Opinion

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

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

GUEST COMMENTARY: America’s sickening lack of health care options

In a country that prides itself on checks and balances, freedom and independence, the health care industry seems to have self-selected a different path. Our current system prioritizes complexity, opacity and insider deals over direct care, transparency and competition — leaving consumers powerless to act in their own best interest. In the U.S. health care debate today, much of the blame for our broken and overpriced system is pinned on the medical-industrial complex: big pharma, insurers and massively integrated hospital systems — many of which are tax-exempt while being extremely profitable. We keep trying to tackle this highly complex problem with one-size-fits-all policies like “Health care for all” or “Medicare for all.” Yes, making sure everyone in America has access to quality health care and can live their lives without fear of medical bankruptcy, is no-doubt the right idea, but disabling consumer choice and customization is not. One size fits all approaches mean many of us are left with a solution that just doesn’t work. We live in a free-market economy, and that economy has produced innovative products and services that have changed the world. This entrepreneurial spirit gave way to thousands of products and new ideas, so why does our health care system look relatively the same as it did decades ago? Where is the individuality, creativity, and passion that shapes most other major industries in our economy? We deserve health care options that make sense for our individual needs based on our personal life experiences. Put in a different context: imagine we are all forced to only throw away items we no longer desired, eliminating different or varied options such as hosting a garage sale, or using a technology platform like eBay, DePop, Craigslist, or Amazon. That might work for some people, but many would prefer a different option. Lucky for us, this menu of ecommerce options exists, and competition has led to constant innovation, a variety of options, and transparency. This, too, is the case with insurance. Consider you’re a father who needs medical treatment maybe once or twice a year. However, these treatments still don’t meet the annual deductible—and you are forced to pay out of pocket, with money that you don’t have, especially considering the high premiums you’ve already paid. Or you are the owner of a small business and want an affordable option for your employees, but no one network comes close to meeting everyone’s needs. Or you have found that alternative, integrative forms of medicine work better for you, but your insurance plan does not cover them. This is to say, insurance, as a health care solution, should not be a consumer’s only choice. Coverage does not guarantee care, and it certainly doesn’t guarantee affordable care. There are many non-insurance options for people eager to play a bigger role in their health care decision making and engage in negotiating lower health care costs, such as direct primary care, or DPC, and medical cost sharing, or MCS. Direct primary care allows patients unlimited access to their physician, without insurance, in exchange for an affordable monthly subscription payment. By cutting out the middleman, direct primary care physicians can spend more time, effort and focus on treating patients without the heavy administrative burdens that plague the insurance system. DPC providers prioritize patient relationships and high-quality care. DPC also pairs well with medical cost-sharing organizations which provide an innovative, non-insurance approach to managing large health care costs. Sedera and other medical cost-sharing groups promote transparency and autonomy in health decisions while encouraging mindfulness about the impact on the broader sharing community. Members of medical cost-sharing organizations are also cash-pay, which can help decrease the administrative burden on physicians. Alaska needs to be fueling the fire of competition and making the incumbent systems work harder to provide solutions that are actually beneficial to the patient, like DPC and medical cost sharing, not mandating the purchase of a product that falls short. Rejecting the current one-size-fits-all mandate is the only way we will achieve the efficient, affordable, and transparent care that we so desperately need. Our complex care system is explicitly sick, and the cure is more simple than most Americans realize. ^ Jamie Lagarde is the CEO of Sedera and Bethany Marcum is the CEO of The Alaska Policy Forum.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Show us the money — Citizens, candidates can build Alaska budget

Alaska is noisy right now. Radio ads, television commercials, mailers, and social media videos from candidates asking Alaskans for their votes bombard us daily. Most legislative candidates claim solving the state’s budget crisis will be their top priority, if elected. Few provide much detail. It doesn’t have to be that way. A new website, www.akbudget.com, offers all Alaskans, including political candidates, the opportunity to make revenue and spending choices to address the projected $1.3 billion dollar shortfall in the State of Alaska’s fiscal year 2022 budget. The interactive website was developed by Commonwealth North’s Fiscal Policy Study Group. Our nonpartisan group has worked tirelessly since May to flesh out the most likely options for balancing the state’s budget. During that tedious process, a dozen work groups and more than 60 diverse Alaskans closely examined spending and revenue choices. Because the state budget is complex and multi-faceted, the web tool focuses on undesignated general fund spending and programs that most rely on those funds. In other words, the areas where legislators can choose to spend money. The website, which is the only one of its kind in Alaska that we know of, works like this: Visitors read basic descriptions of different budget categories, and choose what actions to take. They can cut spending, add new revenue, increase current taxes, and any combination of the above. As they make choices, the website updates the budget gap in real-time. For example, when a hypothetical user chooses to implement a new tax, the site shows how much revenue would be raised and how large a gap remains. The site is meant to give Alaskans a holistic look at what balancing the budget looks like, and how large and serious the challenge is. Perhaps to the dismay of some candidates, there is no reason they cannot visit the site and make their proposed choices public. In fact, we encourage them to do so. And we encourage voters to ask candidates to “show them the money” by producing their completed budget plan. The exercise is not just for legislative candidates. All Alaskans can visit the site and have their say, which empowers citizens to provide input to elected officials as they prepare for a grueling session in Juneau. We urge Alaskans to roll up their sleeves and struggle with the same choices and trade-offs the administration and legislature will face in 2021. Make your voice heard and spending priorities known. Even better, be an informed citizen. Our elected leaders take feedback and criticism much more seriously when we demonstrate an understanding of the challenge and have done the hard work ourselves. Ultimately, Commonwealth North will collect responses from Alaskans, and share them with legislators and the administration. To be clear, our intent is not to hold up a single budget solution, but rather to engage Alaskans so they have a better understanding of the difficult choices all of face in the next year. We invite Alaskans to be part of the process now as the debate heats up. Cheryl Frasca is a former director of the State Office of Management and Budget, and former director of the Office of Management and Budget, Municipality of Anchorage. Eric Wohlforth is an attorney, and former Trustee with the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation. He served as the commissioner of the State Department of Revenue in the early 1970s.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Ballot Measure 1 casts a pall over future of ANSEP

The Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program has been guiding Alaska Native people and other Alaskans to success in our state’s resource development industry for more than 25 years. To say a lot has changed since I founded ANSEP in 1995 is an understatement — especially this year — but the support ANSEP has received from the oil and gas industry has been unwavering. The industry’s commitment to Alaskans is something we can count on. Unfortunately, the industry hasn’t received the same consistency when it comes to Alaska’s tax structure. Their future investment in the state is in question as Alaskans vote this November on whether to change the oil tax structure yet again. By voting No on Ballot Measure 1, we can ensure the energy industry will be able to continue supplying jobs for our communities for generations to come. Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Oil Search, Udelhoven Oilfield System Services, PEAK, and others that make up Alaska’s resource industry have provided financial support as well as internship opportunities for ANSEP students for more than 25 years. In fact, it was our partnership with ExxonMobil that led to the development and launch of ANSEP Middle School Academy, our entry-level programmatic component. It’s here we kickstart an interest in STEM and help students identify career goals that keep them motivated for a lifetime. ExxonMobil is also the founding partner for the ANSEP Acceleration Academy where students graduate from high school with two years or more of college completed thereby saving the state and families thousands of dollars per student. Acceleration Academy is a model we can adopt for every student in Alaska to reduce costs for the state and dramatically improve outcomes. This is transformational. What parent does not want their student to leave high school with years of college completed? Over the last decade, thousands of new students joined the ANSEP community as part of these industry-supported components. Our students go on to contribute to the strategy and execution of resource development in Alaska. The industry plays a valuable role in everyday life for the approximately 3,000 hardworking Alaska students and professionals who make up the ANSEP community. For many of our students, it is a lifelong goal to play a role in improving the quality of life for Alaska’s people and ensuring our resources are managed responsibly. The success of ANSEP alumni in the industry provides a model for students across the state. If you work hard, there are top-tier companies waiting to hire you so you can guide our state’s future. Our partner companies provide learning opportunities for ANSEP students now and the promise of economic stability for the future. Even during the pandemic, the oil and gas industry stepped up to provide paid internships and scholarship support for ANSEP’s Summer Bridge students so they could spend the summer before college gaining industry experience and envisioning a full-time position in the industry after college. To put the future of the industry in jeopardy is to do the same to these students’ futures. That is why I am voting no on Ballot Measure 1 in November; it is how we vote for a bright future for our state and our young people. ^ Dr. Herb Schroeder is the founder and Vice Provost for the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Ballot Measure 1 Means Jobs

Ballot Measure 1, the Fair Share Act, amends the current production tax regime created under Senate Bill 21 to make it fairer and more transparent for Alaskans. The major Texas-based producers and their surrogates who fashioned SB21 will say anything to keep Alaskans from amending SB21 and getting a fair share for our oil. One thing they are saying is that if we get a fair share for our oil, it will hurt our economy. Common Sense. No one can seriously believe the Alaskan economy will be better off if we keep giving away our oil for less than it is worth. In the five years since SB21 has been in effect (2015-19), the major producers have taken $57.4 billion of our oil from Alaska. During this same period, we have paid and still owe them more in awarded credits ($2.1 billion) than they have paid us in production taxes ($2 billion). Yes, you understood that correctly, they have taken $57.4 billion of our oil, and we paid and owe them more in awarded credits than they paid us in production taxes. If we get a better deal for our oil, it will help keep more of our oil wealth in Alaska, saving and creating jobs for Alaskans. Fool us once They told us SB 21 would help our economy and create jobs when it passed. We believed them, and, after SB 21 and before the pandemic, they took our net production revenues to zero and then cut 5,500 jobs or one-third of the total oil and gas workforce in Alaska. Of the 9,000 oil and gas jobs left in Alaska before the pandemic, they filled 3,000 of those jobs with people living outside of Alaska. We know we can give away billions of dollars of our oil and not get a single job out of the deal because we just spent the last five years giving away billions of dollars of our oil without getting a single job for it. After SB 21 and before the pandemic, Alaska had the highest unemployment rate of any state while our sister oil state North Dakota had the lowest unemployment rate of any state. The main reason North Dakota did so much better was because it kept more of its oil wealth in North Dakota, saving and creating jobs for North Dakotans. Great for jobs If Ballot Measure 1 would have been in effect instead of SB 21 for the last five years, Ballot Measure 1 would have brought in $1.1 billion per year or $5.5 billion in total more than SB 21. This is the economic equivalent of 11,000 new jobs at $100,000 per year outside the oil and gas industry. Importantly, Ballot Measure 1 will not cost Alaskans jobs inside the oil and gas industry. Ballot Measure 1 only applies to the three largest and most profitable oil fields in Alaska that can afford to pay a fair share without any harm to investment or jobs. In fact, before SB21, these major fields payed us more than Ballot Measure 1 for over 30 years and were able to attract investment and create jobs the entire time. Further, Ballot Measure 1 does not even apply to new and developing fields that may generate new jobs for Alaskans. Business Environment Alaska’s economy and business environment completely collapsed after SB 21 and well before the pandemic. We exhausted $18 billion in savings, cut our PFDs by two-thirds, and have been unable to properly educate our children, repair our roads, maintain our public buildings, provide for our elderly, operate an effective marine highway system, or provide jobs for Alaskans. The primary reason our economy and business environment collapsed after SB21 and before the pandemic is because we went from a five-year average of $3.8 billion a year in net production taxes to zero. This collapse in net production revenues was primarily because of SB 21 and not because of changes to the price of oil. Next year, 2021, we are expected to get only $122.3 million in production revenues under SB 21 while we still owe $728 million in unpaid awarded credits, i.e., we owe 6 times more in awarded credits than we will be paid in production revenues next year. With a fair share from our oil, we will be able to stabilize Alaska’s economy and business environment and add Alaskan jobs. Never enough While Alaskans were economically suffering after SB 21 and before the pandemic, ConocoPhillips raised dividends to their shareholders by 60 percent in the last two years, paid off billions in debt, and repurchased billions of its stock from shareholders with our money. Since SB 21, ConocoPhillips has made 68 percent of its world-wide net income from Alaska and only invested 15 percent of its world-wide capital in Alaska. Alaskans should not be intimidated out of a fair share for our oil. The Texas-based major producers say the same things every time Alaskans stand up for themselves and want a fair share. We gave up $1.1 billion per year and got nothing; we should give Ballot Measure 1 a chance. Frankly, there is no reasonable solution to addressing our State deficit without Ballot Measure 1. Vote yes For Ballot Measure 1. Robin Brena is a life-long Alaska and is an original sponsor of Ballot Measure 1, chair of the Oil and Gas Transition Committee for Gov. Bill Walker, and founder of Alaskan law firm Brena, Bell &Walker.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Getting our ‘Fair Share’ of a bigger pie

Meet the Fair Share Act: a ballot initiative that will be presented to Alaskans in November, marketed as a measure to make oil companies pay their fair share in taxes. I did a bit of research to bring some simple analysis forward and present it to concerned Alaskans, to help cut through the noise and disinformation. Starting with where we are currently, more than 70 percent of total Alaska state revenue from private business is provided by oil and gas: In addition, Alaskans benefit from the philanthropic activities by oil and gas companies every day. The University of Alaska Arctic Science and Engineering Endowment, Covenant House, the Alaska Performing Arts Center, and the Anchorage Museum of History and Art are just a few examples. The budget cuts that Alaskans are currently adjusting to would be modest compared to cuts stemming from a significant reduction in petroleum activity. The initiative calls for a rework of our current oil tax structure. It claims to have the potential to generate billions in additional taxes ($1.1 billion in in 2018). This increase amounts to at least 50% of the taxes that oil companies are currently paying on the majority of the barrels in the state, doubling or tripling it at higher oil prices. With BP leaving Alaska fresh in my mind, I asked myself if taxes really had the ability to incentivize development activities. Last time we thought about this was when our legacy tax regime (ACES) transitioned to the current SB-21 framework. The data is available to the public: Each year we were losing 40,000 barrels per day of production under ACES, a trend that was almost immediately arrested under SB-21. The trend line above indicates we are hundreds of thousands of barrels per day (hundreds of millions in royalties) better off than we would be if the decline had continued under ACES. To reverse the decline, BP flattened their decline curve, and ConocoPhillips and Hilcorp both grew production significantly. I think a similarly unfavorable tax regime like the Fair Share Act could cut our production in half within seven years. This will more than offset amounts gained in the very short term, and cripple any growth in the industry that employs the most Alaskans and is fundamental to our economy. So how are we going to bring in more state revenue under the current tax regime, and how much? Let’s look at the three biggest development projects on the horizon since SB-21 was passed: •Willow, ConocoPhillips: 130,000 barrels/day (Source: Willow Draft EIS) •Pikka, Oil Search: 120,000 barrels/day (Source: Oil Search Annual Report, 2018) • Greater Mooses Tooth 2, ConocoPhillips: 25,000 to 30,000 barrels/day (Source: ConocoPhillips GMT-2 Fact Sheet) These projects have the potential to add 280,000 barrels per day, or more half of Alaska’s current production. This could amount to $1.1 to $1.4 billion in additional royalties and taxes, a number we can expect to continue to grow as the recent flurry of exploration and development activity continues. Staying the course is the most financially sound decision. Fundamentally, I think people forget that oil companies have a choice about where to invest their money. In recent years, we have watched the major companies gravitate towards the Permian Basin. Texas is now at record production levels (a condition that Alaska has not enjoyed since the late 80’s). Oil companies make these decisions, in part, based on a predictable, business-friendly geopolitical environment. A stable environment creates jobs. As our partners in development continue to invest in Alaska, confident in their future here, Alaskans are enriched and our economy is built. Staying the course will put Alaskans back to work. When we passed SB 21, Alaskans made a commitment to host a responsible industry with a particular tax regime so we could maximize our benefit from developing our rich resources. Industry has responded by placing Alaska high within the global portfolios of ConocoPhillips, Oil Search, Hilcorp, and many others, through tough operating conditions and stringent environmental standards. Staying the course is, beyond being a good financial decision, the right thing to do. Alaskans who want to see our beautiful State’s revenues increase should support the continued health of Alaska’s oil industry, and vote no on the Fair Share Act. Do not move the goalposts for our children; vote no to keep Alaska’s future sustainable for our next generation. ^ Liam Zsolt is the Director of Technology for ASRC Energy Services LLC. His work in applying new technology to responsibly extract oil and gas in Alaska has been published multiple times by the Society of Petroleum Engineers and led to multiple patents.

BROWN'S CLOSE: Birthday Battle Royale

Back at a time in the distant past of October 2019, my friend’s son turned eight. He and I share a special bond; I once spent an afternoon helping him fold paper airplanes. At his instruction, I then threw said airplanes at him; he wanted to practice his ducking skills. We’ve been friends ever since. During that time, the citizens of Anchorage could mark such an occasion with a celebration. Thus, my friend threw him a “Harry Potter” themed birthday party, held at The Dome; she magnanimously offered me my pick of activities. I could make pizza, make butterbeer, make a pinata, make a cake, or referee Quidditch. Refereeing was most in line with my life goal of bullying humanity. I volunteered for this, under the condition that I could use a loud, high-pitched whistle. On the day of the party, I set out for The Dome for the first time in the history of my Anchorage residency. I drove around the neighborhood three times looking for the entrance, consistently getting pulled into that vortex known as the Changepoint parking lot. Once inside, it was obvious which section of The Dome was designated for the Harry Potter party. One of the soccer fields was cordoned off, with three Quidditch goal rings erected on either side. I walked over to my friend, easily spotted as a tall thin woman dressed as the Golden Snitch in a glittery jacket. “Can you round up the kids and start Quidditch?” she squawked by way of, “Hello.” “They need to burn off some energy,” she continued. “I’ve got a dad refereeing with you.” I bristled at relinquishing any portion of my power, and grumpily walked flat-footed over to The Dad. He smiled at me bemusedly. “Uh, you know the rules?” “Nope,” he grinned. “No idea!” My mood lifted. Now I had an adult to push around, in addition to thirty children. We strolled to the middle of the Quidditch pitch, where I picked up a white volleyball, and blew my whistle. Children looked up from wrestling matches, punching matches, and other rudely energetic forms of aggression. “Anyone who wants to play Quidditch, come to the middle of the field NOW!” I barked. Twenty-nine small people scampered to my side. “I need you to break into two teams!” Instead, everyone went back to wrestling a neighbor. I blew my whistle again. “Hey! Two teams! NOW! Let’s go!” A handful of obliging children splintered off into a second team. Everyone else stayed put, looking at me expectantly. “Uh, the teams need to be even. We need more of you to move.” All 29 children ran over to one side. The Dad walked over. “I think we should just count off, ‘One, two, one, two,’” he offered knowledgeably. I bowed to his wisdom; reasoning with children is a perpetual struggle for me. We counted off, and yet two-thirds of the kids were still magically on one team. I pointed. “You five over here. The rest of you, stay put!” Birthday Boy sidled up to me. “Can my mom play?” “No kiddo, she’s doing other things.” Birthday Boy’s lip quivered. “Can Zed be on my team?” No, we’ve only just got the teams even. “No, Zed has to stay where he is.” Birthday Boy looked completely crushed. “Can we be Gryffindor?” A blond boy with large eyeglasses blinked at me. “Uh, sure,” I agreed distractedly. “Wait, we want to be Gryffindor!” a tall gangly boy cried out, asserting his side’s rights. “Sure, you can be Gryffindor too.” I blew my whistle. “Alright, listen up! I need you to pick one person to be the Beater per side.” In Harry Potter, the Beaters have the enviable power of throwing balls at their fellow players. And, as in the books, this position proved popular amongst my 29 charges. Two boys from one team both declared themselves Beaters. “Uh, you’ll be a Beater first, and then you’ll switch,” I pronounced. Again, I made the mistake of ascribing utter reasonableness to school children. Beater No. Two turned an impressive shade of crimson in an even more impressively short period of time. “BUT I WANT TO BE A BEATER!” He threw himself onto the ground and began to pull out his hair. I looked at him, nonplussed. Even I had to admit, I was unequipped to deal with this total meltdown. I chose to ignore him, and turned away to blow my beloved whistle. “The rest of you, throw this volleyball through one of the rings on the other side. If a Beater hits you with one of their red balls, drop the volleyball and run back to your team’s rings. “On my whistle. One, two –” I blew the whistle and tossed the volleyball directly above my head. The outcome of the match was immediately certain. The big gangly kid scored twice in under a minute. Both sides’ Beaters watched their fellow teammates running joyfully around the field. Seemingly regretting their positions, each started tossing their red balls through the rings. “Goal! Goal!” they screamed helpfully. “No goal! No goal!” I waved my arms around maniacally. “Beaters, you have to throw your red balls at the other team!” Both Beaters ignored me, and continued to throw their balls through the rings, and not violently at their fellow players as J.K. Rowling intended. Gangly Kid scored four more times. My friend, the glittery Golden Snitch appeared, holding the hand of a very tiny girl dressed as Tinkerbell. “We have another player. Can she join the melee?” I puffed my chest out authoritatively and waved my hand dismissively. I had more important things to concern myself with than some small child dressed as a character from the wrong story. My friend directed Tinkerbell to join the game. Alas, she appeared to have very little actual interest in playing. Instead, Tinkerbell sauntered off and began hitting a punching bag. The volleyball fell to the ground, and was snatched up by Big Eyeglasses, who was promptly tackled by four other players. I contemplated breaking up the fight, but decided against it. It was high time these children learned the law of natural consequences. Gangly Kid yanked the ball away and scored three more times. I waved to my friend. As the Golden Snitch, she was the most desirable object in Quidditch; per standard rules, the first team to catch her won 150 points. I decided to simplify the scoring; I did not want to do complex addition. “We have now come to the final portion of the game!” I bellowed, blowing my whistle. “I need everyone to line up over here to my left. “This,” I gestured to my friend, who was now wiggling to and froe at the other end of the field, “is the Golden Snitch. The first player to tag her wins his team 10 points.” “She’s worth 150 points!” Birthday Boy corrected. Outsmarted again. “On my whistle. One, two—” On the whistle, 30 children ran forward. The Snitch was tagged by Gangly Kid within seconds. I trotted over to him. “You! Kid! Yeah, you kid! Which team were you on?” He looked momentarily confused. “Uh, that team!” he decided. “The team going that way!” He pointed. I blew my whistle. “The team going that way wins!” One of the moms walked up to me. “Wow, you really had those kids in line. You really made them hop-to!” My chest swelled with pride; kinder words were never said to me. “It’s all in the whistle,” I mumbled humbly. “All in the whistle.” Sarah Brown is training to be a world-class drill sergeant. In the meantime, she can be reached at [email protected], and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. For more of Sarah’s musings, visit Browns-Close.com.

OPINION: I award you no points

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

GUEST COMMENTARY: Small manufacturing firms continue to drive Alaska economy

Local manufacturing businesses and jobs have experienced a resurgence in recent years that needs to continue for our state’s livelihood and connection to the global economy. Before the pandemic, the manufacturing sector employed 11.6 million workers in the United States. During the past three years, approximately 500,000 manufacturing jobs were added to the economy. In 2018 alone, 264,000 manufacturing jobs were added, the most created in any single year in more than two decades. Locally in Alaska, there were more than 12,000 manufacturing jobs. Of those, 33 percent were employed by small firms. While manufacturers have not been immune to the hit we’ve seen many sectors take during 2020 due to the pandemic, we’re already seeing the manufacturing sector start to rebound. In fact, 29,000 manufacturing jobs were added in August 2020 alone. This is both encouraging and necessary for our region as consumers worldwide are increasingly seeking “Made in the USA” products and services. On a macro level during the past couple decades, U.S.-manufactured goods that are exported to other countries have quadrupled. Plus, nearly six in 10 U.S. export dollars come from manufacturers, establishing them as a crucial component to our role in the international marketplace. In North America specifically, the passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement earlier this year has and will continue to drive job creation and strengthen manufacturing in Alaska. And since the USMCA establishes a committee on small business issues for the first time in any U.S. trade agreement, it will ensure small manufacturing voices are heard. As local manufacturers are pivoting and innovating to operate in a new environment — and in some cases, switching production to support critical needs of medical equipment and personal protective equipment — it takes public and private entities working together for small manufacturing firms to succeed. The federal government is clearing red tape out of the way for small manufacturing firms by reducing regulations. During the past few years, federal agencies have issued multiple deregulatory actions for every new significant regulatory action, saving businesses billions in regulatory costs. In light of the coronavirus pandemic, many federal regulations have been temporarily lifted; and, regional advocates from the SBA Office of Advocacy are talking to businesses to explore opportunities to permanently clear some of these regulations if they have been burdensome to small firms. In the span of a week this past spring, the SBA rolled out one of the largest economic recovery programs the country has ever seen. Financing programs like the Paycheck Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, and traditional SBA loan programs have preserved Alaska jobs and infused approximately $1.8 billion into Alaska small businesses in 2020. With federal programs, local government, and industry and business organizations working together — combined with the ingenuity of Alaska small businesses — the manufacturing industry will prevail and ultimately thrive. Jeremy Field is the Regional Administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration Pacific Northwest Region which serves Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Ballot Measure 1 will hurt Alaska’s struggling nonprofits

COVID-19 has done a number on Alaska’s non-profit community. Most of the major fundraising events were either cancelled outright, or scaled down and conducted virtually. Millions in revenues have been lost. Every nonprofit in this state is nervous about the future. If we are going to recover, we will need more community support than ever. That means we need to defeat Ballot Measure 1. The nonprofit sector makes up a critical component of the state economy. In fact, Alaska nonprofits play a vital role in the state’s other major industries including seafood, finance, healthcare, and tourism. The nonprofit sector is woven into the fabric of Alaska in every way conceivable, delivering essential services like housing, education, and environmental protection to residents statewide. Outside of charitable individuals, Alaska’s nonprofits are funded by the oil and gas industry. In fact, it’s almost impossible to find a nonprofit partner list in Alaska that doesn’t include an oil and gas company. In the nonprofit world, we look for long-term solutions to problems. Ballot Measure 1 is a shortsighted approach to a long-term problem, and will hurt more than it is intended to help. The nonprofit I am proud to represent provides young Alaskans the tools and knowledge they need to make smart academic and economic choices as they grow into financially savvy adults. Our top corporate donors work in the oil and gas industry, and their support has helped us educate youth for decades. Ballot Measure 1 puts that support in jeopardy by increasing taxes on a struggling industry by between 150 to 300 percent. COVID-19 has already wreaked havoc on the entire statewide economy, and targeting one industry for a massive new tax will only make the situation worse. Should Ballot Measure 1 pass, not only would our economy and jobs be at risk, but Alaska’s thriving nonprofits would suffer the consequences, too. Many nonprofits are clinging to life during the ongoing pandemic. Now is not the time to create barriers for growth our state’s largest economic force. Oil and gas sets the pace in Alaska. The industry alone generates 38 percent of all wages in Alaska, and a quarter of all jobs. But those jobs are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the full social and economic impact of oil and gas in Alaska. From the arts, to youth and social service organizations, nonprofits across Alaska benefit from healthy, sustained oil and gas spending. The industry has funded STEM programs, food pantries, animal rescue agencies, women’s shelters — the list goes on — for decades. I’m voting No on Ballot Measure 1 this November, and I encourage my nonprofit partners to do the same. Together, we can rebuild and strengthen Alaska alongside the oil and gas industry, protecting our jobs, families, economy, and essential nonprofits. Flora Teo is the president of Junior Achievement of Alaska.

OPINION: A dish served cold

“When you see Sotomayor and Kagan, tell them that Lindsey said hello.” That was South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham to then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh back in 2018 as he wrapped up an epic rant as chair of the Judiciary Committee excoriating Democrats for their disgusting smear campaign intended to derail Kavanaugh’s ascent from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. The unforgivable attacks on Kavanaugh were the culmination of more than 30 years of Democrats shredding the judicial appointment process beginning with the assault on Robert Bork in 1987 so notorious that “Borking” became a verb when it was turned against Clarence Thomas just four years later. Thomas, vilified by the left to this day in the worst racial terms, called it a “high tech lynching” to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee back then who just happened to be current Democrat presidential nominee Joe Biden. Once they found themselves in the Senate minority under President George W. Bush in 2001, Democrats broke new ground on upending Senate traditions by filibustering D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Miguel Estrada. No appellate court nominee had ever been successfully filibustered before and Estrada eventually withdrew his name after years of failed cloture votes that drew as many as 55 votes, five shy of the 60 needed. Leaked memos revealed that one of the reasons certain Democrat groups opposed Estrada was to prevent a conservative from being the first Hispanic to make the Supreme Court. Minority Democrats would go on to filibuster nine more Bush nominees, leading to the first talk of employing the “nuclear option” to eliminate the tactic in favor of a simple majority vote. That was averted with the “Gang of 14” deal, but because the Democrats had successfully blocked so many Bush nominees to the D.C. court, President Barack Obama took the step in 2013 of nominating three judges at once to what by all measures was the least-worked panel in the country and while other courts had what were classified as “emergency” vacancies to which he hadn’t nominated anyone. The Republicans’ attempts to block Obama’s power move using the same tactics pioneered by the Democrats led then-Senate President Harry Reid to nuke the filibuster for all judicial nominees below the Supreme Court level in a vote that then-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted the Democrats would regret “a lot sooner than you think.” There can be no question that Democrats regret it now, whether they will admit it or not. Republicans took over the Senate in 2014 and were therefore able to thwart Obama’s pick to flip the court with Merrick Garland to replace the late Antonin Scalia in 2016. McConnell kept his promise to make the Democrats rue their 2013 actions after Donald Trump won the presidential election by eliminating the filibuster to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Democrats protested, but replacing Scalia with Gorsuch did not change the ideological makeup of the Supreme Court. That was not the case with Kavanaugh when he was tapped to replace the long-tenured “swing vote” Anthony Kennedy and what followed was the most shameless attempt at character assassination in the history of judicial nominees even when compared against what was done to Thomas. It worked on Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who cited Kavanaugh’s temperament in voting “present” after his righteous display of anger at being labeled a gang rapist by Murkowski’s Democrat colleagues. Murkowski has unsurprisingly come out against the idea of replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg before the November election, but that doesn’t mean she has committed to actually voting against the eventual nominee. Although she may appear bulletproof after winning as a write-in candidate in 2010 and cruising in 2016, even the proudly independent Murkowski may have to consider the fallout from siding against two consecutive conservative nominees to the Supreme Court. The Democrats retook the House in 2018, but saw their numbers in the Senate shrink after the self-destructive Kavanaugh display as they marched red state Democrats off the cliff in North Dakota, Indiana, Missouri and Florida. They made the Supreme Court a focus of the midterm campaign, and American voters responded by preventing them from taking over the Senate and denying them the power to stop Trump from replacing RBG in 2020. The Democrats’ willingness to spare no tactic in their quest for power has stiffened the spines of even once squishy Republicans like Graham and now Sen. Mitt Romney to respond in kind and yet within the confines of the powers defined in the Constitution. Contrast that with the summer we’ve just seen of Democrat voters — egged on, excused and enabled by their elected leaders — destroying American cities and causing losses totaling billions of dollars in human and economic costs. “Boy, y’all want power,” Graham told Democrats in 2018. “God, I hope you never get it.” From Bork to Kavanaugh and from Portland to New York, and from threats to add Supreme Court justices, add states and kill the legislative filibuster, the Democrats have shown and told us everything we need to know about how they wield power, and why we should hope they have no more. So to Trump’s eventual nominee: Say hello to Kavanaugh for me. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Alaskans should be honest with each other

As Alaskans, let’s be honest with each other this election cycle. Under current law, we face a state budget deficit of about $2.3 billion this next fiscal year — the one legislators we elect this November will face when they head to Juneau next January. That’s roughly half of projected spending. Let that sink in. Under current law, next year we are projected to receive only half the revenue we need to cover projected spending. That’s not a temporary situation. According to the Department of Revenue’s Spring 2020 Forecast, it doesn’t get any better the remainder of the decade. And we are facing it without savings. After continuously siphoning from various savings accounts to maintain spending this past decade, the remaining available to the 2021 legislature won’t cover even one-quarter of next year’s deficit. Some suggest we can balance the budget entirely with spending cuts. But again, let’s be honest with each other. Due to the intervening drop in oil prices, even immediately enacting the $600 million in spending cuts Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed at the beginning of his term in 2019 would cover less than a third of next year’s deficit. Diverting $400 million in local property taxes to the state — another proposal made by the governor in 2019 — would increase that to about 40 percent. Even after enacting both, the state would still face an annual deficit of around $1.3 billion. The legislature wouldn’t pass the governor’s combined $1 billion proposal in 2019. While additional cuts, changes in formula-driven programs and a tightened spending cap are inevitable, it is not being honest with each other to claim that the next legislature will adopt a cuts-led approach nearly two-and-a-half times that amount. Others suggest we balance the budget largely through PFD cuts. Using that approach, however, would effectively eliminate the PFD, at great cost to both most Alaska families and the Alaska economy. Next year’s PFD is projected at $1.9 billion. The deficit is $2.3 billion. Even entirely eliminating the PFD would not cover the deficit. More importantly, relying largely on PFD cuts would cause substantial harm to the 80 percent of Alaska families falling in the state’s middle &lower income income brackets, who would bear a hugely disproportionate share of the burden as a percent of family income. Those in the top 20 percent income bracket would experience a trivial impact and non-residents, nothing. In 2016, the University of Alaska-Anchorage’s Institute of Social &Economic Research warned relying on such a massively imbalanced approach among Alaska families would have the “largest adverse impact on the economy” of the revenue options it considered. In 2017, another ISER report concluded “a cut in PFDs would be by far the costliest measure for Alaska families.” While the top 20 percent push PFD cuts relentlessly and some PFD restructuring is inevitable, especially in these times Alaskans should avoid the very alternative that hurts Alaska families and the Alaska economy most. So, being honest with each other, the reality is the time has come to adopt some additional revenue approaches that are more equitable and have a lower impact on the overall economy — in short, are more balanced — to help close the gap. One such approach is Ballot Measure 1, the oil tax initiative. At current and projected oil prices, however, that only raises about $250 million annually. While that’s a contribution, it only covers a tenth of the deficit. Additional, more personal, broader based revenue measures will be required. Being honest with each other, it will take a significant contribution from all three pieces: spending cuts (along with a tightened spending cap), PFD restructuring and additional sources of revenue to meet the state’s yawning fiscal challenge. In the Office of Management and Budget’s 2019 10-Year Plan, the Dunleavy Administration appropriately referred to that as the “balanced approach.” Listen closely. Those candidates that are being honest with Alaskans this coming cycle will talk about that approach most. Brad Keithley is Managing Director of Alaskans for Sustainable Budgets, a project focused on increasing awareness of key fiscal challenges facing Alaskans at both the state and federal levels, and developing and offering reasoned approaches in response. For more information, go to AKforSB.com.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Ballot Measure 1 proponents are making wild claims. The numbers prove them wrong.

When I served in Alaska’s Legislature, I relied on data and analysis to inform decisions. As most Alaskans know, the numbers have been tough in our state for a few years, and the resulting budget decisions painful as a result. The thing to remember about numbers is even when we don’t want to make hard choices, they persist in guiding us. If we strip away the emotion and anxiety of the moment and focus instead on what the numbers show, Alaskans should vote to reject Ballot Measure 1. Not only do the numbers demonstrate why voting no is in Alaskans’ best financial interest, but they prove how the ballot measure’s supporters are distorting the facts. Let’s examine a few examples, and clarify something. I no longer serve in the Legislature, but work full-time in the non-profit sector. I do not have a dog in this fight other than loving this state and wanting it to succeed. I am speaking up for that reason and that reason alone. No one is paying me to advocate one way or the other. For starters, it is downright false to say that Alaska has received no oil production tax revenue during the last few years. These numbers are plain to see and published by the state’s Department of Revenue. North Slope oil companies have paid state taxes every year since oil was first produced in this state decades ago. For the time period in question, Alaska received over $8.7 billion in taxes, and $13.8 billion in total revenue from oil companies since 2014. Those payments account for approximately 90 percent of Alaska’s tax revenue from business during the time period. Ballot Measure 1’s proponents also claim that during the past five years, tax credits have exceeded revenues. This is an especially gross mischaracterization. To reach this inaccurate number, they are simply subtracting the roughly $2 billion in cash credits paid or owed to companies that wouldn’t even be impacted by this tax. It’s bizarre that Ballot Measure 1’s supporters would mix up these numbers, but perhaps they are doing it intentionally. Either way, it’s inaccurate. Ballot Measure 1’s supporters falsely claim the current oil tax structure, Senate Bill 21, has failed. Again, this is proved untrue using real, publicly available numbers. Our current oil tax structure has resulted in more oil production and more revenue for the state than was projected under the old tax structure, even with the massive drop in oil price that began in 2015. In 2013, the state’s Department of Revenue projected that 2019 North Slope oil production would clock in at 425,000 barrels per day, even with oil prices over $100 per barrel. Instead, we saw production levels reach nearly 500,000 barrels per day in 2019. Doing some quick calculations, the state is more than $1.5 billion dollars to the good in total revenue versus riding the 6 percent oil production decline rate down with the old tax structure. Perhaps the most concerning and misleading argument being made by Ballot Measure 1 supporters is the notion that voting yes is some kind of silver bullet that will solve the state’s fiscal crisis. In short, it won’t come anywhere close to filling the gap, and will make the state’s finances even worse. The COVID-19 pandemic and painfully low oil prices caused North Slope producers to shut down almost all drilling on the North Slope, and significantly cut back on planned investments. That alone should put a chill down the spines of Alaskans, but the question now becomes: when does drilling and investment come back? Does it? Oil price and the ballot initiative will both drive those decisions. Even if oil prices recover, passage of Ballot Measure 1 will slow down Alaska’s North Slope recovery, and with it, the recovery of the state economy. I know we remain in a tough spot here in Alaska. We dealt with many of these same issues when I served, and the challenges just keep coming. Alaskans remain anxious about the future, for good reason. In times like this though, we must, as always, rely on the numbers to guide us, even when our hearts may nudge us in a different direction. A brave, unflinching examination of the facts proves Ballot Measure 1 is a bad idea that should be rejected by voters. Our collective recovery depends on it. Jason Grenn is a former state representative from Anchorage.

OPINION: Don’t call them Democrats

The Alaska Democratic Party is calling “bullshit” on winners of the Democratic primary being affiliated with the Democratic Party on the November ballot. Apparently the party’s brand in Alaska is so bad that its leadership doesn’t want its candidates to actually be associated with it. The latest outrageous outrage involves a simple change on the general election ballot that has removed the official party affiliation, or lack thereof, of all candidates and instead shows their name and whether they made the ballot through the Republican or Democratic primary or through the petition process. Republicans aren’t complaining about the change because candidates over the years have often adopted the “R” designation in order to have a better chance to win. That’s why the party’s elected representatives range across the ideological spectrum from Sen. Gary Stevens to Rep. David Eastman while Democrats range from Sen. Bill Wielechowsi to, well, Bill Wielechowski. Democratic Party Executive Director Lindsay Kavanaugh pitched a fit over the change revealed Sept. 14 on the Division of Elections website, calling it “unconscionable.” “I am increasingly concerned about the ability of the Lt. Governor to make informed, unbiased, decisions about the election, and of the integrity of those running the DOE,” Kavanaugh told the Anchorage Daily News. “Alaska voters, especially the majority of those voters who are undeclared and non-partisan, need to call bullshit.” Kavanaugh shouldn’t hold her breath waiting for an uprising from those undeclared voters. Yes, Alaska’s voters are famously averse to aligning with either political party. They are also among the most consistent Republican voters in the country. The state hasn’t chosen a Democrat for president since LBJ in 1964 and has only sent two Democrats to Congress in the last 50 years with both of them named Begich. While many state Democrats are pro-resource development and favor gun rights, the national party is rabidly anti-Alaska and anti-Second Amendment. Alaska voters have long since figured this out and vote for national offices accordingly regardless of how they choose to register their party status. Defeat after defeat for national office has led the state Democrats to adopt a recent strategy of claiming “independent” status and our two congressional races this year reflect that with Al Gross and Alyse Galvin taking on incumbents Sen. Dan Sullivan and Dean of the House Rep. Don Young. Despite clearly favoring the politics of the Democrats and soliciting their financial support, the Democratic Party wants Gross and Galvin to have a “U” or an “N” next to their names in a transparent attempt to convince voters they aren’t filling the oval with a choice that will keep Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House and/or hand over the Senate to Chuck Schumer. The House under Pelosi has already voted to overturn development of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, and Democrats are talking about ending the filibuster should they retake the Senate. That means Galvin and Gross would help enact disastrous policies for Alaska no matter how they classify their political status. Republicans, especially in the Senate, routinely break ranks to vote independently (look no further than Sens. Mitt Romney, our own Lisa Murkowski or Rand Paul for examples), but there is no such freedom on the Democrat side where even their most endangered member Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama never dares to cross Schumer. To think that Galvin will vote against Pelosi as the 435th-ranked member of the House or that Gross will take the Democrats’ money and then vote to uphold the filibuster are huge gambles Alaskans will be rightly hesitant to take no matter what letter follows their names. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Ballot Measure 2 replaces fair elections with political trickery

You’ve likely heard the saying that politicians are like diapers: they should be changed often, and for the same reason. All joking aside, if we Alaskans want to change public policy, we have to change the people who control it. Voters of all political stripes understand this simple concept. We Alaskans use a time-honored process for “changing diapers,” and it’s easy to understand: each person gets one vote, and the candidate who earns the most votes wins. But this November, Alaskans will be asked to vote on Ballot Measure 2, which would throw our election system into chaos. First, nearly all the money behind Ballot Measure 2 comes from out-of-state billionaires and special interest groups unknown to most Alaskans. I know from experience that outsiders rarely have Alaskans’ best interests at heart. That’s why I fought the federal government at the US Supreme Court twice when they wrongly tried to assert control over Alaska’s waterways. So naturally, I became worried when I learned that 99 percent of the $1.1 million spent in support of Ballot Measure 2 comes from outside our state. This alone should ring alarm bells in voters’ minds. Perhaps the most sweeping change proposed in Ballot Measure 2 is to toss aside our “one Alaskan, one vote” system and replace it with a scheme known as ranked choice voting. It’s so complicated, it’s hard to explain, but here’s the gist: voters would be forced to rank every candidate on the ballot, regardless if they wanted that particular candidate to win. Fail to do that, and that vote is at risk of being thrown out if no candidate receives over 50 percent of votes cast. In this situation, a computer system (yes, you read that correctly) would calculate the winner using an algorithm that takes many pages to explain to voters. Under this nightmare scenario, the candidate who is declared the “winner” of an election could be someone who received far fewer votes than the first-place candidate, but instead received a significant number of second, third, or even fourth-choice rankings. Confusing? Yes. And that’s the intent. Backers of Ballot Measure 2 claim this will ensure that each election produces a victor who has the support of a “majority” of voters. But they fail to explain how a tortured majority that was Frankensteined together by adding everyone’s third or fourth-place preferences is really what voters want. Bottom line, this new system is unnecessary; our time-tested system of the candidate with the most vote wins works just fine. Former Republican Gov. Sean Parnell and former Democrat Sen. Mark Begich agree on this issue, admitting it’s a mess. They wrote in a Wall Street Journal editorial that ranked choice voting “encourages political trickery.” Special interests with political savvy will run wild, free to unleash unsavory candidate and ranking strategies aimed at forcing a computerized runoff and manipulating the final outcome. The political elite will benefit from these rigged elections while average Alaskan voters will lose their voice. The swamp is the only winner in this scenario. Stick with me, as there’s even more to attempt to explain. Another massive change proposed by Ballot Measure 2 is to completely throw out Alaska’s traditional primary elections and impose California’s “jungle primary” system. Candidates from all political parties, as well as nonpartisan candidates, would all appear on the same primary ballot. The top four vote-getters from this process would then advance to the general election. Once again, voters would be disenfranchised, because this process eliminates their right to select a political party nominee for the general election. In areas that are dominated by a single political party, multiple candidates from the same party would appear on the ballot, while smaller minority parties could lose their ability to advance a candidate to the general election. This could leave many voters with no desired candidate on the ballot. While I can’t speak to the motives of the New York and California billionaires funding Ballot Measure 2, I can tell you that the sweeping changes proposed by this initiative would disenfranchise Alaskan voters, invite voter manipulation and political trickery, and further erode trust in our democratic process. It’s our responsibility to step up, speak out, and inform our neighbors about everything they stand to lose if Ballot Measure 2 becomes law. Sure, we may not have a ton of cash from out-of-state billionaires, but we still have something they don’t: the right to cast a vote in Alaska. Together, let’s protect the integrity of our elections and our votes by voting no on Ballot Measure 2. ^ John Sturgeon is chairman of Defend Alaska Elections-Vote No on 2. He previously spent 12 years fighting to reverse federal intrusion on Alaska’s public lands, achieving victory at the U.S. Supreme Court twice.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Alaska State Parks offers open space to meet COVID challenges

Those looking for a silver lining in the “summer of COVID” might find one in a variation on the old “good news/bad news” story. The bad news is, the tourist industry shutdown has kept most visitors away during our peak outdoor recreation season. The good news is that Alaskans have had the whole place to ourselves! Many Alaskans finding themselves isolated, indoors, or unable to travel this year have found welcome relief in heading outdoors for safe, socially distant recreation in our great outdoors. They’ve been fortunate to discover, or rediscover, the common treasure we have in Alaska State Parks. Alaska State Parks is a division of the Department of Natural Resources also known as the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation. As stated by those who created the system 50 years ago, our mission is “to provide outdoor recreation opportunities and conserve and interpret natural, cultural, and historic resources for the use, enjoyment, and welfare of the people.” Our 122 employees manage the nation’s largest state park system, which includes the nation’s biggest single state park (Wood-Tikchik State Park in Southwest Alaska); Denali State Park (which borders and complements the U.S. Park Service’s Denali National Park and Preserve); Chugach State Park (Anchorage’s backyard playground) and many smaller but no less-loved parks in every corner of the state. It encompasses hundreds of miles of trails, scores of campgrounds, boat launches and river boardwalks, and many other elements that make Alaska accessible to all. This system has faced many challenges this year, some originating in COVID-19 and associated impacts, others rooted in ongoing longer-term issues such as earthquakes, flooding, coastal erosion, bark beetle infestation and excessive wildland fires. The division has also responded to the state’s fiscal challenges, by reducing its operating budget by 10 percent and enhancing revenues over the last five years to stabilize our finances. As an agency that directly serves Alaskans, Alaska State Parks works hard to seek out, listen for and respond to suggestions and criticism, and works hard to be transparent about our challenges and how we strive to meet them. The pandemic has disrupted life for many, and Alaska State Parks is no exception. The summer’s combination of more visitors and fewer staff has led some to some people experiencing limited or unavailable space at popular campgrounds, higher traffic on trails, or short-term overflowing of bathroom facilities and dumpsters. Some on editorial pages or social media have recently complained that not every state park unit is in prime condition. A few have even insinuated that we’ve neglected remote spots favored by Alaskans in favor of others oriented toward commercial tourists. We have also heard thanks for quickly reopening some parks after removing beetle-killed tree hazards, and for opening others we feared might have to stay closed all summer. When it comes to campground operations, we’ve faced national travel restrictions that kept away the visiting campground hosts and temporary workers who typically help us manage and monitor our parks each summer. We have responded by prioritizing the most popular sites, imposing temporary closures on others, and enlisting much-appreciated help from willing volunteers. While it may have been easy in the past to blame “those darn Outsiders,” this summer has shown that sometimes those abusing or trashing our parks are Alaskans themselves. We invite all who love our parks to help maintain them, either by joining organized volunteer maintenance and cleanup crews, or just carrying trash bags and picking up trash — including pet waste — while hiking or camping. When it comes to maintaining park facilities, Alaska State Parks has for years tracked what’s become significant backlog of deferred maintenance needs, mostly attributable to aging infrastructure, years of constrained budgets and ever-increasing use. We’ve responded by prioritizing the most significant public health and safety issues, e.g. clean toilets, safe water and critical maintenance. We’ve also been creative in soliciting federal agencies, philanthropic organizations and volunteers for the money, resources and manpower necessary to provide park services at the highest level possible. Park management has also reached out to both established and emerging user groups, to help us integrate their thoughts and concerns into our short- and long-term management plans through full public processes. And we have been brainstorming to seek innovative ways to help all Alaskans who benefit from parks, whether directly and indirectly, share the responsibility for supporting them. Ask any Alaskan why they’re here, and one of their top reasons is probably the chance to live and play in our beautiful, clean natural environment. We at Alaska State Parks share this love for outdoor recreation; many of us have made it our life’s work. Our team will continue to work with the resources available to meet COVID-19 and all other challenges, and manage our parks for the use, enjoyment and welfare of all Alaskans. Ricky Gease is Director of Alaska State Parks.

OPINION: Tax credit chickens come home to roost

KFC could probably hire Tom Cruise as its next celebrity Colonel Sanders with the number of chickens coming home to roost in Alaska. A long-awaited and inexplicably delayed decision from the Alaska Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a bill passed in 2018 to pay off the state’s oil tax credit debt. House Bill 331 would have created a shell company within the Department of Revenue to sell up to $1 billion worth of “subject to appropriation” bonds to settle with the independent oil and gas explorers who took the shaft from $630 million in budget vetoes by former Gov. Bill Walker in 2015 and 2016 amid multi-billion dollar deficits. The fallout of the vetoes was massive. Banks now burned twice by Walker stopped lending into the state’s independent oil and gas sector. Caelus Energy was forced to sell North Slope assets to the major ConocoPhillips. Furie Operating Alaska, which had other cash flow problems, declared bankruptcy last year. The state was compelled to modify its loan agreements with Blue Crest in Cook Inlet and Brooks Range Petroleum on the Slope. The Legislature shuttered the tax credit program in 2017 without a plan to clear the books, leaving it up to Walker’s administration to concoct a dubious idea to pay debt with more debt by taking advantage of the interest spread between the cost of the bonds and inducing companies to take haircuts of up to 10 percent on what they were owed in order to get paid faster than waiting on minimum statutory appropriations. A public interest lawsuit by Eric Forrer of Juneau immediately halted the effort, which was initially upheld in Superior Court before being unanimously rejected by the Supreme Court and leaving the state once again on the hook for more than $700 million with no means in sight to pay now that savings accounts have been drained and the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve balance reduced by some $5 billion after transfers to the principal account in the past two years. Walker’s chickens came home to roost in 2018 as he was already headed toward defeat in a three-way race with former Sen. Mark Begich and eventual winner Gov. Mike Dunleavy before the abrupt resignation of running mate Byron Mallott amid a sexual misconduct scandal sealed his fate. For prominent members of the Legislature, the reckoning was delayed but no less decisive after the Aug. 18 primary as Senate President Cathy Giessel and Sen. John Coghill were ousted along with fellow Republican legislators Reps. Jennifer Johnston, Chuck Kopp and Gabrielle LeDoux who chose to form a majority with Democrats after the 2018 election. Candidates who favor paying out a Permanent Fund dividend according to the formula that is still on the books could upend the current majority caucuses after the November general election is settled, but they may well find that math is a stubborn thing and chasing the car is far more fun than sinking their teeth into the tires. Now exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic that has cratered oil prices, North Slope jobs and delayed promising exploration and development projects, the state’s budget situation will resist the ability to pay a full PFD and the economic situation is beyond being rescued by such simplistic promises even if they could be kept. The oil tax credit issue would largely be moot had Walker not vetoed $630 million in credit payments after they were approved by the Legislature, but his 2016 plan — that was endorsed in this space — to use a portion of Permanent Fund earnings and set a fixed dividend amount for the ensuing three years would have put us on a much better footing than we find ourselves today. For that the blame lies with the Republican-led House Majority that chose instead to drain more than $4 billion from the Constitutional Budget Reserve after the Senate had approved the bill by a decisive vote. Four years later, some of the prospective new Republican legislators heading to Juneau have the same attitude of those who rejected a sensible path toward fiscal stability but this time they don’t have billions in savings to spend as an alternative and they are still stuck with the tax credit bill that Walker left the state through his vetoes. They’ll be lucky if the toughest choice they have is grilled or fried, but a debate resembling whether the egg came first is more likely. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

BROWN'S CLOSE: Love in the Time of Corona

Dating behavior has changed due to the coronavirus. Singles are now encouraged to pursue socially distanced dating, be that virtually, or through wholesome, six foot spaced walks.  This phenomenon has been a boon to online dating platforms. Bumble, the dating app with the second highest userbase in the United States, saw more than a 20 percent increase in usage during the early days of the pandemic, and hit the 100 million user mark in July. The app is geared towards women, with females bearing the brunt of messaging matches first. Men have twenty-four hours to respond, or not. I am a veteran online dater, and have used Bumble specifically. The field of candidates on the app is endlessly fascinating, and the details men choose to put in their profiles is telling. Over the years, I’ve honed a fool proof vetting method for profiles, based on several cardinal offenses. For example, you must have all of your clothes on in all of your pictures. Possible exceptions can be made for beach pictures, but in that case, you cannot have more than one beach picture.             And then there are the Selfie Sins: One must never post selfies in bed; One must never post selfies in the bathroom; One must never post selfies in the car; If all of the photos in your profile are selfies, I am forced to assume you have no friends, or anyone else in your life who could take your picture. Bumble does appeal to female empowerment enthusiasts, and in keeping with this theme, users are encouraged to post information on their profile that traditionally would not be discussed in mixed company. Bumble asks users to disclose their political and religious affiliations, and whether or not the user votes. Singles can then filter out matches who do not conform to their preferred affiliations. You can also filter by the most important quality of all: the astrological sign. I’ve had dating success on Bumble, with “success” defined as dating people long term whom I met through the app. Those aren’t the fun stories, however. People just want to hear about the disasters. Not to disappoint, some dates were resoundingly painful. For example, I went out with a college educated, 6-foot-7 math major. He was a self-proclaimed Catholic opera lover and cello player, who now worked as a commercial fisherman. Reading all of these specifics in his profile piqued my curiosity; he sure seemed to have a lot going on. We had coffee at Starbucks for the requisite 47 minutes. I asked questions, and he took full 30 second pauses before he would answer each. He would drag on his drink, look off ponderously at some destination just above my right shoulder, and sigh, “You know, I never thought about that.” A few days after the date, he texted: “My brain hurts from your questioning. Are you always that intense?” To be fair, I did ask him a lot of questions. Those questions, however, were about deep topics like, “What’s your favorite movie?” After he sat silently for a time, and then announced he’d never thought about it, I downgraded to an easier level: “What’s your favorite color?” That too was a head scratcher. Among a few other life lessons, Bumble’s most persistent impact on me is to be skeptical of people I find on the Internet: People on the Internet may not be all there. I stopped seeing one man after he screamed about how much his genitalia hurt while we were at the Anchorage Symphony. People on the Internet do not waste time. Multiple men over the years have asked me to move in with them on the third date. One even asked me to move across state lines. And yet — People on the Internet are flaky. I once had a guy miss our date at 11 in the morning on a Saturday because he did not set his alarm. Willing to give him a second chance, I agreed to meet him for lunch the following week. He texted to confirm lunch plans that morning, and then later that he was on his way. The trouble was that he texted to say he was leaving his house in the suburbs 10 minutes after the date had already started, and it would take him another 27 minutes to arrive. Honestly, waiting around for another half-hour would have been the death knell to my dignity. People on the Internet are weird. One man’s profile had a photo of him completely nude, submerged in a bathtub full of royal blue paint. No other explanation or notation. Sure, online dating can be fun. It can also be the source of a stellar headache. Good luck to all the Single Ladies. Sarah Brown is the Love Doctor. Write to her at [email protected], and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. For more of Sarah’s musings, visit Browns-Close.com.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Complicated tax policy should not be decided at the ballot box

The issue of what to do with oil taxes is once again before us. The question will be presented in the form of Ballot Measure One in November. While Alaskans have proven to be smart and savvy voters, I confess to a well-developed skepticism about putting complicated fiscal issues on the ballot for a simple up or down vote. For that reason, I intend to vote no – not because of the merits or because I have more insight into this issue than other Alaskans – but because the initiative process in this instance leaves too many questions unanswered. In my opinion, the paramount importance of oil taxation to the future of this state calls for a measure like this to go through the scrutiny of the legislative process. For sure, that process is messy; we’ve all heard the quip about the comparison to making sausage (perhaps an insult to sausage makers!). But in a democracy, it is the only way I know to ensure a rigorous analysis of important and complex policy choices. I have the privilege to know, and have worked with, several of the ballot measure’s sponsors, and I hold them in the highest regard. However, I do not believe they should replace the legislature as the primary crafters of state tax policy, and I respectfully disagree with their decision to skip the legislative process and to toss this issue straight to voters. Ideally, if Ballot Measure One were introduced as a bill – and I suspect there are legislators who support the measure – it would endure many hours, if not days, of hearings before several committees in both bodies of the legislature. There would be input from all stakeholders: representatives from the oil industry would state on the record how the initiative would impact their Alaska business; independent economists and experts would model the tax proposal to provide a third-party view of what the measure would actually do; proponents of higher taxes would explain and justify their reasons and clarify their intent; and members of the public would testify as to its pros and cons. It is admittedly a long and tedious process, but the give-and-take among stakeholders, and the additional analysis that accompanies such measures, invariably leads to a balancing of interests – including the public interest — resulting in a bill that is informed of the facts and capable of garnering the necessary support for passage. Some knowledgeable observers have criticized Ballot Measure One’s language as ambiguous and confusing. This, too, can be addressed through the legislative process with amendments to clarify or cure deficiencies and ambiguities in the text. If Ballot Measure One is passed, those issues will be left for the courts to decide, post-enactment – and without the benefit of any legislative record to assist in their analysis. The biggest elephant in the room today is the historic collapse of oil prices and the widespread economic hardship caused by COVID-19. In fairness to Ballot Measure One’s sponsors, I don’t believe this could have been predicted. Nonetheless, reasonable Alaskans must wonder about how the ballot measure will impact the oil industry in our state in light of these unprecedented events. Again, it may be my personal bias, but I have serious reservations about leaving an incredibly complicated and nuanced issue like oil taxation to the persuasion of sloganeering and sound bites. The legislative process is not pretty and it can be very frustrating, but that is how our system is supposed to work in my humble opinion—particularly when dealing with issues so important to the financial stability of our state. Given all these factors, I intend to vote no on Ballot Measure One. ^ Michael Geraghty served as Attorney General for the state of Alaska during 2012–14.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Perfect storm hitting Alaska Marine Highway System

Over the past 18 months, Alaska’s ferry system faced unprecedented challenges: a reduced budget, a strike, unanticipated mechanical and structural issues with five aging ships, and a global pandemic. This spring, as the pandemic hit, the Alaska Marine Highway System had four of those ships scheduled to enter service, a workable budget in place and expected sufficient revenue to provide reliable ferry service throughout the year. Due to the dramatic decline in revenue as commerce all but stopped, the financial impacts on AMHS have been severe. Because ticket sales support the AMHS operating budget, we’re now facing a shortfall of almost $45 million. This shortfall, caused by the pandemic, equates to a budget cut of the same amount. The resulting winter schedule is not what we expected to provide. It’s not what Alaska’s coastal communities consider to be a satisfactory level of ferry service. Last winter, the system was hit hard with unexpected mechanical issues. Now, our ships are in good shape, but there are not enough funds to operate them. When our draft winter operating schedule came out, there were some complaints that we didn’t provide enough time for comment. The reality is we accept comments year-round, and we frequently adjust our schedules to accommodate requests from communities. One point to keep in mind is that most of this year’s community and school events we build our schedule around have already been canceled. Right now, AMHS needs to finalize its winter schedule so travelers can begin making reservations for our October through April travel season. In addition to the budget issues we’re facing, pandemic conditions have added a whole new level of complexity to running our ships and keeping passengers and crew safe from another outbreak. I applaud AMHS for its outstanding response to the challenges created by COVID-19. It’s been incredibly complicated to coordinate everything, but we’ve managed to run the mainline route since late June without an outbreak. With the insidious menace of COVID-19, it’s not a matter of if, but when an outbreak will occur on an AMHS vessel, so we count every week of successful operation a blessing in these very challenging times. Our crew has done an exceptional job following protocol, and that’s been the key to continuing operations. A recent incident occurred aboard the M/V Matanuska when a group of passengers learned en route that they had been in close contact with a COVID-19 positive person before they boarded the ship. Matanuska’s crew followed protocol — the affected passengers were quarantined in their cabins with meals delivered for the duration of the voyage. When several of those passengers later tested positive for the virus, we promptly tested the entire crew. Thankfully, all 47 crew received negative results and Matanuska returned to service, but not without a one-week delay, considerable cost and lost revenue. What could have easily resulted in a shipboard outbreak and weeks of the entire ship in quarantine was averted by a quick and reasoned response from a well-trained crew. This pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives and will continue to do so for some time. The incident on the Matanuska is just one example of the commendable job AMHS is doing — they continued providing ferry service when it didn’t seem feasible. But in the midst of the pandemic, we have to accept the fact that fewer travelers mean less revenue, and reductions in service are required to keep the system afloat. At the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, we take our responsibilities seriously for all of Alaska’s communities – those on the road system, the 35 serviced by AMHS, and the 140+ that are neither on the road system nor on the ferry routes. The AMHS Reshaping Work Group has met regularly over the last six months, receiving input from a diverse group of stakeholders who either compete with, operate, or rely on our ferry system. I look forward to the work group’s final report, and to implementing fundamental changes to keep reliable ferry service running in Alaska for the long term. John MacKinnon is Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

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