Opinion

GUEST COMMENTARY: Accomplishments add up for Alaska

As I reflect on this past year as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I’m proud of the national policies we advanced, and the many ways those policies will benefit Alaska. I’m also proud of the process we used to achieve success and the Alaskans who helped pave the way. I liken our committee to the “little engine that could.” In a Congress not often marked by cooperation, we have bucked the trend, gone to work, and delivered real results. That takes commitment to negotiating across the aisle in good faith. It may not be the easiest route to the finish line, but it has proven time and again to be the best way to get there. The passage of a sweeping lands package that I authored with many of my colleagues is a case in point. One key provision, originally sponsored by Sen. Dan Sullivan, allows Alaska Natives who served during the Vietnam War to receive land allotments the federal government promised decades ago. Another expands and enhances sportsmen’s opportunities for hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting on public lands, including a directive to federal agencies to keep those lands “open unless closed” for a valid reason. We also provided needed routing flexibility for the Alaska gasline and new economic opportunities for communities such as Kake and Utquiagvik. Our bipartisan process propelled the lands package through Congress, but it is the people behind the policy that ultimately make the difference. That’s why, in all of my work, I make sure to invite Alaskans to the table. Nelson Angapak, Sr., was a tireless force in helping us move the Alaska Native Vietnam veterans’ allotment provision forward. Ethan Schutt with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Daniel Kirkwood with the Juneau Economic Development Council, and Mayor Harry Brower of the North Slope Borough are among the many Alaskans who have appeared before the committee to discuss our unique energy and lands issues. Whether through formal testimony or work behind the scenes, Alaskans have played a significant role in shaping national policies that will bring benefits to our state. Those policies include legislation I have written focused on mineral security, advanced nuclear, geothermal, energy efficiency, and cybersecurity, among many others. All told, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee reported more than 50 energy-related measures to the full Senate last year. Our focus now is on combining many of those measures into a broader package to modernize our nation’s energy policy. It has been 12 years since Congress updated federal energy law, so it is long overdue. We are also fortunate to have an administration that shares our views on energy and natural resources, and recognizes the contributions Alaskans can make. Both Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette have visited Alaska on numerous occasions. They understand us and are eager to partner with us to address needs and build prosperity across our state. In July, I hosted Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on Prince of Wales Island, where he heard from many Alaskans about the burdens imposed by the Roadless Rule. I was pleased when the administration agreed to write a state-specific rule for Alaska, and support the administration’s preferred alternative of a full exemption for the Tongass National Forest. I am also very proud of the work we accomplished with the administration to help refill our Trans-Alaska Pipeline. From new projects in the NPR-A to an oil and gas program for the 1002 Area, we have put Alaska back on the map. Thanks to the steps we are taking, the federal Energy Information Administration has increased its projection of Alaska oil production from 2031 to 2050 by 90 percent. IHS Markit, one of the nation’s leading energy consultancies, has restored the North Slope’s recognition as a “super basin” for future production. 2019 was a good year for Alaska on energy and natural resources policy. With Alaskans at the helm, I look forward to continued success in 2020. Lisa Murkowski is the senior U.S. senator from Alaska.

What does it take to win the top talent?

According to Glassdoor, unemployment hit an all-time low in the Lower 48 dipping to 3.7 percent. This competitive environment calls for organizations to monitor and gauge key indicators of change in the workplace. Specifically, in Alaska we see that positions in healthcare, IT and professional services — particularly civil engineering — are extremely difficult positions to fill. For that reason, we have found organizations set themselves apart in a few major ways: Online presence wins More than ever, today’s workforce wants to know that the business they work for has a vested interest in their future and an interest in the community. Prior to an interview, the better recruits do their homework. They are looking for continuity between what is shown on the company website and what they see when they show-up to interview. We have found that the Gen-Y workforce wants to see an organization’s social conscience and evidence of a fun and engaging team. Baby Boomers want to know that loyalty still exists in the workplace, and all ages have a desire for transparency in terms of workplace culture. Strengths-based teams win Organizations with a better recruiting record recognize that the best recruitment happens when their own employees spread the word of an opening. Consequently, managers and owners have to step-up their game and compete for the best hires, and their current employees. When your own team is engaged and working in their strengths, new applicants can see that what you sell online is precisely what is being delivered onsite. Do you say you are a collaborative business? If so, then how does that translate to new employees or your clients for that matter. Multi-generational workforces win With so much focus on Millennials, we like to point out that Baby Boomers continue to be the fastest growing workforce. Compared to previous generations, they are in better health and working longer than the generations before them. It is estimated that the entire Baby Boomer workforce will continue to grow by approximately 5 percent, however the individuals ages 65+ will grow by more than 61 percent. So, as this generation ages, they move the needle for other generations in the workplace. We have found that by focusing more on the individual and collective strengths of a team, managers are able to synergize teams crossing the generational gap. Development focus wins With a busy and a competitive environment, it can be difficult to prioritize continued learning in the budget. However, with such digital transparency, supporting and reinforcing values and culture is more important than ever. By investing in your team and providing growth opportunities, managers reinforce that employees do matter. By focusing on team building, problem solving or planning, managers inspire creativity and ingenuity. Employees most satisfied are those who are often called upon for cross-training or special projects. These opportunities, when properly delegated, can lead to an opportunity to advance your team. Paula Bradison is the CEO of Alaska Executive Search.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Oil tax changes require more careful consideration

On Jan. 17, a group submitted an application to once again change the rules when it comes to Alaska’s tax structure. This is yet another attempt to write legislation by ballot measure. Those who lent their signature to the cause have our state’s best interest in mind. After all, couldn’t the political acrimony of the previous year be solved with a simple tax change? Proponents have told us that we can have a full Permanent Fund dividend and all the services we want if we simply “sign here.” Like most things in life, things that sound too good to be true usually are. Public policy requires research, dynamic modeling, and debate whereas this measure was written by a small group out of public view. No public process was followed nor any modeling performed to show the initiative’s likely economic impact. Unfortunately this two-page initiative is half-baked, having been constructed out of the public eye and away from the transparency of our tax policy process. We all know Alaska remains at a crossroads. Our economy continues to rebound from the recession, and for the third year in a row our population declined. However, Alaskans have real reason to be optimistic about a meaningful turnaround in the oil patch. Companies that have never considered development in Alaska are now making large investments. Legacy companies are also spending billions on innovative new projects that will put more oil into the pipeline. With these investments, Alaska will benefit for years to come: jobs, revenue, and increased oil production. Companies make investments of this magnitude only after a great deal of study. Exploratory data, financial forecasts, investor sentiment, regulatory burden, comparative opportunities, and tax structures must all come together for what are multi-billion dollar go/no-go decisions. For Alaska, several of these multi-decade, large-scale investments are on the precipice of approval. Like so many other Alaskans, I’m a business owner; and as a business owner, I know tax rates are a major factor in determining the extent to which we can invest in the growth of our services, our facilities, and our team. Oil tax proponents want us to believe that a 300 percent tax increase on the industry will have no impact on current and new investments. A claim like that is simply false. As Alaskans, we expect and seek out the straight facts. The coming debate on this issue will provide an opportunity to receive more complete and accurate information. Oil tax policy is a complex matter, and to do it right, we need input from all sides: state experts, industry, economists, elected officials, and public citizens. Nicholas Begich III is co-chair of OneAlaska, a group campaigning against the proposed oil tax increase initiative. He is the CEO and founder of FarShore Partners, a global software development company and the co-founder of Dashfire, a firm that has assisted in creating, advising, and launching nearly 50 technology-supported businesses across the United States

GUEST COMMENTARY: American energy dominance shields consumers from MidEast turmoil

Turn on the TV. Read the Daily News or other papers. Check out online media. All are inundated with story after story on the current turmoil in the Middle East. Iran. Iraq. Trump. Soleimani. It is hard to find anyone who doesn’t have an opinion on what is happening in the Middle East. However, in Alaska, the silence has been deafening from the radical environmental movement. Why are they so quiet when it comes to an energy situation that is so vital to America’s — and Alaska’s — way of life? Maybe it is good to look back at some history and see if we can uncover the reason for their muteness. Over the last 50 years, instability in the Middle East was met with a spike in oil prices that hit every family in America. Our country witnessed long lines for gasoline and higher prices at the pump nearly every time there was a hiccup thousands of miles away. In the most extreme example, when OPEC decided on an oil embargo in 1973 prices jumped 350 percent causing layoffs and a severe economic downturn. The paradigm caused both Republican and Democrat presidents alike to bemoan the situation and promise to work toward American energy independence. Today, we’ve finally achieved that promise, partially because of the efforts of Alaska’s energy workers. Not long after the killing of terrorist Gen. Qassem Soleimani, one Iranian military leader threatened an attack near the Strait of Hormuz — where almost 20 percent of the world’s oil travels. Senior Revolutionary Guards commander Gen. Gholamali Abuhamzeh said that “the Strait of Hormuz is a vital point for the West and a large number of American destroyers and warships cross there.” What is the early impact to the price of a barrel of oil? As of Jan. 7, it’s actually around the same price in the days following the threat as it was in the days before Solemani was killed. Alaska’s energy workers have historically played a key role in developing the oil and natural gas that continue strengthening the position of the United States against vulnerabilities that have crippled our economy in the past. For the first time in generations, American energy independence is protecting our economy from instability. Which brings us back to the silence from Alaska’s eco left. The ones protesting lease sales in the NPR-A and ANWR. The ones asking for public outcry when an oil producer begins exploration on its leased lands. The ones leading the climate strikes: taking Alaskan youth who already have some of the lowest academic performance in the nation out of school to protest an industry that provides approximately $2.4 billion a year in government funding and pays the majority of the cost of state government. Alaska’s energy workers help protect our economy and our national security; they deserve all the gratitude we can offer. As those same green groups think about driving to their next protest in gas-powered cars or sit comfortably in their offices warmed by natural gas, I hope they — and all of us — recognize their hypocrisy. Not only do they personally benefit from the energy sources they are trying to destroy, they are also working directly against the United States — and for foreign entities who seek to undermine our country’s economic stability in an uncertain world. ^ Rick Whitbeck is the Alaska State Director for Power The Future. Contact him at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Hilcorp promotes safety on the North Slope

Safe work happens because people are committed to sending their friends and colleagues home in the same condition they showed up in. Hilcorp, along with other exploration and production companies in Alaska, have introduced new technology to expand training, improve comprehension and verify individual skill levels to protect the people, the environment and the communities where they live and work. Hilcorp understands there is no written rule for keeping people from getting hurt. To promote safety, the company implements best practices and engages the front-line leadership of the company who drive early reporting of even the most minor of incidents. Hilcorp Alaska’s total recordable incident rate was 37.5 percent lower than the industry-wide average in 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The company realized a dramatic 85 percent decline in incidents between 2012 and 2018. This is remarkable considering their workload has nearly quadrupled during the same time period. Most people don’t know this, but a broken finger, stitches, a chipped tooth, or even non-prescription medications administered at prescription strength are considered “recordable injuries” by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s recordkeeping standard. Hilcorp introduced the “Pause Program,” which asks people to intervene and pause a job in the event someone sees something they perceive as unsafe or at risk. They ask people to actually stop the job and find safer ways to conduct work. Let’s face it, you cannot engineer out the human factor. Contractors must also meet stringent requirements to win and conduct contract work. Hilcorp has implemented a Contractor Management Selection &Evaluation Procedure that provides guidance for selecting, evaluating and verifying service providers and vendors safety performance is acceptable enough to be considered for project work with their company. They’ve introduced a program called “Safety Watch” for all their vendors, third-party contractors, and suppliers that basically provides a framework of safety expectations which must be met in order to fully receive contract funds. As a long-time safety professional, I can attest to the level of professionalism and dedication the Hilcorp Alaska safety team has. Some of them are my former co-workers and past employees. I can tell you when an incident happens, it affects them personally. (Disclosure: I have a Master Service Agreement with Hilcorp, but have not performed any work under our agreement. I wrote this opinion piece based on my knowledge and experience with their safety team. As stated, some of their safety staff are my former co-workers (from ConocoPhillips contracts) or past employees (Udelhoven Oilfield System Services). As far as my work experience with Hilcorp, I have clients who do work for them, and I occasionally interact with their safety teams in different operating areas. I have seen all the negative commentary about them and decided to write my own opinion piece from my perspective as a safety professional.) It’s more than a job, because that team of safety professionals truly care about the people who are performing the work in the field. It doesn’t matter if you’re a drilling contractor, or an FCO technician, Hilcorp wants you to work as safely and efficiently as possible. They have been open to ideas and hold regular contractor meetings that are specifically designed to gain insight as to how they can help make the workplace safer. Hilcorp works hard to conduct its operations responsibly and communicate relevant operational information. Their mission is to protect life, enhance public safety, improve emergency preparedness, increase protection of the environment, and prevent damage to property and facilities. Working in some of the world’s worst weather conditions in some of the most remote locations in Alaska, safety is at the core of everything they do. Brian Walden is a Certified Safety Professional and owns a safety company called SLP Alaska, which stands for Safety, Leadership, Performance.

OPINION: Aarseth abdicates on judicial review

As it turns out, the only thing Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth struck from the petition to recall Gov. Mike Dunleavy was the only thing that was truly driving the effort in the first place. In a surprise ruling from the bench on Jan. 10, Aarseth reversed the Division of Elections decision not to certify the recall petition and ordered petition booklets to be distributed no later than Feb. 10. He allowed four of the five allegations against Dunleavy to stand, yet his reasoning to strike the charge that the governor improperly used his line item veto to “preclude the legislature from upholding its constitutional Health, Education and Welfare responsibilities” is at odds with his logic for upholding two other allegations regarding vetoes. Despite its vagueness, Aarseth did not strike the allegation that Dunleavy used his line-item veto authority to “attack” the judiciary and the rule of law, nor did he strike the allegation that he acted “incompetently” with a mistake in a Medicaid veto. Aarseth ruled that the charge Dunleavy precluded the Legislature from exercising its constitutional responsibilities was undermined by the fact that the remedy exists to override his vetoes and the mere fact that it is difficult to achieve a three-quarters majority was not enough to support the allegation. What that means is that according to Aarseth, had Dunleavy held firm on his original line-item vetoes of more than $400 million, it would still not rise to the level of a recallable offense. And yet Aarseth declined to extend that same logic to the court veto or the mistake on the Medicaid veto despite the Legislature having the exact same override remedy at its hands. (As an aside, Aarseth’s determination that the “attack on the judiciary and rule of law” met the particularity standard was a particularly egregious dereliction of judicial review. Even recall attorney Jahna Lindemuth acknowledged the lack of specificity with a defense of the charge that boiled down to “they know what we’re talking about.”) By declaring that recall is an inherently political process and that it isn’t for the judicial branch to apply much if any scrutiny to whether charges actually rise to the level of neglect, lack of fitness, incompetence or corruption, Aarseth shoved the needle away from the established “middle ground” for recall into the “at-will” edge of the spectrum that was expressly rejected by the constitutional framers. Judicial review is what gives Alaska a “middle ground” standard for recall, and Aarseth abdicated this responsibility nearly entirely. In the one area he exercised his power of review, he exposed his flawed reasoning on others. Hopefully the Supreme Court will give this weighty measure the true review and serious consideration it deserves as opposed to the slipshod bench ruling from Aarseth. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Assembly’s lack of vision dooms solutions

The Anchorage Assembly held a town hall Jan. 7 at the Loussac Library to present both the city’s current budget situation and three different sales tax proposals it will consider for the April municipal ballot at its Jan. 14 meeting. Not up for debate as of yet is the citizen-led Project ‘20s, which proposes a 3 percent sales tax to last no more than five years to address homelessness, improve vital infrastructure and build long overdue amenities for the city’s Downtown district. Project ‘20s campaign manager Moira Gallagher was given just two minutes to speak and so far no Assembly member has been willing to sponsor the initiative with an apparent general consensus it is not ripe for consideration having just been formally rolled out in the last few weeks. That may be a valid critique, but remains no excuse for the members, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and would-be mayor and current member Forrest Dunbar to offer nothing more than a repeat of the alcohol tax that failed spectacularly last April or tilting at a Quixotic windmill of a “community dividend” drawn from the Alaska Permanent Fund that has chances of emerging from the Legislature roughly equal to the recent subzero temperatures across Anchorage. Only the most optimistic, or delusional, could leave the meeting with any sense that Anchorage is closer to becoming more self-sufficient after years of cuts to state funding for both operations and the capital budget. Dunbar contended he and fellow sponsors Felix Rivera and Austin Quinn-Davidson have improved on their alcohol tax proposal that went down in flames last year, yet the tax remains stuck on one group of people and an open-ended money pit that contains no goals, no measurables and, most importantly, no accountability. K&L Distributors President Don Grasse vowed to defeat the alcohol tax once again while reiterating the industry’s general position that it is not opposed to a broad-based sales tax. Suite 100 owner Kelly Nichols also pointed out the silliness of the Assembly’s fixation on only taxing alcohol by asking why not tax all beverages. “Do you know how much coffee we drink in this town?” he asked. Unlike some Assembly members and the mayor, Grasse’s and the industry’s position is reasonable. They refuse to accept the premise that consumers of alcohol should bear the burden for paying for the irresponsible decisions of others; based on last year’s vote, a majority of the public agrees with them. We can either be a community willing to tackle these problems together or we can have the mayor and the liberal majority on the Assembly attempt to pin the cost for solutions on one group of residents. Sin taxes are the laziest and least imaginative ideas, which makes it unsurprising politicians keep trying them. The Assembly doesn’t even need to be as creative or forward-thinking as Project ‘20s. A one-penny sales tax would raise about $25 million per year compared to the $11 million to $15 million estimated under the 5 percent alcohol tax. Half the revenue could be dedicated to homeless services and treatment and the other half could go to property tax relief. Even the most ardent anti-tax crowd would be hard-pressed to argue that is an undue burden when it would still be one-third the size of Wasilla’s sales tax. But that gets us no closer to actually building the Anchorage of the future and until we have political leaders willing to exhibit such a vision instead of continuing to take the easy way out we’ll be doomed to yet another year without solutions to our most pressing problems. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Ranked-choice voting initiative favors no one but voters

Alaska Republican Party Vice Chair Ann Brown frames ranked-choice voting as a liberal scheme that will destroy Alaska’s elections system. But there is nothing in the system that favors any party or ideology. As former Alaska Republican Party attorney Ken Jacobus said of ranked-choice voting when a similar initiative was on the ballot in 2002, “It makes sure that everyone who gets elected has a majority of voter support.” That year, Republicans championed the initiative and Democrats fought it. Under ranked-choice voting, also called preferential or instant runoff voting, voters rank candidates in order of preference. All first-choice votes are tallied, and if any candidate receives a majority – that is, 50 percent plus one – the candidate wins. If no candidate receives a majority, the last-place candidate is removed and those votes are redistributed to those voters’ second-choice candidates. The process continues until a candidate receives more than 50 percent of votes. Under the plurality system we currently use, a candidate need only have more votes than any other candidate. In a three-way race, a candidate could win with the support of 34 percent of voters. Some jurisdictions require runoff elections to ensure the winner has majority support. Ranked-choice voting effectively holds runoff elections on a single ballot. The state of Maine and a growing number of U.S. cities have adopted ranked-choice voting. Five states – all Republican-leaning – use the system for military and overseas voters in runoffs: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina. Roberts Rules of Order recommends preferential voting, and many private organizations use it for their elections, including the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, the American Chemical Society, and the Society of Actuaries. (Actuaries! They know how to count.) Ranked-choice voting eliminates the spoiler effect, which occurs when a minor candidate takes enough votes from one of two major candidates to throw the election to the less-popular of the front runners. Many Alaskans recall the 1994 gubernatorial election, when Democrat Tony Knowles beat Republican Jim Campbell by just 538 votes, or 0.3 percentage points, with 41 percent of the vote. Another 13 percent of the vote went to the late Jack Coghill of the right-leaning Alaskan Independence Party, whom many viewed as a spoiler. While the spoiler effect can distort elections outcomes, fear of the spoiler effect is just as bad. It prevents people from voting for their first-choice candidates and likely depresses turnout, because how inspiring is it to cast a vote for the lesser of two evils? Fear of being a spoiler prevents good candidates from jumping into a race against two major candidates. In business terms, the system suppresses healthy competition. By removing these distortions, ranked-choice voting is an antidote to growing cynicism about our democracy. It’s also an antidote to hyper-partisanship. In a ranked-choice system, a candidate can’t afford to appeal to just a narrow segment of their constituency. Jacobus, the Republican Party official, explained it well to the Anchorage Daily News in 2002: Mr. Jacobus said preferential voting would increase turnout and allow supporters of minor candidates to vote their consciences and still potentially make a difference through the ranking of other candidates. He said campaigns might even become more civil, because candidates “have to court second-place votes as well as first-place votes.” The current initiative has three parts. It institutes top-four open primaries, a simple system in which all candidates are on one ballot and the top four vote-getters advance to the general. It establishes ranked-choice voting for general elections. The initiative also prohibits “dark money,” or large campaign contributions that can’t be traced. Americans know the system is broken: recent polling found only 20 percent are satisfied with our campaign finance system. How should it be fixed? The top suggestion – supported by more than 60 percent of Republicans, Independents, and Democrats – is to require campaign finance disclosure. That’s exactly what this initiative does. This initiative takes power from parties and vests it in voters. It fosters healthy political competition and civility, paves a path for independent and third-party candidates, enables Alaskans to “follow the money,” and ensures our elected officials have support of a majority of voters. It’s sensible, it’s simple, and it’s time. Rebecca Braun is a former Alaska political journalist and policy advisor.

BROWN'S CLOSE: The Path to Enlightenment at Okamoto’s Karate Studio

Several months ago, I began classes in beginner’s karate at Okamoto’s Karate Studio. I was about to turn 30, and decided now was the time to take better care of my body than I had for the last 10 years. I am one of three adults in my class; the other two adults are parents of fellow students. Average age of the students is seven and three-quarters. Naturally, I stand out a bit. Nevertheless, thus far, I have made one friend, Mary. Mary, a distractible second grader, is generally a naughty student. Instructor Shane takes your belt away if you misbehave in class, and her belt has been under a constant state of threat since I’ve known her. Mary is very concerned about my social and financial wellbeing. Every day I come to class, she approaches me with a look of polite worry. “Do you have a mom?” “Yes, I have a mom.” “Why doesn’t she come with you?” Most seven-year-olds were accompanied to karate by their parents. “Well, I drive myself.” Mary nodded somberly. “Does your mom sign your papers? Does she pay for your lessons?” “Well, I’m an adult, so I sign my own papers and pay for my own lessons.” That allayed her fears for about two weeks. Then she saw me walk into the locker room with my karate gear in a trash bag. All of the children have fancy embroidered gym bags that say, “Okamoto’s Karate Studio.” I, however, refuse to buy into the trappings of branding, and am content to carry my items around in a white plastic bag the way God intended. I loaded my garbage sack into my cubby, when Mary tapped my leg. “Why don’t you have a bag?” “A bag?” Mary pointed to the column of identical red and black bags in the cubbies. “Oh, a gym bag? I didn’t buy one.” Mary frowned. “Did you not want to spend the money? Wait…” She trailed off. “Do you have money?” I considered her question. My wealth, or lack thereof, struck me distinctly relative. “Um, yes, I have money. I just didn’t buy a gym bag.” Mary looked unconvinced. The weeks dragged on, and Mary continued to pepper me with questions about my financial stability. “Do you walk from home?” she grabbed my leg, and once more regarded my trash bag suspiciously. “Uh, no, I drive.” “Really? Do you have a car?” “Um, yes, I have a car. That would be a long walk from home!” And last night at class, she sliced even more to my gut. “Are you a mom?” “Am I a mom? Well, no, I don’t have any kids. No kids or husband. Just me.” Mary looked scandalized, and asked, “How old are you?” Way to cut me down to size. “I’m 30.” “That’s so old.” Tell me about it. “So you’re an adult?” “Yes.” “But you’re not a mom?” “No.” That’s when I was rescued by our resident Class Genius, a small girl who had just informed us moments prior that she had, “skipped first grade for some odd reason.” The Genius scoffed at Mary. “You don’t have to be a mom to be an adult! Not if you’re a girl!” I nodded fervently in agreement. Although, I must admit, I got a bit more than I bargained for when I started karate. While I’ve gained muscle, flexibility, and a lot of sweaty gear made out of rubber, Mary has also forced me to confront some uncomfortable truths. Am I an adult? Am I financially successful? Am I fully formed, fledged, and independent? Am I too old to learn a new (and might I add, very physical) sport? Is my personal and family life in order? Gosh Mary. Out of the mouths of babes… Sarah Brown is the most wizened, longest tenured white belt at Okamoto’s Karate studio. When she is not training to finally earn her yellow belt, she can be reached at [email protected], and on Twitter @mesarahjb. "Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.  

OPINION: A better choice for Anchorage

After Anchorage voters resoundingly rejected a 5 percent tax on alcohol sales last April, the backers of the levy immediately announced plans to try again on the next municipal ballot. Proponents blamed the defeat on the boogeyman of the alcohol industry rather than voters’ rightful skepticism about how the money would be spent or a general opposition to taxing one group of residents to address the citywide problem of homelessness. Assembly members Felix Rivera, Austin Quinn-Davidson and Forrest Dunbar reintroduced the tax — the ninth attempt to institute a city sales tax on alcohol since 1984 — this past Dec. 17 and it is scheduled to be deliberated at the Jan. 14 meeting. This time, though, Anchorage voters may be given a better choice. A coalition of stakeholders have teamed up on a proposal recently rolled out called “Project ‘20s Anchorage” they will present at a town hall meeting at Loussac Library on Jan. 7 at 6 p.m. (See project20sanchorage.com) Rather than an open-ended 5 percent tax only on alcohol sales, the Project ‘20s proposal is for a time-limited 3 percent sales tax that would sunset after either five years or $375 million in revenue. No debt would be taken on; projects will begin as revenue is sufficient. The administrative costs of the sales tax would be paid for from the sales tax revenue, and as money comes in it will be placed into interest-bearing accounts to grow. In other words, the Assembly can’t touch it. Instead of a nebulous guarantee to use tax revenue on various services, the Project ‘20s plan has a specific list of projects ranging from necessary infrastructure to desirable amenities as well as earmarking $80 million of the tax revenue to create an Anchorage Housing Trust that would spin off $3.5 million per year to pay for operating expenses targeted toward permanent supportive housing. On the infrastructure side of the list is a new fire station for Eagle River to reduce currently unacceptable response times and in a similar vein improve evacuation and access routes for homes on the Anchorage Hillside that are also threatened by the possibility of wildfires. Revenue would be used for long-overdue improvements to the city’s crown jewel of a trail system that has fallen into disrepair with invasive species and overgrown brush that reduces visibility and allows for both illegal camping and occasionally dangerous wildlife encounters. Using an invention right from the University of Alaska Anchorage, the Project ‘20s plan calls for installing the UAA’s patented “Tundra Tape” to heat Downtown sidewalks that will both improve safety and accessibility but also reduce maintenance costs for snow and ice removal. An arts district would be created on Fourth Avenue with widened sidewalks to allow for streetside patio seating; Fourth Avenue would also see improvements to mark the “Mushing District” where the annual ceremonial start of the Iditarod takes place. The Performing Arts Center would get a much-needed overhaul as it approaches 40 years old dating back to its construction as part of “Project ‘80s” when Anchorage received an infusion of state cash as oil money rolled in to build amenities such as the PAC, Loussac and the Sullivan Arena. Finally, part of the sales tax revenue would create a Ship Creek Promenade and Brewing District to take advantage of Anchorage’s natural ocean front and scenery with a walkable destination both for visitors disembarking the railroad or cruise ships as well as a desirable home for restaurants, shops and residential development. An outdoor amphitheater — another desperately needed amenity Anchorage lacks in comparison to similar sized peer cities — may be part of the final proposal as well. The days of Christmas tree capital budgets that paid for Project ‘80s or more recently the $130 million Alaska Airlines Center are simply over. The time is now for Anchorage to take care of itself. The municipality has pressing needs for both infrastructure that improves safety for our residents as well as the kind of amenities that will be a source of pride. The tax is set at a reasonable level and contains exceptions for unprepared food, feminine products, medicine and medical services, among others, and is capped at no more than $900 on any transaction. There will be no debt and no Assembly sticking its hands in the jar for any other purposes. For those who just have to tax alcohol, they’ll get 3 percent instead of 5. Most importantly, after the target amount is raised or after five years, it will automatically end. Reintroducing the alcohol tax would be the definition of insanity by doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. Continuing to complain about a lack of state funding or a tight municipal budget as a reason we can’t take on homelessness in a serious fashion is like hitting ourselves in the head with a hammer because it feels so good when we stop. We can keep trying the same thing, or we can stop hitting ourselves in the head. We could do something different, and what Project ‘20s offers is a chance to make Anchorage better for generations for everyone rather than taxing one group to put a bandaid on one problem. Voters deserve a better option than another doomed try at taxing alcohol. The Assembly should give it to them. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: One minute to midnight

Choosing a theme for our annual forecast edition cover isn’t usually a simple task — especially resisting the temptation for the easy way out by going with a fortune teller or a crystal ball — but that wasn’t the case as we prepare to ring in a new decade. The famous Doomsday Clock ticking toward midnight is the best representation of where Alaska stands entering its sixth year grappling with a budgetary crisis that has now spanned three governors presiding over deficit spending that has all but drained our main savings accounts. Looking back over the past six covers from a weather map featuring a forecast of hot air from Juneau in 2014 to a Magic 8 ball in 2019 (not a crystal ball, but close), and the progression is stark from irreverence focused on political drama to the reality entering 2020 that very little has changed for the better and time is truly up. The 2015 cover of politicos playing poker featured just one — Democrat Rep. Chris Tuck of Anchorage — who is still in the same position and 2017 pictured a young girl with a Christmas wish for a budget solution. In my 2017 forecast column, the situation then seemed dire enough to compel the Legislature into finding a solution: “It’s almost appropriate that one of Gov. Bill Walker’s last acts of the year was to kill the Juneau Access Project, because the Legislature has run out of road to kick the can. “The state’s savings won’t last more than another year and we’ll have to wait and see whether the dynamic of a three-way power struggle between the Republican Senate, Democrat House and independent governor forces a solution or only produces gridlock worse than what we’ve witnessed in the last two years.” After the political death match of 2019 that saw the Legislature in multiple sessions spanning nearly half the year, court battles, rallies, vetoes, vitriolic rhetoric and ultimately the spawning of a recall campaign against Gov. Mike Dunleavy, suffice it to say that my latter take on the possibilities of 2017 was unfortunately the one that came true. Turns out things could get worse. A lot worse. Dunleavy’s first budget introduced this past February ranked somewhere between the Hindenburg and the Titanic in terms of successful debuts with its draconian if not impossible cuts and proposed clawbacks of local tax revenue on fish and oil infrastructure. The budget created a shotgun marriage in the House with a few Republicans crossing the aisle to join Democrats in exchange for plum committee seats, but ultimately was destined to crack and lost Reps. Gabrielle LeDoux and Tammie Wilson over the size of the PFD and overriding Dunleavy’s vetoes, respectively. The Senate majority, with 13 Republicans and Democrat Lyman Hoffman of Bethel, had superior numbers on paper but loose caucus rules designed to appeal to oft-intransient members from the Mat-Su Valley ended up backfiring on President Cathy Giessel. On its face, Dunleavy’s second budget that features virtually no cuts, a full PFD according to the formula still on the books and emptying three-quarters of the Constitutional Budget Reserve to pay for it all looks like an abdication of leadership. House Speaker Bryce Edgmon said as much in his response to the budget. “Spending is only half of the budget, and the governor is deferring to the legislature on how to pay for it,” Edgmon said. “Alaska cannot afford to delay tough decisions another year.” A common phrase regarding the obvious and involving Sherlock Holmes comes to mind in reading Edgmon’s statement. The legislative leadership in both bodies spent the last year pounding their chests and asserting their appropriating superiority under the state Constitution; on similar arguments nearly two-thirds of the Legislature defied his call to a special session in Wasilla to take futile votes in Juneau that failed to override his vetoes totaling more than $400 million. What Dunleavy did — in a move that has his new Chief of Staff Ben Stevens’ political savvy covering it like gravy — is give the Legislature exactly what they claim they want. There are ideas — mostly in the Senate — for a spending cap and for changes to the PFD formula that would allow Alaska to finally put a stop to six years of stalemates and spending from savings. Both pieces are vital, and neither should be derailed either by committee members who try to prevent a bill from reaching the floor or the governor’s threats of a veto. There are parliamentary means to pull a bill from committee if the leadership believes it deserves a floor vote. If a reasonable solution makes it out of the Legislature to Dunleavy’s desk, what happens next is up to him but at least lawmakers will finally have a clear conscience that they did their jobs. Dunleavy is absolutely right, though, that ill-crafted legislation that doesn’t check the growth of spending at the expense of the dividend will remain subject to repeal by referendum and therefore public buy-in is crucial. Declaring himself open to solutions and compromise, Dunleavy has left legislators no excuses for another unproductive session. Thanks to the $65 billion Permanent Fund and no shortage of promising prospects on the North Slope, Alaska remains blessed with the ability to take care of ourselves. The time is now for the people we’ve elected to show they have the political will and aptitude to pull it off. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Why we left AFN

In mid-December, the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation board of directors voted unanimously to withdraw the organization’s membership from the Alaska Federation of Natives. For many in Alaska, this step may have come quickly and as a surprise, coming just months after AFN’s annual convention which was held in Fairbanks. But in reality, the tensions between AFN and ASRC had been building for quite some time – for years, in fact – and we could no longer simply disregard them. At its inception in 1966, AFN was designed as a consensus organization. At that time, when divisive issues polarized the convention and its members, the issues were historically set aside and time was allowed for more discussion. In more recent times, convention-goers walked away from this practice, proposing and even passing divisive resolutions and endorsements despite the negative effects on some convention delegates. These examples of committee decisions, resolutions and political endorsements all divisively cut against the grain of ASRC’s mission to responsibly provide benefits to our shareholders while enhancing our Iñupiaq culture and traditions. ASRC recently re-affirmed its mandate that it benefits its shareholders best and most directly by issuing dividends. To that end, ASRC has embarked on a remarkable trajectory of growth in recent years: investing hundreds of millions of dollars in its existing companies, achieving significant diversification by acquisition, and extending its geographic footprint to new areas within Alaska and beyond. Endless and non-productive divisiveness such as are witnessed at the AFN Convention not only are outside of the original intent of AFN, they are also distracting from the mission of ASRC. Debate is good, but unproductive divisiveness was preventing us from preparing the next generation of ASRC leaders to overcome challenges while standing on their own two feet. Our founders have worked too long and too hard for the current generation to lose ground. Rights to resources, both renewable and non-renewable, are important. Another example can be found in our experience with whaling. For 40 years, our people in the Arctic have been forced to endure unfunded mandates and unreasonable control from the International Whaling Commission. Today, the Trump administration and our Congressional delegation are listening to us, helping us in the fight to not only restore but also strengthen our whaling rights both at home and abroad. These efforts have helped those across our region, and state, immensely both in the short as well as the long term. Threats to our resources threaten everybody, especially Alaska Natives. With limited value, and even some long-lasting harm to ASRC experienced at the latest convention, we opted to affirm that which we have long contemplated, deciding our time and resources would be better spent somewhere else. We’ve been very busy at home successfully developing a nonprofit regional organization called Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat, or VOICE, where all in-region views are welcomed. Through this venue we can better focus on in-region issues and solutions. VOICE, comprised of Native Village councils, city organizations, regional profit and nonprofit organizations, village corporations and others such as the North Slope Borough, Iḷisaġvik College, Arctic Slope Native Association and the North Slope Borough School District provide a critically important platform for the discussion of topics important to our region. Though we have withdrawn our membership, we will continue to work with AFN on issues that matter to ASRC and Alaska Natives everywhere. As ASRC shares its challenges with other Alaska Native corporations, I’m hopeful that someday we will once again be aligned and have a real discussion about moving forward together as one Alaska Native community. Getting back to the AFN rules of laying aside issues which we cannot agree on and steadfastly working on issues we can agree on would be a good start. Rex A. Rock Sr. is the president and chief executive officer of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and oversees all aspects of ASRC’s business operations. Rock served in many capacities for his hometown of Point Hope, including as whaling captain and head coach for the Tikigaq High School boys’ varsity basketball team, a position he held for more than 20 years. Crawford Patkotak (Ahkivgak) currently serves as the chairman of the board for Arctic Slope Regional Corporation as well as the executive vice president of stakeholder engagement. He has been the whaling captain for the Patkotak Crew since 2008 and currently serves as vice chairman of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission.

GUEST COMMENTARY: ‘Alaskans for Better Elections’ would destroy our voting system

The day before the Independence Day holiday last summer, local progressives quietly filed a petition ironically named “Alaskans for Better Elections,” which would destroy the integrity of Alaska’s elections. If passed the ballot initiative would bring us ranked-choice voting. (In the interest of brevity, this op-ed does not discuss the other elements of the “Better Elections” ballot initiative, which include holding a “jungle” primary and eliminating funds raised for the purpose of influencing elections by nonprofit organizations.) The petition was sponsored, in part, by former District 22 Rep. Jason Grenn. You may remember that Grenn was soundly defeated by now-Rep. Sara Rasmussen in 2018. Are sour grapes on the menu here? In a ranked-choice general election, voters would “rank” their choice of four candidates for a given office. Candidates garnering more than 50 percent of the vote in the first ranking would win office immediately. If no one person wins a majority, candidates are whittled away, and ranking continues until one individual is declared the winner. This initiative is backed nearly entirely by outside donations; its major supporter is a Colorado-based organization that gave $500,000 in one pop last month. Progressives will say this election system brings more moderate voices to the legislature. (Perhaps that is the way Grenn sees himself). When viewed in practicality, however, this initiative can largely be seen as a plan by progressives to take control of Alaska’s political system. Ranked-choice voting has been implemented in New York, California, Maine, and Michigan, states that can hardly be considered strongholds of conservative political thought. Perhaps what is probably most appealing to Grenn and his initiative supporters is, however, that ranked-choice voting enables candidates with limited voter support to win elections. Maybe Grenn believes he could have defeated Rasmussen in 2018, even without support from his constituents, under this system. All Grenn would have had to do to continue to be considered is not be the candidate with the lowest votes received; he could have persisted in the race long after his expiration date. Consider this: a 2015 study of four local elections in Washington and California using ranked-choice ballots found that the winner in all four elections never received a majority of the votes. This is because voters usually do not rank all possible candidates. For the sake of expediency and their own sanity, voters typically only list their top two or three candidates. If those candidates are eliminated, well, then so are the votes of these individuals. Under a ranked-choice system, ballots that do not include the ultimate victors are summarily cast aside. While this creates the appearance of a majority of votes in favor of the winner, it obscures actual voter choices; it’s a system that fundamentally disenfranchises voters (for example all of those voters who went for Rasmussen, as opposed to Grenn). In Maine’s 2018 federal congressional race, the conservative incumbent was thrown out, despite receiving a majority of votes in the initial election. In order to achieve this outcome, Maine’s Secretary of State eliminated more than 14,000 ballots and handed the win to the liberal challenger. Australia’s 2010 election had a strikingly similar outcome; the liberal party took over the House, despite receiving 38 percent of the vote. The conservative party received 43 percent of the vote, but was somehow denied victory. One can see why progressives are so excited about this proposal. It reeks of elitism and is engineered to pad the fortunes of liberal candidates. Alaskan voters, don’t let yourselves be taken in. If this initiative reaches your ballot next year, vote it down. Ann Brown of Anchorage is a retired trial lawyer and is currently the vice chair of the Alaska Republican Party.

OPINION: 2019 from A to Z

After the year Alaska has had, it really was no choice between an “A to Z” column or a “naughty or nice” for my Year in Review. The following contains a few light jabs, but the naughty list has pretty well been chronicled in this space all year and well, pretty much includes everybody. So without further ado, the time-honored and far-from-original Year in Review from A-to-Z. A is for AFN, ASRC and ANWR: A recent analysis of Facebook posts tabbed Dec. 11 as “breakup day”, which wasn’t far off from the biggest news to end the year. On Dec. 16 the news broke that Arctic Slope Regional Corp., the state’s largest company, is exiting the Alaska Federation of Natives. No official reason has been given yet, but the most obvious is the climate change emergency resolution that AFN adopted at its annual meeting in October over the strenuous objections of the ASRC board chair. The Arctic Slope Native Association was a driving force in the creation of AFN, which has become the strongest organization of the nation’s first people over the past 60 years. But ultimately, ASRC, heavily invested in the oil and gas business, knows exactly how the North Slope Borough has achieved a poverty rate of just 11 percent that ranks well better than the state and national averages. The company’s first obligation is to its shareholders and meeting those responsibilities may no longer align with the official position of AFN. B is for Budget: The year began with half the Legislature in disarray until the House coalesced around opposition to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s first budget that proposed more than $1 billion in budget cuts. The year ends with the Legislature befuddled as Dunleavy put the budget ball in its hands with a proposal of no cuts and a huge draw from savings to balance. Legislative leaders pounded their chests all year about their superiority as the appropriators under the constitution. Dunleavy’s budget will force them to deliver on that power. C is for Chief(s) of Staff: Tuckerman Babcock, Dunleavy’s first chief of staff, barely made it eight months on the job before being axed in favor of the far more politically savvy Ben Stevens. Babcock’s infamous and unnecessary “loyalty pledge” letters to non-union state employees robbed Dunleavy of any kind of honeymoon before he was even inaugurated and set the tone for a tumultuous early tenure in office. D is for Dividend: For the fourth year in a row, the statutory dividend formula was disregarded as the Legislature settled on an amount of just more than $1,600 achieved only by draining the last couple hundred million from the Statutory Budget Reserve. Without that move and hundreds of millions in cuts, the PFD could have been as low as $600. Now without any cuts and fewer options, buying off enough Alaskans in an election year will be a tricky lift for legislators who want to keep their jobs. E is for ExxonMobil, which signed an agreement to pursue shipping LNG directly off the Arctic coast from the Point Thomson field. Although the company agreed to put $10 million toward finishing a the FERC permitting process for the Alaska LNG Project, the move to explore Arctic shipping is essentially the final nail in the effort to monetize North Slope gas with an export pipeline through Alaska. F is for Furie Operating Alaska, which struggled to meet gas supply agreements and its debt obligations, and certainly wasn’t helped by never receiving some $105 million in tax credit payments from the state, declared bankruptcy in August and was bought by Gov. Bill Walker’s former oil and gas advisor John Hendrix. G is for Galvin: Only in Alaska can coming within a few points of beating the unbeatable Rep. Don Young count as a qualification to run again, but that’s Alyse Galvin’s best talking point so far. Alaskans have refused to replace the Dean of the House for decades now, and going from No. 1 in seniority to No. 435 doesn’t seem any more likely in a year with both President Donald Trump and Sen. Dan Sullivan on the ballot. H is for Hilcorp: The Houston independent made a blockbuster deal in August with BP to buy all its Alaska assets for $5.6 billion. While many have praised Hilcorp for its ability to rejuvenate old fields, of which Prudhoe Bay certainly qualifies, unanswered questions remain about what its state workforce will look like and whether the public will get to peek at the private company’s financial records. I is for Independent in Name Only: House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, a longtime Democrat, changed his political affiliation to Independent in a cosmetic move to cement a majority with members of the Republican Party. J is for John Sturgeon: The long-running “hovercraft” case finally came to an end with a win in the second try at the Supreme Court that upheld Alaska’s — and Alaskans’ — rights under federal law. While the victory was rightly celebrated, less discussed was a burdensome system in our country that can require millions of dollars and years of time that few possess to achieve justice. K is for Kinross: The owners of the Fort Knox gold mine celebrated a milestone in October with the eight millionth ounce poured at the mine that began operating 23 years ago. Another bright spot for the industry is that for the second year in a row, mineral exploration topped $150 million in Alaska. L is for Laid Up: As the year winds down, six of the state’s 11 ferries are either laid up or for sale. Maintenance costs are skyrocketing, revenue is falling and nobody seems to have a good answer about how to preserve a system that is still responsible for serving tens of thousands of Alaskans. M is for Murkowski: Alaska’s senior U.S. senator is still no big fan of a lot of what President Trump says and does, and isn’t afraid to say so herself, the fact that House Democrats haven’t come close to moving her toward considering impeachment may be the best indication of how pathetic their case is. N is for North Slope Renaissance: Production dropped below the 500,000 barrels per day benchmark in 2019, but help is on the way. Permitting continues to advance for the burgeoning Pikka project and ConocoPhillips’ Willow in the NPR-A. Spending, exploration and jobs are up; and Colorado wildcatter Bill Armstrong is back in a big way after snapping up 1 million acres for more than $10.5 million at the Dec. 11 lease sale. O is for Oil: This is a no-brainer in Alaska, but for most of the year North Slope Crude was also the most expensive in the world, often trading at as much as $2 premium to the Brent benchmark. P is for Per Diem: Despite passing a law in 2018 that would prevent legislators from collecting per diem for every day past the constitutional limit without an operating budget, lawmakers voted to cut themselves the checks anyway. While every legislator who voted for it and took it deserves a rhetorical rap on the knuckles, the worst has to be Rep. David Eastman of Wasilla, who contributes nothing to the Legislature and was involved in no budget talks yet was one of just a handful who claimed the maximum amount. Q is for Questions: While it is normal for governors to roll out their budgets with the aid of commissioners on hand to discuss specifics, ducking out of the room after 11 minutes is not. Gov. Dunleavy’s declared mission to communicate better in his second year went unfulfilled on Dec. 11 as he left reporters hanging. R is for Recall: In barely a month, backers of a campaign to recall Dunleavy gathered nearly 50,000 signatures only to find their petition unceremoniously dumped by Attorney General Kevin Clarkson. The battle is destined for the Supreme Court and a precedent-setting decision that will determine whether Alaska will witness the first statewide recall in its history and just how high of a bar needs to be cleared to put a state with enough problems through such a divisive process. S is for Share: As in “Fair Share,” the tiresome mantra of the never-ending campaign to raise oil taxes. Yet another initiative could be on the ballot this coming year, this time with a proposed hike of some $1 billion or more per year. Proponents claim it will have no negative impact on the major developments underway, but anyone who believes that can line up to make bids on a bridge over the Knik Arm. T is for Tariffs: As Alaska’s seafood industry deals with tariffs imposed by China amid its trade war with President Trump, increases are proposed at the Port of Alaska to pay for needed repairs. The state caught a break last year when the aging port in Anchorage didn’t collapse amid the fury of a 7.1 magnitude earthquake and hundreds of significant aftershocks, but time is running out to fix what is easily the second-most important piece of infrastructure in the state ranking only behind the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. U is for Unemployment Rate: The state is currently at a record low number, although economists will point out the decline in the state’s workforce as a key factor in reducing the rate. Nevertheless, the state has been gaining jobs slowly as it crawls out of the longest recession in its history. V is for Visitors: In what’s become an annual bright spot for the economy, tourism numbers continue to set records led by expanded sailings from the world’s major cruise companies, many who are making investments to better serve a burgeoning base of customers visiting the Last Frontier. W is for Wasilla: Bizarre scenes unfolded over the summer as about three dozen legislators went to Juneau in defiance of Dunleavy’s call to Wasilla, while the rest sat at desks in a middle school gym in Wasilla. Futile votes to overturn were cast down south while those up north did little more than recite the Pledge of Allegiance. X is for Xtreme Measures: OK, “X” always screws up the A-Z column. But the state’s goofy plan to ask for $60,000 in donations from the public for Real ID services in rural Alaska — after the governor proposed a $1 billion supplemental budget — deserved a mention somewhere. Y is for Young: The only member of Congress who can invite a camera crew along on a tour of cannabis businesses, Don Young just keeps going. Whether it ever gets out of the Senate or not, one achievement of Young this year was to get 331 votes in the House to repeal federal banking rules to allow business with the cannabis industry. Young doesn’t believe in smoking pot, but he does believe in states’ rights. Z is for Zaletel: Anchorage Assembly Member Meg Zaletel proposed shifting about $2 million in the city’s budget for the coming year to address its unending homeless crisis, but only managed about a third of that in the final vote. Democrats, who are represented by the mayor and a super majority on the assembly, are fond of saying budgets reflect values. Addressing the city’s top problem isn’t reflected in the budget that’s been approved. Congratulations if you made it this far and Happy Holidays, everyone! Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

BROWN'S CLOSE: Merry Corporate Christmas

We find ourselves entering a perilous time: that of the office Christmas party. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy a good party. I’ve been known for raucous housewarming parties, uncomfortable truth-telling parties, and one predictably cursed Friday the 13th party. It’s just that none of these parties take place with coworkers, or other similarly formidable people who control the trajectory of my salary. Since graduating college at the naïve age of 22, I’ve worked multiple jobs on both coasts and throughout Alaska. By now, I feel comfortable saying I’ve experienced a respectable sample size of office Christmas parties. Some may look forward to these gatherings, overflowing with the spirit of peace on Earth and goodwill towards men. I, on the other hand, greet them with all the enthusiasm of a disemboweling. Let’s consult the game film. There was the time I watched an executive get drunk, sing karaoke, and split his pants. Then there was the director who chased a fetching blonde around the ballroom. This continued until one of his fellow officials placed him in a headlock. And finally, there is always that one guy who must be carried out, unable to leave under the weight of his own drunken stupor. My personal favorite was the time my branch office watched the main office have the Christmas party, broadcast on live stream. We gathered somberly in the conference room at 8:30 a.m. sharp, huddled around the television set, and watched our coworkers far away partaking in pancakes and mimosas. After the program wrapped, they went off to the after party, and we went back to work. Then there are all of the open houses, marketed as Christmas parties. The stated purpose of these gatherings is to hobnob with fellow members of the business community. The true purpose is to collect a ton of strangers’ business cards so they can be spammed at some later date. Organizations around town throw up some Christmas lights, open their doors, offer a choice of cabernet sauvignon or chardonnay, and make everyone wear a name tag. We are then pushed to the center of the room and told to network. It is at this point that I flunk out. By then, my name tag is caught in my hair and I spend the subsequent 15 minutes of designated networking time in the bathroom picking it out. My stints working for smaller companies led to much more sedate Christmas parties. During my first year with one company, we celebrated the holidays by crafting together. We were given tools for metal work and told we could either make our own jewelry or our own bottle openers. As none of the 15 ladies at my table were ever particularly skilled in shop class, our bottle openers did not function, and our jewelry fell off at some point during the walk out the door. The following year, we traveled to the natural history museum, split into multiple teams, and built company cohesiveness by competing against each other in a scavenger hunt. I would have been much more motivated if the prize for winning had been the Hope Diamond. Instead, there was no prize outside of abject humiliation; all the scavenger hunt items involved some level of public display. We took candy from babies, serenaded museum employees, and proposed marriage to less-than-desirable strangers. Even our company C-suite members did not escape this mess, and one was assigned to my team. Through some perverse logical reasoning, I figured the more embarrassing activities I participated in, the higher I would grow in his estimation. Hence, I happily volunteered to find and shake the hand of a bald man with a beard. I spied a member of this elusive species standing by the touch tank; he was surrounded by people who were attempting to pet some sea urchins (which seemed like a pretty foolish pastime to me). I marched purposefully over, my team trailing a few timid paces behind. “Hey, guy, can I shake your hand?” I flashed him my most flirtatious smile, which unfortunately always comes across like a facial deformity. “Why do you need to shake my hand?” he said, looking puzzled as I grabbed his calloused appendage. Too much truck with the sea urchins probably. “Uh, because I saw you across the room, and I thought, well I need to shake that man’s hand,” I chirped, pumping his fist furiously. He frowned. “Is this because I have a beard?” he eyed my sheet of tasks, clutched in a sweaty death grip in my left hand. “Er, yes. And I wanted to shake your hand. I saw you standing here, and, well, I just had to come over.” He looked at the guy next to him. “But he has a beard. Why me?” Indeed, the man directly to his right had quite the bushy beard action. He unfortunately also had a lustrous head of shiny black hair. Then a light switch flipped visibly on, somewhere in the recesses of my victim’s brain. “It’s because I’m bald, isn’t it? I’m bald! With a beard!” “Uh, no. No of course not, I just need a photo shaking your hand! Here we go now…” Mr. C-suite sidled up to me at the correct moment and snapped a photo of me grinning maniacally, and my mark looking like he was going to burst into tears. “There we go,” I sang out cheerfully, pulling my hand away from his tightening grip. “Thank you so much, no harm done now, time to go, yes, yes…” My bald bearded adversary was now moaning. “It’s because I’m bald. Don’t tell me it’s not. Don’t lie!” “There, there,” I muttered lightly, backing away slowly. I looked around sheepishly for my team. They had all disappeared to hold hands while looking at something orange (per our next instructions obviously). Bald bearded man was now turning a concerning shade of puce. I was at a total loss as to how to gracefully walk away. So I did the least graceful thing possible. I turned tail and ran. Christmas party season started for me Dec. 6. I’ve been practicing my wind sprints since July. Sarah Brown is a commensurate Grinch. When not reposing in her mountain lair, she can be reached at [email protected], and on Twitter @mesarahjb. "Close" is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

OPINION: Dunleavy passes budget ball to Legislature

After proposing a budget this past February that showed what Alaska can afford while paying out a statutorily-calculated Permanent Fund dividend, Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s second try reflects what many Alaskans say they want. At 6-foot-7, Dunleavy towers over the size of traditional point guards, but after a major shakeup of his team from the top down following a tumultuous first season he is now passing the ball on the budget to the Legislature that fought him tooth-and-nail over his initial plan to either cut or veto hundreds of millions in spending. The budget Dunleavy unveiled on Dec. 11 is essentially flat at the bottom line while absorbing an estimated $100 million-plus in formulaic increases to Medicaid and K-12 education, according to his staff. This time around, the governor is not proposing massive cuts to close the gap between paying the statutory PFD and the revenue from oil taxes and Permanent Fund earnings; rather he is sending the Legislature a budget that uses about three-quarters of the dwindling savings of the Constitutional Budget Reserve. In addition, the governor is proposing a supplemental budget to be drawn from the Earnings Reserve that includes an $815 million appropriation to fully pay the PFD for 2019, which was set at $1,606 by the Legislature and ultimately accepted by the governor who campaigned on following the formula in law as well as making Alaskans whole after three years of essentially arbitrary amounts chosen by his predecessor through a veto and then lawmakers through their budgeting process. The supplemental budget, which also includes additional spending for Medicaid, firefighting costs, the Alaska Psychiatric Institute and Pioneer Homes, would exceed the annual 5.25 percent cap on withdrawals from the Earnings Reserve established under Senate Bill 26 that passed in 2018. The CBR would also be emptied nearly entirely. While Dunleavy’s choice for the coming year to propose a budget funded from savings accounts rather than balanced through drastic cuts is 180 degrees away from his approach over the past year, the message to the public and the Legislature remains the same: current spending is unsustainable and lawmakers must finally reconcile the conflicts between SB 26 and the PFD formula that remains on the books. Also like last year, Dunleavy knows that his budget as presented will change dramatically once the Legislature is finished, whenever that may be although everyone hopes it will not drag into August once again. What is different, though, is that all the oxygen will not be sucked out of the debate over deep cuts the public and their representatives have been clear they refuse to accept. This budget should allow legislators to start the session working to resolve the PFD formula and on a spending cap that the leaders of both the House and Senate have said they support in principle. House Speaker Bryce Edgmon went as far as to say to the Alaska Chamber in October that he believes a spending cap must be placed in the constitution because the Legislature has demonstrated repeatedly over the past several years that it will ignore laws it determines to be inconvenient whether it be the statutory dividend formula or where a governor may call a special session. Such an admission can only be taken as a win for Dunleavy, who made a spending cap one of several constitutional amendments he proposed along with his first budget. Alaskans may be willing to accept a change to the dividend formula in exchange for the services the state provides, but it is difficult to imagine a scenario where the public will simply allow spending growth to erode the PFD’s share of the annual appropriation from the Earnings Reserve. The Legislature no doubt bought itself some time this past year by settling on a PFD of $1,606 that largely satisfied Alaskans (and also drained the Statutory Budget Reserve), but without their budget cuts and the governor’s vetoes the dividend could have been as little as $600. By putting the focus on spending rather than slashing, Dunleavy has given the Legislature room to work on solutions from the outset of the session. Lawmakers have the ball now, but Dunleavy will only get credit for an assist if they can hit the shot. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Fighting for safety for Alaska’s women

Nearly seven years ago, 13-year-old Mackenzie Howard was murdered in the tight-knit community of Kake, Alaska. A night passed before the first law enforcement officer arrived from over 100 miles away. While the details change, Mackenzie’s story repeats itself many times over. Tragically, Alaskan women are killed by men at the highest rate in the country, and murder remains the third-highest cause of death for Alaska Native women. According to a University of Alaska Anchorage study, 60 percent of women in Alaska report suffering violence at the hands of an intimate partner. Clearly, our obligation to Alaska’s 350,000 women and girls remains unmet. As governor of Alaska, and proud father of three capable young women, it has been my goal since my first day in office to close this dark chapter in our state’s history. To that end, I signed legislation last summer drastically increasing the penalties and expanding the criteria for rape and sexual abuse. This included repealing the marriage defense for sexual abuse — a major step forward in our fight to end domestic abuse. Our bill also brought Alaska’s criminal code into the 21st century by punishing those who make a habit of harassing women with unsolicited explicit texts. Likewise, funding for law enforcement and victim services received a significant boost this year, allowing us to hire more Alaska State Troopers than any other year in the previous decade. Additionally, our 26 emergency shelter and victim assistance programs received more funding than ever before. I am also proud to report that the Department of Public Safety has cleared the Alaska State Trooper backlog of sexual assault kits that once stood at 650 untested kits. Testing of additional kits submitted by local agencies is funded and well underway, with all previously untested sexual assault kits projected to be processed by the end of 2020. Additionally, DPS has enlisted the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center to interview sexual assault victims and conduct research that will enable us to improve our investigative and prosecutorial techniques. The momentum we are building as my administration works to secure resources and attention for this critical issue is tangible. In May, Sen. Dan Sullivan invited Attorney General William Barr to tour our state to personally witness the challenges we face. I had the opportunity to meet with Barr in Anchorage and was encouraged by his desire to partner with us in addressing Alaska’s public safety issues. Shortly after Barr’s visit, the Trump administration delivered a long-overdue federal emergency declaration. With this declaration came $6 million in emergency funding to address public safety infrastructure needs in rural Alaska. The attorney general also announced or extended several tribal grant programs addressing forensic training, rape crisis programs and drug enforcement. Last month, our cause received another major boost with Barr’s announcement of a task force to address the scourge of crimes against indigenous women. Operation Lady Justice aims to coordinate research, establish new grants, and greatly increase available public safety resources, all with one unified goal: bring home our missing indigenous women and girls and deliver long-overdue justice to their tormentors. With Operation Lady Justice comes a new partnership between the Alaska State Troopers, local law enforcement and the FBI. Together, we will standardize law enforcement’s response to missing or murdered Alaska Natives. New rapid deployment teams will help us overcome the mistakes of the past, increasing response times, ensuring reports are properly classified, and fully utilizing the FBI’s tremendous investigative resources. The creation of a new federal coordinator position will ensure that our combined efforts evolve in a research-driven manner. But as I said when I signed our landmark crime-fighting bill in July, this is only the beginning of our work to secure the safety of all Alaskans. The challenge of protecting citizens spread across nearly 600,000 square miles of unincorporated wilderness and remote boroughs cannot be understated. My administration remains hard at work developing strategies that will protect Alaskans wherever they call home. Yet for the first time, I am convinced that we are on the precipice of a turning point. Never before have so many people — from hardworking activists to officials in the highest levels of government — worked together to fight on behalf of Alaskan women. It’s past time for us to do right by those who we, as a state and a nation, have long failed. Mike Dunleavy is the 12th governor of Alaska.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Nothing new for hard-working Alaskans

Two weeks ago, for a moment, the energy industry was in the national spotlight. As usual, this opportunity wasn’t used to recognize its hardworking men and women or praise them for the growth they’ve brought to our country. Instead, it was used to recirculate the same tired, unproven talking points as always. At halftime of the Harvard-Yale football game, a renowned annual tradition, climate change activists rushed the field in protest of their schools investing in fossil fuels. This was done in the name of environmentalism and was praised by several Democratic presidential candidates including Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. As usual, the protest and ensuing coverage was riddled with disinformation and misinformation.   The benefits of the natural gas and oil industry to Alaska are undeniable. It accounts for one-third of Alaska jobs, as every job in the oil industry is connected to 20 additional jobs in the state’s economy. The hard work of these 110,000 men and women account for about half of the state’s overall economy. Last year alone, the industry generated $2.4 billion, which was about 80 percent of the state’s revenue. This year, it’s projected to be even more. These results don’t just happen; they’re the product of hard work. While some are planning chants, grabbing coffee and going to protest football games, others are grabbing winter jackets, saying goodbye to their families and going to the airport for their commute. It takes about an hour and a half for most oil workers to fly into the North Slope, where much of their work takes them. Some employees then need to take smaller flights to even more remote locations. Once there, they typically stay for one or two-week long tours. This means one or two weeks of 12-hour days (some workers complete even longer shifts), doing hard physical labor in temperatures that can vary by nearly 150 degrees throughout the year. This is what it takes to be the engine of Alaska’s economic growth, and, whether you see it or not, it’s happening every day. Sadly, none of this hard work is inspiring enough for a group of Ivy League students to protest a football game, and none of the results it produces are sexy enough to capture the attention of the national media. Instead, voices in New Haven, Conn., are amplified, as are their chants to ban fossil fuels: the driving force of Alaska’s economy and its peoples’ jobs. For Alaskans, particularly those in the energy industry, this is nothing new. The hard work goes unnoticed, and the results are unappreciated. Last month’s protest is only the most recent incident in a long history of undermining every-day workers. Fortunately for us, this doesn’t stop Alaska’s energy workers from doing their job. Now, it is our responsibility to make sure the response is as loud as the protests, and the truth is louder than the disinformation. Alaskans working in the energy industry deserve our support, appreciation and respect. Those three words were completely forgotten on that football field two weeks ago. For Ivy League students who are seemingly at the top of their game, that was a fumble of major proportions. Rick Whitbeck is the Alaska State Director for Power The Future, a nationwide non-profit focused on supporting energy workers, while pushing back on radical green groups and the ideologues who fund them. Contact him at [email protected]

OPINION: Stowers’ ruling in Stevens recall sheds light on law

Considering the stakes and the players involved, inexplicably little attention has been given to a 2006 ruling by a judge who will ultimately hear the case to recall Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy when it reaches the Alaska Supreme Court. While nearly every press report regarding the recall notes the relative dearth of case law covering efforts to remove statewide officials, a Superior Court decision from 2006 cited by Attorney General Kevin Clarkson in his Nov. 4 opinion to reject the recall petition is noteworthy for multiple reasons: the target was the sitting Senate President, that legislator was Dunleavy’s current Chief of Staff Ben Stevens, and the judge was Craig Stowers. Stowers was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2009 and served as Chief Justice for three years from 2015-18. In 2006 as an Anchorage Superior Court judge, he rejected the recall petition against Stevens filed by citizen activist and former state Rep. Ray Metcalfe amid the burgeoning VECO scandal that ultimately resulted in multiple corruption convictions but no charges ever filed against Stevens. The transcript is worth a read for anyone who wants to know more about the legal thresholds for a recall application qualifying as “substantially in the required form” that was issued by a current Supreme Court justice. Clarkson’s opinion concluded that the Recall Dunleavy backers’ petition did not meet that legal threshold and kicked off the anticipated court fight that got underway Nov. 27 with a 55-page motion for summary judgment filed by a high-powered legal team led by Jahna Lindemuth and Scott Kendall, who were respectively Attorney General and Chief of Staff under former Gov. Bill Walker. The state’s response is due by Dec. 16 and oral arguments are currently scheduled for Jan. 10. Primary among the takeaways from reading Stowers’ opinion is that the petition — and only the petition — may be considered by the court. Under the recall statute, petitions are limited to no more than 200 words. An equal 200 words are given to the official subject to recall for a defense should it reach the ballot. What that means is attachments, affidavits, budget documents, veto statements, or 55-page motions that offer additional evidence to support the individual allegations, are irrelevant to the ultimate decision. “I have not reached my decision with reference to any of the extraneous information that’s been provided by any of the parties,” Stowers said in his ruling. Because of this statutory word limit, the law also requires that allegations be stated “in particular,” which according to Stowers is the basis for judicial review even under the intent for voter-driven initiatives to be construed liberally and the requirement of the court to accept allegations as factual. “If this statute has any meaning at all,” Stowers said, “the phrase ‘described in particular’ is something that the court is required to consider as it reviews the 200 words or less in any given petition.” For the purposes of judicial review, then, a judge or panel of judges must determine whether allegations — even when assumed to be true — actually meet one of the standards of lack of fitness, incompetence, neglect of duties or corruption. Stowers went further by addressing what he described as “mixed questions of facts and law.” In Stowers’ opinion, while the court cannot rule on whether an allegation is true or not, it must rule on questions of whether an allegation that claims a violation of the law is valid. “That’s appropriate for the court, and indeed it’s my duty,” he said, “to evaluate those and to determine whether or not those are true and accurate statements of law.” He went on, “To the extent that there are mixed questions of fact and law … then the validity of that statement in part turns on whether the statement of law is valid or not. And if it’s not, it gets stricken. And it also depends in part on whether the facts as alleged are specific enough or particular enough to create a statement that’s sufficient to go to the voters.” Three of the grounds for recall in the petition allege violations of the law or the constitution that would fall under Stowers’ “mixed questions” standard. Only one is highly specific. The first ground states that Dunleavy refused to appoint a judge to the Palmer Superior Court within the 45 days required under Alaska law. There is no dispute that Dunleavy did not appoint the judge within that period, although he eventually did and before the seat actually became vacant. Whether the courts will decide that rises to lack of fitness or neglect is unknown, although we already know the Supreme Court has determined that the constitution trumps statutes in the cases of the Permanent Fund dividend formula and the voter-approved 90-day legislative session, and there is no deadline in the constitution for appointing judges. The next two grounds are less specific. The second alleges that Dunleavy violated the law and the constitution by authorizing public funds for electronic ads and direct mailers for “partisan purposes” making “partisan statements about political opponents and supporters.” The third alleges that Dunleavy violated separation of powers by “improperly using the line-item veto to: (a) attack the judiciary and the rule of law; and (b) preclude the legislature from upholding its constitutional Health, Education and Welfare responsibilities.” In their motion for summary judgment, the recall backers assert the second and third grounds meet the legal threshold under the standard of deference to the truth of allegations. Clarkson wrote in his opinion that these allegations do not meet the “particularity” standard because they are too vague. Essentially, Clarkson is arguing that the claims fall short without specific allegations about what the “partisan statements” were or how exactly Dunleavy attacked the judiciary or precluded the Legislature from upholding its constitutional responsibilities. “A court is required to make at least a threshold determination as to whether what has been alleged is factually specific enough,” Stowers said in his 2006 decision in reference to petition language. In their 55-page motion, the recall backers lay out all their evidence to support their claims, but as noted above, the court cannot consider any of that. The general consensus of what little case law we have is that Alaska has chosen a “middle of the road” standard that is neither too far toward political recalls for any reason nor legal standards too strict to ever be met. Stowers referenced this “middle” way in his decision in the Stevens case. “Recall advocates must allege more than conclusory statements or arguments, otherwise our recall process drifts to the end of the spectrum where simple disagreement with an officeholder’s position on questions of policy becomes sufficient in and of themselves,” he said. Finally, the recall backers allege incompetence over Dunleavy’s Medicaid veto of the wrong amount of state funds. The state explains that as a simple mistake since remedied; the petitioners assert that the availability of a defense does not render the allegation insufficient for recall. In the end, the recall petitioners only need the courts to agree with them on one of the four allegations to move forward. If they are allowed, though, just don’t expect to see a campaign built around Palmer judges, mailers or Medicaid vetoes. This is a political effort to overturn an election, pure and simple, which is not what the constitutional framers intended. Vic Fischer, the campaign co-chair and the last living constitutional delegate, wanted recall for any reason back in 1956 but he lost that debate. We’ll see if he wins this time. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Time to let go and get it right

The sound of the crowd is at fever pitch. The intensity is explosive. Reduce the budget versus find new revenues is the fierce battle of tug-of-war underway in Alaska. Let’s take a good look at the players. On the “New Revenue” end, rope fibers fray as two team players struggle for the lead position while audience members break into factions, some fans of “Raise-Oil-Taxes”, others cheering “Raid-the-PFD”, and some ecstatic and googly-eyed because of the potential windfall for government if both players stay in the game and win. At the same time, a loud bass sound rumbles as a wave in a large packed section in the stands rises and chants boos in unison. The “Hands-off-Our PFDs” crowd boisterously bellows against the “Raid the PFD” challenger. Thundering shouts and another wave pick up in the bleachers from the “Bad-Unfair-Tax” crowd as they rail against the “Raise-Oil Taxes” contestant. Meanwhile, on the “Reduce the Budget” end of Alaska’s tug-of-war rope, a very tall player with scissors in his pocket is checking the tension on the rope as every few minutes team members, also with scissors in pockets, rotate on the line to lend a hand and give a good, strong tug. The noisy clamor on this end is not so confusing. It’s just two groups in an uproar. The “Wailing-and-Gnashing-of-Teeth” crowd sobs incessantly that life in Alaska as we know it will end if these guys win. The “Necessary-efficiencies-everyone-duh” crowd rolls their eyes at the wailers, followed by jumps and shouts of glee when they notice their favorite team’s scissors sparkle in the sunlight. What a scene. Without an emerging victor in sight, could there ever be a more fractured crowd or more opposing forces? This tug-of-war has been underway for five years. That’s right: five years. Ever since the price of oil dropped. Here’s the good news. The tug-of-war has to end soon. Why (and this is the bad news)? Savings have dwindled. Incoming revenues don’t match spending. This is catapulting us to a new point, to a crossroads, and we have no choice but to act. So does that mean one team just all of a sudden needs to pull harder, cause pain and rope-burns, and break the stalemate? That could happen but it’s unlikely – if the last five years mean anything. At this crossroads, I believe it’s time to ask: Is there a better way? And is it possible for this to end well? The answer to both questions is yes. I say, it’s time to let go of the rope, everybody. Set it down. What we need now is pivotal and factual budget information and answers to questions to know whether and where we can reduce and whether and where state services are lacking. And we don’t need political responses to those questions. We need objective, unbiased responses. What Alaska needs now as we broach this crossroads is an objective, unbiased State Auditor who is independent, neither beholden to the Legislature or to the governor, but who is accountable to the people of Alaska. State services are for the people and revenues are derived from the people. Who better than the people to hold this position accountable? We can fight and bicker over whether we need more or less money in the budget along majority/minority or party lines. We can fight based on our own perspectives and biases. We can fight over our most, or our least favorite programs. We can pit one special interest group against another. But wouldn’t it be better to get factual data, to get expert recommendations with the effectiveness, efficiencies, statute requirements, constitutional obligations of each program, of each division, of each department factored into the equation, from someone who has no skin in the game, from someone who abides by approved standards, principles, and practices, from someone who has the time day in and day out to get into the weeds, from someone who has the skills, the training, the focus and does not stand to benefit one way or the other? Yes, this would be better. I’ve observed how well this concept has worked on a small scale each year as the auditor we do have (with her small team) under the direction of the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee presents reports on limited items, such as on professional boards. The respect for and acceptance of the report and recommendations is typical across the political spectrum. It works quite beautifully, actually. This is what we need now, budget-wide. Independent, objective audits of each and every program, division, department. Along with recommendations for improved effectiveness and efficiencies, we can also root out fraud and abuse. How is this not a good thing? Surely this is a better way forward than the tug-of-war. It would be much more of a win-win to boot. Once we know we’re not spending wastefully, and that we’re spending enough to adequately provide state services, we will have the much-needed budget baseline which can be adjusted annually for inflation. This will give us assurance to address the spending cap that’s over-inflated and outdated in the state constitution; we’ll have confidence that the adjusted cap will be enough but not too much. We will sleep at night knowing we’re not going to sink the next generation. Very, very importantly: this will also allow us to know if we do need to turn on a new revenue tax spigot. With our very small population, it’s vital to get our budget to the right level. We simply do not have enough people to carry an over-sized budget on our backs. Tax spigots rarely are turned off or down. Starting at a budget baseline that’s too high for our low population and increases that exceed inflation would be harmful for the economy and hard on Alaskans (and undoubtedly spur out-migration from Alaska, resulting in fewer backs to bear the burden). I’ve spoken about the concept of an objective State Auditor with Alaskans since oil prices dropped. The reception has been warm and welcoming. I think the time is now. If you think so too, please let me know as well as your legislators and the governor. ^ Shelley Hughes is the state senator for District F representing Chugiak and Palmer.

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