Andrew Jensen

OPINION: Legislature puts the ‘end’ in dividend

Until the 11th hour of the third special session of the year, Alaskans were not going to get a PFD this fall. And they still aren’t. Instead, they’ll be getting a GFSBRP. That would be the General Fund-Statutory Budget Reserve Payment. After ignoring the statutory formula for paying the Permanent Fund Dividend out of, you know, the Permanent Fund, since 2017, the final legislative compromise in 2021 abandoned both the formula that remains on the books and the namesake source of the money. Instead, majorities in both the House and Senate cobbled together $400.5 million from the General Fund and $330 million from the Statutory Budget Reserve for an estimated GFSBRP of about $1,100 per Alaskan. An argument that it is at least partially a PFD (or a PPFD) could be made because some $3 billion from the Permanent Fund was transferred into the General Fund under the percent of market value, or POMV, draw. But it is doubtful whether many legislators if any, even among this bunch, are so lacking in shame that they would line up to make that case. A trope of pieces such as this is to call on the “dictionary definition” of some term in order to make a point, so it is with reluctance to note that a “dividend” according to Investopedia is a “distribution of corporate profits to eligible shareholders.” In this reading, not only have the legislative majorities bastardized the “PF” in PFD, but they have also twisted the “D” to something other than its actual meaning. A payment from savings rather than profits is not a true dividend, and a payment that drains that savings account to nearly zero — while another account holds more than $82 billion including a greater than 20 percent profit in the past year — is the height of malfeasance from our elected officials who fancy themselves as state’s board of directors. While the legislative majorities routinely disregard the laws they find inconvenient — the statutory PFD formula, the voter-backed 90-day session limit, oil tax credit payments or per diem restrictions that kick in without a budget — they treat the POMV draw passed just a couple years as if it was carried down Mount Roberts by Moses himself carved on stone tablets. To be fair, however, it isn’t that they respect the POMV law any more than any other. They just don’t trust themselves to be responsible with that much money, which ironically is how some of them view the idea of paying Alaskans the amount called for under the statutory formula after a decade-long bull run in the equities markets. Based on what previous Legislatures did with windfall amounts of cash, that is probably a safe assumption, but not one that speaks well of those who are good at running for office but not actually good at governing. The gridlock returns for another special session called for Oct. 1 that will span the eventual distribution of the GFSBRP, to be followed not long after by the regular session in January falling in a general election year. Now that the majorities drained one savings account and lack the numbers to access another (the Constitutional Budget Reserve requires three-quarters to agree), how they will piece together the magical $1,000+ amount they’ve settled on as apparently enough to keep the pitchforks at bay is anyone’s guess. Gov. Mike Dunleavy has compromised from his campaign pledge to pay out the PFD according to the statutory formula; his political opponents may make hay out of criticizing his 50-50 plan but a wiser course would be silence when their alternative is ending the PFD entirely. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Another failing grade for Alaska schools

In its release of the latest statewide performance assessments for Alaska students, the state Department of Education and Early Development cautioned against comparing the results to prior years but I did it anyway. The spring 2021 Performance Evaluation for Alaska’s Schools, also known as PEAKS, were the first administered since 2019 as they were waived amid the COVID-19 suspension of in-person instruction last year. You have to click through the link in the press release to see the results that are once again a dismal indictment of how the state’s public schools continue to post unacceptable outcomes in the core areas of English Language Arts and Mathematics. The state DEED advised not to compare the 2021 results to prior years based on the drastic decline in participation rate — from about 90 percent in 2019 to just 64 percent in 2021 — but there is virtually no difference in proficiency in spite of fewer students taking the tests. In 2019, all students in grades 3 through 9 rated as proficient in English arts numbered 39.2 percent; in 2021 the same cohort tallied 39.5 percent. In math, just 35.7 percent of third- to ninth-graders scored proficient in 2019 compared to 32.4 percent in 2021. There is much to be disturbed about simply looking at the topline statewide results, but one alarming trend stands out: math proficiency in particular declines the longer students are in the state’s public schools. Third-graders posted nearly 38 percent proficiency in math and that number steadily declines at each grade level until bottoming out at 26 percent proficient for eighth-graders (ninth-graders came in at 30.7 percent proficient). A similar trend after reaching middle school appears in the English arts. Student performance improved from 36 percent proficient in third grade to nearly 47 percent by sixth grade. However, by ninth grade proficiency in English arts sinks back to the same 36 percent as the third graders. Gov. Mike Dunleavy, a longtime educator and administrator in rural Alaska, made education reform a central part of his campaign but no meaningful measures have been enacted or gained any traction as the all-consuming fights over the budget deficit, vetoes and the Permanent Fund dividend have become the black hole of state politics that swallows up every other pressing issue. For all the recent obsessing over “equity” (of outcomes) versus “equality” (of opportunities), the single greatest effort that could be made to achieve both is in education. Alongside a stable, healthy home life, no factor is a greater predictor of future success than a quality education. Disengaged parents who treat school as a daycare center without engaging in their children’s progress or lack thereof are just as much to blame as the teachers unions which resist any attempts at accountability for outcomes such as below proficient students in math outnumbering their peers by 2-to-1 year after year. With that said, parents also deserve the freedom and the resources to send their children to the schools where they feel the best education is being delivered. Long since has passed the time when the State of Alaska must hit a reset on its educational priorities to a relentless focus on the basics that is sustained through graduation. Math, reading and writing are not just some co-equal subjects to social justice curriculum and classroom time should reflect that at a minimum until such time as the results afford us the luxury of engaging in university-level hippie-dippy theorizing. Educating students on respecting someone’s pronouns does no good if they don’t even know what a pronoun is. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Assembly’s retreat gives Bronson room to govern

Two things have become clear over the past four weeks in Anchorage, one that was always more certain than the other. First, we found out that the Anchorage Assembly has, and indeed always had, the power to revise or revoke the emergency orders handed down from the mayor’s office. Second, as Dave Bronson’s lead grew to 1,212 votes in the runoff election for mayor as of May 18, we have learned that contra the supposed conventional wisdom, an unapologetic and unashamed conservative can still win a citywide race in Anchorage. The fact Joe Biden won Anchorage last fall and the Assembly’s ideological tilt is more lopsided than the last moments of the Titanic led a few prognosticators along with former candidate Bill Evans to assert that Bronson stood no chance in a one-on-one race against Forrest Dunbar. Appeals to Bronson supporters to make the “safe” vote for Evans fell on deaf ears — he didn’t crack 10 percent in the general election — and their significant advantage of enthusiasm and motivation appear to have carried him to victory. Evans’ refusal to endorse Bronson proved equally unimportant. During the April 6 general election, the three candidates to the right of Dunbar and his fellow progressives earned 50.3 percent of the vote. As of the most recent results, Bronson stands at 50.7 percent. A general rule about politics is that it is better to be voting for something, and Bronson supporters had that in spades even as much of what they were for was being against what Dunbar and his progressive cohort on the Assembly have put the city through over the past year. In contrast, Dunbar didn’t run on any accomplishments other than having been twice elected to the Assembly following an unsuccessful challenge to Dean of the U.S. House Don Young in 2014. The greatest accomplishment Dunbar could actually point to — other than funding more cops in a position also supported by Bronson — was his vote on April 27 to lift every pandemic prohibition other than the mask mandate. In a vote that telegraphed his desperation, Dunbar joined with Chris Constant to override the mayor, the city Health Department and the CDC guidelines in place at the time. Now it is quite obvious that adopting Bronson’s campaign platform did not help Dunbar as much as he may have hoped it would. Then as he departed for National Guard duty, he all but conceded the race and was not present when eight Assembly members voted to make effective immediately Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson’s release from the mask mandate she had scheduled for May 21 just hours earlier. With only one dissent from Meg Zalatel, the Assembly belatedly exerted the power they always had to moderate or eliminate emergency orders yet had refused to do for more than a year despite the pleadings from the people who flocked to Bronson for change. Whether they intended to or not, the Assembly opponents of Bronson have done him a favor. He should now be able to take office July 1 and inherit a city coming back to life from the damaging and often heartless orders issued by successive mayors and unfailingly — until now — upheld by the Assembly. The progressive elected officials paid a price for their refusal to moderate, their misplaced priorities, and the highly questionable line items where they sent CARES Act money. Bronson has breathing room to govern at a time when what the municipality needs more than anything is a steady hand on the till as businesses begin to recover. He has a chance to help shape the next tranche of $51 million in federal relief money, which may be a good place to fund his promise to rebate property tax payments for businesses that were shuttered by government order. Although he was smeared as simply wanting to jail the homeless, he expressed his support for the success of the mass shelter at the Sullivan Arena that not only provided a roof but the connections to services sought by many who are willing to seek the help. Based on the 9th Circuit court case so often cited over the past several years as an excuse for doing nothing, Bronson can recognize that a core piece of that ruling is that people cannot be cited for public trespassing when there is no shelter space available. The tragedy of people drinking themselves to death at our busiest intersections and the illegal and environmentally degrading camping through the greenbelts cannot be resolved without sufficient shelter space and resources. That is not to say that criminalizing crime can’t be a part of the policy. The right to sit on a corner doesn’t include the right to drink, use drugs, or do the things Bronson said belong “behind bathroom or bedroom doors.” Even though he will take office at the warmest time of the year, Bronson will be sworn in at a time when the political temperature should also be as low as its been in nearly a year. Expecting a honeymoon may be unrealistic, though, with critics stacked against him across the press and the Assembly chambers. Some enterprising person has probably already purchased “”. Bronson fought hard for this, and his supporters deserve to enjoy their touchdown dance rather than immediately being lectured about compromising. What’s also certain is this: winning was hard, but governing is going to be even harder. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Dunbar ditches 'science' in last-ditch gambit to beat Bronson

Scotch tape is harder to see through than what the leftist leaders of the Anchorage Assembly pulled off at the April 27 meeting. For a year, members Chris Constant and Forrest Dunbar have turned a deaf ear and struggled to disguise their disdain at the pleas of Anchorage business owners and residents being harmed by restrictions and closures that were further exacerbated by the Assembly’s mismanagement of $156 million in CARES Act economic relief funds. Just two weeks after voting to uphold it, the pair teamed up to repeal nearly everything in the current Emergency Order that was issued by Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson in the faraway time of April 12. Constant introduced the motion and it was seconded by Dunbar, who is coincidentally in the middle of a runoff election for mayor against Dave Bronson. No more capacity restrictions either indoors or out. No more six feet of social distancing between groups that effectively preserved capacity restrictions despite a prior order allowing businesses to operate at 100 percent. Kick off your Sunday shoes, everybody. No more bans on dancing or live performances. The new rules for Anchorage — minus the face-saving preservation of what will increasingly become a meaningless mask mandate — actually border on what President Joe Biden would call “Neanderthal thinking.” In doing so, the Constant-Dunbar led effort abandoned the Acting Mayor’s 70 percent vaccine requirement for lifting restrictions that is also incorporated into Dunbar’s own 10-point campaign plan for reviving the Anchorage economy he helped put on life support. The resolution goes beyond the latest CDC guidelines and was approved over the objections of the municipal Health Department. Not to mention that Anchorage is still considered in “high alert” status with more than 10 new cases per 100,000 people per day. Although he ultimately voted in favor of member Meg Zalatel’s amendment to push the effective date to midnight on May 3, Dunbar initially agreed with Constant’s proposal to lift the EO immediately, or just 11 days after it went into effect. So much for “following the science.” Only a doe-eyed observer could see this for anything but what it is: a transparent ploy to disarm Bronson’s central campaign pledge to lift the Emergency Orders that Dunbar has repeatedly and as recently as two weeks ago supported. The combined votes for the three candidates running to the right of Dunbar earned a majority, or 50.3 percent, in the April 6 election compared to 47.5 percent for the three competing for progressive votes. Business owners — who have employees that vote as well — have shown a tremendous amount of support for Bronson and he is fresh off a weekend rally where he received the endorsement of the popular Sen. Dan Sullivan. Now that Dunbar can point to his vote to finally take the boot off Anchorage businesses, he is free to go scorched earth on Bronson over the next two weeks as a scary right-winger no longer worth taking a chance on as the antidote to the policies correctly associated with the left-wing Assembly and two mayors. The strategy is previewed in Dunbar’s most recent ad as he unsubtly splices together successive videos of Bronson and the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. A prediction here is that the Outside dark money supporting Dunbar will be even less restrained. Dunbar knows he isn’t going to convince Bronson or Mike Robbins supporters to change their minds. The clear play is for a share of those in the soft middle who voted for Bill Evans and think the “Save Anchorage” folks who support Bronson are icky. A last-ditch gambit by Dunbar to co-opt the Save Anchorage demands by using his influence on the Assembly is rather insulting to the intelligence of such voters. Soon we will find out if it works. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

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

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

OPINION: Don’t know much about history

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

OPINION: Go big or go home

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

OPINION: Forrest phones it in

No shortage of ink, electrons or carbon dioxide have been expended over the past several months at Anchorage Assembly meetings as a dedicated group of citizens have organized — often to no avail — against destructive policies and fiscal irresponsibility enacted in the name of public welfare. Yet all it took was 34 words from a constituent on Feb. 9 to tear down the façade of the chronically absent member and mayoral candidate Forrest Dunbar as the body took public comment on a proposed ordinance to require masks in statute rather than rolling emergency orders issued through the mayor’s office. “If masks are safe and effective, and we’re required to wear them, and those requirements are being enforced in this building, then why have you not been present for an Assembly meeting for months?” Although Dunbar was free to answer the question, his line remained dead as this gentleman gave him more than two minutes to respond (I assume someone added the Final Jeopardy soundtrack during post production). Perhaps Dunbar was pounding out a snarky message to fellow member Chris Constant, but probably not over email after public records requests shed light on the contempt they have for some constituents that they rarely bother concealing anyway. Without him being physically present at the meeting, there is no reason to believe he was even listening. He could have been watching Netflix or clipping his toenails for all we know. For a perennial office climber who thinks he is the best person to lead Anchorage it is quite an interesting strategy. But then again, hiding from the public behind the COVID-19 pandemic worked out quite well for Joe Biden, who lost the state by a mile but won Anchorage despite his openly anti-Alaska policies and mental acuity that rivals a bowl of mashed potatoes. The fact Biden won Anchorage should be a giant red flag for any candidate from the center to the right who believes they can tap into the disaffected population for enough votes to defeat Dunbar in an expected runoff for mayor once a crowded field is whittled to two after the April regular election. Based on the presidential election outcome in Anchorage, there are obviously tens of thousands of residents, if not an outright majority, who are content with the status quo of the pandemic response at both the local and federal level that has widened the municipality’s class divide between remote workers who have prospered without missing a paycheck and the devastation wrecked on working class and single-parent families. Not that there isn’t reason for hope Anchorage could head in a different direction from its current arrogant and insensitive leadership. The Assembly unanimously tabled both the mask ordinance as well as the attempt to punish member Jamie Allard for an abstract if poorly constructed free speech argument over license plates. Censuring Allard while letting Constant skate for a line of questioning last August that implied a rabbi was advocating placing the homeless in concentration camps, not to mention his routinely obnoxious behavior on social media, was apparently a bridge too far for even this group of leftists. Combined with the looming recall of Chair Felix Rivera appearing on the April ballot, the opposition forces can rightly claim a few victories after months of losses. If it is true that 80 percent of success is just showing up, the people Dunbar derides have obviously figured out something he hasn’t. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Breaking news: Democrats want to close Alaska

“Astounded.” That is how Alaska’s senior U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski described her reaction to President Joe Biden (or whoever picked out his socks that morning) acting on his first day in office to shut down the state’s resource development economy. In other news Murkowski may have missed, there is gambling in Casablanca, puppies are cute, and Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself. Compare Murkowski’s reaction to fellow Alaska politicians. There was caustic from Sen. Dan Sullivan: “Well that was fast.” There was realistic from Rep. Don Young: “It is not surprising, though no less disappointing.” Then there was fantastic from State Sen. Josh Revak, who bluntly noted what Biden just did to Alaska “without even the basic courtesy of first asking us to dinner.” What is astounding is that Murkowski could pronounce herself surprised at all after 18 years in Washington, D.C., watching Democrats take every measure possible to hinder Alaska’s development including eight years under President Barack Obama and the entire Biden campaign during which he lied about his intention to ban fracking but made no secret he would halt activity on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain. Surely she could not be so naïve as to believe she has earned any goodwill for Alaska just because she let Democrats Christmas tree her energy bill, denounced former President Donald Trump at every opportunity, repeatedly voted against his judicial and cabinet nominees, demanded he resign while supporting his impeachment, and most recently introduced a bill to repeal the so-called “Mexico City policy” banning taxpayer funding of international abortion. Regularly praised by the entirely objective national press for her “bipartisanship” — which in Washington-speak means going along with Democrat policies — Murkowski has found her “my friends across the aisle” comity routinely met with a slap in the face on every single Alaska resource issue from ANWR to NPR-A to the King Cove road to the Roadless Rule yet still she never fails to ask for another. But hey, no more mean tweets, right? Maybe it would be too mean of Murkowski to ask Biden to his face what he has against Alaska Natives, whether they be Vietnam veterans or residents of the North Slope who have demonstrated for more than 40 years they can have an economy that respects the environment and provides the means to preserve their millennia-old traditions alongside the modern benefits of health care, education and basics such as running water the rest of us take for granted. The North Slope Borough poverty rate is lower than the national average for a reason, and it isn’t from building solar panels as Yacht Captain/Climate Czar John Kerry would advise them to do instead. Still, though, Murkowski persists in declaring herself shocked — shocked! — that the same party who granted sovereignty over entire neighborhoods in Seattle and Portland to avowed revolutionaries against the government would in turn deny sovereignty to Alaska Natives. For all of her willingness to play footsie with them, Murkowski’s Democrat colleagues have not moved an inch, ever, in the direction of putting an extra barrel of oil in the pipeline, providing reliable transportation for rural communities or creating a single job outside the National Park Service in Alaska. They surely do not care about any Alaska Native opinions when those conflict with the Sierra Club. Murkowski is up for reelection in 2022, and she may very well be immune to any challenges from her wide open right flank thanks to the forthcoming ranked choice ballot system approved this past November. Someone with that kind of political capital and job security could put it to use by doing more than putting out statements of disbelief that Democrats would do what they’ve been saying they would do, going along with the game, accepting the narrative and collecting praise from the press for siding with the likes of Mitt Romney while thousands of her constituents’ livelihoods are at the mercy of a man who is starting his term where Woodrow Wilson ended his. At this point, the truly astounding event would be Murkowski fighting for the needs of Alaskans at the expense of her carefully cultivated reputation as one of the “good” Republicans in D.C. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Rivera faces poetic justice in recall

Karma, huh? Just more than a year ago on Jan. 10, 2020, Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth ruled that the recall effort against Gov. Mike Dunleavy could proceed in a decision that was ultimately upheld by the state Supreme Court. Now it turns out that Anchorage Assembly Chair Felix Rivera will face the voters first, and long before Dunleavy, if he does at all before 2022, with the effort against the governor attempting to regain its momentum still more than 20,000 signatures short of the minimum needed. On Jan. 25, another Superior Court judge affirmed the recall petition against Rivera is valid under state law and case precedent, although Dani Crosby curiously didn’t cite the far more recent and controlling standard established by the Supreme Court in siding with the group trying to recall Dunleavy. To recap, the recall petition against Rivera was certified by the Anchorage Municipal Clerk based on his decision to continue to preside over an Aug. 11, 2020, Assembly meeting despite there being 17 people in the room in violation of an emergency order limiting such gatherings to 15 or fewer. Two arguments against the petition were made by the group defending Rivera, namely that the violation was so minor as to not be a valid ground for recall and that it is within his discretion as chair to operate the meeting as he saw fit regardless of the emergency order, or EO, regarding capacity limits. Crosby dismissed both of those arguments, noting that there is no “de minimis” standard limiting recalls, nor was there an exemption for Assembly meetings or Rivera in the capacity restriction of the EO. Of course, the reason there is no di minimis limitation is the precedent that was established in the recall petition against Dunleavy and there is something quite resembling schadenfreude to see a progressive stalwart like Rivera hoisted on the petard of frivolous recall standards sought by his political allies and approved by the judicial system. Attorneys for the state and the group defending Dunleavy from recall made the same arguments as those defending Rivera: that the allegations were either minimal in nature or within their legal authority. Two of the grounds for recall against Dunleavy are patently ridiculous: one, that he failed to appoint a judge within 45 days required under statute and another being that he made a mistake on one of his vetoes of Medicaid funding. Neither action resulted in any harm. A judge was appointed before a vacancy occurred in accordance with the state constitution and the Medicaid veto was a scrivener’s error that was subsequently corrected. Had Dunleavy not been so silly as to attach a signing statement to his court system veto over an abortion decision, that, too, would have been ruled legal just as his massive vetoes to other state services were upheld and then struck from the recall petition by both Aarseth and the Supreme Court. In sum, the driving motivation behind the recall of Dunleavy — his vetoes of more than $400 million from the state budget in 2019 — is not even a part of the official petition to remove him from office. What is left are two shallow charges — the tardy judge appointment and the Medicaid error — and another that would have been legal under his constitutional veto authority if Dunleavy didn’t bother to explain why he did it. Which brings us back to the grounds for recall against Rivera. The backers of the recall against Rivera who have been protesting the arbitrary capacity restrictions, closures and curfews leveled against businesses surely do not believe he risked public health by allowing 17 people instead of 15 inside the spacious Assembly chambers. Instead, they have followed Alinsky’s Rule No. 4 and cleverly applied the standard of superficial technicalities determined by the state’s highest court as sufficient for recall in the petition against Dunleavy. The violation of EO-15 officially deemed grounds for recall of Rivera is simply the vehicle for ousting a politician who has been at the forefront of shuttering businesses, mismanaging CARES Act funds and in general turning a deaf ear to the people he and his leftist cohort on the Assembly are hurting. That’s why it would take a heart of stone to not laugh at Rivera dubbing the people trying to recall him as a “radical group” trying to “bully” him. Bullies require power and as of now, Rivera holds a tremendous amount of it and the people trying to recall him have none beyond their ability to stand in the cold for hours to collect signatures and exercise their political rights on a ballot. Rivera has been bullying the people of Anchorage for nearly a year and there is a certain poetic justice in the way he has finally discovered a job worth defending. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Thanks for your sacrifice, Anchorage.

The new order to halt alcohol service by 11 p.m. would be irrelevant to anyone who was taking a drink every time Mayor Select Austin Quinn-Davidson used the word “sacrifice” during her Dec. 29 press conference. Miriam Webster offers this definition of “sacrifice”: “The act of giving up something that you want to keep especially in order to get or do something else or to help someone; an act of killing a person or animal in a religious ceremony as an offering to please a god; a person or animal that is killed in a sacrifice.” As the great swordsman Inigo Montoya observed in a different context to a similarly buffoonish authority: “You keep saying that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.” The hundreds of business owners and thousands of employees forced out of work under AQD’s and the Assembly’s arbitrary and unscientific orders are not making a sacrifice. They are being sacrificed in a misguided and cruel attempt to appease the COVID gods. The Mayor Select’s predecessor and her enabling former cohort on the Assembly love to frame the debate over their economically destructive and wasteful spending policies as merely base partisanship. In their minds this absolves them of the merits of criticism even when it comes from upstanding and contributing members of the community who have spent years and sometimes generations making Anchorage a better place only to see this unchecked and unapologetic authority destroy their work in a matter of months. That callous attitude allows Assembly members like Chair Felix Rivera, who literally creates nothing, to casually cut off and brush off the testimony of people who create jobs like La Mex owner Trina Johnson, Bradley House owner Bernadette Bradley and Haute Quarter Grill owner Alex Perez, who was just forced to close Table 6 after nearly 10 years of business. A tragic irony of the last 10 months is that the very people who constantly lecture the public over income and racial inequality are the same ones who are turning that gap into a canyon through their lockdown policies. But this isn’t about Red versus Blue. It is White versus Blue. By every measure, the white collar upper income class — especially politicians — is faring orders of magnitude better than the blue collar class they depend upon to facilitate their work-at-home lifestyle. This comfortable lifestyle of income security and the ability to dedicate attention to the education of their children allows a large percentage of them to smugly “follow the science” and look down at the troglodytes who can read well enough to understand the simple words of the Constitution. The blue collar workers who deliver their food by truck, sea and air, make their takeout, pick their groceries and fulfill their Amazon orders are essential. Blue collar workers who don’t service them personally are the expendable ones. They can get their wine delivered, they are too good to ever step in a dive bar or a neighborhood diner, and they have state of the art entertainment systems and every streaming service they desire. Who needs to worry about keeping theaters open and their staff employed when you can stream “Wonder Woman 1984” on demand? Who cares if the business they ordered from lost money on their takeout because the owner is trying to keep as many people employed as possible by burning through savings? What difference does it make if a business can’t make money or even open at 25 percent capacity? Those people and their employees probably should have made better life choices, like getting a law degree, making fat money off taxpayer dollars and perpetually running for office without a clue about how to run a business. As they turn a cold shoulder to the heartfelt — and heartbreaking — words of the people whose businesses they are destroying they are also playing a shell game with federal CARES Act money while crying poor. Rather than simply creating a few funds for business, nonprofit and individual relief and seeding them accordingly as most local Alaska governments did with their shares of the money, the Anchorage Assembly instead embarked on a quest to divert huge chunks of the $156 million into pre-COVID problems from homelessness to structural issues at the Girdwood Health Clinic and oh-so-desperately needed fat tire bike trail upgrades to be exclusively completed by the Parks and Rec union. Despite receiving its first $116 million on June 22, the Assembly did not act swiftly to ensure business and individual relief was in place before former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz shut down the hospitality industry in August, nor did they replenish funds before Quinn-Davidson did it again in November. The nine-member progressive majority saw the $156 million as a windfall to use as they saw fit to be doled out on their schedule regardless of who was suffering, and when the Treasury Department put the brakes on their plan to use $21 million of it to purchase dilapidated buildings around town for homeless services, they simply lumped CARES money into “first responder payroll” to free up unrestricted general funds. According to the latest state summary, the municipality has allocated $55 million of CARES money to “public payroll.” This complicates an accurate accounting of just where the money is going, but even the muni’s claim of about $103 million in economic relief still leaves more than $50 million not going to that purpose. Meanwhile they call Anchorage’s $156 million allocation “a drop in the bucket.” That is one hell of a drop, but hey, they work in government. In her mercy, the Mayor Select handed out extra paid time off using those general funds as a Christmas bonus to every member of municipal payroll even as her policies wrecked the holiday season for thousands by forcing them into a month of unpaid time off. Thanks for your sacrifice, Anchorage. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Predictions for the New Year

Imagining 2021 could take even more twists and turns is difficult after a year like no other in recent memory, but few could be surprised at this point if it does. So without further preamble, a stab at predicting events we could see in the New Year. Anchorage Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson will take one COVID-19 test per week until she tests positive again. After proving people can get it twice, she will restrict households to no more than two people and move any extra members into the Golden Lion Inn. The Assembly will approve of this by an 8-0 vote after Eagle River members Jamie Allard and Crystal Kennedy are locked out of the meeting by a giggling Felix Rivera. An attempt to resolve the deadlocked membership of the Alaska House of Representatives through a game of rock-paper-scissors will fail to succeed after more than one hundred rounds when everybody keeps throwing rock. In an effort to finally win a court case, Gov. Mike Dunleavy will sue himself. Alaska gets a break when President Joe Biden approves drilling in ANWR because he thinks it’s in Iran. Republicans will lose both Senate runoff seats in Georgia after the Secretary of State decides to accept Atlanta Falcons jerseys as proof of residency. Television networks trying to lift ratings after setting records during the Trump years will turn to new spinoffs including the Masked Chef, the Masked Pawn Star and the Masked Bachelor. The trend will jump the shark after the debut of The Masked Curse of Oak Island. However, masks in general will surge in popularity after people who’ve received the COVID-19 vaccine won’t shut up about it. Intrigue will unfold in the White House when it is Vice President Kamala Harris, rather than President Biden, who isn’t allowed access to sharp objects. Oil will jump by $10 per barrel after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is named Biden’s Climate Czar and she gets her own private plane to fly around the country promoting the Paris Accords. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will agree to President Trump’s demand for bigger economic stimulus checks after she realizes $600 isn’t enough to fill her $24,000 freezer with her favorite ice cream. In turn she will offer each American a coupon for a personal spa day. After Jan. 20, the media sector will suffer major losses mostly in fact-checking jobs as news organizations return to believing everything that comes from the White House, interviewing Biden’s dog and covering every fashion magazine cover with spreads of Harris and You-better-call-her-Doctor Jill Biden. Some of these predictions are more likely than others, but one is certain: No matter what happens, it least it won’t be 2020. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: An unforgettable, very forgettable year from A to Z

Listen my fellow Alaskans, and you shall hear The story of 2020 A very strange year A is for Anchorage Acting Mayor Austin QD Once a humble member of the town Assembly She was sworn into office on October twenty-three How she got the job is really bizarre With the stroke of the pen she closed all the bars The diners, the theaters, and the bingo halls But she still got the virus So do masks work at all? B is for Biden, the President-Elect Best known for sniffing the occasional neck Whether he knows he won or not, we only can suspect This dusty codger is as old as can be I think that he was born in 1893 He hid in the basement to avoid all the drama Yet somehow got 10 million more votes than even Obama C is for Clarkson, the former AG Who lost his job over the kissy emoji Government officials, you will find when we get to letter E If you don’t want to go out like a clown Before you hit send, put the damn phone down D is for Dunleavy, now halfway through his term To go a month without a biblical disaster Is for what he must yearn Earthquakes and floods, fires and a pandemic Do you think he wishes He would have stayed in the Senate? E is for Ethan, continued from C We saw more of him Than we ever wanted to see The internet is forever but Berky is gone Unfortunately for Anchorage his mandates live on F is for Fund, the Permanent one It’s worth more than $70 billion Will Alaskans get some? G is for Gabby LeDoux who finally lost She must have run out of those voters That are gathering moss H is for Healthcare workers Our frontline heroes Try as they might Cases will never hit zero I is for Independent That’s what Gross and Galvin claimed to be But you can’t spell defeated Without starting and ending with a D J is for Journalism The industry had a bad year Burying the stories they didn’t want you to hear From Hunter’s laptop to Mideast peace in our time Most of them are just Democrats with a byline K is for Kriner Who owns a popular diner To his friends he’s a patriot To his opponents he’s a whiner Whether you think he’s wrong or he’s right He fed hundreds of people on Thanksgiving night L is for Legislature For which there is no good rhyme It took COVID-19 To make them finish on time M is for Masks The most 2020 of all tasks To forget yours, stomp, and say “Blast!” Then to the car you must now walk back N is for Netflix Who gave us a needed fix Of Tiger King and Cobra Kai Big cats and karate kicks It also gave the answer to what we’ve all been askin’ What went wrong in 2020? It was that bitch Carole Baskin O is for Outdoors The only place safe place to eat As long as there is a tent That’s covering your seat P is for the Plain On the coast of ANWR It took 40 years to hold a sale The lawyers hope won’t go far Just don’t wait for them To stop driving fancy cars Q is for Quarantine For 10 days or 14 Make a mess Work in sweats Looking good on Zoom is half the stress R is for Riots Where the virus cannot spread So say our experts Who lost all their cred Burning down a building for justice is fine But don’t open your gym You’re stepping out of line S is for Small business Getting kicked in the knees Meanwhile Amazon and Walmart Are having a party T is for Trump That magnificent bastard Never was a president A bigger champion for Alaska Biden will try to undo everything he did At least on the days his people don’t have to call a lid U is for Unemployment The benefits don’t cut it If politicians had to live on them They’d be fixed in a minute V is for Vaccine We have not one, but two Trump said we would by now And the media poo-poo’d Still they wonder why People call them the Fake News W is for Washington The biggest swamp on Earth Nearly every problem comes from there And their solutions are often worse Don’t wear masks! Now you must! Just two weeks, listen to us! Everything is Red versus Blue Pelosi sucks, and McConnell does, too They keep winning every time Feeding us the same old line Raking in the lobbyist dough No wonder every store is out of ammo X marks the spot Where A to Z columns die No matter how I try and try I gave up and skipped to Y Y is for Don Young Who beat back the corona And made it back to work just in time To vote for marijuana Z is for Zink To whom I owe a drink For all of her hard work And for not having to think About a letter Z To finish up this poem Good riddance to 2020 And good luck in ’21! Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: State forces council to close Cook Inlet for business

The federal North Pacific Fishery Management Council dropped the latest bomb on Cook Inlet commercial fishermen, but it was the Alaska Department of Fish and Game flying the plane. On Dec. 7 of all days, the council adopted the state-backed alternative to completely close commercial salmon fishing in the federal waters of Cook Inlet more than three miles offshore where some half of the salmon harvest is historically taken by the drift fleet. Through his designee to the council, Deputy Commissioner Rachel Baker, ADFG Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang informed the council that the state would refuse to accept a delegation of federal authority to manage the Cook Inlet salmon fishery. Under the alternative backed by Cook Inlet commercial stakeholders and unanimously supported by the council’s Advisory Panel, the state would continue to manage the fishery in both state and federal waters, but with federal oversight to ensure state management complies with the Magnuson-Stevens Act. State management that complies with the MSA has long been the demand of Cook Inlet drift fishermen and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with them when it ordered the council to adopt a fishery management plan, or FMP, that applied the federal law to the federal waters of Cook Inlet. By refusing to accept the delegation of authority that would come with federal oversight, the state left the council with no choice but to adopt the alternative that instead completely closes fishing and deals a potential deathblow to hundreds of multi-generation Alaskan permit holders and the coastal community businesses that depend on them. This hardly aligns with Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s “Open for Business” motto for his administration, yet it is his appointees to ADFG and the Board of Fisheries that are actively attempting to put fellow Alaskans out of business based on the whims of the anti-commercial fishing lobby on the Kenai Peninsula and in the Mat-Su Valley. Cook Inlet is among the most heavily resident fisheries in the state; 75 percent of drift permit holders and 80 percent of setnet permit holders are Alaskans. Many can trace their family fishing history back for decades predating statehood. Bob Penney, who donated more than $300,000 to help elect Dunleavy, has been waging war on Cook Inlet setnetters for decades, up to and including a state ballot initiative that would have banned them entirely until it was struck down as unconstitutional at the Alaska Supreme Court. Restrictions on setnetters adopted by the Board of Fisheries have succeeded in destroying the value of permits and limiting harvests, and the drift fleet that is the boogeyman for the Valley has now been successfully targeted for execution through the federal council. The state crafted a red herring argument that it would be unworkable to manage federal and state waters, but this is belied by existing arrangements in other fisheries. The state has a joint agreement with the federal government to manage Bering Sea crab stocks in which Alaska adopts the harvest strategy based on the federal science and in accordance with the Magnuson-Stevens Act; the state manages all the crab stocks in the Gulf of Alaska, also in harmony with the MSA. The state likewise manages Yukon River and Southeast king salmon stocks under delegated authority from the federal government that must comply with the Pacific Salmon Treaty between the U.S. and Canada. Therefore the argument that it is impossible or even difficult for the state to manage the federal waters of Cook Inlet in a similar fashion is prima facie nonsense. Simply put, the state doesn’t want to follow federal law in Cook Inlet not because it is difficult, but because it wants to make allocations and manage the fishery without regard to science. This action by the council forced upon it by the state is also a direct slap in the face to the 9th Circuit, which hopefully will not look kindly on its order to comply with the MSA being circumvented through this action to shut down a viable commercial fishery. Ten national standards were added to the MSA when it was reauthorized in 2006 and this action potentially runs afoul of at least half of them. No. 1 requires management to achieve, “on a continuing basis, the optimum yield from each fishery.” Shuttering a fishery that will undoubtedly result in foregone harvest does not achieve optimum yield. Resulting overescapement that reduces future harvests for all stakeholder groups violates this standard. No. 2 requires that management measures “shall be based upon the best scientific information available.” There is no science backing up this action. No. 3 requires that a stock be managed “as a unit throughout its range.” Whether no management counts as management will be something for the 9th Circuit to consider. No. 8 requires that management “take into account the importance of fishery resources to fishing communities by utilizing economic and social data … in order to (a) provide for the sustained participation of such communities and (b) to the extent practicable, minimize adverse economic impacts on such communities.” Killing fishing communities for no reason other than a refusal to accept federal oversight is about as blatant a violation of this standard as can be imagined. No. 10 requires that management shall “promote the safety of human life at sea.” Forcing boats into a smaller area has the potential to create unsafe fishing conditions and unavoidable gear conflicts with shore-based setnetters. In an Oct. 6 letter to House Speaker Bryce Edgmon and Kodiak Rep. Louise Stutes regarding the Pebble mine, Dunleavy wrote in his opening sentence that, “As governor of Alaska, one of my duties is to create economic opportunity for the benefit of all Alaskans utilizing every available resource within our borders.” Squaring that duty with what his appointees just pulled on Alaskan fishing families in Cook Inlet is going to be a tall order. Explaining how this follows his “Open for Business” policy after we’ve already lost 40,000 jobs will be impossible. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Missing the real story

Too bad for Anchorage Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is already receiving an Emmy for Best Impersonation of Effective Leadership in a Pandemic. The selected-not-elected mayor of Alaska’s largest city gave a masterful performance on Nov. 25 as she choked back crocodile tears while announcing she was ordering bars and restaurants to close for the third time this year and the second time the municipality has done so without a plan for how to provide economic relief to hundreds of businesses and thousands of employees despite its allocation of more than $156 million in federal CARES Act funds. A former member of the Assembly since elevated to her position after former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz was forced to quit in October, Quinn-Davidson is directly responsible for the egregious misuse of economic relief funds that have been diverted into city payroll to the tune of $49 million, Parks and Rec union beak wetting with $4.5 million for bike trails, and $2 million for Visit Anchorage while people who actually live in Anchorage, let alone those who don’t, are being prohibited from visiting Anchorage. Throw in the $5 million for the Girdwood health clinic that is a perfect candidate for a bond issue instead of an opportunistic cash grab from the federal honey hole and the Assembly has squandered more than $60 million, or nearly 40 percent, of its CARES Act money while Quinn-Davidson auditions for a Spanish-language soap opera and demands Congress drop more cash on politicians who have proven to be completely incompetent stewards of putting it to the intended use. As she lived up to the “acting” half of her title, Quinn-Davidson didn’t get any questions about why Anchorage has wasted so much economic relief money even as she claimed the municipality has “only” $15 million left. Nor was she asked why she hadn’t already urged her former colleagues to appropriate the money into exhausted business and individual programs before she unilaterally decided to put thousands of people out of work. A question about the $49 million in payroll spending to the mayor’s spokesperson wasn’t answered and the same inquiry to Assembly Chair Felix Rivera and Vice Chair John Weddleton was similarly ignored. Rather than chasing down the real story of the gross mismanagement bordering on embezzlement of federal money by Anchorage leadership, social and legacy media were tossed into a tizzy by Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s community outreach liaison Dave Stieren encouraging people to support their favorite local bars on the last day they could operate until 2021. In full disclosure, Stieren is a good friend of mine. We’ve attended concerts and smoked the occasional cigar together, I’ve had dinner at his home co-hosted by his lovely wife and I had a Friday segment for a few years on his radio show during which we would have a whisky and shoot the bull over current events. That said, however, this is not about defending Stieren, who aborted his plans to support his neighborhood bar on Hunker Down Eve and at least temporarily deactivated his Facebook page as the social media mob descended and some members of the traditional press attempted to drive a wedge between him and his boss. The issue isn’t what Stieren wrote or even if it is newsworthy. The issues at hand are the misplaced priorities of both the Anchorage leadership that has put its budget ahead of household budgets and the media that has almost uniformly made accountability a standard that only applies to the wrong-thinkers like Stieren or others who have protested the onerous, arbitrary and destructive mandates of the current and former mayor and their enablers on the Assembly. Every day that goes by without elected officials in Anchorage being forced to answer for their malfeasance is an outrage as businesses close, temporarily or permanently, and their employees have to worry not just about whether they can even buy Christmas presents for their families but whether they’ll be able to pay the bills and rent come January. Meanwhile our comfortable leaders in Anchorage worry not over their paychecks, their homes or their next meal. They are not even made to answer uncomfortable questions. Uncomfortable questions are only for the governor’s office over a social media post touting the legal and morally defensible activity that is supporting local businesses. Accountability applies to everyone, especially when tens of millions of dollars are being blatantly frittered away and people’s very livelihoods are in jeopardy as a result. Anything less and the Alaska Press Club might as well start handing out its own acting awards. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Some news to be thankful for

After what has felt more like a terrifying plunge with no ups and all downs, this year has been more like a bungee jump than a roller coaster. But two recent developments have snapped us back from impact in the nick of time and given reason for thanks as we approach the holiday season. For one, as President Donald Trump repeatedly promised in the face of nearly unanimous ridicule and skepticism before the election, a COVID-19 vaccine was indeed just weeks away and is set to be deployed before the end of the year including here in Alaska. Encouraging clinical test results and a ready deployment plan are tremendous accomplishments by the public-private partnership under Operation Warp Speed that have buoyed investors and, critically for Alaska, oil prices. The price per barrel has increased by about $4 since Pfizer announced a preliminary 90 percent effective rate for its phase three clinical trial, and year-to-date North Slope crude is about $5 better than the budget forecast. This is not nearly enough to erase the projected budget deficit but is better than a kick in the shins and a long way from the prices that bizarrely and briefly went negative back in April. The Dow Jones average also crossed the 30,000-point mark on Nov. 24, which is good news for the Permanent Fund that is now the largest source of income for Alaska and as of Nov. 20 stood at nearly $70 billion in value. The record total for the Dow and the Permanent Fund came after ConocoPhillips Alaska President Joe Marushack announced at the Nov. 18 Resource Development Council for Alaska conference that the company is resuming drilling on the North Slope after suspending most non-production activity and briefly curtailing output by some 100,000 barrels per day this past spring. This is outstanding news for jobs — the sector has lost some 3,000 since the COVID-19 induced price crash — and future throughput in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. With approval for its massive Willow project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska in hand (followed like clockwork by eco-extremists filing a lawsuit against it), ConocoPhillips is getting back to work and will finally get to deploy the biggest horizontal drilling rig in North America dubbed “The Beast.” Prices weren’t the only factor in the decision to restart its North Slope programs, of course. Crucial was the overwhelming defeat of the deceptively-titled “Fair Share Act” on Nov. 3 by Alaska voters who refused to follow millionaire lawyer and initiative funder Robin Brena off the economic cliff. The dark winter still lies ahead, but progress toward a vaccine and more production on the North Slope has relegated that fact to a mere function of the calendar and no longer a metaphor for where Alaska is going. For that we have reason for thanks. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Anchorage pads payroll at the expense of the public

Forty. Nine. Million. Dollars. According to a state summary of CARES Act relief fund spending, that is how much the Municipality of Anchorage has dedicated to payroll, or nearly one-third of the $156 million it was allocated to mitigate the devastating economic impacts of pandemic-related business closures and job losses. Meanwhile, on Nov. 13 the muni announced that the $20 million it set aside for rent and mortgage assistance has been exhausted. On Oct. 1, the muni likewise announced that it received more applications than it had available for a $6 million small business relief fund and had to make awards based on a random draw. To be clear, these payroll costs are not increases over what has already been budgeted for 2020 from existing funds. The Anchorage Assembly is taking advantage of a perceived loophole in the Treasury Department guidance for spending CARES funds that allows the municipality to presume every dollar of payroll for first responders through the end of the year is related to COVID-19 despite the obvious fact they are not. In an Aug. 10 email to the Assembly, a week into former Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s month-long “reset” that closed bars and restaurants to indoor service without any relief available, Chief of Staff Jason Bockenstedt wrote regarding what was then a $21 million allocation to first responder payroll that “This is NOT an increase to either of these departments. These costs may be presumed to be related to COVID-19 for the entire period that the Title V CARES Act provisions are in effect, or from March 1, 2020 through December 30, 2020.” Since then, the Treasury Department also told the municipality that spending CARES funds as previously proposed to purchase various properties to provide homeless services was questionable at best. By dedicating additional money to payroll, the municipality may use its own unrestricted funds to purchase the properties. Time, like the days, is shrinking to provide the necessary economic relief that threatens thousands of lives and livelihoods across Anchorage as cases increase, more people stay home and the threat of additional restrictions looms. The Assembly is now nearly out of financial tools to address those needs thanks to its ill-thought out plan to pounce on the opportunity to use CARES Act money to deal with the long-standing problem of homelessness. Dedicating more to the payroll budget than to economic and rent relief combined is an unconscionable dereliction of duty. And to be sure, helping the homeless is necessary, but the muni also has a funding source through the alcohol retail tax set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2021. The premise of the alcohol tax is to use the hospitality industry as the muni’s piggy bank to pay for those services, but whether that anticipated revenue matches expectations sort of depends on the hospitality industry surviving this economic crisis. The muni, through the Assembly, is stuffing its own coffers instead. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: A loss for Trump is a loss for Alaska

Statehood, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and the authorizing of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System rank as the most significant federal actions in state history, but no president has done more in sum for the Last Frontier than President Donald Trump. For whatever reason, and despite his frequent clashes with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Trump has a particular shine for Alaska and made unprecedented progress for the state in less than four years. The chapters of Trump’s presidency are still being written and this is not intended to be his political obituary with so many legal challenges and recounts unresolved. The Pennsylvania count remains unknown as the U.S. Supreme Court will weigh in on whether it was constitutional for a state court to extend the deadline to receive ballots by three days and independent of the state Legislature. It was no coincidence that the media in near-unison declared former Vice President Joe Biden the winner less than a day after Justice Samuel Alito ordered Pennsylvania to sequester the late ballots pending an ultimate ruling. The narrative must be given momentum and the public must be dissuaded from believing anything to the contrary or entertaining any suspicion about the witching hour changes to vote tallies across the country. As of press, Trump was trailing Biden by less than 13,000 votes in Arizona from a Nov. 4 deficit of 93,000 and about 33,500 votes remaining to be counted. Georgia is still being contested and where the result on its face makes little sense. Biden somehow leads Trump by 12,651 votes as of press, but fellow Democrat Jon Ossoff trails incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue by 82,000 votes and received nearly 100,000 fewer votes than the former vice president. The down ballot numbers are equally suspicious in the other Georgia Senate race, where the combined vote total for Democrat candidates is almost equal to the number of votes that Ossoff received and, again, nearly 100,000 fewer votes than Biden received. A similar down ballot issue is in Michigan, where Trump and Republican John James received a nearly identical number of votes but Biden received almost 70,000 more votes than incumbent Democrat Sen. Gary Peters. The above are just a few of the outstanding issues that must be addressed for more than 70 million Trump voters to have any confidence in the ultimate outcome. However, the prospect of a Joe Biden-Kamala Harris administration is not something we have to speculate on as it relates to Alaska. The state spent eight years under former President Barack Obama and Biden being stymied and slow-walked at every turn of the permitting process that impacts pretty much every economic effort in Alaska. Point blank, environmental radicals will wreak havoc on Alaska as the state economy is reeling from a three-year recession and the triple whammy of 2020 on oil prices, tourism and fisheries from the COVID-19 fallout. Battles Alaskans have been fighting for literally decades turned in the state’s favor under Trump: nearly 40 years to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain; almost 20 years to repeal the Roadless Rule, which contrary to media reports is not a green light to clearcut the Tongass National Forest; and more than 25 years trying to build a road from King Cove to Cold Bay that remains tied up in court but was a surprising issue for Trump to take such a personal interest in. A new management plan was approved for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and approvals were granted for the massive North Slope prospects at Pikka and Willow, which have potential to add as much as 300,000 barrels per day in new production. A road to the rich Ambler Mining District was also approved along with the key permit for the Alaska LNG Project. None of this, other than possibly the AK LNG permit, would have happened under Hillary Clinton and the ultimate outcome for these current efforts is far from certain under a Biden-Harris, or Harris-Biden, administration. There were other decisions benefitting Alaska such as reversing the steep increases of premiums in the individual insurance market under Obamacare by funding the “reinsurance” program created by the state Legislature in 2016, and fisheries relief from the White House for trade- or pandemic-related issues were often just a phone call away. Thankfully Alaska voters have returned Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young to Washington against Democrats-in-disguise Al Gross and Alyse Galvin. They also overwhelmingly rejected yet another attempt to raise oil taxes at the ballot box while the outcome remains in question for an ill-conceived experiment to upend our election process funded almost entirely by Outside interests. By sending Sullivan and Young back to Congress, reelecting Trump and turning down the economic suicide of the so-called “Fair Share Act,” Alaskan voters did their part. Counting Alaska’s ballots won’t take nearly as long as it will to know whether the progress for the state under Trump will continue or be put in reverse. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

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

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

OPINION: I award you no points

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


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