Andrew Jensen

OPINION: National media, Big Tech make a bet they cannot win

Anyone who has played poker is familiar with the term “drawing dead.” For the non-gamblers out there, it refers to a situation where the hand is not yet over, but is impossible to win for at least one player still betting. As an example, a player may be staying in because they have or are attempting to make a standard flush but their opponent is already holding a full house, also known as “the nuts,” that can’t be beat by any hand still in the game. The worst-case scenario is the player making what they think is the winning hand “on the turn” before the final card. They overconfidently shove all their chips into the middle of the table only to be called without hesitation and get busted out to the rail wondering what just happened. The national media and the Big Tech monopolies have gone all-in on Joe Biden, but they have already lost no matter what happens after Nov. 3. They just don’t know it yet. They are drawing dead. After spending eight years folding to the Obama administration despite no shortage of scandals or economic stagnation, the national press has abandoned almost entirely even the pretense of objectivity both in the slant of its coverage and its bias by omission when it comes to President Donald Trump. Russian collusion. Wikileaks. Trump Tower. The Clinton-DNC funded and foreign-sourced Steele “dossier.” Michael Flynn. Brett Kavanaugh. Ukraine. Trump’s tax returns. “Suckers and losers.” “Very fine people.” The list goes on and on of false or anonymous stories that have been spread far and wide with the help of Big Tech and the craven complicity of the blue checks in the journalist class that are addicted to Twitter affirmations. After starting this column, a headline popped up on The Hill detailing how multiple CIA officials — anonymously of course — passed along a story of Trump ordering chocolate malts during an intelligence briefing. According to the story, the incident “has become legend” in CIA ranks. This, folks, is why facepalm memes have been created. Meanwhile, these same leftist partisans with bylines have ignored, downplayed or dismissed as “conspiracy theories” the documented abuse of and lies to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to spy on Trump’s campaign and administration; the team of Democrat donors who wiped their cell phones repeatedly during Robert Mueller’s fruitless investigation of Trump; the riots, looting and murder by antifa and Black Lives Matter they have insisted were both “mostly peaceful” while also the fault of “white supremacists”; Hunter Biden’s laptop and his business partner’s emails; a Senate report detailing millions of dollars in payments from the wife of a Moscow oligarch and members of the Chinese Communist Party to the Biden family; and again the list goes on and on. Any member of the media is not playing straight with you if they try to argue the Hunter Biden story would be treated the same were it Donald Jr. smoking crack and making deals for “the big guy.” Apparently it is also impossible to have debate moderators who aren’t firmly aligned with the left against Trump. Registered Democrat and Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace regurgitated the “fine people” falsehood at the first debate and then vouched for the scheduled host for the second debate, former Joe Biden intern Steve Scully of C-SPAN, despite his obviously fabricated claim to be “hacked” when he accidentally tweeted at Anthony Scaramucci instead of using a private message. Vice presidential moderator Susan Page of USA Today is writing a biography of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The latest move against Trump by the supposedly nonpartisan debate commission is to allow NBC’s Kristen Welker to change the traditional focus from foreign policy to a rehash of the ground covered by Wallace, including yet another opportunity to disguise an accusation as a question by including “race in America” as a springboard to associate Trump with white supremacists. Staffed from top to bottom by the left, Twitter and Facebook are working to suppress and censor the New York Post’s expose of Hunter Biden’s shady dealings around the world with almost zero complaints from anyone in the media and despite the fact Joe Biden’s own campaign hasn’t even claimed the emails are faked. The FBI, CIA and IRS — the most powerful agencies in the U.S. — have all been weaponized to varying degrees against conservatives and Trump going back to the abuse of the Tea Party groups under Obama in the run-up to the 2012 elections and then against Trump from 2016 to the present. The Associated Press has changed its definition of a “riot.” Webster’s Dictionary changed its definition of “preference.” Democrats in Congress are similarly trying to change the long-understood meaning of “court packing” from adding justices to the Supreme Court into the perfectly legal process being followed now to confirm Amy Coney Barrett in accordance with the Constitution. As the guardians and gatekeepers of free speech and free flow of information, the national media and Big Tech are blindly headed for the rail as they bet the last of their trust and respect on ending Trump’s political career. Even if they make their hand, they have already lost everything. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: I award you no points

Anyone who has ever wanted to see a Facebook argument come to life got their wish on Sept. 29 in Cleveland. For the less masochistic among us, you were probably covering your eyes, ears or both barely 15 minutes into the first presidential debate as former Vice President Joe Biden dropped quite likely the first “Shut up, man” in American political history. We’re far from Lincoln-Douglas or Kennedy-Nixon. The Sept. 29 spectacle didn’t even rise to the level of decorum seen in the heated Tastes Great-Less Filling debates of the 1980s. Interruptions of interruptions, insults and an overall pathetic performance by moderator Chris Wallace made for a painful 90 minutes that felt twice as long. The first topic on the Supreme Court quickly devolved as Wallace repeatedly pressed President Donald Trump on his lack of a comprehensive plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, leading Trump to drop a line about “I guess I’m debating you, not him” that he obviously had prepared but may not have expected to use so early. The debate really went off the rails a few minutes later after Biden outright refused to answer Wallace’s question about whether he supports packing the Supreme Court with additional justices or ending the legislative filibuster. Without waiting to see if Wallace would accept Biden’s refusal, Trump jumped in by pestering Biden to answer the question and asking where is his list of possible nominees to the Supreme Court. That led the beleaguered Biden to plead for Trump to shut up and then Wallace to shut the topic down without ever getting Biden to answer the question. It didn’t get any better from there. Trump continued to throw barbs at Biden, who countered by claiming Trump told people to inject bleach and is lying about progress toward a COVID-19 vaccine. Wallace repeatedly cut off Trump and many of his questions consisted of Democrat talking points, but his most outrageous moment of the night was repeating the false “very fine people” canard about Charlottesville that allowed Biden to then cite the same lie and dredge up the constant calls for Trump to denounce white supremacists. Wallace demanded Trump recite his fealty to “racial sensitivity training” and “climate change” while making the ridiculous assertion that Republican-led cities have just as much trouble as riot-filled Democrat ones by bringing up Fort Worth, Texas, and Tulsa. While tarring Trump with white supremacist associations, Wallace allowed Biden to get away with the claim that “antifa is an idea, not an organization.” Nor did Wallace fact check Biden when he brought up the anonymous claims that Trump called fallen soldiers “suckers and losers” but instead chuckled along with Biden rather than have him address the video of the former VP telling troops to “clap, you stupid bastards” after Trump brought it up. If anything, far fewer viewers can be expected to sit through another two of these and “Idiocracy” appears to be 450 years ahead of schedule. In the meantime we’re left with the academic decathlon scene from “Billy Madison.” May God have mercy on our souls. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: A dish served cold

“When you see Sotomayor and Kagan, tell them that Lindsey said hello.” That was South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham to then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh back in 2018 as he wrapped up an epic rant as chair of the Judiciary Committee excoriating Democrats for their disgusting smear campaign intended to derail Kavanaugh’s ascent from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The unforgivable attacks on Kavanaugh were the culmination of more than 30 years of Democrats shredding the judicial appointment process beginning with the assault on Robert Bork in 1987 so notorious that “Borking” became a verb when it was turned against Clarence Thomas just four years later. Thomas, vilified by the left to this day in the worst racial terms, called it a “high tech lynching” to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee back then who just happened to be current Democrat presidential nominee Joe Biden. Once they found themselves in the Senate minority under President George W. Bush in 2001, Democrats broke new ground on upending Senate traditions by filibustering D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Miguel Estrada. No appellate court nominee had ever been successfully filibustered before and Estrada eventually withdrew his name after years of failed cloture votes that drew as many as 55 votes, five shy of the 60 needed. Leaked memos revealed that one of the reasons certain Democrat groups opposed Estrada was to prevent a conservative from being the first Hispanic to make the Supreme Court. Minority Democrats would go on to filibuster nine more Bush nominees, leading to the first talk of employing the “nuclear option” to eliminate the tactic in favor of a simple majority vote. That was averted with the “Gang of 14” deal, but because the Democrats had successfully blocked so many Bush nominees to the D.C. court, President Barack Obama took the step in 2013 of nominating three judges at once to what by all measures was the least-worked panel in the country and while other courts had what were classified as “emergency” vacancies to which he hadn’t nominated anyone. The Republicans’ attempts to block Obama’s power move using the same tactics pioneered by the Democrats led then-Senate President Harry Reid to nuke the filibuster for all judicial nominees below the Supreme Court level in a vote that then-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted the Democrats would regret “a lot sooner than you think.” There can be no question that Democrats regret it now, whether they will admit it or not. Republicans took over the Senate in 2014 and were therefore able to thwart Obama’s pick to flip the court with Merrick Garland to replace the late Antonin Scalia in 2016. McConnell kept his promise to make the Democrats rue their 2013 actions after Donald Trump won the presidential election by eliminating the filibuster to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Democrats protested, but replacing Scalia with Gorsuch did not change the ideological makeup of the Supreme Court. That was not the case with Kavanaugh when he was tapped to replace the long-tenured “swing vote” Anthony Kennedy and what followed was the most shameless attempt at character assassination in the history of judicial nominees even when compared against what was done to Thomas. It worked on Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who cited Kavanaugh’s temperament in voting “present” after his righteous display of anger at being labeled a gang rapist by Murkowski’s Democrat colleagues. Murkowski has unsurprisingly come out against the idea of replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg before the November election, but that doesn’t mean she has committed to actually voting against the eventual nominee. Although she may appear bulletproof after winning as a write-in candidate in 2010 and cruising in 2016, even the proudly independent Murkowski may have to consider the fallout from siding against two consecutive conservative nominees to the Supreme Court. The Democrats retook the House in 2018, but saw their numbers in the Senate shrink after the self-destructive Kavanaugh display as they marched red state Democrats off the cliff in North Dakota, Indiana, Missouri and Florida. They made the Supreme Court a focus of the midterm campaign, and American voters responded by preventing them from taking over the Senate and denying them the power to stop Trump from replacing RBG in 2020. The Democrats’ willingness to spare no tactic in their quest for power has stiffened the spines of even once squishy Republicans like Graham and now Sen. Mitt Romney to respond in kind and yet within the confines of the powers defined in the Constitution. Contrast that with the summer we’ve just seen of Democrat voters — egged on, excused and enabled by their elected leaders — destroying American cities and causing losses totaling billions of dollars in human and economic costs. “Boy, y’all want power,” Graham told Democrats in 2018. “God, I hope you never get it.” From Bork to Kavanaugh and from Portland to New York, and from threats to add Supreme Court justices, add states and kill the legislative filibuster, the Democrats have shown and told us everything we need to know about how they wield power, and why we should hope they have no more. So to Trump’s eventual nominee: Say hello to Kavanaugh for me. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Don’t call them Democrats

The Alaska Democratic Party is calling “bullshit” on winners of the Democratic primary being affiliated with the Democratic Party on the November ballot. Apparently the party’s brand in Alaska is so bad that its leadership doesn’t want its candidates to actually be associated with it. The latest outrageous outrage involves a simple change on the general election ballot that has removed the official party affiliation, or lack thereof, of all candidates and instead shows their name and whether they made the ballot through the Republican or Democratic primary or through the petition process. Republicans aren’t complaining about the change because candidates over the years have often adopted the “R” designation in order to have a better chance to win. That’s why the party’s elected representatives range across the ideological spectrum from Sen. Gary Stevens to Rep. David Eastman while Democrats range from Sen. Bill Wielechowsi to, well, Bill Wielechowski. Democratic Party Executive Director Lindsay Kavanaugh pitched a fit over the change revealed Sept. 14 on the Division of Elections website, calling it “unconscionable.” “I am increasingly concerned about the ability of the Lt. Governor to make informed, unbiased, decisions about the election, and of the integrity of those running the DOE,” Kavanaugh told the Anchorage Daily News. “Alaska voters, especially the majority of those voters who are undeclared and non-partisan, need to call bullshit.” Kavanaugh shouldn’t hold her breath waiting for an uprising from those undeclared voters. Yes, Alaska’s voters are famously averse to aligning with either political party. They are also among the most consistent Republican voters in the country. The state hasn’t chosen a Democrat for president since LBJ in 1964 and has only sent two Democrats to Congress in the last 50 years with both of them named Begich. While many state Democrats are pro-resource development and favor gun rights, the national party is rabidly anti-Alaska and anti-Second Amendment. Alaska voters have long since figured this out and vote for national offices accordingly regardless of how they choose to register their party status. Defeat after defeat for national office has led the state Democrats to adopt a recent strategy of claiming “independent” status and our two congressional races this year reflect that with Al Gross and Alyse Galvin taking on incumbents Sen. Dan Sullivan and Dean of the House Rep. Don Young. Despite clearly favoring the politics of the Democrats and soliciting their financial support, the Democratic Party wants Gross and Galvin to have a “U” or an “N” next to their names in a transparent attempt to convince voters they aren’t filling the oval with a choice that will keep Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House and/or hand over the Senate to Chuck Schumer. The House under Pelosi has already voted to overturn development of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, and Democrats are talking about ending the filibuster should they retake the Senate. That means Galvin and Gross would help enact disastrous policies for Alaska no matter how they classify their political status. Republicans, especially in the Senate, routinely break ranks to vote independently (look no further than Sens. Mitt Romney, our own Lisa Murkowski or Rand Paul for examples), but there is no such freedom on the Democrat side where even their most endangered member Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama never dares to cross Schumer. To think that Galvin will vote against Pelosi as the 435th-ranked member of the House or that Gross will take the Democrats’ money and then vote to uphold the filibuster are huge gambles Alaskans will be rightly hesitant to take no matter what letter follows their names. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Tax credit chickens come home to roost

KFC could probably hire Tom Cruise as its next celebrity Colonel Sanders with the number of chickens coming home to roost in Alaska. A long-awaited and inexplicably delayed decision from the Alaska Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a bill passed in 2018 to pay off the state’s oil tax credit debt. House Bill 331 would have created a shell company within the Department of Revenue to sell up to $1 billion worth of “subject to appropriation” bonds to settle with the independent oil and gas explorers who took the shaft from $630 million in budget vetoes by former Gov. Bill Walker in 2015 and 2016 amid multi-billion dollar deficits. The fallout of the vetoes was massive. Banks now burned twice by Walker stopped lending into the state’s independent oil and gas sector. Caelus Energy was forced to sell North Slope assets to the major ConocoPhillips. Furie Operating Alaska, which had other cash flow problems, declared bankruptcy last year. The state was compelled to modify its loan agreements with Blue Crest in Cook Inlet and Brooks Range Petroleum on the Slope. The Legislature shuttered the tax credit program in 2017 without a plan to clear the books, leaving it up to Walker’s administration to concoct a dubious idea to pay debt with more debt by taking advantage of the interest spread between the cost of the bonds and inducing companies to take haircuts of up to 10 percent on what they were owed in order to get paid faster than waiting on minimum statutory appropriations. A public interest lawsuit by Eric Forrer of Juneau immediately halted the effort, which was initially upheld in Superior Court before being unanimously rejected by the Supreme Court and leaving the state once again on the hook for more than $700 million with no means in sight to pay now that savings accounts have been drained and the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve balance reduced by some $5 billion after transfers to the principal account in the past two years. Walker’s chickens came home to roost in 2018 as he was already headed toward defeat in a three-way race with former Sen. Mark Begich and eventual winner Gov. Mike Dunleavy before the abrupt resignation of running mate Byron Mallott amid a sexual misconduct scandal sealed his fate. For prominent members of the Legislature, the reckoning was delayed but no less decisive after the Aug. 18 primary as Senate President Cathy Giessel and Sen. John Coghill were ousted along with fellow Republican legislators Reps. Jennifer Johnston, Chuck Kopp and Gabrielle LeDoux who chose to form a majority with Democrats after the 2018 election. Candidates who favor paying out a Permanent Fund dividend according to the formula that is still on the books could upend the current majority caucuses after the November general election is settled, but they may well find that math is a stubborn thing and chasing the car is far more fun than sinking their teeth into the tires. Now exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic that has cratered oil prices, North Slope jobs and delayed promising exploration and development projects, the state’s budget situation will resist the ability to pay a full PFD and the economic situation is beyond being rescued by such simplistic promises even if they could be kept. The oil tax credit issue would largely be moot had Walker not vetoed $630 million in credit payments after they were approved by the Legislature, but his 2016 plan — that was endorsed in this space — to use a portion of Permanent Fund earnings and set a fixed dividend amount for the ensuing three years would have put us on a much better footing than we find ourselves today. For that the blame lies with the Republican-led House Majority that chose instead to drain more than $4 billion from the Constitutional Budget Reserve after the Senate had approved the bill by a decisive vote. Four years later, some of the prospective new Republican legislators heading to Juneau have the same attitude of those who rejected a sensible path toward fiscal stability but this time they don’t have billions in savings to spend as an alternative and they are still stuck with the tax credit bill that Walker left the state through his vetoes. They’ll be lucky if the toughest choice they have is grilled or fried, but a debate resembling whether the egg came first is more likely. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Fahrenheit 99501

The crux of Ray Bradbury’s classic novel Fahrenheit 451 is his simple yet brilliant inversion of the traditional fireman from a protector to a destroyer. Firemen in Bradbury’s dystopian American future don’t put out fires or save property and lives. They burn down houses and the books within. Those who resist setting the fires or the government prohibitions against preserving written knowledge are now criminals targeted by a police state aided by supine citizens content to engross themselves in television and report on their neighbors. As it goes in Anchorage, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and his pals on the Assembly are treating diners and dive bars as if they are secret stashes of ink and paper that must be scorched to save society. Those who protested by opening for indoor service were summarily felled by a flamethrower of fines, injunctions and threats of contempt of court should they risk their livelihoods to keep up the fight. Much like Bradbury’s firemen, Berkowitz and his uncaring cohort have turned the job description of a public servant on its head with their dismissal of public opinion, open derision for their critics, and disregard for the consequences of their actions or lack thereof. Should that sound hyperbolic, it is difficult to fathom what the mayor and Assembly would do differently if their goal was to destroy small businesses while concurrently creating despair and dependence on government. Look no further than the way the mayor and Assembly plan to distribute more than $156 million in CARES Act funds intended to be prioritized for economic relief and not progressive pet projects. Just a bit more than $14 million, less than 10 percent, has been scraped together for the hospitality industry that was already reeling before Berkowitz’s Aug. 3 “reset” order that reset to zero many of its members’ revenue and their employees’ paychecks for another four weeks. Meanwhile, $8 million, or more than half of what is set aside for the hospitality industry, is going to temporary government make-work jobs to line union pockets for recreation trails, “green” jobs and an “Indigenous Wayfinding” project. Rather than preserving permanent jobs by ensuring shuttered businesses can break even on expenses and provide for their employees, the Assembly is sidetracked with building singletrack bike trails. Winter is coming, which will mark the end of these seasonal jobs as well as the ability for restaurants to comply with the mayor’s mandates for outdoor service. Even the ones with enclosed heated tents. But for every day between now and Dec. 30, and every day since March 1, the municipality will use $21 million in CARES funds to cover the previously budgeted payroll for police and firefighters by exploiting a perceived loophole in the Treasury Department guidance to claim all of those expenses are related to the coronavirus response despite the fact they plainly are not. The beak-wetting union jobs and payroll backfilling alone total $29 million that could go to economic relief, and we’re not done yet. We haven’t gotten to their plan to divert $12.5 million in CARES funds to address long-standing homeless service issues that should be paid for with municipal revenue such as the recently-approved retail alcohol tax that is specifically dedicated to funding first responders and “substance misuse treatment, prevention programs, detoxification or long-term addiction recovery facilities, mental and behavioral health programs and resources to prevent and address Anchorage’s homelessness crisis.” They are going to use $3 million in CARES funds to start up their mental health first responder program that is also supposed to be paid for with the alcohol tax. For those keeping track at home, that’s another $15.5 million on top of the above $29 million to total $44.5 million not going to economic relief. A new health clinic in Girdwood is included for some reason at $5 million to bring a partial price tag for funding this Nero fiddling to nearly $50 million in non-economic relief. All of this is bad enough, but worse is that there is still no way to access the meager economic relief funds that have been appropriated. The Assembly website simply says “This page will be updated with more information on programs as they roll out, with links to resources specific to each program. For example, if an application becomes available for Small Business and Nonprofit Relief grants, it will appear within the Small Business and Nonprofit Relief program section.” When you check that line item on the page, it helpfully notes this money was appropriated in May and June. As of Aug. 24, there was no link to a grant application on the page. Same goes for the rental and mortgage assistance page that is supposed to have $20 million available. The Mat-Su Borough had a grant application online Aug. 10 after approving a $13 million business relief program using its CARES funds in July. No matter how much the mayor’s eyes well up with his crocodile tears or his voice quavers with contrived emotion, it matters little to the people he is hurting for their own good. His concern is belied as counterfeit when compared against his lack of urgency to help businesses as he helps himself to federal economic relief money to pay for his political agenda while proclaiming he is above petty partisanship. Berkowitz and his Assembly allies are no more public servants than Guy Montag was a real fireman, but at least Montag stopped lighting matches. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Rule of law takes partisan turn under Berkowitz

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz says the U.S. is a “failed state” and “pathetic” when it comes to its response to the coronavirus. He should know what a failed state looks like. Berkowitz drives through one every time he travels between his office at City Hall and the Assembly headquarters in Midtown at the Loussac Library. But don’t blame what you see on Berkowitz. Nevermind the hopeless population fighting, drinking and drugging, having sex, panhandling and passing out on the main thoroughfares of Anchorage, in the parking lots of vacant buildings and taking over new territory in the shadows of businesses ordered to vacate for at least four weeks. It is all partisan politics. Oh, and racism. When it comes to enforcing the law, Marshal Berkowitz means business. Just ask Andy Kriner. After more than five years of allowing duly passed and ratified laws to be flouted across wide swaths of Anchorage, what finally spurred the mayor to take a hardline stance was a handful of people defying his personal order to stop serving pancakes and burgers inside their small diners. Far more important to Berkowitz was showing these uppity families who is boss than pausing to consider whether his latest emergency order went too far by shutting down diners like Kriner’s and Little Dipper while allowing large-scale socializing inside tents or on patios. In the space of less than a week the mayor showed more interest in the rule of law than he has since taking office by issuing stop-work orders, fines and finally a trip to state Superior Court to pursue injunctions against the most peaceful protests this country has seen all year. By every metric in the municipality’s own police budget document, besides the rising tide of homelessness this mayor has presided over increases in crime, sexual assault and homicide. After ranking better than its population-sized peer group in the federal Uniform Crime Report statistics for the entire decade before he took office, Anchorage now trails the pack. In the 10 years before Berkowitz was elected, Anchorage witnessed more than 20 homicides just twice, in 2006 and 2007, and in the six years of his predecessor Dan Sullivan murders averaged 17.5 per year with just one to three unsolved cases annually from 2009 to 2014. The mayor’s lowest number of homicides was 27 in his first year and then averaged 33 over the next four including the all-time record of 38 in 2016. Not only did homicides nearly double on an annual basis from 2016 to 2019, the average rate of unsolved homicides grew from 2 to 9 per year. After five years of increasing sexual assault rates under Sullivan, from 108 per 100,000 in 2009 to 126 in 2013, that rate declined to 116 in 2014 and 2015. The rate has shot up under Berkowitz, from 116 per 100,000 in his first year to 150, 133 and 158 from 2016 to 2018, with the last year of data representing a 36 percent increase from 2015. As the sexual assault rate increased, the already anemic arrest rate has been less than the last year of Sullivan in all but one year since. More crime. More homelessness. More homicides and more unsolved cases. More sexual assaults and fewer arrests. This cannot be hung on the necks of the Anchorage Police Department. This is the product of the left’s laissez-faire attitude toward petty crime that is proven time and again to result in increases in major crimes like murder and sexual assault. And it comes from the top down. Because the mayor and his equally arrogant allies on the Assembly wave away every protest as political and/or racist, they cannot fathom another reason why residents would line up at diners to show their support or refuse to put their trust in their elected employees who have repeatedly failed and have now commandeered CARES Act funds with no assurance the purchase of properties for homeless services is even legal, let alone a good idea. Just last July after Gov. Mike Dunleavy sent shockwaves around the state with hundreds of millions in budget vetoes, including to homeless services he asserted should be paid for by local governments, a massive tent city protest sprung up on the Park Strip. After being shooed gently away from Berkowitz’s Downtown backyard following a friendly visit to the site by the mayor himself, the protest designed from the outset to be flagrantly illegal was allowed to settle in for more than a month at Valley of the Moon Park. Berkowitz indulged the protesters for weeks at Chester Creek until finally issuing a 10-day abatement notice. On consecutive nights before the campers finally moved on to Cuddy Park, a suspect believed to be the same man attempted sexual assault against two different women at the park. Nobody was taken to court. No fines were issued. The 10-day notices kept up and the camp kept moving around at will despite the mayor’s own declaration of emergency that he has shown no hesitation to wield against people like Andy Kriner. The difference, of course, was that the illegal campout was a protest against Dunleavy. Or would that be too partisan to notice? Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Anchorage CARES plan doesn’t care about small business

If there was any doubt that Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and the Anchorage Assembly don’t actually care about saving small businesses being destroyed by a combination of the pandemic and their onerous and arbitrary mandates, their plan to use $156 million in CARES Act funds confirms it. The muni released the plan on a new website Aug. 10, just a day ahead of the Assembly’s scheduled vote and it is a veritable laundry list of special interest carve-outs, liberal priorities and items that appear to run afoul of federal rules on how this money can be spent. On the same day that the “Anchorage Economic Resiliency Task Force” published an op-ed calling on the governor to save the city’s hospitality industry that is being crippled by the mayor, we learned that the Assembly plan allocates a mere $7 million out of $156 million in CARES Act funds despite their claim that “no group or industry has been impacted by COVID-19-related closures like local bars, restaurants and the like.” Among the authors is the mayor’s wife, Mara Kimmel, which solves the mystery of why Gov. Mike Dunleavy is scolded about his “moral obligation” to help this industry while Berkowitz is not. Let’s review some of the more egregious examples of spending while small family-owned diners are forced into the untenable position of trying to defy the mandates or accepting defeats that may result in the end of their business forever. • Public lands jobs program: $2 million • Renewable energy job training program: $1 million • RuralCAP weatherization program: $2.5 million • Visit Anchorage remarketing program: $2.6 million • Nonprofit stimulus: $3 million • Cultural pillars stabilization program: $3.5 million • Arts and culture stabilization program: $2 million • First responder payroll reserve: $21 million • Proposed property acquisitions for homeless services: $12.5 million Do any of these proposed spending items reflect the Task Force assertion that “the city’s needs already outpace the relief it has received from the State of Alaska”?  Just last week, the Mat-Su Borough appropriated $13 million into a business relief fund and another $9.9 million for individual relief. Out of its $37 million in CARES funds, the borough dedicated nearly 62 percent to businesses and individuals. A large chunk went into purchasing laptops and other equipment to allow borough employees to work from home, which is also an appropriate use of the money. If Anchorage followed the same formula as the Mat-Su Borough, rather than Christmas-treeing its plan with a wish list of the well-connected members of the municipal elite, there would be more than $96 million set aside for businesses and individuals. That would certainly alleviate the need to shame the governor for not doing enough to help. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Berkowitz inspires a revolution he can’t embrace

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz isn’t a big fan of Van Hale right now. Safe to say Hale is no fan of Berkowitz, either. On Aug. 3, the day that the mayor once again shut down bars and restaurants, Hale’s trademark sign outside Van’s Dive Bar on Fifth Avenue had a message: “Berkowitz is a Dick Tator “Hell yeah, brother!” Berkowitz’s heavy-handed decision to deal a potential death blow to scores of small businesses across Anchorage sparked a resistance and the first real civil disobedience from otherwise law-abiding folks who have largely gone along with the mayor’s mandates. A crowd of people well in excess of his arbitrary limit on gatherings of no more than 50 people popped up to protest on Aug. 3 at the Loussac Library where the Assembly meets to regularly rubber stamp the mayor’s actions. Kriner’s Diner did not close and defied a stop work order delivered by municipal employees on Aug. 4. A bartender at Jens’ Restaurant started a petition opposing the shutdown that was rapidly nearing 4,000 signatures out of a goal of 5,000 as of midday on Aug. 4. Not only did Berkowitz decide to shut down bars and restaurants on July 31, he did so without even a proposal for a relief plan despite the municipality having received more than $150 million in CARES Act funds four months ago. While the state has had its own issues with its business relief grant program thanks to the rushed nature of its approval at a time when the Paycheck Protection Program had run out of money, the municipality is not encumbered in any way to provide help to the businesses ordered closed by the mayor. Here is the guidance for eligible uses to distribute the millions of dollars now in possession of the mayor and his merry bunch of marionettes on the Assembly: “Expenditures incurred to respond to second-order effects of the emergency, such as by providing economic support to those suffering from employment or business interruptions due to COVID-19-related business closures.” And: “Expenditures related to the provision of grants to small businesses to reimburse the costs of business interruption caused by required closures.” That is about as clearcut as it gets. In his typical buck-passing fashion that he regularly exhibits when it comes to the humanitarian crisis of homelessness that has exploded on his watch, Berkowitz is pointing his finger at the state and federal government rather than admit he has come up with no plan to aid the businesses he is closing down. While the governor may well need to call the Legislature to a special session to amend the state relief program, he is not the one who is shuttering businesses across the state. Berkowitz has stamped his feet repeatedly asserting his local superiority to go further than state mandates, yet when it comes to mitigating the consequences of his power grabs he tries to blame others. Nor has anyone on the Assembly proposed a plan to use the $150 million to aid small businesses as the lame duck mayor cripples them. While the mayor and his allies dither over virtual town halls to talk about plans, and after they wasted weeks with the only plan they have come up with to spend $22.5 million of the CARES Act funds on shelter and treatment facilities, paychecks are running out and rents are coming due. Berkowitz didn’t wake up on July 31 and decide to shut down a huge swath of the Anchorage economy. He had months to craft a relief plan and has done nothing except come up with a legally questionable use of CARES money to address a problem that entirely predates the pandemic. Here’s the federal guidance for using CARES funds on homeless services: “Expenses for care for homeless populations provided to mitigate COVID-19 effects and enable compliance with COVID-19 public health precautions.” That would mean the temporary shelters at the Sullivan and Ben Boeke areas are well within a proper use of the funds. Buying four properties to deal with issues the mayor and Assembly have neglected for years hardly seems to qualify, yet this administration is plowing ahead with it while leaving small business owners to suck it up. The mayor certainly had no such concerns about large gatherings or risks of transmission when he attended a June 6 protest of more than 1,000 people at the Park Strip and praised everyone in attendance. “I look out and I see a crowd full of revolutionaries, and it makes my heart glad because more than 200 years ago this country was founded on a revolutionary idea that all would be created equal and treated equally. “If you want change, you have to change the future.” Judging by the early response to the mayor’s decision to not treat everyone equally, a growing number in Anchorage are willing to take him up on his challenge. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Anchorage officials want carrots, public gives them the stick

Don’t get a tattoo. Wear your mask. Don’t go out (especially after midnight). Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz has eagerly accepted the mantle of parent-in-chief and admitted as much to KTUU in a July 1 interview after he announced his municipal mask mandate on June 26. “Nobody likes eating vegetables either,” he said, “but sometimes you have to be told to do the right thing because it’s the right thing.” Notwithstanding how the vendors of the weekly Anchorage farmers’ markets may feel about the mayor knocking their products with his glib take, what we have learned since lockdown and hunker down orders started being issued in March is that law-abiding people are quite easy to boss around. Business owners will shut down at the risk of losing their livelihoods rather than risk losing their licenses. Shoppers will don a mask in order to make their Costco run. Students will forgo once-in-a-lifetime graduation experiences. Families will give up funerals, weddings and church services. In short, we’ll eat our damn vegetables. But when it comes to the people in Anchorage who most need help, who desperately need to be told to do the right thing, the mayor has been quite unwilling to even suggest a switch from a sugar-based diet to sprouts and salads. While the coronavirus is concerning, homelessness has become a full-blown humanitarian crisis under this mayor’s watch. Berkowitz can attempt to deflect blame as much as he likes to the federal government, the pesky ACLU or the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but the heartbreaking scenes of daily life in Anchorage are on him and his supermajority of allies on the Assembly. The mayor is closing out his six years in office with an attempt to convert $22.5 million worth of CARES cash into campuses he claims will curb the rampant problems of vagrancy, larceny, loitering, littering and public intoxication that are plaguing the municipality. Before moving on, lest this skepticism be interpreted as callous, or worse, racist, Anchorage does need infrastructure to care for those who cannot care for themselves. Although the locations can be debated, and the NIMBY impulse will always run strong, we need additional space for addiction and mental health treatment, as well as temporary and transitional housing for those who need a hand up and not a handout. However, this mayor and the majority of this Assembly have earned absolutely zero confidence they can be trusted to execute a successful strategy even were they able to bypass the Planning and Zoning Commission or avoid a federal audit for using economic aid funds to fix their failures that were the norm long before the new normal. Meet the new normal, same as the old normal. Nobody should believe anything will get better if the mayor gets his way. Not after more than five years of essentially unchecked authority in Anchorage until five days of overwhelming opposition that proved the public has well and truly had enough. If the rest of us can be forced to stay home, stay closed or stay covered for our own good, then surely the same logic applies to those who have long lost track of what is good for them whether from mental trauma or hopeless addiction. Until a plan includes enforcing the law, we will never identify and separate those who need help, those who want help and those who just want to help themselves to whatever isn’t nailed down. Mental health care is a huge challenge and we can look no further than the disaster at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute for evidence. Mandatory in-patient addiction treatment for chronic violators will likely require statutory changes at either the state or local level. Securing neighborhoods where treatment facilities are sited will require resources, but if bars ever get to resume normal business we have an alcohol tax for that. Those are major obstacles to overcome, and the mayor has squandered five-plus years to clear them, but doing so is critical to receive public support. Eating your vegetables can’t all be carrots. The mayor and the Assembly are going to keep getting the stick until they figure that out. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: The Mayor’s required reading

On the eve of the Fourth of July, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz urged people to read the Declaration of Independence. Unlike a lot of what he tells me to do, like not be out after midnight, I looked forward to it. I always enjoy reading the Declaration of Independence. Unlike the Constitution, which is more of an eat-your-peas documentary, the Declaration is the classic summer popcorn feature arc of three acts that grabs you from the beginning and closes with a flourish. It is the freaking “Die Hard” of calligraphy and cursive on parchment. Many people quote their go-to passages as “all men are created equal” or “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” My favorite is this: “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” In his encouragement to read the nation’s founding declaration, Berkowitz remarked that it is a “pretty radical” document. Indeed it is, which makes one wonder if he has ever actually read it. And you know what you tell anybody who hasn’t seen “Die Hard.” They have to do it. Hours later, after using the president of the state’s hospitality industry as a hapless prop in his press conference where he paid lip service to the principles of our founding, the Berkowitz administration dropped a list of establishments from Palmer to Seward where people who have tested positive for the ‘rona have visited in a naked attempt to kill their business before a traditional weekend of celebration. His administration declared the municipality’s health capacity was at a “red light” — not for lack of nearly 1,000 hospital beds nor just one person in the state on a ventilator — but for lack of contact tracing. Berkowitz claimed that his contact tracers were so taxed and so vexed that the only way to alert the public after being unable to ID every individual who may have talked to a positive case was to burn 17 businesses and cast a cloud on every other similar operation. The move worked and owners reported their weekend traffic was off dramatically. Which brings us back to the the mayor’s reading assignment: “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.” Good luck getting people to cooperate with contact tracers now. Anyway, Berkowitz has this authority to do whatever he wants because the absentee Assembly that Anchorage voted for with stamps won’t even rubber stamp his decisions and is too gutless to go on the record either supporting or opposing whatever the heck this lame duck does. That’s what Anchorage voted for, so we get what we deserve. Gov. Standing Tall isn’t coming to pick a fight over Mayor Dad’s overreach or the Assembly’s lack of oversight. That recalls another part of the Declaration about the executive conspiring with a complacent and complicit legislative body: “He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation.” Emergency powers and pulling agenda items without voting gives the mayor more leeway than a rubber duck in the Chena River. Berkowitz has backed off a little bit, with his administration pulling all but three businesses off the list as of July 7 — for now — and stating he doesn’t want to close down the bars and restaurants he just kicked in their sensitive areas. Whether somebody reminded him he wants to collect taxes from Long Island ice teas come Jan. 1 or that he may need some votes from his traditional supporters in Anchorage when he wants to run for governor, the fact he’s giving these businesses a reprieve isn’t exactly worthy of applause. Now to the Act 3 flourish: “In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.” Overcapitalization aside, Jefferson had a point, but I don’t expect Mayor Dad to give me any for the irony when I turn in this homework. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Karen vs. Karen

Whether you are pro-mask or anti-mask, I really can’t stand you right now. The online crusade of keyboard Karens on both sides of the dumbest debate since tastes great versus less filling is doing real damage to business owners caught in the crossfire of a battle they didn’t choose and are desperately trying to avoid as they struggle to survive a threat to their livelihoods that is far greater than the one between the armchair epidemiologists duking it out on dueling social media groups. Let’s just settle this right now. If you get online to brag about not wearing a mask, you’re a Karen. If you get online to brag about wearing a mask, you’re a Karen. If you get online to snitch on a business for asking you to wear a mask, you’re a Karen. If you get online to snitch on a business if someone isn’t wearing a mask, you’re a Karen. If you harass people for wearing or not wearing a mask … well, you should get it by now. Stop being Karens. Mind your own business, and for goodness’ sake stop trying to hurt businesses. Because whether you are pro-mask or anti-mask, the thing many if not most of these Karens have in common is nothing at risk. It costs them nothing to fire off a Facebook post telling people to boycott a business. It costs them nothing to claim how awesome they are for resisting or for complying. At a time when literally every customer counts for the small business owners who make up the vast majority of the job creators in this state, your Karening can cost plenty. We can agree that wearing masks is inconvenient for most of us, but some are making up for it generating a dopamine response by telling everyone what they think about it. We have enough to worry about without a bunch of self-deputized TSA agents running around getting into people’s health conditions or whipping out their pocket constitution looking for the amendment that says “thou shall not order me to wear a mask.” If something at a business upsets you and you just have to say something, go half-Karen and talk to a manager. There’s no need to grab your phone and tell the world about it. Never go full Karen. Think about whether your fears or your feelings are driving your actions, and if they are, either adjust your behavior accordingly or adjust your attitude. Because you’re not helping. You’re making this worse, and you’re tearing our community apart. In a polarized world it may be hard to accept that two things can be true at the same time: the virus can reach a vulnerable member of the population if people aren’t careful and ceding any amount of personal freedom to the government is an inch it will routinely turn into a mile. If it helps to relieve the justifiable personal stress of months of pandemic panic that’s been foisted upon us, there is no riper target than the federal government health experts like Surgeon General Jerome Adams or the lovable Dr. Fauci who have admitted they lied to us at the onset about wearing masks. The answer, however, is not to compound the government’s squandering of the public trust through its dishonesty over masks by turning on each other or turning each other in through Facebook groups or [email protected] Don’t be a Karen. In the interest of gender equity, don’t be a Dick, either. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Redlining the Arctic

The biggest bank in Alaska is redlining its biggest employer. At just more than $6 billion as of June 30, 2019, Wells Fargo holds more deposits in Alaska than every other bank combined with 51 percent of the market share according to the most recent Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data. That is just a tiny fraction of the San Francisco-based bank’s more than $1.2 trillion in deposits nationwide, which is probably why the company’s board of directors cares not a whit about its policy of refusing to finance oil and gas projects on Alaska’s North Slope. Along with Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley — who have also announced they will not finance oil and gas projects in the state — perhaps they should be made to care. Rather than gerrymandered borders of neighborhoods drawn in the past to exclude entire populations of disadvantaged people from credit services, these mega banks that were all bailed out by the federal government after the 2008 financial crash have taken advantage of the existing line at 66 degrees North otherwise known as the Arctic Circle. Above this line are thousands of Alaska’s first people that the United States government made a deal with in 1971 through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act to exchange millions of acres of land in order to facilitate construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. That contract guaranteeing Alaska Natives the rights of economic opportunity and self-determination is in jeopardy from these federally-backed banks that are pandering to Green New Dealers with a redlining policy that harkens back to the original New Deal of 1933. Alaska’s congressional delegation is therefore on to something with its recent letter to Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, Comptroller of the Currency Brian Brooks and FDIC Chair Jelena McWilliams that calls out these banks’ anti-Arctic policy for what it is: discrimination against Alaska Natives. That is no stretch. These banks are declaring they will help deny billions of dollars in potential royalties to Alaska Natives from the National Petroleum Reserve and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Coastal Plain that are both explicitly designated by Congress for development, as well as the state lands from which shareholders in Arctic Slope Regional Corp. and the village of Nuiqsuit would benefit. Doyon Drilling, a subsidiary of the Interior Native regional corporation, works extensively on the North Slope and was forced to lay off more than 300 employees as ConocoPhillips shut down exploration amid the pandemic and then curbed production by some 100,000 barrels per day as prices briefly turned negative. As of December 2019, Doyon shareholders numbered 226 at Doyon Drilling and earned $21 million in wages last year. The Green New Dealers may believe they are only screwing with evil big oil companies, but stopping Arctic projects by turning off financing spigots will disproportionately hurt companies like Doyon that are led from top to bottom by its Native shareholders. More broadly, these banks’ discriminatory policies hurt all Alaska Natives that would receive revenue sharing from North Slope development and the state as a whole that relies on oil revenue to pay for health care and education. Quite simply, banks that are still in existence today thanks to the extraordinary rescue measures taken 12 years ago and who are now borrowing from the Fed at essentially 0 percent should not be allowed to discriminate against any group of people, let alone an entire state or industry. Wells Fargo and its too-big-to-fail cohort are literally anti-Alaska. To be clear, this is not a reflection on the bank’s state leadership or its staff, who have made overwhelmingly positive contributions to Alaska and in particular the nonprofit community. But they have no sway in San Francisco. This is not to suggest that banks should be forced to finance Arctic oil projects, although extending loan services into economically distressed areas was and is mandated as a remedy to historic redlining practices. They may even have their own internal reasons for not participating in Arctic projects. However, no bank should be allowed to publicly declare and even boast about a discriminatory policy against sovereign people, an entire state or an industry that is vital to national security while still enjoying the benefits and backing of the federal government. Even absent a federal solution, Alaskans have other options for their money with banks and credit unions that are based here and are far more invested in the state’s future than Wells Fargo has decided to be. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: A fair share of deception

This week we publish an “explainer” from Robin Brena of the “Fair Share Act” campaign for no other reason than to illustrate the depths he and his cohort are going to deceive Alaskans into raising oil taxes. The only thing the campaign is being honest about is the fact they want to dramatically jack up taxes by at least $1 billion per year according to their own estimate. How they are trying to convince Alaskans to do so is a litany of outright lies or misleading claims being made by people who are still fighting the outcome of the 2014 referendum they lost over the current oil tax structure. The first falsehood they are basing their campaign around is that the tax increase will only be charged against the three large “legacy” fields and “As a result, it will not impact the development of new fields in Alaska.” This is pure garbage. Because ConocoPhillips is required by the Securities and Exchange Commission to break out its Alaska operations in its quarterly and annual tax filings, we know that in 2019 the company made profits of $1.5 billion in Alaska while spending $1.5 billion on capital investments on the North Slope. Every nickel of the company’s income last year was matched on building projects such as Greater Mooses Tooth-2 and exploration development at its massive prospect dubbed Willow. ConocoPhillips executives have stated that while its board sets a global capital budget, its Alaska operations are essentially self-contained in that profits in Alaska are reinvested in Alaska. Even when the company was losing $4.4 billion in 2015, its capital budget in Alaska remained essentially unchanged at about $1 billion and went from 5 percent of its global total to about 20 percent. To argue that raising taxes on legacy fields will not impact the development of new fields is a naked attempt to fool voters. Brena also attempts to mislead Alaskans by describing a “pre-tax profit” on a barrel of oil from Prudhoe Bay he calculates at $40.61 in 2018. Investopedia defines “profit” as “the financial benefit realized when revenue generated from a business activity exceeds the expenses, costs, and taxes involved in sustaining the activity in question.” (emphasis added) A gross, “pre-tax” profit may be useful to a business owner, but only insofar as it helps them determine what their tax liability will be. A picture of profits without accounting for taxes is less informative than trying to interpret a three-year-old’s finger paintings. Brena then combines a lie with another incomplete claim when he writes that Alaska “paid the producers more in cashable credits than we have received in production revenues” since Senate Bill 21 took effect for a full year in 2015. Brena well knows that the major, “legacy” producers have never, ever received “cashable” credits that were only delivered to small companies with either no production or daily output of less than 50,000 barrels per day. A favorite omission by the tax raisers when they talk about only production tax revenue is to never mention the record low oil prices that hammered companies — and the state’s budget — from 2015 to 2017. By conflating the cash credits that predated SB 21 with production tax revenue, Brena et al claim that Alaska’s “share of production revenues after credits collapsed from $19 billion (2009-2013) before SB21 to less than $0 (2015-2019) after SB21.” They don’t tell you what is in the most recent state revenue forecast, which also summarizes historic petroleum revenue from all sources. According to the 2020 figures, from 2015 to 2019 the state collected $10.75 billion in unrestricted and restricted petroleum revenue. At the same time, ConocoPhillips lost billions for three years from 2015 to 2017. During 2016, BP reported that it lost about $1 million per day from its North Slope operations. Nevertheless, they still owed production tax thanks to the gross minimum in SB 21 (that would have collected zero under the previous ACES), they owed property tax and they owed royalty payments. Corporate taxes, which are calculated on net income versus gross (production tax and royalty), were negative but have rebounded to positive territory since 2018 as prices recovered. Here we are again with another price collapse that has crushed revenue, production and jobs, yet the Fair Sharers blithely march along trying to appeal to Alaskans’ rightful concern over the budget and smaller dividends with a self-destructive solution that would drive a stake through the state’s economic engine. We didn’t fall for it in 2014, and it is even more vital to see through another dishonest campaign in 2020. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Dunleavy rewarded for faith in Alaskans

Across the country from Huntington Beach to the Jersey Shore, protests against lockdowns, civil disobedience and court cases striking down governors’ orders are spreading. Here in Alaska all has been relatively calm other than a single drive-through rally in Anchorage on April 22 targeting Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. Now, as the state stands ready for nearly a full reopening on the eve of Memorial Day weekend, Gov. Mike Dunleavy deserves tremendous praise for his leadership style throughout this 100-year pandemic event that has and will continue to wreak long-lasting damage on the state economy. While there has been much fawning (often deservedly) over Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink’s performance, there has been relatively little credit paid to Dunleavy’s steady and optimistic tone since the very beginning. Dunleavy incessantly repeated his trust in Alaskans to do what was being asked of them from social distancing to accepting the need to shutter most businesses temporarily as health care capacity and testing were ramped up. He emphatically and consistently resisted every question or call to use tools such as state inspectors or State Troopers to patrol businesses or the highways to enforce his mandates. Unlike many governors and health officials around the country, he also refused to move the goalposts of what the closures were intended to achieve: lowering the rate of cases and having health care capacity in place to handle any increase. Dunleavy’s faith in Alaskans turned out to be well-founded. The state leads the nation in any metric you can choose from deaths (even inflated as they are by out-of-state numbers and questionable accounting) to cases to hospitalizations to testing per capita. On May 18, more than three weeks after Dunleavy first gave the go-ahead for limited openings on April 24, there were more than 630 tests reported with zero positive results and only a few dozen active cases. In the state’s largest city of nearly 300,000 people, where Berkowitz has acted reluctantly in following Dunleavy’s lead, there were just 22 active cases as of May 19 and barely more than couple hundred cases in total. Those of us who live in Anchorage, whether average citizens or small business owners, owe a great deal of thanks to Dunleavy for getting the state moving far ahead of Berkowitz’s “hunker down” order that he gave every indication of keeping in place until at least May 5. Although Berkowitz repeatedly claimed his orders would be driven by data and not dates, his reopening plan released April 20 had crippling and arbitrary timelines of 14 and 42 days for the first two phases that crushed the hopes of owners who’d been following the shrinking case numbers closely and waiting for any indication from the mayor there was a light at the end of this tunnel that wasn’t an oncoming train. Instead, it has been Dunleavy and his administration that are using data and not dates to open as much as possible as quickly as possible always guided by the principle that we are a free state in a free country ruled above all by personal responsibility. Dunleavy understands that governments derive their power from the consent of the people, and by treating Alaskans with respect and confidence he received the buy-in that other leaders in places like Michigan, New York, California and New Jersey have squandered through excessive restrictions, outright contempt for citizens and the use of police power to enforce their orders. Describing Dunleavy’s less than two years in office as tumultuous is an all-time understatement. Apart from self-inflicted wounds, he has also had to face earthquakes, devastating wildfires and now a pandemic that has driven down oil prices and production, crushed fishing markets and all but eliminated the 2020 tourism season. Tens of thousands are still on unemployment and monumental budget challenges loom that will continue to test his leadership. Leaders accept blame and share credit, so don’t expect Dunleavy to start patting himself on the back. But as we enjoy a three-day weekend that honors those who have given all for this nation among our family and friends whether in the backyard, in the beautiful Alaska outdoors or at our favorite local watering hole, don’t forget how we got to a point that is the envy of most states. We have a governor who didn’t just say we were in this together. He believed it. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

What I learned cleaning up a homeless camp

The first thing I noticed upon reaching the abandoned piles of trash alongside Chester Creek behind my apartment building were several small black and yellow boxes. They resembled the type of packaging that may contain auto fuses and I wondered what new intoxicating purpose had been discovered within them, but as I crouched down for a better look and picked one up I realized the boxes had once contained contact lenses. Then I found the contents strewn about nearby: dozens of lenses still in their unopened plastic containers. The hundreds of dollars worth of product obviously stolen from someone’s mailbox had proven of little value to the thieves and been summarily discarded. The next thing I found was the empty bottle labeled “Dirty Needles!” with the exclamation point cheerfully spiked by a heart. All around I had soon plucked about a dozen needles from the ground, carefully grabbing them by the middle through the Kevlar-lined gloves purchased with this specific risk in mind, and breaking off each tip before placing them into the first of 20 39-gallon trash bags I would eventually fill over four days. I was immediately frustrated as I tried to start with big items such as sleeping bags, pillows, foam and even a box spring but found them literally frozen solid into the ground. They would not budge and forced me to go back to picking up the more mundane trash of cans, bottles, clothes, all types of plastic (but not plastic grocery bags thanks to the Anchorage Assembly and Mayor Ethan Berkowitz!), a seemingly infinite number of batteries, empty aerosols mined as inhalants, and more needles. One lesson quickly learned about avoiding contact with human feces was to be less aggressive grabbing paper or any trash bag near a tree. The oddest thing I kept finding were the six-round loaders sold for toy cap guns, and I wondered once again what new high was being sought from such an innocuous item. I never did find any toy guns, but I did find enough toys to stock a daycare center. The toys, stuffed animals, children’s clothing and diapers that filled my bags were depressing evidence of what had been going on unchecked for months over the winter just 50 yards from my apartment balcony. Not only were an untold number of addicts in a non-stop pursuit of their next high by any means necessary, but small children in the same camp were exposed to this danger and criminal neglect. After spending a couple hours on each of the first two days on the biggest problem area, I moved a little farther downstream to the next site behind my building on the third day. This was apparently some kind of trash burn area, so the piles were at least a bit more concentrated. But without a shovel or a front-loader there was no way to even begin to clean those up other than grabbing the larger items around the edges. Day three was relatively quick work, although I couldn't remove items such as a charred shopping cart and the burnt insides of a mattress. Feeling better about my progress for the day, I spotted a Quaker Oats canister tucked under a bush. It was filled with dozens of needles, which was as disheartening of an exclamation point to the day as the handwritten label on the bottle I found to start day one. My plan for cleanup was to take care of the area immediately behind my building. I assume the land is owned by the municipality based on the fact that the maintenance crew that takes care of the landscaping at my building refuses to pick up even a McDonald’s bag in the area if it isn’t in the parking lot. The area also lies across Chester Creek from the trail so I had zero faith whatsoever that the Parks and Recreation Department would be by anytime in the next few months to take care of it. I’ve lived here for a few years now, and this area had always been a nice perk. I can be on the trail with Dakota in just a few minutes or stroll along the creek banks for shorter bathroom breaks. Every year I host a “trailgating” party for the Iditarod start through Anchorage where friends can gather for breakfast and then watch up close as the teams go by without battling the downtown crowd. The area has been off limits to me since last fall when the camps started popping up behind my building and the one next door. No longer could I stroll through the woods on my way home or walk along the creek. Last September, I heard a splashing sound coming from the creek and wondered if it was a salmon. I knew Chester Creek had salmon, but had never actually seen one despite countless walks on this trail over the years. I walked to the bank and curiosity turned into dismay as I saw what was happening. A shopping cart had been tossed into the creek and several pink salmon were struggling to get around it as they kept getting pushed by the current into the basket. After tying Dakota’s leash to a tree, I made my way down the bank and pulled the cart weighed down by leaves and other trash out, but not without crashing into the mud first. The salmon swam upstream in relief and I drug the cart up the bank and pushed it about 50 feet away. The next day I went back and sure enough it had been chucked into the creek again. As I pulled it out, some guy emerged from a tent and told me he had the cart in the creek trying to catch his girlfriend’s purse that he’d thrown in there. I told him he wasn’t allowed to have carts anymore and muscled two of them up into the parking lot, into my Tahoe and back to their home at Walmart. Not long after I used the tool on the Municipality of Anchorage website to report the budding camps. Rather than the camps being vacated, they expanded all winter to the point they had reached when I started my cleanup. After four days taking care of my small area, I walked up the small rise “next door” and literally stood still in amazement as I gazed around at the scene. An area as big as a football field along the creek is utterly ravaged by trash and burn piles. Imagining what the Environmental Protection Agency would do to a company that allowed this kind of pollution to amass at a drill site or a placer mine is easy. Fines totaling hundreds of thousands if not millions would be in order, yet this is the state the Municipality of Anchorage has allowed to develop within critical fish and wildlife habitat. Chester and Campbell creeks are protected by the state Anadromous Fish Act, and as streams that flow into Cook Inlet and eventually the Pacific Ocean they are subject to the federal Clean Water Act. The creeks and riparian areas are also home to ducks, geese and other species that are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Pollution from plastics, human waste and other trash entering the water is obvious, as are the toxic chemicals leeching into the soil. Perhaps if the administration and the Assembly are not motivated by humanitarian reasons to get Anchorage in order, they could be inspired by the possible liability for destroying the protected natural habitat that is also the central pillar of the city’s marketing strategy. “It’s a national problem,” the mayor often says as he passes the buck when asked about the homeless problem. With all due respect, what has happened to Anchorage is a local problem that has gotten demonstrably worse from the neglect of its elected leaders over the years. When I picked up trash along the Chester Creek trail during City Cleanup in 2010, I filled three or four bags along a mile of the trail. It took a half-hour in one small spot to fill up that many in 2020. While the mayor hectors law-abiding people about getting tattoos, he gives a pass to the people who are passing out or passing the bottle without interruption at the busiest intersections in town. I didn’t clean up the creek banks behind my building so I could write a story about it. I did it so I could enjoy the area again. I know I don’t live in a fancy part of town, but I like it and I’ll be damned if I move before the people who are destroying it are forced to. There are thousands of people like me around Anchorage. We deserve to be heard, and we’re tired of hearing the same story. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: The decline is obvious. Anchorage is ready to open.

The peak of new coronavirus cases in Anchorage came on St. Patrick’s Day less than 12 hours after Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz ordered bars, restaurants and “non-essential” businesses such as beauty salons to close. On that day the state reported 9 cases in Anchorage. Every one of those cases could be traced to before the March 16 closure and the mayor’s eventual “hunker down” order that took effect the next week on March 22. Since March 17, the state’s largest metro area with about 300,000 people has never, ever, not once, had more than 9 cases in a day. That happened on March 17, March 20 and March 23. That’s right. Anchorage has not cracked double digits for new cases in a day, even in the week after Berkowitz shut down most businesses and ordered an end to gatherings of more than 10 people at a time when every new case could be traced to before the closures. By any measure, Anchorage has been in decline since March 23. The second-highest number of new cases in a day was March 30 with 8. The average number of new cases per day from March 30 to April 21 in Anchorage is 2.7. The rolling four-day average of new cases has declined from 5.3 on April 2 to 2.3 on April 21. In seven of the 12 days from April 9 to April 21, Anchorage reported either 1 or zero new cases. The number of active cases has increased by an average of less than 1 per day from March 23 to April 20, or from 69 to 92 in 28 days. Yet despite these miniscule numbers and being situated in the capital of the state’s health care system that had nearly 1,000 available beds as of April 21, the mayor is continuing to keep his boot on the Anchorage economy while giving free rein to the criminal element of the homeless population to take over the streets and green spaces. Berkowitz announced a plan to re-open Anchorage on April 20 based on conditions of meeting a 14-day decline standard and availability of testing. Regarding testing, City Manager Bill Falsey said on April 21 that anyone who needs a test in Anchorage can currently get one. At the same time, he was unable to describe in any detail whatsoever what metric the municipality is using to measure what would constitute a 14-day decline. More troubling than the inability to articulate a metric to reopening despite the obvious decline in cases for a month and the widespread availability of tests is the mayor’s 28-day timeline between the start of Phase 1 and Phase 2. April 20 marked five weeks since Berkowitz locked down bars and restaurants and even though new cases in Anchorage were literally zero for four days of the 10 previous days, Falsey could only say it was possible we could enter Phase 1 sometime in May, or potentially seven weeks since the “hunker down” order. It is unconscionable to continue hammering businesses by requiring another four weeks to continue to measure a “decline” that has already hit zero several times and has likely been negative for at least a few of those days based on the number of recovered cases that now outnumber active cases in the state. Destroying businesses both through action and inaction is quite a feat, but the mayor is pulling it off by extending closures without evidence to support them and allowing criminals to trespass, damage and defile private property. Even Phase 1, which anticipates allowing restaurants to open for dine-in service, is unrealistic and unworkable by limiting gatherings to 20 people. No restaurant can open with a 20-person limit that would include the staff. If a business can meet the social distancing and sanitary guidelines it should be able to open regardless of what kind of business it is. If we can allow doctors to literally cut people open, we can allow people to cut hair. The purpose of this lockdown was to slow down the spread and put in place surge capacity for the health care system. Both of those goals have been achieved. The purpose was never to eradicate new cases. That is impossible, and any attempt to move the goalposts in that direction should be rejected. The longer we stay isolated, the longer we postpone the inevitable second series of new cases. The difference is we now have the infrastructure in place to handle the second wave as well as a mountain of data that will help protect vulnerable populations and established practices to prevent transmission. Thousands of people per day are visiting grocery stores, liquor stores, gas stations and fast food drive-thrus, yet we have not seen any evidence of wide community spread in Anchorage. Again, the most cases in a day we had pre-hunker down was 9. The most we’ve had in a day since is 8. That’s proof we can handle social distancing responsibly. Anchorage is ready to open, and it is ready to open now. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Misplaced priorities clarified amid coronavirus

From the endless memes to the Tiger King, dark humor will go down as one of the most effective coping mechanisms for isolated and anxious Americans amid a deadly outbreak that has killed and sickened tens of thousands across the country Unlike some locales that have deployed police drones or actually arrested people for not maintaining a proper distance, our government officials here in Alaska have benevolently allowed us to still go outside. Thanks to that indulgence I enjoyed one of the biggest laughs I’ve had over the past month. While walking Dakota along the Chester Creek trail — and after passing numerous fresh camps and endless trash piles — I reached a small collection of playground equipment pathetically draped in yellow tape. Most concerning as I gazed in sorrow over this plague-ravaged wasteland was realizing the small rocking duck had not been festooned with the impenetrable yellow ribbon of a mayor’s mandate. With no one but Dakota within earshot, I couldn’t help myself. I burst out laughing. It is difficult to imagine more gut-busting evidence that we can trust without fail in government despite its ceaseless complaints of being resourced-starved. While fanned out across the Anchorage parks and trail systems to weave tape through monkey bars and assiduously avoid picking up garbage or posting abatement notices, the Parks and Recreation Department under Mayor Ethan Berkowitz may have stumbled upon a solution to the problem of illegal camping: Yellow tape. If wrapping yellow tape around a swing set can close a playground, then surely a few more rolls strategically strung around some trees will convince the burgeoning greenbelt population to move along, seek help and stop stealing from the neighbors. Or there is the possibility that Operation Monkey Barred is a colossal waste of time and money. When evaluated based on risk of spreading the coronavirus, focusing on teeter totters buried in snow versus increasing neglect of the homeless population is akin to solving the draft from a broken window by closing the curtains. The cruelty of Anchorage’s compassion after years upon years of tolerating open lawlessness is colliding with an easily transmitted virus that’s putting vulnerable people and those who generously care for them at risk. Anchorage’s elected leaders have allowed this problem to get so out of hand that the working group tasked with helping the homeless is seriously requesting the deployment of the National Guard troops to clean up human waste. Downtown Assemblyman Chris Constant supports the request. Thank goodness Anchorage voters just gave this district another seat on the Assembly. We’ll be on the right track in no time. The single most dangerous situation that could contribute to community spread in Anchorage — particularly among the first responders and health care workers we need most right now — has not been reduced over the past month of the mayor strangling the economy and practicing pandemic theater at the playgrounds. It has gotten demonstrably worse. Closing Sportsmen’s Warehouse with the stroke of the pen is easy. Closing down sprawling camps taking over streets is more of a challenge. Only one is an act of leadership. Far secondarily, but shared in common is the mayor’s refusal to follow the lead of governors in Massachusetts and New Hampshire or the original plastic purgers in San Francisco to prohibit reusable bags in stores. The jurisdictions our mayor and Assembly chose to emulate recognize that reusable bags can spread disease, but apparently our problem is bad enough to keep us out of the park but not bad enough to keep germ caddies out of our stores. Banning reusable bags would be an admission the plastic bag ban was and is ill-conceived, which is likely why the mayor hasn’t done it. Saving theoretical sea turtles is more important than stopping the spread. Now, #stayhome, you. Some misplaced priorities have certainly been clarified amid the coronavirus response, and the state Legislature has been no different. A couple days after it was reported here that House Finance Co-Chair Jennifer Johnston declared she didn’t believe Alaska Natives could be trusted with an extra $1,000 and was therefore against paying out the Permanent Fund dividend early, Senate President Cathy Giessel and Senate Finance Co-Chair Natasha von Imhof sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. The letter to Mnuchin, who doesn’t have anything better to do, what with trying to persuade Senate Democrats to expand the Paycheck Protection Program by another $250 billion and literally overseeing trillions of dollars in coronavirus aid, was copied to the congressional delegation but not Gov. Mike Dunleavy and asked what he was “not” allowed to use the state’s share of relief funds for (emphasis in original). In the tone of a student who reminds the teacher she has yet to assign homework, the letter implies Dunleavy has cited plans for improper use of the funds according to their interpretation of the CARES Act. At the end of a week with most Alaskans stuck at home and nearly 40,000 on the unemployment rolls, two of the top three leaders in the Senate decided their most pressing priority was to undermine the governor and bother the U.S. Treasury Secretary while not bothering to help any Alaskans. They were unbothered by the revelation of what has long been alleged but unproven until confirmed by Johnston: members of the shot-caller cohort in the Legislature don’t trust Alaskans with the PFD. Rather than rectify that wrong by reconsidering their decision to withhold the dividend payment until the fall, Giessel and von Imhof chose to suggest Dunleavy is doing the same thing with his vetoes that they actually did with the PFD. Not only did they not pay the PFD according to the formula in state law, the amount and the timing were explicitly based on federal dollars from stimulus checks and unemployment benefits as a substitute. Projection ain’t just a job for laid off movie theater employees. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to put some yellow tape around the fridge. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Legislature has a bigger problem than Johnston

There is something rotten in Juneau. In the days since it was reported here that House Finance Co-Chair Jennifer Johnston of Anchorage justified the decision to deny an early Permanent Fund dividend based on the belief the money would cause trouble in the villages, one question stands over all: Just how widespread is her attitude in the Legislature and in particular among the leadership? The casual nature of Johnston’s claim about rural Alaskans is evidence of her comfort with expressing such a view as well an apparent lack of receiving negative feedback for saying it openly, at least until now. Minority Leader and fellow Anchorage Republican Lance Pruitt called in to the Mike Porcaro Show on April 7 to discuss that day’s vetoes announced by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, and he also weighed in on whether he’d heard Johnston or other members say the same thing. Pruitt said he “was not surprised” to see Johnston’s opinion. “Oh yeah, I heard it from that member multiple times,” Pruitt said. “I heard at one point in time, in a meeting, that someone said ‘this is more money than these people have ever seen in their lives.’ Pruitt said he refrained from going public with that knowledge before because he didn’t think he’d be taken seriously. “If it was just me saying it, people would say, ‘oh, he’s in the minority and just trying to cast aspersions,’” he said. “Now you’re hearing exactly what we were hearing.” Sen. Shelley Hughes of Palmer backed up Pruitt in an April 9 call to Porcaro and agreed with him that Johnston's belief the PFD does more harm than good in the villages is not an uncommon one. Without denying anything I reported she said after she called me on April 1, Johnston apologized on her official Facebook page for her comments. She wrote that the comments don’t reflect her “values and beliefs” and claimed she has a “deep love and respect for our Alaska Native community.” “This is a learning process,” she posted. “In the future I will be educating myself and will do a better job communicating my respect for all Alaskans.” Left without apologies from Johnston were the members of the congressional delegation that she threw under the bus to me by falsely claiming they shared her offensive views, or the state employees she stated don’t need an early PFD either. House Majority spokesperson Austin Baird ignored my request for comment on April 9 — as did Senate Majority spokesperson Daniel McDonald — although Baird did choose to respond to KTUU and the Anchorage Daily News with a tepid statement from Speaker Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham. “As the first House Speaker of Alaska Native heritage, someone who was born and raised in rural Alaska, I can assure you that Representative Johnston’s comments are not in line with our caucus values,” Edgmon said. “But she’s always been a strong supporter of issues important to rural Alaska and to our state’s first people. I don’t for a moment think her comments were meant to be harmful in the way they were portrayed to be. “She has since acknowledged the mistake and issued a public apology, and she has reached out to leaders in the Alaska Native community to express her great remorse." If you read that statement closely, you’ll find that Edgmon spent more words defending Johnston than he did defending the constituents she insulted or defending the positive impacts of the PFD in rural Alaska where the cost of living is astronomical. Other than mentioning his own heritage, Edgmon didn’t defend Alaska Natives at all. Maybe that’s because, as he said, he thinks the way her comments “were portrayed to be” was worse than what she actually said. Contrast that with fellow Democrat Rep. Chris Tuck of Anchorage, who offered no qualifications in his condemnation of Johnston’s comments posted to his official Facebook page. “I have to disassociate myself from the comments made in the following editorial,” Tuck wrote in his post above the Journal link. “These comments are disparaging to many of our fellow Alaskans and do not reflect the views of the House Majority. “We are all in this together, and I do not want this type of thinking to tear Alaskans apart. I am especially disappointed in the false characterization of how Permanent Fund Dividends are used by people in rural Alaska. “Like many of you, I have lived in rural Alaska and have family and friends in rural Alaska, which means we know first-hand how vital the real money represented by the PFD is to the survival of so many Alaskans. This real money would be especially helpful during these tough economic times when so many businesses are closed, and hardworking Alaskans are unemployed. “Many people, myself included, believe an early dividend would be very helpful.” There is less distance between Anchorage and Dillingham than there is between Tuck’s statement and Edgmon’s. Sen. Donny Olson of Golovin, who called me after I requested comment from the Senate Minority, expressed appreciation for Johnston’s support of other programs that benefit rural Alaska such as Power Cost Equalization but also noted that she was turning a “blind eye” toward the fact that a few people not spending their PFD wisely is a statewide problem, not one confined to villages. He, like Tuck, also said he supports an early dividend and, unlike Edgmon, noted the benefits it provides to his constituents for things like getting their boats and nets ready for fishing season. Lest anyone think this is a partisan issue for me, or that this is about the size of the dividend, I endorsed the 5 percent draw on the Permanent Fund and a $1,000 PFD back in June 2016. I’ve been consistent on that position since, unlike some politicians such as Senate President Cathy Giessel, who voted for the $1,000 dividend under Senate Bill 128 in 2016. She then ran for reelection demagoging former Gov. Bill Walker for his veto setting the PFD at the amount she had just voted for and supporting then-Sen. Dunleavy’s plan to pay it back. In fact, after Walker’s 2016 veto I did not blame him, but put the responsibility for the vetoes of the dividend and oil tax credits on members of both parties in both houses of the Legislature for failing to enact the draw and adjusting the PFD to reflect the reality of a $4 billion deficit. I’ve spent hundreds of column inches criticizing Sen. Bill Wielechowski over his stance on oil taxes, but I also endorsed his lawsuit challenging Walker’s veto as a public service to resolve the separation of powers question. Some may remember the column I wrote last summer blasting Dunleavy, former Chief of Staff Tuckerman Babcock and the House Minority for the chaos surrounding the state budget and the dividend. Babcock was replaced a week later by Ben Stevens. This is not about partisanship or the PFD. This is about public policy being set based on arrogance and the worst of racial stereotypes that appear to be commonly held by far too many members of the Legislature when reading the House Speaker’s qualified criticism of Johnston for sharing them. This is about tens of thousands of Alaskans being forced to struggle with the state unemployment system, the Small Business Administration website and the loan process for the Paycheck Protection Program while waiting on relief checks from the IRS. The Legislature had an opportunity to provide a measure of peace of mind to anxious Alaskans through an existing infrastructure that wouldn’t have required anyone to lift a finger beyond what nearly everyone had already done by the time the budget was passed on March 29, which was apply for the PFD. But it turns out that the leadership is more intent on denying anything that may be favored by the governor, more committed to telling Alaskans in the villages and elsewhere that they know best, and more determined to establish who is the boss than to do what is right. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Finance co-chair doesn’t trust rural Alaska with early PFD

“Have you ever been to the villages at dividend time?” That was the question posed to me during a phone call from House Finance Co-Chair Jennifer Johnston of Anchorage on April 1, and it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke. That morning I published an opinion column chiding the Legislature for failing to utilize the Permanent Fund to help Alaskans during the worst economic crisis in the state’s history by first canceling the Senate-approved supplemental dividend and then refusing to move up the distribution of the traditional annual payment to provide immediate relief. Johnston asked me how long I’ve lived in Alaska (I learned 10 years is “not very long”), what I know about state finances and whether I was familiar with the federal CARES Act (I covered it in the column she was calling about). She then asked the question at the top of this piece. Without ever asking to be off the record, Johnston went on to state that part of the reasoning for not paying the dividend early was because it would be too much money in rural Alaska on top of the federal payment that was approved in the CARES Act. She further claimed the congressional delegation actually discouraged the Legislature from paying a spring dividend because they shared the same concerns. Representatives for Rep. Don Young, Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan all denied such a message was conveyed to the Legislature either by them or members of their staffs. “We unequivocally deny that anyone in our office — including Senator Sullivan — made such a comment to anyone,” wrote his communications director Mike Anderson. “Furthermore, no one in our office, including Senator Sullivan, holds such offensive views.” (I relayed the denials from the delegation to Johnston in a text message. She never responded.) In Johnston’s view, “social services would be overwhelmed” in the villages and elsewhere if Alaskans were to receive their 2020 dividend now instead of in October. You read that right. A key member of the legislative leadership and the conference committee that crafted the state budget did not favor even paying the PFD early because certain people may not spend it wisely. Johnston’s odious reasoning is bad enough, but it is also a shame that the legislative leadership doesn’t apply the same standard to government spending as it does to the PFD. Imagine if government spending was evaluated on whether it is efficient, effective or necessary. Now that you’re done laughing (or crying), the leadership decided against providing help now so they could have more money available later to not let Alaskans decide how to spend. Johnston’s fellow Anchorage Republican and House Rules Chair Chuck Kopp wrote an op-ed claiming the leadership was being “smart and strategic,” which are evidently not qualities that Alaskans possess for themselves to choose how they would use an early distribution of the dividend to cushion the sudden blows of lost jobs, income and peace of mind. A recent report by SmartAsset found Alaska ranks fifth-highest in terms of the most vulnerable jobs in the current economic crisis with 23 percent. That is almost 71,000 jobs and untold family members. One sector not considered vulnerable in that report are government jobs, and Johnston doesn’t think state employees and their families need a dividend right now either, both in her comments to me and repeated on April 3 during a meeting of Commonwealth North. Apparently Johnston believes they are being held harmless by this because nobody is being laid off. The possibility of spouses losing jobs or new expenses such as childcare with schools closed must not have entered her mind. What Johnston sounds like is she doesn’t know anybody who has been hurt by this, she doesn’t have enough understanding or empathy for the working class to believe additional financial security would provide any benefit, and she doesn’t trust Alaska Natives in particular with an extra $1,000. “Alaskans are very quick to have their hands out,” she said in closing to Commonwealth North. I suppose we should be thankful bakeries are still open for to-go orders so that we may get some cake. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected] Editor's note: Because of technical difficulties moderating individual comments, the Facebook comment feature has been turned off. Thank you for reading.

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