Andrew Jensen

OPINION: Sound and fury with no assembly required

About the only good thing to say about the ongoing effort to recall Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy is that at least it won’t cost as much as the Mueller Report. In the end, though, it will end up being just as effective at reversing the outcome of an election. The opponents of the governor launched their effort on Aug. 1 to much fanfare and media coverage highlighted by a rally at Cuddy Park in Anchorage where a couple hundred people gathered just steps away from homeless camps as Democrat Rep. Ivy Spohnholz egged on the crowd with her fist raised like John Carlos and Tommie Smith. Lost in the excitement was much, if any, of a critical look at not only the high legal hurdles to overcome but the more relevant length of time this pointless fight is going to take. First, the recall pushers have to gather some 28,000 legitimate signatures to even deliver the petition to Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, who oversees the Division of Elections and is required to make the call on whether it passes legal muster. Meyer will rely on the advice of Attorney General Kevin Clarkson in deciding whether to certify the petition, with the odds of a positive recommendation somewhere in the neighborhood of President Donald Trump appointing Rosie O’Donnell as chief of staff. Once Meyer denies the petition for lack of meeting the legal standard for recall, the battle will move on to Superior Court with the losing party in that venue sure to appeal to the state Supreme Court. Should the Superior Court ruling go in the recall petitioners’ favor, they will be allowed to begin gathering the more than 71,000 signatures needed for a special election while the appeal is pending. Should it not, they won’t be able to start unless they ultimately prevail at the Supreme Court. Recent history on two high-profile cases that reached the Supreme Court show that even in an expedited timeframe the entire process would take nearly a year if not more to be resolved. When Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, sued former Gov. Bill Walker in September 2016 for vetoing half of the Permanent Fund dividend, it was not until August 2017 that the Supreme Court issued its decision in favor of Walker. After former Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott denied the Stand for Salmon initiative from the ballot in September 2017 and was subsequently challenged in court, it was not until August 2018 that the final ruling was made. To think a case as monumental as the recall of a governor would take any less time is wishful thinking. As the petitioners note in their legal analysis, no recall petition against a statewide official has ever been certified in Alaska. Presuming the petitioners gather enough signatures in the next month or so, and they said they got to 18,000 within the first week, it likely won’t be until the fall until Meyer makes his decision and kicks off the court fight. Further presuming at least a year to receive a ruling from the Supreme Court, the soonest a recall election could take place would be sometime in early or mid-2021 depending on whether they are allowed to gather signatures while the appeal is pending based on how the Superior Court decides. That would be just more than a year away from the regularly scheduled gubernatorial election in 2022. Now we have entered the be-careful-what-you-wish-for stage of the recall effort for the petitioners. Should everything somehow go their way, a recall election is held and they are successful in giving Dunleavy the boot, they will have only succeeded in elevating Meyer to the governor’s office. Giving him more than a year to govern, including a legislative session, would provide Meyer an opportunity to present himself as a reasonable and drama-free Republican alternative much in the way the low-key former Gov. Sean Parnell benefited from simply not being Gov. Sarah Palin after her abrupt resignation in summer 2009 and he easily won election in his own right in 2010. That isn’t going to help Democrats win a statewide office for the first time since Mark Begich squeaked out a win over the unjustly convicted late Sen. Ted Stevens in 2008. Legal process aside, the recall petition itself is as thin as the paper it’s printed on even as the authors throw as much spaghetti at the wall as possible hoping just one piece sticks. When the top arguments by their own admission are Dunleavy’s failure to appoint a judge to the Palmer Superior Court within 45 days (he eventually did) and their unproven allegations of campaign finance disclosure violations, even they know they are throwing a Hail Mary hoping for a judicial miracle. If failure to follow a statute (cough, PFD formula, cough) and APOC violations are grounds for recall, then there are a lot of legislators who should be sweating. Further, the allegation of “incompetence” for an admitted error in a Medicaid funding veto is laughable. While the habitual rake-stepping of this administration has been described in this space as incompetent, that is not the legal standard for a recall. The petitioners even acknowledge this in their legal memo with the admission that the legal standard is “lack of ability to perform the official’s required duties,” which refers to situations such as medical incapacity. The leaders of this effort likely know all of this and understand the real purpose is to gin up enthusiasm for the 2020 legislative races. Those who actually believe this is going to work may also be interested in buying a bridge to Gravina Island. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: The messianic arrogance of isolation

“Any Given Sunday” doesn’t seem like Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s kind of movie, but Oliver Stone’s outlandish take on pro football does have its moments of profundity. Late in the film after a game when his offensive line allowed him to take a beating over his bigshot attitude, quarterback “Steamin” Willie Beamen walks into the sauna occupied only by linebacker Luther “Shark” Lavay. “Yeah, you led,” Lavay says. “But did anybody follow?” The question, like most are when the answer is obvious, was purely rhetorical. Dunleavy’s support has shriveled in the Legislature to a handful of members mostly from the Valley while traditional Republican Party allies across the business community have either refused to defend him or have directly come out against his vetoes and the House minority holding the capital budget hostage in exchange for a statutory PFD. Dunleavy has led. But how many are still following as he stakes his office on a minority of legislators barely large enough to sustain his vetoes and the oftentimes hateful rhetoric of his PFD-or-bust base in the Valley? Rather than recognize the lack of support for his proposals as evidence of a need to change course, Dunleavy has chosen the path of Valley Rep. David Eastman, who also arrogantly takes his isolation as a badge of honor and proof of his messianic righteousness. Instead of attempting to be a governor for all of Alaska, Dunleavy has chosen to be the governor of District E. This outcome is what many who supported Dunleavy feared when he hired former Republican Party Chairman Tuckerman Babock as chief of staff cum wartime consigliere. And, not to belabor the references to movies starring Al Pacino, he has not governed like the cool-headed and savvy Michael Corleone but as a combination of Sonny and Fredo mixing vindictiveness with incompetence. Dunleavy’s single-minded focus on a $3,000 PFD has leveled the once high ground of sustainable budgeting and respect for the rule of law with his vetoes ranging from punitive to petty to preposterous. Not that the legislative leadership is blameless. Far from it. The aimless stewards of the House allowed the PFD issue to fester for months rather than addressing it or showing even a modicum of respect for the minority members whose votes they now need to fund the capital budget and overturn some or all of Dunleavy’s vetoes. The Senate is led by Cathy Giessel, who was perfectly willing to run on a full PFD with back payments when she faced a tough reelection battle in 2016. “There’s a difference between looking at options and grabbing someone else’s money,” Giessel told the camera in a video that is still live on her 2016 reelection Facebook page. “That’s what Gov. Walker did. He grabbed your money. That money grab didn’t solve anything. A money grab is not a solution. “Sen. Mike Dunleavy is proposing a solution that would give that money back to you. I support that solution and we’ll be working with him in January to see that done. You see, you deserve to have that money back. Alaska deserves a real solution to the budget crisis.” Alaska’s budget situation wasn’t any better in 2016 than it is now — in fact it was worse — but Giessel has done a complete 180 on what she successfully ran on just three years ago. In that regard, Dunleavy deserves credit for trying to deliver what he promised. But in reality the state is not with him as measured by the best possible indicator, which are the votes cast in the Legislature that he has been on the wrong side of all year. Dunleavy could have introduced a sensible four-year plan to gradually reduce government spending to sustainable levels but he blew his chance for real budget reform when he attempted it all in one bite and in such draconian fashion that he spawned the bipartisan majority in the House that has frustrated him at every turn. It’s been written in this space that the PFD is not a suicide pact, but right now Dunleavy and Babcock are mixing the punch with their Valley cohort and intending to force it down everyone’s throats if they don’t get what they want in spite of their lack of popular support. Time is running out for a compromise with the least fortunate among us being turned out to the streets and the University of Alaska declaring the equivalent of bankruptcy a month away from the fall semester. Dunleavy and his dwindling number of allies would do well to remember one more line from “Any Given Sunday” delivered by Pacino’s Coach Tony D’Amato to his players facing one last shot to keep their season alive: “Either we heal now, as a team, or we will die as individuals.” Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Ignoring session call latest offense for a scofflaw Legislature

The zombie legislative session that will not sine die staggers on aimlessly, consuming the brains of anyone trying to make sense of what’s going on and swallowing the souls of those still naïve enough to believe in following the laws as written. In the latest escalation of a race to the bottom, Senate President Cathy Giessel and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon have thumbed their noses at Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s call to a special session in Wasilla to decide the fate of the Permanent Fund dividend despite admittedly not having the votes to call themselves to Juneau. A great irony of the 31st Legislature will be going down in history as one that managed to pass a new tough-on-crime bill while simultaneously breaking as many laws as possible. The 90-day time limit on legislative sessions approved by voters? Pffft. The 35-year-old statutory formula for calculating the PFD? Yeah, right. No per diem without an operating budget? We didn’t really mean that. The law says the governor can choose the site of a special session? We. Don’t. Care. Most galling of all is that when the leaders of the Legislature decide to ignore a law they hide under the claim of constitutionality. Sometimes they don’t even bother going that far. “It’s a gray area,” Edgmon told James Brooks of the Anchorage Daily News about the leadership’s authority to ignore the governor’s call, but they plan to conduct some mutant combination of floor sessions in Juneau and committee hearings in Anchorage anyway. These leaders would be a lot more credible when it comes to defending their turf if they’d shown any competence at doing their jobs or a bare minimum respect for the laws they’ve passed. Instead, the scofflaws have only been emboldened over the past four years after escaping any repercussions for skipping out on their lease at the Downtown Anchorage Legislative Information Office under the guise of the “subject to appropriation” clause. The result of that decision is that the Legislature has spent $24 million on the Wells Fargo bank-turned-LIO but still has no place to actually conduct a special session in a single building on the road system. Many people cheered that decision to abscond from the Downtown office and leave the owners to face foreclosure on a $28 million loan taken out on the faith and credit of the Legislature, and likewise approved of the subsequent refusal of former Gov. Bill Walker to fully pay off the year’s balance of refundable oil tax credits without any warning to banks or the industry. The owners knew what they were doing, some argued. The companies knew the terms, some excused. Now some of these same folks are squealing about not following laws governing the PFD or per diem. Only now do they realize that just because something is legal doesn’t make it right. Only now may they realize that the decision to take the easy way out on the Anchorage LIO without really saving any money was the gateway drug to funding government by cutting the PFD. Once the Supreme Court enabled the Legislature to ignore its formula on the PFD, it has been a free-for-all on gimmicks and budget shortcuts and disregard for the law, even those that are barely a year old. Their “solution” to the tax credit liabilities ran afoul of constitutional questions and is headed for the Supreme Court. So is their claim about the legality of forward “funding” of education without actually funding it and their assertion that they don’t have to convene a session according to the governor’s call. Perhaps it’s only fitting that the Legislature keeps getting dragged into court. That’s where most scofflaws eventually end up. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

A bull’s eye on Alaska

With more than $4.5 billion in assets under management from offices on the 11th floor of the JL Tower that feature panoramic views of spectacular Alaska scenery, staying focused on the big picture comes naturally to McKinley Capital Management CEO Rob Gillam. Taking the long view is also a family tradition. Gillam, 47, took over as CEO on Oct. 1, 2018, just a couple weeks after his father and firm founder Bob Gillam passed away on Sept. 12 after suffering a stroke at age 72. Gillam took a lot of advice from his father over the years, and the final piece he received over a lunch stands out. “He looked at me and said, ‘Remember, in life and in business when you sit in this chair: don’t fly too low. Get out of the weeds and look up,’” Gillam recalled during an April 26 interview. “That was his message and I think every Alaskan should remember that.” Gillam is a relatively rare breed in Alaska these days as the state is still climbing out of a three-year recession brought on by the 2015 crash in oil prices while the Legislature and Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy are locked in high-stakes battles over the Permanent Fund dividend, education funding and the size of government spending. Gillam is, unabashedly, a bull on Alaska. “People are depressed because they’re looking this far out,” he said, holding his hand near his face. “And don’t get me wrong, I get it. If it’s your job that’s at risk based on a budget, I’m not saying that’s not scary. What I’m saying is we live in a resilient place, and if you look this far out (extending his arm), it’s a very different picture. “We have the ingredients that most of the world wants. We have natural resources, beautiful scenery, infrastructure opportunities, business opportunities. Any time you’re from a place where more people come to visit, by a multiple, than the number of people who live there, you need to remember we have something here. I think as Alaskans we can get a little too provincial and we forget to look up.” That message is one Gillam wants to share as he leads what he has dubbed “McKinley 2.0,” building on his father’s work but also taking his own path. Just sitting down for an extended interview is a major departure from his father, who Gillam described as “notoriously press shy.” “I am really proud of what we’ve accomplished,” he said. “I’m proud to be Alaskan. When I travel around the world they don’t even remember my name. I’m just ‘Mr. Alaska.’ The guy who owns the hotel I stay at in Manhattan just calls me ‘Alaska,’ ‘hey, Alaska.’ “I want my people to feel that way. I want Alaska to feel that way. I want our customers to feel that way. They should be really proud. I am. The more places I can tell that story, I’ll tell that story.” The story of McKinley Capital Management — a homegrown entrepreneur who didn’t believe in “no” and overcame every disadvantage of time and space to build a powerhouse asset management firm — is pure pioneer Alaska. “When he founded McKinley there was no such thing as an asset management firm in Alaska,” Gillam said. “It didn’t exist, and it was hard to do from a technology standpoint. It was hard to do because it was remote. But he never let ‘no’ deter him.” For Gillam, who started working for his father in 1995 and led the creation of its international strategies arm after following in his footsteps at the prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, the story is also far from over. Driven by digital Nothing has changed the world more than technology in the nearly 30 years since Bob Gillam founded McKinley Capital Management in 1990, and the firm is no exception. In fact, Gillam’s team has become world leaders in harnessing the power of artificial intelligence in asset management. With offices in Anchorage, Chicago, New York and most recently Abu Dhabi, Gillam is captain of a team of about 45 that also includes a scientific advisory board headed by 1990 Nobel Prize winner in economics Dr. Harry Markowitz. Differences in time zones and limited computing power were once hurdles for McKinley. In a firm now firmly focused on a worldwide investing strategy, time and technology are its biggest strengths. “My dad founded an asset fund. Today I run a technology fund,” Gillam said. “My dad founded a firm in Alaska, from Alaska. I founded a firm that chooses to be in Alaska. Because I can do what I do anywhere.” Once solely invested in U.S. equities with individual clients, Gillam recounted how it used to take an entire weekend to perform the analytics on the 1,300 or so stocks McKinley covered. Now with the vast majority of its portfolio invested around the world and huge institutional clients that have included the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. for 22 years, the firm is covering more than 50,000 stocks in 105 countries. “We never knew anything other than technology to do what we do,” Gillam said. “Traditionally money mangers would travel the world, meet with management teams, do that sort of old school analysis. That wasn’t our way. It couldn’t be our way. So we’re not in the disadvantaged position a lot of money managers are today in having to retool what they do. “We were plumbed that way from the start.” Utilizing incredible computing power and machine learning algorithms, McKinley vacuums up information from around the world from analyst calls, financial reports and other text sources using data scraping methods and a custom built platform that also have to account for different currencies, languages and accounting standards. “We make billions of calculations every day and we do it in tenths of a second,” Gillam said. “The scale is astronomical.” His team is made up of both the traditional financial analysts and computer scientists drawn from the U.S., the world and the University of Alaska Fairbanks and UA Anchorage. “We have code writers from Indonesia, from China, from all over the place, and from UAF,” Gillam said. “We are an equal opportunity skill set. You bring the skills, we don’t care if you’re from Mars. “The good news is that math doesn’t need translation.” Gillam is solidifying McKinley as an Alaska firm that is bullish on the state’s future with the May 23 announcement the company has formed an academic partnership with the University of Alaska Lab for Data Science and Artificial Intelligence. According to the announcement, the partnership will include students and interns, and McKinley is building out an area of its Anchorage headquarters where students will be able to study and work on AI and data science projects. “Our goal with students is to help develop their skills, oversee their senior projects where appropriate, and collaborate with staff on research across the spectrum of AI-related projects,” Gillam said. “We value the university and its dedication to student learning. As a company, we want to invest in our community’s most critical assets: the students and the youth of Alaska who are our future. This partnership allows us to provide UA students a place where they can apply their talent and create a future for themselves. It’s a really exciting partnership for us.” UA President Jim Johnsen called the McKinley partnership an “amazing opportunity.” “This agreement with McKinley Capital represents our commitment to solving the challenges of our private sector partners, and meeting the needs of our state,” Johnsen said. So while McKinley continues to scour the globe for growth opportunities, it hopes to find the future of the firm in its own backyard. “We have a lot of big dreams in Alaska and people who have the ability to turn them into reality should,” Gillam said. “We have a role to play in there and there’s other great players in the state we can do that alongside, and we’re happy to do it.” As for the growth in artificial intelligence as a tool, Gillam doesn’t believe it can ever replace the humans who create it. “One of the things I told the students over there (at UAA) was that ‘artificial intelligence is long on artificial and short on intelligence. Don’t think the bots are coming to take everybody’s job any time soon.’ “Having said that, we all know that when we get on a plane a computer does most of the flying. We also know none of us would get on if there wasn’t a pilot. That’s a good way to think about the interchange.” Gunning for growth The use of AI as a financial tool is critical for McKinley’s effort to find the best growth opportunities around the world. Its joint venture office in Abu Dhabi opened in December 2017 as the firm launched its “Middle East, Africa and South Asia” strategy in the second quarter of 2018. McKinley sees huge potential in the region that has 44 percent of the world’s population and 8 of the top 10 fastest-growing economies while accounting for just 5 percent of total global market capitalization. But just as investors seek a return, many McKinley clients also want their money to work for companies that are responsible citizens. The creation of its “Environmental, Social, Governance” strategy came in response to customer requests — its first ESG client was a large Dutch company that invested a half-billion dollars with McKinley — and now other factors than simply financial performance can be calculated. “It’s hard to find fast growing companies in Ghana from Alaska. It’s hard to find fast-growing companies in Kuwait from Alaska unless you have the computational power,” Gillam said. “Once we find those companies, we have to decide what companies we want to have in that fast growing set that don’t pollute the environment, ones that don’t lie, cheat and steal. We want ones that are good to the communities in which they live and work. It’s an over and above good characteristics. “We have a fiduciary responsibility to build a portfolio with the best return for the amount of risk that we can. That governs everything we do. If, on top of that, we can encourage good behavior, of course we’re going to do that.” Creating custom products such as the ESG strategy based not only on generating a return but aligning with the values of the client is the fastest-growing category at McKinley, Gillam said. “At the end of the day, we have to give people peace of mind,” he said. “That’s our job.” Generating consistent returns has given clients a lot of peace of mind. According to Gillam, the various portfolios dating back to 1990 have made both positive absolute returns and positive returns relative to benchmarks. “We remain focused on systematically searching the world for the best growth opportunities and are proud to work with clients from around the world that range from large global companies, cities and/or states, sovereign wealth funds, foundations and private clients,” he said. “While we have three other offices outside of Alaska, we are proud to play a role in helping our customers from our office right here in Alaska.” ‘Brand Alaska’ Gillam and his wife Stacia made an investment in the state just as the recession was taking hold back in 2015 with their purchase of Alaska Glacier Products, a bottled water sourced from the Eklutna Glacier just north of Anchorage that provides the city’s water supply. The company has since won several international taste awards and Stacia Gillam is still the chair of the company. “We call those ‘brand Alaska’ transactions,” Gillam said. “It turns out that a lot of people think we’re cool and have a really cool lifestyle. Turns out they are right. On top of that, we have really amazing quality. The reality is we have some of the best water in the world, right out here. “What we realized was here was an opportunity to invest in a company that is brand Alaska, which we believe in, that can create jobs, and when we bought the company when jobs were shrinking there weren’t a lot of manufacturing jobs in the state. Every ship that goes out of the Port of Alaska is empty; we could put something on it. The world wants what we want and lets give it to them. It was a neat deal and a good investment.” “Brand Alaska” encapsulates McKinley’s DNA, and Gillam’s thoughts on the Pebble mine, which his father was as well-known for vigorously opposing as he was for being named the richest man in the state by Forbes. Rob Gillam said it’s time for the leaders of the opposition aided by his father to take the lead in the fight, but his opinion is no different when it comes to Pebble. “I absolutely oppose the Pebble mine,” he said. “It’s not a good thing. But I have a little different perspective on it. It’s just a math question. You have one resource that is perpetual, that is already generating income for generations that goes on forever, and one that is finite. So do the math. It’s a net present value calculation. “To me it is pretty easy. Every person in Alaska should pay attention to this; 58 percent of our wild salmon comes from one place. How’s our branding going to be if we have an ‘oops’?” “The other thing that is important, is that there is nothing wrong with mining. Alaska has been built on that. There’s just some places you don’t want to do it, and that’s one of those places.” A passion for Alaska was the driving force behind Bob Gillam’s efforts to conserve Bristol Bay and to keep McKinley a quintessential Alaska-grown company; the same passion for the state is driving his son to leverage its success for the benefit of Alaska as a whole. “I hope McKinley, the new McKinley, can pave a little bit of the path to the opportunities in Alaska,” he said. “I think they’re pretty huge. “My family has been in Alaska for almost 100 years. The one thing that has never changed about Alaska is the DNA of the people here. You can call it the pioneer spirit, the frontier spirit. You have a lot of people who are creative, who are sturdy, who are ambitious, who are self-sufficient, who figured out how to make a whole lot of something out of where there was nothing. That personality still exists.” Spoken like a true Alaska bull. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Legislature should drop pointless education fight

In a rare display of bipartisan and bicameral unity, the leadership of the Alaska House and Senate took a break from not accomplishing anything to hold a press conference on May 28 announcing their intent to sue Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy if he follows through on his belief that the Legislature has not properly funded K-12 education for the 2020 fiscal year that begins July 1. Dunleavy, backed by a legal opinion from Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, has asserted that the Legislature’s attempt to “forward fund” education in a bill passed in 2018 is unconstitutional as an improper dedication of funds and an end-run around his line-item veto authority. Having repeatedly failed to accomplish its One Job of passing a budget within the time constraints of a regular session and triggering layoff notices from school districts who require funding certainty, the Legislature passed House Bill 287 that paid for K-12 education in fiscal year 2019 and called for an equal appropriation to be made in the 2020 fiscal year. The problem with that, Dunleavy’s administration argues, is that the Legislature appropriated money it doesn’t yet have in the General Fund, and therefore it is a dedication of funds prohibited by the state Constitution, and by doing so it robs him of his authority to veto spending in the upcoming fiscal year. There is certainly no question that the Alaska constitution created a powerful executive branch, particularly in regards to spending. A two-thirds vote is required to override a veto on regular legislation, but a three-fourths majority is necessary to override a veto on spending. While Clarkson has released a nine-page memo defending the administration’s position, the Legislature has not offered any similar legal analysis backing up its assertion of power other than an argument that boils down to “we say we can.” Perhaps emboldened by the Supreme Court decision in the lawsuit over former Gov. Bill Walker’s 2016 veto of half of the Permanent Fund dividend appropriation that gave legislators carte blanche to ignore the laws they have passed, they may now similarly believe they can usurp the governor’s constitutional role in the budget process. Taking the Legislature’s assertion of forward funding power to a logical conclusion, they could have passed a 10- or 20- or 100-year education funding bill and as long as lawmakers never touch the bill they could put a billion-plus dollar budget item on autopilot and outside the reach of Dunleavy or any future governor. That’s going to be a tough argument to make at the Supreme Court, and despite their protestations to the contrary, this is not a settled legal issue. The administration’s position is not unreasonable, though if it comes to it and he follows the AG’s opinion and does not transfer funds after July 1 it will surely be portrayed that way. The Department of Law attorneys who testified told the Legislature had the money been called for to be appropriated in the current year on June 30 they would regard it as legal. Similarly, had the Legislature appropriated money from a fund that actually has money such as the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve Account, the administration has stated that, too, would be legal. House Bill 287 did neither of those things. It appropriates money not yet in the Treasury and calls for it in a future fiscal year, which certainly raises the dedicated funds issue. Dunleavy has promised not to veto education funding if the Legislature puts language in the current budget; he would fail even if he tried as the House Minority Republicans already called for status quo K-12 funding that would be enough to override his red pen. The legislators who support HB 287 said they did it to ensure stability for school districts, but their decision to dig in over an untested power is only causing more disruption. With far bigger problems to address regarding unsustainable spending and the dividend, their refusal to abide Dunleavy on this issue and thus guarantee K-12 funding for the upcoming year shows they are actually more concerned with defending their turf than they are in preventing pink slips from going out. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Anchorage digs into couch cushions for camp cleanup

“Budgets reflect values” is a popular axiom of those who believe in government solutions to society’s problems, but whether that is true or not, budgets certainly reflect priorities. In that respect, the Anchorage Assembly can hardly claim that addressing the city’s homeless crisis has been reflected in the budgets it has approved over the last several years. The 2016 budget, for example, listed as a goal to “Eradicate homelessness and improve the health of the community.” The main source of funding that year was a one-time federal grant of about $425,000 from Housing and Urban Development. In 2017, the “Eradicate homelessness” goal appeared again, this time funded by about $339,000 in HUD grants. The 2018 municipal budget for homelessness initiatives was $500,000 between grants and matching funds. For the 2019 budget, with the Assembly and Mayor Ethan Berkowitz lobbying hard for voters to approve a 5 percent alcohol tax, once again a mere half-million dollars was appropriated split between $350,000 for homeless initiatives and another $150,000 for illegal camp cleanups. After voters rejected the tax and its supporting campaign of singling out a group of people and one industry as the most politically-expedient target for generating revenue, the Assembly has dug into the couch cushions to find another $355,000 to put toward homeless initiatives with $185,000 for the overflow shelter and an extra $150,000 for illegal camp cleanup. With about $855,000 now earmarked this fiscal year for homeless initiatives and illegal camp abatement, that represents a whopping 0.16 percent of the municipal budget of some $526 million. The total budget for illegal camp removal represents five one-hundredths of a percent of the budget. A charitable view of the budget would be that the municipality simply lacks the resources to deal with the homeless crisis absent a new source of revenue. A cynical view would be that the municipal government is using its failure to deal with illegal campsites as leverage over the taxpayers to compel them into voting for higher taxes. Much like the deteriorating homeless situations in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, the Anchorage greenbelts did not turn into Sherwood Forest overnight. Busy intersections littered by trash and the occasional piece of furniture did not spring out of thin air. Rather, the cruelty of compassion and misguided tolerance over many years has allowed this takeover of our public spaces at the expense of safety and the rights of the law-abiding to freely enjoy a city with another stated goal to be the best place to live in America by 2025. Instead, we have resources being dedicated to creating a 106-page “climate action plan” that won’t make a speck of difference in global temperatures even if the municipality took its carbon footprint to zero. Also coming down the pike this fall is the implementation of the plastic bag ban in another all-time great example of virtue signaling with no discernable benefit. If the plastic crusaders were truly concerned about waste entering our oceans, they would make it a priority to address the mountains of trash along the greenbelts of Anchorage creeks that flow into Cook Inlet and eventually the Pacific Ocean. If the mayor and Assembly want money for a new shelter, they should put it on the ballot along with all their other capital projects like schools or fire stations. If they want people to trust them with up to $15 million per year in new revenue, they should put a sunset clause on it as an incentive — and a promise — to deliver results. But what they should stop doing is pretending they are doing everything they can when the budgets they approve say something far different. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: RIP, ‘Paid for by ConocoPhillips’

In a little-noticed post mortem to the Stand for Salmon initiative battle last fall, the Alaska Public Offices Commission issued a ruling that will serve to limit transparency in campaign financing for future ballot measures. APOC ruled Feb. 4 on a complaint filed last September by the initiative opponents, Stand for Alaska-Vote No on 1, against three entities supporting the measure: Yes for Salmon-Vote Yes on 1, The Alaska Center and Stand for Salmon. In addition to violations of naming regulations and rules for financial disclosures known as the “paid for by” statements, the opponents’ complaint alleged that the latter two initiative proponents should have registered as a group based on their close coordination and should have also been required to disclose the source of hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign expenditures above and beyond what they reported in donations. If you’re interested in the more arcane legal arguments over what constitutes a “group” or an “individual” or the more common decisions on “paid for” statements and naming rules, the APOC complaint documents and final order are on its website (complaint 18-08). We’ll focus on how APOC’s ruling on financial disclosures figures to upend the state’s goal of transparency in campaign spending. For quick background, Stand for Salmon and The Alaska Center were formed in 2013 and 1990, respectively, while the Yes for Salmon group was formed and registered with APOC in 2017 for the specific purpose of backing Ballot Measure 1 in the 2018 general election. The Stand for Alaska complaint focused on its calculations that The Alaska Center reported making contributions to the campaign in excess of $500,000 while reporting donations of about $234,000. Similarly, Stand for Salmon reported spending more than $400,000 while receiving about $181,000 in contributions, according to the opponents’ calculations that were mostly undisputed other than the supporters claiming that they over-reported the amount of donations they received to back the initiative. All in all, about $730,000 of the $1.1 million in reported contributions to Yes for Salmon, the official group registered with APOC to support the initiative, were classified as “non-monetary” with the top donors being The Alaska Center at $357,000 and the Washington, D.C.-based New Venture Fund that paid the salary of campaign manager Ryan Schryver with a total “non-monetary” contribution of $227,000. Stand for Alaska objected to this arrangement, arguing that Yes for Salmon was nothing more than a shell organization and that the campaign was actually being run by Stand for Salmon and The Alaska Center who were clearly expending more than they were collecting without having to report the source of the money. As was previously written in this space, groups like The Alaska Center, Cook Inletkeeper, Trustees for Alaska, Salmon State, and others are heavily supported by nonprofit advocacy groups based outside of Alaska. There isn’t anything wrong with that, but these same groups regularly run their campaigns — and this one was no different — attacking “foreign” oil and mining companies as heartless ravagers of the resource whose arguments should be discounted as Outsiders despite having thousands of employees and billions of dollars invested over decades in Alaska. Whether it was the 2014 campaign to uphold the 2013 oil tax reform legislation or the most recent salmon habitat initiative, the resource companies have erred on the side of transparency no matter how self-serving it looked politically. In 2014, the end of every pro-SB 21 commercial was followed by the statement “Top three contributors are BP, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips” or some variation of that order. It was the same in 2018, with a combination of BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Donlin Gold or Teck usually holding down the top three positions in the disclosures opposing Ballot Measure 1. Taking the information provided through transparent financial reports as a weapon to slam their opponents while at the same time not being transparent about the source of their own Outside funding takes a particular brand of chutzpah, but politics ain’t beanbag, as they say. Ultimately, APOC sided with the initiative backers on the basis that Stand for Salmon and The Alaska Center, as entities, predated the campaign and are not specifically organized to support any particular ballot measure. For that reason, any money in their general funds that was not expressly solicited for the purpose of the campaign does not have to be reported even if it is used to support the campaign. You don’t have to be Kreskin to see where this goes. There is no shortage of pro-resource development organizations in Alaska, and all of them could be quite capable of running a campaign to defeat the next anti-development initiative that comes along. Under APOC’s ruling, all they have to do is form an organization such as “No to NIMBY” and then allow some other established entity, say, the Resource Support Association, to run the campaign out of their offices with their staffs and call it all a “non-monetary” contribution to the official “group.” Under APOC’s ruling, as long as they spend money from general funds not earmarked for or solicited for that election, they wouldn’t have to disclose a dollar of where it came from. Take resource issues out of it and there is still the potential for this game of hide the ball on every ballot measure going forward. APOC’s ruling may not go against the letter of the law, but it obviously goes against the spirit of transparency that our campaign disclosure rules are intended to demand. If we have seen the death of disclosure in ballot measure spending, it will be thanks to what may turn out to be a pyrrhic victory for the supposed opponents of “dark money” who turned to its side in 2018. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Status quo isn’t sustainable

There’s been no shortage of sturm and drang over Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s proposal to radically overhaul the state budget with deep cuts to K-12 and university education, Medicaid and the state ferry system. What there has been very little of from the defenders of the status quo are alternatives to achieve better outcomes and reform the state’s unsustainable spending habits. After avoiding it for more than a decade thanks to triple-digit oil prices followed by spending down state savings and dipping into the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve and dividend appropriations to cover the deficit since multi-billion dollar shortfalls hit four years ago when prices bottomed at $26 per barrel, the time of reckoning has finally arrived. Competing roadshows from the governor and the House Finance Committee are now traversing the state with diametrically opposed goals: one by the Republican governor that favors cutting services to match revenues, capturing local property taxes on oil properties and leaving the PFD untouched and the other that has been organized by the Democrat-led House in order to give vent to public outcry over the drastic proposed reductions and a venue for PFD cuts and new or increased taxes to fund government. Neither solution is achievable in the reality of a divided government in Juneau, but only one recognizes the old axiom known as Stein’s Law: “if something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” The simple fact is the state is spending more than it can afford, and until appropriations are brought in line with reality the PFD will continue to be reduced until it either goes away to fund the budget or a statewide tax regime will have to be imposed to balance the books. Raising taxes on the oil industry won’t do the trick, and driving out investment for the short-term objective of plucking the golden goose will only accelerate the revenue shortfall. Dunleavy has been accused of being heartless or amoral for his proposed budget, but is it any less heartless to continue to accept failure as the best we can do while spending our way into oblivion? The governor isn’t wrong to point to Alaska’s dead-last ranking in reading as a failure of our education system. That doesn’t mean he hates kids. The governor isn’t wrong to point out ferry ridership is falling as costs are rising. That doesn’t mean he hates Southeast Alaska. University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen can claim the UA system is “more vital than ever” but that doesn’t change the fact that its largest campus can’t graduate teachers after losing its accreditation. Hundreds of millions in “free” federal Medicaid dollars have no doubt boosted the health care sector of the economy during the three-year recession, but the governor is not wrong to point out that outcomes aren’t improving. The last thing a state should be proud of is having nearly 1 out of every 4 residents on Medicaid. The goal of state policy should be to get as many of these people to work and off assistance. There are no doubt flaws with the governor’s proposed budget, from the abrupt rollout that shocked many if not most observers around the state and the resulting failure to get any buy-in from stakeholders, not to mention falling far behind in the messaging battle, to the sheer scale of cuts this large in one year. Restoring a full PFD according to the statutory formula was the centerpiece of Dunleavy’s campaign and a sudden reversal of that pledge would be political suicide. That doesn’t mean, however, that $1.9 billion in dividends amid the biggest budget cuts in history is the wisest long-term plan, either. That means a compromise is going to have to be in order. But in order for there to be a compromise, both sides need a vision and a plan as starting points. So far only Dunleavy is checking those two boxes while the Legislature appears to be choosing the same can-kicking path of the past decade in a dangerous game of chicken with the veto pen. One way or another, that which can’t continue, won’t. What takes its place will decide our future and the great question of the day is whether our elected officials are up to the challenge. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Democrats misleading public yet again on oil tax policy

Based on their latest effort to mislead the public about oil tax policy, Democrats should be cheering the fact that North Slope production will miss its forecast by about 20,000 barrels per day in the 2019 fiscal year. After all, according to former one-term Fairbanks state Sen. Joe Paskvan, the state is “paying” a credit of $8 per barrel for each one produced on the North Slope under Senate Bill 21, the production tax reform passed in 2013 that took effect and was upheld by voter referendum in 2014. According to their current talking point, the state should now “save” $42.6 million in credits thanks to 14,600 fewer taxable barrels flowing through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System each day. The only problem with that is the most recent Spring Revenue Forecast released March 15 now projects that the miss on production for the fiscal year will actually reduce total unrestricted petroleum revenue by $75.6 million and require a larger draw on state savings to balance the budget. Math, how does it work? The reason for this disparity is because the state doesn’t actually “pay” the credit Paskvan is claiming. It is a reduction in tax liability, which is a vital distinction the Democrats are counting on the public not making. No legislative session would be complete without Democrats trying to jack up oil taxes, and this one is no different with Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, banging his Twitter drum in an effort to raise rates on the oil industry by $1.2 billion per year by repealing the per-barrel credit and raising the production severance tax to one of the highest in the world at 35 percent of net income. Wielechowski’s bill will go nowhere in the Republican-controlled Senate and wouldn’t survive a veto by Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy even if it were to make it to his desk, but this latest campaign is yet another example of how Democrats appear to be fundamentally incapable of speaking honestly about how SB 21 works and the unquestionable success it has been in stemming the decline of Alaska oil production. Wielechowski loves pointing to the production forecast as proof that SB 21 hasn’t worked based on five and 10 years from now. Because he is so fond of forecasts to the point he quotes them as if they came down from a mountain on stone tablets, let’s rewind to the 2013 production forecast that was completed in the final year of his preferred policy known as ACES that was repealed under SB 21. The 2013 forecast for production in the current 2019 fiscal year was for just 429,100 barrels per day. Even with this year’s miss relative to forecast, production should still be about 511,000 barrels per day, or nearly 82,000 better than the 2013 forecast. In fact, when you add up the North Slope’s actual production since SB 21 took effect, the cumulative production greater than the 2013 forecast is almost 90 million more barrels of oil. Even more remarkable than that is to consider the price environment during the 2014-19 period when prices crashed from more than $100 per barrel in the summer of 2014 to a low of $26 per barrel in January 2016. (The price forecast in 2013 was for $121 oil in the current fiscal year.) The net effect of the majors maintaining production, and even growing it in two straight years from 2015 to 2016, is that while production tax revenue (a function of price) declined by 93 percent from 2014 to 2016, royalty income declined by only 50 percent in comparison. And we cannot forget that under Wielechowski’s beloved ACES, the state would have collected exactly $0 in production taxes at all prices less than $63 per barrel. Under SB 21, the state always collects a production tax thanks to the gross tax minimum. Wielechowski and Paskvan also continue to lie about former Gov. Sean Parnell by claiming he “promised” that 1 million barrels of oil could flow through TAPS in 10 years if SB 21 passed. The truth is that the 1 million barrels per day statement was a goal. Just look at the transcript from his 2012 State of the State address: “Let’s meet my goal of one million barrels a day.” Even still, by 2024 the state should be seeing production from Pikka, Willow and Mooses Tooth that could collectively add more than 300,000 barrels per day. In fact, ConocoPhillips has continued to invest more than $1 billion per year in capital projects in Alaska and its fellow owners at Prudhoe Bay are spending millions this year on seismic work to identify more pools of oil. While Wielechowski loves harping on distant forecasts and statements from seven years ago, he hates being brought face-to-face with his own touting of ACES in 2013 in which he exalted over its credit system that under his own talking points had the state covering more than 65 percent of dry holes and citing the benefits of major producers reducing their tax liability by buying those cashable credits from small explorers. When he was a member of the Senate majority in 2012 he voted for a budget that appropriated nearly a $1 billion in cashable credits — that were actually “paid” in the truest sense of the word — compared to just more than half of that amount in Permanent Fund dividends. ACES also contained provisions for 20 percent credits for capital expenditures that did nothing to increase production, which dropped by an average of 5 percent per year despite sky high prices while it was in place. SB 21 replaced that 20 percent credit with a credit that is only earned when a barrel of oil is produced. Based on production since 2014 — the thing that matters most when evaluating the policy — it worked. That leaves lying about it the only option the Democrats have, which just goes to show how little respect they have for the media who cover them and the people of Alaska in general. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Drill, baby, drill beats the Green New Deal

Because we are relentlessly assured that there is no such thing as media bias, it is surely unnecessary to compare the treatment of Sarah Palin and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez by the national press corps. But if an attempt was made to prove bias by the media against conservatives, and conservative women in particular, a better case study would be tough to find than the coverage of the former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential candidate versus the representative-from-the-block. Palin, like Ocasio-Cortez, hit the national stage out of nowhere with the former tapped by the late Sen. John McCain to attract the conservative base wary of his mavericky tendencies and the latter pulling a stunning upset of 10-term congressman Joe Crowley this past August. After McCain had treated the half-term senator Barack Obama with kid gloves throughout the campaign, Palin came out swinging and bloodied his nose in a rousing nomination speech that mocked his community organizer background and in later stump speeches drew attention to his history with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers. The McCain-Palin ticket briefly took the lead in national polling and sent panic through the press that already had their stories written for the election of the first African-American president of the United States. For that, Palin had to be destroyed. She was immediately and relentlessly mocked for her appearance, her folksy twang and even for her family that included a young special needs son. Dubbed “Caribou Barbie,” she was so effectively lampooned by Saturday Night Live’s Tina Fey that wide swaths of the American public believe to this day that Palin said, “I can see Russia from my house.” In particular, she was dunked on for her signature “drill, baby, drill” catchphrase that gained traction as gas prices had topped $4 per gallon across the country in 2008. Obama, for his part, threw shade at the idea of drilling our way into energy independence throughout his presidency even as the United States was marching in exactly that direction in spite of his best efforts to hamstring the industry with regulatory hurdles and slow-walking development of federal lands. “You had a lot of slogans and gimmicks and outraged politicians waving three-point-plans for two-dollar gas — when none of it would really do anything to solve the problem,” Obama said at Georgetown University in 2011. “You remember, ‘drill baby drill.’” In another speech, Obama described the GOP’s “three-point plan for $2 gas: Step one is drill, step two is drill, and step three is keeping drilling.” He went on to say that “the American people aren’t stupid. They know that’s not a plan.” According to AAA, the average price for a gallon of gas on Feb. 26 was $2.40. As of 2018, the United States is the world’s largest energy producer for oil and natural gas. Just recently, imports from Venezuela and Saudi Arabia that once topped one million barrels per day each hit record lows of just more than a half-million barrels between them. The ability of the OPEC cartel to set prices on a whim through production cuts is no more thanks to the U.S. shale drillers who have shown the innovation to cut costs and fill up the market share fruitlessly abandoned by the one-time leaders in global oil production from Riyadh and Moscow. In sum, that sledneck Wasillbilly was right, and virtually the entire Democrat Party from Obama on down and their press stenographers were wildly, incontrovertibly wrong. Now let’s turn to the coverage of Ocasio-Cortez, whose Willy Wonka-esque Green New Deal has already been championed by multiple Democrat candidates for president and attracted scores of co-sponsors in Congress despite its goals of ending fossil fuel use, air travel and “farting cows.” The same national press that attacked Palin with gusto is now filled with pieces from the likes of Vox, Salon and New York Magazine lamenting the disparate treatment of female politicians compared to men for silly things such as a consistent butchering of math and the truth. Even Dictionary.com ran a 1,000-word piece explaining away Ocasio-Cortez’s use of the phrase “run train” that had attracted raised eyebrows from conservative commentators for its off-color meaning. There is no doubt that Palin was hardly a seasoned politician ready for the big-time when McCain swooped her out of Alaska in a vain attempt to rescue his flagging campaign, but as a former mayor and one of only 50 governors she was still far more qualified to hold office than the Democrat rock star who’s gone from mixologist to Marxologist in the blink of an eye. Yet while Palin was smeared, Ocasio-Cortez is cheered. While every Palin malapropism was noted and exploited with glee, no one seems to notice that Ocasio-Cortez constantly uses the word “like” as if it is a comma. But trust us, the media say, bias is a myth. Based on the above, this statement has been rated false.

OPINION: Knopp sides with his ego over voters

Rep. Gary Knopp’s fellow Republicans appealed to party loyalty and pragmatism as they attempted to convince him to break his month-long holdout that has prevented the state House from organizing. Democrats flattered his ego. Knopp sided with his ego. After telling Anchorage Daily News reporter James Brooks that he decided over this past weekend to end his pointless stunt of refusing to vote for Rep. Dave Talerico of Healy as Speaker of the House in a Quixotic quest to force the formation of a bipartisan coalition, Knopp reneged on his pledge a day later after Democrats put forth his name as their choice instead of former Speaker Rep. Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham. Knopp then voted for himself and against Talerico on Feb. 12, resulting in another set of 20-20 stalemates that leave the House unorganized and unable to even receive the 25 bills Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy said he intended to introduce the following day in tandem with his “ground up” budget to address a projected $1.6 billion shortfall for the fiscal year that starts July 1. In a ridiculous piece of semantics explaining his reversal, Knopp said he only pledged to vote for a Republican as Speaker and not which Republican that would be. Calling his statement disingenuous would be polite. Or, as Rep. Mark Neuman of Big Lake put it more accurately, it’s “bullshit.” Rather than dance with the people who brought him — his District 30 is so Republican that Democrats didn’t even field a candidate against him and its voters chose Dunleavy by a 68 percent to 27 percent margin of 3,214 — Knopp is determined to prove his original assertion that one person can blow up a caucus of 21. At the time, Knopp specifically was referring to notorious gadfly Rep. David Eastman of Wasilla, who is looking more and more sensible every day in comparison. Now, rather than organize with the Republicans as his voters intended for him to do, Knopp is single-handedly doing more damage to House business than Eastman could ever approach. With per diem of more than $200 multiplied by 40 House members, it’s is a safe estimate to say Knopp’s grandstanding has cost the state about a quarter-million dollars for nothing so far. Knopp can claim all he wants that he believes a bipartisan coalition is preferable, but in reality what he is doing is nothing more than the bidding of the Democrats who lost their majority in the last election. Oh sure, Democratic caucus members Reps. Louise Stutes of Kodiak and Gabrielle LeDoux of Anchorage have an “R” next to their name, but that doesn’t make them Republicans any more than donning a paper crown makes someone the Burger King. There is no understating how badly Knopp screwed up by siding with himself over the simple good of being able to organize and conduct business and then letting chips fall where they may as the session unfolds. Knopp broke a very public pledge and as such can’t be trusted by any of his fellow Republicans going forward even if he eventually comes around to voting for Talerico. He may well have further entrenched both sides, or it is possible his intransigence driven by his completely unjustified belief that he’s acting on principle will end up sending a couple wavering Republicans into the Democrat caucus to give them control that the people of Alaska — and especially those of his own district — clearly did not vote for. Knopp can say whatever he wants about Eastman, but Eastman says what he means and acts accordingly. Knopp has demonstrated that he values loyalty to himself first and that his word means nothing. There isn’t a soapbox big enough to look down on anybody from that perspective. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Court cases give Legislature carte blanche

Few would envy the position the Legislature and former Gov. Bill Walker found themselves over the past four years dealing with crashing oil prices and the ensuing multi-billion-dollar budget deficits. Reducing the Permanent Fund dividend, virtually eliminating the capital budget and reversing past practice by not paying off oil and gas exploration tax credits in full each fiscal year easily lead the way on the least popular actions that have been taken. Even with those moves, some $14 billion from the state’s savings accounts was still necessary to close the budget gaps for the fiscal years since 2015 to the present. In the aftermath of Gov. Bill Walker’s veto of half the Permanent Fund dividend appropriation in 2016 — reducing it from a projected $2,044 per Alaskan to $1,022 — Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, and a few former legislators took a lawsuit all the way to the Supreme Court challenging the action as contrary to the formula for paying the PFD currently in statute. By the time the Supreme Court ruled in Walker’s favor, the Legislature had followed his lead in the 2017 session — and the Superior Court judge that ruled against Wielechowski, et al, on the same day the case was argued the prior November — by arbitrarily setting the PFD at $1,100 rather than following the statutory formula. In a nutshell, the Supreme Court determined that the constitutional authority of the governor to veto appropriations and the similar vested authority of the Legislature to make appropriations took precedence over any law such as the one that calculates the annual amount of the dividend. It is a similar reasoning that allows the Legislature to stay in session for the 121 days written in the constitution rather than the 90-day limit approved by voters through an initiative in 2008. While legally sound, the PFD ruling gave the Legislature the ability to ignore its own laws so long as whatever action it takes as an alternative does not conflict with the Constitution. The anger over three straight years of Walker, and then the Legislature, disregarding the PFD formula was ridden by Mike Dunleavy all the way into the governor’s mansion with the central promise of his campaign being a pledge to follow the law. Then on Jan. 2 a Superior Court judge handed down another ruling that, unlike the Supreme Court decision that allows the Legislature and the governor to disregard the law, allows them to violate the spirit but not the letter of the Constitution. One year before Walker vetoed half the PFD appropriation in 2016, he without warning slashed $200 million from the budget earmarked to pay off earned oil and gas exploration credits. A year later, despite assuring the financial institutions lending to small companies working in Alaska he wouldn’t do it again, Walker vetoed $430 million worth of the payments. In the aftermath, those banks stopped lending money to the independent explorers and before the Legislature finally eliminated the programs on both the North Slope and Cook Inlet the total tab for tax credits owed swelled to more than $800 million. Business arrangements the state had with BlueCrest in Cook Inlet and Brooks Range Petroleum Corp. on the Slope had to be reworked, while Caelus Energy, which is owed some $100 million for its work, has been forced to sell off acreage and assets as it appears ready to exit the state after buying Pioneer Natural Resources properties for $550 million in 2013. With the state’s business reputation in tatters, Walker’s administration finally came up with a plan to pay off the credits without a lump sum appropriation from the Legislature by instead creating a state entity to sell up to $1 billion worth of bonds that would be paid for by the companies owed money taking a haircut of 10 percent in exchange for receiving most of what they’re due sooner rather than waiting years to be paid in full according to the statutory formula. The only problem with the plan is that the Constitution has strict limits on how the state may issue debt such as for emergencies or through a vote of the people to approve general obligation bonds. Walker and the Legislature worked around these limits by creating an “independent” entity that would sell the bonds and using “subject to appropriation” language that would not legally qualify as binding the State of Alaska to debt according to the Constitution. A lawsuit ensued, and the workaround language was deemed sufficient by a Superior Court judge to not create the legal definition of debt and therefore “passes constitutional muster.” To call this a troubling precedent would be an understatement, as it essentially gives the Legislature a blank check to get around putting debt issues to a vote of the citizens. Nothing would stop it from creating a “Transportation Bank” that could sell “subject to appropriation” bonds to pay for infrastructure projects without having to seek the approval of Alaskans. That’s not to say that Judge Pate erred in his legal reasoning, but it is to say that it should not be so easy to get around the very plain intent of the constitutional framers to limit the ability to take on debt without a vote of the people. The PFD ruling has allowed the Legislature to ignore the laws it has passed, and the bond ruling allows it to get around the intent and spirit of the Constitution through nothing more than a shell entity and the three words “subject to appropriation.” In this respect, the solutions to the budget deficits that were crafted by Walker and the Legislature may turn out to be worse than the problems they were trying to solve. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Dunleavy budget forces Legislature to face reality

When former Gov. Bill Walker swooped into the weekly Anchorage Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Nov. 26 the only thing he forgot was a “Mission Accomplished” banner. A week before leaving office, Walker revealed the budget he planned to hand off to incoming Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy (who has traded Mike for Michael J. on official communications since taking office). Walker and his budget director Pat Pitney, since replaced by Donna Arduin, declared the budget for the next fiscal year “balanced” and former Revenue Commissioner Sheldon Fisher promised a “surplus” for the current fiscal year. That’s a stark change from the picture legislators faced last session when the projected deficit for the current year would be about $700 million at a price of $63 per barrel. It also strains credulity. To be sure, for the first three months of the fiscal year Alaska appeared to be heading that direction as prices rose to steadily hold at more than $70 per barrel and better — peaking at $85.36 on Oct. 3 — to hit what would be the break-even point for the $700 million deficit. But prices have been on a rapid decent since, dropping more than $5 per barrel in the week after the Nov. 6 election and hitting a new low for the year of less than $60 on Dec. 17. On Nov. 21, just days before Walker would present his “balanced” budget using $75 per barrel, Alaska North Slope crude was selling for $64.82. The pace of the oil bear market has been so fast that the average price per barrel for the current year has dropped $3, from $75 to $72, in less than a month from Nov. 21 to Dec. 17. OPEC has announced plans to cut production by 1.2 million barrels per day in January; and Saudi Arabia has told U.S. refiners to expect fewer cargoes as well as the petro kingdom attempts to force down stockpiles and raise prices that way. Those actions may well force the price back up, but U.S. shale drillers have adapted since prices crashed in 2014-15 and won’t have to shut in nearly as many high-cost wells as they did last time. There is also some evidence of softening global demand that may also offset whatever moves OPEC attempts to raise prices. In any case, after four years of being overly conservative on price and production forecasts — which in turn widened projected deficits as Walker and allies in the Legislature from both parties pushed to use Permanent Fund earnings or institute an income tax or raise oil taxes — it seems a bit fishy that the former governor would declare a budget balanced based on a price per barrel that few believe is realistic. There isn’t a lot an incoming administration can do to alter a budget inherited from the prior administration, but a simple calculation is changing the expected price per barrel. That’s what Dunleavy did on Dec. 14, changing Walker’s number from $75 to $64 for the 2020 fiscal year that will begin next July 1. The other simple change a new administration can make is the size of the Permanent Fund Dividend, which Dunleavy also did in accordance with his campaign promise to follow the statutory formula that has been disregarded for the past three years through Walker’s veto in 2016 and the Legislature’s ad hoc setting of amounts in 2017 and 2018. The more realistic price per barrel and the statutory-funded dividend combined to shift Walker’s “balanced” budget to one with a $1.6 billion deficit. Setting aside Dunleavy’s pledge to pay back the shorted amount from the past three years, or roughly $3,300 per person, his first budget is a cold dose of reality for the incoming Legislature that, unlike Walker’s claims, we are far from out of the woods fiscally. The fact is prices are dropping and could very well bump along at $60 or less for the next couple years. It is also a fact that the statutory formula remains on the books and the PFD debate is not going away as long as there is a governor who is committed to following the law regardless of the Supreme Court decision that he or the Legislature can set it at any number they wish. After ducking the issue for years, it is long past time for the Legislature to either follow the formula or change it. If its members don’t believe that $3,000 PFDs are sustainable while the state is in the red, then adopt a formula that is. Hoping that oil prices go up or ignoring the law and hoping people forget is not a sustainable solution, either. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: A governor for all Alaskans

When the ground started shaking at 8:29 a.m. on Nov. 30, it did so beneath the feet of Republican and Democrat Alaskans alike. Nobody on utility crews from Anchorage to the Valley thought about the political party of their fellow citizens they were restoring power to, nor did the firefighters, first responders or the Department of Transportation employees who immediately set to work rerouting traffic and preparing to rebuild our major road arteries within just days of a 7.0 magnitude quake and amid nearly 2,000 aftershocks. Alaskans who offered up their homes or businesses for shelter or donations did not do so based on how you or they voted. After a contentious race for governor won by Republican Mike Dunleavy and a recount settled by one vote in one House district that will determine control of that half of the Legislature, the Nov. 30 quake and its aftermath was a powerful reminder that in the end we are all Alaskans. From the Department of Bad Timing, Nov. 30 was also the day that some 800 state employees ranging from commissioners to road engineers were to have tendered their resignations and reapplied for their jobs or faced termination. We still don’t know how many employees were fired or retained, but we do know that last Friday was a day for all hands on deck and not for politics. No matter how Dunleavy’s transition tries to slice it, the unprecedented move to ask for the resignations of every at-will employee in the state was a clumsy, ham-handed decision that did nothing to get the administration off on the right foot with the people he intends to lead. There was plenty of time for Dunleavy’s commissioners to take office, read the lay of the land and determine who was on board with the direction he intends to take and who was not. There was no need to make a big show of who’s the boss. Dunleavy’s picks for commissioners so far have ranged from conventional to not, from longtime stakeholders such as former Associated General Contractors of Alaska Executive Director John MacKinnon being tapped to lead the Department of Transportation to an experienced government hand like Bruce Tangeman at Revenue and a fresh set of eyes from Outside with Donna Arduin to lead the Office of Management and Budget. However, the rollout of the resignation demand was disastrously fronted by Dunleavy’s Chief of Staff and former Republican Party Chairman Tuckerman Babcock, whose fiery press releases have been a fixture of Alaska politics for years. While not explicitly worded as such, the demand for employees to affirmatively state their desire to keep their jobs in a Dunleavy administration was quickly dubbed some kind of “loyalty pledge” in the vein of those that Babcock has attempted to enforce over the years with Republicans from former Rep. Paul Seaton to Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Some employees took their disdain for the request public, leading to further escalation in Babcock’s rhetoric that did nothing to diffuse the situation or smooth the transition. By holding his swearing-in ceremony in rural Alaska and celebrating in his wife’s hometown of Noorvik, it is clear that Dunleavy wants to be a governor of all Alaskans, with a particular passion for devoting attention to the oft-forgotten Bush where poverty and crime are rampant. But by picking someone like Babcock as chief of staff and having him claim a mandate that is not nearly as strong as he’s asserted, the message has been muddled from being the governor of Alaska to being the governor of Republicans and created unnecessary uncertainty and distrust among the workforce that was not needed before, and certainly not after, the Nov. 30 earthquake. There’s a time and place for partisanship, and for vigorous debates over policy philosophies such as the size and expense of government. This is not to suggest Dunleavy should not appoint people who align with his vision, or not expect that those who work in his administration should help advance his goals to the best of their ability. This was, though, an unforced error that got him off to a rocky start before he even took office and one that he should endeavor not to repeat. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Legislature writes another check in LIO fiasco

Four years and a $4 billion deficit ago, the Legislature had a $44.5 million problem. After moving into new glass-encased digs in Downtown Anchorage on the site of its old Legislative Information Office, the new 10-year lease at $3.3 million per year was the subject of a lawsuit challenging its legality at the same time oil prices were plunging toward $26 per barrel. Amid more flush times, former Anchorage Rep. Mike Hawker had wiggled his way through the state procurement code to classify the new lease as a renewal not subject to competitive pricing rules and the Legislature had agreed to put $7.5 million toward the cost of the $44.5 million project that essentially rebuilt the structure at 716 West Fourth Ave. In March 2016 a Superior Court judge ruled the lease invalid, leaving legislators stuck with the choice to simply abscond and leave its owners holding the bag with a $28 million loan and $9 million of their own cash tied up in a custom-made project with no tenant, or to negotiate a purchase of the building outright that would relieve them of the embarrassingly expensive annual rent. A $32.5 million price was agreed to by the Legislative Council in a 13-1 vote a month later, but Gov. Bill Walker stuck his nose into the matter and declared he’d veto the purchase based on the state’s ongoing budget woes without regard to the fact that he would be essentially evicting one branch of government from its Anchorage offices with the demand it relocate into the executive branch home in the Atwood Building. But by then we already knew Walker was unconcerned with making moves that hurt the state’s credibility with the business community after vetoing $200 million in tax credit payments approved by the Legislature in 2015 and proposing oil tax increases despite his campaign promise to respect the vote of the people in 2014 to keep the current structure known as SB 21. Around this time an enterprising real estate agent got it into the news that Wells Fargo was looking to sell its building on Benson Avenue in Midtown. That led legislators — many of whom had decried Walker’s veto of the tax credit payments — to jump on the $11.85 million purchase and screw over the owners of the Downtown office who were then forced into foreclosure by their lender EverBank of Jacksonville, Fla. (In a funny-but-not-haha-funny twist, Wells Fargo ended up getting paid on both sides of this transaction as one of the construction lenders on the Downtown office that was paid off by EverBank’s loan consolidation and as the recipient of the appropriation that bought its Midtown office.) Of course, the building was not set up to house the Legislature as the Downtown office was, and another $3.7 million was appropriated for renovations. Now the Legislative Council has voted unanimously to spend another $8 million on further remodeling, bringing the tab just at the Midtown office to nearly $25 million. Add up the $7.5 million it kicked in at 716 West Fourth, plus the $5 million give or take it spent on rent over less than two years there and the Legislature has spent at least $37.2 million in five years on Anchorage office space. Meanwhile, EverBank ended up selling the building for a cutrate price of just $14 million — or about half of the outstanding loan balance — to the Anchorage Community Development Authority as a new home for the police department. But rest assured, we’re told, there will be no automatic garbage cans in the new building. A more flippant summation of this fiasco is hard to fathom after such an inane amenity — a common household item for those of even modest means — became the focus of this situation rather than the devastating consequences on private business owners who were forced to shoulder the entirety of the Legislature’s mistakes and Walker’s meddling. Any contractor who ends up getting a bid to renovate the Benson building better insist on getting paid up front. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Industry stability hangs on Fairbanks outcome

What’s a little more uncertainty among friends? If there’s anything the Alaska resource industry has been certain about over the past four years, it’s uncertainty. There was a huge sigh of relief Nov. 6 as the ill-conceived Ballot Measure 1 known as the Stand for Salmon initiative was shot down by a 2-1 margin and it appeared at the time that Republicans would regain control of the House of Representatives following a chaotic two-year rule by a Democrat-led coalition most notable for its endless tax proposals and three freshmen members either resigning or not seeking reelection for their unacceptable conduct toward women. That pair of election results combined with the decisive win by Mike Dunleavy against Mark Begich seemed to cement at least a two-year respite from the constant trips to Juneau for resource industry representatives to deal with every hare-brained attempt by House Resource Committee co-chairs Geran Tarr and Andy Josephson to raise oil production taxes. Gov. Bill Walker, who introduced a few oil tax increases of his own, never tamped down the worst inclinations of the House majority to keep fiddling with a tax system that not only produced revenue even as prices bottomed out but encouraged the industry to keep investing even as it lost billions of dollars. Most of the GOP House members quickly assembled on Nov. 7 to declare themselves the majority and Rep. Dave Talerico of Healy as the Speaker of the House. That started unraveling almost immediately as Valley gadfly Rep. David Eastman — who was censured by the House in 2017 for comments about rural Alaska women on the floor and stripped of his Ethics Subcommittee post in 2018 for leaking the existence of a confidential complaint to a reporter for this newspaper — declared he hadn’t decided whether to cast his vote for Talerico as Speaker. The caucus became even shakier as votes continued to be tallied in House District 1 in Fairbanks, where Republican Barton LeBon’s 79-vote lead on Election Night turned into a 10-vote deficit to Democrat Kathryn Dodge on Nov. 13 with the count to resume Nov. 16. A LeBon loss would produce a 20-20 split and set off a storm of wheeling and dealing by both sides to assemble a majority caucus. On the federal level, the Democrat takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives will no doubt produce gridlock, a flurry of subpoenas for the Trump administration and brinksmanship on government shutdowns, but for the resource development industry the effect should be fairly muted as there is little they can do to stop deregulation, the Executive Branch push for energy dominance or the pending opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Pending projects such as Greater Mooses Tooth-2, Hilcorp’s Liberty offshore development and the Donlin gold mine have their key federal permits in hand, and a large-scale plan is being crafted for ConocoPhillips’ promising Willow prospect in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. All in all, Alaska has about 400,000 barrels per day of production in some stage of permitting or construction that could come online in the early- to mid-2020s. Prices have been slipping lately, but the roughly $10 spread between Brent crude — to which Alaska North Slope oil is pegged — and West Texas Intermediate appears to be holding steady and makes the state an attractive place to invest by more than offsetting the transportation costs for getting it to market. If the Dunleavy administration follows through with its plans for real budget reform and sets a tone that restores credibility with the investor community, Alaska has a chance to set itself on a sounder footing while buoyed by an increase in oil prices that could considerably narrow the budget gap, at least temporarily. The state’s resource industry has good reason for optimism, and if LeBon pulls out the win in District 1 the state business climate will be well positioned for a way out of this lingering recession. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Dems’ blue wave hits red brick wall in Alaska

Most situations in life can be summed up by a quote from Seinfeld or Yogi Berra, and Election Night 2018 was no exception. One from Berra captures it nicely: “It’s getting late early.” After holding high aspirations of defeating Mike Dunleavy following incumbent Gov. Bill Walker’s decision to drop out and throw his support behind Mark Begich, and teased by polling and fundraising into thinking political neophyte Alyse Galvin had a chance of knocking off 23-term incumbent and Dean of the U.S. House Don Young, Democrat hopes were dashed almost immediately. The first set of results gave the Republican Dunleavy a lead of about 6,500; Young led by more than 4,000 and Begich-endorsed Ballot Measure 1, aka Stand for Salmon, trailed by 19,000. Berra also once said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” Well, it was over. After the first round of returns it was only a matter of how large the final margins would be, and whether Republicans could retake the majority in the state House after a two-year hiatus in the minority while a Democrat-led coalition aided by RINOs Paul Seaton, Louise Stutes and Gabrielle LeDoux pushed for higher taxes on oil and new taxes on income. At the end of the night it appears the GOP will indeed claim House majority status in Juneau after all its incumbents won, Seaton was defeated soundly by Sarah Vance and coalition member Jason Grenn, an Anchorage independent, was unseated by Sara Rasmussen thanks in part to the presence of perennial candidate Dustin Darden pulling nearly 800 votes on the District 22 ballot. The night was essentially a clean sweep other than the still uncertain outcome in Senate District A in Fairbanks where Senate President Pete Kelly, the Republican incumbent, leads by just 11 votes over his Democrat challenger Rep. Scott Kawasaki, whose vacated seat seems headed to Republican control in a major flip for the party with a win by Barton LeBon. While national Democrats celebrated taking over the U.S. House of Representatives and President Donald Trump happily endorsed Republican punching bag Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House, the blue party took a shellacking in Alaska. Begich, apparently so stunned by how badly he was beaten by Dunleavy, took no calls on Election Night and as of 10 a.m. on Nov. 7 still hadn’t issued a statement on his Facebook, Twitter or official campaign pages, the latter of which still touts his lead in the Alaska Survey Research poll by Ivan Moore as his most recent post. The former Anchorage mayor and single-term U.S. senator who was defeated by current Sen. Dan Sullivan in 2014 is largely regarded as a pretty smooth politician, but there can be no doubt he miscalculated terribly by jumping on the Stand for Salmon bandwagon while it was still a three-way race for governor. In a political move so transparent it would attract bird strikes, Begich’s attempt to draw votes from Walker, who opposed the measure, backfired spectacularly. With a margin of nearly 21,000 votes and 98 percent of precincts in, the outcome for governor may have been a foregone conclusion regardless, but it became inevitable when the once reliably pro-resource development Begich turned off so many potential supporters with his position on Stand for Salmon. Nor did it help that Begich was in favor of taxing all of Alaskans in order to extract some revenue from a couple thousand out-of-state North Slope workers. One thing slightly less short-lived than Begich’s campaign was the House bipartisan coalition that must be the briefest in Alaska history. We’re a long way from the gleeful press conference Nov. 9, 2016, when the majority caucus was announced. Since then, the “Wack Pack” of Reps. Dean Westlake, Zach Fansler and Justin Parrish are all out after a series of transgressions ranging from sexual harassment to assault against women in Juneau; and the basically unflappable Rep. Sam Kito quit the caucus late in this past session after growing sick of LeDoux’s high-handed rule over the Rules Committee. While there may be a place for Stutes in the to-be-formed GOP House majority, LeDoux should find herself in the wilderness after finally burning a bridge or two too many. Alaskans chose a clear path on Election Day, and for the candidates from Dunleavy to Vance the easy part is over. Delivering, as the Democrats found out, is a much tougher task. ^ Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Walker-Mallott drags Kavanaugh into Alaska’s problems

The fact that Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott need to pull votes from Mark Begich, the other Democrat in the race for governor, is no secret and it was therefore no surprise to see a press release out of Walker’s office on Sept. 20 announcing their opposition to Brett Kavanaugh to join the U.S. Supreme Court. After declaring Kavanaugh “does not demonstrate a commitment to legal precedent that protects working families,” whatever that means, and stopping just short of asserting he favors repealing the Alaska Statehood Act, the so-called “independent/Alaska first/unity” ticket went lower than a North Slope drill bit: “Finally, we believe a thorough review of past allegations against Mr. Kavanaugh is needed before a confirmation vote takes place. Violence against women in Alaska is an epidemic. We do not condone placing someone into one of our nation’s highest positions of power while so many key questions remain unanswered.” Opposition to Kavanaugh — even on nothing more than the pure partisan basis we saw before his name was released or uncorroborated allegations from his high school years were dropped on him like slime at a Nickelodeon awards show at the last possible moment — is one thing. It is quite another to conflate the unsubstantiated charges against Kavanaugh with the documented, ongoing and as-yet unchecked problem of violence against women in Alaska that Walker and Mallott describe as an epidemic. Walker and Mallott refer to this epidemic as if they are mere bystanders to the problem and not the most powerful person in Alaska and one of the most respected Native leaders in the state, respectively. What, exactly, have Walker and Mallott done to address or even reduce violence against Alaska women and children? And what, exactly, does Kavanaugh have to do with any of it? Mallott, for his part, appears more interested in climate change than actually changing the climate for women and girls in rural Alaska. After nearly four years of their administration, virtually nothing has improved, they’re offering no hope that it will, and yet they are using an unsolved issue they have the ability to do something about as the basis to attack Kavanaugh. Oh, but they just want the questions answered, as if that matters after they’d already come up with a series of bizarre allegations about his legal views that aren’t backed up by either Sen. Lisa Murkowski or Sen. Dan Sullivan, whose wife is an Alaska Native. How difficult would it be for anyone who went to high school with Walker or Mallott to make up a similar charge against them as has been leveled against Kavanaugh? How would they, their wives and their children feel if suddenly they had to defend themselves against a horrific allegation with no date, place or even a year for which to present a defense? How would they react to calls to drop out of the race for governor, or to suspend their campaign until a thorough investigation of a charge with no possible defense other than a denial was available? We are going down a dangerous road here where a person in the public eye for decades can be destroyed over such an unprovable accusation after being the subject of not one, not two, but six FBI background checks over the years that, yes, include interviews with high school and college acquaintances. If the GOP falls for this scam they can kiss the Senate goodbye, or if they manage to hold it thanks to the difficult battleground facing Democrats in 10 states won by President Donald Trump, they can expect nothing short of a repeat of this character assassination against Kavanaugh on any other nominee. Just imagine what’s going to happen if Trump has an opportunity to replace Ruth Bader Ginsberg. This will look like the good ol’ days. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Following the 'Outside' money backing Stand for Salmon

The backers of the Stand for Salmon ballot initiative well understand the power of pitting Alaskans against quote-unquote Outsiders. The phrase “foreign mining corporations” is used no fewer than six times on the “Get the Facts” page on their website. One particularly strident sentence reads: “In order to protect our Alaskan way of life, we need to support this initiative and not buy what the dishonest foreign mining corporations have to sell.” Stand for Salmon Campaign Director Ryan Schryver used the occasion of a minor fine against the measure’s opponents to accuse them of trying to fool voters by not adding the words “Vote No on One” to their organization’s Stand for Alaska name promptly enough after the initiative was certified in March. “They have to create distrust and confusion to be successful,” he told the Anchorage Daily News. That is a particularly rich charge for an organization that created the ultimate bumper sticker slogan to promote its ballot measure. While the Stand for Salmon proponents attempt to paint the opposition as foreign interlopers into Alaska’s affairs, they are hardly being transparent when it comes to the source of their funding. The top contributors include the Alaska Conservation Foundation, the Alaska Center, Cook Inletkeeper, the Wild Salmon Center and Salmon State. The initiative itself was crafted by environmental law firm Trustees for Alaska, which is well known for its legal activism against resource development in the state. According to campaign disclosures, about $730,000 of the $1.1 million in reported contributions to the effort are classified as non-monetary, with the Alaska Center topping the list at $357,000 followed by the Washington, D.C.-based New Venture Fund that employs Schryver at $227,000. Cook Inletkeeper is next at about $83,000 in non-monetary contributions to the effort. If money from outside the state is dirty, then all these groups with “Alaska” in their names hardly have clean hands. Trustees for Alaska lists 14 foundations as its top donors in its 2017 annual report, with only one having any staff based here and that one, the Leighty Foundation, was founded by a family from Waterloo, Iowa, but reported a Juneau address in its most recent IRS Form 990. The 14 most recent 990s for those groups show about $339,000 in donations to Trustees for Alaska. The Venn diagram of Trustees for Alaska foundation donors overlaps nearly perfectly with those to the groups backing the Stand for Salmon initiative. The Alaska Center received $255,000 in donations from the same foundations that back Trustees for Alaska in the most recent year according to the Form 990s. It has also received another $245,000 from the New Venture Fund for a total of a half-million dollars in “Outside” money in the most recent year forms are available. Cook Inletkeeper received about $260,000 in donations from the New Venture Fund and the Trustees for Alaska foundation donors. These 14 foundations collectively hold about $463 million in assets according to their most recent 990s, with the New Venture Fund adding another $230 million for nearly $700 million total. What these groups have in common is their fight against resource development of all kinds in addition to the money that insulates them from the consequences of the policies they are trying to implement around the country. All the groups with Alaskan addresses are a handy vehicle to carry through money in order to advance the goals of these non-Alaska foundations, with the added benefit of those organizations not having to disclose how they are contributing nearly three-quarters of a million dollars in “non-monetary” resources to an effort that will undoubtedly cost the state jobs if it passes. As just one example, the 444 S Foundation based in Bellevue, Wash., donated $115,000 to the Alaska Center and $60,000 to Trustees for Alaska in 2016, with another $100,000 to the New Venture Fund. What is the 444 S Foundation? Besides being endorsed by the Sierra Club, Code Pink and the socialist Working Families Organization, its executive director is Fred Munson, who is also a member of the Arctic Defense Fund advisory council, which dispersed funds to support the “kayaktivists” who blockaded Shell in Seattle in 2015 and later hung from bridges in Portland trying to prevent its outer continental shelf drilling. Arctic Defense Fund was created by the Rockefeller Foundation’s Sustainable Market Solutions, whose principal officer is Jay Halfon, a professional litigator for Earthworks and well known “frackivist” leading the fights against the U.S. energy boom in natural gas. The point is not that there is anything wrong with these foundations contributing their money to the causes they support. And to be clear, their opponents have vastly outraised Stand for Salmon by a 9-1 margin so far. Rather, it is disingenuous to the nth degree for the supporters of Stand for Salmon to attack the companies that are being completely open about their donations while theirs come from groups in Boston, New York, DC and San Francisco who belong to the “keep it in the ground” movement that are rightly distrusted by those who live and work here. Admitting they take money from outside foundations as a means to even up the odds, even slightly, would at least be an honest argument. But that’s probably too much to expect when it comes to politics. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Getting to the bottom of shady votes in District 15

Among the many subjects that regularly earn Republicans a mocking from Democrats and their media sympathizers, perhaps none rank as highly as claims about election fraud. Attempts to secure the voting franchise through requirements for ID are universally decried as racist and based on bogeyman conspiracy theories about the dead or otherwise ineligible casting ballots. In House District 15, where Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux now holds an insurmountable lead of 113 votes over her inert challenger Aaron Weaver, a case is now emerging that voter fraud indeed took place. Seven dead people requested absentee ballots from beyond the grave. At least two others confirmed ballots returned in their names were not cast by them. A total of 26 absentee ballots — all cast for LeDoux — are now under investigation by the Division of Elections and the Criminal Division of the Department of Law. Fewer than 600 ballots were cast on Aug. 21 during the GOP primary election, with Weaver waking up to a three-vote edge, 294-291, after he went to bed without even bothering to follow the results as they began posting around 9:15 p.m. LeDoux crushed Weaver in the absentee count conducted Aug. 28 and now leads 452-339, but a strong whiff of corruption hovers over her apparent victory thanks to what appears to be a systematic effort to game the system. At the center of it is LeDoux’s Hmong outreach contractor Charlie Chang of Fresno, Calif., who she’s enlisted in each of her House District 15 competitions and was paid nearly $12,000 in July for get-out-the-vote efforts in the Muldoon neighborhood of Anchorage. Three components are central to any type of legal investigation: motive, means and opportunity. Every one of those elements fits LeDoux and Chang in House District 15. In her own statement denying any wrongdoing issued Aug. 28, LeDoux hit on motive: “District 15 is a very low turnout district.” A low turnout district means every vote is crucial, as was evident on election night with a margin of just three votes between LeDoux and Weaver. The means and opportunity fit as well as a substantial number of the ballots in question are linked to a narrow range of addresses in Muldoon where Chang’s outreach is focused. Finally, in the mother of all coincidences, every ballot under review was cast for LeDoux. Whether LeDoux faces any legal jeopardy seems unlikely absent a claim by Chang he was instructed to do anything improper, and the investigation is in too early of a stage to speculate on whether he did anything wrong, either. But there is another element of investigations — “Cui bono,” Latin for “who benefits?” — that clearly does not favor LeDoux. Something fishy went down in Muldoon, and the investigation must proceed expeditiously with the general election coming up Nov. 6 and the state Republican Party now deciding to attempt an actual effort to defeat LeDoux after basically sitting out the primary against one of its biggest and easily best-funded targets. The broader issue at play, though, is the routinely overlooked aspect of Democrat fights against election integrity. Claims that Republicans are trying to disenfranchise minority voters ignore the very real competing impact of voter fraud: the disenfranchisement of those whose legal votes are canceled out by illegal ones. It is no less an act of disenfranchisement to deny the vote to some by allowing the ineligible or deceased to vote — through negligence or corruption — as it is to deny access to the voting booth in the first place. The Division of Elections deserves credit for flagging these irregularities, which officials obviously believe bear enough signs of intentional fraud to warrant a criminal investigation. LeDoux may rightly believe there is no evidence that will implicate her in whatever events took place to result in every questioned ballot being a vote for her. She shouldn’t be as confident that this dark cloud won’t follow her into November. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

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