Opinion

OPINION: Misplaced priorities clarified amid coronavirus

From the endless memes to the Tiger King, dark humor will go down as one of the most effective coping mechanisms for isolated and anxious Americans amid a deadly outbreak that has killed and sickened tens of thousands across the country Unlike some locales that have deployed police drones or actually arrested people for not maintaining a proper distance, our government officials here in Alaska have benevolently allowed us to still go outside. Thanks to that indulgence I enjoyed one of the biggest laughs I’ve had over the past month. While walking Dakota along the Chester Creek trail — and after passing numerous fresh camps and endless trash piles — I reached a small collection of playground equipment pathetically draped in yellow tape. Most concerning as I gazed in sorrow over this plague-ravaged wasteland was realizing the small rocking duck had not been festooned with the impenetrable yellow ribbon of a mayor’s mandate. With no one but Dakota within earshot, I couldn’t help myself. I burst out laughing. It is difficult to imagine more gut-busting evidence that we can trust without fail in government despite its ceaseless complaints of being resourced-starved. While fanned out across the Anchorage parks and trail systems to weave tape through monkey bars and assiduously avoid picking up garbage or posting abatement notices, the Parks and Recreation Department under Mayor Ethan Berkowitz may have stumbled upon a solution to the problem of illegal camping: Yellow tape. If wrapping yellow tape around a swing set can close a playground, then surely a few more rolls strategically strung around some trees will convince the burgeoning greenbelt population to move along, seek help and stop stealing from the neighbors. Or there is the possibility that Operation Monkey Barred is a colossal waste of time and money. When evaluated based on risk of spreading the coronavirus, focusing on teeter totters buried in snow versus increasing neglect of the homeless population is akin to solving the draft from a broken window by closing the curtains. The cruelty of Anchorage’s compassion after years upon years of tolerating open lawlessness is colliding with an easily transmitted virus that’s putting vulnerable people and those who generously care for them at risk. Anchorage’s elected leaders have allowed this problem to get so out of hand that the working group tasked with helping the homeless is seriously requesting the deployment of the National Guard troops to clean up human waste. Downtown Assemblyman Chris Constant supports the request. Thank goodness Anchorage voters just gave this district another seat on the Assembly. We’ll be on the right track in no time. The single most dangerous situation that could contribute to community spread in Anchorage — particularly among the first responders and health care workers we need most right now — has not been reduced over the past month of the mayor strangling the economy and practicing pandemic theater at the playgrounds. It has gotten demonstrably worse. Closing Sportsmen’s Warehouse with the stroke of the pen is easy. Closing down sprawling camps taking over streets is more of a challenge. Only one is an act of leadership. Far secondarily, but shared in common is the mayor’s refusal to follow the lead of governors in Massachusetts and New Hampshire or the original plastic purgers in San Francisco to prohibit reusable bags in stores. The jurisdictions our mayor and Assembly chose to emulate recognize that reusable bags can spread disease, but apparently our problem is bad enough to keep us out of the park but not bad enough to keep germ caddies out of our stores. Banning reusable bags would be an admission the plastic bag ban was and is ill-conceived, which is likely why the mayor hasn’t done it. Saving theoretical sea turtles is more important than stopping the spread. Now, #stayhome, you. Some misplaced priorities have certainly been clarified amid the coronavirus response, and the state Legislature has been no different. A couple days after it was reported here that House Finance Co-Chair Jennifer Johnston declared she didn’t believe Alaska Natives could be trusted with an extra $1,000 and was therefore against paying out the Permanent Fund dividend early, Senate President Cathy Giessel and Senate Finance Co-Chair Natasha von Imhof sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. The letter to Mnuchin, who doesn’t have anything better to do, what with trying to persuade Senate Democrats to expand the Paycheck Protection Program by another $250 billion and literally overseeing trillions of dollars in coronavirus aid, was copied to the congressional delegation but not Gov. Mike Dunleavy and asked what he was “not” allowed to use the state’s share of relief funds for (emphasis in original). In the tone of a student who reminds the teacher she has yet to assign homework, the letter implies Dunleavy has cited plans for improper use of the funds according to their interpretation of the CARES Act. At the end of a week with most Alaskans stuck at home and nearly 40,000 on the unemployment rolls, two of the top three leaders in the Senate decided their most pressing priority was to undermine the governor and bother the U.S. Treasury Secretary while not bothering to help any Alaskans. They were unbothered by the revelation of what has long been alleged but unproven until confirmed by Johnston: members of the shot-caller cohort in the Legislature don’t trust Alaskans with the PFD. Rather than rectify that wrong by reconsidering their decision to withhold the dividend payment until the fall, Giessel and von Imhof chose to suggest Dunleavy is doing the same thing with his vetoes that they actually did with the PFD. Not only did they not pay the PFD according to the formula in state law, the amount and the timing were explicitly based on federal dollars from stimulus checks and unemployment benefits as a substitute. Projection ain’t just a job for laid off movie theater employees. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to put some yellow tape around the fridge. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Five reasons Dr. Zink is crushing it as a crisis communicator

I don’t know how Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, ever goes back to a life of relative obscurity when this strange time comes to end. She’s quickly become a bona fide local celebrity, a calming, trusted presence at the governor’s nightly press conferences to update us on the state’s efforts to combat COVID-19. And she is good at explaining the facts —beyond good, she is nearly perfect, yet to miss a beat. Dubbed the “explainer in chief,” Dr. Zink is doing so many things right when it comes to crisis communications she deserves her own highlight. Here are five of the many ways Dr. Zink is crushing it as a crisis communicator: 1.) She knows her stuff. Clearly, Dr. Zink is a subject matter expert. She is confident in her answers, because she knows the how and why of everything she is asked to explain. Sometimes, she is asked questions that don’t exactly relate to her area of expertise, but she doesn’t freeze up or fumble her way through a rambling non-answer. She does what us public relations professionals are constantly telling clients in media training sessions – she finds the right source to answer the question. If that person isn’t readily available, Dr. Zink makes a note to find out and get back to the questioner. We’ve checked. She does follow up. This is a basic media relations skill, and she excels at it. 2.) Zink is empathetic and human. She makes sure we know she and her family are going through this with the rest of us. That may sound overly simplistic, but a drill sergeant could deliver the same news as Dr. Zink and instill a sense of fear rather than a sense of “we will get through this together.” Zink expresses care and concern for the health of all Alaskans, and sounds like she means it. She encourages Alaskans to take care of each other, and to check in on neighbors who may need a helping hand. Honestly, Dr. Zink would probably deliver a hot casserole to a vulnerable neighbor’s doorstep if someone asked her to. In a word, she comes across as sincere, another essential trait for effective crisis communicators. 3.) She is calm and composed under pressure. Does anything rattle this woman? Dr. Zink is in charge of communicating some pretty heavy stuff. Think about it: Every day, she and the governor go live in front of thousands of Alaskans, and tell us how many people have contracted the COVID-19 virus, or even died from it. She walks into a press conference knowing she must tell parents their kids can’t go to school, families can’t visit nursing homes, and traveling is basically off limits. The prospect of communicating scary news would cause many of us to stammer, lose our breath, ramble, or freeze up. While I doubt she enjoys it, it is clear Dr. Zink understands she must maintain professionalism and decorum no matter how overwhelming the news gets. She is tough as nails, but still comes across as friendly and approachable – both rare traits in times of crisis. 4.) She speaks plainly and avoids jargon. We don’t need to hear medical terms we can’t comprehend. We need to know how to protect our families. Lord knows the health care field is full of acronyms and terms most of us do not understand. Dr. Zink knows this, and goes out of her way to explain complex medical concepts in terms we can understand. Just like the governor did when he talked about tsunamis and how waves roll onto a shore, Dr. Zink uses analogies that make sense. My favorite was early on in the crisis, when just a few cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in Alaska. You could tell Dr. Zink wanted to discourage the media (and all of us watching online) from thinking that maybe we would escape the worst of this virus. So, she used the analogy of seeing a storm brewing on the horizon, with these first few COVID confirmations symbolizing the first drops of rain hitting the ground before it starts pouring. Oh, and who can forget the whiteboard? Pulling out a whiteboard and drawing pictures that helped Alaskans visualize what the disease curve would look like under different circumstances made Dr. Zink appear more like a teacher than a doctor. In this case, she was both. 5.) She expresses her gratitude and recognizes her team without downplaying the serious nature of the crisis at hand. It has not gone unnoticed that Dr. Zink thanks journalists after every question, of which there are many, to say the least. Some cynics have labeled it overkill, but you can tell, or perceive, that she recognizes the role media play in helping keep Alaskans informed, healthy, and safe. Dr. Zink also spreads the love and makes sure we all know she has a large team behind her and touts the excellent work being done by employees in public and private health, private industry, nonprofits and other entities contributing to tackling this crisis. In other words, she realizes she is not just a subject matter expert, but also a spokesperson, and wants to make sure citizens know about the many faceless heroes going the extra mile to keep us safe. Often, a crisis can worsen when communications are poor. In this case, the situation has undoubtedly improved because of the excellent crisis communications skills displayed by Dr. Zink. We Alaskans owe her a collective, socially distant hug. Sarah Erkman Ward is the president of Blueprint Alaska, an advocacy and strategic communications firm located in Anchorage.

GUEST COMMENTARY: UAA is here when you need us

Many of you have heard me describe University of Alaska Anchorage as Alaska’s modern, relevant, connected urban-metropolitan university. UAA has become the school of choice for Alaska’s best and brightest, and we open our doors to anyone seeking opportunity through education. UAA is Anchorage’s hometown university. We’re here to solve real-world problems. These words cannot fully describe the important asset UAA has become over its history. At no time has the value of UAA to this community been more apparent than during our current response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For the last 15 years, UAA biology researchers have been studying coronavirus strains, most recently in bats in Alaska, developing tools that can now be applied to the virus that causes COVID-19. Mutated coronavirus strains jumping from bats to humans are known to be the cause of the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the MERS outbreak in 2012. Our researchers have partnered with the Centers of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance to standardize, catalog and make data accessible to everyone around the world, with the hope of painting a clearer picture of regional coronavirus variants. In addition to this research, the UAA College of Health is working to graduate up to 72 nursing students early so that they can join the health care workforce in Alaska. The college is coordinating with relevant university offices, the Alaska Board of Nursing and the accrediting agency. These students are completing their course requirements on an expedited timeline and will apply for temporary licensure that qualifies them to practice for six months. They will follow up with completion of the licensing exam that all nursing students take to become a permanent RN. The college’s Alaska Center for Rural Health and Health Workforce is working with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services COVID-19 Task Force to quickly develop a medical supply survey tool to track supply usage and restock rates used by the state to prioritize and distribute critical medical supplies. Additionally, a research team from the UAA College of Health’s Division of Population Health Sciences and Institute for Circumpolar Studies used epidemiological modeling to predict the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the Anchorage and Mat-Su area. The report found without recent state and municipal intervention policies aimed at sheltering in place and social distancing, Alaska’s medical infrastructure would become overwhelmed. The report, which was shared with Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Alaska Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink, called for strengthening these intervention measures to “flatten the curve.” The researchers have now done similar modeling for the Fairbanks area. UAA’s contributions also extend beyond the College of Health. An economist within the UAA Institute for Economic and Social Research and the College of Business and Public Policy has conducted analysis on the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Alaska’s economy. A faculty member with expertise in international policy and disaster response is actively contributing to local planning efforts. UAA engineering faculty have responded to requests by medical professionals to produce ventilator parts and personal protective equipment using 3D printing technology available on campus. Another faculty member is adapting orthopedic surgical suits for use in screening COVID-19 patients. The federally funded Small Business Development Center within the Business Enterprise Institute at UAA has consulted with over 200 small businesses in the state on strategies to mitigate financial losses due to business closures. In addition, the institute’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership worked with the Alaska Legislature on an amendment to Senate Bill 241. The bill extends the governor’s declaration of a public health disaster emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and allows for temporary changes to state law. The amendment provides a liability waiver, making it possible for local manufacturers to produce badly needed PPE and allowing local health care providers to use it. The UAA colleges of Health, Arts and Sciences and Engineering transferred supplies of personal protective equipment to the state for distribution to health care workers. UAA research labs have transferred needed chemical supplies to Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium for use in COVID-19 testing. UAA’s Alaska Airlines Center has been converted into a medical alternate care site to treat patients in the event local hospitals experience an influx of COVID-19 patients. UAA is making space available in two of its residence halls to house health care workers if the need arises. The university’s dining services is also standing by to provide support to health care workers. Similar responses have occurred at UAA’s community campuses. We’ve produced a video series called “Ask a UAA Expert,” featuring just-in-time relevant information from faculty with expertise relevant to our COVID-19 response—everything from disaster recovery to talking with your kids about the pandemic to dangers the pandemic poses to rural Alaska Native communities. This work and more commenced immediately as part of Alaska’s COVID-19 response without anyone having to ask. That’s what being a relevant, connected university means. UAA is not the ivory tower. I have always said UAA excels at applied research that solves Alaska’s most pressing problems. It is no surprise to me that UAA has stepped up magnificently in this current crisis. This is your hometown university. UAA is right here wherever, whenever you might need us. Cathy Sandeen is the chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Skilled Alaskan workers deserve our thanks

Let’s be real. Staying-in-place and hunkering-down is not as easy as many of us thought it would be, but a few things do make it bearable. Quarantined with kids? Tech workers are making sure schoolwork, videos and books can be downloaded and that electricity, gas and water is flowing so meals can be prepared. Working from home? Communication workers are still on the job making sure your internet stays on so you can connect to your team. Staffing a store, clinic, piece of the supply chain or other critical infrastructure? Electricity is keeping the vital equipment we need in hospitals, businesses, and infrastructure powered. No matter what we are doing, this pandemic has proven how heavily we rely on technology and utilities for work, education, communication and entertainment and how essential and critical it is to have highly trained professionals working to keep us safe and comfortable. The women and men who make up the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers represent some of the workers keeping things running right now so medical facilities can remain open and utilities running smoothly. Essential and mission critical workers include hospital technicians, warehouse workers, power linemen, electricians, power plant workers and technicians as well as communications workers like telephone linemen, installation and repair workers, telephone operators, central office technicians, cable maintenance workers, and fiber optic specialists, mechanics, line clearance tree trimmers and heavy equipment operators. The skilled workers and the companies who employ them to make all these things work deserve our thanks and our support over the long haul. This is especially true because they stand ready to deploy in whatever weather to do whatever it takes to safely make things work so our lives are not disrupted for long durations. More than the inconvenience it might cause most of us when there are downed lines or slow internet, reliable energy and fast repairs are a matter of life and death as hospitals work to treat people for viral infections on top of serving patients sick from other ailments. Utility and construction companies all along Alaska’s Railbelt and statewide made plans to quickly step up the safety protocols in order to preserve the people power it takes to maintain or fix things in an emergency. Many of these jobs require a crew, and if people get sick from COVID-19, or any other virus, replacements need to be properly trained and nearby to get the job done quickly. Luckily, due to a robust apprenticeship program and workers that live in Alaska, we can make this happen. Not only that, we employ Alaskans who are here and know our communities, the terrain and the climate, and who understand our weather and do not need to be quarantined for 14 days due to traveling from outside of Alaska during this pandemic. This emergency has highlighted the value of usually commonplace things such as cleaning products, facemasks, video communication and ventilators. It also highlights the value of all kinds of jobs and the people who do them. We look forward to a day soon when the importance of a trained, Alaska-based workforce is fully appreciated and when going back to our regular job sites will be the new normal. Stay safe out there everyone. ^ Dave Reaves is the Business Manager for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1547, which represents more than 4,000 electrical, communications, construction, government and health care workers across the state of Alaska.

BROWN'S CLOSE Presents 2 Young 2 Restless: COVID-19 Drift

Today we view "2 Young 2 Restless: COVID-19 Drift," the sequel to “The Young and the Restless.” In case you missed Episode One, you can catch up here, and view updates to key plot points below: As described in our first installment, I am unable to consume any television shows with even a modicum more plot than a typical twenty-minute sitcom. The one exception to this rule is Tiger King. Tiger King has every possible plot mashed together into one show. So far, I count polygamy, cults, murder, animal rights, arson, blood feuds, a woman with a mysterious past, magic, illicit drug smuggling, and illicit animal smuggling. Granted there may be more; after all, I’m only on Episode Four. I stopped watching The Office towards the end of Season Five. It is at this point that layoffs become an all too real plot point. I was watching The Office for the express purpose that nothing bad happens, and no character’s actions have any material consequences. Layoffs, however, are bad and are real consequences. I started watching Parks and Recreation in place of The Office. I’ve never watched it before and am halfway through Season Two. The show is about local government. This guarantees there are no layoffs, and no consequences. And now, we continue with "2 Young 2 Restless: COVID-19 Drift" I’ve consumed more chips and salsa in the last three weeks than I have in the last five years combined. Sodium intake is reaching medically concerning levels. For about two hours, I contemplated doing my first ever juice cleanse. Before this pandemic, a juice cleanse never sounded remotely appealing. These days, however, a juice cleanse would just be another new activity.  I began researching any steps and needed materials to embark on a juice cleanse. It turns out, juice cleanses are either very expensive, very labor intensive, or both. I went back to eating chips and salsa.  I find myself fantasizing about the other forms of self-improvement I will be able to do post-quarantine. Waxing my legs suddenly seems like an excellent use of time. Much like a juice cleanse, waxing my legs has never held any pull before now. It always appeared time consuming, costly, and painful. Also, much like a juice cleanse, now it’s an activity. I’m grateful for my foresight in obtaining a quarantine haircut prior to the Municipality of Anchorage shutting down. Else, I would be mightily tempted to experiment with giving myself a haircut. My brother got a puppy. Now I want a puppy. This is new as I am allergic to dogs. I’ve added thirty minutes of daily internet puppy video viewing to my schedule.  When I am feeling otherwise bored, I take my temperature. Clearly, in my nearly four weeks of isolation I’ve formed many bad habits. I have, however, also made a few notable improvements. For the first time in my life, I am cooking every day. My weekly menu consists of a rotating schedule of scrambled eggs, tuna salad, oatmeal, fruit and cheese, and frozen salmon. Much like my sodium intake, my mercury, cholesterol, and omega fatty acid levels are unsurpassed. In addition to cooking, I’m now exercising. My usual fitness classes are broadcast via Zoom, and all have added daily sessions. I am now not only working out every day, I’m working out every day, twice a day. My Pure Barre classes with other Millennial women via Zoom are significantly more orderly than my beginners’ karate classes with children. None of the children know how to mute the microphones on their parents’ computers, so the classes are conducted amid loud shrieks of delight, making it difficult to hear the instructor. Periodically, a noisy family squabble breaks out in the background. During the last session, one girl tripped over her dog. The instructor more or less gave up on teaching us new material and instead had us kick at the wall for a few minutes. While we Alaskans share much anxiety about the future, we also share a stalwart commitment to an isolated misanthropic lifestyle. Stay safe fellow cabin people.  Sarah Brown is still a shut-in, but not a hoarder. If you must, she can be reached at [email protected], and on Twitter @mesarahjb. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

OPINION: Legislature has a bigger problem than Johnston

There is something rotten in Juneau. In the days since it was reported here that House Finance Co-Chair Jennifer Johnston of Anchorage justified the decision to deny an early Permanent Fund dividend based on the belief the money would cause trouble in the villages, one question stands over all: Just how widespread is her attitude in the Legislature and in particular among the leadership? The casual nature of Johnston’s claim about rural Alaskans is evidence of her comfort with expressing such a view as well an apparent lack of receiving negative feedback for saying it openly, at least until now. Minority Leader and fellow Anchorage Republican Lance Pruitt called in to the Mike Porcaro Show on April 7 to discuss that day’s vetoes announced by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, and he also weighed in on whether he’d heard Johnston or other members say the same thing. Pruitt said he “was not surprised” to see Johnston’s opinion. “Oh yeah, I heard it from that member multiple times,” Pruitt said. “I heard at one point in time, in a meeting, that someone said ‘this is more money than these people have ever seen in their lives.’ Pruitt said he refrained from going public with that knowledge before because he didn’t think he’d be taken seriously. “If it was just me saying it, people would say, ‘oh, he’s in the minority and just trying to cast aspersions,’” he said. “Now you’re hearing exactly what we were hearing.” Sen. Shelley Hughes of Palmer backed up Pruitt in an April 9 call to Porcaro and agreed with him that Johnston's belief the PFD does more harm than good in the villages is not an uncommon one. Without denying anything I reported she said after she called me on April 1, Johnston apologized on her official Facebook page for her comments. She wrote that the comments don’t reflect her “values and beliefs” and claimed she has a “deep love and respect for our Alaska Native community.” “This is a learning process,” she posted. “In the future I will be educating myself and will do a better job communicating my respect for all Alaskans.” Left without apologies from Johnston were the members of the congressional delegation that she threw under the bus to me by falsely claiming they shared her offensive views, or the state employees she stated don’t need an early PFD either. House Majority spokesperson Austin Baird ignored my request for comment on April 9 — as did Senate Majority spokesperson Daniel McDonald — although Baird did choose to respond to KTUU and the Anchorage Daily News with a tepid statement from Speaker Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham. “As the first House Speaker of Alaska Native heritage, someone who was born and raised in rural Alaska, I can assure you that Representative Johnston’s comments are not in line with our caucus values,” Edgmon said. “But she’s always been a strong supporter of issues important to rural Alaska and to our state’s first people. I don’t for a moment think her comments were meant to be harmful in the way they were portrayed to be. “She has since acknowledged the mistake and issued a public apology, and she has reached out to leaders in the Alaska Native community to express her great remorse." If you read that statement closely, you’ll find that Edgmon spent more words defending Johnston than he did defending the constituents she insulted or defending the positive impacts of the PFD in rural Alaska where the cost of living is astronomical. Other than mentioning his own heritage, Edgmon didn’t defend Alaska Natives at all. Maybe that’s because, as he said, he thinks the way her comments “were portrayed to be” was worse than what she actually said. Contrast that with fellow Democrat Rep. Chris Tuck of Anchorage, who offered no qualifications in his condemnation of Johnston’s comments posted to his official Facebook page. “I have to disassociate myself from the comments made in the following editorial,” Tuck wrote in his post above the Journal link. “These comments are disparaging to many of our fellow Alaskans and do not reflect the views of the House Majority. “We are all in this together, and I do not want this type of thinking to tear Alaskans apart. I am especially disappointed in the false characterization of how Permanent Fund Dividends are used by people in rural Alaska. “Like many of you, I have lived in rural Alaska and have family and friends in rural Alaska, which means we know first-hand how vital the real money represented by the PFD is to the survival of so many Alaskans. This real money would be especially helpful during these tough economic times when so many businesses are closed, and hardworking Alaskans are unemployed. “Many people, myself included, believe an early dividend would be very helpful.” There is less distance between Anchorage and Dillingham than there is between Tuck’s statement and Edgmon’s. Sen. Donny Olson of Golovin, who called me after I requested comment from the Senate Minority, expressed appreciation for Johnston’s support of other programs that benefit rural Alaska such as Power Cost Equalization but also noted that she was turning a “blind eye” toward the fact that a few people not spending their PFD wisely is a statewide problem, not one confined to villages. He, like Tuck, also said he supports an early dividend and, unlike Edgmon, noted the benefits it provides to his constituents for things like getting their boats and nets ready for fishing season. Lest anyone think this is a partisan issue for me, or that this is about the size of the dividend, I endorsed the 5 percent draw on the Permanent Fund and a $1,000 PFD back in June 2016. I’ve been consistent on that position since, unlike some politicians such as Senate President Cathy Giessel, who voted for the $1,000 dividend under Senate Bill 128 in 2016. She then ran for reelection demagoging former Gov. Bill Walker for his veto setting the PFD at the amount she had just voted for and supporting then-Sen. Dunleavy’s plan to pay it back. In fact, after Walker’s 2016 veto I did not blame him, but put the responsibility for the vetoes of the dividend and oil tax credits on members of both parties in both houses of the Legislature for failing to enact the draw and adjusting the PFD to reflect the reality of a $4 billion deficit. I’ve spent hundreds of column inches criticizing Sen. Bill Wielechowski over his stance on oil taxes, but I also endorsed his lawsuit challenging Walker’s veto as a public service to resolve the separation of powers question. Some may remember the column I wrote last summer blasting Dunleavy, former Chief of Staff Tuckerman Babcock and the House Minority for the chaos surrounding the state budget and the dividend. Babcock was replaced a week later by Ben Stevens. This is not about partisanship or the PFD. This is about public policy being set based on arrogance and the worst of racial stereotypes that appear to be commonly held by far too many members of the Legislature when reading the House Speaker’s qualified criticism of Johnston for sharing them. This is about tens of thousands of Alaskans being forced to struggle with the state unemployment system, the Small Business Administration website and the loan process for the Paycheck Protection Program while waiting on relief checks from the IRS. The Legislature had an opportunity to provide a measure of peace of mind to anxious Alaskans through an existing infrastructure that wouldn’t have required anyone to lift a finger beyond what nearly everyone had already done by the time the budget was passed on March 29, which was apply for the PFD. But it turns out that the leadership is more intent on denying anything that may be favored by the governor, more committed to telling Alaskans in the villages and elsewhere that they know best, and more determined to establish who is the boss than to do what is right. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: Finance co-chair doesn’t trust rural Alaska with early PFD

“Have you ever been to the villages at dividend time?” That was the question posed to me during a phone call from House Finance Co-Chair Jennifer Johnston of Anchorage on April 1, and it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke. That morning I published an opinion column chiding the Legislature for failing to utilize the Permanent Fund to help Alaskans during the worst economic crisis in the state’s history by first canceling the Senate-approved supplemental dividend and then refusing to move up the distribution of the traditional annual payment to provide immediate relief. Johnston asked me how long I’ve lived in Alaska (I learned 10 years is “not very long”), what I know about state finances and whether I was familiar with the federal CARES Act (I covered it in the column she was calling about). She then asked the question at the top of this piece. Without ever asking to be off the record, Johnston went on to state that part of the reasoning for not paying the dividend early was because it would be too much money in rural Alaska on top of the federal payment that was approved in the CARES Act. She further claimed the congressional delegation actually discouraged the Legislature from paying a spring dividend because they shared the same concerns. Representatives for Rep. Don Young, Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Dan Sullivan all denied such a message was conveyed to the Legislature either by them or members of their staffs. “We unequivocally deny that anyone in our office — including Senator Sullivan — made such a comment to anyone,” wrote his communications director Mike Anderson. “Furthermore, no one in our office, including Senator Sullivan, holds such offensive views.” (I relayed the denials from the delegation to Johnston in a text message. She never responded.) In Johnston’s view, “social services would be overwhelmed” in the villages and elsewhere if Alaskans were to receive their 2020 dividend now instead of in October. You read that right. A key member of the legislative leadership and the conference committee that crafted the state budget did not favor even paying the PFD early because certain people may not spend it wisely. Johnston’s odious reasoning is bad enough, but it is also a shame that the legislative leadership doesn’t apply the same standard to government spending as it does to the PFD. Imagine if government spending was evaluated on whether it is efficient, effective or necessary. Now that you’re done laughing (or crying), the leadership decided against providing help now so they could have more money available later to not let Alaskans decide how to spend. Johnston’s fellow Anchorage Republican and House Rules Chair Chuck Kopp wrote an op-ed claiming the leadership was being “smart and strategic,” which are evidently not qualities that Alaskans possess for themselves to choose how they would use an early distribution of the dividend to cushion the sudden blows of lost jobs, income and peace of mind. A recent report by SmartAsset found Alaska ranks fifth-highest in terms of the most vulnerable jobs in the current economic crisis with 23 percent. That is almost 71,000 jobs and untold family members. One sector not considered vulnerable in that report are government jobs, and Johnston doesn’t think state employees and their families need a dividend right now either, both in her comments to me and repeated on April 3 during a meeting of Commonwealth North. Apparently Johnston believes they are being held harmless by this because nobody is being laid off. The possibility of spouses losing jobs or new expenses such as childcare with schools closed must not have entered her mind. What Johnston sounds like is she doesn’t know anybody who has been hurt by this, she doesn’t have enough understanding or empathy for the working class to believe additional financial security would provide any benefit, and she doesn’t trust Alaska Natives in particular with an extra $1,000. “Alaskans are very quick to have their hands out,” she said in closing to Commonwealth North. I suppose we should be thankful bakeries are still open for to-go orders so that we may get some cake. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected] Editor's note: Because of technical difficulties moderating individual comments, the Facebook comment feature has been turned off. Thank you for reading.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Alaska’s restaurant and hospitality industry needs help from the governor now

At its quarterly meeting on March 31 and April 1, and as reported by the Anchorage Daily News, the Alaska Alcoholic Beverage Control Board was faced with the decision to ease alcohol sale rules during the coronavirus pandemic crisis and to temporarily allow to-go alcohol sales. In a recent poll taken on March 23, Alaska President and CEO of CHARR Sarah Oates (Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association) told the ABC board that 7 percent of Alaska’s restaurants had permanently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic and never to re-open. By March 30, that number had doubled to 14 percent. Fourteen percent of Alaska’s restaurants had permanently closed their doors due to the economic devastation. Oates suggested that number could double again in a week if we fail to take immediate remedial action. Industry attorney Jessica Brown also expressed concern that if no immediate relief came for the industry, hundreds to thousands of jobs could be lost. On April 1, the ABC board considered postponing our decision by a week to allow more time to think it over, but ultimately decided to immediately respond and unanimously approved to-go sales of factory-sealed beer and wine from any bar or restaurant currently licensed to sell such products on premises, with or without food. The board also unanimously voted to allow curbside pickup of products from liquor stores and other manufacturers, such as breweries. The ABC board recognized the magnitude of the economic loss the hospitality/restaurant industry faces and voted to send an advisory opinion to the governor requesting he allow such to-go sales in the state of Alaska during the coronavirus pandemic. The governor has the authority to approve or deny our emergency request, but to date, no word has been heard from the governor or from his administration. Allowing to-go orders during this pandemic crisis makes sense if we are to be consistent in our “hunker-down” message. This temporary allowance would be a way to support local businesses and hopefully keep them from collapsing, while taking further steps to encourage people to stay home and avoid crowding in stores. We’ve all heard in the news we may be facing the worst economic collapse since the Great Recession in 2007. If we don’t immediately act to try and help the restaurants and others in the alcohol industry, what restaurants might be left for us to enjoy once we come out of quarantine? Someone once said, “Silence screams a message, just as doing nothing is an act. What we do is who we are.” I wonder, what message is the governor sending? I fully appreciate that alcohol needs to be appropriately regulated and, even during a national emergency, all important standards must be maintained. Consequently, the governor was given very specific legal information to help make this decision in confidence. The governor has at his fingertips the legal language necessary to enable the industry to conduct these activities — language that was drafted by his own team of assistant attorneys general in partnership with industry experts. With the possibility that this might save even a few small businesses from going under completely, and the likelihood that it will help prevent the spread of the virus, the governor should take this final small step and concur with the ABC board’s advisory votes. The fact is, 44 other states in the United States have temporarily eased alcohol restrictions to help salvage the industry during this crisis. Alaska is one of only 6 states that remain silent and perhaps even complicit in the downfall of our second largest industry – hospitality. It’s hard to know what kind of positive economic impact this will have on the industry, but perhaps it will help just enough to keep several more businesses afloat during this time. Any hope and assistance we can give to these small businesses during this crisis is not only welcomed but morally warranted. Action is needed now. As a small business owner who was born and raised in this amazing state, I have always believed in fighting for what’s best for Alaskans and Alaskan businesses. I’m here serving as the appointed public member on the ABC board doing my best to support this important industry and the public’s best interest. I am honored to serve as your representative. Sara Erickson is a member of the Alcohol Control Board. The opinions expressed here are solely her own and do not express the views of the board.

OPINION: Legislature misses chance for immediate help to Alaskans

Faced with the biggest threat to Alaska’s economy in state history, the Legislature failed to meet the moment with a move that would have offered the most immediate relief. The operating budget approved after midnight on March 29 stripped out a supplemental $1,000 dividend payment originally added in the Senate and did not move up the traditional date for distributing the PFD from October while setting the amount at $1,000 per Alaskan. Rather than paying Alaskans a distribution from the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve to help them pay their bills, the Legislature’s solution was to make it illegal to collect bills for three months. Such a scofflaw strategy isn’t surprising after five years of the Legislature avoiding tough decisions by simply not paying bills whether it has been the statutory PFD formula, oil tax credits or its own lease on the office building it commissioned. Instead of taking advantage of Alaska’s unique financial position to help itself, the Legislature is doing another thing it does well: relying on the federal government to foot the bill. Congress passed the CARES Act with a $1,200 per person and $500 per dependent appropriation for certain income levels, and added $600 per week to those now forced into unemployment. That is apparently good enough for the legislative leadership that negotiated the conference committee budget. Paying a supplemental relief check or an early PFD would have required exceeding the 5.25 percent of market value draw from the Permanent Fund, which is the only law the leadership treats as binding. Adhering to the formula is backed by the Permanent Fund Board of Trustees, but much like the laws it passes, the Legislature also picks and chooses what advice to follow from the board. On March 5, the board passed a resolution calling on the Legislature to take one of two actions: either combine the principal and the Earnings Reserve account into one with a fixed 5 percent annual draw, or failing that to maintain a balance in the ERA of at least four times the annual draw that would be roughly $12 billion. Given the rapidly unfolding circumstances of the coronavirus spread, there was no chance of attempting a lift that would be difficult in the best of times such as combining the Permanent Fund accounts. However, the Legislature gave no thought to reversing the $4 billion transfer from the ERA to the principal approved last year, and even went a step further by appropriating another $1 billion to the corpus under the nebulous purpose of “inflation proofing.” If Gov. Mike Dunleavy doesn’t veto that $1 billion transfer — and he should — the total budgetary and supplemental transfers out of the ERA would likely lower its balance to less than $7 billion, or just about half of what the Board of Trustees recommended. After attempting to move $9 billion from the ERA to the corpus last year (Dunleavy vetoed $5 billion of that), the need to move another $1 billion for “inflation proofing” doesn’t hold a colander’s worth of water. What it looks like is the legislative leadership is tired of hearing from constituents and the governor that “the money is there” in the ERA to pay Alaskans a statutory dividend or even a supplemental “true-up” to the 2019 check. By refusing to follow the Permanent Fund board’s advice to keep a 4-times buffer in the ERA, and in fact taking affirmative action to reject it with the latest $1 billion transfer, what it looks like is the leadership is attempting to starve the PFD out of the budget. Moving $5 billion to the untouchable corpus of the Fund at a time when Alaska is staring down economic ruin is actually far more irresponsible than paying a supplemental dividend. Our two sources of revenue — oil and investments — are being hammered in tandem. New projects that promise thousands of jobs, hundreds of thousands of barrels per day and billions in revenue are on hold. Our biggest private sector employer — fishing — is likewise in limbo with nearly three-quarters of its harvest typically bound for restaurants that are now shuttered across the globe. Our one bright spot in the recession — tourism — is on the brink of having no cruise season based on federal distancing guidelines, Canadian restrictions and one headline after another about outbreaks on ships that will surely discourage travelers even if sailings begin. Those four industries alone account for more than $10 billion in state revenue and economic activity, to say nothing of the destruction of the state’s hospitality sector that is also ongoing through mandated government closures. In their effort to save the Permanent Fund from themselves by slashing the ERA balance, this Legislature is taking financial options off the table that other states would love to have, and ones we may yet need. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: University of Alaska wants your input on academic reviews

As we face the rise of the COVID-19 health crisis in our state and our nation, the leadership team at the University of Alaska is addressing the pandemic with strength and care for our staff, faculty and students. In response to the crisis, when students returned to classes this week, our university looked much different than it did just three weeks ago. Our university communities, like those throughout our state, now must study, work, and live differently. These new conditions bring new responsibilities for all of us, and a new way to serve our friends, neighbors and colleagues. Our new reality also includes the mandate to reduce our operating costs by $45 million as of July 1, 2021. When the Board of Regents signed a compact with Gov. Mike Dunleavy last August, we averted a catastrophic $135 million budget cut this fiscal year. The compact has given us three years to reduce our operational expenses by $70 million: $25 million this year, $25 million by July 1, 2020 and another $20 million by July 1, 2021. We achieved $25 million in reductions this year, but still have the remaining $45 million in cuts to achieve. Months ago, the Board of Regents established a process to make the remaining reductions, and tasked the university chancellors to review and further reduce academic programs and administrative costs. Due to our notice and “teach out” requirements, those decisions need to be made by the Board of Regents in early June 2020. The added costs and reduced revenues caused by the rapidly spreading COVID-19 make these decisions even more critical and urgent. The recommendations from each university provided this week have been very difficult to make, but they were made in the spirit of transparency and with input from staff, students, faculty and community members at each campus either by attending a forum, writing an email or letter, or expressing your views personally. As we evaluate the choices over the next several months our commitment to you is to continue to be transparent, inclusive, and to work together to best position the university to serve the needs of our students and the state. Now the second phase of the review process begins. The chancellors’ recommendations will be reviewed by the president before being sent to the university’s Academic Council. From there, a committee of the Board of Regents will review the recommendations and draw up a list of final reductions to present to the full Board of Regents in June. At every decision point, we know there are students, faculty, donors, community members and employees who have an interest in the outcome. As we go through this review process considering cost, demand, and other data, as well as qualitative factors, we will do so with compassion. We also recognize that as we make decisions about what programs to reduce or discontinue, we must preserve what is core to our mission so we can adapt to this fast changing demographic, technological, economic, and epidemilogical world. Between now and the board’s decision in June, there will be many opportunities to provide input and testimony. Virtual town halls will be held and all the relevant program and budget information will be posted at https://alaska.edu/research/review/index.php. Additionally, each university has a website with university-specific information. We urge you to check the websites often and add to your calendar the dates for virtual town halls, committee meetings, and public testimony opportunities. We are all living in difficult and stressful times, with multiple forces pressing on us all. Rest assured, the University of Alaska — UAA, UAF, and UAS — is strong. We will weather these unprecedented times, using all tools available to do what’s right for our university, for the students we educate and the communities and state we serve. ^ Jim Johnsen is the President of the University of Alaska; Rick Caulfield Is the Chancellor of University of Alaska Southeast; Cathy Sandeen is the Chancellor of UA Anchorage; Dan White is the Chancellor of UA Fairbanks.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Help Alaska by supporting your local businesses

Alaska was just pulling out of a recession; the future was looking bright and then the invisible enemy attacked: COVID-19. Watching many businesses close and leave the state in the past few years was difficult, let’s do what we can to keep those that stayed viable for the future. Our businesses have a hard time in a normal winter, and this current situation goes beyond anything we have experienced in recent history. Alaska has amazing communities — some of the finest in the country — and we have wonderful local businesses. Now is the time for us to come together and support those local businesses, and the vitality and diversity they bring to our lives. I believe in the people of this state, I believe in Alaska’s future. My grandmother came to this state as a missionary nurse in 1920, lived in Nenana during the Diphtheria epidemic in 1925, and went on to raise her family there. It’s hard to imagine the challenges everyone endured. We had strong communities then and we have strong communities today. We are fortunate that we now have more tools and information at our disposal that enable us to provide economic support within the guidelines of the health mandates. It is critical that we abide by those mandates to ensure the safety of our residents and our frontline workers. Implementing necessary closures of businesses throughout the state during this COVID-19 emergency, although necessary, has been difficult on everyone. None more than on the people who have put their hearts and souls into their ventures or the employees that make the magic. These are our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and people we see at our stores and churches. They are our community. The actions we take now can have a significant positive impact in helping sustain these enterprises over the next few weeks. Let’s instill hope and confidence in our community. Utilize the take-out or delivery options at your local restaurants, breweries, and distilleries, or put a deposit down with your favorite hair dresser to get in the front of the line when they re-open for business. For those local businesses with an online presence, purchase birthday and Christmas presents, whale watching tours, or memberships to the Botanical Gardens or the museum. Support your local food bank and provide meals for those in need. If you can afford it, please don’t cancel memberships to gyms and other businesses right now; and consider donating to a local business that could use the money to stay open and keep their workers employed. Remember those small businesses that supported local fundraisers? Now it’s our turn to do the same for them. There are innumerable ways we can help keep our economy, our friends, and our neighborhoods sustainable. We are a creative bunch here in Alaska, let’s use that creativity to support our economy! To our local businesses, we appreciate you! Our team at the State Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development is here to support you. Please take a moment to look over the newly launched Alaska COVID-19 Economic Recovery Resource Portal for Business page on our website. I encourage all business owners to check this page periodically, as it will be updated as new tools become available at the State and Federal Levels. During these uncertain times, it’s crucial that we all support each other however we can. Be a good neighbor, share your resources, and assist your local businesses where you can. Julie Anderson is the Commissioner for the State of Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Back PFD payments are the stimulus Alaskans need now

As Alaskans face the current COVID-19 outbreak, we face a lot of uncertainty about how severe the disease’s spread will be. We hope that the disease’s spread can be slowed, and Alaska’s public health community is doing yeoman’s work to slow it. But we already know that with this health crisis comes a severe economic crisis. We already face business closures, layoffs, and wage losses. And we aren’t out of the woods yet; far from it. Alaskans will get through this as we always do: with tenacity, hard work, and caring for one another. But part of that means that we in state government need to do everything we can to help Alaskans ride out this economic crunch as best we can. Economists disagree about many things, but nearly all of them agree: in times of economic crisis, the monetary authorities need to inject liquidity – cash – into the economy. The federal government knows this well, and regularly takes steps to increase the money supply in times of economic crisis, usually by slashing interest rates. But there’s a limit to how low interest rates can go, and we’re almost there already. Fortunately, there’s another solution: direct cash payments to Americans. Sounds like something Alaskans know well, doesn’t it? In Alaska, we know that our Permanent Fund dividends always provide a boost to our economy. We see it every year. The federal government knows it too, which is why President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell each have proposals to pay cash directly to Americans. Paying cash to every American is a big job, and it will take some time for the federal government to get set up to do that. But here in Alaska, we are already prepared – we do it every year. We already have the applicants, their eligibility has already been verified – because we paid them just a few months ago. The Permanent Fund dividend is part of being Alaskan, but it is so much more than that. It has been found to significantly reduce obesity in Alaskan children. But most importantly, it has been found to lift between 15,000 and 25,000 Alaskans – especially children, rural residents, and Alaska Natives – out of poverty every year. There really is no way to seriously address our looming economic crisis without giving this serious consideration. Many Alaskans are already finding themselves without income. The dividend is income. It’s the most direct solution, providing direct relief to the specific problem Alaskans are facing. There are numerous examples of how Alaskans might use their dividend as relief from the hardships of this outbreak. A family in Chevak might use it to pay for fuel costs in rural Alaska; elderly Alaskan who can pay $500 per month for incontinence products not covered by Medicare could use it to pay for three months of adult diapers; a laid-off single mother could use it to put food on the table. If this payment means that a family can pay their rent one month more, that by itself can keep them from losing their housing, having to go on expensive state services, and having their lives permanently and negatively disrupted. The Legislature should immediately vote to pay the remaining dividend of $1,300 from our reserve account. This account currently has about $16 billion dollars. A withdrawal of $750 million from this account would cover the back dividend from 2019 and would fulfill a promise made to Alaskans in law. Another dividend should be paid to Alaskans in October. This can’t wait. Restaurants, bars, schools, and many, many other gathering places and businesses have already been closed all over the state. They will remain closed for the duration of this COVID-19 outbreak, and we don’t know how long that will be. The Great Alaska COVID-19 Recession is already here, and we need to act now to help Alaskans get through it as best we can. Alaskan wage earners are already finding themselves without hours to work and staring down bills they don’t know how to pay. It’s not a distant future, or even an imminent one; it’s here now. We can help Alaskans now, and we should. Sen. Mia Costello is a lifelong Alaskan who represents West Anchorage in the Alaska Senate.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Short- and long-term fixes for ferry system in the works

While I know the novel coronavirus has rightly captured our attention, I think it’s important that we don’t forget the Marine Highway. In recent months, I’ve read disappointing reports of communities throughout the Inside Passage being unable to obtain food and vital supplies. Having represented Hoonah, Angoon, and Kake in the legislature for many years, I found it surprising that these self-reliant communities were supposedly struggling so severely. But after calling a few local friends, I learned the situation was far different than what some were representing. The people were not starving. Chartered barges have continued to deliver goods and supplies to Hoonah and Angoon; landing craft were quick to restore depleted grocery shelves. One friend told me they are gatherers and have been ready since November. After the weather cleared, I visited these communities myself and was relieved to find they were doing fine given the circumstances. That said, the outpouring of support from Petersburg and elsewhere was greatly appreciated. The willingness to help each other shows how much things have changed during my 72 years in the Southeast. Of course, most places in Alaska and the country are now facing supply issues because of the coronavirus, but these temporary stocking issues are unrelated to the ferry system. None of this is to understate the importance of fixing the Alaska Marine Highway System. Earlier this year I spent nine weeks cooped up in Juneau as ferry cancellations and weather-related flight delays prevented me from going home to Haines. And while I know our communities are home to many generations of skilled gatherers of both land and sea, I realize that ferry service is integral to modern life. Thankfully, service is already being restored. The brand-new Tazlina is providing service to Angoon, Hoonah, and upper Panhandle communities like Haines and Skagway with other ferries soon to follow. Emergency funding has been requested by the governor, and a work group is developing a detailed, long-term plan. But it’s important to keep in mind that the Marine Highway’s problems built up over decades. Way back in 1963, I sailed with my future wife, Joyce Marie, aboard the very first ferry into Alaska (we were flown down for the inaugural voyage alongside Governor Egan and the Chilkat Dancers from Haines). That vessel, the Malaspina, remained in service until just a few months ago. The mechanical deterioration that placed it out of commission happened over many years. Likewise, the LeConte and Aurora, built in 1974 and 1977, respectively, suffer from years of rust damage. Long-term planning has been equally problematic. Beginning in the 1970s, we stopped building boats for 21 years. When we did construct several aluminum ferries in the early 2000s, they were a bad fit for Alaskan waters. Clearly, we need to take a step back and develop a sustainable, thoughtful course for our ferry system. Other troubles, like the breakdown of the Matanuska’s brand-new reduction gear and the bulkhead failure and electrical issues aboard the Tazlina, can only be chalked up to misfortune. As a commercial fisherman of some 50 years, I’ve seen firsthand how unexpected setbacks often occur at the worst of times. Fortunately, most folks I spoke with during my recent trip were boat people and understood these unpredictabilities. Even this virus is working against us as worried shoppers clean out store shelves. But much like hoarding toilet paper is unlikely to slow the pandemic, spreading exaggerated information about impacted communities isn’t going to cure the marine highway. Everyone is hard at work on short-term fixes, and long-term solutions are on the way. We need to work together instead of blaming each other for a problem that’s nearly as old as our state. My good friend Clay Koplin of Cordova said it best: I want to be part of the solution, not the problem. Bill Thomas of Haines represented Southeast Alaska in the Alaska House from 2004 to 2012.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Alaskans will rise to meet latest challenge

Where were you when the pandemic came to Alaska? Future generations will demand an answer from each of us. Did we change our habits to protect the vulnerable? Did we make sure our elderly neighbors had everything they needed? Long after the virus disappears from the public consciousness, these are the questions we’ll be left to grapple with. For so many, we look to government to provide services during a crisis. We forget, as Franklin Roosevelt once said, that “government is ourselves.” It’s understandable. Few have experienced an event of this magnitude. But we are not alone. Generations of Americans stood where we stand today, facing problems of enormous weight – wondering who they were as a people. Invariably, they rose to meet the great challenges of their day. They gave of themselves, sacrificing much to sustain this great American experiment. Alaskans will choose a similar path; I have little doubt. Time and again, be it the Anchorage earthquake, last year’s fire season, or our highest-in-the-nation percentage of veterans, Alaskans consistently reaffirm their commitment to service. You may say, “But I have nothing to contribute.” I would urge you to reconsider. All over the world, people are finding ways to aid their communities by donating their time, skill, and even blood. Perhaps, you hung up your stethoscope years ago to enjoy retirement or pursue a new career. You wonder if your services could be useful. The answer is yes. Maybe you own a manufacturing company that can produce medical equipment, or a rental car company that could offer vehicles to transport volunteers. Others may have the means to contribute to a local food bank or buy supplies for an emergency shelter. All across our state, Alaskans are saying, “I can do that,” and stepping up. At Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, soldiers and airmen are packing meals for needy families; in Anchorage, volunteers are sending out 30-day food supplies to seniors while healthcare workers perform drive-up tests in the cold and snow. Behind the frontlines, our state workers are busy processing business bridge loans, reviewing unemployment insurance cases, and ensuring that your government provides the best possible response to this crisis. Even grocery clerks and delivery drivers are providing a critical service, keeping Alaskans fed and healthy. But the question remains: How will you answer the call? When our children ask, “Where were you?” will we be able to tell them that we served in an army of Alaskans who did everything in their power to look out for one another? If the past is any indicator, I’m confident the answer will be yes. For those that choose to heed the call of service, I offer you the thanks of a grateful state as we face this historic challenge together.

BROWN'S CLOSE: The Young and the Restless

Like many of my fellow residents of the Municipality of Anchorage, I am currently living under a state of quarantine, social distancing, and general loneliness. It’s been difficult, mostly resulting in me chewing on my leg out of sheer boredom. All, however, is not lost. Thus far, I have accomplished the following tasks: I’ve made it to Season 5 of The Office. Any show with even a mite more plot is proving too overwhelming in this chaotic time. I’ve compared quarantine snack choices with anyone who will entertain the question. We’ve concluded peanut M&M’s and popcorn are the most popular snacks. Curiously, one survey participant said oatmeal was his favorite snack; he was mildly crushed to hear that Quaker Oats is selling for $30 per unit online. I’ve disinfected my television remote three times. I obtained a quarantine haircut. Prior to complete isolation, I had my hairdresser cut my hair into a nineties style bob. I’m good on haircuts for the next four months. My brother’s hair, on the other hand, is now long enough to be tied back with a rubber band. I’ve purchased canned vegetables and baked beans for the first time in my adult life. When this is over, canned food drives will be more bountiful than in any prior decade. Aside from my little triumphs, my community and its residents are fighting back, overflowing with self-improvement. For example, everyone I know has turned into a public health expert. I am pleased how much my Facebook friends have improved their scientific knowledge, seemingly overnight. No one, however, beats out newly minted epidemiologists, and my beloved parents, Fred and Ann Brown, for coronavirus pandemic preparedness. Fred and Ann Brown are currently quarantining their mail. It is encouraging to see how seriously businesses are taking this crisis. Businesses of all sizes have a coronavirus task force, regardless of the applicability of said task force to any particular business’ industry. Thus far, I have received coronavirus protocols from the credit union where I opened my first bank account at age eight, Groupon, Ollin Tea & Café, Nordstrom, and the Whistler Film Festival (which is not currently scheduled to take place before December). While I find it comforting that Spirit of Alaska Federal Credit Union has a coronavirus task force, I’m really much more curious what United Healthcare intends to do about all of this. Small business owners are finding ingenious ways to keep their customer base intact. For example, prior to the Mayor’s order closing all bars, restaurants, and sites of recreation, my gym sent out sweet, optimistic, daily emails describing how the floor was antimicrobial, how management was capping class sizes, how staff were increasing cleaning regimens, and how instructors would no longer touch the students. Pure Barre on 36th and Old Seward was determined to remain a sanctuary for the women who faithfully frequented it. Post mayoral mandate, this happy little community disbanded for all of three days. Not to be gainsaid, they surged back, offering online streaming classes. Come what may, they will lift, tone, and burn. My daily online workouts require some adjustments as I do not have a complete supply of gym equipment at my house. For example, my hand weights for these online classes consist of two giant jars of baby dill pickles from Costco. Magically, the weights are getting lighter as time goes on. I must be getting very strong indeed. I attempted to get Fred and Ann Brown to take these online classes with me. I did one class with each parent. Afterwards, they opted for the workout regimen prescribed by The Wall Street Journal for “The Aging Athletes.” Exercises consist of pushups against countertops and rising up and down on your tippy toes. The highlight of my day is usually an hour-long walk around my neighborhood. Since schools closed and most businesses sent employees home, the streets of my neighborhood are more crowded these days than they used to be on a typical weekday afternoon. My neighbors, to their credit, are very respectful of my space; they regularly run to the other side of the street whenever they see me approaching. Apart from my neighbors, however, everyone else I know has gotten abundantly chatty. Before the pandemic, the only person who would call me on FaceTime was my brother. Now, FaceTime requests have increased 5,000 percent and I am very rarely camera ready. Anchorage’s Mayor is pleading with citizens to cease hoarding behavior. Until this time when the mania ends, may there be a paper towel in every kitchen, and a roll of toilet paper in every bathroom. Sarah Brown is a shut-in. She can be reached any time, day or night, at [email protected], and on Twitter @mesarahjb. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Alaska’s hospitals and nursing homes are prepared

For good reason, information about COVID-19 is constantly evolving and dominating our daily lives. With all this information and noise, Alaskans can be assured that Alaska’s hospitals and nursing homes are here, and we are as prepared as possible to meet the challenge before us. Many people ask, what can we do? As a hospital leader recently told me, “it is the simple things that will get us through this.” Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, practice social distancing, and do not go to a hospital emergency room unless it is a true emergency. While it may seem overly simple, these steps are critical to slowing the COVID-19 spread. If we can slow the spread, then we can protect our health care capacity from being overwhelmed. Alaskans are now washing their hands and covering coughs more than ever. So, what are Alaska’s hospitals and nursing homes doing to meet this challenge? First and foremost, emergency preparedness is nothing new in Alaska, especially in our hospitals and nursing homes. Our facilities have emergency operations plans in place, and drill year-round for a wide range of crisis situations. We routinely treat patients with infectious diseases, and our staff — from nurses and doctors to custodial workers — are well educated on precautions to ensure safety. Alaska’s hospitals and nursing homes have assessed and prioritized operations so that we can adapt in real-time to the COVID-19 event. This includes activating precautions for screening at entrances, safely triaging patients in our emergency rooms, and carefully monitoring contact, especially for our more vulnerable populations in nursing home communities. We are also constantly communicating. Through the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association, Alaska’s hospitals and nursing homes have a direct communication link to the State’s emergency operations center and key public health officials. We are effectively assessing system-wide needs, sharing information, and responding to real-time situations on a daily basis. Finally, we are learning from our neighbors. Some of Alaska’s hospitals and nursing homes have sister facilities in areas that have been hit hard by COVID-19, such as Washington state. The Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association is connected to associations in every other state and at the federal level. These connections put Alaska in a good position to learn lessons every day and adapt our operations accordingly. I have been privileged to work in Alaska’s health care system for more than seven years, both inside a hospital, and within state government. There is no doubt the COVID-19 challenge can feel scary, but I sleep easier at night knowing that Alaska’s hospitals and nursing homes are here, and will continue to be here in Alaskans’ time of need. Let’s work together and stay safe, Alaska. Jared Kosin, JD, MBA, is the President and CEO of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association. ASHNHA represents more than 65 hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare organizations who employ over 10,000 Alaskans.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Alaska’s oil spill response rules are working

After 30 years without a significant oil spill in Alaska’s waters, it’s tempting to think that we can relax our vigilance. But we cannot. At no time since the Exxon Valdez have there been so many pressures on oil spill prevention and response. In October, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, or DEC, announced its intention to streamline oil spill contingency plan regulations and statutes to alleviate a perceived burden to industry and show Alaska is open for business. We hope that means all business — from subsistence and food security to commercial fisheries and tourism — clean waters and coasts are vital to the state, and DEC should not dilute protections. This announcement understandably caught the attention of Alaska’s regional citizens’ advisory councils and the many Alaskans, like myself, who experienced the devastating effects of the 1989 spill. In the early ‘90s we worked together with the oil industry and DEC to develop Alaska’s oil spill response planning standards and regulations. They are why Alaska is considered a national and world leader in oil spill prevention and response today. We support Alaska’s current standards and contingency plans regulations and statutes. So I appreciated Tim Bradner’s Jan. 10 endorsement in the Anchorage Daily News of strong regulatory oversight as the social license for economic development in Alaska. Unfortunately, the governor is not giving some resource agencies the backing they need. DEC’s proposed budget eliminates two training staff and five other staff in the Spill Prevention and Response Division. Cutting staff raises doubts about the department’s ability to provide the regulatory oversight necessary to prevent spills while being prepared to mount an effective response, let alone its ability to conduct a wholesale review of Alaska’s oil spill planning and response standards. To his credit, the DEC Commissioner assured the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council at our December board of directors meeting that he had no intention whatsoever of weakening Alaska’s oil spill prevention laws. We intend to hold him to that promise. But the neither the governor nor commissioner rescinded the public scoping process as we requested. And the commissioner is still of the opinion that regulations amount to red tape, cost too much, and stymy growth. As he stated recently at the Alaska Chamber’s legislative fly-in in Juneau, “Our goal is not to reduce environmental protections or eliminate anything that protects human health and the environment. It’s to get rid of that additional cost and that regulatory red tape.” These simply aren’t good enough reasons to risk tearing apart our protective oil spill prevention and response system. CIRCAC supports regulatory changes that would improve Alaska’s spill response capability. We would welcome more incentives to use proven technology, such as the newer skimming systems that are now available. We also support funding for DEC to accomplish the necessary training in Contingency Plan Review and to effectively respond to oil spills. But we will vigorously oppose any proposed changes that will weaken existing, protective laws. DEC is accepting comments on its public scoping of Alaska’s oil spill prevention regulations and statutes until March 16. If DEC chooses to revise the spill prevention and response rules, it should ensure that any proposed changes not weaken protections that safeguard the marine environment. We can tell DEC to preserve, strengthen, and improve Alaska’s oil spill planning standards and contingency plans and focus on prevention. Remember the words of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990: “…complacency on the part of the industry and government personnel responsible for monitoring the operation of the Valdez terminal and vessel traffic in Prince William Sound was one of the contributing factors to the Exxon Valdez oil spill.” We cannot afford a return to the complacency that triggered the worst oil spill in Alaska’s history. Tell the state and federal powers that be that any attempts to weaken or dismantle Alaska’s oil spill prevention and response system are unacceptable. ^ John Williams is a long-time resident and former mayor of Kenai, one of the official “Oiled Mayors” during the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and current president of the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council board of directors.

GUEST COMMENTARY: NEPA ripe for revisions after 50 years

When I was entering high school in the early 1970s, sit-ins for the environment and a new thing called Earth Day were all the rage. I wore a green-and-white striped eco-flag patch on my Army-surplus jacket. We identified with a nonpartisan global youth movement that was behind efforts to fight air and water pollution. When Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, I believed America was doing the right thing to mandate an environmental impact statement for major projects that required federal approval. Fifty years hence, I still believe in the spirit and goals of the environmental movement. Environmental stewardship is an ongoing mission for everyone. To that end, I also support the EIS process: It requires a conversation between project developers and the public. It ensures that projects meet agencies’ objective permit standards (e.g. limiting the parts per billion of pollutants coming out of a smokestack or a water pipe). It promotes science, as it makes sure agencies consider less tangible, values-based norms we share like respecting wilderness, open space, good hunting and fishing, diverse and abundant wildlife populations, and limiting noise, traffic and other development impacts At the same time, the EIS process has produced bad, unintended consequences. It has added uncertainty to and prolonged the permitting process for too many projects. It routinely forces the expenditure of a lot of money on design and engineering work in advance of permitting decisions that don’t need so much specific information. It has invited a continuous stream of lawsuits over the adequacy of assessment and generated lengthy documents few people read. In short, the process itself, rather than specific opposition or a project’s failure to meet objective standards, has come to delay, add great expense to or even to block projects our nation needs. We should update and reform this system. A recent set of executive orders by the Trump administration has set the stage for the first comprehensive update to the EIS process since 1978. These reforms would limit the time and expense project developers, government officials, and the public all face in the EIS process. For the past three years, the Council on Environmental Quality, which oversees this process, has earnestly crafted these measures. As CEQ Director Mary Newmayr notes: “The process for completing environmental impact statements for highway projects now exceeds seven years and statements currently average over 600 pages, and in some instances are thousands of pages long. In many cases, it can take a decade or more before permits are issued and construction can begin.” Some critics instantly dismissed the new EIS rules as quick Trump administration policy to fire up bulldozers and advance economic growth at the expense of the environment. But a closer look shows the new rules would still consider the environmental costs as well as the economic benefits of projects, namely economic growth and jobs. Citizens who believe impacts are overlooked can still head to the courts. But some burdens will be lifted. If regulatory procedures create costs and obstacles to development without a discernible protection for people or the environment, how are we served? Environmental rules should protect the environment, rather than waste time, paper and money. America’s environmental laws have set standards around the world. But when policies become costly and convoluted, they drive development of natural resources and infrastructure to other nations with lesser standards, then we need to change them. Early in my career, I helped lead Alaska’s state environmental agency. We were a cooperating agency in several EIS processes, including some controversial mines. Some of those mines are operating today, and some never made it through the gauntlet. EIS completion was required before almost any key permit was issued. It was then that I found the EIS process, as it had evolved, was often a barrier to problem solving, a process with no discernable schedule, and an impediment to investment. In one case, we found that if we gave credence to a new idea with less potential environmental impact, it became an “alternative” in the EIS process. If it became an alternative, it had to be studied. If it had to be studied, it would set back the project in time and expense to the point that the whole EIS process might begin again. I have seen a similar dismissal of alternative consideration in other, more recent projects pending in Alaska. This has caused me to realize that while NEPA’s goals continue to have merit, an accumulation of lawsuits, new mandates, and case law has created a process of, by, and for itself rather than for the environment. For that reason, I welcome CEQ’s start on modernization of the process. CEQ’s proposed revisions to NEPA are open for comment to March 10. There is a chance to greatly streamline this cumbersome process. Inevitable court cases will follow, and hopefully the courts will approve this EIS modernization approach that has been long in coming. Mead Treadwell served as Alaska’s lieutenant governor from 2010 to 2014.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Time to get natural gas to Alaskans

The Alaska Gasline Development Corp. has been the primary state entity tasked with unlocking North Slope gas for Alaskans’ benefit. AGDC has worked for years to obtain a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission order allowing construction of an LNG facility and large-scale gasline project through Alaska. To AGDC’s credit, it just received a final environmental impact statement, or FEIS, from FERC for that project. After obtaining comment on the FEIS, the FERC will likely issue an order to AGDC allowing construction of an Alaska gasline and LNG facility. AGDC has proved itself a fairly nimble, adaptive state government corporation. In the last year, AGDC has dramatically reduced its spending and rightly focused AGDC’s work on getting the FERC order. Now, however, AGDC management must strategically pivot to fulfilling its broader statutory mission: getting natural gas to Alaskans. While AGDC has been singularly focused on commercializing North Slope gas for one project, AGDC’s statutory mission is not so narrowly confined. Alaska law says AGDC’s purpose is to construct, own, operate, manage, or participate in natural gas pipelines and facilities so as to make natural gas available to Alaskans at the lowest rate possible. AGDC’s purpose can be furthered with one large gasline project from the North Slope, but that gasline project is not the only way to get gas to Alaskans. Alaskan communities need cheaper, cleaner natural gas to replace diesel-powered generation and AGDC has the legal authority to do it. AGDC should be exploring other projects to determine whether it can get gas to Alaskans. When AGDC refocuses on its broader statutory mission, Alaskans benefit. Second, after fully embracing its statutory purpose, AGDC should take stock of its assets and maximize them to get natural gas to Alaskans. Chief among AGDC’s assets for sale or use in a gas project will be the FERC approval. With a FERC order in hand, AGDC (along with several gas producers) will have de-risked the permitting of an Alaska gasline project. FERC approval is effectively a permit that other investors and companies don’t have to spend years and hundreds of millions to get because AGDC has done the permitting work for them. AGDC should soon have a valuable, marketable asset (e.g. the FERC order) that could benefit Alaskans. When AGDC has its FERC approval for the Alaska LNG Project, AGDC will need to transition from primarily managing a permitting and engineering effort at the FERC to managing commercial negotiations aimed at producers, pipeline investors and operators, and the gas markets. The commercial negotiations with private sector parties will be around AGDC selling or otherwise transferring its lead role in the project, along with the FERC authorization. Third, after focusing on its mission and on how to leverage the value of a FERC order to get a project built in the state’s interest, AGDC’s board should consider monetizing or leveraging other AGDC assets for the benefit of Alaskans. With its statutory mandate to get natural gas to Alaskans, AGDC should ask whether it can play a role in gas pipeline infrastructure to the Donlin mine site. Doing so would not only power the mine, but potentially leverages cheaper, cleaner power for all of Southwest Alaska. AGDC should be asking whether it can play a role in bringing cheaper, cleaner gas to Southeast Alaska by spring boarding off an LNG project planned for southern Southeast Alaska. Beyond these, AGDC has compiled and created much environmental and engineering data that could benefit other projects. AGDC should, therefore, consider how to leverage and monetize the reams of engineering analysis and environmental data it owns for Alaskans’ benefit. Getting natural gas to Alaskans at the lowest possible rates possible is AGDC’s reason for being. AGDC should fully embrace its statutory mission and use all of its resources to meet Alaskans’ need for cleaner, cheaper energy. ^ Sean Parnell is a former governor of Alaska (2009-14), and is now Of Counsel at the law firm of Holland &Hart LLP.

BROWN'S CLOSE: Teaching, and the darndest things

I began volunteering with an organization that teaches financial concepts to children. Recruited by a friend I’ve known for 20 years, I trusted her judgment. “Hey! Want to help out?” she plied me over wine at Kincaid Grill. “We go into classrooms and teach kids about economics and financial literacy!” It’s hard to argue with that cause. I agreed to spend one morning teaching fifth grade. The lesson plan introduced the concepts of globalization and business entrepreneurship, and not in a scary way I might add. There were no discussions of the collapse of American manufacturing, or how robots were taking our jobs. Instead, the course encouraged students to pursue careers in science, technology, and math so as to maximize relevancy in the 21st century. Heck yes, I’ll teach kids why capitalism is awesome. Once at the designated school, it only took a minute to remember how small objects in elementary schools are, and why there are separate adult bathrooms; one does not wish to squat with one’s knees in one’s ears. I greeted the fifth grade with enthusiasm. Children are the future. “How many of you like money?” Twenty-three hands went up. One girl’s hand faltered as she studied me, trying to figure out if this was a trick question. “Yeah, me too!” I plunged my hand into the air. “I love money. Money is the best!” “Yeah!” a chorus of voices rang out. “I’ve always wanted a never-ending allowance!” a kid to my right shouted. “Me too,” I agreed, “but in absence of that, we need to start businesses.” A student in the front row raised his hand. “What do you do?” That’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer. “I bundle and pay for surgeries.” I received a roomful of predictably quizzical looks. “But I get to work from home! That’s pretty cool!” The fifth grade agreed. That was pretty cool. A probing young man in the second row raised his hand. “So, you operate on people out of your house? Like, you do surgery on them? That sounds bloody.” I paused. “Well, no, I just schedule the surgeries out of my house.” He frowned at me. “So, you’re like a middleman?” Sensing I was losing my audience’s trust– “What does your dad do?” I countered. “My dad cuts hair,” he answered promptly. Darn that was straightforward. “Well, doesn’t that dovetail nicely into what we are going to discuss today?” I held up my teacher’s manual. “We have some vocabulary for you to learn. Who would like to read the definition of ‘competition?’” Several hands shot into the air. I called on a girl in the second row. “I’ve done this program before,” she promptly informed us. “Oh? Well that’s good!” I encouraged. She nodded in agreement and read the definition. Competition is a rivalry between businesses that make a similar product or provide a similar service. “So, if I open a hair salon, I’m in competition with your father for customers,” I directed my comments to my previous challenger. He stared back, unimpressed.  “Have any of you considered inventing a product?” I tried to bring the lesson plan back on track. “What product would you invent?” Program Veteran raised her hand “I want to invent a saliva bank.” “A what?” “A saliva bank. That way, you can know what dog saliva tastes like if you are curious.” “Huh. Who would be your customers?” She looked at me pityingly; she thought I was surprisingly obtuse for a guest lecturer. “People who want to know what other animal or people saliva tastes like.” There are of course other, sometimes even free, ways to taste the saliva of others. But I neither wanted to broach that subject, nor stifle her creative energy. “You… sure could do that. Anyone else? Any other products?” A small boy in the back row raised his hand. I pointed at him. “What’s your name?” “Alex,” he stammered, quickly setting his hand down and launching into his product. “I want to have a hover bar, where I can put my hands on it, and it will lift me up. Then I can hover.” That seemed more appropriate to discuss with the fifth grade than a volunteer saliva bank. “Perfect! What resources would you need to make that product?” We all consulted the worksheet defining natural and capital resources. “Well, I’d need some metal. And probably electricity.” “Those sound like terrific resources. Now, everyone break into groups, and discuss products amongst yourselves. Specifically, come up with the resources you would need to build these products.” The class gamely divided into groups. “Can I be in Alex’s group?” A little girl with blonde curly hair came up and peered into my eyes. “Uh, sure. You can be in Alex’s group.” She launched into a lengthy explanation. “I have ideas for more resources for his hover bar. He needs carbon and graphite, and –” “Yep, yep, sounds good!” I waved her over to Alex’s group, and consulted the next item in the lesson plan. I had allotted fifteen minutes for the activity, when – “Can we have snack?” A tall kid in the back row named Peter pulled on my sleeve. “Um, sure, we can have snack. Just give me a mome—” I cast my eyes around for the teacher. She was a substitute, and was currently staring dreamily at her computer, happily indifferent to everything around her. Periodically she would pop her head up to tell one of the back rowers to pipe down.  I walked over to her. “What time is snack?” “Now,” she said vacantly, and a tad unhelpfully. “Can we have snack?” Another boy ambled over, looking anxious. Succumbing to the inevitable, I called the class back to order to finish the lesson. The last thing I needed was for the children to unionize and protest the shocking delay of snack in their working conditions. “We have time for one group to present their product and resources.” Saliva Bank's hand shot in the air. She had drawn a diagram of her processing plant. I ignored her, and instead invited up a group of first row boys. “We have invented the Find Me Phone,” the leader informed us, with all the enthusiasm of a small business owner pitching to a venture capital fund. “Never lose your phone again!” he boomed. “We will insert a chip into your leg, which will be connected to the phone. Then, the phone will levitate and find you wherever you are!” I paused, considering all of the privacy concerns these youngsters were raising. Everyone universally, however, appeared comfortable handing over their moment-by-moment location data to third party organizations. Not wishing to crush their dreams of a future police state utopia– “Terrific. What resources do you think you will need?” “Metal and electricity,” they answered definitively. That seemed correct to me. I thanked them for their participation and sent them back to their seats.  “Can I answer any other questions before we break for snack?” Peter raised his hand. “What started the Vietnam War? Was it over oil?” I took a beat to answer this unanticipated question – “No. It was the Nazis. They invaded,” the boy next to him answered matter-of-factly on my behalf. “Well, the Vietnam War was actually started over … politics,” I corrected vaguely. “So, not Nazis?” The boy looked astonished. “No, in this case it was the communists,” I finished abruptly. It was a new feeling to be treated as an expert on foreign affairs and matters of state. Over a juice box and goldfish crackers, I pulled out my own phone to get up-to-speed on the signature global events of the last 75 years. I mustn’t look like an idiot in front of my constituents. Sarah Brown is a childless professor of economics. She can be reached at [email protected], and on Twitter @mesarahjb. "Close" is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. All names have been changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty.

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