Posted Wednesday, April 24, 2019 - 8:13 am
In a little-noticed post mortem to the Stand for Salmon initiative battle last fall, the Alaska Public Offices Commission issued a ruling that will serve to limit transparency in campaign financing for future ballot measures.
APOC ruled Feb. 4 on a complaint filed last September by the initiative opponents, Stand for Alaska-Vote No on 1, against three entities supporting the measure: Yes for Salmon-Vote Yes on 1, The Alaska Center and Stand for Salmon.
In addition to violations of naming regulations and rules for financial disclosures known as the “paid for by” statements, the opponents’ complaint alleged that the latter two initiative proponents should have registered as a group based on their close coordination and should have also been required to disclose the source of hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign expenditures above and beyond what they reported in donations.
If you’re interested in the more arcane legal arguments over what constitutes a “group” or an “individual” or the more common decisions on “paid for” statements and naming rules, the APOC complaint documents and final order are on its website (complaint 18-08).
We’ll focus on how APOC’s ruling on financial disclosures figures to upend the state’s goal of transparency in campaign spending.
For quick background, Stand for Salmon and The Alaska Center were formed in 2013 and 1990, respectively, while the Yes for Salmon group was formed and registered with APOC in 2017 for the specific purpose of backing Ballot Measure 1 in the 2018 general election.
The Stand for Alaska complaint focused on its calculations that The Alaska Center reported making contributions to the campaign in excess of $500,000 while reporting donations of about $234,000.
Similarly, Stand for Salmon reported spending more than $400,000 while receiving about $181,000 in contributions, according to the opponents’ calculations that were mostly undisputed other than the supporters claiming that they over-reported the amount of donations they received to back the initiative.
All in all, about $730,000 of the $1.1 million in reported contributions to Yes for Salmon, the official group registered with APOC to support the initiative, were classified as “non-monetary” with the top donors being The Alaska Center at $357,000 and the Washington, D.C.-based New Venture Fund that paid the salary of campaign manager Ryan Schryver with a total “non-monetary” contribution of $227,000.
Stand for Alaska objected to this arrangement, arguing that Yes for Salmon was nothing more than a shell organization and that the campaign was actually being run by Stand for Salmon and The Alaska Center who were clearly expending more than they were collecting without having to report the source of the money.
As was previously written in this space, groups like The Alaska Center, Cook Inletkeeper, Trustees for Alaska, Salmon State, and others are heavily supported by nonprofit advocacy groups based outside of Alaska.
There isn’t anything wrong with that, but these same groups regularly run their campaigns — and this one was no different — attacking “foreign” oil and mining companies as heartless ravagers of the resource whose arguments should be discounted as Outsiders despite having thousands of employees and billions of dollars invested over decades in Alaska.
Whether it was the 2014 campaign to uphold the 2013 oil tax reform legislation or the most recent salmon habitat initiative, the resource companies have erred on the side of transparency no matter how self-serving it looked politically.
In 2014, the end of every pro-SB 21 commercial was followed by the statement “Top three contributors are BP, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips” or some variation of that order.
It was the same in 2018, with a combination of BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Donlin Gold or Teck usually holding down the top three positions in the disclosures opposing Ballot Measure 1.
Taking the information provided through transparent financial reports as a weapon to slam their opponents while at the same time not being transparent about the source of their own Outside funding takes a particular brand of chutzpah, but politics ain’t beanbag, as they say.
Ultimately, APOC sided with the initiative backers on the basis that Stand for Salmon and The Alaska Center, as entities, predated the campaign and are not specifically organized to support any particular ballot measure.
For that reason, any money in their general funds that was not expressly solicited for the purpose of the campaign does not have to be reported even if it is used to support the campaign.
You don’t have to be Kreskin to see where this goes.
There is no shortage of pro-resource development organizations in Alaska, and all of them could be quite capable of running a campaign to defeat the next anti-development initiative that comes along.
Under APOC’s ruling, all they have to do is form an organization such as “No to NIMBY” and then allow some other established entity, say, the Resource Support Association, to run the campaign out of their offices with their staffs and call it all a “non-monetary” contribution to the official “group.”
Under APOC’s ruling, as long as they spend money from general funds not earmarked for or solicited for that election, they wouldn’t have to disclose a dollar of where it came from.
Take resource issues out of it and there is still the potential for this game of hide the ball on every ballot measure going forward.
APOC’s ruling may not go against the letter of the law, but it obviously goes against the spirit of transparency that our campaign disclosure rules are intended to demand.
If we have seen the death of disclosure in ballot measure spending, it will be thanks to what may turn out to be a pyrrhic victory for the supposed opponents of “dark money” who turned to its side in 2018.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]
Posted Wednesday, March 27, 2019 - 11:16 am
There’s been no shortage of sturm and drang over Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s proposal to radically overhaul the state budget with deep cuts to K-12 and university education, Medicaid and the state ferry system.
What there has been very little of from the defenders of the status quo are alternatives to achieve better outcomes and reform the state’s unsustainable spending habits.
After avoiding it for more than a decade thanks to triple-digit oil prices followed by spending down state savings and dipping into the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve and dividend appropriations to cover the deficit since multi-billion dollar shortfalls hit four years ago when prices bottomed at $26 per barrel, the time of reckoning has finally arrived.
Competing roadshows from the governor and the House Finance Committee are now traversing the state with diametrically opposed goals: one by the Republican governor that favors cutting services to match revenues, capturing local property taxes on oil properties and leaving the PFD untouched and the other that has been organized by the Democrat-led House in order to give vent to public outcry over the drastic proposed reductions and a venue for PFD cuts and new or increased taxes to fund government.
Neither solution is achievable in the reality of a divided government in Juneau, but only one recognizes the old axiom known as Stein’s Law: “if something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”
The simple fact is the state is spending more than it can afford, and until appropriations are brought in line with reality the PFD will continue to be reduced until it either goes away to fund the budget or a statewide tax regime will have to be imposed to balance the books.
Raising taxes on the oil industry won’t do the trick, and driving out investment for the short-term objective of plucking the golden goose will only accelerate the revenue shortfall.
Dunleavy has been accused of being heartless or amoral for his proposed budget, but is it any less heartless to continue to accept failure as the best we can do while spending our way into oblivion?
The governor isn’t wrong to point to Alaska’s dead-last ranking in reading as a failure of our education system. That doesn’t mean he hates kids.
The governor isn’t wrong to point out ferry ridership is falling as costs are rising. That doesn’t mean he hates Southeast Alaska.
University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen can claim the UA system is “more vital than ever” but that doesn’t change the fact that its largest campus can’t graduate teachers after losing its accreditation.
Hundreds of millions in “free” federal Medicaid dollars have no doubt boosted the health care sector of the economy during the three-year recession, but the governor is not wrong to point out that outcomes aren’t improving.
The last thing a state should be proud of is having nearly 1 out of every 4 residents on Medicaid. The goal of state policy should be to get as many of these people to work and off assistance.
There are no doubt flaws with the governor’s proposed budget, from the abrupt rollout that shocked many if not most observers around the state and the resulting failure to get any buy-in from stakeholders, not to mention falling far behind in the messaging battle, to the sheer scale of cuts this large in one year.
Restoring a full PFD according to the statutory formula was the centerpiece of Dunleavy’s campaign and a sudden reversal of that pledge would be political suicide. That doesn’t mean, however, that $1.9 billion in dividends amid the biggest budget cuts in history is the wisest long-term plan, either.
That means a compromise is going to have to be in order. But in order for there to be a compromise, both sides need a vision and a plan as starting points. So far only Dunleavy is checking those two boxes while the Legislature appears to be choosing the same can-kicking path of the past decade in a dangerous game of chicken with the veto pen.
One way or another, that which can’t continue, won’t. What takes its place will decide our future and the great question of the day is whether our elected officials are up to the challenge.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]
Posted Wednesday, March 20, 2019 - 10:16 am
Based on their latest effort to mislead the public about oil tax policy, Democrats should be cheering the fact that North Slope production will miss its forecast by about 20,000 barrels per day in the 2019 fiscal year.
After all, according to former one-term Fairbanks state Sen. Joe Paskvan, the state is “paying” a credit of $8 per barrel for each one produced on the North Slope under Senate Bill 21, the production tax reform passed in 2013 that took effect and was upheld by voter referendum in 2014.
According to their current talking point, the state should now “save” $42.6 million in credits thanks to 14,600 fewer taxable barrels flowing through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System each day.
The only problem with that is the most recent Spring Revenue Forecast released March 15 now projects that the miss on production for the fiscal year will actually reduce total unrestricted petroleum revenue by $75.6 million and require a larger draw on state savings to balance the budget.
Math, how does it work?
The reason for this disparity is because the state doesn’t actually “pay” the credit Paskvan is claiming. It is a reduction in tax liability, which is a vital distinction the Democrats are counting on the public not making.
No legislative session would be complete without Democrats trying to jack up oil taxes, and this one is no different with Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, banging his Twitter drum in an effort to raise rates on the oil industry by $1.2 billion per year by repealing the per-barrel credit and raising the production severance tax to one of the highest in the world at 35 percent of net income.
Wielechowski’s bill will go nowhere in the Republican-controlled Senate and wouldn’t survive a veto by Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy even if it were to make it to his desk, but this latest campaign is yet another example of how Democrats appear to be fundamentally incapable of speaking honestly about how SB 21 works and the unquestionable success it has been in stemming the decline of Alaska oil production.
Wielechowski loves pointing to the production forecast as proof that SB 21 hasn’t worked based on five and 10 years from now.
Because he is so fond of forecasts to the point he quotes them as if they came down from a mountain on stone tablets, let’s rewind to the 2013 production forecast that was completed in the final year of his preferred policy known as ACES that was repealed under SB 21.
The 2013 forecast for production in the current 2019 fiscal year was for just 429,100 barrels per day. Even with this year’s miss relative to forecast, production should still be about 511,000 barrels per day, or nearly 82,000 better than the 2013 forecast.
In fact, when you add up the North Slope’s actual production since SB 21 took effect, the cumulative production greater than the 2013 forecast is almost 90 million more barrels of oil.
Even more remarkable than that is to consider the price environment during the 2014-19 period when prices crashed from more than $100 per barrel in the summer of 2014 to a low of $26 per barrel in January 2016. (The price forecast in 2013 was for $121 oil in the current fiscal year.)
The net effect of the majors maintaining production, and even growing it in two straight years from 2015 to 2016, is that while production tax revenue (a function of price) declined by 93 percent from 2014 to 2016, royalty income declined by only 50 percent in comparison.
And we cannot forget that under Wielechowski’s beloved ACES, the state would have collected exactly $0 in production taxes at all prices less than $63 per barrel. Under SB 21, the state always collects a production tax thanks to the gross tax minimum.
Wielechowski and Paskvan also continue to lie about former Gov. Sean Parnell by claiming he “promised” that 1 million barrels of oil could flow through TAPS in 10 years if SB 21 passed.
The truth is that the 1 million barrels per day statement was a goal. Just look at the transcript from his 2012 State of the State address: “Let’s meet my goal of one million barrels a day.”
Even still, by 2024 the state should be seeing production from Pikka, Willow and Mooses Tooth that could collectively add more than 300,000 barrels per day. In fact, ConocoPhillips has continued to invest more than $1 billion per year in capital projects in Alaska and its fellow owners at Prudhoe Bay are spending millions this year on seismic work to identify more pools of oil.
While Wielechowski loves harping on distant forecasts and statements from seven years ago, he hates being brought face-to-face with his own touting of ACES in 2013 in which he exalted over its credit system that under his own talking points had the state covering more than 65 percent of dry holes and citing the benefits of major producers reducing their tax liability by buying those cashable credits from small explorers.
When he was a member of the Senate majority in 2012 he voted for a budget that appropriated nearly a $1 billion in cashable credits — that were actually “paid” in the truest sense of the word — compared to just more than half of that amount in Permanent Fund dividends. ACES also contained provisions for 20 percent credits for capital expenditures that did nothing to increase production, which dropped by an average of 5 percent per year despite sky high prices while it was in place.
SB 21 replaced that 20 percent credit with a credit that is only earned when a barrel of oil is produced. Based on production since 2014 — the thing that matters most when evaluating the policy — it worked.
That leaves lying about it the only option the Democrats have, which just goes to show how little respect they have for the media who cover them and the people of Alaska in general.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]
Posted Wednesday, February 27, 2019 - 10:47 am
Because we are relentlessly assured that there is no such thing as media bias, it is surely unnecessary to compare the treatment of Sarah Palin and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez by the national press corps.
But if an attempt was made to prove bias by the media against conservatives, and conservative women in particular, a better case study would be tough to find than the coverage of the former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential candidate versus the representative-from-the-block.
Palin, like Ocasio-Cortez, hit the national stage out of nowhere with the former tapped by the late Sen. John McCain to attract the conservative base wary of his mavericky tendencies and the latter pulling a stunning upset of 10-term congressman Joe Crowley this past August.
After McCain had treated the half-term senator Barack Obama with kid gloves throughout the campaign, Palin came out swinging and bloodied his nose in a rousing nomination speech that mocked his community organizer background and in later stump speeches drew attention to his history with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers.
The McCain-Palin ticket briefly took the lead in national polling and sent panic through the press that already had their stories written for the election of the first African-American president of the United States.
For that, Palin had to be destroyed.
She was immediately and relentlessly mocked for her appearance, her folksy twang and even for her family that included a young special needs son. Dubbed “Caribou Barbie,” she was so effectively lampooned by Saturday Night Live’s Tina Fey that wide swaths of the American public believe to this day that Palin said, “I can see Russia from my house.”
In particular, she was dunked on for her signature “drill, baby, drill” catchphrase that gained traction as gas prices had topped $4 per gallon across the country in 2008.
Obama, for his part, threw shade at the idea of drilling our way into energy independence throughout his presidency even as the United States was marching in exactly that direction in spite of his best efforts to hamstring the industry with regulatory hurdles and slow-walking development of federal lands.
“You had a lot of slogans and gimmicks and outraged politicians waving three-point-plans for two-dollar gas — when none of it would really do anything to solve the problem,” Obama said at Georgetown University in 2011. “You remember, ‘drill baby drill.’”
In another speech, Obama described the GOP’s “three-point plan for $2 gas: Step one is drill, step two is drill, and step three is keeping drilling.”
He went on to say that “the American people aren’t stupid. They know that’s not a plan.”
According to AAA, the average price for a gallon of gas on Feb. 26 was $2.40.
As of 2018, the United States is the world’s largest energy producer for oil and natural gas.
Just recently, imports from Venezuela and Saudi Arabia that once topped one million barrels per day each hit record lows of just more than a half-million barrels between them.
The ability of the OPEC cartel to set prices on a whim through production cuts is no more thanks to the U.S. shale drillers who have shown the innovation to cut costs and fill up the market share fruitlessly abandoned by the one-time leaders in global oil production from Riyadh and Moscow.
In sum, that sledneck Wasillbilly was right, and virtually the entire Democrat Party from Obama on down and their press stenographers were wildly, incontrovertibly wrong.
Now let’s turn to the coverage of Ocasio-Cortez, whose Willy Wonka-esque Green New Deal has already been championed by multiple Democrat candidates for president and attracted scores of co-sponsors in Congress despite its goals of ending fossil fuel use, air travel and “farting cows.”
The same national press that attacked Palin with gusto is now filled with pieces from the likes of Vox, Salon and New York Magazine lamenting the disparate treatment of female politicians compared to men for silly things such as a consistent butchering of math and the truth.
Even Dictionary.com ran a 1,000-word piece explaining away Ocasio-Cortez’s use of the phrase “run train” that had attracted raised eyebrows from conservative commentators for its off-color meaning.
There is no doubt that Palin was hardly a seasoned politician ready for the big-time when McCain swooped her out of Alaska in a vain attempt to rescue his flagging campaign, but as a former mayor and one of only 50 governors she was still far more qualified to hold office than the Democrat rock star who’s gone from mixologist to Marxologist in the blink of an eye.
Yet while Palin was smeared, Ocasio-Cortez is cheered.
While every Palin malapropism was noted and exploited with glee, no one seems to notice that Ocasio-Cortez constantly uses the word “like” as if it is a comma.
But trust us, the media say, bias is a myth.
Based on the above, this statement has been rated false.
Posted Wednesday, February 13, 2019 - 10:05 am
Rep. Gary Knopp’s fellow Republicans appealed to party loyalty and pragmatism as they attempted to convince him to break his month-long holdout that has prevented the state House from organizing. Democrats flattered his ego.
Knopp sided with his ego.
After telling Anchorage Daily News reporter James Brooks that he decided over this past weekend to end his pointless stunt of refusing to vote for Rep. Dave Talerico of Healy as Speaker of the House in a Quixotic quest to force the formation of a bipartisan coalition, Knopp reneged on his pledge a day later after Democrats put forth his name as their choice instead of former Speaker Rep. Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham.
Knopp then voted for himself and against Talerico on Feb. 12, resulting in another set of 20-20 stalemates that leave the House unorganized and unable to even receive the 25 bills Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy said he intended to introduce the following day in tandem with his “ground up” budget to address a projected $1.6 billion shortfall for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
In a ridiculous piece of semantics explaining his reversal, Knopp said he only pledged to vote for a Republican as Speaker and not which Republican that would be.
Calling his statement disingenuous would be polite. Or, as Rep. Mark Neuman of Big Lake put it more accurately, it’s “bullshit.”
Rather than dance with the people who brought him — his District 30 is so Republican that Democrats didn’t even field a candidate against him and its voters chose Dunleavy by a 68 percent to 27 percent margin of 3,214 — Knopp is determined to prove his original assertion that one person can blow up a caucus of 21.
At the time, Knopp specifically was referring to notorious gadfly Rep. David Eastman of Wasilla, who is looking more and more sensible every day in comparison.
Now, rather than organize with the Republicans as his voters intended for him to do, Knopp is single-handedly doing more damage to House business than Eastman could ever approach.
With per diem of more than $200 multiplied by 40 House members, it’s is a safe estimate to say Knopp’s grandstanding has cost the state about a quarter-million dollars for nothing so far.
Knopp can claim all he wants that he believes a bipartisan coalition is preferable, but in reality what he is doing is nothing more than the bidding of the Democrats who lost their majority in the last election.
Oh sure, Democratic caucus members Reps. Louise Stutes of Kodiak and Gabrielle LeDoux of Anchorage have an “R” next to their name, but that doesn’t make them Republicans any more than donning a paper crown makes someone the Burger King.
There is no understating how badly Knopp screwed up by siding with himself over the simple good of being able to organize and conduct business and then letting chips fall where they may as the session unfolds.
Knopp broke a very public pledge and as such can’t be trusted by any of his fellow Republicans going forward even if he eventually comes around to voting for Talerico.
He may well have further entrenched both sides, or it is possible his intransigence driven by his completely unjustified belief that he’s acting on principle will end up sending a couple wavering Republicans into the Democrat caucus to give them control that the people of Alaska — and especially those of his own district — clearly did not vote for.
Knopp can say whatever he wants about Eastman, but Eastman says what he means and acts accordingly. Knopp has demonstrated that he values loyalty to himself first and that his word means nothing.
There isn’t a soapbox big enough to look down on anybody from that perspective.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]
Posted Wednesday, January 09, 2019 - 10:49 am
Few would envy the position the Legislature and former Gov. Bill Walker found themselves over the past four years dealing with crashing oil prices and the ensuing multi-billion-dollar budget deficits.
Reducing the Permanent Fund dividend, virtually eliminating the capital budget and reversing past practice by not paying off oil and gas exploration tax credits in full each fiscal year easily lead the way on the least popular actions that have been taken.
Even with those moves, some $14 billion from the state’s savings accounts was still necessary to close the budget gaps for the fiscal years since 2015 to the present.
In the aftermath of Gov. Bill Walker’s veto of half the Permanent Fund dividend appropriation in 2016 — reducing it from a projected $2,044 per Alaskan to $1,022 — Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, and a few former legislators took a lawsuit all the way to the Supreme Court challenging the action as contrary to the formula for paying the PFD currently in statute.
By the time the Supreme Court ruled in Walker’s favor, the Legislature had followed his lead in the 2017 session — and the Superior Court judge that ruled against Wielechowski, et al, on the same day the case was argued the prior November — by arbitrarily setting the PFD at $1,100 rather than following the statutory formula.
In a nutshell, the Supreme Court determined that the constitutional authority of the governor to veto appropriations and the similar vested authority of the Legislature to make appropriations took precedence over any law such as the one that calculates the annual amount of the dividend.
It is a similar reasoning that allows the Legislature to stay in session for the 121 days written in the constitution rather than the 90-day limit approved by voters through an initiative in 2008.
While legally sound, the PFD ruling gave the Legislature the ability to ignore its own laws so long as whatever action it takes as an alternative does not conflict with the Constitution.
The anger over three straight years of Walker, and then the Legislature, disregarding the PFD formula was ridden by Mike Dunleavy all the way into the governor’s mansion with the central promise of his campaign being a pledge to follow the law.
Then on Jan. 2 a Superior Court judge handed down another ruling that, unlike the Supreme Court decision that allows the Legislature and the governor to disregard the law, allows them to violate the spirit but not the letter of the Constitution.
One year before Walker vetoed half the PFD appropriation in 2016, he without warning slashed $200 million from the budget earmarked to pay off earned oil and gas exploration credits.
A year later, despite assuring the financial institutions lending to small companies working in Alaska he wouldn’t do it again, Walker vetoed $430 million worth of the payments.
In the aftermath, those banks stopped lending money to the independent explorers and before the Legislature finally eliminated the programs on both the North Slope and Cook Inlet the total tab for tax credits owed swelled to more than $800 million.
Business arrangements the state had with BlueCrest in Cook Inlet and Brooks Range Petroleum Corp. on the Slope had to be reworked, while Caelus Energy, which is owed some $100 million for its work, has been forced to sell off acreage and assets as it appears ready to exit the state after buying Pioneer Natural Resources properties for $550 million in 2013.
With the state’s business reputation in tatters, Walker’s administration finally came up with a plan to pay off the credits without a lump sum appropriation from the Legislature by instead creating a state entity to sell up to $1 billion worth of bonds that would be paid for by the companies owed money taking a haircut of 10 percent in exchange for receiving most of what they’re due sooner rather than waiting years to be paid in full according to the statutory formula.
The only problem with the plan is that the Constitution has strict limits on how the state may issue debt such as for emergencies or through a vote of the people to approve general obligation bonds.
Walker and the Legislature worked around these limits by creating an “independent” entity that would sell the bonds and using “subject to appropriation” language that would not legally qualify as binding the State of Alaska to debt according to the Constitution.
A lawsuit ensued, and the workaround language was deemed sufficient by a Superior Court judge to not create the legal definition of debt and therefore “passes constitutional muster.”
To call this a troubling precedent would be an understatement, as it essentially gives the Legislature a blank check to get around putting debt issues to a vote of the citizens. Nothing would stop it from creating a “Transportation Bank” that could sell “subject to appropriation” bonds to pay for infrastructure projects without having to seek the approval of Alaskans.
That’s not to say that Judge Pate erred in his legal reasoning, but it is to say that it should not be so easy to get around the very plain intent of the constitutional framers to limit the ability to take on debt without a vote of the people.
The PFD ruling has allowed the Legislature to ignore the laws it has passed, and the bond ruling allows it to get around the intent and spirit of the Constitution through nothing more than a shell entity and the three words “subject to appropriation.”
In this respect, the solutions to the budget deficits that were crafted by Walker and the Legislature may turn out to be worse than the problems they were trying to solve.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]
Posted Wednesday, December 19, 2018 - 10:36 am
When former Gov. Bill Walker swooped into the weekly Anchorage Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Nov. 26 the only thing he forgot was a “Mission Accomplished” banner.
A week before leaving office, Walker revealed the budget he planned to hand off to incoming Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy (who has traded Mike for Michael J. on official communications since taking office).
Walker and his budget director Pat Pitney, since replaced by Donna Arduin, declared the budget for the next fiscal year “balanced” and former Revenue Commissioner Sheldon Fisher promised a “surplus” for the current fiscal year.
That’s a stark change from the picture legislators faced last session when the projected deficit for the current year would be about $700 million at a price of $63 per barrel.
It also strains credulity.
To be sure, for the first three months of the fiscal year Alaska appeared to be heading that direction as prices rose to steadily hold at more than $70 per barrel and better — peaking at $85.36 on Oct. 3 — to hit what would be the break-even point for the $700 million deficit.
But prices have been on a rapid decent since, dropping more than $5 per barrel in the week after the Nov. 6 election and hitting a new low for the year of less than $60 on Dec. 17.
On Nov. 21, just days before Walker would present his “balanced” budget using $75 per barrel, Alaska North Slope crude was selling for $64.82.
The pace of the oil bear market has been so fast that the average price per barrel for the current year has dropped $3, from $75 to $72, in less than a month from Nov. 21 to Dec. 17.
OPEC has announced plans to cut production by 1.2 million barrels per day in January; and Saudi Arabia has told U.S. refiners to expect fewer cargoes as well as the petro kingdom attempts to force down stockpiles and raise prices that way.
Those actions may well force the price back up, but U.S. shale drillers have adapted since prices crashed in 2014-15 and won’t have to shut in nearly as many high-cost wells as they did last time.
There is also some evidence of softening global demand that may also offset whatever moves OPEC attempts to raise prices.
In any case, after four years of being overly conservative on price and production forecasts — which in turn widened projected deficits as Walker and allies in the Legislature from both parties pushed to use Permanent Fund earnings or institute an income tax or raise oil taxes — it seems a bit fishy that the former governor would declare a budget balanced based on a price per barrel that few believe is realistic.
There isn’t a lot an incoming administration can do to alter a budget inherited from the prior administration, but a simple calculation is changing the expected price per barrel.
That’s what Dunleavy did on Dec. 14, changing Walker’s number from $75 to $64 for the 2020 fiscal year that will begin next July 1.
The other simple change a new administration can make is the size of the Permanent Fund Dividend, which Dunleavy also did in accordance with his campaign promise to follow the statutory formula that has been disregarded for the past three years through Walker’s veto in 2016 and the Legislature’s ad hoc setting of amounts in 2017 and 2018.
The more realistic price per barrel and the statutory-funded dividend combined to shift Walker’s “balanced” budget to one with a $1.6 billion deficit.
Setting aside Dunleavy’s pledge to pay back the shorted amount from the past three years, or roughly $3,300 per person, his first budget is a cold dose of reality for the incoming Legislature that, unlike Walker’s claims, we are far from out of the woods fiscally.
The fact is prices are dropping and could very well bump along at $60 or less for the next couple years. It is also a fact that the statutory formula remains on the books and the PFD debate is not going away as long as there is a governor who is committed to following the law regardless of the Supreme Court decision that he or the Legislature can set it at any number they wish.
After ducking the issue for years, it is long past time for the Legislature to either follow the formula or change it. If its members don’t believe that $3,000 PFDs are sustainable while the state is in the red, then adopt a formula that is.
Hoping that oil prices go up or ignoring the law and hoping people forget is not a sustainable solution, either.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]
Posted Wednesday, December 05, 2018 - 10:47 am
When the ground started shaking at 8:29 a.m. on Nov. 30, it did so beneath the feet of Republican and Democrat Alaskans alike.
Nobody on utility crews from Anchorage to the Valley thought about the political party of their fellow citizens they were restoring power to, nor did the firefighters, first responders or the Department of Transportation employees who immediately set to work rerouting traffic and preparing to rebuild our major road arteries within just days of a 7.0 magnitude quake and amid nearly 2,000 aftershocks.
Alaskans who offered up their homes or businesses for shelter or donations did not do so based on how you or they voted.
After a contentious race for governor won by Republican Mike Dunleavy and a recount settled by one vote in one House district that will determine control of that half of the Legislature, the Nov. 30 quake and its aftermath was a powerful reminder that in the end we are all Alaskans.
From the Department of Bad Timing, Nov. 30 was also the day that some 800 state employees ranging from commissioners to road engineers were to have tendered their resignations and reapplied for their jobs or faced termination.
We still don’t know how many employees were fired or retained, but we do know that last Friday was a day for all hands on deck and not for politics.
No matter how Dunleavy’s transition tries to slice it, the unprecedented move to ask for the resignations of every at-will employee in the state was a clumsy, ham-handed decision that did nothing to get the administration off on the right foot with the people he intends to lead.
There was plenty of time for Dunleavy’s commissioners to take office, read the lay of the land and determine who was on board with the direction he intends to take and who was not.
There was no need to make a big show of who’s the boss.
Dunleavy’s picks for commissioners so far have ranged from conventional to not, from longtime stakeholders such as former Associated General Contractors of Alaska Executive Director John MacKinnon being tapped to lead the Department of Transportation to an experienced government hand like Bruce Tangeman at Revenue and a fresh set of eyes from Outside with Donna Arduin to lead the Office of Management and Budget.
However, the rollout of the resignation demand was disastrously fronted by Dunleavy’s Chief of Staff and former Republican Party Chairman Tuckerman Babcock, whose fiery press releases have been a fixture of Alaska politics for years.
While not explicitly worded as such, the demand for employees to affirmatively state their desire to keep their jobs in a Dunleavy administration was quickly dubbed some kind of “loyalty pledge” in the vein of those that Babcock has attempted to enforce over the years with Republicans from former Rep. Paul Seaton to Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
Some employees took their disdain for the request public, leading to further escalation in Babcock’s rhetoric that did nothing to diffuse the situation or smooth the transition.
By holding his swearing-in ceremony in rural Alaska and celebrating in his wife’s hometown of Noorvik, it is clear that Dunleavy wants to be a governor of all Alaskans, with a particular passion for devoting attention to the oft-forgotten Bush where poverty and crime are rampant.
But by picking someone like Babcock as chief of staff and having him claim a mandate that is not nearly as strong as he’s asserted, the message has been muddled from being the governor of Alaska to being the governor of Republicans and created unnecessary uncertainty and distrust among the workforce that was not needed before, and certainly not after, the Nov. 30 earthquake.
There’s a time and place for partisanship, and for vigorous debates over policy philosophies such as the size and expense of government. This is not to suggest Dunleavy should not appoint people who align with his vision, or not expect that those who work in his administration should help advance his goals to the best of their ability.
This was, though, an unforced error that got him off to a rocky start before he even took office and one that he should endeavor not to repeat.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]
Posted Wednesday, November 28, 2018 - 10:06 am
Four years and a $4 billion deficit ago, the Legislature had a $44.5 million problem.
After moving into new glass-encased digs in Downtown Anchorage on the site of its old Legislative Information Office, the new 10-year lease at $3.3 million per year was the subject of a lawsuit challenging its legality at the same time oil prices were plunging toward $26 per barrel.
Amid more flush times, former Anchorage Rep. Mike Hawker had wiggled his way through the state procurement code to classify the new lease as a renewal not subject to competitive pricing rules and the Legislature had agreed to put $7.5 million toward the cost of the $44.5 million project that essentially rebuilt the structure at 716 West Fourth Ave.
In March 2016 a Superior Court judge ruled the lease invalid, leaving legislators stuck with the choice to simply abscond and leave its owners holding the bag with a $28 million loan and $9 million of their own cash tied up in a custom-made project with no tenant, or to negotiate a purchase of the building outright that would relieve them of the embarrassingly expensive annual rent.
A $32.5 million price was agreed to by the Legislative Council in a 13-1 vote a month later, but Gov. Bill Walker stuck his nose into the matter and declared he’d veto the purchase based on the state’s ongoing budget woes without regard to the fact that he would be essentially evicting one branch of government from its Anchorage offices with the demand it relocate into the executive branch home in the Atwood Building.
But by then we already knew Walker was unconcerned with making moves that hurt the state’s credibility with the business community after vetoing $200 million in tax credit payments approved by the Legislature in 2015 and proposing oil tax increases despite his campaign promise to respect the vote of the people in 2014 to keep the current structure known as SB 21.
Around this time an enterprising real estate agent got it into the news that Wells Fargo was looking to sell its building on Benson Avenue in Midtown. That led legislators — many of whom had decried Walker’s veto of the tax credit payments — to jump on the $11.85 million purchase and screw over the owners of the Downtown office who were then forced into foreclosure by their lender EverBank of Jacksonville, Fla.
(In a funny-but-not-haha-funny twist, Wells Fargo ended up getting paid on both sides of this transaction as one of the construction lenders on the Downtown office that was paid off by EverBank’s loan consolidation and as the recipient of the appropriation that bought its Midtown office.)
Of course, the building was not set up to house the Legislature as the Downtown office was, and another $3.7 million was appropriated for renovations.
Now the Legislative Council has voted unanimously to spend another $8 million on further remodeling, bringing the tab just at the Midtown office to nearly $25 million.
Add up the $7.5 million it kicked in at 716 West Fourth, plus the $5 million give or take it spent on rent over less than two years there and the Legislature has spent at least $37.2 million in five years on Anchorage office space.
Meanwhile, EverBank ended up selling the building for a cutrate price of just $14 million — or about half of the outstanding loan balance — to the Anchorage Community Development Authority as a new home for the police department.
But rest assured, we’re told, there will be no automatic garbage cans in the new building.
A more flippant summation of this fiasco is hard to fathom after such an inane amenity — a common household item for those of even modest means — became the focus of this situation rather than the devastating consequences on private business owners who were forced to shoulder the entirety of the Legislature’s mistakes and Walker’s meddling.
Any contractor who ends up getting a bid to renovate the Benson building better insist on getting paid up front.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]
Posted Wednesday, November 14, 2018 - 10:28 am
What’s a little more uncertainty among friends?
If there’s anything the Alaska resource industry has been certain about over the past four years, it’s uncertainty.
There was a huge sigh of relief Nov. 6 as the ill-conceived Ballot Measure 1 known as the Stand for Salmon initiative was shot down by a 2-1 margin and it appeared at the time that Republicans would regain control of the House of Representatives following a chaotic two-year rule by a Democrat-led coalition most notable for its endless tax proposals and three freshmen members either resigning or not seeking reelection for their unacceptable conduct toward women.
That pair of election results combined with the decisive win by Mike Dunleavy against Mark Begich seemed to cement at least a two-year respite from the constant trips to Juneau for resource industry representatives to deal with every hare-brained attempt by House Resource Committee co-chairs Geran Tarr and Andy Josephson to raise oil production taxes.
Gov. Bill Walker, who introduced a few oil tax increases of his own, never tamped down the worst inclinations of the House majority to keep fiddling with a tax system that not only produced revenue even as prices bottomed out but encouraged the industry to keep investing even as it lost billions of dollars.
Most of the GOP House members quickly assembled on Nov. 7 to declare themselves the majority and Rep. Dave Talerico of Healy as the Speaker of the House.
That started unraveling almost immediately as Valley gadfly Rep. David Eastman — who was censured by the House in 2017 for comments about rural Alaska women on the floor and stripped of his Ethics Subcommittee post in 2018 for leaking the existence of a confidential complaint to a reporter for this newspaper — declared he hadn’t decided whether to cast his vote for Talerico as Speaker.
The caucus became even shakier as votes continued to be tallied in House District 1 in Fairbanks, where Republican Barton LeBon’s 79-vote lead on Election Night turned into a 10-vote deficit to Democrat Kathryn Dodge on Nov. 13 with the count to resume Nov. 16.
A LeBon loss would produce a 20-20 split and set off a storm of wheeling and dealing by both sides to assemble a majority caucus.
On the federal level, the Democrat takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives will no doubt produce gridlock, a flurry of subpoenas for the Trump administration and brinksmanship on government shutdowns, but for the resource development industry the effect should be fairly muted as there is little they can do to stop deregulation, the Executive Branch push for energy dominance or the pending opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Pending projects such as Greater Mooses Tooth-2, Hilcorp’s Liberty offshore development and the Donlin gold mine have their key federal permits in hand, and a large-scale plan is being crafted for ConocoPhillips’ promising Willow prospect in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
All in all, Alaska has about 400,000 barrels per day of production in some stage of permitting or construction that could come online in the early- to mid-2020s.
Prices have been slipping lately, but the roughly $10 spread between Brent crude — to which Alaska North Slope oil is pegged — and West Texas Intermediate appears to be holding steady and makes the state an attractive place to invest by more than offsetting the transportation costs for getting it to market.
If the Dunleavy administration follows through with its plans for real budget reform and sets a tone that restores credibility with the investor community, Alaska has a chance to set itself on a sounder footing while buoyed by an increase in oil prices that could considerably narrow the budget gap, at least temporarily.
The state’s resource industry has good reason for optimism, and if LeBon pulls out the win in District 1 the state business climate will be well positioned for a way out of this lingering recession.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]
Posted Wednesday, November 07, 2018 - 11:48 am
Most situations in life can be summed up by a quote from Seinfeld or Yogi Berra, and Election Night 2018 was no exception.
One from Berra captures it nicely: “It’s getting late early.”
After holding high aspirations of defeating Mike Dunleavy following incumbent Gov. Bill Walker’s decision to drop out and throw his support behind Mark Begich, and teased by polling and fundraising into thinking political neophyte Alyse Galvin had a chance of knocking off 23-term incumbent and Dean of the U.S. House Don Young, Democrat hopes were dashed almost immediately.
The first set of results gave the Republican Dunleavy a lead of about 6,500; Young led by more than 4,000 and Begich-endorsed Ballot Measure 1, aka Stand for Salmon, trailed by 19,000.
Berra also once said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
Well, it was over.
After the first round of returns it was only a matter of how large the final margins would be, and whether Republicans could retake the majority in the state House after a two-year hiatus in the minority while a Democrat-led coalition aided by RINOs Paul Seaton, Louise Stutes and Gabrielle LeDoux pushed for higher taxes on oil and new taxes on income.
At the end of the night it appears the GOP will indeed claim House majority status in Juneau after all its incumbents won, Seaton was defeated soundly by Sarah Vance and coalition member Jason Grenn, an Anchorage independent, was unseated by Sara Rasmussen thanks in part to the presence of perennial candidate Dustin Darden pulling nearly 800 votes on the District 22 ballot.
The night was essentially a clean sweep other than the still uncertain outcome in Senate District A in Fairbanks where Senate President Pete Kelly, the Republican incumbent, leads by just 11 votes over his Democrat challenger Rep. Scott Kawasaki, whose vacated seat seems headed to Republican control in a major flip for the party with a win by Barton LeBon.
While national Democrats celebrated taking over the U.S. House of Representatives and President Donald Trump happily endorsed Republican punching bag Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House, the blue party took a shellacking in Alaska.
Begich, apparently so stunned by how badly he was beaten by Dunleavy, took no calls on Election Night and as of 10 a.m. on Nov. 7 still hadn’t issued a statement on his Facebook, Twitter or official campaign pages, the latter of which still touts his lead in the Alaska Survey Research poll by Ivan Moore as his most recent post.
The former Anchorage mayor and single-term U.S. senator who was defeated by current Sen. Dan Sullivan in 2014 is largely regarded as a pretty smooth politician, but there can be no doubt he miscalculated terribly by jumping on the Stand for Salmon bandwagon while it was still a three-way race for governor.
In a political move so transparent it would attract bird strikes, Begich’s attempt to draw votes from Walker, who opposed the measure, backfired spectacularly.
With a margin of nearly 21,000 votes and 98 percent of precincts in, the outcome for governor may have been a foregone conclusion regardless, but it became inevitable when the once reliably pro-resource development Begich turned off so many potential supporters with his position on Stand for Salmon.
Nor did it help that Begich was in favor of taxing all of Alaskans in order to extract some revenue from a couple thousand out-of-state North Slope workers.
One thing slightly less short-lived than Begich’s campaign was the House bipartisan coalition that must be the briefest in Alaska history.
We’re a long way from the gleeful press conference Nov. 9, 2016, when the majority caucus was announced.
Since then, the “Wack Pack” of Reps. Dean Westlake, Zach Fansler and Justin Parrish are all out after a series of transgressions ranging from sexual harassment to assault against women in Juneau; and the basically unflappable Rep. Sam Kito quit the caucus late in this past session after growing sick of LeDoux’s high-handed rule over the Rules Committee.
While there may be a place for Stutes in the to-be-formed GOP House majority, LeDoux should find herself in the wilderness after finally burning a bridge or two too many.
Alaskans chose a clear path on Election Day, and for the candidates from Dunleavy to Vance the easy part is over.
Delivering, as the Democrats found out, is a much tougher task.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]
Posted Wednesday, September 26, 2018 - 10:20 am
The fact that Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott need to pull votes from Mark Begich, the other Democrat in the race for governor, is no secret and it was therefore no surprise to see a press release out of Walker’s office on Sept. 20 announcing their opposition to Brett Kavanaugh to join the U.S. Supreme Court.
After declaring Kavanaugh “does not demonstrate a commitment to legal precedent that protects working families,” whatever that means, and stopping just short of asserting he favors repealing the Alaska Statehood Act, the so-called “independent/Alaska first/unity” ticket went lower than a North Slope drill bit:
“Finally, we believe a thorough review of past allegations against Mr. Kavanaugh is needed before a confirmation vote takes place. Violence against women in Alaska is an epidemic. We do not condone placing someone into one of our nation’s highest positions of power while so many key questions remain unanswered.”
Opposition to Kavanaugh — even on nothing more than the pure partisan basis we saw before his name was released or uncorroborated allegations from his high school years were dropped on him like slime at a Nickelodeon awards show at the last possible moment — is one thing.
It is quite another to conflate the unsubstantiated charges against Kavanaugh with the documented, ongoing and as-yet unchecked problem of violence against women in Alaska that Walker and Mallott describe as an epidemic.
Walker and Mallott refer to this epidemic as if they are mere bystanders to the problem and not the most powerful person in Alaska and one of the most respected Native leaders in the state, respectively.
What, exactly, have Walker and Mallott done to address or even reduce violence against Alaska women and children? And what, exactly, does Kavanaugh have to do with any of it?
Mallott, for his part, appears more interested in climate change than actually changing the climate for women and girls in rural Alaska.
After nearly four years of their administration, virtually nothing has improved, they’re offering no hope that it will, and yet they are using an unsolved issue they have the ability to do something about as the basis to attack Kavanaugh.
Oh, but they just want the questions answered, as if that matters after they’d already come up with a series of bizarre allegations about his legal views that aren’t backed up by either Sen. Lisa Murkowski or Sen. Dan Sullivan, whose wife is an Alaska Native.
How difficult would it be for anyone who went to high school with Walker or Mallott to make up a similar charge against them as has been leveled against Kavanaugh? How would they, their wives and their children feel if suddenly they had to defend themselves against a horrific allegation with no date, place or even a year for which to present a defense?
How would they react to calls to drop out of the race for governor, or to suspend their campaign until a thorough investigation of a charge with no possible defense other than a denial was available?
We are going down a dangerous road here where a person in the public eye for decades can be destroyed over such an unprovable accusation after being the subject of not one, not two, but six FBI background checks over the years that, yes, include interviews with high school and college acquaintances.
If the GOP falls for this scam they can kiss the Senate goodbye, or if they manage to hold it thanks to the difficult battleground facing Democrats in 10 states won by President Donald Trump, they can expect nothing short of a repeat of this character assassination against Kavanaugh on any other nominee.
Just imagine what’s going to happen if Trump has an opportunity to replace Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
This will look like the good ol’ days.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]
Posted Wednesday, September 12, 2018 - 10:42 am
The backers of the Stand for Salmon ballot initiative well understand the power of pitting Alaskans against quote-unquote Outsiders.
The phrase “foreign mining corporations” is used no fewer than six times on the “Get the Facts” page on their website.
One particularly strident sentence reads: “In order to protect our Alaskan way of life, we need to support this initiative and not buy what the dishonest foreign mining corporations have to sell.”
Stand for Salmon Campaign Director Ryan Schryver used the occasion of a minor fine against the measure’s opponents to accuse them of trying to fool voters by not adding the words “Vote No on One” to their organization’s Stand for Alaska name promptly enough after the initiative was certified in March.
“They have to create distrust and confusion to be successful,” he told the Anchorage Daily News.
That is a particularly rich charge for an organization that created the ultimate bumper sticker slogan to promote its ballot measure.
While the Stand for Salmon proponents attempt to paint the opposition as foreign interlopers into Alaska’s affairs, they are hardly being transparent when it comes to the source of their funding.
The top contributors include the Alaska Conservation Foundation, the Alaska Center, Cook Inletkeeper, the Wild Salmon Center and Salmon State. The initiative itself was crafted by environmental law firm Trustees for Alaska, which is well known for its legal activism against resource development in the state.
According to campaign disclosures, about $730,000 of the $1.1 million in reported contributions to the effort are classified as non-monetary, with the Alaska Center topping the list at $357,000 followed by the Washington, D.C.-based New Venture Fund that employs Schryver at $227,000.
Cook Inletkeeper is next at about $83,000 in non-monetary contributions to the effort.
If money from outside the state is dirty, then all these groups with “Alaska” in their names hardly have clean hands.
Trustees for Alaska lists 14 foundations as its top donors in its 2017 annual report, with only one having any staff based here and that one, the Leighty Foundation, was founded by a family from Waterloo, Iowa, but reported a Juneau address in its most recent IRS Form 990.
The 14 most recent 990s for those groups show about $339,000 in donations to Trustees for Alaska.
The Venn diagram of Trustees for Alaska foundation donors overlaps nearly perfectly with those to the groups backing the Stand for Salmon initiative.
The Alaska Center received $255,000 in donations from the same foundations that back Trustees for Alaska in the most recent year according to the Form 990s.
It has also received another $245,000 from the New Venture Fund for a total of a half-million dollars in “Outside” money in the most recent year forms are available.
Cook Inletkeeper received about $260,000 in donations from the New Venture Fund and the Trustees for Alaska foundation donors.
These 14 foundations collectively hold about $463 million in assets according to their most recent 990s, with the New Venture Fund adding another $230 million for nearly $700 million total.
What these groups have in common is their fight against resource development of all kinds in addition to the money that insulates them from the consequences of the policies they are trying to implement around the country.
All the groups with Alaskan addresses are a handy vehicle to carry through money in order to advance the goals of these non-Alaska foundations, with the added benefit of those organizations not having to disclose how they are contributing nearly three-quarters of a million dollars in “non-monetary” resources to an effort that will undoubtedly cost the state jobs if it passes.
As just one example, the 444 S Foundation based in Bellevue, Wash., donated $115,000 to the Alaska Center and $60,000 to Trustees for Alaska in 2016, with another $100,000 to the New Venture Fund.
What is the 444 S Foundation? Besides being endorsed by the Sierra Club, Code Pink and the socialist Working Families Organization, its executive director is Fred Munson, who is also a member of the Arctic Defense Fund advisory council, which dispersed funds to support the “kayaktivists” who blockaded Shell in Seattle in 2015 and later hung from bridges in Portland trying to prevent its outer continental shelf drilling.
Arctic Defense Fund was created by the Rockefeller Foundation’s Sustainable Market Solutions, whose principal officer is Jay Halfon, a professional litigator for Earthworks and well known “frackivist” leading the fights against the U.S. energy boom in natural gas.
The point is not that there is anything wrong with these foundations contributing their money to the causes they support. And to be clear, their opponents have vastly outraised Stand for Salmon by a 9-1 margin so far.
Rather, it is disingenuous to the nth degree for the supporters of Stand for Salmon to attack the companies that are being completely open about their donations while theirs come from groups in Boston, New York, DC and San Francisco who belong to the “keep it in the ground” movement that are rightly distrusted by those who live and work here.
Admitting they take money from outside foundations as a means to even up the odds, even slightly, would at least be an honest argument.
But that’s probably too much to expect when it comes to politics.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]
Posted Wednesday, August 29, 2018 - 10:53 am
Among the many subjects that regularly earn Republicans a mocking from Democrats and their media sympathizers, perhaps none rank as highly as claims about election fraud.
Attempts to secure the voting franchise through requirements for ID are universally decried as racist and based on bogeyman conspiracy theories about the dead or otherwise ineligible casting ballots.
In House District 15, where Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux now holds an insurmountable lead of 113 votes over her inert challenger Aaron Weaver, a case is now emerging that voter fraud indeed took place.
Seven dead people requested absentee ballots from beyond the grave. At least two others confirmed ballots returned in their names were not cast by them. A total of 26 absentee ballots — all cast for LeDoux — are now under investigation by the Division of Elections and the Criminal Division of the Department of Law.
Fewer than 600 ballots were cast on Aug. 21 during the GOP primary election, with Weaver waking up to a three-vote edge, 294-291, after he went to bed without even bothering to follow the results as they began posting around 9:15 p.m.
LeDoux crushed Weaver in the absentee count conducted Aug. 28 and now leads 452-339, but a strong whiff of corruption hovers over her apparent victory thanks to what appears to be a systematic effort to game the system.
At the center of it is LeDoux’s Hmong outreach contractor Charlie Chang of Fresno, Calif., who she’s enlisted in each of her House District 15 competitions and was paid nearly $12,000 in July for get-out-the-vote efforts in the Muldoon neighborhood of Anchorage.
Three components are central to any type of legal investigation: motive, means and opportunity.
Every one of those elements fits LeDoux and Chang in House District 15.
In her own statement denying any wrongdoing issued Aug. 28, LeDoux hit on motive: “District 15 is a very low turnout district.”
A low turnout district means every vote is crucial, as was evident on election night with a margin of just three votes between LeDoux and Weaver.
The means and opportunity fit as well as a substantial number of the ballots in question are linked to a narrow range of addresses in Muldoon where Chang’s outreach is focused.
Finally, in the mother of all coincidences, every ballot under review was cast for LeDoux.
Whether LeDoux faces any legal jeopardy seems unlikely absent a claim by Chang he was instructed to do anything improper, and the investigation is in too early of a stage to speculate on whether he did anything wrong, either.
But there is another element of investigations — “Cui bono,” Latin for “who benefits?” — that clearly does not favor LeDoux.
Something fishy went down in Muldoon, and the investigation must proceed expeditiously with the general election coming up Nov. 6 and the state Republican Party now deciding to attempt an actual effort to defeat LeDoux after basically sitting out the primary against one of its biggest and easily best-funded targets.
The broader issue at play, though, is the routinely overlooked aspect of Democrat fights against election integrity.
Claims that Republicans are trying to disenfranchise minority voters ignore the very real competing impact of voter fraud: the disenfranchisement of those whose legal votes are canceled out by illegal ones.
It is no less an act of disenfranchisement to deny the vote to some by allowing the ineligible or deceased to vote — through negligence or corruption — as it is to deny access to the voting booth in the first place.
The Division of Elections deserves credit for flagging these irregularities, which officials obviously believe bear enough signs of intentional fraud to warrant a criminal investigation.
LeDoux may rightly believe there is no evidence that will implicate her in whatever events took place to result in every questioned ballot being a vote for her.
She shouldn’t be as confident that this dark cloud won’t follow her into November.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]
Posted Thursday, August 23, 2018 - 8:15 am
Forgive two movie references between the headline and this lede, but Everything is Awesome if turnout is any indication about how Alaskans are feeling about the state of the state.
Recession, unemployment, negative migration, addiction, crime and the Permanent Fund Dividend have dominated the news and internet comments for the past three years, yet fewer than 1 in 5 Alaskans cast ballots in the Aug. 21 primary.
There are plenty of good reasons for that. The Democrat race for governor was essentially uncontested, there was no U.S. Senate race or ballot initiatives, the incumbent Gov. Bill Walker wasn’t on the ballot and as usual many House and Senate races had fewer choices than an election in North Korea.
As expected, former state Sen. Mike Dunleavy crushed latecomer and former Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell in the GOP primary by a 2-1 margin. Treadwell, who vastly overestimated his name recognition and ability to parachute into the race at the filing deadline as a last-ditch alternative to Dunleavy for the party establishment, sang a song of sour grapes as the results came in.
"We have to bring the Republican Party together because right now the ideas that we brought forward on trying to save jobs, build jobs in this economy, having experienced people run this thing, we did not get very much attention,” Treadwell told the Anchorage Daily News. “The biggest issue was who was tallest."
Unconstrained by holding any elected office, Treadwell had more than a year to run, make his case and raise money to earn the GOP nod — there was even a gap where Dunleavy suspended his campaign for health reasons — but he apparently believed he could stroll to a win in a couple months if only he’d gotten more attention.
Note to Mead: You can’t beat something with nothing, and looking for scapegoats anywhere but the mirror is a bigger waste of time than your short-lived campaign.
But back to the turnout, which while largely explainable was baffling in a few notable contested races.
In Eagle River, the race to fill former Sen. Anna MacKinnon’s seat between two well-known politicians was a blowout win for Rep. Lora Reinbold over Rep. Dan Saddler by nearly 800 votes but fewer than 5,000 people voted in a district of nearly 29,000 registered voters.
In House District 25, House Minority Leader Charisse Millett was sacked by newcomer Josh Revak with neither accumulating even 1,000 votes. With turnout of just 11 percent, Revak had a lead of 916 to 685 in a district with more than 14,000 voters.
But wait, it gets worse.
Over in Muldoon, House Rules Chair and the Legislature’s most prolific fundraiser Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux couldn’t even turn out 300 people to vote for her.
She ended the night trailing by 3 votes, 294-291, and may yet pull out a win, but it is still a pathetic showing for the would-be kingmaker.
LeDoux and Millett, who both voted for fully funding the PFD this past session, may well go down to defeat, and even in races where candidates made it an issue the results were decidedly mixed.
Paying a “full” dividend is just not an animating issue for the majority of Alaskans, despite what Dunleavy’s win might indicate.
The issue did appear to bite a member of the Senate Majority leadership with Peter Miccicche trailing by 12 votes in his race on the Kenai Peninsula.
But like Millett, his loss, if it holds, can just as easily be blamed on complacency as a reduced PFD that is still bigger than all but seven that have been paid in state history.
Whether the internet-amplified anger over the PFD translates to a Legislature that will send a formula-funded dividend to the governor’s desk remains to be seen, but if Tuesday was any indication the issue did not drive turnout in any race.
The math of a three-way contest rather than the math of calculating the PFD still appears to be the most decisive factor heading into November.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]
Posted Wednesday, August 08, 2018 - 10:51 am
This defense of free speech isn’t going to begin with the obligatory preamble denouncing Alex Jones.
Over the past week, Jones and his Infowars site were simultaneously sent to timeouts of various lengths ranging from 30 days to three months from Facebook and YouTube while Spotify and Apple took down multiple podcasts from Jones’ show.
Twitter — perhaps shamed by the daily exposure of the hate it tolerates from the left highlighted by recent New York Times editorial board hire and open racist Sarah Jeong — has refused to follow suit despite pressure to deplatform Jones.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who himself succumbed to the left-wing online outrage mob earlier this year after he made the mistake of posting about eating at Chik-fil-A, did manage to nail the obvious problem with banishing Jones.
Dorsey posted that Twitter will not take “one-off actions to make us feel good in the short term, and adding fuel to new conspiracy theories.”
There’s an old joke that goes, “just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean everyone isn’t out to get me.”
In a fell swoop of virtue-signaling, Facebook, YouTube (Google), Spotify and Apple made a “feel good” decision to silence Jones that is likely the biggest gift he could have ever asked for.
What’s unlikely is that the disciples of net neutrality realize they are cheering on the tech titans for actions that are the polar opposite of their claimed desire for a free and open internet where content is treated equally.
But then again, self-awareness isn’t a quality generally possessed by progressives now tolerating, encouraging or outright embracing the violence of the “antifa” movement that’s made its mission to shut down any speech falling to the right side of Mao on the ideological spectrum.
Because make no mistake: this isn’t going to stop with Jones. The term “alt-right” has been used for more than two years now to degrade and delegitimize the supporters of President Donald Trump as a basket of deplorable racists.
These tech corporations are carrying out the censorship that the left cannot achieve at the ballot box or the Supreme Court and have crossed the Rubicon into the territory of policing speech that goes far beyond the unprotected category of incitement to violence.
They have every right to boot Jones from their platforms, temporarily or permanently, if they choose. But they’re going to need to hire a whole lot more cheap foreign H1-B interns if they are going to equally police content that falls in the category of “offensive” or “hateful.”
I’ll pause so you can stop laughing.
The Facebook page “Occupy Democrats” has 7.4 million followers and has a typically hyperbolic photo up featuring Uncle Sam that states “If you still support Donald Trump and plan to vote for him again, you are a traitor!”
Quick quiz: what’s the federal penalty for treason?
Answer: the death penalty.
Follow up: what are the odds Occupy Democrats ever gets its account suspended for “bullying” or “hate speech”?
And the press, the supposed protectors of free speech, formed their own outrage mob last week when they pressured the Newseum in Washington, D.C., to stop selling T-shirts that said “You are very fake news” in its gift shop.
This tweet from Boston Globe Deputy DC Editor Matt Viser perfectly illustrates the recent twisting of the First Amendment protection of the press into some sort of blasphemy law: “This T-shirt doesn’t belong anywhere. It particularly doesn’t belong at the @Newseum, a place that celebrates journalism and has the First Amendment etched in stone outside its building.”
Viser clearly wasn’t the one respondent out of 1,000 in a recent survey that could name all five protections spelled out in the First Amendment.
The press coined the term “fake news” in the aftermath of the 2016 election as a way to explain the loss of the inevitable Hillary Clinton and are now outraged that it has been co-opted and turned against them.
What’s obvious is that their issue is not with the term itself, but with their inability to control whom it is aimed against.
This is an industry that spent the past 20 years attacking and attempting to marginalize Fox News. They are members of a progressive movement that dubbed the network “Faux News” long ago, with Urban Dictionary entries on the term dating to 2003.
They were the dutiful stenographers for President Barack Obama, who routinely called out his perceived enemies in the press by name from Fox News to Rush Limbaugh to Glenn Beck to Sean Hannity.
None rushed to the defense of conservatives, and there was certainly no collective outrage about a president attacking the press as there is today about Trump.
While there is plenty of hand-wringing over the supposed misleading information and conspiracies from the likes of Jones being pushed on the fringes of the internet, the mainstream press so offended at being dubbed an “enemy of the people” has been pushing the Mother of All Conspiracy Theories for the past 18 months accusing Trump of colluding with Vladimir Putin to steal a presidential election.
This is the same press whose talking heads routinely compare Trump to Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Mao, who ironically were all leaders of the murderous left.
Of course, if that were true, Jim Acosta would be against a wall with a blindfold and a cigarette, but realizing that would take a well of historical knowledge deeper than a thimble and a better memory than a fruit fly.
In other words, don’t hold your breath.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]
Posted Wednesday, August 01, 2018 - 10:08 am
The establishment defenders of the global status quo are doubling down in their battle against President Donald Trump.
Citing trade and immigration, the Koch Bros. announced their intention to withhold support for Kevin Cramer against Democrat incumbent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota in a key race the GOP seeks to flip in a state Trump won by 36 points.
They might as well save their money. For the one-time elites in the Republican pundit class, think tanks and Super PACs, it must be frustrating to realize their utter impotence to move the needle against Trump with GOP voters who back him by a nearly 9-1 margin.
Much like President Bushes 41 and 43 and failed Republican presidential candidates Sen. John McCain and Mitt Romney — who, thanks to their criticism of Trump, have all enjoyed an image rehabilitation from the media and Democrats that once demonized them — the bogeymen Koch Bros. and their agenda of open borders for trade and immigration are aligning with the left.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is also investing heavily in an anti-tariff campaign, highlighting as an example the dilemma of craft brewers dealing with duties on aluminum imports in a July 26 post.
One can only wonder where the chamber was in the last decade as China began dumping below market price aluminum in the U.S. to ease the glut of overcapacity it built up as it went from 11 percent of global production in 2000 to more than half just 15 years later.
According to data from the Aluminum Association, “U.S. imports of semi-fabricated aluminum products from China grew 183 percent between 2012 through 2015 before leveling off (in 2016).”
The association notes that, “Eight U.S. based aluminum smelters have either closed or curtailed since 2014 meaning only five smelters are operating in the United States today and only two at full capacity. This represents the lowest level of U.S. production since just after World War II.”
This is the status quo the U.S. Chamber is trying to preserve and which Trump is trying to upend.
Tariffs are a negotiating tool, albeit a blunt one, but Trump was not elected to keep the Koch Bros. or the U.S. Chamber happy.
He promised to disrupt the system and negotiate better deals, and unlike most every other Republican politician who spent cycle after cycle pledging to repeal and replace Obamacare or enforce the border and immigration law, he is keeping those promises.
Of course there will be short-term pain for some sectors, either from retaliatory tariffs on American exports or higher costs for domestic manufacturers who still need steel and aluminum from foreign sources until the decimation of our industries can be reversed through restarting mills or opening new ones.
Another blunt tool wielded by Trump was the $12 billion proposal to aid the the agricultural sector facing those tit-for-tat tariffs as China and Mexico try to hit him in his red state bases.
That drew the ire of our own Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who complained that the Alaskan seafood industry wasn’t included despite its heavy reliance on trade with China that is largely comprised of fish being sent there for processing and then reentering the U.S. or other markets.
The question not being asked is why is it more economic to send product all the way to China for processing before it is sold in the U.S.? That work could and should be done here in Alaska. Copper River Seafoods operates a year-round processing plant in Anchorage that employs nearly 200 people producing fish for Walmart.
Avoiding a trade conflict with China will not answer that question or lead to more value-added processing in Alaska.
Nor does it make sense to abide a system in which we continue to pump hundreds of billions per year into a country that is building militarized islands in the South China Sea, waging cyber warfare and intellectual property theft against us and even threatening our airlines that won’t print its approved version of the map of Taiwan.
What Trump’s agri-bailout signaled to the world is that the U.S. is willing to take a punch in the course of winning the fight. It was also an action that couldn’t legitimately be criticized by other countries given their own subsidies, bailouts and protectionism for favored industries.
As a result, the European Union’s trade representative flew across the pond to Trump’s turf to start negotiating a solution.
Trump worked to find new markets in the EU for products like American soybeans hit by Chinese tariffs.
The Putin puppet is also trying to replace Russia as the dominant energy supplier to Europe.
The American energy sector, now the world’s largest producer of oil and gas, is also feeling the effect of the metal tariffs. The possible impact on the ultimate price of the Alaska LNG Project has been tossed around as well, but at the last board of directors meeting company executives reported they’d identified potential U.S. sources for rolled 42-inch steel pipe.
The demand for U.S. energy isn’t going anywhere even if there are intermediate increases in costs.
Sanctions are about to be reimposed on Iran with the U.S. set to cut off the despotic mullahs’ crude oil cash stream used to export terrorism and crush its people.
Supply is dwindling from the failed socialist state of Venezuela and there are ongoing production disruptions in the failed state of Libya created by former President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Trump is presiding over a U.S. economy with a booming energy sector, historically low unemployment, rising wages and soaring consumer confidence.
He’s negotiating from a position of strength with every intention to win while the Washington Generals that make up the GOP establishment and donor classes are trying to throw the game.
At least they’ll have their token Republican talking head slots on MSNBC as a consolation prize.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]
Posted Wednesday, July 18, 2018 - 10:29 am
The Journal was involved in two stories this past week we wanted no part of, but that ended up presenting a textbook case study in how and how not to practice journalism.
On Friday, July 13, Republican blogger Suzanne Downing put up a post under a click-bait headline of “Smoking Gun” accusing Gov. Bill Walker of breaking state law by submitting an opinion column with a link to a campaign video and the Journal and its parent newspaper the Anchorage Daily News of committing campaign finance violations by publishing it.
On Tuesday, July 17, the House Subcommittee on Ethics was presented with the deposition of former Journal reporter Naomi Klouda in the case against Rep. David Eastman, who was booted from the Ethics panel this session by a 31-6 vote based on a finding that he violated Alaska law by revealing the existence of an ethics complaint against Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux to Klouda on April 28, 2017.
The Journal’s involvement in the Eastman case began that day when Klouda did what real reporters do when they are presented with an allegation: she attempted to verify it.
In the case of Eastman, she was actually following his own advice when he told her that she should call the Legislative Ethics Office and ask Administrator Jerry Anderson about a complaint that had been filed within the previous week against LeDoux.
Unbeknownst to Klouda at the time, though Anderson would quickly make her aware, ethics complaints are confidential until they are resolved. Anderson informed her that he could neither confirm nor deny the existence of any complaint and asked who had told her about it.
Klouda, whose interview with Eastman was entirely on the record, told Anderson that he had told her to call the Ethics office and ask about LeDoux.
Because we could not confirm the existence of the complaint, and after Anderson informed us of the serious nature of anyone disclosing a pending complaint, we did not report Eastman’s allegation against LeDoux.
A couple weeks later, Klouda and I met with Anderson at his cramped Downtown Anchorage office where for the second of four times, including a deposition given under oath, she recounted in exact detail what Eastman told her that day.
Unlike Eastman, her version of events has never changed, and his attorney was left with nothing else but to attack her preservation of notes despite all the contemporaneous documentation at the time, the phone records that show she called Anderson immediately after talking to Eastman and Anderson’s own sworn testimony that all support Klouda’s account.
When we reported on the Ethics committee’s recommendation to remove Eastman this past January, LeDoux did confirm that a complaint had indeed been filed against her.
We learned on July 17 that the complaint had actually been filed April 27, 2017, the day before Eastman told Klouda to call the Ethics Office and ask about it.
The reason for the alarm expressed by Anderson on receiving Klouda’s inquiry the very day after a confidential complaint was filed suddenly became clear during the July 17 hearing.
Besides attacking Klouda’s notes by introducing the entirely irrelevant Reuters guidebook and inventing other standards for reporters out of thin air, Eastman’s attorney argued that it wasn’t reasonable to believe that he would do something so stupid as to violate the ethics law by telling her about a pending complaint against a fellow legislator.
Just because an action is stupid doesn’t mean people don’t do it, which brings us to Downing and the striking contrast with Klouda.
Without a shred of evidence, Downing accused the governor of using state resources to promote a campaign video and the Journal and ADN of being accomplices in the violation by publishing the column with the link to YouTube.
Downing didn’t contact ADN Opinion Editor Tom Hewitt to ask about the origin of the column or what the editorial policy is regarding submissions by candidates. Nor did she contact yours truly despite having my cell phone number.
Instead, she published a piece of fake news with no reporting and appointed herself as judge and jury of the Alaska Public Offices Commission to declare it was only a question of how many, not if any, legal violations took place.
Klouda attempted to verify an allegation before publishing it.
Downing made no attempt to verify her allegations.
When Klouda could not confirm the existence of a complaint, we did not publish the allegation.
Even after being informed that the Walker column came from the campaign and not from his state office, Downing has yet to correct or update her post as of the morning of July 18.
Klouda had no agenda when she called the Ethics Office to check on Eastman’s allegation.
Downing’s anti-Walker agenda is plastered all over her blog.
If the Journal shared Downing’s lack of standards, we could have reported Eastman’s allegation of a complaint and the details he described to Klouda along with the obligatory “could not confirm or deny” from Anderson.
We instead chose to be responsible and regardless of how the Ethics committee ultimately rules, Klouda’s effort to get the story right was presented in detail during the July 17 hearing as Eastman’s attorney was left with only an emotional misdirection about her credibility and a defense that boiled down to his client not being that dumb.
Downing won’t make that same argument but the next time you read one of her attacks on her ideological foes keep in mind her standards when she writes about her friends.
Editor's note: On July 19, the House Subcommittee on Legislative Ethics upheld its decision that Eastman violated the law by disclosing the existence of the complaint to Klouda.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]
Posted Wednesday, July 11, 2018 - 10:22 am
Democrats sure love to quote mob movies when they want to sound tough.
Back in 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama was at a fundraiser in Philadelphia when he referenced “the Chicago Way” as described by Sean Connery’s Jim Malone in “The Untouchables.”
“If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” said Obama, who rose to power from the Chicago political scene. “Because from what I understand, folks in Philly like a good brawl. I’ve seen Eagles fans.”
There’s no need to imagine the sort of breathless pearl-clutching from so-called progressives had such a statement emanated from Obama’s opponent Sen. John McCain or his running mate and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Just a few years later, a deranged individual who believed the government was using grammar as a means of mind control shot up a constituent gathering in Arizona hosted by Rep. Gabby Giffords.
Before the blood dried or the bodies of the six killed turned cold, the fingers were being pointed at Palin for inspiring the shooter because she’d included Giffords’ district in a standard-issue map of targeted congressional seats.
The disgusting smear against Palin was repeated just more than a year ago by the New York Times editorial board when a fan of Bernie Sanders and Rachel Maddow attempted to assassinate Republican members of Congress on June 14, 2017, at a baseball practice in Alexandria, Va.
Only because Capital Police were on hand to protect the third-ranking member of the House leadership, Rep. Steve Scalise, who was gravely wounded in the attack, did we narrowly avoid the worst political bloodbath in our nation’s history.
Unlike the Giffords shooter, the political motivation of the man who attacked the Republican members was splattered all over his social media accounts.
So what did the Times do with this evidence?
Go after Palin, of course.
“Was this attack evidence of how vicious American politics has become? Probably,” the Times editorial board wrote the following day. “In 2011, when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Representative Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a 9-year-old girl, the link to political incitement was clear. Before the shooting, Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs.”
The Times was eventually forced to issue a correction that noted there were zero links between Palin and Loughner, and she unsuccessfully sued the paper for defamation. The case was dismissed because she couldn’t prove the editorial writers knew what they were writing was false, despite the fact the claim against Palin had been debunked for years. Turns out ignorance is a defense.
Now, with violence and harassment against members of President Donald Trump’s administration and his supporters on the rise and being actively encouraged by the likes of Rep. Maxine Waters, the Times has decided to throw more gasoline on the fire.
On July 6, in a rallying cry to Democrats to oppose whomever Trump would eventually nominate to the Supreme Court to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, the editorial board wrote: “This is all the more reason for Democrats and progressives to take a page from “The Godfather” and go to the mattresses on this issue.
“… This call to arms may sound overly dramatic. It’s not.”
“Going to the mattresses” means going to war with rival mafia families.
Whether in the movies or real life, it means blood in the streets. It means a series of attacks and retaliations carried out by mob soldiers who lie low in bare apartments lacking furniture with mattresses on the floor.
If Democrats didn’t have double standards, they wouldn’t have any at all.
We don’t even have to wait to see if the unhinged rhetoric of the left will inspire actual violence. The assassination attempt on Scalise and his fellow Republicans proves it already has.
A man has been arrested for threatening to kill Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai and his family over net neutrality. Yes, net neutrality.
Sen. Rand Paul, who was on the baseball field with Scalise getting shot at and later had his ribs broken in an assault by his neighbor, was the subject of additional threats recently and Capital Police arrested a man for threatening to chop him and his family up with an ax.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has now been harassed multiple times in public by progressive activists, who have also gotten in the face of his wife and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
Simply wearing a Make America Great Again hat is now an invite to assault, as we saw in Texas where a 16-year-old had his ripped off and a drink thrown in his face at a Whataburger by a member of the Texas Green Party.
The anger on the left has boiled over, and as long as the hateful demonization of Republicans keeps up it won’t be long before we see a repeat of the attack at a baseball field.
America will reject the left’s tactics this fall. Republicans will hold the House, expand their majority in the Senate and cement control of the Supreme Court with the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh.
To borrow another phrase from “The Godfather” that the Times can understand, Trump is going to settle all family business.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]
Posted Monday, July 02, 2018 - 3:51 pm
Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott are serious about seeking reelection, but it appears they are abandoning any attempt to win the support of the resource development industry.
How successful their effort will be remains to be seen, but after splitting off GOP votes from former Gov. Sean Parnell in 2014 the new strategy is apparently to siphon votes from Democrat challenger and former Sen. Mark Begich.
Running to the left in 2018 after appealing to Lisa Murkowski moderates as a nonthreatening alternative to Parnell in 2014 is the only explanation for the letter signed by Walker and Mallott submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on June 29.
At the end of the scoping period in preparation for the environmental impact statement process for the proposed Pebble mine, Walker and Mallott asked the Corps to suspend the entire effort.
To be sure, Walker and Mallott declared their opposition to Pebble in 2014, which is not a controversial position to take in Alaska. But members of the resource industry who were willing to overlook that position quickly found out that was the only position he was forthcoming about.
Walker pledged to keep the current process for the Alaska LNG Project on track; instead he immediately began to undermine it to wrest state control from the producers.
After endorsing its repeal, Walker pledged to support the results of the referendum that August that upheld the current oil production tax known as SB 21; instead he introduced a series of oil tax hikes and over two years he vetoed $630 million in payments owed to small oil and gas exploration companies that deepened the state recession and wrecked the state’s credibility with investors.
He also picked a fight over the Prudhoe Bay plan of development — a typically routine annual filing that defines expected drilling and production estimates — by trying to extract detailed information about natural gas sales and marketing from the three owners of the field.
Walker and Mallott clearly don’t believe they’ll be able to fool the industry twice, so they are following Begich’s lead.
Begich gave his position on Pebble to Laine Welch of Fish Radio published June 13 in which he said that the first thing he would do as governor would be to inform the Corps that state lands or right-of-way access would not be granted and that the state would not participate in the effort. That would “finally put an end to this project,” Begich said.
Walker and Mallott wrote in their letter that they will continue to “champion” resource development such as drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or building the gas pipeline, however, “the (Pebble Limited Partnership) has yet to demonstrate to us or the Alaska public that they have proposed a feasible and realistic project. Without, at minimum a preliminary economic assessment, but preferably a pre-feasibility study, the Corps will be unable to take a hard look at all reasonable alternatives in the draft EIS.”
Don’t look now, but the exact arguments they make against Pebble can easily be applied to ANWR and Walker’s dream of the gasline.
There is as yet no economic assessment to justify drilling in ANWR, currently in the EIS process, and opponents make the same case that there is no economic rationale for the effort.
Demonstrating a “feasible and realistic project” is also a hurdle the Alaska LNG Project, also in the EIS process, is far from clearing.
The short-circuiting of the permit process to stop projects is the favored strategy of Alaska’s many opponents to responsible development.
Advocating the Corps take just such a step against Pebble reveals the claim to be resource champions as a truly hollow one and betrays their request as the pointless pander that it is.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]