us and there are a lot of “stories of the night” — at least to the 20 percent of Alaska’s largest city who voted.

The low turnout of 19.66 percent as of this reporting (99.19 percent of the vote is in), is down nearly 20 percent from last year’s already-dismal 24.77 percent, and the lowest since the 19.42 percent turnout in 2010. Over the last decade, in non-mayoral election years, the average voter turnout has been 20.37 percent.

But, regardless of how many people showed up, this election cycle was consequential. A lot of institutional knowledge is going away: Patrick Flynn, Elvi-Gray Jackson, and Bill Starr all were ineligible to run due to term limits. Bill Evans decided not to run for a second term.

A total of six seats on an eleven-member body were up for grabs, meaning that Mayor Ethan Berkowitz could lose the 8-3 supporting voting bloc he has enjoyed over the past year.

With so many seats in question, there was concern over a backlash against the mayor and his center-left, supportive majority.

There was not a backlash against the mayor and his center-left, supportive majority. In fact, they gained a seat.

History Made

McCarthy once had an “unofficial mayor” in Neil Darish who was openly gay, and Palmer had a city council member, Kevin Brown. But, there has never been an openly gay candidate elected to public office in Anchorage, nor has there ever been an openly gay candidate elected to the legislature or the U.S. Congress.

As longtime Alaska State Senator Johnny Ellis’s (D-Anchorage) record reflects, it hasn’t exactly been a safe space. Antidiscrimination laws are routinely ignored whenever proposed and there has still been no action, three years after Hamby and two years after Obergefell, to so much as update the numerous referrals in state statute and code to update the repeated references to “husband and wife” or to officially the repeal the constitutional amendment banning marriage equality.

Ellis came out after he retired.

In 2009, the Anchorage Assembly passed an ordinance banning workplace and employment discrimination against LGBTQ residents of the municipality. Then-Mayor Dan Sullivan vetoed the measure. In 2012, in an election fraught with voting issues, voters overwhelmingly put down a ballot proposition with the same goal.

Five years later, Anchorage has elected their first openly gay elected official — twice over.

Christopher Constant, running against a prominent Democrat and three lesser known conservatives for the downtown seat being vacated by Flynn, won Tuesday with 52 percent of the vote. His closest competitor was David Dunsmore, a fellow Democrat, who mustered just 23.35 percent of the vote after the latter pursued a final week of negative campaigning, which evidently backfired.

Felix Rivera, also openly gay, is now too an Assembly member-elect, fending off three challengers while maintaining nearly 47 percent of the vote in midtown Anchorage. Rivera ran for the seat being vacated by Assembly Chair Elvi Gray-Jackson with her full support — as well as the support of current Vice-chair Dick Traini.

“With Chris and I winning, I think it shows that Anchorage voters know that we’re moving in the right direction and they want us to keep going in the right direction,” Rivera told me at Election Central at the Dena’ina Center downtown Tuesday night, adding with a laugh, “There’s a lot to learn and learn quickly.”

Rivera said he can’t wait to get started on issues like public transportation.

I caught up with Constant, too, and asked him how he was feeling.

“Really great. Really, really great,” he said, smiling wide. “You know, it was a very hard-fought effort with resistance at every step. And my neighbors, the people that believe in me, we overcame all that resistance.”

He looked at the election results as they trickled in via projectors onto the wall showing a 19 point advantage over his closest competitor, Dunsmore. Constant won with 52 percent of the vote.

“Not only did we overcome it, we really, really showed them,” he laughed. “The proof there is that our downtown district, at least, is ready for something different — something positive; something that’s connected to the neighborhood — and I hope to live up to the love that’s been given to me. Hope to live up to it.”

He says he can’t wait to get started, in his new position, on the Gambell Street redevelopment project, and also wants to continue to work on the city’s homelessness issues. Constant said he also planned to work with Berkowitz on the creation of a farm north of downtown that would put people to work and bring local produce to market. He also would like to address the oft ignored issue of his district’s lone representation on the Assembly. The downtown district has only one seat on the Assembly whereas every other is allotted two.

A little before 10 pm, Dunsmore conceded.

While I am disappointed with the outcome of the evening tonight, I just called Chris to congratulate him on his election. I sincerely wish him great success; our district has a lot of priorities that need to be addressed. I would like to thank all of my supporters and volunteers, we ran a heck of race and raised a lot of great issues including the need for improved public safety, affordable housing, and giving people a real voice in local government. I am truly humbled by the support I received and I will continue to work to make Anchorage an even greater place to live.

According to a 2011 study by the Williams Institute, 3.8 percent of Americans identify as LGBTQ. A 2006 study narrowed the number of LGBTQ-identifying Alaskans to 3.4 percent — though the complete lack of anti-discrimination laws (still not recognized at the state level, though the State Senate scheduled, and then canceled, a second round of public hearings on legislation again Wednesday) increases the likelihood of under-reporting.

The eleven-member body of the Anchorage Assembly will soon be represented by LGBTQ members to the tune of 18 percent.

Outgoing Assembly Chair Elvi Gray-Jackson embraces her successor, Felix Rivera.

South Anchorage Breaks a Decade-Old Trend

This year’s municipal election also saw a district flip from conservative to progressive in a very unlikely place — for the second year in a row.

Conservative candidate Albert Fogle faced off against progressive Suzanne LaFrance for the seat vacated by Bill Evans, who, as previously mentioned, decided not to run for a second term.

In 2016, John Weddleton won the seat previously held by Chris Birch (R-Alaska) — now a State House representative — in a three-way split against conservative challengers Mark Schimscheimer and Treg Taylor. This year, darkhorse candidate Suzanne LaFrance upset Albert Fogle in a two-way race by 558 votes.

South Anchorage has not had both seats occupied by center-left candidates since Birch ousted Dick Tremaine by nearly ten points in 2005. Two years later, Jennifer Johnston (R-R-Anchorage), also now serving in the State House, narrowly defeated Val Baffone in a four-way election. Both served their full three terms.

LaFrance initially started the night down a few percentage points. Or, as recent history would say, “Everything is normal.”

But, by nine o’clock or so, she took a narrow lead.

With 83 percent of the vote in, and the race tightening in Fogle’s favor, an unnamed campaign worker nervously described the status of the race as, “Fuuuuuck.”

With 9,866 votes split between the two, LaFrance currently enjoys a 558 vote lead; 52.49 percent to 46.87. A razor slim margin of victory, but a likely insurmountable one with over 99 percent of the vote already tallied.

Suzanne LaFrance and Pete Petersen watch as election results trickle in.

School Board Only Unfinished Business

Two seats on the district-wide Anchorage School Board were in play tonight, but only one has officially been decided.

I initially cast Seat C as a three-way race between James Smallwood, Tasha Hotch, and Dave Donley, but get to eat some humble pie while acknowledging additional egg on face for discounting Alisha Hilde. My honest apologies.

Donley, a former Republican state legislator, won the seat easily in a five-way race in which he nearly doubled the votes cast by supporters of his closest competitor, James Smallwood. Donley won easily with just under 43 percent of the vote.

Hilde edged out Hotch for the third runner up with over 6,000 votes compared to Hotch’s 4,100.

Seat D bears a winner to be named later, as Andy Holleman and Kay Schuster are in a virtual tie with Holleman ahead by just 58 votes out of 31,836 cast between them.

That’s what political professionals nervously refer to as an “Eek.”

“It’s not really the end. After counting all the early votes and votes cast Tuesday, the margin is about 60. The good news is, I’m up,” Holleman posted on Facebook just before 2 in the morning. “The bad news is, the question ballots and absentee ballots could easily change who is. The Clerk’s office will be working on this for several days. I’ll be down with other observers eyeballing the process.” ”

“It’s not over,” Holleman concluded.

Bonds, Bonds, and Taxi Cabs

All but one of the seven bond propositions passed, mostly by healthy margins. The lone bond to fall was Prop 2, an areawide proposal with a price tag of $2.3 million to fund new ambulances and public transportation vehicles, as well as update school safety infrastructure.

Prop 2 was vocally opposed by former Anchorage mayors Rick Mystrom, Dan Sullivan, George Wuerch, and Tom Fink.

Berkowitz supported it. But, you can’t get everything you want in a night.

Prop 8, which sought to repeal an ordinance carried by Bill Evans and voted through by the Assembly, was rejected despite a surplus of cash supporting the measure — including a single contribution of $50,000 from the Anchorage Taxicab Permit Owners Association (ATPOA) and an influx of weird arguments claiming more cabs would increase prices.

Prop 8 was a complex issue fueled by well-funded support versus no organized opposition.

But, Alaskans travel. Likely to states with ridesharing services. Which people want here.

Obviously, Alaska is not the same as Philadelphia or San Francisco or Seattle where these rideshare services prosper and shore up all the transportation gaps, but Alaskans have enough experience in the Lower 48 and abroad to recognize a monopoly when they see one, and shoddy services in the absence of competition, and they’d like to at least entertain the idea of pursuing other options — even if, at first blush, it’s simply an increase in the amount of cab permits doled out by the municipality.

Backlash Avoided Entirely

With Pete Petersen defeating conservative challenger Don Jones — a Demboski ally in the Greg Jones fiasco — by a healthy 57-43 margin, and Tim Steele easily fending off perennial candidate David Nees by 24 points, the Berkowitz administration avoided risk of a backlash of conservative voters for a third straight year and actually picked up ground, with the Assembly now poised to enjoy a 9-2 split — not an easy feat.

It’s going to be lonely in Eagle River for awhile, where Demboski and newly-elected Fred Dyson now comprise the extent of conservative representation on the body.

“There’s going to be new energy on the Assembly and that’s going to be positive,” Mayor Berkowitz told me Tuesday night. “I have friends who were running on both sides of the aisle and, so, some of them did very well, some of them didn’t do as well as we might have hoped. But, I’m looking forward to serving with all of them.”

He added, “I think the fact that the bonds that are passing shows that the people of Anchorage have confidence in the direction we’re heading. It also is a sign that the AAA bond rating that we have has meaning.”

“It’s all very encouraging,” Berkowitz concluded.

House Majority: Senate Fiscal Plan Will Leave a Deficit, Cause More Drastic Drastic Cuts Every Year

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Unsurprisingly, the House majority caucus declared its opposition Tuesday to the Senate’s proposed cuts to education. The way to avoid those cuts, they say, is to pass a comprehensive fiscal plan.

On Monday, the Senate Finance Committee sent an operating budget to the floor that cuts the K-12 Base Student Allocation (BSA) by $69.4 million and the University of Alaska (UA) by $22 million.

“Yesterday was a bit of a gut check,” House Speaker Bryce Edgmon (D-Dillingham) reacted Tuesday during a press conference.

“Our coalition totally opposes the irresponsible cuts that the Senate did in the last couple days,” said House Majority Leader Chris Tuck (D-Anchorage).

Tuck said the Senate majority is ignoring the results of their own survey, in which 63 percent of respondents said K-12 education funding was either “too low” or “about right.”

The survey has repeatedly been used as a talking point for Democrats. It is no longer a link on the Senate majority’s homepage.

House Finance Co-chair Paul Seaton (R-Homer) estimated the Senate budget would result in the loss of 200 teachers in Anchorage, 90 in the Mat-Su, 70 in Fairbanks, 50 in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, and 40 in the Lower Kuskokwim.

“Cutting more than 20 teachers out of Juneau, cutting more than 700 statewide, would have a direct impact on the quality of education that we’re able to afford to the next generation. That’s very troubling,” said Rep. Justin Parish (D-Juneau).

The Senate budget reduces agency and statewide operations by $262 million, close to the Senate majority’s FY 2018 plan of $300 million. They plan to cut another $450 million over the next two years.

“Obviously, the Senate never wants to see a capital budget,” Tuck said in response to the Senate plan. “We’re looking for ways to create a budget that leads us to prosperity, where they’re creating a budget that leads us to austerity.”

In a statement Monday, UA President Jim Johnsen said the $22 million cut to the university is “devastating” and would bring the total cuts over the last four years to $75 million.

The House version of the budget does not cut K-12 funding or the university.

House majority members would have liked to increase education funding beyond the formula, but Parish said that is not a priority in the Senate.

“We’re not the only people in the building,” he acknowledged. “We’ve got to be ready to compromise in order to get to a comprehensive fiscal plan.”

Edgmon said if the Senate plan were fulfilled, it would cut the number of teachers in his school district by half.

“It comes down to, do we want to cut our way to a sustainable future in Alaska, or do we want to try an all-of-the-above, reasonable approach?” he asked.

“It seems that the philosophy of the Senate is they want to have a poor Alaska,” Seaton concluded. “They want us to have a deficit so that we’re constantly cutting and not having adequate funds to fulfill the basic needs that Alaskans want.”

Floor debate on the Senate budget is expected Wednesday.

“It’s my fervent hope that we get more Alaskans around the state to sort of chime in and say, ‘Hey, look. This is what we envision our state to be going down the road,’” said Edgmon. “Do we want to eat into our seed corn, the ultimate sort of investment in the future, the K-12 system in Alaska? Do we want to erode that to the point where a lot of the smaller schools around the state… really don’t have the means to provide a quality education?”

“We need every Alaskan calling their senator, calling their representative, and demanding a comprehensive fiscal plan which protects our most important investments, our investments in education, in our children,” echoed Parish.

Rep. Tuck: Senate Holding Education Hostage for Permanent Fund Plan

In addition to the education cuts in the budget, Senate Finance introduced a bill (SB 103) to eliminate the Alaska Performance Scholarship (APS) and redirect that money to education innovation grants.

“It’s interesting that the promise is that, ‘Well, we’ll do some maybe innovation grants in the future, but we’re going to cut you now. Then we might appropriate money in the future for some individualized districts to do things.’ I don’t think that that’s an efficient or responsible way to proceed with our children,” Seaton responded Tuesday.

Johnsen said that of the 14,700 students that have qualified for APS since its inception in 2012, over 5,000 have attended UA.

“Cutting the scholarship program could impact UA’s bottom line by as much as $10 million annually, on top of other cuts under consideration,” he said.

Seaton credited APS with a 6.5-percent statewide increase in graduation rates. He called the Senate’s proposal for elimination “mystifying.”

“I think it is not a responsible thing to do to take the one innovation that we have made in this state that has actually had great success in changing high school and college attendance rates and doing away with it for some supposed new innovation grants that might be funded in the future,” said Seaton.

“The Senate is holding public education hostage just to get a Permanent Fund-only plan, which I think is very irresponsible,” Tuck declared.

Tuck is referring to SB 26, the Senate’s plan to restructure the Permanent Fund and cut the Permanent Fund dividend (PFD) to $1,000.

“That’s not a bill that our caucus is supporting,” Seaton said.

The House majority has a similar Permanent Fund plan (HB 115) with a $1,250 PFD, but it closes the deficit with an income tax.

“One of the problems with the Senate’s approach is they’re leaving an $800 million deficit this year, and by 2023, they’re still having a $500 million deficit. When you have a $500 million deficit every single year, what it means is your cuts are going to be like they are this year,” Seaton explained.

“We have a problem with the economy. We need a vibrant economy going forward, and we’re not going to get there by passing something that has a $500 million deficit every year for the foreseeable future and is just spending our savings. We don’t think that works, so why would we pass that?” he asked.

Seaton pointed out that a bill like SB 26 that only restructured the Permanent Fund failed to garner enough support last year to reach the House floor.

“SB 26 hits the poorest Alaskans 50 times harder than it hits the richest earners in Alaska,” said Parish.

A progressive income tax balances the impact a PFD reduction has on lower-income Alaskans, Seaton has said.

“We need to focus on a balanced plan that can solve our problem, instead of just working on one element of the problem,” he told reporters.

Seaton noted that no one has introduced a state sales tax, which would have to apply to all products and services to raise an amount equivalent to an income tax. Yet a lack of exemptions is unpopular with businesses, he said.

Speaker Edgmon on HB 115 Whip Count: “We’re Working on It.”

During a hearing Monday, House Finance rejected along caucus lines an amendment from Rep. Lance Pruitt (R-Anchorage) that would have stripped out the income tax.

Pruitt chose not to offer a separate amendment that would have replaced HB 115 with his HB 192, a Permanent Fund restructuring with larger PFDs and no income tax.

But Monday’s hearing suggests the House majority may not be unified in its support for HB 115.

First, Rep. Dan Ortiz (I-Ketchikan) offered an amendment that would have allowed an income tax deduction for 50 percent of municipal property taxes.

When Pruitt tacked on a deduction for military retirement pay, it passed House Finance overwhelmingly.

Pruitt had another deduction queued up for Social Security benefits and pension income, while Rep. Jason Grenn (I-Anchorage) was going to try to exempt ten percent of rent in boroughs that levy property taxes.

House Finance took a break before considering those amendments to Ortiz’s amendment. When they returned, Ortiz withdrew his original amendment, preventing all those deductions.

Though House Finance seemed poised to move HB 115 to the floor, the committee canceled a Tuesday hearing on the bill.

Tuesday was Day 78 of the 90-day session.

When asked whether HB 115 is balanced enough to pass the House, Edgmon said tellingly, “We’re working on it… Conceptually, I think our caucus is very much in support of the components of House Bill 115.”

House Finance is also working on a rewrite of oil tax credits that raises the minimum production tax. That bill (HB 111) could move to the floor over the weekend.

“We cannot ask Alaskans to reach in their pockets just to watch it go into these unsustainable cash subsidies to the oil industry. I can’t stomach that,” said Tuck.

Edgmon’s answer to the question of whether the House majority would be willing to walk away if they don’t get what they want in negotiations with the Senate was simply, “No.”

“We want to make the tough decisions this year,” Tuck clarified.

He noted that many Senate majority members will be on the ballot in 2018, making it harder to get things done next session. All House seats will be on the ballot, as well.

“I think that rational minds and reasonable people will come together around a solution,” Seaton offered.

Homer Recall Process Moves Forward, Petitioners Have Booklets In Anchor Point

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Photo by Paul Swansen, Creative Commons Licensing.

Originally published at Alaska Progressive, republished with permission.

On Friday, March 31st, 2017 recall petitioners in Homer, Alaska, submitted roughly 18 out of 21 issued booklets to the city clerk’s office for certification.

Petitioners are seeking to recall council members Donna Aderhold, David Lewis, and Catriona Reynolds primarily for sponsoring an inclusivity resolution.

The inclusivity resolution never passed introduction and was voted down 5 to 1 by city council members after hours of public testimony in opposition.

Two of the original sponsors, Aderhold and Lewis, both cast a “no” vote at the city council meeting. However, they are still being targeted by the recall petitioners and are being accused of “misconduct while in office” amongst other things.

Catriona Reynolds cast the single “yes” vote during the council meeting after a very heartfelt testimony on why she supported it with mentions of her recognition of LGBTQ rights and visible discrimination towards the LGBTQ community in Homer.

Public Records Requests

Recall petitioners also obtained a public records request on council member emails dating from February 20th, 2017, through March 6th, 2017. You can see the whole email chain here.

The Homer News reported that Larry Zuccaro, a co-sponsor of the recall petition, wrote a letter to the Homer News, encouraging members of the community to submit a records request for council members’ email correspondence.

Many members of the community did so, including myself.

“This is where the truth will be found for all to see,” Zuccaro wrote. “I think once everyone sees (this) email correspondence, it will be clear to all that nothing short of a recall process would be acceptable.”

[SOURCE: Michael Armstrong, Homer News.]

In another blog article, I shared my perspective on these emails and pointed out how the mayor and council members worked against the sponsors of the inclusivity resolution and may have triggered or condoned recall efforts.

That Whole Anchor Point Thing…

As I mentioned above, only 18 out of 21 booklets came back, and I believe the three missing signature booklets are more than likely located at Smokin, an Anchor Point tobacco shop located roughly 15 miles outside of Homer City Limits.

On April 3, I was informed by a friend that they were collecting signatures at Smokin on Saturday, April 1, 2017, and that so far they had almost three full booklets.

Keep in mind, this is one day after petitioners were informed by the city clerk not to collect any more signatures.

I decided to follow up and called Smokin on Monday, April 3, and asked if I could come down and sign the petition. I was told “Yes,” by an unknown employee, maybe the owner, I don’t know for sure.

I would love it if someone could substantiate my claim. Call them. Ask if you can come sign the recall petition (907-226-2240).

Odd. Truly. Outrageous? Out of bounds? It will take some time for us to find out.

For now, let’s explore where we go from here.

What Happens Next?

We are now at the certification phase, so let’s dive right into Alaska State Law, AS 29.26.290 to get a better grasp of how the city clerk will handle the next steps.

Sec. 29.26.290. Sufficiency of petition.

(a) The copies of a recall petition shall be assembled and filed as a single instrument. A petition may not be filed within 180 days before the end of the term of office of the official sought to be recalled. Within 10 days after the date a petition is filed, the municipal clerk shall
(1) certify on the petition whether it is sufficient; and
(2) if the petition is insufficient, identify the insufficiency and notify the contact person by certified mail.

(b) A petition that is insufficient may be supplemented with additional signatures obtained and filed before the 11th day after the date on which the petition is rejected if
(1) the petition contains an adequate number of signatures, counting both valid and invalid signatures; and
(2) the supplementary petition is filed more than 180 days before the end of the term of office of the official sought to be recalled.

(c) A petition that is insufficient shall be rejected and filed as a public record unless it is supplemented under (b) of this section. Within 10 days after the supplementary filing the clerk shall recertify the petition. If it is still insufficient, the petition is rejected and filed as a public record.

March 31, 2017, was the date that the recall petition and booklets were filed as “one single instrument.” The city clerk has 10 days, which is April 9 or 10, to certify the petition and ensure that petitioners have 373 valid signatures.

All signatures must be from registered voters within the city limits of Homer; districts 31-350 and 31-360.

If the clerk deems that they do not have enough valid signatures, petitioners will be notified via certified mail and will be issued new booklets.

They will have 11 days to collect the signature deficit which in this case would be on or around April 21st, 2017.

If they do collect enough signatures in this first round, or through another round of supplemental signatures, a special election funded by taxpayers will be set by city council sometime in June or July, potentially.

Potential Problems

One of the concerns with petitioners collecting signatures in Anchor Point is that they are clearly out of bounds collecting signatures. I mean, why collect signatures in Anchor Point? It makes no sense at all.

In addition, we don’t even know if the person collecting signatures out there is a sponsor of the petition.

You have to be a resident of the city to sponsor or co-sponsor a petition and, I suppose, if the person collecting signatures out there is a city resident and a sponsor, fine, so be it. But if they are not, there are major issues with this.

The Homer community also needs to make sure that these three booklets never get recorded as valid. They are being collected in an inappropriate time period.

Another potential problem is the timing of our upcoming general election in October. Catriona Reynolds and David Lewis’s terms are up in early October.

You can’t file a recall petition or submit supplemental signatures to recall an elected official within 180 days of their term expiring.

If we go with tradition and their term expires on the 4 or 7 of October, and petitioners submit signatures within that 180 day timeline (I am guessing anything past April 7 or at the latest, April 10), those signatures should be rejected under Alaska State Law and the petition deemed invalid.

(a) …A petition may not be filed within 180 days before the end of the term of office of the official sought to be recalled.

(2) the supplementary petition is filed more than 180 days before the end of the term of office of the official sought to be recalled.

This won’t take Donna Aderhold off the hook, as her term expires in October, 2018.

In addition, if the city moves forward and allows this nonsense to go forward, the city is at risk of lawsuit for violation of council members’ First Amendment right to free speech.

Those are just some of the more visible problems that we may encounter.

There may be more to follow, I am still expecting a new records request on April 18, 2017.

Keep your eyes peeled folks and be sure to attend the next few council meetings with more hearts!

Senate Plan for Budget Puts Education Funding in the Crosshairs

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Photo by Kevin O’Mara, Creative Commons Licensing.

The Senate version of the operating budget is headed to the floor, complete with a fresh $70 million cut to education. In addition, Senate leaders announced, for the second year in a row, they are seeking to eliminate the Alaska Performance Scholarship (APS).

The Senate Finance committee substitute for HB 57 represents a $262 million reduction from the FY 2017 budget.

“We are facing a monumental deficit. We have reduced government, but we need to continue to march down that road until we have a complete fiscal plan,” Senate Finance Co-chair Lyman Hoffman (D-Bethel) said before the CS moved from committee.

Senate Finance had adopted cuts of at least five-percent to the Department of Health & Social Services, the Department of Transportation, and the University of Alaska prior to Monday’s brisk hearing, but had yet to officially accept a five-percent cut to the Department of Education & Early Development (DEED).

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna) told reporters “the whole world knows there’s going to be a five-percent cut” to education.

That cut — a $69.4 million reduction to the Base Student Allocation (BSA) — was adopted Monday by Senate Finance without objection.

Micciche said in a press conference that while other departments have been cut to FY 2007 levels, “We have not cut the BSA yet, to date.”

Senate Finance Co-chair Anna MacKinnon (R-Eagle River) said the BSA is the fairest way to distribute either an increase or a decrease in education funding.

“I know the reduction — that’s a hard pill to swallow. I get that,” said Senate Education Chair Shelley Hughes (R-Palmer).

But Hughes said that reading scores have been stagnant in Alaska for over a decade.

Hughes is shepherding a bill (SB 96) through Senate Education that will increase virtual education options for school districts. She and MacKinnon tried to out-duel each other Monday in the use of buzzwords like “innovation,” “efficiency,” and “streamlined delivery.”

“Transforming education is going to help our students,” Hughes insisted. “Overall spending on education does not correlate with academic achievement. However, spending in the classroom does.”

The BSA cut is a cut to classroom funding.

Senate Finance Bills Try to Redirect Scholarship Money

Senate Finance introduced a bill (SB 103) Monday that seeks to eliminate Alaska Performance Scholarships and redirect that money toward education innovation grants with an emphasis on technology.

“Overall, when our students test, they don’t fare well nationally or internationally,” MacKinnon alleged. “We need to improve outcomes for Alaska students.”

But, she said, “It comes with a price.”

“The seniors of 2017’s graduation class would be the last group that qualifies for the Alaska Performance Scholarship,” MacKinnon announced.

“We’re spending, on a very small group of people, about $17 million a year,” she later added, referring to APS.

Two other bills seek to increase school broadband speeds (SB 102) and find uniform math and language arts curricula for the five largest school districts (SB 104).

There is no available funding for SB 102 or the proposed innovation grants other than the APS money, MacKinnon suggested.

Hughes moved to waive the five-day notice requirement on the three bills so Senate Education could hear them Tuesday.

“We know from broad experience that two of the things that bring the greatest interest from the public are people’s kids — things that impact their kids directly — and their wallets,” Senate Minority Leader Berta Gardner (D-Anchorage) objected on the Senate floor. “I think there’s a great deal of public interest, and I think the process under our rules — as they are without waiving them — allows the minimum amount of time for people to decide how they’re going to participate.”

Gardner later withdrew her objection when she learned representatives of the school districts were in Juneau Monday.

The bills are scheduled for a hearing at 3:30 pm on Tuesday.

Hughes said that the legislature has been waiting on school districts to innovate, but they haven’t done so.

“We can’t afford to wait,” MacKinnon declared.

One year ago, Senate Finance introduced a series of bills that would have eliminated APS to offset teacher retirement costs the Senate proposed to shift to municipalities.

Former Gov. Sean Parnell, who helped establish the APS program, called its elimination “a head scratcher.”

Education officials criticized the fact that the bills did not codify use of scholarship funds for Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) payments. Instead, there was intent language that Alaska Council of School Administrators (ACSA) Executive Director Lisa Parady called nothing more than a “suggestion of additional funding in future years.”

The Senate Finance bills died in committee last year.

Like those bills, broadband improvements in SB 102 are dependent on passage of SB 103. If both bills were to pass, future legislatures would still not be required to appropriate the scholarship money for broadband.

Monday afternoon, Sen. Donny Olson (D-Golovin) tried to restore $2.8 million for pre-Kindergarten grants and programs that are cut from the Senate budget. The programs have been proven to save money in the long term by avoiding remediation.

Olson pointed out that many of the beneficiaries of pre-K are in Hoffman’s Southwest Alaska district.

But Hoffman said the new trio of bills are a more appropriate place to look for improved education outcomes.

Olson’s amendment failed along caucus lines. Pre-K will be an item subject to negotiation between the House and Senate.

Senate Leaders Argue Against Income Tax as They Prepare for Fallout

Micciche said he expects pushback from educators this year.

“Today, we know there will be active participation from educators from around the state that are arriving today to come to each of our offices and to kindly let us know how they feel about education cuts,” he said with a wry smile.

“Cutting had to be a solution,” Micciche said.

About an hour after the Senate majority called Alaska student performance into question, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District tweeted a graph of elementary school reading fluency, saying, “76% of our students scored average to well above average compared to national peers.”

Micciche said his message to teachers is to tell the House to pass the Senate’s Permanent Fund restructuring plan, SB 26.

SB 26 leaves a FY 2018 deficit of about $900 million, with $500 million deficits every year into the future.

The House has instead been focused on its own deficit reduction plan (HB 115) that restructures the Permanent Fund and closes the deficit with an income tax. Consequently, while the House budget includes $115 million in cuts to agency operations, it does not cut education funding.

“Our Coalition has made public education a priority and we will not sacrifice the future of our children for some short-term savings.  We are committed to fully-funding the Base Student Allocation in the final budget,” House Majority Leader Chris Tuck (D-Anchorage) said in a statement.  “The Senate is proposing a cute maneuver that holds public education hostage while they continue to advocate for half-measures that will cost jobs and push Alaska deeper into recession.”

House Finance considered amendments to HB 115 Monday.

“What is a better plan? I would say let’s take these one step at a time,” said Hoffman, encouraging separate consideration of an income tax.

Micciche said SB 26 could also close the deficit if oil prices rise.

“It’s as complete as a plan including an income tax,” he said. “It just depends on where oil goes from here.”

Rather than trying to close the deficit, Micciche said he would tell teachers it’s better to pass SB 26 this year and come back next year to consider the remaining fiscal gap.

House Finance has not moved HB 115 or HB 111, a bill increasing oil taxes and dramatically altering oil tax credits. HB 111 is scheduled for committee amendments on Friday and Saturday.

“The House has done nothing to pass over to the Senate a piece of legislation that will do anything to solve our budget,” criticized MacKinnon. “There is not an income tax over here. There is not an oil tax change. There is not use of our [Permanent Fund] earnings. So when the House is able to advance a piece of legislation, I think we can take up the question again. But until they act, all they’ve done is talk about it.”

“There’s 13 days left, and we haven’t seen a thing,” agreed Micciche.

Monday was Day 77 of the 90-day session.

Senate leaders said education simply can’t be held harmless anymore.

“We’ve drawn over $10 billion from Alaska’s savings accounts,” MacKinnon said.

“We, as a state, are continuing to struggle with the fact that we are living beyond our means today,” Hoffman added.

Public Broadcasting Restored, University Cut Deeper

The Senate budget CS makes a $16.8 million cut to personal services, which includes State worker pay. Hoffman’s aide James Armstrong said that is a cut of between one percent and 2.75 percent in the various departments.

Intent language allows heads of the State agencies to distribute the personal services cut as they see fit, making it essentially an unallocated reduction.

The cut will likely have the biggest impact on the University of Alaska (UA). The personal services reduction cuts $5.7 million more than the $16 million reduction UA was already facing.

MacKinnon noted that UA is responding by raising tuition, which would replace unrestricted general funds (UGF) with designated general funds (DGF).

Though it does not reduce overall spending, increasing DGF while decreasing UGF shrinks the budget deficit on paper.

“That, from my perspective, is a responsible way to move forward,” MacKinnon said.

The CS restores $2.8 million for public broadcasting, matching the House.

Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who cut the funding in subcommittee, tried to do so again through amendments. He noted the Senate majority has a target of $300 million in reductions in FY 2018.

“This is an attempt to get us as close as possible to that reduction,” Dunleavy told Senate Finance.

Hoffman responded that public broadcasting received more support during public testimony than any other item.

Dunleavy’s amendments failed, 1-6.

A frustrated Dunleavy pointed out that the $337 million UGF reduction in the CS is inflated by $75 million in FY 2017 supplementals and $70 million for a motor fuel tax that will be replaced with unrestricted general funds (UGF) if it does not pass the legislature this year.

In another amendment, Dunleavy tried to add a $103 million unallocated reduction to the executive branch.

“The Senate majority, particularly, believes that there’s still room to come down in time, but we have to leave the agencies time to respond,” said Micciche.

“There’s still work to be done” on budget reductions, Hoffman agreed. However, he continued, “Unallocated reductions are very difficult to manage.”

That amendment also failed, 1-6.

The committee rejected Dunleavy amendments that would have restored the 2016 Permanent Fund dividend (PFD) and inflation-proofed the Permanent Fund.

Dunleavy said a constituent told him, “I hope you cut the government’s budget before you cut our budget.”

The Permanent Fund amendments would have added $1.2 billion to the budget.

Senate Finance accepted the House’s move to claw back $17 million for the Anchorage U-Med Road/Bragaw Extension and deposit it in the Public Education Fund, effectively killing the project.

That $17 million offset some of the $86 million cut to public education funding, making the BSA cut $69.4 million.

Senate Finance added $6 million to Gov. Bill Walker’s proposed budget, fully-funding pupil transportation.

Senate floor amendments to the budget are likely on Wednesday. The Senate could pass the budget that same day, depending on how long the amendment process lasts.

Downtown Anchorage Assembly Race Bordering on Open War in Days Before Election

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The final days of any election often turn ugly, as candidates make last ditch efforts to shore up support from their base (as well as opposition against their opponents). Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, Anchorage’s municipal elections have proven to continue with the norm.

Candidates for the Anchorage Assembly and School Board have spent the final days trading barbs — both in campaign literature and in exchanges at the final forum, held on Friday by the Anchorage NAACP.

In one case, the negative campaigning is an in-house problem for Democrats.

The Assembly is a nonpartisan body, but campaigning rarely is. While the state parties do not endorse municipal candidates, local parties do. That has resulted in a house divided for the Anchorage Democrats. Christopher Constant and David Dunsmore are challenging each other from the left-of-center and Chris Cox, running as a conservative, hopes they split the vote and accord him a pathway to victory.

The downtown district hasn’t had a competitive contest on a left-right basis for over a decade, and outgoing Assembly member Patrick Flynn, ineligible to run for reelection due to term limits, averaged 72 percent of the vote over his three wins.

While Cox was a late entry to the contest, filing on December 30th of last year, Constant and Dunsmore have been running for the seat for over a year.

The Anchorage Democratic Party and the Anchorage Education Association have issued dual-endorsements. Dunsmore has gained the support of current East Anchorage Assembly member Pete Petersen — for whom he served as staffer during Petersen’s tenure in the Alaska State House — House Majority Majority Leader Chris Tuck, and former East Anchorage Assembly member Paul Honeman. He also shored up an endorsement from the Alaska Public Employees Association.

Constant has received endorsements from Sen. Mark Begich, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, Gov. Tony Knowles, outgoing Assembly Chair Elvi Gray-Jackson, and current Assembly member Eric Croft (Croft also was a cosponsor of Dunsmore’s campaign kickoff event), among others. He also has the support of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, Alaskans Together for Equality, the AFL-CIO, and several other unions and organizations.

Another notable man with the last name Begich, State Sen. Tom Begich (D-Anchorage), had endorsed Dunsmore, but rescinded that endorsement. The move came subsequent to the release of a campaign mailer last week by the Dunsmore campaign.

The literature in question asks, “Who Is The Real Chris Constant,” and, citing reported campaign income filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC), notes that prominent Alaska Republicans like former State Rep. Cathy Muñoz and former Palin aide John Bitney have donated to his campaign. The literature also notes that an Alaska campaign co-chair for the Donald Trump campaign, Paul Fuhs, is one of Constant’s “top fundraisers” “bankrolling his candidacy and that he is “trying to use special interest money to buy our Assembly seat.

In a conversation Sunday night, Constant noted that his top contributors actually came from a married couple, Tina Tomsen and Patrick McGownd, who live in his district and have donated $2,500 over three reporting periods, according to APOC.

On the other side, the Dunsmore campaign mailer plays up a 2008 Democratic Primary contest between current State Rep. Les Gara (D-Anchorage) and Constant, citing a back and forth they had in the pages of the Anchorage Daily News.

“In 2008 Republicans backed Chris Constant’s dishonest campaign against our Les Gara,” it reads in part. “Now Chris is trying to buy our Assembly seat.”

That prompted a response from Sen. Tom Begich.

“While David Dunsmore is my friend, and I endorsed him, I don’t support his misleading attack on Christopher Constant who has done so much for this community,” he announced, according to a Facebook post from the Constant campaign Friday evening. “It is unfortunate and unfair. Consequently, I must withdraw my endorsement.”

“I’m grateful to Tom Begich for sending a clear message that there is no place for misleading personal attacks,” Constant told me Sunday evening. “We hope that more young people and average citizens will engage in the process and hopefully our positive campaign and message will inspire more people to do so.”

His campaign posted a YouTube video as well, adopting the popular line First Lady Michelle Obama employed during her address to the Democratic National Convention: “They go low, we go high.”

Gara reiterated over the weekend both his decision not to make an endorsement in the race and and his decision to decline to comment on the campaign literature.

I spoke with Dunsmore Sunday evening and asked him about Begich’s decision to rescind his endorsement.

“Tom is a good friend and friendship is more important than politics,” he said. “We’re still going to be friends on Wednesday.”

“There’s been some misinformation out there we needed to correct,” he said of the mailer.

There is nothing factually incorrect about the claims made in the campaign literature. The people Dunsmore identified as donors to Constant’s campaign are, in fact, donors. The critique of Gara did unfold in the ADN. The contention, and umbrage taken over said contention by Constant supporters, is the framing in which it was conveyed: that Constant is being “bankrolled” by Republican donors in an attempt to “buy” the downtown seat to serve a conservative agenda.

I asked Dunsmore if he thought Constant was a “secret Republican.”

“That’s really a question you’d have to ask him. I can’t read his mind,” he said. “I do think the connection with Paul Fuhs is really troubling. At recent events, he’s been actually handing out literature that’s not even campaign literature, that’s just business proposals for Paul Fuhs’s projects.”

This was not an accusation Constant took kindly when I asked him about it.

Fuhs and Constant may be at political odds at the national level, but they’ve been working together towards revitalization efforts in Fairview for years, Constant said. The literature he has been passing out at campaign events, he claims, is the Fairview Economic Revitalization Plan — a project taken on by the Fairview Business Association (FNB), of which both Fuhs and Constant have been board members of.

Fuhs is the current project manager for FNB. Constant remains a board member, but intends to step down if elected.

In 2013, Fuhs wrote in Advancing Anchorage Magazine, published by the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce,

Most people in Anchorage imagine Fairview as a rundown part of town. There is some truth to that, but it doesn’t have to be that way. A group of Fairview businesses, some of the longest standing in Anchorage, have organized the Fairview Business Association (FBA) to revitalize this section of town as a thriving contributor to Anchorage’s economy.

The plan fleshed out by FBA had many recommendations, from street widening on Gambell, to tax abatement for developers wishing to invest in the area, to mixed use residential units. It’s not as much a business proposal being exploited by a municipal candidate as a neighborhood plan that was adopted unanimously by the Assembly into Title 21, Anchorage’s land use code.

“That Gambell Street work is some of the most honorable and laudable work of Paul Fuhs’s career,” Constant told me.

But he did concede that he recognized one part of the Dunsmore campaign mailer as honest, albeit, he said, likely unintended.

He pointed to the accusation at the center of the Dunsmore campaign advert,  which reads: “A GOP smear campaign.”

Except, Constant says, it’s a GOP smear campaign against him.

He noted that one campaign expenditure links Dunsmore, Petersen, and conservative candidate Albert Fogle in South Anchorage — the latter of whom is running against Suzanne LaFrance for the seat being vacated by Bill Evans, who decided not to run for reelection.

It’s a political strategy firm called Fire Island Strategies, headed up by former Alaska Democratic Party chair and two time state house candidate Patti Higgins’s campaign manager Peter Finn and former South Anchorage state senate candidate Forrest McDonald.

Constant points out that Petersen has spent over $12,000 this cycle in expenditures to Fire Island Strategies.

Fogle also spent $5,553.33 on advertising, door hangers, and “strategic guidance” on Fire Island Strategies for advertisements.

And Dunsmore has spent $150 on what they reported to APOC as “photography.”

“If Mr. Dunsmore is so concerned I might have some affiliation with the Trump campaign, it raises a parallel question: Is Pete Petersen working for Donald Trump? I’d prefer to see Suzanne LaFrance win in South Anchorage. It’s only a matter of time before we know if Dunsmore has invested his campaign treasure in the same firm.”

Final reports on expenditures will not be available until well after the votes are cast on Tuesday.

“We’re the only area that has only one representative. So, I have to be able to get twice as much done and work twice as hard,” Dunsmore told me. “And I think, on this campaign, people have seen how hard I’ve worked.”

He added,

My track record speaks for itself, with my record of accomplishment in the legislature and as an Assembly aide and as Anchorage Health and Human Services director. I have the experience on day one to step in and be a strong voice for our downtown neighbors and, also, a strong voice for pushing a longterm progressive agenda for Anchorage.

These are in-party battle wounds that are likely to fester rather than heal. So, we’re going to have to get used to that.

Polls open on Tuesday.

Last Minute High Jinks and Shenanigans Abound as Anchorage Prepares for Local Elections

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The last days before an election always guarantee some high jinks and shenanigans and Anchorage never skips an opportunity to join in on the head scratching controversy. Over the last week, two candidates’ last ditch efforts to tackle their opponents spanned from the bizarre to the more bizarre.

It’s too much fun not to engage in a quick recap. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Sign of the (Way-Back) Times

In the midtown race to replace outgoing Anchorage Assembly Chair Elvi Gray-Jackson, who is terming out, Felix Rivera found himself on the wrong end of campaign literature over the weekend.

Rivera, endorsed by Gray-Jackson in a swing district that in recent years has drifted to the left, faces three conservative challengers in Marcus Sanders, Ron Alleva, and Don Smith. Smith is a former state legislator, Anchorage Assembly member, and school board member, who proudly takes credit for the municipality’s tax cap. His electibility has waned considerably after comments about minority students when attempting to reclaim his school board seat in 2014.

During a taping of Running on Alaska Public Media, Smith said,

“When I was in Anchorage High School, it was about 98 percent white students, and the balance were probably Native and one or two black students in the school. Today we’re 48 percent white, 52 percent other, and that clearly is causing problems.”

He would lose that contest by a little over 15 points.

As an Assembly member who cast a vote against an antidiscrimination ordinance protecting LGBT residents of municipality 41 years ago, his opinions on the matter seem as outdated as his view on minorities.

A new round of campaign mailers paid for by the Smith campaign are targeting Rivera via a side-by-side comparison of the “big differences” between the two candidates. With Rivera’s bullet points illustrated by icons of money on fire, Smith charges, “Felix Rivera’s agenda revolves around inflicting his moral and religious ideology onto your family.”

Rivera is an openly gay man.

“Whether it’s my stance on equal rights or on the moral and economic imperative to deal with homelessness, Anchorage voters want to know the values I’ll use to make decisions on the Assembly — those of equity and access,” Rivera countered. I spoke with him Sunday night. “You can hold those values and still believe in religious freedom, free speech, civil rights, and equal opportunity for all. The fact that you can believe in equal rights and religious freedom is what makes Anchorage great. Mr. Smith seems to be on the opposite side of the majority of Anchorage voters on these issues and more.”

Smith has made clear in the past he wishes no interaction with Alaska Commons.

Fred Dyson and a Strange Line of Questioning

Eagle River is, along with South Anchorage, the municipality’s most solid conservative bastion.

The two most conservative members of the 11-member Assembly, Amy Demboski and Bill Starr, are from Eagle River. The last five elections, conservatives have pulled in an average of just under 62 percent of the vote. So, it has historically not been a matter of whether or not a conservative will be elected, it’s a matter of which one, though Gretchen Wehmhoff is the strongest center-left candidate in recent memory.

The front runner is Fred Dyson — who served as a state senator for a year shy of a decade after five years in the state house. The 78 year old legislative veteran says people asked him to run for office when Starr’s seat opened up due to term limits.

During his legislative tenure, Dyson was a fierce advocate of the constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between one man and one woman and has, more recently, taken up the cause of opposing the rights of transgender Alaskans.

“Former State Sen. Fred Dyson testified and warned of a ‘Pandora’s box’ when it comes to restrooms and other public accommodations,” ADN’s Devin Kelly noted in 2015, when the Anchorage Assembly was deliberating the latest (and ultimately successful) ordinance to codify antidiscrimination protections for LGBT residents of Anchorage.

Last Friday, Dyson took a rather odd approach in continuing this fight, as a candidate for Assembly, grilling school board candidates on the question during the Anchorage NAACP candidate forum — the final forum before Tuesday’s election. It was a sight to see.

After noting that he was a victim of bullying as a child, Dyson informed (incorrectly) the candidates that one “unintended consequence” of the “very well-intended” ordinance was that the protections signed into law is that people can now,

choose their gender. And one of the results of that is boys can compete on girls’ athletic teams. My grandson ran a state championship last year. A boy ran as a — a physical boy ran as a girl. That’s happening across the country. But also says, if somebody can choose — a male can choose to be in a girls’ shower room, locker room, dressing room, and so on — personal privacy is, in my view, being sacrificed in our well-intended desire to be sensitive to people with gender issues.

He asked the school board candidates if they supported the ordinance.

After audience members began shouting, “I support it!” School Board candidate James Smallwood firmly responded, “If there’s any special accommodation that needs to happen, than [ASD] will oblige for that. So, that’s your answer.

Aren’t municipal politics fun?

Polls open on Tuesday.

Bill Grappling with Massive Backlog of Sexual Assault Kits Likely Headed to House Floor

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A bill to quantify untested rape kits in Alaska is nearly ready for the House floor after a House Finance Committee hearing Friday.

Last year, the State learned that there were over 3,000 sexual assault kits in the possession of law enforcement that had not been tested.

In October, Alaska received a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to test about 1,000 kits held by the Alaska State Troopers.

While there is no statute of limitations for most types of sexual assault in Alaska, there are exceptions. Notably, there is a ten-year limitation on prosecution when the offender “engages in sexual contact with a person who the offender knows is mentally incapable, incapacitated, or unaware that a sexual act is being committed.”

Rep. Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage) pre-filed a bill (HB 31) that would have mandated testing of sexual assault kits within 18 months and established a standard process for tracking the kits.

However, Tarr testified Friday in a hearing, “The situation in Alaska is dismal, more problematic than we knew.”

Tarr said that the bill version establishing the 18-month limit, prior to knowing how many kits remain untested, got ahead of itself.

Many of the state’s 200 law enforcement agencies did not voluntarily participate in an audit conducted by the administration of Gov. Bill Walker.

A committee substitute for HB 31 will first develop a report by November 1 that tabulates the number of untested sexual assault kits held by every State, municipal, and tribal law enforcement agency. It will also record the date each kit was collected.

“Let’s get the true number of what the backlog is and then, when we go forward, let’s approach… how are we going to pay to test the backlog and prioritize that, and then what will be the appropriate time limit on the kits that are more current ones,” Tarr told the committee.

She said the 18-month limit may have to be extended based on the results of the report and the costs.

An initial fiscal note estimated HB 31 would cost $265,000 per year, but the provisions creating a new tracking system and requiring the backlog to be cleared — at a cost of $1,500 per kit — were stripped out of the CS.

Tarr said the CS will have a zero fiscal note. For the future, she is exploring ways to integrate rape kit tracking into existing State databases so a new database doesn’t have to be built.

House Finance adopted the CS during a three-minute introductory hearing March 13. Since that time, the committee has been tied up with the budget and its deficit reduction plan (HB 115), delaying a second hearing on HB 31.

Tarr noted Friday that there are over 7,000 rapes in Alaska every year, so in the time since HB 31 was referred to House Finance on February 8, about 1,000 Alaskans have been raped.

A rape kit might not be tested because the evidence is not necessary for the case at hand, but the kit might link the offender to other rapes, said Tarr.

She pointed to an Alaska Dispatch News article that came out the day she pre-filed HB 31. The article documents the prosecution of Clifford Lee, who committed four rapes and one attempted rape in 2014.

“The thinking used to be that there was one perpetrator, one victim,” Tarr told House Finance. “But… what we’ve learned is that there are individuals that are serial criminals, that have multiple victims.”

After his arrest in 2014, sexual assault kits linked Lee to unsolved rapes in 2001 and 2005.

The case highlights the need to test every sexual assault kit, Tarr argued.

“What we need to know is which ones are out there that are untested,” she said. “The effort is really to — to the extent that the victim will participate — get those kits to a lab for testing.”

The CS adds three avenues for sexual assault victims who are 16 or older. They can perform the test as part of a law enforcement effort or they can be tested and simply file a medical report if they are not prepared to press charges. They also have the option of being tested anonymously.

“That was a difficult one for me to accept,” Tarr said.

Tarr told House Finance she based the two options that don’t involve law enforcement on a white paper from the federal Office on Violence Against Women.

“One of the things that we know happens with sexual assault is that it is a power-over situation, and one of the immediate things that we want to do when someone is a victim of sexual assault is to start to give their power back to them,” explained Jayne Andreen, Interim Executive Director of the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

Andreen said the goal is to test all victims for sexually-transmitted infections and collect the forensic evidence, but victims are traumatized in the aftermath of rape. Giving them the option to not engage directly with law enforcement is part of giving their power back, she said.

Though two don’t lead to immediate prosecution, the three options in the CS all result in sexual assault kits ending up in the hands of law enforcement. That way, those who choose not to press charges can reconsider after weeks or even months.

“Not all individuals are going to want to press charges, or might not want to press charges at the time of the assault,” Tarr said, “but because collecting the evidence is time-sensitive, you don’t really have the option of really thinking that through. You have a very limited time window in which that evidence can be collected and be admissible for any kind of court case.”

The first two sections of the CS explicitly add sexual assault training to existing domestic violence training that all police receive.

“The goal of section 1 and section 2 is to create a standard protocol so that all individuals who go through training to become a law enforcement officer in the state of Alaska will receive training in sexual assault response,” Tarr said.

HB 31 is part of a nationwide effort to process untested sexual assault kits, Tarr told the committee.

She cited the city of Detroit, which has nearly cleared a backlog of 11,000 untested kits that were found in 2009.

On the Wednesday edition of her show Full Frontal, comedian Samantha Bee had a feel-good, Schoolhouse Rock-style segment explaining how, with only moments left in the session, the Georgia General Assembly passed a bill requiring sexual assault kits to be tested.

House Finance will probably move HB 31 from committee after the bill’s next hearing, Tuesday, April 4. House Finance Co-chair Neal Foster (D-Nome) told committee members to have amendments submitted by Monday.

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.

Writing About Writing (FB)
Laugh or Croak (FB)
Joel Sax (FB)
Guff (FB)
(at)VinnyCrack (Twitter)
Tina (FB)
Know Your Meme (FB)
Petty Memes (FB)
Mematic (dot) net
My Favorite Daily Things (FB)

 

 

Bonus gif!

 

 

House Minority Complains About Hired Contractor, Avoids the Fact Their Math Doesn’t Add Up

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House Republicans sought Thursday to negatively frame the origin of a House majority income tax proposal they are trying to kill. They aren’t the only caucus marshaling forces ahead of end-of-session negotiations.

There seems to be general agreement among legislators that the Permanent Fund needs to be restructured to address the State’s $2.7 billion structural deficit.

However, the House majority has also proposed a state income tax in HB 115 that would close the deficit.

In a press conference Thursday, Rep. Steve Thompson (R-Fairbanks) called HB 115 “a mess.” He shared the frustration of his minority colleagues on House Finance, who are dissatisfied with answers Department of Revenue (DOR) officials and other experts have provided to their tax questions.

Rep. Dan Saddler (R-Eagle River) said the House minority has made it a priority to resist an income tax.

He added that HB 115’s “provenance is kind of suspicious.”

Saddler’s comments refer to the discovery that some of the income tax language in HB 115 was written by Department of Law consultant Richard Pomp, a University of Connecticut professor who previously served as a DOR consultant between 1999 and 2010.

Tax Division Director Ken Alper testified during a hearing Thursday that when Gov. Bill Walker introduced an income tax bill prior to the 2016 legislative session, the administration learned its tax language was obsolete.

Alper said the Tax Division prepared during the interim as if Walker would reintroduce an income tax.

“We didn’t know if the governor was going to want an income tax bill,” Alper told House Finance. “If he was going to want one, we wanted to have a good one. We wanted it to be, frankly, administrable, enforceable.”

Like the original version of HB 115, Walker’s bill relied on the federal income tax rate. The administration worried about the impact.

“The federal tax could change outright,” Alper warned. “We have a new administration in Washington. They’re talking about changes to the federal tax code. If everyone’s federal income tax were cut in half, then Alaska’s revenues from the income tax would simultaneously be cut in half.”

But in switching to an adjusted gross tax with brackets, the Department of Law realized it didn’t have the in-house expertise to draft the language. So they hired Pomp.

Tax Division Director Defends Use of Consultant

“In other words, Governor Walker’s Administration has been quietly working on developing new, more aggressive income tax legislation for months prior to the convening of the legislative session,” Alaska Republican Party Assistant Treasurer Suzanne Downing wrote Thursday on her website, Must Read Alaska.

“Walker would have needed a tax expert with the ‘progressive tax’ sympathies that reflect that of the Democrats, his current political allies,” Downing added.

“Where did the money come from to be able to pay this individual?” Rep. Lance Pruitt (R-Anchorage) asked, referring to Pomp.

Alper responded that a hiring freeze and subsequent Tax Division vacancies yielded the $85,000 for Pomp’s contract.

“We’re not of the habit of spending money on things we’re not going to need,” Alper told Pruitt. “This is useful knowledge. We need to have better income tax language. Most likely, someone will need it.”

Pruitt and Rep. Tammie Wilson (R-North Pole) echoed some of Downing’s comments, saying Pomp has not been available for committee questions. Wilson said she is being asked to submit amendments to HB 115 by Friday but doesn’t have access to the necessary expertise.

“The person that wrote aspects of this bill was not available to us,” complained Pruitt. “That’s the frustration.”

“Any suggestion that this person wrote this bill I think is patently untrue,” House Finance Vice-chair Les Gara (D-Anchorage) said of Pomp. “The accusations that have been suggested, even though they’ve been maybe unintentional, have bothered me. I don’t think anybody wrote this bill for anybody else.”

“No one even offered up that this person was out there and could maybe even answer the questions,” Pruitt said. “It feels like there was a secret being kept.”

Alper explained that Pomp’s contract was to deliver a draft income tax bill to the Walker Administration. He completed work on the bill in January, though Walker didn’t introduce it.

The State’s online checkbook shows that Pomp was paid $85,000 on February 9.

Alper said Pomp’s participation was not hidden.

“When the Finance Committee put out their own income tax bill, we let them know we had this language available,” Alper said. “All of those many pages of technical language — that’s what we got from Professor Pomp. The tax tables and the personal exemption and the amount of revenue side — that does not come from the administration.”

Both Gara and House Finance Co-chair Paul Seaton (R-Homer) said they have been conducting research on the issue of taxing trusts, which Wilson and Thompson worry could drive the trust industry out of Alaska. Gara noted that all legislators can similarly contact Alaska trust attorneys or conduct bill research without the aid of specific experts.

House Minority Concerns Not Supported By Numbers

Thompson expressed concern about the switch to an adjusted gross tax in HB 115, saying tax software like TurboTax will have to be redone to accommodate Alaska’s income tax.

“I see it as a major problem. Where does it benefit us?” Thompson asked.

“This is a bill that’s going to raise something approaching $700 million a year,” Alper said while explaining the fiscal notes for HB 115.

The Tax Division is requesting $14 million in capital costs, $10 million of which Alper estimated would be spent on a contractor to build a new database.

“This is going to be a very lengthy and extensive regulations project, and frankly… I expect there will be outside contractors to help with the regulations project,” he said.

Part of the cost will be outreach to companies like Quickbooks and TurboTax. But Alper said once the State has informed them of the changes to its tax policy, businesses will simply need to download the latest update to the software, a common practice.

The State will need to hire about 60 new people. 15 would be part-time workers needed to process some anticipated paper tax returns. Annual operating costs, including those salaries, are expected to be about $7.8 million.

However, Alper said all costs equate to 1.5 percent of the anticipated revenue from HB 115.

“That is a pretty good overhead number,” he said.

“It’s a heavy lift,” Alper said of the income tax implementation. “It is one we are going to be challenged by, but it’s one we believe is within our professional and intellectual capacity to be able to incorporate and add to the State of Alaska.”

Despite a tax chart showing that households making $100,000 or less will have their income taxes more than offset by the Permanent Fund dividend (PFD), Rep. DeLena Johnson (R-Palmer) told reporters Thursday that HB 115 will hit young people hard who moved to the Mat-Su Valley because it is less expensive.

“This is a difficult pill to swallow,” Thompson agreed. “We’re taking half of your Permanent Fund [dividend], and then we’re going to take the other half in taxes, or more than the other half.”

Saddler worried about the impact on pensioners.

“Somebody who’s earned a pension, especially in the military, has paid a large debt of service to the country already and has paid income tax on their income. We get a lot of people who retire in Alaska because of that lack of income tax, and a lot of Alaskans are able to make it their home because of a lack of income tax,” he said.

“This income tax might be the tipping point that puts one of my constituents who retired from the military in Eagle River to the point they’re going to move down to California or Oregon, and we lose the benefit of that person,” Saddler continued.

An analysis from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy shows that HB 115 would be the fourth-lowest income tax in the country. Oregon’s effective tax rate is the highest, while California’s is the third-highest.

Oregon only exempts military pensions for members with service prior to October 1, 1991. California has no military pension exemption.

Still No Senate Version of Budget on Day 73

Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee maintained consistency by canceling the remaining hearings on the operating budget this week. The committee canceled nine hearings on the budget after it received the House version Monday.

Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna), a key member of Senate Finance, was in Anchorage Thursday touting the Senate’s deficit reduction plan (SB 26) at a forum jointly hosted by the Alaska Chamber, the Alaska Support Industry Alliance, and the Resource Development Council for Alaska.

The Senate hopes to avoid an income tax by simply restructuring the Permanent Fund, though that leaves an $800 million deficit in FY 2018.

Senate President Pete Kelly (R-Fairbanks) and Senate Labor & Commerce Chair Mia Costello (R-Anchorage) joined Micciche in Anchorage.

Senate Finance’s cancelations mean the committee won’t take up the budget until Monday, at the earliest. Monday will be Day 77 of the 90-day session.

Yet House minority members tried to strike a positive tone Thursday.

Rep. Chuck Kopp (R-Anchorage) admitted the legislature will probably go over the 90-day limit, but he hoped it wouldn’t be much beyond that.

“Probably our legislature, as a whole, is more solution-oriented and less blame-oriented than it’s been in a long time,” said Kopp.

Thursday was Day 73 of the 90-day session.