Opinion

COMMENTARY: Georgia’s voting law kicks off another round of partisan falsehoods

Georgia’s state legislature has passed a set of laws tightening the mechanics of the state’s voting process. Democrats are decrying the move as restrictive and racist, with some prominent national and state leaders, including President Joe Biden, comparing the law to the Jim Crow era. Republicans have challenged these assertions, arguing the bill’s provisions actually expand voting access while tightening security for the process with commonsense ID requirements. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. The super-heated rhetoric coming from the left is obscuring legitimate criticisms of the bill, and Republicans’ claims that the bill will not dampen voter turnout also ring hollow. The country’s political leaders must stop grandstanding and actually work to reach reasonable compromises. Tightening the amount of time voters can request a mail-in ballot or requiring a state-issued ID to request an absentee ballot is not the same as requiring a poll tax or a literacy test. The law does limit the option of mail-in voting. For example, it makes it illegal for a mail-in ballot to be mailed to all eligible voters, instead requiring voters to request a ballot. It also limits the number of state-provided drop boxes and reduces the hours that voters can drop off ballots. (It’s worth noting that ballot drop boxes would not have been legal in the future without this law.) This will certainly make those who don’t customarily vote less likely to do so as compared to “turnout” if voters were to receive a ballot in the mail each election. The bill also makes the state election board chairperson a position elected by the state’s General Assembly instead of the Georgia secretary of state, centralizing election authority with the state legislature. This is clear overreach. The state legislature should not have this sort of oversight of local election procedures without compelling evidence of malfeasance. This is a power-grab born of petulance in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election and the subsequent Senate runoff elections. Perhaps the most controversial provision involves third parties being prevented from providing food or water to those in line at a polling place within 150 feet. The law’s opponents claim this could deter potential voters from waiting in line; proponents say that it doesn’t ban anyone from bringing their own refreshments and is intended only to block partisan groups from attempting to influence voters’ decisions. This is a tempest in a teapot. A friend or neighbor should be allowed to hand another friend a bottle of water. No one should be allowed to campaign in a voting center, using water as a prop or bribe. Democrats argue that any attempt to limit the availability of ballots or drop-off locations will have a chilling effect on voter turnout, with concentrated impact in poor and minority communities. They use the same argument for the new requirement that eliminates signature matching and requires a driver’s license or state ID number to request an absentee ballot. But a majority of Americans support voter ID, according to polling data from the Pew Research Center. This is not an overly burdensome restriction. There are legitimate arguments to be made against some of the bill’s provisions, and the appropriate avenue for review is the court system. Democrats are rushing to avail themselves of that system, as they have every right to do. Voting is a right. It is also a duty. Americans should exercise the franchise deliberately. The right should be guarded jealously. The duty should be taken seriously. Safeguarding the system ought not to be a partisan matter. The ultrapartisan rhetoric surrounding the Georgia law cheapens both the duty and the right.

GUEST COMMENTARY: A campaign For Alaska

The University of Alaska is focused on taking charge of its destiny. On March 25, the university launched its “For Alaska” philanthropic campaign: the largest public fundraising effort in the university’s history with a goal to raise $200 million by 2024. The fundraising campaign involves all three universities — UA Anchorage, UA Fairbanks, UA Southeast — all 16 community campuses, and the University of Alaska Foundation. This coordinated fundraising and public outreach effort is an opportunity to further position higher education as a catalyst for a thriving Alaska. The campaign invites alumni, community partners, businesses and neighbors to invest in delivering high-quality education to meet the needs of Alaska. The campaign is also about allowing each of us to imagine the possibilities in building the future of Alaska while serving the needs of all Alaskans through the university. Our university community has been working hard to increase philanthropic giving in support of students, academics and research For Alaska. We are committed to expanding the number of scholarships available for all students, enhancing the hundreds of academic and training programs, growing our Alaska Native studies programs, and Arctic and other research. To date, more than 16,000 Alaskans have contributed to this campaign raising more than $135 million for these important initiatives at UAA, UAF and UAS. The goal of the For Alaska campaign is broader than philanthropic giving. It is also designed to promote Alaskan ownership of the state’s extraordinary university system, and to build a vibrant bold tomorrow for all Alaskans by empowering opportunity through higher education. At the campaign launch, hundreds of Alaskans, including students, alumni, community members, supporters and business leaders, joined us to hear more about the For Alaska campaign. Four key messages summarize the campaign’s priorities: 1. Expand the culture of education in Alaska by increasing college graduation, and ensure broad access for the success of our students while ensuring educational equity; 2. Provide Alaska with a skilled workforce; 3. Grow world class research by leading research relevant to Alaska and to the Arctic region; and, 4. Contribute to a more diversified economy by expanding Alaska’s knowledge base. The impact of the For Alaska campaign will help write the next chapter in Alaska’s history. It will highlight Alaska’s leadership in higher education, research, innovation and economic development. By combining efforts across the university system, and with all Alaskans, we will raise the profile and awareness of the University of Alaska and its importance to our entire state. But more so, the campaign is about imagining possibilities and dreaming about creating a brighter future For Alaska. A strong University of Alaska system is key to providing a better future for all Alaskans. The University of Alaska system belongs to every Alaskan. Won’t you join us? Sheri Buretta is the chair of the University of Alaska Board of Regents; Cynthia Cartledge is the chair of the University of Alaska Foundation Board of Directors.

OPINION: Refusal to back Bronson is a bad look for Bill Evans

Who will square off in the Anchorage mayoral runoff has been clear since the first large batch of votes were reported the day after the April 6 election, but one question remaining unanswered is whether Bill Evans meant it when he said the most important thing was to beat Assembly member Forrest Dunbar. Evans built his campaign around the premise that he was the only one of the three candidates on the right side of the spectrum who had a chance to beat Dunbar among a liberal-leaning Anchorage electorate. He finished ahead of Mike Robbins, who was largely competing for the same votes as front-runner Dave Bronson, but well behind the 24,537 votes garnered by the conservative favorite who topped all candidates with 33 percent of the 74,245 ballots tabulated as of April 19. In sum, the three Republican candidates ended up with just more than half, or 50.3 percent, compared to 47.5 percent earned by the progressive candidates Dunbar, Bill Falsey and George Martinez. That should give some hope to anybody yearning for change after a year of pandemic management malfeasance by the leftist-dominated Assembly and two mayors who have kept the city under strict lockdowns and played shell games with CARES Act funds that prioritized their ideologies above the economic relief it was intended for. Yet while Robbins was quick to endorse Bronson, and Falsey and Martinez threw their support to Dunbar, Evans is choosing to stay on the sidelines and won’t encourage those who voted for him to back Bronson in this pivotal election for the future of Anchorage. His refusal to endorse Bronson may be irrelevant in an environment where his voters obviously had a chance to choose Dunbar and didn’t. Still, it isn’t a good look for someone who ran his race based on the argument that conservatives should choose him over someone more aligned with them politically because defeating Dunbar trumped all else. Evans’ silence regarding a runoff when every vote matters reads like the latest chapter in the long-running story of how Republicans who populate what can best be described as “the establishment” are often unwilling to embrace the outcome of elections that don’t favor their wing of the party. Conservatives held their noses and voted for the likes of John McCain and Mitt Romney, who were also sold as the bipartisan, “electable” candidates. But when the GOP voters decided to ignore the establishment consensus of lovable losers and instead chose the unlikable winner Donald Trump, it sparked a revolt among the elites of the Republican Party who couldn’t get over not only being rejected, but being wrong. Bronson didn’t run a campaign based on a socially conservative agenda that would collide with a brick wall of resistance on the Assembly. He ran on getting the economy moving again by using his powers as mayor to lift the mandates choking the life out of Anchorage. Literally millions of dollars in commerce has been flowing for months into the Valley of the Free, which is the only place where Dunbar’s policies have been creating jobs. Dunbar, meanwhile, is also running on a promise to get the economy going with plans he could have introduced at any time in the past year backed by seven or eight votes on the Assembly yet never did, nor did he ever vote to rescind the destructive mandates that have made economic recovery the No. 1 issue of this race. The candidate who will do the best job of bringing back jobs and business to Anchorage will be the decisive factor for many voters. If Evans doesn’t want to endorse Bronson as that person it can rightly be perceived as evidence that he ran a campaign that wasn’t really about beating Dunbar after all. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

COMMENTARY: Be glad dire predictions about ending mask mandate were way off

Recently, Dr. Anthony Fauci acknowledged something truly shocking. When asked on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” why COVID-19 cases in Texas have been steadily declining despite Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to lift the state’s mask mandate and capacity restrictions on businesses one month ago, Fauci half-heartedly conceded: “I’m not really quite sure.” Texas has been a disappointment in recent weeks to detractors who have all but insisted, and perhaps even hoped, that the state’s complete “reopening” — the result of what President Joe Biden called “Neanderthal thinking” — would culminate in an epic resurgence of COVID-19. It hasn’t. In fact, caseloads have been consistently falling. Tarrant County’s infection rate indicates the virus is in decline. It’s a reality we should all be celebrating — cautiously, if we must. Fauci is correct that it’s too early to be completely certain that this trend will continue, that another surge is possible if a variant takes hold in Texas; that this virus has a “confusing” pattern of delayed case increases and lagging hospitalizations and deaths. It’s also possible that lifting restrictions and returning to some semblance of normalcy simply won’t have the deleterious impact we’ve spent over a year trying to avoid and the catastrophe public health officials are still trying to scare us into believing will befall us all if we dare to live like it’s 2019. There are a lot of reasons for that, beginning with the simplest explanation that many Texans have approached their returned freedoms with caution, prudence and consideration. I’m not sure what people like Fauci were anticipating, but as I pointed out in the days after the reopening took effect, the contention that Texas would become the “Wild West” overnight was completely unfounded. Most businesses still require or recommend masks, and most patrons oblige. The confrontations many envisioned between cantankerous anti-maskers and store clerks haven’t dominated human interactions, either. People now have the option to vote with their feet, and many choose establishments run by those whose masks and distancing requirements align with their own thinking. They can also make their own risk assessments: Have they had the virus? The vaccine? Do they already limit contact? Are they high-risk? And as I observed during my first (and completely delightful) mask-free stroll through the Fort Worth Zoo this week, plenty of people still choose to don a face covering, even outdoors, where the risks are proven to be low, if not non-existent. Some will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. That’s probably futile, but so what? Indeed, even while the CDC’s own data about masks and capacity restrictions show both to have a measurable but surprisingly limited impact on case numbers, people and businesses will continue to do what they believe is safe for them. Have at it. But it’s becoming increasingly clear — given the number of recoveries and increasing statewide vaccination rates — that lots of things are or will soon be “safe” to do. The Star-Telegram reported last week that according to analysis by Dr. Rajesh Nandy of the UNT Health Science Center’s School of Public Health, the combination of infections and vaccinations has North Texas at about 60 percent immunity, close to the minimum 80 percent most public health experts identify as “herd immunity”. Nandy says that should happen around mid-June. And while more contagious, albeit less-deadly variants are plaguing some parts of the country (including many states that are still “closed”), they haven’t run rampant in Texas. If vaccines become as readily available as Biden says they will soon, variants will probably stay at bay. Even after a packed Rangers game. So whether you find it confusing, maddening or refreshing that Texas has defied the most dire predictions for its reopening, it might just be time for us all to breathe deeply and enjoy it. Cynthia M. Allen is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Our village is not a national monument

In March, the Alaska House of Representatives passed a resolution pushing back on President Joe Biden’s moratorium on oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR. Alaska House Joint Resolution 12 urges the president to uphold the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that approved ANWR leasing and begin permitting lease holders. The resolution also opposes designation of the refuge as a national monument, a unilateral move the president is considering that would require no congressional approval and would end any possibility of ANWR development, at least for the next four years. HJR 12 has been met with bipartisan support, passing the House 35-3, and is described as a united effort by Alaskans to defend their state’s energy rights against a hostile federal administration. While that may be the intent of the resolution, it represents something far bigger for those of us living inside the refuge: human rights. My village of Kaktovik is the only community in ANWR and is on the coastal plain, where drilling would occur. Naturally, the Kaktovik Iñupiat stand to be affected the most by drilling decisions in our backyard, including on our land. Despite being the primary stakeholders and with the future of our community hanging in the balance, no one seems interested in what we think about oil development in ANWR. No human rights groups are lining up to defend our sovereignty over the land. The truth is, the vast majority of Americans — or even Alaskans, for that matter — may not even know we exist. That’s not a mistake or coincidence. For the past 40 years, the ANWR debate has been largely framed by lawmakers and environmental groups and has centered around the caribou, polar bears, tundra and birds. But what about the people — my people? Aren’t we worth preserving? Don’t we get a say in whether oil can be developed on our land so we can have an economy? Through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, Kaktovik Iñupiat Corp., or KIC, was awarded 92,000 acres in the coastal plain of ANWR, known as the 1002 Area. KIC, the Native village corporation for the community, is the only private land owner in the 19 million acre refuge. This is an inconvenient and uncomfortable truth for the federal government and others who oppose ANWR development, so they pretend we don’t exist. It’s easier to justify locking up the refuge when no one acknowledges that people live here, own land and support responsible development here. The preservation-at-all-cost mentality doesn’t come from residents inside the refuge or even the North Slope. In Alaska, that rhetoric comes primarily from the Gwich’in Steering Committee 400 miles away in Fairbanks, a group that has lobbied relentlessly to keep the refuge closed to development. It comes from countless Lower 48 environmental groups who use our land to raise money from wealthy donors. And, of course, it comes from Washington lawmakers who care more about their legacies and reelection campaigns than the health and future of my Iñupiat people. HJR 12 is a worthwhile resolution that comes at a time when critical decisions on ANWR are being made that will have lasting effects on our state, the Arctic Slope and my community. I applaud the Alaska Legislature for holding the Biden administration accountable by asking it to uphold the law as written; defend the 2020 Record of Decision approving the ANWR leasing program; proceed with oil and gas permitting; and not designate the refuge as a national monument. I also thank our Alaska lawmakers for recognizing Kaktovik as the only Alaska Native community in ANWR; acknowledging KIC’s ownership of private land within the refuge; and asserting the corporation’s sovereign right to direct control, rather than the federal government, over development of its land and resources. Despite the picture often painted by politicians and outside special interests, ANWR is not a desolate wilderness. It never has been. The Kaktovik Iñupiat have lived here for thousands of years, and we refuse to allow our land to be managed by the federal government and unaccountable agencies that are either indifferent, or downright hostile, to the interests of local communities they are supposed to serve. Our village is not a shiny monument for outsiders to gawk at; it is our home. I praise HJR 12 for many reasons, but the most important is its support for the basic human rights we have been promised but denied for so many decades. We support the ANWR leasing program, and have the right to manage our land and resources for the benefit of our people. Matthew Rexford is the tribal administrator for the Village of Kaktovik.

GUEST COMMENTARY: I’m a candidate for the U.S. Senate because I’m running for Alaska

Many of us remember when Alaska was prosperous and safe, and opportunity abounded. That was when my parents moved here. My dad became a union electrician and my mom helped start up Prudhoe Bay. Life was hard at times; my parents were even homeless and living in a tent for a while. But they instilled Alaska values in me, fought their way to the middle class, and changed the course of our family for generations to come. In the nearly 20 years Lisa Murkowski has been our U.S. senator, our oil and gas jobs have died, our education scores have plummeted, and our crime rates have soared. While Lisa Murkowski has voted with the liberal D.C. insiders, hurting our way of life, we Alaskans have felt forgotten. That is why I am running as a Republican challenger for the U.S. Senate in 2022: I am running for Alaska. I want to be a voice for the forgotten Alaskans who feel like D.C. insiders are not listening to them: for the men and women in oil and gas whose jobs are in jeopardy, for the children who are not getting the education they deserve, and for the women and youth who are victims of sexual abuse and human trafficking. As your next senator, I will rebuild our economy and fight to protect the jobs of the thousands of Alaskans who work in our energy industry. We need a senator who will defend us against the leftists who want to shut down our oil and gas production and destroy our way of life. We must support and rejuvenate our small businesses and give our young people hope that they can find good jobs here at home, instead of leaving to find employment elsewhere. I will be a strong voice in opposition to illegal immigration and, as the proud descendant of Americans who fought in virtually every major American conflict from the Revolutionary War to the Vietnam War, I will be a tireless advocate for our military and our veterans. I will fight to preserve our 2nd Amendment right to bear arms and, as an unapologetically pro-life Alaska Conservative, I will be a voice for the unborn. And I’m for America first, always. We Alaskans have seen what happens when politicians get too comfortable and become part of the D.C. establishment: they forget that the seats they hold belong not to themselves but to the people who elected them. Lisa Murkowski’s father, Frank Murkowski, gave her his Senate seat when he was elected governor. As a result, there has been a Murkowski in the Senate since the first year of the Reagan Administration. It is time to replace Lisa with an Alaskan who is not a D.C. insider politico, and who understands she works for and serves the people of Alaska. Lisa Murkowski has abandoned us, declaring it with every vote and action she has taken against Alaska’s interests. Consider: She enabled President Joe Biden’s radical “green” agenda to end drilling and kill Alaska jobs. She voted to allow illegal immigrants to remain in the country, and she voted against commonsense judges who protect constitutional rights. She voted to keep Obamacare in place, leading to higher costs and fewer health care choices for Alaskans. The last straw for many was her vote to remove President Trump from office, even though his term already had expired. For that particular display of poor judgment, she was censured by Alaska’s Republican Party. Alaskans will never have to wonder where my loyalties and interests are: They are right here. I was born and raised Alaskan. I am not a senator’s daughter. I watched my parents struggle to make their mortgage payments for years, much like how countless Alaskans are struggling today. After graduating from Steller Secondary School in Anchorage, I fought to be first in my family to pursue a college degree and attend law school. Then I went to work exposing fraud and abuse in government, improving outcomes and results, and saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. I am grateful to Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who appointed me commissioner of the Department of Administration, where I served the people of Alaska from January 2019 until I stepped down when I decided to run. And I thank God for my wonderful husband, Niki, and our five beautiful children, who strongly support me in this decision. The coming election presents a unique opportunity to chart a new course for Alaska. We deserve a senator who remembers us, and who believes the Senate seat she holds is of, by, and for the people of Alaska. It is time we had a U.S. Senator who represents Alaska to Washington, D.C., rather than one who represents D.C. insiders to Alaska. Kelly Tshibaka is a Republican candidate for the United States Senate in Alaska.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Semiconductor shortage highlights urgency of U.S. import dependence

In recent weeks, U.S. automakers have been hit hard by a global shortage of semiconductors. It’s the latest problem stemming from America’s over-reliance on a wide range of industrial imports. With the COVID-19 pandemic having disrupted global supply chains, U.S. automakers are now scrambling to find adequate supplies of the computer chips that run everything from power steering and navigation systems to collision sensors. The issue is serious enough that both GM and Ford have halted production. The Biden administration is racing to address the problem — along with other serious supply chain vulnerabilities. The president has already issued an executive order identifying key import dependencies, including semiconductors. It’s a promising start, but the United States must rapidly rebuild its domestic chipmaking industry in order to lessen the nation’s dependence on overseas suppliers.  Why are semiconductors so important? Because computer chips are the “brains” of not just computers, cars, and medical devices but also the weapons systems that support America’s military. Being so dependent on imported computer chips leaves America’s national security vulnerable to the whims of the global market. Right now, Taiwan is a key player in the chip industry. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. alone accounts for more than half of global chip revenues. However, China has invested a stunning $120 billion to dominate future semiconductor production — something that could endanger U.S. security when chips are used for sensitive products and installations. The time has come for the United States to bring back its semiconductor manufacturing industry. But how to do it? President Biden’s executive order offers a helpful template, since it encompasses both the current semiconductor shortage and the raw materials needed to build computer chips, medical devices, and electric vehicle batteries. Modern industry is built on semiconductors, which in turn are made from a wide array of minerals, including silicon, graphite, copper, gallium, and rare earth metals. What’s worrying is the degree to which China dominates the global supply of these crucial resources. For example, China controls 70 percent of the world’s lithium supplies, 80 percent of rare earth metals, and roughly 70 percent of the world’s graphite. These materials are irreplaceable for producing everything from electric vehicle batteries to solar panels and semiconductors.  To get back in the computer chip business, the United States must not only rebuild domestic chipmaking foundries but also start sourcing needed minerals and metals at home. Doing so would be the first step to ensure a secure, responsibly produced supply chain for U.S. industry. Worryingly, America’s mineral import reliance has doubled in just the past two decades — even though the U.S. is home to an estimated $6.2 trillion in mineral reserves. Rebuilding semiconductor production must happen in parallel with a resurgence in America’s mining sector.  Congress and the president should implement reforms to support a substantial increase in U.S. chip manufacturing, with a goal of producing 50 percent of semiconductors in every major category. Policymakers should also ensure that semiconductor inputs and equipment are not sold to entities with Chinese military ties.  Relaunching America’s computer chip industry could create hundreds of thousands of good-paying manufacturing jobs. The U.S. can resume its position as the world’s leading manufacturer of semiconductors—something that would strengthen national security and America’s industrial self-sufficiency.  Michael Stumo is CEO of the Coalition for a Prosperous America. Follow him at @michael_stumo.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Blaming the Arctic won’t address climate change

It’s become very fashionable lately for politicians and ‘environmental’ groups to advocate against resource development in the Arctic, supposedly in the name of climate change. This includes canceling oil and gas leases, discrimination by banks against Arctic oil and gas projects, calls for huge Wilderness designations and boycotts against shipping on the Northern Sea Route. Do these measures make sense and do they do anything to respond to climate change? The answer is no. A well intentioned effort can still be completely misguided. Think about it. Shutting down Arctic oil and gas production in the Arctic will not result in even one drop less oil being burned. None. It will just be produced somewhere else, like the Alberta tar sands or Venezuelan heavy oil. Is that what we want? The current estimate of available oil from world proven reserves is 53 years. This does not include unproven reserves or new production technologies. The U.S. International Energy Agency predicts that by 2050, the world will still be 70 percent dependent on fossil fuels. Arctic oil and gas development can help meet this obvious need. Although the anti-Arctic development campaigns claim they are “saving the people of the Arctic”, stopping oil and gas development will only add to the impacts we are already experiencing from climate change by destroying our economies. Arctic economies, and certainly Alaska’s economy, are highly dependent on resource development. This fact is lost upon the vast urban populations of the U.S. that don’t have any idea where their resources come from. Gasoline just comes out of the pump. Electricity just comes out of the plug in the wall as you turn on your air conditioning. Products based on mining and timber just magically appear on the shelves of the vast big box stores. This disconnect is exploited by politicians and by groups pleading for funding from these resource-alienated urban masses. The same goes with the major banks discriminating against the Arctic in their public relations efforts to greenwash themselves. And this while they continue to finance coal and heavy oil production elsewhere. Likewise, we have the politicians with their virtue signaling decisions like cancelling Arctic oil and gas leases and pipelines across the U.S. The Keystone Pipeline is an excellent case in misguided, but politically expedient, policy. Besides eliminating thousands of working class jobs, canceling the pipeline will just mean that the oil will be transported by truck or rail, much riskier than a pipeline. Saving the planet? Or trading substance for symbols? In the meantime, the politicians are supporting Biomass Energy as “green energy”. This involves cutting down the forests and burning wood pellets which produces more CO2 than coal. I wonder if our new President Biden and his eager staff have thought about this? If the President really wanted to do something to reduce consumption of oil and gas, he would shut down all the electrical generating plants in his own state of Delaware, which are 70 percent fossil fuel. (the rest being nuclear). That would actually do something to reduce CO2 emissions. It’s also not going to happen for purely political reasons. No, it’s much easier to attack the Arctic with our small population. Climate change is a global consumption problem, not an Arctic production problem. It’s not the 4 million people producing oil in the Arctic, it’s the 7 billion people in the rest of the world and growing demand, especially in developing nations who strive for the American standard of living. It’s not right to blame them either. These people have rights as well and we identify with them. We are not blind to climate issues and deal with them daily as the Arctic warms up. We support renewable energy when it is practical and that’s not just talk. We have used our oil money in Alaska to invest heavily in renewable energy sources such as hydroelectric, wind and solar. We wouldn’t have been able to do that without producing our oil and gas. We are not sitting on our hands with regard to reducing our own consumption. Among the states, Alaska is one of the lowest emitters of CO2. It’s wrong to blame the Arctic and discriminate against us for a problem that is your own. We have the right to continue providing critical resources to our country and the world, while supporting our working class people and our economy. If you want to look for a solution to climate change, you might want to look into your own back yard. Or a mirror. Paul Fuhs is a former mayor of Dutch Harbor and a former Commissioner of Commerce and Economic Development for Alaska. He can be reached at [email protected]

BROWN'S CLOSE: COVID Year in Review

March marks a full year that COVID-19 has moderately to significantly impacted my life. Rather than a “Calendar Year in Review” in December, I am opting for a “COVID Year in Review” in March. March: Anchorage is introduced to former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s “hunker down” order which, as summarized by Andrew Jensen, is “a stay-at-home order, but if you want to take a walk, they’ll allow it.” All of my usual activities are replaced with stockpiling paper products and canned soup, and eating chips and salsa. April: The chips and salsa snacking is replaced with consuming family-size packages of sour gummy worms. Knowing this will all inevitably catch up with me, I start exercising furiously. I delight in building muscles from scratch. What with all the restaurant closures, I figure now is the time to embrace learning to cook. I confirm a long-held suspicion that I hate cooking. I break down and order a pizza from Uncle Joe’s. It is the best pizza I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. May: I debut my COVID-perfected, knock you on your rear, margaritas. The recipe remains proprietary, such that I can keep friends around. Brown’s Close launches its website. We are immediately followed by fifty magnanimous Facebook friends, and three bots. June: I attempt to buy a new bike, as my current bike is 17 years old and wheezes whenever we round corners. Anchorage’s stores are completely sold out, as is Facebook Marketplace. I turn to Marketplace’s older, grungier associate, Craigslist. While there are bikes listed on Craigslist, they are all obviously stolen. Some of the inventory still has the broken bike locks on them in the pictures, and others, chains. One adult man is selling what he claims to be his bike. It is pink, floral, and large enough for a six-year-old girl. July: I go camping for the holiday. On the drive home, the car more or less calls it quits on life. I grind to a halt on the highway, walk a mile to cell phone service, and find one tow company open on the Sunday after the July 4th weekend. Given how busy the road is on the holiday weekend, and what with no offers of assistance from passing motorists, I am forced to conclude that chivalry is dead. August: The town erupts in very strong opinions on Kriner’s Diner, a restaurant that I can’t imagine has ever seen the kind of publicity that its standoff with the mayor garnered, not to mention those hefty $15,000/day fines. September: Learning my lesson from my bike-less summer, I purchase used cross-country skis at Play It Again Sports. The lettering on the skis is electric blue, and the boots are satin red and gold. The boots prove to ultimately give me blisters, but pain is weakness leaving the body. October: Photos of Anchorage Mayor, Ethan Berkowitz’s pimply back appear. Though meant to be seductive, they have more of a medical quality. November: I teach myself how to cross-country ski and become accomplished enough to participate in Alaska Ski for Women, and the Tour of Anchorage. Alas, I am dressed inappropriately for both events. My parka and snow pants are too bulky for the Tour of Anchorage, where current and former Olympians are dressed in spandex. My attire is similarly not bulky enough for Alaska Ski for Women, where participants are dressed as strawberries and blueberries, and wear neon pink wigs. The politics of masks come to a head when Alaska State Senator, Lora Reinbold, has a midair confrontation with the “Mask Bullies,” also known as Alaska Airlines. Senator Reinbold has not stopped there. A Google search of “Lora Reinbold masks,” yields 3,060 results as of the time of this writing. December: Our office Christmas party takes place virtually at ten in the morning. I annoy an entire Zoom breakout room with my passion for Die Hard. January: Capitol rioters reveal many Americans have closely held beliefs about the existence of Lizard People. February: Two men shoot Lady Gaga’s dog walker and make off with her French bulldogs. Most media coverage, and Lady Gaga’s reward offer, focus on the safe return of the dogs, and not so much on her critically wounded employee. March: Bitcoin reaches its highest value ever. I have friends who’ve sextupled their initial investment with Bitcoin. However, when the currency is explained to me, it just sounds made up. For example, there is what is called “The Halving,” which takes place at predetermined times. This ceremony “halves” the number of “Bitcoins” that “the Bitcoin Miners” receive when they “Mine a Block” after “solving a Hash Puzzle.” After that, there’s “The Reaping,” where teenagers are taken from their parents to fight to the death in service of “Bitcoin’s glorious future.” Only after both “The Halving” and “The Reaping,” can there be “The Quickening.” It is at this point that the “Final Bitcoin Miners” battle it out to ascertain who will become the “God of all Bitcoin.” April: Next month, I’ll get to see my brother for the first time in 16 months. We will use this precious time to catch up on an entire holiday seasons’ worth of family political debates. And thus, in the words of modern poet, Maria Athens, “Have a great Friday, you motherfu****!” Sarah Brown is a troubadour, specializing in chronicling local political life. You can reach her at [email protected], or on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. For more of Sarah’s musings, visit Browns-Close.com.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Working together to make higher education accessible to all Alaskans

The University of Alaska system is home to three distinct and independent universities working in tandem to provide the best outcomes for higher education in the state. This is all to the benefit of Alaskans: our students, our future workforce, employers, and our communities at large. We’re looking to the future with a cohesive vision to offer solutions to the issues Alaska faces today, and to create an accessible path to higher education for any student. While each of our universities has its own identity and specialty, our strength comes from our shared vision for the future of higher education in Alaska. As we adjusted to college during the COVID-19 pandemic, each university harnessed its expertise and area of focus to help support the issues our state faced. In some instances, that work involved collaboration across universities as researchers and students from UAA and UAF joined state public health efforts to help identify new, more contagious variants in Alaska, sequencing the virus’ genes in a process critical to keeping the virus under control. Others who were already studying coronaviruses shifted their focus to COVID-19 research in the past year. Amidst the pandemic, our academic programs have continued to reinforce Alaska’s industries. UAS and UAF now also offer a joint fisheries program, which graduated its first student last spring. The fisheries program offers hands-on learning, producing qualified personnel to support this in-demand sector, which is so important to Alaska’s economy. As we seek to create a college-going culture in Alaska, we know teachers educated within the University of Alaska system are critical to our future. Alaska school districts want to hire teachers trained in Alaska because they are more likely to stay in-state, and their coursework covers topics unique to Alaska. Working collaboratively allows us to provide greater accessibility and flexibility to accommodate teacher training, and we’re working hard to attract students into the teaching profession with programs that begin as early as middle school. We’re helping to pave the way for all students seeking higher education to reach their goal, including students who may not traditionally see themselves in a university environment. While we offer many different four-year degree programs, as well as master’s and doctoral programs, we also understand that for some students, it’s an associate degree or a certificate that will help them enter the workforce in their chosen field. We serve all of these students and are responsive to their educational goals. The university system is also an environment rich with opportunities for research, discovery, innovation and outreach. Opportunities to explore and solve tomorrow’s challenges today await students at all three universities at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Research across the UA system contributes to economic development by creating new businesses or new ways of doing business for Alaska’s companies. Under University of Alaska Interim President Pat Pitney’s leadership, we are committed to moving the University of Alaska system into the future. The students who progress through our universities will be the future leaders of our state. We know that when Alaskans go Outside for college, they are much less likely to return; this is one of the most important reasons to continue investing in our university system. Nearly 90 percent of residents agree or strongly agree that Alaska businesses benefit from a workforce trained by the University of Alaska. We are energized by the unity of leadership across the system and look forward to welcoming UAA’s new permanent chancellor to the team. We are buoyed by the positive momentum created by our faculty, staff and students’ good work. Our researchers’ groundbreaking discoveries are solving some of the state’s most pressing issues. We continue to strengthen our effort to become the universities of choice for Alaska’s students. Our alumni are supportive, engaged and our biggest advocates. Together, they continue to share personal stories of the university’s impact on their lives with friends, neighbors and colleagues. With the upcoming public launch of the university system’s philanthropic campaign, we look forward to working with our new colleague to write the next chapter in our universities’ history, one focused on leadership in higher education, research, innovation and economic development. Together, we continue building a positive future for Alaska for generations to come. Bruce Schultz is the interim chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage. Dan White is the chancellor of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Karen Carey is the chancellor of the University of Alaska Southeast.

GUEST COMMENTARY: All-of-the-above must be U.S. energy approach

Two months ago, President Biden stood before the nation and declared in his inaugural address “I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did.” Hours later, his call for unity came to a screeching halt. With a stroke of a pen, the Biden administration sent a striking blow to thousands of Alaskan and American energy workers and numerous communities that rely on responsible resource development as a meaningful tool for investment in social and economic advancement. These executive orders – including a sweeping moratorium on new oil and gas development on federal lands and waters, and a unilateral halt to leasing in ANWR’s 1002 area – have left many Alaskans fuming and understandably questioning our collective futures as an energy producing state, particularly in the face of unprecedented revenue and budget shortfalls. As the chairman of the Senate Resources Committee, I write today to outline my commitment to Alaskans in the face of these unprecedented attacks. 1. Alaskans must be at the forefront of federal decision-making, and the incoming Biden administration must understand that Alaskans and Americans alike demand an all-of-the-above energy approach, not a systematic destruction of critical sectors of our economy. 2. Alaskan and American energy workers, and the communities that support them, can’t be left behind. We must work to advance economic opportunities during these challenging times, not eliminate them. 3. We must fight to defend the promises made to Alaskans in our state constitution and Statehood Compact – which underpins our place as a resource development state and secures our right to develop our rich mineral resources, access our federal lands, and manage our fish and wildlife. 4. We must collectively work to counter the harmful actions of Wall Street banks and financial institutions that have succumb to the political pressures of extremists and red-lined resource development projects in Alaska and the Arctic. 5. We must underscore Alaska’s role in U.S. energy security, including our vast untapped resources (both traditional and renewable) and longstanding place as a global leader in clean and environmentally responsible development. 6. We must build upon the community driven successes of the past to lower energy costs, including natural gas deployment, renewable energy technologies like hydropower, wind and geothermal, and work to modernize energy infrastructure such as microgrids and renewable storage into the 21st Century. 7. We must understand that each and every Alaska community is different. Therefore, our commitment to an all-of-the-above energy strategy must address the diverse needs found in communities and regions across the state. As a committee, we have already begun the critical work to reaffirm the promises made to Alaska and fight back against an onslaught of federal overreach that has for too long ignored the will of local communities and stakeholders. We have begun examining our collective energy future, including steps to sustain investment and jobs on our North Slope, boost production, grow throughput in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, and help build a more resilient economic base through resource and energy development. This also includes a commitment to developing areas beyond traditional resources and energy sources, such as increasing development of wind, hydroelectric, biomass systems and microgrid projects that have lowered costs and reduced the reliance on costly diesel power generation throughout Alaska. Alaska has and continues to be a shining example of responsible resource and energy development where conservation and development have been proven to live in harmony; where stewardship of our lands, resources and environment is not falsely defined as mutually exclusive. But now, as a cornerstone of our vulnerable economy comes under attack, we must prepare for a tough road ahead. Like those before me, I am committed to working with our Alaska congressional delegation and bipartisan leaders to underscore the important role resource and energy development plays in Alaska’s collective DNA. The incoming Biden administration has placed heavy burdens on our already struggling economy with their clear desire to freeze new resource development projects across our state, but we must stand united to help shape these discussions and demand a commitment to an all-of-the-above energy approach. Now, more than ever, it’s vital that we stand up for our statehood right to develop our natural resources for the benefit of all Alaskans and Americans. I remain hopeful that, in the end, common sense will prevail. Josh Revak, R-Anchorage, is the chairman of the Senate Resources Committee.

SPONSORED: Keep your resume up to date

As a management consultant and small business owner, I work with hundreds of senior level and executive candidates each year. One thing I cannot stress enough is the importance of maintaining an up-to-date resume. Your resume is far more than a tool to get you to your next opportunity. It serves several purposes: you can track your career goals, set new goals, better understand your transferable skills, and prepare to “sell” yourself. This past year has been turbulent for most of us. The unprecedented circumstances leave so many feeling uncertain of the future and less prepared for change. The good news is, at Alaska Executive Search, we have seen no shortage of career opportunities, even for candidates more senior in their career. What we have seen is candidates who are not prepared to jump at a great opportunity. Whether it is because they didn’t anticipate entering a competitive job market or because they have not maintained a current and relative resume. Maintaining your resume is an opportunity to self-audit and compare your experience to your competition’s. This exercise prepares the candidate to speak to their strengths and how their experience can offer any organization a competitive advantage. When a candidate sits down to review their resume against a job posting there is an opportunity to compare your work history and accomplishment to what employers are currently seeking. At Alaska Executive Search, our recruiters review thousands of resumes each year and welcome the opportunity to help job seekers polish up their resume and prepare for interviewing. These experts thrive on putting people to work while satisfying their client’s unique needs. A candidate does not have to go it alone. Many candidates do not realize firms like AES do not charge the candidate for services. Employers look to a firm to find employees because they know recruiters are masterful in uncovering transferable skills and look beyond job descriptions. If a candidate finds themselves unable to navigate the automation of applicant tracking systems, a recruiter can help open doors and serve as the job seekers advocate. Even if you are not seeking employment, it’s a good exercise to review and update your resume. Things are changing fast. More workers are telecommuting, and more businesses are willing to look outside of their community to identify top talent. Maintaining your resume provides you with an opportunity to self-audit. You can easily uncover a gap in your skills or alternatively you can identify where you might have an advantage over other candidates. Furthermore, updating your resume is a great way to look back on the goals you have set. Maybe, like many of us you are hard on yourself, reviewing your resume might provide you with a reason to celebrate your successes. Maybe, it is time to set new goals to further advance your career. Either way, taking the time to understand the job market and how you compete is a necessary exercise to aid in continued growth. Remember, agencies like AES, are happy to help you. These experts talk to hundreds of employers and candidates each month. They can review your skills, help uncover skills you may not have already identified, prepare you for what current employers seek, and act as your champion when your dream job becomes available. Paula Bradison is the president of Alaska Executive Search and Bradison Management Group.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Preventing the next Exxon Valdez

There is a sad irony when you consider that the laws and regulations necessitated by the Exxon Valdez oil spill to protect the marine environment are not designed to accommodate the conditions that exist in Western Alaska and the Arctic today. Alaska’s coastline and environment were forever changed when the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef on March 24, 1989 – and the impacts of that spill reverberate today. It was in the aftermath of the spill that Congress enacted the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, or OPA 90, requiring ship operators to implement comprehensive systems to respond to an oil spill. Much like the system for tankers in Prince William Sound, the new regulations required the worst-case oil spill from any tank vessel to be covered with resources contracted from the private sector. However, the regime developed under this seminal law simply does not adapt to the challenging conditions that exist in Western Alaska and the U.S. Arctic. The vast distances and enormous time involved to respond to a spill are not reflected in the regulations, which were largely developed in consideration of the type of incident that could occur in the contiguous U.S. Following other high profile ship casualties and oil spills — like the Cosco Busan in San Francisco Bay and the Selendang Ayu west of Dutch Harbor — attention turned to the immense number of vessels transiting Alaskan waters which were not incorporated in OPA 90. Congress worked to resolve this problem by including vessels that do not carry oil as cargo (“nontank vessels”) in the OPA 90 regime. This congressional “fix” worked well in ports located in the Lower 48 but fell short in Alaska. Many ports in the Lower 48 already had existing response systems developed by oil spill cooperatives, making compliance with these changes to OPA 90 relatively easy to achieve. But the same type of infrastructure simply does not exist along the vast majority of Alaska’s expansive, remote and rugged coastline. Alaska operators, principally the barge operators who deliver refined oil products that fuel Western Alaska’s economy and sustain our communities, came up with effective alternatives to meet compliance objectives. These alternatives would preserve safety, while accounting for the uniqueness of the Last Frontier. The creation of the nonprofit, industry-funded response organization Alaska Chadux̂ Corp. in 1993 was an integral part of their compliance solution (now called Alaska Chadux̂ Network). In this new era for OPA 90 compliance and its application to the nontank vessel fleet in Western Alaska and the Arctic, the Alaska Chadux̂ Network stood up to meet the challenges confronting the maritime industry and expectations of the communities of Western Alaska and agencies. The result was a comprehensive prevention and response program developed by Alaskans with decades of response experience in Western Alaska. Using the Juneau-based Marine Exchange of Alaska, our program now takes preventive measures to track each vessel in Western Alaska and the Arctic, monitoring its operating status and providing early warning if assistance is needed. Despite these initiatives, marine casualties can still occur, and for that reason the Alaska Chadux̂ Network also developed 17 response hubs throughout Western Alaska and Prince William Sound. This includes the only two fully dedicated offshore, oil spill response vessels in Western Alaska stationed in Kodiak and Dutch Harbor. Alaska Chadux̂ Network’s approach of “prevention focused and response ready” is easily said but not always easy to execute – particularly as ships grow larger, the U.S. Arctic opens, and climate changes impact the communities throughout Alaska. OPA 90 never envisioned a comprehensive oil spill response system in these remote stretches of Western Alaska and the U.S. Arctic, however, such a system is becoming more necessary with time. Alaska’s communities and businesses will feel the brunt of a major marine casualty in Western Alaska and the Arctic just like so many communities did 32 years ago along the coast of Southcentral Alaska. Instead of waiting for the next Exxon Valdez to spur us to action, now is the time to develop solutions which ensure the residents and communities of Western Alaska enjoy protections to the pristine waters that surround them. We at the Alaska Chadux̂ Network are ready to contribute our 28 years of working throughout Western Alaska as we debate and address these critical issues. Let us not wait for another oil spill disaster to initiate action to change the law to address this circumstance because, just like winter in Alaska, we know that day could soon come. Buddy Custard is the president and CEO of the Alaska Chadux̂ Network. He possesses extensive knowledge and expertise working maritime operations from both the public and private sectors, including serving with the U.S. Coast Guard for over 30 years attaining the rank of Captain and as a senior manager for an oil exploration and production company operating in the U.S. Arctic Outer Continental Shelf.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Bring critical supply chains home — now

Bipartisan consensus has finally emerged on the need to bring critical industries and supply chains home. Overreliance on imports — particularly from geopolitical rivals — is now an urgent issue for both parties. The question is whether this consensus can be turned into robust policy solutions to confront the startling scale of the problem. President Biden’s recent executive order on supply chains calls for an immediate 100-day review of four critical sectors: pharmaceuticals, critical minerals, semiconductors, and advanced batteries like those used in electric vehicles, or EVs. While pandemic-related supply chain disruptions of everything from raw materials to personal protective equipment highlight the urgency, China’s dominance of key supply chains should drive us to think big. Consider mineral production and processing. China has made dominance of mineral markets a strategic priority, giving its companies government support in order to capture market share. From rare earth elements to key mineral inputs in lithium-ion batteries — namely lithium, cobalt, nickel and graphite — China’s control of global production and processing is unrivaled. China uses its dominant position as both a source of geopolitical leverage and a means to swallow the industries that rely on these essential materials. For more than a decade, China has exploited its control of rare earth elements for strategic advantage. Just last month, rumblings emerged that Beijing might cut rare earth supplies to the U.S., to see if this would affect F-35 aircraft production. The national security implications are obvious. China’s vise-like grip on the materials needed for electrification of the auto sector is just as concerning. The shift to EVs has become a sprint. From GM to Ford and Tesla, the future of transportation will be electric. But despite U.S. producers’ ambitions, China is far in the lead as it aims to dominate auto manufacturing for the remainder of the 21st century. China’s metal mining underpins this dominance. Given preferred access to key materials, Chinese battery manufacturers are gobbling up the global market. As of last year, China had 107 battery mega-factories in the pipeline, with 53 of them now active and in production. In contrast, the U.S. has only nine battery mega-factories planned or producing. The auto industry — once the crown jewel of American manufacturing might — is in danger of slipping away. Despite vast domestic resources, U.S. mineral import reliance has doubled in just the past two decades. And for nearly two dozen minerals and metals that the Departments of Defense and Interior have classified as critical to U.S. national and economy security, China is the dominant supplier. The Biden administration’s supply chain review should formalize what we already know: it’s time for multi-faceted, aggressive action to bring these supply chains home right now. The hollowing out of our auto industry and its millions of good, family-supporting jobs is something we cannot let happen. Nor can we let China tighten its grip on the production of irreplaceable materials used in our most advanced weapons systems. There is no building back better without the material supply chains needed to support infrastructure investment. Moreover, national security requires the reshoring of critical industries. From minerals to pharmaceuticals, we must ensure safe domestic production using the full breadth of our policy tools. The time for half-measures is long past. John Adams, U.S. Army brigadier general (ret.), is president of Guardian Six Consulting and a former deputy U.S. military representative to NATO’s Military Committee. He is a national security adviser and writer on national security and defense issues, and was the lead author for the 2013 study on the U.S. defense industrial base, “Remaking American Security.”

GUEST COMMENTARY: How Alaska can make the most of one more round of federal relief

Congress, over the course of two administrations, has passed relief measures totaling $6 trillion. The most recent, the American Rescue Plan, or ARP, accounts for a third. Individuals, businesses, state and local governments, schools, hospitals, and many others will see benefits from this effort in the months to come. For each tranche of federal relief, there were – and remain – strong arguments for more targeted spending, or at least not financing it only with debt. Ultimately, however, those gave way to political considerations. Because Congress can always add to national debt, the easiest way to address competing claims for need at the federal level is by increasing the size of an aid package. The same flexibility isn’t available at the state level, however, and decisions must become more fine-tuned when the aid reaches state and local governments. Here, let’s focus on what this means for Alaska. First, what’s headed to the state. Overall, Alaska state and local governments already have or will receive roughly $2 billion from prior Congressional action. The ARP directs just over an additional $1 billion directly to state government, plus another $112 million for specified capital projects (broadband, water/sewer, energy). More is headed directly to Alaska’s schools, the University, local governments, businesses, families, and other recipients. Alaska’s 165 cities and boroughs will see $230 million distributed amongst them, over two years. Before we get too excited, the distribution will mean roughly 76 will receive less than they do from Community Assistance. The total is about equal to vetoes these last two years of school bond and port/harbor debt reimbursement, Community Assistance recapitalization, and other important funding. It’s by no means a windfall, but it does help to offset some of the costs of COVID-19 and lost revenues experienced this last year. It hopefully stabilizes the majority of, but not all, local budgets. It does the same, potentially, for the state. Facing a roughly $2 billion revenue shortfall, the aid gives lawmakers options. Now is not the time to come up with a wish list of funding priorities, but Legislative Finance presented a pretty clear picture that the state had reduced its budget about as far as can be done without making significant statutory changes. The Alaska Municipal League has argued that for some things it has gone too far. A first step to consider is to sort through the categories of state spending that are receiving direct federal aid. Schools, the university, local governments, and others are receiving direct aid for specific purposes. There also will be direct appropriations from federal agencies into Alaska’s agencies. Together, those funds can help fill gaps in the amount the state needs to provide, but shouldn’t replace current spending levels or requirements. Most middle and lower income Alaska families, beneficiaries of the PFD, will directly receive $1,400-per-person stimulus checks. After that assessment, and consideration of fund source changes, if any are possible, the next step is to look at this current “base” budget and use the federal funds received by the state to true up what’s remaining to be spent this year at the statutory funding formulas. That means to fully fund the State’s statutory obligations. Essentially, a review of the budget should include filling gaps or targeting programs that need it. Then, if there are funds remaining — and there may not be much — the third step we would recommend is to address the state’s infrastructure deficit, and more specifically the maintenance backlog. These needs fall into three buckets: school construction and major maintenance, university and state deferred maintenance, and transportation projects (road maintenance, rural airports, and coastal infrastructure). In light of the federal aid, lawmakers should reconsider the need for the Alaska Housing Finance Corp., Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, and general obligation bond proposals. These don’t necessarily have to be taken off the table permanently, but the better course may be to defer them to a later date in order to better spread out and sustain Alaska’s economic recovery. Totaled up, the scale of federal relief is such that Alaskans can breathe something of a sigh of relief, but we can’t take our eye off the end goal. This federal aid doesn’t solve the challenges that lie ahead. During this legislative session we still need action on new, equitable revenues; a fix to the PFD formula that avoids continued, deep cuts, the most harmful approach to most Alaskans; and other package items that may include a reasonable spending cap. Relief doesn’t come with reduced responsibilities to fix these things now; instead, we should view it as providing a bridge from where we have been to where we are headed. Nils Andreassen is the Executive Director of the Alaska Municipal League. Brad Keithley is the Managing Director of Alaskans for Sustainable Budgets.

OPINION: Don’t know much about history

Keeping up with all the Historic FirstsTM at the White House is obviously a difficult task for the press corps, so perhaps they should be forgiven for missing a couple during the daily briefings with Circle Back Girl Jen Psaki. Eschewing a question about COVID-19, the Middle East, the Southern border, China, or literally anything else that would be more relevant, one member who should turn in his press pass offered what may be the most historically awful inquiry to Biden’s spokesperson: “We were promised a cat. What happened to that?” We’ve certainly come a long way from CNN’s Jim Acosta wrestling with a press aide over a microphone while trying to get an extra two-minute harangue in at President Trump. The 24-minute news cycle media has occasionally been compared to a cat chasing a laser pointer, but who knew they would eventually ask when they are getting a little brother or sister. This is the press corps that tongue bathes the administration daily, yet President Biden’s staff still doesn’t trust him to stand in front of them for a traditional briefing for what has now been a historic amount of time since his first day in office. Forget about an address to a joint session of Congress. COVID, ya know. Once upon a time, who answers the hypothetical 3 a.m. phone call was an issue the press cared about, but now we are treated to stories that incuriously report on his early bedtime. Biden is the oldest president ever elected — another Historic FirstTM! — but after Presidents Woodrow Wilson and FDR he is certainly not the first Democrat whose health issues have been covered up and covered for by the reporters who are closest to the White House. With each day and with every confused grimace or “gaffe,” Biden looks more likely to be the Historic FirstTM president to be removed from office via the 25th Amendment due to his mental decline that is obvious to anyone outside the White House Pet Beat. But hey, that only paves the way for yet another Historic FirstTM for the Dead Last Democrat Primary Candidate Kamala Harris to ascend to the office. Historic FirstsTM are a big deal to Alaska’s senior U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who decided New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland’s status as a Native American is more important than Haaland’s opposition to Alaska having an economy. “So, I have really struggled through this one,” Murkowski said while announcing her tie-breaking vote to advance the anti-oil Interior Secretary nominee out of the Senate Energy and Resources Committee. “How to reconcile a historic nomination with my concerns about an individual’s and an administration’s conception of what Alaska’s future should be.” In the end, Murkowski came down on the side of identity politics and not what’s best for the state she represents. To vote for Haaland based on her Historic FirstTM status rather than her history of opposing everything oil and the looming deleterious effects her policies will bring to Alaska is unfortunately no surprise. For as obviously competent as she is, Murkowski’s pattern of being swayed by emotion is baffling whether it is preserving Obamacare, opposing Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh or impeaching Donald Trump. At least she is also consistent on her Mean Tweets policy after helping sink Office of Management and Budget nominee Neera Tanden. Never mind that Tanden should have been rejected on general principles for being a radical leftist. We just can’t have any more Mean Tweeters. Murkowski’s voting standard apparently goes something like this: Mean Tweets > Identity > What’s Best for Alaska. Oh well. The Alaskans put out of work by Haaland’s policies thanks in part to Murkowski’s support will have plenty of free time to watch some new cat videos. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Cuomo allegations got a whole lot ickier claiming mentor status

A life hack: If you’re 63 and she’s 25 and you’re her boss, the flirtation is always, every time, definitely unwanted. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, facing sexual harassment accusations from two former aides, released a statement Feb. 28 acknowledging that his interactions at the office “may have been insensitive or too personal.” “I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation,” his statement reads. “To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.” In a New York Times story published online Feb. 27 and on the newspaper’s front page Sunday, Charlotte Bennett, 25, said the three-term, 63-year-old governor asked her questions about her sex life, whether she was monogamous in her relationships and if she had ever had sex with older men. Bennett was an executive assistant and health policy adviser in Cuomo’s administration until November. “He asked me if I believed if age made a difference in relationships, and he also asked me in the same conversation if I had ever been with an older man,” Bennett told the Times. “At one juncture, Ms. Bennett said, the governor also noted that he felt ‘he’s fine with anyone above the age of 22,’” the Times reports. Cuomo’s statement called for an “outside, independent review” to look at Bennett’s allegations, as well as allegations by former aide Lindsey Boylan, who accused the governor of proposing a game of strip poker on a government airplane and stopping her as she was leaving his office one day to kiss her on the lips. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, New York’s two U.S. senators, and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have also called for an independent investigation. It’s hard to imagine a bright political future for Cuomo at this point, especially with the FBI and U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York investigating his administration’s handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes. He may be toast. I don’t know. I’ve never been good at, or all that interested in, predicting the future. But I do find one detail in this whole sordid saga particularly troubling, and that’s the fact that Cuomo told The New York Times he believed he was acting as “a mentor” to Bennett. I’m reminded of a 2019 LeanIn.org survey that looked at the impact the #MeToo movement had on workplace interactions. The survey found 60 percent of male managers were uncomfortable participating in a common work activity with a woman, such as mentoring — a 32 percent jump from a year prior. Thirty-six percent of surveyed men said they had avoided mentoring or socializing with a woman because they were nervous about how it would look. Senior-level men said they were more hesitant to spend time with junior women than with junior men in a range of capacities: They were 12 times more likely to hesitate to have one-on-one meetings with junior women than junior men, nine times more likely to hesitate to travel for work with junior women than junior men, and six times more likely to hesitate to schedule work dinners with junior women than junior men. Those statistics are obviously lousy news for anyone interested in women advancing in the workplace, which should be everyone, since workplaces, families and communities all benefit tremendously from women’s voices, talents and financial security. Which is why Cuomo imagining himself as Bennett’s mentor, even as he acknowledges interactions that had little to do with Bennett’s professional growth and everything to do with the maintenance of his ego, is just galling. “At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny. I do, on occasion, tease people in what I think is a good-natured way. I do it in public and in private,” his statement reads. “I have teased people about their personal lives, their relationships, about getting married or not getting married. I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business.” Mentors help you understand and navigate the unique culture of a place. They advocate for you in meetings, whether or not you’re there to see it. They coach you on asking for a raise and point you toward opportunities you may not have the confidence to pursue without some nudging. They are invested in your professional success. Your sex life is none of their business. Their sex life is none of yours. This is true whether there’s a one-year age gap or you’re the same age as your mentor’s twin daughters. (Eww.) It seems like this would go without saying, but maybe we’re not there yet. Maybe there’s still a persistent, moldy style of power broker who needs to be reminded that female colleagues and subordinates are humans, just like you, showing up to do their jobs and use their brains and contribute to the cause — which is never, not ever, not even once, your sex life.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Spending cap would help restore trust in government

Trust in government is at an all-time low. Every year, the well-respected research firm Edelman Data &Intelligence surveys thousands of people across the world to measure attitudes about trust and credibility. Throughout its 21-year history, the report has revealed fascinating insights into which institutions are deemed credible and trustworthy. This year, business has emerged as the most trusted institution, replacing government. Business is the only institution deemed ethical and competent, and outscores government by 48 points on competency alone. These attitudes reflect the stellar response to COVID-19, with business finding innovative and safe ways to continue delivering their goods and services, and the rapid development of a vaccine. While those of us in the business community appreciate finding ourselves in the top spot, we realize Alaskans must trust their government for important policy decisions. This year, those decisions are especially urgent. In the spirit of being helpful, the Alaska Chamber offers a solution to restore some of the trust Alaskans have lost in state-level leadership. A real, meaningful cap on state government spending would go a long way in showing Alaskans government can be trusted with public funds. The concept of a spending cap is not new or complicated. Individuals and families usually match their spending to their income, and they understand that blowing budgets is bound to catch up with them eventually. Alaskans want government to acknowledge this basic tenet of budgeting. While the concept of spending from emergency savings under extraordinary circumstances may make some sense, watching years of deficit spending created by past years of overspending has contributed to the dramatic erosion of trust in government. The State of Alaska technically has a spending cap in place now, but it lacks teeth. This is why the State was able to ramp us spending so dramatically a decade ago when oil prices were high, and money was rolling in. Because no effective spending limits were in place, the size and scale of the state’s operating budget grew many times faster than the ability to sustain such growth. Now we find ourselves with the unpleasant reality of annual budget cuts just to get the state back to a place where it can pay for basic services. No one enjoys that painful process, and we sympathize with state leaders trying to solve problems with no easy solutions. That is why the Alaska Chamber has such a strong record of supporting governors who take our fiscal crisis seriously. Even when the business community does not like every aspect of the solution, we have always encouraged our politicians to develop a long-term fiscal plan to give all Alaskans confidence in our future. This brings us back to supporting a real spending cap. If state leaders plan to ask Alaskans to contribute more to state revenues, they must guarantee that dramatic overspending will not recur once more money is available. We know aspects of a comprehensive fiscal plan will be difficult. But, if they occur in concert with a robust spending cap, Alaskans will trust that their sacrifices of today will not be wasted tomorrow. Any realistic fiscal plan requires this to be in place at the same time as the sacrifices the citizens will make, so the time to establish a cap is now. In plain terms, we encourage our state leaders to put a cap in place that shows Alaskans government is legally prohibited from long-term unsustainable spending again. Crafting law that guarantees downward pressure on spending also forces legislators and the governor to make tough choices; if only a set amount of dollars can be spent, real choices about what to fund will be mandatory. Several municipalities across the state have lived and thrived under the constraints of tax caps for decades, the Municipality of Anchorage being the most well-known example. While taxpayers in Anchorage grumble at waste in local government, imagine how much worse the situation would be if no cap had been in place! Given the widespread lack of trust in government, state leaders codifying tough spending limits are likely the only way Alaskans buy into the idea of creating new revenue streams. Once trust in government is restored, or at least improved, the state can move forward with making the tough decisions in front of us. That sets up the entire state, including the business community and the Alaskans who work within it, for success. Allen Hippler is the chairman of the Alaska Chamber.

BROWN'S CLOSE: Skiing and the Socratic Method

This COVID winter, all of my usual activities were indefinitely postponed. Typically, I spend the cold months indoors with friends. We go to events around town, the movies, and last winter got into a memorable altercation in a local wine bar with a woman who threw our coats on the floor. Faced with the prospect of nothing so exciting to do as that sort of direct communication, I taught myself to ski. I bought a pair of used classic cross country skis from Play It Again Sports in September, and in November I went to Hilltop and puttered around the flat landscape. It struck me as odd that the skiing destination known as “Hilltop” has the flattest land for skiing in the whole city. I was quickly distracted from this thought, however, by the sheer difficulty of cross country skiing. It takes some time to grow accustomed to the movement. One does not walk on cross country skis, or shuffle. One glides. Going straight from zero to glide proved challenging, but I picked up some tips from YouTube. Try to shuffle-shuffle-glide-shuffle. Move up to the shuffle-shuffle-glide-glide. By the time I graduated to the shuffle-glide-glide-glide-shuffle, I’d begun to notice some things about my fellow skiers. For example, the fastest way to annoy a gaggle of cross country skiers is to go the wrong way on the trail. Indeed, most loops are one way, and yet the direction is rarely marked. It’s up to the skier to know the direction. Sadly, as a novice, it is pretty much inevitable I am going the wrong way. Serious skiers, mind you, are not shy about informing you of your mistake, though their corrections could do with a bit more directness. Rather than throwing my coat on the floor, my fellow skiers want to teach me the error of my ways through the Socratic method, trying to get me to reach my own conclusions. One evening while happily skiing the wrong way, I was stopped by a female on skate skis. She was tall and thin, with her skis and poles making her legs and arms look even longer than they actually were. She flapped over. “Is there a moose back there?” Her voice went up at the end of the sentence, and she cocked her head. I frowned, puzzled. “No.” Did she expect there to be? “Oh. Well, like, you’re going the wrong way?” Her voice went up again, and she cocked her head in the other direction. I wondered why she didn’t make it a declarative statement. After all, I was either going the wrong way, or I wasn’t. In my defense, there really is no way to know whether one is going in the correct direction. Much like the skiers themselves, the ski signs communicate opaquely. Periodically, there will be one way signs with alarming stop signs beneath, clearly demonstrating the way. The trouble is, the stop signs are only at intersecting trails, which necessitate more signs with more arrows pointing to the new trails. Many of these arrows point in the direction of the stop sign, thereby instructing novices like me to disregard the one way. Like, do you see my problem? Clear, comprehensible directional signage is not important to the ski community, but signs telling non-skiers they are not welcome on the ski trails are very important. Around Anchorage, it is not uncommon to see trails labeled, “Ski Only in Winter.” While I do give kudos to the skiers for at least labeling these trails, the syntax is wrong; when else during the year would one be skiing? The first time I saw such a sign, I was on a walk in the fresh snow at Service High School. I had not yet attempted skiing myself, so I was not fully indoctrinated in the skiing ethos of restricting trails for skiers only. I read the sign, frowned in confusion, shrugged, and proceeded. I wasn’t sure why Service High School felt compelled to tell me not to bother skiing outside of winter. Perhaps some rogue student went haywire one year, tried to ski in the summer, and caused such mayhem the school administrators took extra steps to prevent similar chaos in the future. I was promptly accosted by a woman on skate skis. She, too, questioned me to show me the error of my ways. How else was I to learn? “Are you taking a walk?” She pulled the skier head cock. “Well…yeah.” “Like, you’re not supposed to walk here?” I frowned. “What do you mean I can’t walk here?” She pulled her head to the other side, and continued to look at me. The Socratic method was not working. Really, what could she do to me. This is America. I could walk on any trail I wished. “Are you telling me you don’t want me to walk here?” She shook her head piously. I waited for her to offer a bit of helpful information, such as, where she wanted me to walk instead. After we engaged in a standoff for several seconds, she motioned me to a different trail system. Many of Anchorage’s skiers are elite athletes, to be sure. Once the city reopens fully, however, they could stand a lesson in direct communication from any number of Anchorage’s bar patrons. Sarah Brown is direct. Write her at [email protected] Tweet her @BrownsClose1. Visit Browns-Close.com. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

OPINION: Go big or go home

“$1,000 is nothing to sneeze at” That was the title of an opinion piece published in this space on June 8, 2016, as the debate raged over the first legislation that would have authorized use of Permanent Fund earnings and set the dividend at $1,000 or some other amount for a period of three years as the state was facing multi-billion deficits. A subsequent column suggested former Gov. Bill Walker veto half the dividend appropriation — which he eventually did — as a piece of leverage with the House to encourage its members to approve the Senate bill that had passed 14-5. A year later I declared that “the PFD is not a suicide pact” as a divided Legislature remained at an impasse over using Fund earnings before settling once again for filling the deficit with savings from the Constitutional Budget Reserve. At the same time it has been argued here that the PFD should not stand as the first priority of all state spending — I’m of the “Alaska Inc.” perspective in that the dividend should reflect the state’s fiscal health like any other business — I’ve also consistently urged the Legislature to stop the ad hoc dividend setting and reconcile the conflicting statutes between using Fund earnings and the PFD formula. The point of this rambling preamble down memory lane is to provide context for anyone who may assume that because I approach issues from the conservative side of the spectrum I must have always favored paying out a full dividend or that I believe we can cut our way out of budget deficits. The time is now to go big. As a natural resource state, Alaska has endured boom-and-bust cycles from industry to industry over its history, but we are a long way from the oil price crash in 2016 and nearly a year into a once-in-a-century economic disruption brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite recovering oil prices and several promising advanced projects, the North Slope is under attack from a malevolent federal government, the courts and anti-development NGOs. The tourism industry is staring at a wipeout after several record-setting years thanks to Canadian COVID-19 precautions and a 19th Century protectionist U.S. law that puts our visitor economy under effective control by our neighbors to the east and south. Fisheries face uncertain markets both domestically and overseas and must also cover millions in extra costs for COVID-19 mitigation that as we’ve seen can still not be enough to prevent outbreaks and production interruptions. Construction spending is forecast to be off by one-third this year over 2020 as the private sector hunkers down. Public sector construction spending is typically about a third of spending in a year; this year it is projected to account for half. About the only industry that has been held harmless over the past year are the metal miners who are all expanding in response to demand brought on by inflation expectations tied to trillions in federal deficit spending that shows no signs of slowing down. In short, Alaska is enduring a hurricane followed by a monsoon followed by a tsunami and the conventional wisdom as it relates to our supposed “rainy day” fund is that it can only open its umbrella to cover the state budget and government payroll that has shed almost nothing in the past year. Tens of thousands of others have lost their jobs. The state population has declined for four years in a row. The birth rate is down. K-12 enrollment is ebbing. Graduating high school students who shun the state universities for opportunities elsewhere are unlikely to ever return. We are not simply moving through a predictable economic cycle. We are suffering generational brain drain on a scale unlike any other time in state history. The most common refrain for not exceeding the statutory percent of market value, or POMV, draw is that we must protect the Fund and the dividend for future generations, but what kind of state will actually be left to enjoy if we do nothing to arrest the current trajectory? What good is a $100 billion Permanent Fund if we have a hollowed out education system as families flee, devastated coastal communities of shuttered small businesses and a managed decline on the North Slope while work dries up for Alaska-based support companies? Let us not forget that the reason the Permanent Fund has reached the unprecedented value of nearly $75 billion is because of the largest wealth transfer in the history of mankind from the working class and small business owners to the top percent of billionaire oligarchs and white collar work-from-homers who have seen their 401(k) accounts soar. For that the Fund managers deserve credit, and previous years’ well-founded austerity in dividend setting gave them more resources to work with that have generated these massive returns. Alaska cannot control the federal government, Canada or the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. But it can control something that is the envy of 49 other states: the ability to provide direct relief to its residents. Combined with a revised PFD formula and his plan to boost the construction sector by getting to work on our billion-dollar backlog of deferred maintenance using a manageable amount of debt, Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s pitch for a significant increase in dividends is an idea whose time has come. The message is simple for a Legislature that still, inexplicably, is showing no sense of urgency: Go big or go home. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

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