Opinion

OPINION: Court cases give Legislature carte blanche

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

ANALYSIS: Does new congress threaten Trump energy agenda? Not so fast

Congress returns with a renewed focus on climate change and clean energy under the direction of a newly minted House Democratic majority. But with President Donald Trump still in control of the White House and a Republican majority in the Senate, prospects for major shifts in policy in the 116th Congress are slim. Even in the House where a crush of new progressive freshmen are pushing the party further to the left, climate and energy issues may take a backseat to oversight and Democrats’ broader goal of serving as a check on the administration. However, even if a divided 116th Congress is powerless to forge consensus on legislation, the refocusing of the public debate around energy and the environment is worth noting. Unrequited priorities tend to pop up in other, unrelated debates as amendments or poison pills, infrastructure for example. Longshot policy proposals can also form the foundations of future law. Look no further than criminal justice reform to see how, with enough time, a minority proposal can evolve into the majority consensus. Climate change policy certainly fits that bill. Drawing the most headlines is a proposal championed by newly elected New York Democrat Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez known as the “Green New Deal.” While heavy on slogans and government spending, however, the Ocasio-Cortez plan is light on policy, other than calling for decarbonizing the economy by 2030. The idea of putting a price on carbon has been around for more than a decade. The details have changes slightly depending on the political winds, but while it has yet to stick, it also hasn’t disappeared. Its very existence in the public discussion means it shouldn’t be dismissed, especially if the next election cycle brings a new wave of Democrats to Congress — or even the White House. Later this month, House Democrats, who are resuscitating the defunct special committee on climate change under the leadership of Florida Democrat Rep. Cathy Castor are likely to begin to attempt to put meat on the bones of Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal. Democrats are attempting to pull the national conversation back toward climate change amid the backdrop of America surpassing both Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the world’s largest oil and gas producer. And output is expected to continue to grow for years, providing abundant and affordable fossil energy to consumers at home and abroad, with all the economic and political benefits that entails, including a boost to manufacturing that will play well in states Trump won in 2016. It will be interesting to see whether the revived climate committee, which lacks legislative or subpoena powers, will play a constructive role in developing a consensus proposal or if it reverts to serving as a stage for media attention and aspirations of higher office, as it did under then-Chairman Ed Markey of Massachusetts. The bigger question for Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and her followers is whether they will support more centrist proposals to improve the energy sector’s environmental performance and the market-based development of cost-competitive renewables. Historically, this has not been the case for progressives, who have typically labeled conservative support for innovation and market-driving proposals as insufficient. That’s unfortunate as the core fundamentals that drove growth in the renewable energy sector in 2018 will persist. These included the declining cost of wind and solar, advances in battery storage technology and grid operators’ growing expertise and expanding toolset for integrating intermittent renewable power into the grid. Continued growth in cost-competitive renewables is a good bet regardless the fate of federal tax credits. The Trump administration has helped renewables developers with efforts to deregulate and streamline permitting, in addition to fossil fuels. In February 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission finalized order 841, which requires grid operators to remove barriers hindering participation of electric storage resources in the capacity, energy and ancillary services markets. Much about energy policy in 2019 will be determined by the leadership changes of key energy panels in both chambers of Congress. In the House, the Energy and Commerce Committee under the leadership of Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, has already said the panel’s first hearing will focus on climate change. Chairman Pallone is also unlikely to give much time to the permitting reforms previously championed by Republicans. In the Senate, much has been made over the ascension of West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin, a centrist from the nation’s second-largest coal-producing state, to serve as the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Environmentalists worry the move signals a shift away from clean energy as Sen. Manchin replaces Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, a longtime champion of clean energy. The Energy Committee’s chair, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, has long been an advocate for renewables, low-carbon nuclear energy, efficiency gains and other climate-friendly legislation, so the pair of fossil-fuel state senators may prove a good balance that can win over skeptics on both sides of the aisle to move legislation. At least parts of the bipartisan energy package Sen. Murkowski has attempted to push uphill the last two congresses could also stand a better chance with Democrats in control of the House. Another potential beneficiary of a divided Congress could be the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act, which would extend the length of federal power purchase agreements for public utilities. The bigger challenge for Republicans may be keeping President Trump’s energy dominance agenda on the rails under fire from Democrats. Administration officials could easily find themselves spending more time trudging up Independence Avenue to testify before House oversight committees than advancing the president’s agenda. Trump’s efforts to make more federal areas available to oil and gas exploration and reform the regulatory rulebook won’t end completely — it is his agencies that are in charge of the changes, after all — but they will face stronger headwinds. The administration is likely to focus on completing deregulatory initiatives and reforms already announced rather launching new efforts, that includes EPA’s new Affordable Clean Energy rule, fuel economy standards. It will also look to finalize a new offshore and onshore leasing programs. Robert Dillon is Vice President of Communications for the American Council for Capital Formation, a pro-growth economic think tank based in Washington, D.C., and the former communications director of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Plastic bag ban increases waste

Following suit with larger cities in the Lower 48, the Anchorage Assembly passed a disposable grocery store bag ban for the Municipality of Anchorage, originally effective March 1, 2019. The ban dictates retailers charge a 10-cent per bag fee for paper bags, up to a total of 50 cents per transaction. Plastic bags will no longer be available. Rather than put this proposition to a vote, the body passed the ordinance following a public hearing. The Assembly’s unilateral decision has not been without reaction. As of last week, the ban was delayed to Sept. 15, 2019, due to protest from local businesses. Further, Anchorage resident David Nees is circulating a petition to repeal the bag ban; the petition must have 10,000 signatures by mid-January. Aside from instituting what amounts to a regressive tax, and from forcing consumers to purchase reusable bags ahead of Sept. 15, the ban will likely not assist the Assembly with its purported goals — combatting climate change and environmental hazards. Assembly member Christopher Constant described plastic bags as a “voluminous” “waste stream,” for which “we have an opportunity to break the cycle.” Voluminous? As reported by National Geographic, plastic grocery store bags produce 70 percent fewer emissions, 80 percent less solid waste, 94 percent less waterborne waste, and consume 40 percent less energy than paper bag equivalents. Per a 2007 study published by the Australian government on the environmental impact of disposable bags, paper bags have a higher carbon footprint than plastic bags. Similar findings were also published in The Journal of Fiber Bioengineering and Informatics. Phys Org reports that, due to the higher environmental impacts of paper bags and heavier reusable bags, a paper bag must be reused 43 times in order to have the same environmental impact as a standard supermarket plastic bag. A cotton bag must be reused 7,100 times. These numbers only increase if a supermarket bag is reused as a trash bag or bin liner. Aside from seemingly incorrectly choosing paper over plastic, the Assembly’s bag ban does not consider more complex waste streams in its policy. Consider this: in 2012, professors from the University of Pennsylvania and George Mason University published a paper following San Francisco’s plastic bag ban. The researchers documented a 46 percent increase in death due to foodborne illness, and a significant increase in emergency room visits due to E. Coli poisoning. The bacteria were traced back to reusable shopping bags; consumers were not washing their bags between grocery store visits. If everyone in Anchorage begins washing reusable bags, shouldn’t the Assembly have accounted for the extra water, chemicals, heat, and electricity consumed per Anchorage resident for the increased laundry loads? What about the environmental, chemical, and health impacts of sanitizing the bags with single-use wipes, such as Clorox disinfecting wipes? The Assembly is silent on all of these matters. The Assembly also assumes plastic bags go directly from the grocery store into the landfill. This is a questionable proposition. Following a plastic bag ban in Austin, Texas, in 2013, residents began purchasing heavier-grade plastic bags for use as garbage bags. Perversely, these bags were less biodegradable than those which the local government opted to ban. Per NBC News, “Turns out that Austin’s residents were buying (and discarding) trash can liners now that they weren’t getting plastic bags for free.” On a personal note, I was famous amongst friends for years for not owning a trash can. Rather, I hung grocery store bags from door handles in the bathrooms and kitchen. While visitors may have found me charmingly eccentric, I thought this only logical. Why spend extra money to purchase (and consume) other plastic trash bags? The grocery store bag ban will merely drive consumption of other plastics, chemicals, water and heat. I realize the Anchorage Assembly feels good about its stance against climate change. But at the expense of Anchorage residents? That doesn’t feel good at all. ^ Sarah Brown was born and raised in Fairbanks and is a graduate of West Valley High School. She received her bachelor’s degree in economics from the Wharton School of Business (University of Pennsylvania) and her master’s degree from the University of Oxford (England). She can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Dunleavy budget forces Legislature to face reality

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

OPINION: A governor for all Alaskans

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

OPINION: Legislature writes another check in LIO fiasco

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

OPINION: Time for Alaska to consider alternative to gas pipeline

Alaskans join together in congratulating our new Governor-Elect Mike Dunleavy and our Legislature. The challenges ahead bring great opportunities to unify our efforts to stabilize our States economy for the development of our abundant resources, and to sustain the unique quality of Alaska’s lifestyle. Therefore, I believe it would be timely to review just where we have been and where we are going with regard to marketing our Arctic gas reserves An old Irish sage made the observation that “you never really know where you are going until you get there, but you had better look closely at the signs along the way.” In a recent release, Royal Dutch Shell announced plans to construct a liquefied natural gas facility in Kitimat, British Columbia, at the cost of $14 billion. ExxonMobil is in the process of approving a multi-billion dollar LNG project in Mozambique next year. At the same time, Russia’s $20 billion dollar Arctic LNG-2 in partnership with France’s Total is under construction. The oil industry is betting on natural gas as the fuel of the future. Estimates indicate both Shell and BP will be producing more gas than oil by 2025. In Germany there is another first: a new cruise ship, the Aida, will be powered by LNG. It’s time to candidly evaluate our efforts to market our Arctic gas reserves in light of the dramatic expansion of the LNG markets worldwide and to look for those signs along the way that show where Alaska can fit in. As governor I had the opportunity to negotiate a natural gas contract in 2005-06 with ExxonMobil, BP and ConocoPhillips, who held gas leases on the North Slope. The contract covered the building of a ($37 billion-plus) natural gas pipeline to Alberta, Canada, to supply gas destined for the U.S. markets. Within a year-and-a-half, the project was scrapped because of the discovery of the huge shale gas reserves found all over the US. Our market changed almost overnight from the idea of supplying the U.S. market with Alaska natural gas to switching to LNG focusing on Asia as our major market. Ironically, Alaska had been supplying LNG shipments to Japans Tokyo Gas and Electric for 40 years from the former ConocoPhillips plant at Kenai. Today the plant stands empty, as does the urea plant. Why are these two plants closed? The answer is both economics and administrative. Factually, exploration is focused on oil, which is the main revenue source. Our Cook Inlet gas has really only one market and that is Hilcorp, which has the franchise for the Anchorage Bowl. If new gas is found there is virtually no market. Any gas found, is in fact, stranded. Why have we not come up with proposals to determine just what the Cook Inlet reserves might be so that we can incentivize gas exploration and identify markets. I would hope our regulatory officials would rectify this imbalance. It is clearly not in the state’s best interest. Today we continue to look at our relationship with China to market our gas. We have expended millions of dollars promoting the China Alaska partnership, yet China has still not formalized its interest either with an equity or contractual commitment. In the meantime,our nation is in a dispute with China over our trade imbalance, with threatened boycotts on both sides. Just last month China said it would impose a 10 percent tariff on U.S. LNG against the Trump Administration proposed tariffs of on $200 billion of Chinese goods. You don’t build a gas pipeline on these kinds of threats. If China really wanted to reduce their trade imbalance with the U.S., they could start with a long-term contract for Alaskan gas, but the Chinese are not going to buy our gas at a market premium. The trade imbalance issue and the rumor that the Chinese plan to hold off major projects in the U.S. until the Trump Administration is gone does not bode well for our LNG prospective partnership with China. The LNG market is passing Alaska by. LNG tankers from the Russian Arctic are carrying LNG to both Asia and Europe and bypassing the Suez Canal, saving transit time. Back in the 1960s, ExxonMobil proposed shipping North Slope oil through the Northwest Passage. I was aboard the tanker Manhattan for a day. The ship made the trip through but it was uneconomic because of ice conditions. That was more than 50 years ago, the Arctic has changed and the Russians are taking advantage of this. Arctic alternative Does Alaska have a viable alternative? I believe we do and in my view one of the only ways we can be competitive in today’s market. We must reevaluate the feasibility of shipping our gas directly off the North Slope in ice breaking LNG carriers as the Russians do. One proposal is to again reexamine the Barrow Trench off Prudhoe Bay and assess the water depth. Another is the Cross Island proposal, which may be the best alternative. Icebreaking LNG tankers could be utilized from an Alaska Arctic loading port to a seasonal storage facility for transfer to the world market, especially Asia. We know for a fact that the Asian market wants more than one supplier and Alaska could be that source. Let’s invite the holders of the North Slope leases back to negotiate this new approach. ExxonMobil, BP and ConocoPhillips still hold the gas leases and are interested in marketing their gas, but marketing Alaska gas has to be competitive. Alaska’s pipeline is the only project that has to amortize a $47- to $60-billion cost to move its product to market, which makes the Alaska project in today’s market non-competitive and uneconomic. It is time to face up to the reality China simply won’t pencil out. Some Alaskans would rather not face up to the fact that if the economics are unfavorable, the project will not be built until they are. Some want a pipeline, the tax base and the jobs. But if you cannot be competitive in the market, our gas will be stranded and the last gas to get to market. I suggest a new approach with the state coming in with the producers. Our one-eighth royalty can be structured as the state’s equity component. I suggest calling on the produces to pool their expertise and take a good long look at what the Russians are doing to market their gas in both Europe and Asia. Our state Legislature must resolve the issue of fiscal certainty. Alaska gas will not be marketed without it. It’s time to face hard facts. As an old banker, I can tell you that the dollars go to the highest return with the least risk. And speaking of risk, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System was to come in at $1 billion, and actually came in around $7 to $8 billion. And that’s high risk. Cost overruns are a real threat. The Northern sea route which runs along the Russian Arctic coast and the coast of Arctic Alaska and on to Japan is open from July until November for shipping. Moscow is now promoting the Northern sea route as the shortest distance from Asia to Europe. A recent sailing of Maersk lines, the Venta Maersk, from Vladivostok to St. Peterburg using the Northern sea route cut off 10 days sailing time compared to routing through the Suez Canal. Can it be done? So can Alaska become a player in this emerging transportation route? What is lacking for Alaska is the availability of a transshipment port to allow the efficient transfer of LNG as well as container traffic during the winter months when the Northern sea route might be closed. The idea of Alaska becoming a transshipment location has been around for a long time, and was recently suggested by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who identified Adak as a possible location. Adak was built as a military post designed to support, supply and defend the U.S. in case of any threat from an aggressor in the Pacific and Asia. Adak has major port facilities, a world class runway and a protected anchorage. When the U.S. Navy operated Adak there were nearly 6,000 personnel there. The community had schools, churches, a swimming pool, and yes, even a McDonald’s. I have been there a couple times and did see the Golden Arches. Alaska has an opportunity to become a major player in the marketing of Arctic gas. The new state administration should seriously look at alternatives to move our gas from Prudhoe Bay to a loading facility perhaps at Cross Island which has a water depth capable of supporting medium-draft LNG tankers comparable to what the Russians are already using. Cross Island, which would require a nine-mile causeway, could also support a gas liquifaction facility, even perhaps on a barge as the Russians have done. The LNG could supply a major storage facility at Adak. The larger tankers could move the LNG to the growing worldwide markets. Depending on conditions on the so-called “shoulder season,” fall and spring might be extended. This idea of transshipment of LNG is in fact already in place in Singapore and other LNG ports. The new administration should take the initiative of first evaluating the potential of leasing Adak in a partnership with ExxonMobil, BP and ConocoPhillips. (Some say the Adak weather is difficult, but the military found it operational) and second, the state, along with the holders of our North Slope gas leases and the Department of Defense, work on a cooperative plan for how to proceed with Adak. That could begin now with Zinke and our congressional delegation. Gov. Bill Walker has done his best to market Alaskan gas, but the facts indicate that the price of the pipeline necessary to amortize the cost of shipping simply makes Alaska gas non-competitive in the world market place. That is why the holders of the Alaska gas leases, the producers, have said they are willing to sell their gas but not build the line. I believe Alaska gas will remain stranded until we can restructure our approach to make Alaska gas competitive in the current market place. The time to begin is now. Russian Arctic gas is moving now to the Asian market that we had established more than 40 years ago. Alaska and Russia share the Arctic. If they can make it work, why can’t American ingenuity be put to work? We have the opportunity, but do we have the conviction to be a major player? I believe we can and must. Frank Murkowski was a U.S. senator for Alaska from 1981-2002, and governor from 2002-2006.

OPINION: Industry stability hangs on Fairbanks outcome

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

Guest Commentary: Accredited universities help Alaska prosper

The University of Alaska Anchorage recently hosted a team of accreditors from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) from Oct. 8-10. The visitors witnessed a vibrant campus full of faculty, staff, and administrators who care deeply about our students, and who are enthusiastically dedicated to our educational mission.  The nine site visitors read the Accreditation Self Study that UAA produced, which compiled data and information from all aspects of the University, and during the campus visit met with faculty, students, staff, and administrators. The Northwest Commission will issue its final decision at its Board Meeting in January of 2019. This is a process that all NWCCU-accredited universities go through every seven years — and is the gold standard for any university.  Accreditation allows the students to receive federal financial aid and to receive degrees, certificates, and occupational endorsements that are recognized by employers and universities nationally. Because more than 80 percent of UAA’s graduates stay in Alaska, this process is helping to grow Alaska’s workforce by providing students with high-quality, nationally recognized credentials. To clarify, the UA system has a Board of Regents and president who provide administrative oversight of all three separately accredited universities and work with the governor and Legislature on our annual budget allocation from the State of Alaska. UAA, UAF and UAS have their own chancellors, who direct each of their respective institutions. UAA and its community campuses in Kenai, Homer, Kodiak, Prince William Sound and the Mat-Su, are very proud of our accomplishments, and we have worked very hard, despite the budget challenges the university has faced.  Each of our respective universities in the UA System, UAA, UAF and UAS, also have to go through this process every seven years, as we are separately accredited institutions. UAS will have their site visit in spring 2019, and UAF’s will be in fall 2019. UA is an enduring system. UAA alone has more than 17,000 students and 600 faculty, the most out of the three universities. Each of those and its community campuses have unique profiles and “personalities” that reflect our local communities and specialized programs that are unique. UAA became a unit within the University of Alaska in 1962 and has been separately accredited by the NWCCU since 1974; UAS was established in 1972, and UAF, formerly known as the University of Alaska, was established in 1935. The more than 17,000 UAA students reflect the history and community demographic of South Central, the most populous region of Alaska. UAA’s students are predominantly from Alaska. Almost one-third are first generation students, 10 percent are Alaska Native, and 34 percent represent ethnic minorities. We are a diverse campus! In 2017, UAA graduated 2,460 students with certificates and degrees. Most UAA graduates remain in Alaska and data show their annual income is greatly increased by having a degree.  We have over 100 programs, over 100 student clubs, and 13 NCAA sports. In conclusion, the Faculty Alliance, composed of faculty from UAA, UAF and UAS, congratulates UAA on their recent accreditation site visit, a major step in the process of reaffirmation, and supports continued collaboration across our institutions, and looks forward to the accreditation site visits scheduled for UAS in spring 2019 and for UAF in fall 2019.  Look forward to more op-ed pieces from the Faculty Alliance highlighting each of our three universities in the UA system, their distinct local personalities, and the unique strengths that each university brings to the State of Alaska. Chris Fallen, Ph.D. (UAF) is chair of the UA Faculty Alliance. Maria Williams, Ph.D. (UAA) is vice-chair of the UA Faculty Alliance. The University of Alaska Board of Regents established the Faculty Alliance to serve as a mechanism for faculty UA System governance.

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

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

GUEST COMMENTARY: Alaska Chamber urges a ‘no’ vote on Ballot Measure 1

The Alaska Chamber has served as the nexus between public policy and the Alaska private sector economy for 65 years. Rarely in that time has an outside agenda presented a risk as great as Ballot Measure 1. On Nov. 6, I will Stand for Alaska and I urge voters to Stand for Alaska as well. I’m asking you to join the 500+ local businesses, Native corporations, nonprofit organizations, labor unions, and the Alaska Chamber members who plan to VOTE NO on 1. Ballot Measure 1 is deeply flawed, with serious unintended consequences for Alaska and Alaskans. Alaskans want healthy salmon and successful fisheries. That universal desire is why Alaska is proudly recognized as a world leader in responsible fish and habitat management, and this poorly conceived initiative does not advance that interest. The initiative puts future transportation improvements at risk such as the Seward, Steese, and Glenn highways. Each of these projects might not go forward under this measure. Existing projects, like the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, may not be to able to have their permits renewed. Passing this ballot measure could make wastewater treatment plants, dams, ports and other infrastructure projects nearly impossible or cost prohibitive to develop and maintain, particularly in rural Alaska. This ballot measure is an issue that promises to negatively impact all Alaska regardless of location and political affiliation. Many may not be aware of the serious consequences to business and development in Alaska by the passing of Ballot Measure 1. Please look carefully at the initiative before voting. Share this with your friends and employees, and encourage them to do the same. Information is available online at standforak.com. I encourage you to join me in Standing for Alaska by VOTING NO on 1 at the ballot box on Nov. 6. Curtis W. Thayer is the President and CEO of the Alaska Chamber.

FISH FACTOR: Begich shares thoughts on fisheries issues in Kodiak

“With fisheries, it’s almost the forgotten resource of our state as an economic driver. It’s almost like they are an afterthought. We have to realign that,” said Mark Begich, Democratic candidate for Alaska governor, as we readied for an interview during his trip to Kodiak last week. Begich came to Kodiak despite the cancelled fisheries debate caused by a no show by his Republican opponent, Mike Dunleavy, who has not responded to requests to share his ideas and vision for Alaska’s oldest industry. “I think it’s appalling,” Begich said. “I think it shows his lack of respect for our coastal communities and their importance to the economy of this great state and the people who live and work here.” Begich spoke easily and at length on a wide range of fishing industry topics. He called state funding for fisheries research and stock assessments a top priority. “We are never going to be able to manage our fisheries resource the proper way without it. And I think there are opportunities through federal, state as well as foundation money that I believe is out there to help us do this,” he said. Begich said he is a strong supporter of Alaska’s hatchery program. “I know there is some conversation going on about hatchery fish impacts in the ocean … But there is no real science around that and the hatcheries have been very successful for us as a state,” he said. In terms of selecting an Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner, Begich said good management skills and the ability to bring people together are critical. “People are frustrated. They feel like their voice isn’t heard. We need commissioners who are willing to step up to the plate and recognize that it’s their job to bring people together, solve problems and move forward,” Begich said. “Obviously, I would want him or her to be knowledgeable about fisheries. We need someone who understands the controversies that are out there, the uniqueness of our resource, and how to balance it with making sure we do things for the long term and not for the moment.” The average age of Alaska’s fishing permit holders is 50, and Begich believes the state can help fend off a “graying of the fleet” crisis and give young entrants a boot up. “First we have to make sure the fisheries remain as stable as possible so future generations can get into that business. Another issue is the capital it takes,” Begich said. “We should look at how to utilize the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, which is a financing arm of the state, and is usually designed for big projects. “We should figure out if they can be a player in helping to bring low cost capital to the table so that people who want to get into fishing have a chance and are not denied because they don’t have the money or the capacity to borrow. I think there is a tool here that has been underutilized by the state for the fishing industry and a lot of the small business industries that we have.” The Trump Administration’s push for offshore fish farms gets a thumbs down from Begich. “Alaska is known for our premium product because we are wild caught,” he said. “Farmed fish could impact our natural stocks if improperly managed. I don’t want any of that in Alaska, for sure.” Begich also is no fan of Trump’s tariffs on seafood going to and from China, Alaska’s biggest customer. “This spat that the president has with China is costing Alaskans jobs and money and putting a damper on our products,” he fumed. “With fisheries, if we’re not careful it could add another $500 million to $700 million to the cost of our fish products sold to China. What they will do is decide to buy products from another place and once they do that, we’ll lose our market share.” “We should be teaming up right now with the governors of Washington, Oregon and the Gulf states, working with the Trump Administration and the State Department and start pounding on them that this is hurting American jobs,” he added. “These are dangerous games for us to be playing and the effects are long lasting.” Begich said as governor, he would reinstate the coastal zone management program, which would bring back Alaskans’ ability to have input regarding management of our coastline. Alaska is the only state that does not have that outlet for the public’s voice. A coastal zone management program in Alaska was in place starting in the 1970s but expired in 2011 when lawmakers and then-Gov. Sean Parnell failed to agree on its extension. “We need to have that coastal zone management program. It is about our own sovereignty in deciding what we want to do, and to have public comments on our coastal zone versus the federal government controlling it,” Begich said. “Secondly, it provides millions of dollars to the state that are rightfully ours and going to other states right now.” Other protein industries, such as beef and pork, use everything but the squeal. But in Alaska, most of the seafood trimmings end up as waste. Begich called that “short sighted” and said he believes that there is tremendous economic potential for Alaska’s billions of pounds of fish parts. “We need to have the financing available to build the infrastructure that will allow these companies to do maximum utilization of their seafood,” Begich said. “We also need to think about how we can use marketing in a way that helps utilize all of every product.” Begich did not hesitate when asked what he views as the biggest threat to Alaska’s fisheries. “Climate change,” he said. “Ocean acidification, warming waters — these are things that right now we don’t have enough information about to understand what the long term impacts are going to be, and it is clear that there are going to be impacts.” “The state must put investment into research and better utilizing our university so we understand what we can do, if at all, to mitigate the impacts of climate change to our fisheries,” Begich said, adding that the state also has its own goal to reach. “We have to get to our goal of 50 percent or greater of renewable energy so we can start doing our part in this world of making sure we put less emissions into the air.” “We have to do it to prepare and protect our environment, our industries and our economy,” Begich said. “Secondly, we are the natural lab for a changing climate and we can become a leader in figuring out solutions to the challenges we face and show the rest of the world how to do it right.” EM sign up Pot cod and longline vessels fishing in federal waters were able to sign up by Nov. 1 for electronic monitoring of their catches for 2019. This year was the first time that the EM systems got the go ahead for use on boats under 60 feet; the program has now expanded to include more and larger boats. “The cap for 2018 was 145 vessels. Since then the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in June increased the number of vessels that can participate in the EM pool to 165,” said Abby Turner-Franke, project coordinator at the North Pacific Fisheries Association in Homer, which has helped get the program out on the water. Malcolm Milne, NPFA president, said the EM system is simple to use. “Once your boat is wired you get a camera and instead of carrying a human observer, you just turn the cameras on and they record everything coming over the rails,” he explained. “When the set is done, the camera is off and at the end of your trip you mail in the hard drive to be reviewed in Seattle. It took a trip or two to get used to the whole system, but after that, you don’t even realize it’s there at all.” In years of test trials, the EM cameras proved they could track and identify over 95 percent of the species required for fishery management decisions. All costs are covered by grants from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

COMMENTARY: Initiative process is wrong way to change permitting system

As leaders of Alaska’s three largest economic development organizations, we know our cities want to see new economic opportunities come to our respective areas, and we align to oppose policies and address issues that diminish or take away those opportunities. Our position on Ballot Measure 1 is one such example: We stand united in opposition to the ballot initiative for one very simple reason: the threat it poses to our local economies, and our state’s economy. On the macro level, we agree that an issue as complex as permitting has no place on the ballot, especially when that regulation that seeks to prioritize the relative value of Alaska’s diverse natural resources. Complex issues should evolve in public, include robust and open public discussion, and occur under a thorough vetting process that involves all impacted parties. Ballot Measure 1 did not go through this process and leaves voters with one way to participate: a yes or no vote. We advocate for a no vote on this proposition. Actions like this also send a negative signal to investors — that Alaska is a particularly risky place to do business — and has a chilling effect on many of the companies and businesses we need to invest in our state. On the regional level, all three of our cities are facing serious negative consequences if Ballot Measure 1 passes. In Anchorage, we fear further job losses in resource development if current and new projects can’t get permitted or are repeatedly sued by activists determined to shut down our oil, gas, and mining industries. We are just starting to see good news again from these sectors, with big new projects either underway or in the advanced planning stages. On a more practical level, serious questions have been raised about the ability of our wastewater utility to maintain its current operations under the terms of this measure. The answer to whether Anchorage will be forced to pay for a multi-million dollar upgrade to our wastewater treatment system because of Ballot Measure 1 is unknown. The fact that we can’t determine from the ballot measure’s decidedly vague language whether such an expense is coming our way is cause for great concern. In Fairbanks, our concern stems mainly from Ballot Measure 1’s prioritization of one industry at the expense of all others. Our economy can be damaged in very real ways if this measure passes. For example, the Fairbanks community recently celebrated Fort Knox Gold Mine the announcement of its upcoming expansion — and extension of a resource base that may extend the mine’s operational life by a decade or more. Fort Knox is the largest contributor in tax revenue to the local municipality, paying more than $8.7 million in property taxes last year alone, and the mine pays wages that average in excess of $75,000 a year to its 100-plus local employees. The mine is one of the best, largest, and strongest private-sector employers in the Borough. The Fort Knox expansion is unlikely to move forward as currently defined — if at all — under the terms of Ballot Measure 1. Given the huge impact Fort Knox has on the Fairbanks economy (and it, in combination with mines like Pogo and Usibelli, have on the regional economy), risking this project and others like it is unacceptable. In Juneau, we also believe a ballot measure is a poor vehicle for this type of complex public policy. The fishing industry is a huge economic driver for us and all Southeast Alaska, and yet we are opposed to Ballot Measure 1. State officials have testified about the uncertainty surrounding hydroelectric projects, mining operations, tourism activities, and other components of our economy under this ballot measure. In everyday terms, many of the amenities we enjoy in Juneau were built on or near wetlands: Fred Meyer, Costco, Egan Drive, the airport expansion, our police station, and at least one of our fire stations likely would not have been eligible for construction had Ballot Measure 1 been in place or made so expensive that project economics would have ruled them out. To be clear, all three of our organizations believe in public process, support citizen input, and encourage Alaskans with concerns about fish habitat to get involved. We also understand that Alaska invested a great deal of time, thought, and effort creating what we and others recognize as a model system of permit application review and issuance. It is for this reason we urge all involved parties to come to the table and make specific, reasonable requests of our lawmakers and regulators using that existing, proven, balanced and effective public process. We all agree that our unique Alaskan ecosystems and resources are high-value and worth protecting. We also agree that broadly-shared prosperity and dynamic, local, regional, and statewide economies, achieved through the balanced development of all Alaska’s resources, is the goal. We believe we can all agree that passage of an under-considered, imbalanced, overly-broad and potentially devastating ballot measure is not the way to achieve that worthy goal. We encourage a NO vote on Ballot Measure 1 on Nov. 6. Bill Popp is the president of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp.; Brian Holst is the president of the Juneau Economic Development Corp.; and Jim Dodson is the president of the Fairbanks Economic Development Corp.

COMMENTARY: Former Attorneys General: Ballot Measure 1 is bad law

As former Attorneys General, and Alaskans fortunate enough to call this great state home, we urge Alaskans to vote “No” on Ballot Measure 1. The citizens who drafted our state Constitution understood that the protection of our natural resources was of the utmost importance, but they also acknowledged that a state with an abundance of natural resources, yet thinly populated and with little connectivity in terms of a road system, would have to rely on the responsible development. This principle is best expressed in Article VIII, Section 1 of our constitution, which states that “(it) is the policy of the State to encourage the settlement of its land and the development of its resources by making them available for maximum use consistent with the public interest.” Ballot Measure 1 disrupts this balance to the detriment of all Alaskans. The Alaska Supreme Court recently ruled that the initiative could remain on the ballot, but only after striking its unconstitutional sections. However, even after striking the most onerous provisions, the court observed that “viewed as a whole,” it was apparent that Ballot Measure 1 would create a broad new definition of what is protected fish habitat and make Alaska’s “fish habitat protection statutes significantly more restrictive.” For example, Ballot Measure 1 contains, according to the Alaska Supreme Court, “a plethora of undefined terms.” For landowners trying to comply with the law, this is a step in the wrong direction — and this is just as true for an entity seeking to develop a large mine as it is for land owners wishing to install a culvert on their property. It also radically expands the opportunity for legal challenges to granted permits, allowing anyone to challenge a permit in court resulting in costly delays and endless litigation. Under current laws and regulations, studies are required to determine whether a body of water contains certain kinds of fish. If Ballot Measure 1 passes, this flips, and all waters in the state will be assumed to be fish habitat until proved otherwise. This has the potential to create a legal quagmire for property owners, especially private citizens. Thousands of Alaskans have riverfront or lake front property, and there are many improvements to property that might impact a body of water, such as a stream, running on private property. Ballot Measure 1 may force a landowner to pay for an expensive habitat study to prove that fish will not be impacted by a planned improvement. Worse, Ballot Measure 1 changes the penalties from civil to criminal for property owners who fail to secure the required permits. Failure to seek a permit for even minor construction activity in a river flood plain, which encompasses huge areas of Alaska, will make individual Alaskans, workers on municipal projects, and business owners criminals under our laws. We are not alone in expressing grave doubts. We join dozens of groups and organizations in opposing this Ballot Measure. Contractors, regional and village Native corporations, labor unions, resource development and energy companies, and responsible Alaskans are rightfully concerned that another significant project may never be built in this state if the initiative passes — and this would certainly be true for rural Alaska as well. Ballot Measure 1 is a bad law. It has not been subject to public comment, hearings, or review by regulators or independent scientists. Alaska deserves better than Ballot Measure 1, and we urge Alaskan voters to reject this fatally flawed measure when they vote on Nov. 6. Signed by: Craig Richards, John Burns, Michael Geraghty, Dave Marquez and Sen. Dan Sullivan.

COMMENTARY: Ballot Measure 1 is necessary update to Alaska law

The Alaska Policy Forum is part of a nationwide network of Koch brothers-funded extreme right-wingers advocating for the privatization of public education, “right-to-work” laws and elimination of most safeguards for our air, land and water, and its recent claims that those who are advocating for updates to Alaska’s existing salmon habitat permitting laws are “outsiders” is a classic deflection. The fact is, large-scale industrial development poses real risk to Alaska’s wild salmon runs, and now is the time to modernize salmon habitat laws. Development projects can and should happen. The question for the moment is: Will we take the steps to do these projects right? A “yes” on Ballot Measure 1 is the answer Alaska’s salmon, and the people who rely on them, need. A “no” leads us down the same path trod by every other region that once enjoyed salmon runs like those we still love and depend on. In the past 15 years, Alaska’s safeguards and oversight have been eroded. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Habitat Division has been hollowed out. The Coastal Zone Management Program has been eliminated. Meanwhile, federal laws like the Clean Water Act are under attack. It’s time for us Alaskans to take control of our future. Pebble mine in Bristol Bay is the starkest example of the current unprecedented threats to Alaska’s salmon. But the threats aren’t just on the horizon. Recent system failures and a couple near misses can also teach us a lot. We saw first-hand how threadbare the existing safety net truly is in 2011 when an Australian mining company operated for two years in total disregard of the permits and agreements entered with ADFG and the Alaska Department Environmental Conservation. In August of that year, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist flying a survey over the Salmon River near Goodnews Bay observed discharge from the Platinum Creek Mine, which was causing extremely turbid waters in the river. For two full mining seasons XS Platinum Inc. dumped a toxic slurry of untreated placer mining wastewater from its Platinum Creek Mine into the Salmon River, compromising the survival and habitat of salmon and other fish species in the waterway. In 2014, five officers and employees of XSP were indicted for conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act, violations of the Clean Water Act permits issued by EPA and ADEC and for submitting false statements to state and federal permitting agencies. The State did not join in the case or pursue any additional prosecution. To add insult to injury, several company officials avoided punishment when they skipped the country. This is clearly a system in need of an update. Salmon dodged a major bullet in the proposed Chuitna strip coal mine on the west side of Cook Inlet. The first phase called for the strip mining of coal through 13.7 miles of salmon spawning and rearing habitat, the removal of 1,361 acres of wetlands and the discharge of 7 million gallons of water a day into the Chuitna River. A total of 57 miles of salmon stream were ultimately at risk. The proponent of the project, PacRim, said they would rebuild the salmon stream when they were done, a feat no mining company has ever accomplished anywhere on Earth. The only thing that stopped this travesty was the market — a ton of coal is now worth less than a king salmon. This is cold comfort, especially when state officials are saying they are open to another proposal to mine the area. Finally, there’s the proposed Susitna-Wantana Dam project, shelved by Gov. Bill Walker due to cost. Mega dams are terrible for salmon. We know this. Yet a state agency pushed the project anyway. It’s a ridiculous situation in which those responsible for stewardship of salmon runs were asked to sit on the sidelines while another state agency pushed a plan to fundamentally alter one of Alaska most important salmon systems. Again, clear rules and reasonable laws and regulations did not stop Susitna — it was cost. The rest of the Pacific Northwest, after approving these same kinds of projects without protections for salmon habitat, has spent billions of dollars to restore once-thriving salmon runs. Alaska is heading in that direction, but it’s not too late. A “yes” vote on Ballot Measure 1 on Nov. 6 allows us to chart a better course. Longtime Alaskan conservationist Tim Bristol is the executive director of SalmonState. He lives in Homer.

COMMENTARY: Alaska’s habitat management model works

We, the signatories, are Alaska fisheries managers, scientists, regulators, and former state officials. We have spent our careers working on fisheries management, science, and resource management. For more than 60 years, Alaska has responsibly balanced resource development and the protection of our state’s natural resources — including our fisheries. As topic experts, our interest in supporting that balance makes us question the viability of Ballot Measure 1. Ballot Measure 1 replaces Alaska’s scientific process for identifying, studying and permitting fish habitat with new and untested regulations. Today, when a project is on the horizon, we go out to the area in question and conduct numerous studies, including water turbidity, fish counts, escapement rates, temperature, water levels, and so on. Multiple state and federal agencies collaborate to make this all happen. And when it comes time to evaluate a permit, the data collected is scrutinized and carefully considered before any decisions on how to move forward, or even if to move forward, are made. Alaska’s approach to fisheries management has been codified in law, acts as a blueprint for fisheries management, and is widely praised as best practices around the country and the world. It is a model that has worked in permitting both industry and community projects, like pipelines, major dams and roadways that enable Alaskans to live their everyday lives. Finding balance has been the responsibility of those who have worked in fisheries management for much of their careers. Reasonable improvements could be made to our current laws, but Ballot Measure 1 was written with no public input on how to improve habitat protections already in place and it unreasonably overhauls current law. Ballot Measure 1 proposes a system that is unworkable, unmanageable and unaffordable. Moreover, Ballot Measure 1 was drafted in private without public review or scrutiny. That approach flies directly in the face of our greatest responsibility: to review and scrutinize the data before arriving at a decision. We believe that lack of transparency results in a ballot measure rife with vague and imprecise language that will create confusion and uncertainty in how we permit and protect our anadromous fish in Alaskan waters. The issue here is more than just a debate over process. Salmon runs are down across most of Alaska. Ballot Measure 1 supporters point to this measure as a needed fix. However, Ballot Measure 1 fails to address the actual challenges facing wild salmon today in our waters. Many experts have identified various changing ocean conditions as contributing factors to this problem. One of those is the mass of warm water located in the Gulf of Alaska — the so-called “blob.” There are other factors contributing as well, such as increasing presence of invasive predatory fish, ocean acidification, and food-source competition. In a recent article published on the Alaska Public Radio website, ADFG biologist Nicole Zeise stated that “most of the data suggests that the problem’s in the marine environment … Freshwater systems are healthy, producing plenty of smolt and fry going out. It’s just that something’s going on in the ocean that we can’t control.” The recent Chinook Symposium in Sitka in May helped highlight the current science about the decline in salmon runs. Salmon researcher Ed Jones was quoted in another Alaska Public Radio broadcast discussing the down cycle in salmon. “They’re dying at sea. So yes, fisheries, seals, killer whales, are all added factors, but the biggest driver is Mother Nature right now,” said Jones, further highlighting changing ocean conditions as a cause for declining salmon runs. If we want to protect our salmon for future generations, then we need more analysis and data in order to generate an effective plan. In the meantime, we urge Alaskans to learn more about Ballot Measure 1 and what it could do to our current, effective management. Alaska needs a balanced, effective policy for protecting our resources—and Ballot Measure 1 fails that test. Signed, Randy Bates, Former Division Director of Habitat, Department of Fish &Game Ed Fogels, Former Deputy Commissioner &Former Director of the Office of Project Management and Permitting, Department of Natural Resources Kerry Howard, Former Division Director of Habitat, ADFG Thomas E. Irwin, Former DNR Commissioner Bill Jeffress, Former Director of the Office of Project Management and Permitting, DNR Doug Vincent Lang, Former Director of Wildlife Conservation; Assistant Director of Sport Fish; and Special Assistant to the Commissioner, ADFG Bob Loeffler, Former Director of Division of Mining, Land and Water, DNR Ginny Litchfield Former Habitat Division Area Manager to the Kenai Peninsula, ADFG Bill Morris, Former Division of Habitat Regional Supervisor-Northern Region, ADFG Slim Morstad, Former Area Management Biologist-Naknek/Kvichak, ADFG Marty K. Rutherford, Former DNR Commissioner

COMMENTARY: Money from outside Alaska distorts policy debates

Since its inception, the Alaska Policy Forum has been guided by a vision of continuously growing prosperity in Alaska. Our work is to support policy and leadership that maximizes individual opportunity and empowers Alaskans to pursue that opportunity freely and with confidence. We believe in our state and its people. We are optimistic and believe a bright future lies ahead. To ensure that bright future, Alaska’s voters and policymakers need to be able to make informed decisions based on a solid foundation of knowledge, transparency, and clarity regarding issues that will shape our path forward. Too often, in today’s political landscape, that’s simply not possible. This is, in part, because the high-profile debates currently underway in Alaska are being increasingly influenced by an influx of serious money from outside of our state. This growing pool of funding is being used to distort debates and advance agendas that are driven not by the best interests of our state, but by activists, advocates, foundations, and billionaires from all over the country. This money is changing the face of policy in Alaska, and it’s doing so behind closed doors. That’s bad for our state and runs contrary to the principles of sound policymaking. That’s why the Alaska Policy Forum is launching a new site focused on detailing and chronicling the Outside money that is impacting policy in Alaska and putting the agendas of environmental activists ahead of our own. This isn’t a new or unfamiliar dynamic for our state. For decades, Outside environmental interests opposed to resource development in Alaska have sought to influence local, state, and federal decisions impacting Alaska policy — like opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. They continue to do so today and one prominent advocacy campaign stands out as the flagship of their effort: Ballot Measure 1. Ballot Measure 1 would overhaul the way Alaska regulates permitting for development projects ranging from energy infrastructure to roads and bridges. Supporters of Ballot Measure 1 state they are acting to protect salmon. The reality of Ballot Measure 1 is much different and it has the potential to have a serious detrimental impact on both existing and future economic development in Alaska. What’s more, implementation would require additional state spending to meet the regulatory requirements. The burden of the policies enacted by Ballot Measure 1 would fall upon state regulators, creating an ever-larger strain on our already strapped state budget. Who, then, is behind Ballot Measure 1? Those supporting Ballot Measure 1 include a handful of local groups, including the official Yes for Salmon campaign as well as Stand for Salmon, the Alaska Center, Salmon State, and Wild Salmon Center organizations. But the money behind those groups isn’t local. In fact, there’s a web of outside money behind Yes for Salmon. Take the New Venture Fund, a Washington, DC-based entity with a long history of dropping into local debates with big money and big ideas about how to shape local issues in a way that advances broader environmentalist priorities. The New Venture Fund contributed at least $400,000 to help establish Salmon State and they are also listed as the employer of the Alaska Center activist managing the Yes for Salmon effort. But the Outside money in Alaska goes much deeper than this. Nearly all of the money New Venture Fund pumped into Salmon State came from the California-based Hewlett Foundation _ another group known for extreme climate activism. Other big names — like billionaire activist Tom Steyer and Keystone XL agitators Bold Alliance — are plying their trade in Alaska in an effort to impose an agenda contrary to our own. Alaskans deserve to know who’s pulling the strings in our state. In the coming weeks, the Alaska Policy Forum will be looking into the Outside money that is impacting policy in Alaska. Our mission is to empower and educate Alaskans and policymakers, and ultimately to help cultivate a pro-growth policy environment built on principles of transparency and honesty. The debate we have today will inform the decisions we make at the ballot box and will in turn shape our state’s future. We’ll be there every step of the way, working to shed light on the web of Outside money behind Yes for Salmon — and broader efforts to derail Alaska’s economic success. ^ Larry Barsukoff, JD/MBA, is the Director of Operations for the Alaska Policy Forum.

COMMENTARY: China tries to hide illegal trade practices as tariffs hit

As President Trump imposes new tariffs on Chinese exports, Beijing is countering with a public relations offensive. In a recent “white paper,” China’s State Council argued that any trade dispute is entirely the fault of the US. Beijing claims that it absolutely plays by the rules of the World Trade Organization, and doesn’t hack other nations’ intellectual property. One shouldn’t expect less of China’s autocratic regime. After racking up trillions of dollars in trade surpluses with the United States over the past few decades, it would indeed be surprising if Beijing admitted to any faults, or chose to abandon its winning strategy. But facts are stubborn things. When China joined the WTO in 2001, it promised to move to a market economy and to compete on a free-market basis with advanced nations. President Bill Clinton promoted China’s WTO accession, saying it would make them “more like us.” That never happened. The Coalition for a Prosperous America has identified many instances where China is supporting and protecting its own industries with government subsidies and preferential treatment. And as researchers Usha and George Haley have documented, China took entry into the WTO as the beginning of an opportunity for “aggressively subsidizing targeted industries in order to dominate global markets.” The Haleys found $27 billion in energy subsidies that China’s steel industry received between 2000 and 2007, making it the world’s No. 1 steel producer. Similarly, China’s paper industry received $33 billion in government subsidies. Such massive subsidies vastly expanded China’s economy. And while US consumers often assume that China’s manufacturing advantage comes from cheap labor, the Haleys found that labor amounted to “between 2 percent and 7 percent of production costs” for such key industries as solar, steel, glass, paper, and auto parts. Yet China routinely sold such goods for “25 percent to 30 percent less than those from the U.S. or the European Union,” thanks to industrial subsidies, a currency manipulated to below-market levels, and import controls. All of this flies in the face of China’s WTO obligations, with Beijing having promised to halt the deliberation undervaluation of its currency. Similarly, the multi-billion dollar subsidies that Beijing doles out to its state-owned enterprises remain actionable under WTO rules. Essentially, the Chinese government chose to specialize in what they believed would make China a superpower, and they’ve shown remarkable success in transforming a desperately poor, backward dictatorship into the world’s No. 2 economic power. None of this is acknowledged in China’s recent white paper, however. Nor does China admit to hacking, intellectual property theft, or forced technology transfer. American multinational companies often voluntarily enter into agreements to set up joint ventures in China. But the price of doing business is the transfer of technology to Chinese “partners.” Such deals provide only short-term benefit before China has sucked out all the relevant technology — and begins favoring its own suppliers. The European Chamber of Commerce in China has become increasingly concerned about this coerced technology transfer, stating: “foreign companies are often pushed to transfer technology as the price of market entry, which is in contravention of (China’s) commitments as a member of the World Trade Organization.” Finally, there are China’s illegal forms of technology transfer, including industrial espionage, reverse engineering, and evasion of US export control laws. A June report by the White House identified 27 different techniques by which China’s economic aggression threatens US intellectual property. It’s estimated that cyber-espionage costs U.S. industry an astonishing $400 billion per year, with 90 percent originating in China. China doesn’t appear to have modified its behavior since President Donald Trump took a more aggressive tone on trade. And Beijing’s claims of fair play cannot whitewash such self-serving behavior. The U.S. and China are heading towards economic disengagement unless Beijing modifies its behavior. If that happens, China will be the loser. Jeff Ferry is the research director of the Coalition for a Prosperous America.

COMMENTARY: A fix for the deficit of trust created by PFD cuts

Over the past four years, Alaska’s political class has focused on addressing the state’s budget deficit, and rightly so. When the price of oil crashed, the state found itself facing a multi-billion-dollar deficit. But as our campaign hears from everyday Alaskans across this great land, a deficit more corrosive to the health of our republic is emerging: a deficit of trust. Alaskans are leery of politicians who say one thing and do another. When Bill Walker ran for office in 2014, he said he had “no intention” of cutting Permanent Fund dividend checks. Not long after his inauguration, however, he was singing a different tune. In the span of three years, his administration denied every man, woman and child in Alaska over $3,700 each. The governor’s dividend-cut policy isn’t wrong solely because it’s bad for the economy — paying Alaskans a full dividend would provide a tremendous boost to Alaska, which suffers from anemic growth, high unemployment, and outmigration. It’s wrong because it severed trust between the people and their representatives. The Alaska Permanent Fund and dividend program were established by the people in 1976 and 1982, respectively. The people were wise enough then to know politicians would be tempted to spend away the oil boom and so constitutionally protected some of the revenue and created the dividend program to protect the fund. Since 1982, the dividend program has worked as intended, protecting the fund while benefitting Alaskan families. Then suddenly — after more than three decades — the deal changed. Walker unilaterally cut dividends at the worst possible time and without direct input from the people. If given the opportunity to serve, mending the trust deficit created by Walker will be my top priority. It’s no secret that I am the only candidate in this race who supports protecting the traditional PFD formula. But I also believe the people of Alaska should settle this issue directly, which is why I support going to the people for an advisory vote before any changes are considered to the PFD — at minimum — and ultimately believe the people should have the opportunity to vote on protecting the PFD in the state constitution. In our system of government, the people are sovereign, and no change to the Permanent Fund would long survive without their direct consent. Such a vote would restore trust between the people and government officials, and the outcome would be respected on all sides. If the people were wise enough to establish the Permanent Fund and a spending limit, then there’s no reason to doubt their wisdom in dealing with today’s challenges. Despite the failed leadership of the current governor on this and many other issues, he wants another four years, and is vying with lifelong politician Mark Begich for the chance to accelerate a tax and spend agenda. In every town hall, forum and debate, Walker and Begich are in vigorous agreement. They say we must cut the PFD to save it, that new taxes are inevitable and state spending has been cut to the bone. They’re convinced that wise decision makers in government know how to spend your money better than you do. But Alaskans aren’t buying it. We know the PFD isn’t broken and state government spends roughly three times the national average per person. That’s why Alaskans support more reductions to state spending, oppose new taxes and know the enemy of the budget isn’t the PFD — it’s out-of-control spending. Unless we get spending under control, government will consume the other half of Alaskans’ PFDs, and no amount of new taxes will be enough. That’s the path my opponents will take us down. I hope to lead us down a different path. If the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, then Alaskans can be confident I will remain true to my word. I voted on behalf of my constituents against a budget that didn’t pay Alaskans a full dividend, because I knew there was a better way. Alaska is blessed with an abundance of natural resources and enough financial assets to get us through this challenge. With the right leadership and policies in place, we can resolve the budget deficit without PFD cuts and new taxes. If we control state spending and maintain a competitive, stable business climate, Alaska will grow its way out of the deficit. Elections are about trust. With your help, together we can restore trust in our government and ensure everyday Alaskans have a voice in the big decisions ahead. Mike Dunleavy is a candidate for governor of Alaska. A public school teacher, principal and superintendent for more than two decades in Koyuk, Kotzebue and the Mat-Su Valley, Dunleavy served on the Mat-Su Borough School Board and in the Alaska State Senate. Editor’s note: The Alaska Journal of Commerce will publish up to two op-ed submissions from the candidates for governor between now and our Oct. 21 edition.

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

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

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