The Alaska Board of Fisheries has decided to limit the amount of shrimp harvested and require a non-commercial household permit for subsistence fishing. This, following a recommendation from the local Sitka Fish and Game Advisory Committee to take emergency action to protect shrimp from overfishing in Hoonah Sound.
The board voted Friday (1-12-18) that the fishery met the criteria for emergency management. Then, on Sunday (1-14-18) they voted to limit the daily bag and possession to 10 gallons of shrimp per household with a permit.
Board of fisheries member Israel Payton said they came to the decision about that daily amount after further discussion with area subsistence users. “It was felt that the ten gallon per day per household permit was the preferred method,” Payton said, “and I think that that limit will meet the subsistence requirements myself.”
Hoonah Sound is a popular commercial, subsistence and recreational fishing area about 50 miles north of Sitka. And lately, it might be too popular. Hoonah Sound saw a dramatic reduction in commercial shrimp stock in the last two years. Between 2016 and 2017, the number of spot and coonstripe shrimp in the area fell by half, and samples from the 2017 stock showed the lowest average length on record.
ADF&G observed these numbers and reduced the commercial harvest from 26,000 to 16,000 pounds for the 2017-2018 fishery. But no limitations existed for subsistence users. Board of Fisheries chair John Jensen noted his concern for the fishery.
“It is unforeseen,” Jensen said. “It seemed like it dropped dramatically. And there weren’t any studies on it. It just raises it to the level of an emergency as far as I’m concerned.”
On December 14, the Sitka Fish and Game Advisory Committee submitted a petition to the Alaska Board of Fisheries requesting that the board organize a working group that would determine a course of action for management of the area.
During public comment, ADF&G Advisory Committee shellfish member Stacey Wayne noted the estimated annual subsistence harvest was around 64,000 pounds in 2013.
“Last year the guideline harvest for all of district thirteen I think was closer to 30,000 pounds for commercial. The subsistence was more than twice that,” Wayne said. “We think but we don’t know. We’re talking about a really significant impact on the shrimp here.”
On Friday, the board drafted proposed restrictions for subsistence shrimping in Hoonah Sound. The first draft of the proposal allowed for 5 gallons of spot shrimp per household per day, but the language was amended to 10 gallons per day after subsistence users voiced concern. Board of Fisheries member Fritz Johnson cautioned others to consider that traditional subsistence users often share their harvest with others, and catch limits could hamper that process.
“To handicap the subsistence users harvest it seems to me is antithetical to what subsistence is all about,” Johnson said. “So as we head down this road here, I think we need to be aware of that.”
The Alaska State Board of Fisheries is meeting at Sitka’s Harrigan Centennial Hall through January 23. All sessions are open to the public.
The second session of the 30th Alaska Legislature began Tuesday, with the caucus leaders expressing hope that this year will be more productive than 2017.
The state government has spent down savings over the past three years. That means the focus of this year’s session will be on something that’s never happened before: spending money from Alaska Permanent Fund earnings to pay for state government.
House Speaker Bryce Edgmon said he hopes the Legislature can reach a compromise on a long-term budget plan.
“We realize that we need to work with the Senate,” he said. “We need to work with the governor. And we’re willing to sit down and negotiate and to talk about what it takes to not only get a budget done for the upcoming year, but to put a package together that keeps essential services in plan and allows for our economy to once again stabilize.”
Last year, members of the House majority that Edgmon leads said an income tax is a necessary part of a budget plan. This time around, the Dillingham Democrat isn’t making a tax a precondition for a deal.
“We intend to go forward in a manner that allows us to work with everyone and to try to come up with a reasonable solution to a problem that’s pretty large,” he said.
Edgmon said the House plans to pass a school funding bill early in the session, separately from the rest of the budget. He also said bills restructuring the Alaska Marine Highway System and updating the Legislature’s sexual and other workplace harassment policies are also on the agenda for the session.
And the speaker said the Legislature will keep a close eye on federal plans to develop oil, gas and the state’s other resources.
“Alaska’s resource development state and the fact that we may have more prospects for oil and gas exploration, as well as opportunities, both onshore and offshore is something that we need to take a close, hard look at,” he said. “And our caucus is committed to being a good business partner, certainly, with the industry.”
House minority leader Charisse Millett, an Anchorage Republican, said her caucus’s priorities include cutting the budget and putting a limit on state spending in the future. She said House Republicans will oppose new taxes.
Millett said the Trump administration’s policies also will help.
“We’re in an environment now with an administration that’s really going to help Alaska open up our resources, which is going to be a great boom for the state of Alaska and great opportunity, so I’m super optimistic about session,” she said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of great things done this session.”
Millett is a member of the Legislative Council subcommittee reviewing the harassment policy. She’s circulated a draft policy among both lawmakers and employees who work for the Legislature.
“And I want it to be something that the Legislature can be proud of, that protects our employees and creates a safe environment where people can be productive and want to come to work,” she said.
Millett also supports passing a school budget early. And she hopes the Legislature gets its work done in the 90-day session set by state law. She said that can happen if the House majority gives up on an income tax.
“That means we could possibly get the budget done early, if we’re focusing on the budget as a standalone, and it’s not tied to anything else, or, you know, ‘We won’t do the budget until you do X, Y and Z,’” she said. “I don’t see that happening this year.”
The House Finance Committee will start work on the budget on Thursday.
The Alaska Department of Corrections has revealed that it accidentally recorded conversations between lawyers and their jailed clients at Anchorage Correctional Complex.
Such conversations are confidential and protected under the legal doctrine of attorney-client privilege.
According to Corrections officials, the recording took place over a four-year period, from 2012 to 2016. Officials said the automated recordings occurred only in one visitation room and that none of them were used by law enforcement officers or prosecutors.
First reported Monday by the Anchorage Daily News, the revelation that a room at the Anchorage jail was essentially bugged has upset some local defense attorneys.
“One of the bedrock principles of the criminal justice system is completely confidential communications between an attorney and their client,” state Public Defender Quinlan Steiner said. “If people believe that their conversations are being listened to by the state, that would undermine due process and undermine the constitutionally fair system.”
Steiner said Corrections officials have told him and other defense attorneys that the recordings were not used to prosecute their clients. But Steiner said just the notion that such recordings took place could hurt an attorney’s ability to advise their client.
“What’s important about an issue like this is making sure that it’s not happening and there’s confidence that it’s not happening in the future,” Steiner said. “It’s critical for an exchange of information, somebody getting the best advice they can.”
According to Corrections spokesperson Megan Edge, visitation rooms are normally equipped with video cameras for safety reasons. But Edge said audio recording should not have occurred.
The audio recording equipment was installed in the room when suspected serial killer Israel Keyes was jailed at the complex in 2012, Edge said. Federal investigators had hoped to learn more about Keyes by recording his conversations with friends or family in the room, which had until then been used for attorney-client conversations, Edge said.
Edge said the room went back to being used for attorney visits after Keyes died.
“And there was a change-up in the leadership at the Anchorage Correctional Complex,” Edge said. “Very few people had knowledge of this other recording device. It was just kind of forgotten that it was in there.”
Files on the recording device were overwritten every 30 days, and that the last batch of recordings has been destroyed, Edge said.
Steiner, the public defender, said there has so far been no reason to think that the recordings were ever used by the state. But he said some defense attorneys are still looking through their cases to determine if further litigation is necessary.
There are now three finalists on the short list to fill the state Senate seat left vacant by Mike Dunleavy.
Dunleavy, a Wasilla Republican, resigned so he could focus on his gubernatorial campaign after representing Senate District E for the past five years. The district includes northern parts of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and a section stretching from Delta Junction to Valdez.
Republicans from the district met Monday to narrow down a list of 11 applicants to three names.
They are George Rauscher, the sitting state House Representative for District 9; Todd Smoldon, who works as a teacher in Anchorage; and Tom Braund, who works for Ripe Harvest, a Christian-based organic food organization, according to his Facebook page.
Gov. Bill Walker will pick one of those three, but his appointment is subject to confirmation by Senate Republicans.
The deadline for Walker’s pick is February 14.
Legislative session kicks of with hope for productivity in House
The second session of the Alaska’s 30th Legislature began today, with the caucus leaders expressing hope that this year will be more productive than 2017.
Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO-Alaska Public Media – Juneau
Three finalists up for consideration to fill vacant Alaska Senate seat
There are now three finalists on the short-list to fill the state Senate seat left vacant by Mike Dunleavy.
Casey Grove/Alaska Public Media – Anchorage
Economist sees big role for U.S. oil, LNG but finds hurdles in Arctic
The Trump administration says it wants to achieve “energy dominance,” and the director of the International Energy Agency says the U.S. is already well on its way when it comes to petroleum.
Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media – Washington, D.C.
AK Attorney General asks Congress to open banking for pot businesses
Alaska’s Attorney General has joined a bipartisan group calling on lawmakers to change federal banking rules over handling legal marijuana sales.
Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media – Anchorage
Anchorage jail secretly, accidentally recorded attorney-client conversations
The Alaska Department of Corrections has revealed that it accidentally recorded conversations between lawyers and their jailed clients at Anchorage Correctional Complex.
Casey Grove/Alaska Public Media – Anchorage
Knowles quits National Parks panel, says new administration won’t listen
Former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles led a mass resignation this week from the advisory board of the National Park System, on which he’s served since 2010.
Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media – Washington, D.C.
Petit takes 1st in Copper Basin 300
Alaska’s mushing season has kicked off, and so far two highly competitive races have been won by the same sled-dog driver: Nic Petit.
Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media – Anchorage
Shrimp decline causes concern, restrictions
A popular fishing spot north of Sitka has seen a sharp decline in its shrimp population. And though the Alaska Department of Fish and Game cut the commercial harvest limit last year, subsistence harvesting was not affected until this weekend, when the Alaska Board of Fisheries voted to place some restrictions on subsistence fishing in Hoonah Sound.
Katherine Rose/KCAW – Sitka
Known for Denali winter ascent, Dupre now in for another chilly climb
Minnesota adventurer Lonnie Dupre is back in the far north attempting another unprecedented climb: the first winter ascent of the Yukon Territory’s Mt. Lucania.
Dan Bross/KUAC – Fairbanks
Ask A Climatologist: What’s up with that record January heat in Southeast?
A funnel of warm air blasted Southeast Alaska Sunday, producing temperatures in several communities into the mid-60’s, the warmest day ever recorded in January in Alaska. Brian Brettschneider with our Ask a Climatologist segment says Sunday was remarkably warm across the state but exceptionally warm in Southeast.
Annie Feidt/Alaska’s Energy Desk – Anchorage
Alaska’s mushing season has kicked off. And so far, two highly competitive Railbelt races have been won by the same sled-dog driver.
This year’s Copper Basin 300 was slow. In fact, it was the latest finish in Glennallen that race manager Jason Severs can recall.
“It snowed probably a foot to 15 inches throughout the region here from Sunday on through today,” Severs said.
A firm, crusty base-layer was covered up by all that fresh powder, making for a punchy trail that slowed dogs down.
Out of 43 teams that entered this year’s race, 16 scratched — an exceptionally high number. Severs blamed a turn in the weather early in the route.
“The mushers got to Chistochina and the wind started picking up, and going from Chistochina to Meier’s Lake the wind going across the hump up there was blowing 30-plus miles an hour,” he said.
According to Severs, some mushers withdrew in order to prevent injuries among their dogs.
But Monday evening, a little after 7pm, Nicholas Petit crossed the finish line, securing his second top finish in as many weeks. The weekend prior he won the Knik 200. Both of the mid-distance races are qualifiers for the Iditarod and Yukon Quest, attracting seasoned veterans and rookies alike.
Petit’s victory earned him $7,000 in prize money from a total race purse of $22,000.
Second place in this year’s CB 300 was Dan Kaduce, followed by past Yukon Quest champion Alan Moore. Fourth place was taken by Ryne Olson, last year’s CB 300 winner, and a former handler for Moore and Aliy Zirkle in Two Rivers.
The next major sled-dog race of the season is the Kuskokwim 300, which starts in Bethel this Friday.
The Trump administration says it wants to achieve “energy dominance.” The director of the International Energy Agency says the U.S. is already well on its way when it comes to petroleum.
“As a result of (the) shale revolution, the U.S. is becoming the undisputed leader of oil and gas production worldwide,” Fatih Birol testified Tuesday in the U.S. Senate Energy Committee. He says the growth in American oil and gas production is unprecedented and likely to continue for years.
He attributed that to shale. Committee chairman Lisa Murkowski asked him about production from the Arctic. Birol had a mixed forecast for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
“We see there is a very important attractiveness there, namely the availability of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which is underutilized today,” he said. “Substantially.”
But, he says, there’s a lot of shale oil, and low oil prices make the Arctic less attractive.
“And therefore with the current context, it will be difficult to believe there will be a substantial amount of oil production coming from that region before 2030,” he said. “Unless we see some surprise in the markets.”
If he was referring specifically to ANWR, that wouldn’t be a huge delay. By some estimates, it might take 12 years for production to begin once Congress approved it. The legislation allowing oil exploration in the refuge was signed last month.
As for the Arctic’s potential to supply liquefied natural gas, Birol’s assessment was the opposite: the markets are good but Alaska needs new infrastructure.
“Today, China is moving in the direction of gas,” he said. “They are going to import a lot of LNG to replace coal.”
Alaska, though, can’t meet the Asian demand without building a gas pipeline and facilities estimated to cost roughly $50 billion. The Alaska Gasline Development Corporation has promoted the project in Asia and has an agreement to explore the concept with Sinopec, the Chinese oil and gas company.
Former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles led a mass resignation this week from the advisory board of the National Park System. He’s served on the board since 2010.
As first reported by The Washington Post, Knowles submitted a resignation letter Monday to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. It’s also signed by eight others on the 12-member board. Knowles says he’s concerned the Department of Interior is undoing much of the progress made in recent years, without even listening to the merits.
“The department showed no interest in learning about or continuing to use the forward-thinking agenda of science, the effect of climate change, protections of the ecosystems, education,” Knowles said in a phone interview. “And it has rescinded NPS regulations of resource stewardship concerning those very things: biodiversity loss, pollution and climate change.”
Zinke issued an order last year freezing work on all advisory committees so the administration would review what they were doing. Knowles says the National Parks System Advisory Board is different because it was chartered by Congress. His term was due to end in May, along with most of the board members. Knowles says they requested meetings with the new team at Interior but were ignored for a year.
“If they don’t want to meet with us, fine. That’s their prerogative,” he said. “But we wanted to make a statement as a board as we left what our concerns are, because we don’t think they (the new policies) reflect the vast number of public that support the national park system.”
The press office of the Interior Department did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
Alaska’s Attorney General has joined a bipartisan group calling on lawmakers to change federal banking rules over handling legal marijuana sales.
Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth and 18 other attorneys general sent a letter to congressional leaders asking for legislation that would establish a “safe harbor” for the billions of dollars being generated from recreational and medical cannabis sales each year.
They ask that a financial institution be established in a state with legal marijuana in order to monitor compliance, simplify taxation and provide law enforcement a better vantage point to track industry finances. The letter also says the move could help bolster the banking sector by infusing huge sums of cash that are currently barred from deposit and circulation because of federal drug laws.
The signatories are from across the country but slant toward generally Democratic-leaning states.
Earlier this month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a policy switch to the Justice Department, scrapping the 2013 Cole Memo that deferred to states on enforcing marijuana laws. The 19 attorneys general say in their letter that change is hastening the need for national legislation clarifying how cannabis should be regulated and policed in states that have voted for legalization.
Gov. Bill Walker met Monday with the three nominees for the now vacant District 40 seat for the Alaska House. The district covers the North Slope and Northwest Arctic boroughs and is open because former Rep. Dean Westlake resigned after allegations of sexual harassment. Walker may make a decision soon.
Two of the nominees, Sandy Shroyer-Beaver and Eugene Smith, have years of experience on Kotzebue’s city council. The other, Leanna Mack of Utqiagvik, said her community involvement makes up for her relative lack of political experience.
Shroyer-Beaver said her more than 30 years in politics have prepared her. She has served on city council and the school board and worked with regional tribal organization Maniilaq Association.
“I’m just a normal person,” she said. “I’m from Kotzebue. I wasn’t born there, but I was raised there. I lived there my whole life. I’m a mom. I have five children. I have four grandchildren. I work with kids. I’ve loved that for years. I worked for Maniilaq in the foster care program. Everybody knows me in our region.”
Shroyer-Beaver said she’d like to increase public safety in rural Alaska, including in North Slope and Northwest Arctic boroughs. She also said she’d focus on education and protecting Alaska Permanent Fund dividends.
“We have people who are counting on these funds they get every year because we have a shortage of employment opportunities,” she said.
Both Shroyer-Beaver and Smith are on Kotzebue’s city council.
Eugene Smith also has decades of experience in the city’s politics and has served as the mayor and with Maniilaq Association.
“Well, I’ve been on city council for 21 years straight and took a hiatus and now I’m back on the council,” she said. “I’ve also got tons of management experience, being the CIO (chief information officer) for the health corporation for many years, so I do understand budgeting.”
Smith said he would listen to constituents to determine his priorities. He said he would work closely with the mostly Democratic House majority on a plan to close the multibillion dollar state budget deficit.
“It makes a lot of sense to look at all the means possible to trying to resolve the state’s situation,” she said. “I just believe by working together, you know, in a nonpartisan way, I think that we can solve this problem.”
Leanna Mack is the only nominee who hasn’t served in political office. She’s the deputy adviser to North Slope Borough Mayor Harry Brower, focused on regulations that affect borough residents.
Mack doesn’t feel that drawing from permanent fund earnings will solve the state’s budget problem.
“I think that’s just a short-term solution and a long-term solution needs to be looked at, as well as all the other industries that are in Alaska and that are starting to ramp up,” she said.
Mack also has worked as a volunteer in the community. She works with local cheerleaders. And she’s become heavily involved in suicide prevention since the death of her brother’s best friend.
“The last several years, we’ve had the largest team during the community walks and we’ve also been the top fundraisers for the community walks,” she said. “And I think it’s another way for all of us to get together and catch up with one another, as well as continue to celebrate our friend’s life and the time we were able to spend with him.”
The district Democratic Party nominated the three candidates from a group of eight applicants. Walker has nine days to fill the vacancy. Kiana Democrat Westlake resigned after he was accused of inappropriate behavior with female aides and women outside of the Legislature.
Walker also must fill the vacancy caused by Sen. Mike Dunleavy’s resignation. Dunleavy resigned to focus on running for governor.
The inclusive language in the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech may stand in stark contrast to the climate of political and racial divide in America in 2018. But Monday’s holiday, dedicated to Dr. King, is a good opportunity to honor others who have helped bring people together across race and class lines. Although he might not come immediately to mind, musician Dizzy Gillespie did just that.
A new book by Anchorage author David Brown, chronicles an eight-year friendship between the two men. Dizzy Gillespie united people around music and through his spiritual beliefs. In his book, Shadowing Dizzy Gillespie, Brown says he first heard the jazz legend at Blues Alley in Washington, D.C. and met him the same night.
Click the play button below for Brown’s interview with Alaska News Nightly host Lori Townsend.
Alaska’s first electric public transit bus is set to begin carrying passengers in Anchorage starting Tuesday.
Among other things, a four-month trial period will test how the bus and its batteries fare in cold weather, as the city looks into whether it makes sense to have an entire fleet of electric buses.
The 40-foot Proterra Catalyst E2 bus is a little quieter than two people having a conversation and almost silent compared to a diesel Anchorage People Mover bus. The reduced noise pollution is one benefit of electric buses, but reducing air pollution and the cost of fuel are more to the point. City transit officials say replacing just one diesel bus with an electric one would cut greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 250,000 pounds every year.
“That’s a substantial change, in terms of what we’re breathing in, what our children are breathing in,” said Anchorage Public Transportation Director Abul Hassan.
The city will be looking to replace as many as 10 diesel buses in the next few years. If this testing goes well, they might start transitioning to electric.
“I would like to say this is the future, but it’s not, it’s the present,” Hassan said. “Now, there are a lot of naysayers in Alaska who say we can’t do this up here. It’s too cold. You know what? It’s not a gimmick. We can do something like this.”
Gimmick or not, it’s unclear if the bus will be a permanent addition to the Anchorage fleet. Proterra, the electric-bus manufacturer, is leasing its vehicle to the city, for now. City-operated waste removal utility, Solid Waste Services, is paying the $60,000 bill in exchange for advertisements on city buses.
The utility’s recycling coordinator, Suzanna Caldwell, said the ads will tout recycling services. And Solid Waste Services hopes to learn something, Caldwell said.
“Not only are we getting this advertising, we’re also getting to test the electric bus, because we’re also looking at incorporating electric vehicles into our own fleet, looking at electric garbage trucks,” Caldwell said.
There are practical reasons for testing an electric bus before an electric garbage truck. For one thing, garbage trucks are heavier, require more torque and therefore more energy, so testing a bus makes sense as a first step.
But what about the inconvenience to passengers greater if, say, the electric bus’s batteries die on a cold day?
“We’re not running out of juice,” Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said. “People have the opportunity to be among the first riders of an electric bus in Alaska. That’s a great achievement, and people ought to be jumping all over it. I’m going to ride this bus.”
For its part, Proterra says they’ve never had a problem with cold zapping the batteries dead while on a route.
The Kuskokwim 300 Sled Dog Race has taken an unprecedented turn. For the first time, the race will run two laps to its halfway point and back because of warm weather and open water. Local mushers agree that it’s the safest way to run the race, but say that it could present some challenges.
This course has been talked about in the past, but this is the first time that the decision’s been made.
“Well, it wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t unanimous,” said Myron Angstman, K300 Race Committee Chairman and one of the race’s founders. “Tradition is a big thing and changing the method of competition throws things off a little bit.”
The board came to the decision Sunday night, on an evening of 36 degree weather and rain in Bethel. Angstman says that the race will look as it never has before because, well, the river does.
“We have more open holes than normal, and the ones we have are bigger than normal,” Angstman said.
It’s causing many firsts. This is the first time that the race will double-back on itself and then repeat its course. This is the first time the race will not run through the Kalskag and Aniak checkpoints, and the first time that the race will start near H-Marker Lake.
This K300 will test dogs in a new way.
“The test now is going to be probably which team is best at overcoming the mental issue of going around the trail, resting, and getting up and going around the trail again,” Angstman said.
Passing teams head-on will also be a factor.
“The place where that’s most difficult is near Bogus,” Angstman said. “There are some narrow spots there.”
The trail only crosses the river in a straight shot over the ice across from Tuluksak. Other than that, there are many shallow and well-frozen lakes, sloughs, and creeks along the route. The only open water is by beaver dams, which happens even in the coldest winters.
Local mushers agree that the new course is the safest way to run the race. Mike Williams Jr. of Akiak has been competing in the K300 for years. He says that the change isn’t ideal, but the river isn’t either.
“I just kind of laughed,” Williams said, “because we’ve never done this before. But it’s understandable because of all the open water.”
Williams expects his dogs to race well on the repeated route, because he made a lot of short runs while training, sometimes coming into his dog yard and then immediately taking off again.
But three-time K300 champion Pete Kaiser calls the change a “curveball.”
“We’ve all trained for a specific event the way it’s usually run,” Kaiser said. “But it’s the same for everybody, and everybody is going to have to deal with it.”
Musher Richie Diehl sits on the K300 Race Committee. The decision not to run to Aniak, his hometown, was difficult.
“I definitely wanted it to come all the way up, and it was good hearing other people on the board give their opinions on why we shouldn’t. It’s an eye-opener to me,” Diehl said.
But Diehl does sees a silver lining; he won’t have to make his dogs run home and then leave, something he says is never easy.
Williams, Kaiser, and Diehl say that the river’s open holes didn’t affect their race prep this season. They trained on the tundra, a strategy that will help them on this year’s overland trail.
The race checkpoints are now Tuluksak, Bogus Creek, and Bethel. Where the Bethel checkpoint will be is still being decided, but only Bethel and Tuluksak will hold dog food and accept dog drops. Like usual, the race will require teams to rest six hours in checkpoints, and then four hours on the final pass through Tuluksak.
Two other races happen during the K300. The Bogus Creek 150 will run as scheduled; the Akiak Dash is being postponed a week to January 27.
The reason that the K300 can’t run an overland course along the entire traditional route is because there is no overland trail from Tuluksak to Kalskag. Angstman points out that this gap affects all winter travelers, not just the K300.
“So I would urge people to come up with plans for us to come up with an alternative trail that does not go on the river,” Angstman said. “Because that would be safe for everybody, including our race, and it would prevent this from happening in the future.”
The Kuskokwim 300 Sled Dog Race begins Friday, January 19.
Last year, it was all eyes on Sen. Lisa Murkowski, since she was one of only a handful of Republicans who would sometimes vote with Democrats in the U.S. Senate. The fate of health care and tax bills seemed at times to turn on what she would do. But this year is shaping up differently in the Senate, and both Alaska senators will have to contend with new dynamics.
Murkowski was a pivotal vote last year because her party leaders pushed Republican bills they could be sure no Democrat would vote for.
The Senate was split 52-48, so it only took Sens. Murkowski, Susan Collins and John McCain joining the Democrats to kill the Republican health care bill last summer. After that, says Political scientist Molly Reynolds, Senate leaders made sure their tax bill would include a plum for Murkowski: drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.Molly E. Reynolds. Photo: Brookings Institution.
“We saw her use some of her leverage to get something that was an important policy priority for her out of a narrowly divided Senate,” says Reynolds, a fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution.
This year, the Republican majority is slimmer. Now they can only afford to lose ONE senator and still have a simple majority. So you might think winning Murkowski’s vote will be even more crucial to the Republican agenda.
But that’s not how it works, not this year.
“We’re going to be looking for areas of bipartisan agreement, because that’s the way the Senate is,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at his year-end press conference, right after passing a tax bill with no bipartisan agreement.
This year, he’s not trying to pass partisan goals in budget bills that need just 50 Republican votes. His majority is too slim. Instead, he’s trying to move bills that will require 60 votes to proceed. The bills will have to be moderate enough to pick up nine Democratic votes.
So to see their priorities pass, both Alaska senators will have to aim for bipartisanship.
In this 60-vote scenario, Murkowski is unlikely to be the pivotal vote. She says that’s fineSens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan. Photo: Liz Ruskin
“You need to do things around here because the right things to do, not because you can do them because you have one more vote than the other side,” she said.
Among her bipartisan goals: passing her broad energy and natural resources bill. That’s a big bundle of Republican and Democratic priorities, covering everything from energy efficiency to park management and protection from landslides.
And then, there’s the bipartisan crowd pleaser bill.
“Everyone is talking about infrastructure as being the thing that allows us all to come together,” Murkowski said. “We all want to build things. That’s a winner for everybody.”
She says, though, she’s concerned about cost.
Murkowski is one of the most moderate Republicans. According to ProPublica data, her votes strayed from the party line 17 times last year. Sen. Dan Sullivan votes with the party more often than most of his colleagues. He strayed just four times last year.
But Sullivan has bipartisan goals, too. He points out he had a lot of Democratic support for the missile defense expansion for Fort Greeley, which became law last year. He has sponsored a clean oceans bill with Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. And tackling the opioid epidemic – that’s another of Sullivan’s goals that’s almost universally shared.U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, in his Washington, D.C. office. Photo: Liz Ruskin
Sullivan is also keen on infrastructure, certainly for rural Alaska.
“Getting fully funded the water and sewer issues, particularly communities that don’t have clean water and sewer,” he said. “American communities. I find it outrageous.”
As for a national infrastructure bill, Sullivan wants to link it to permitting reform so projects don’t take decades to get started.
“If there’s not a big permitting reform element I’m going to have a hard time voting for any amount of federal funding (for an infrastructure bill) because I think it’ll be a waste of money,” he said.
He said permitting reform is a bipartisan goal, too, because Democrats don’t like long project delays, either.
“When I talk to my Democratic colleagues all of them recognize this is a problem. They want to fix it,” he said.
But many Democrats hear “permitting reform” and think it means undermining environmental protections. Here’s what Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell said about permitting reform:
“I think the administration is running over a lot of clean air and clean water issues, and I don’t think that’s something we need to be doing,” she said.
Sullivan said his pitch is that they can can speed permitting without cutting corners.
Whether Democrats will help Republicans achieve their goals, and whether Republicans can craft bills that will win over at least nine Democrats, remains to be seen.
Now that the final deadline has come and gone, 26 mushers are signed up to race this year’s Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race.
According to Quest officials, Kotzebue musher Katherine Keith was the final one to sign up before the final deadline on January 5th. Keith, along with veterans Allen Moore, Hugh Neff, and 2017 champ Matt Hall, will join more than ten rookies on the trail, like Ike Underwood of Aniak.
There are a total of 15 veterans and 11 rookies signed up to run the 2018 Yukon Quest, five more mushers than last year’s race.
The 35th annual Yukon Quest is scheduled to start on February 3rd, and it’s expected that the first musher will travel the 1,000 miles from Whitehorse, Yukon, to Fairbanks within two weeks.
North Pole Rep. Tammie Wilson says fellow lawmaker Gabrielle LeDoux should resign because she failed to promptly respond to a legislative staffer’s complaint that she was sexually harassed by a lawmaker who was later forced to resign over those and other allegations.
The Anchorage Republican LeDoux chairs the House Rules Committee. She denies Wilson’s accusation.
LeDoux says it’s politically motivated and stems from a dispute over sexual-harassment training that all lawmakers and staffers are being required to take this year.
Wilson raised a ruckus a week ago when she issued a Friday afternoon statement accusing LeDoux of failing to follow up on a legislative staff member’s report filed in the spring alleging that the staffer had been sexually harassed by former Rep. Dean Westlake.
“The complaint was put in in March,” Wilson said. “And so it sat there for months and months, before anybody even knew it was there.”
Westlake, a Democrat from Kiana, resigned last month after more women came forward to accuse him of harassment. But Wilson said LeDoux should have acted sooner to investigate the case and punish Westlake, because taking care of legislative staff is one of the House Rules Committee chair’s main responsibilities.
Wilson is calling for an outside investigator to look into whether LeDoux and House leaders failed to uphold their responsibility to follow up on the complaints.
“Yes, Rep. Westlake has resigned. But what happens to those who did nothing? Something needs to be done – a third-party investigation needs to be done to find out who knew what when,” Wilson said.
Those others at fault, Wilson says, include House Majority Leader Chris Tuck and Speaker Bryce Edgmon.
Both are Democrats – Tuck is from Anchorage, Edgmon from Dillingham.
Wilson said they too should resign if the outside investigator determines they didn’t follow the Legislature’s sexual-harassment policies and procedures.
“We need to know why they hid for so long the accusation that they didn’t investigate immediately, that they didn’t make sure that others weren’t not going to be hurt,” Wilson said.
A spokesman for the House leadership declined to comment on Wilson’s accusations.
LeDoux said neither she nor the House leadership “hid” the staffer’s complaint, and she notes that Wilson admits she has no evidence for that accusation.
LeDoux said she initially wasn’t told about the complaint, which she said was handled by Edgmon, who confronted Westlake and urged him to resign.
“As far as I know, there’s been no other caucus in the history of the Legislature that has ever called for a member to resign,” LeDoux said. “And believe me, there’s been plenty of sexual harassment in the Legislature.”
LeDoux says she can’t say much more about it until a report on the issue is made public.
“Now that doesn’t mean that the procedure can’t be improved, and that is why we’ve initiated a legislative subcommittee to review our procedures, to review our sexual-harassment policy, so that maybe we can improve things,” she said.
LeDoux said Legislative leaders have instituted new rules requiring all lawmakers and their staffers to take sexual-harassment training, even if they’ve already attended previous sessions.
She suspects that’s one reason why Wilson is attacking her, because she says Wilson has refused to participate in the training, and in response LeDoux has threatened to cut off her authority to hire staff.
“For some reason, Ms. Wilson thinks that she should be exempt from this training, and doesn’t have to take it,” LeDoux said. “And that’s what annoys hers so much.”
Wilson said she won’t participate in the training because she’s already attended earlier sessions, and because she’s waiting for an outside investigator to be brought and for LeDoux and the House leaders to explain on why they didn’t move more quickly on the allegations against Westlake.
“It’s not that I won’t take the training,” Wilson said. “But I am not doing any other training done by this Democrat majority, until they are able to answer the questions on what happened.”
LeDoux said she also sees a partisan motivation behind Wilson’s attacks. She says conservatives dislike her and other Republican lawmakers who work with their Democratic counterparts in the House coalition.
“It’s simply a political hit job,” LeDoux said. “Because the Republican Party has a target on my back.”
Both Wilson and LeDoux said they’ll be headed to Juneau this weekend for the start of this year’s legislative session, which gets under way Tuesday.
Juneau’s state legislators hosted a town hall Thursday to hear from the public and talk through concerns. The 2018 legislative session begins next week.
In a packed room at the Mendenhall Valley Public Library, Sen. Dennis Egan and Reps. Justin Parish and Sam Kito III struck a somewhat pessimistic tone as they fielded questions from constituents.
“We are getting to the point where we are almost out of savings in our constitutional budget reserve account,” Kito said.
He said oil revenue went from making up 90 percent of state earnings to now between 20 percent and 25 percent, forcing the state to draw on savings.
“We still have to provide for education and public health according to our constitution,” Kito said. “We have to provide a transportation system. All of those things cost money.”
The state needs to find ways to cover that deficit, he said, whether through a proposed state income tax, dipping into the Permanent Fund or some other solution. Budget reserves won’t last.
Egan shared his own reservations about the upcoming session.
“It’s an election year, and a lot of times every two years a lot of things don’t happen because people are running for re-election and they’re afraid to tackle major issues,” Egan said. “And that concerns me. It shouldn’t be about election years, it should be about solving Alaska’s problems.”
Helen Unruh asked if there was anything to be done about legislative inaction. Parish suggested leaning on other Alaskans.
“Do you have any friends in Fairbanks? If you have any friends who are represented by a senator who’s in the majority, please have them call their senator,” Parish said. “I know that when I get a call from a constituent, I take it very seriously.”
Still, several community members echoed the feeling that Alaska’s fiscal future is being held hostage by the Republican-led Senate majority.
Juneau’s legislators are all Democrats.
Egan didn’t contest one constituent’s observation at the town hall:
“We’re not talking and there’s just not enough being done during the session,” the young man said. “Lord knows the governor has tried to force you guys to work it out, calling you guys back over and over again, but to no avail.”
“But we do nothing,” Egan replied.
Afterward, Egan said the partisan politics that have overtaken the Legislature weren’t always the norm.
“Well I thought we functioned really well when we were a bipartisan working group,” he said. “We did a lot of great things for the people of the state, but we worked together, Republicans and Democrats, and an independent. But we got things done. But lately, I don’t like it. I mean, I don’t like the way it’s been functioning.”
The 30th Alaska Legislature reconvenes Tuesday.
Alaska voters are a step closer to deciding whether lawmakers will be paid if they fail to pass a budget on time.Rep. Jason Grenn, an independent from Anchorage, testifies before the House Judiciary Committee in January 2017 on a bill to redefine when lawmakers can abstain from voting on conflicts of interest. Grenn sponsored an initiative for a bill that would end per diem payments to legislators if they don’t pass the state budget on time. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)
The group Alaskans for Integrity said it likely has more than enough signed petitions to put an initiative on the fall ballot that would accomplish that. More than 45,000 signatures were submitted for the Alaska Government Accountability Act.
The group’s co-chair Bonnie Jack said it doesn’t take much to convince people to sign.
“(What) I’ve learned with the few signatures I gathered, was just talk about the per diem pay,” Jack said, adding that residents, say, “Stop! You don’t need to tell me any more. I’m happy to sign it.’”
In the past three years, lawmakers haven’t agreed on a budget before the end of the 121-day session limit set by the state constitution.
Lawmakers are currently entitled to more than $200 a day when the session runs long.
The bill would stop those payments.
Anchorage Rep. Jason Grenn sponsored the initiative.
“I’d like to think of it as incentivizing us to get our job done in time,” he said. “But, I think Alaskans are kind of fed up with what looks like, from the outside, that not a lot of work happens and we wait until the very end to start work on passing a budget. And I think that hurts a lot of different sectors of Alaska, when people are waiting and waiting and waiting, and then we end up going past our time limit.”
The bill also would take steps to limit lawmakers’ conflicts of interest and the gifts lawmakers receive.
It would require them to provide justification before the state would pay for international travel.
And it would bar foreign-owned corporations from contributing to state and local political campaigns.
Gov. Bill Walker has proposed docking lawmakers per diem payments — and their salaries — if they don’t pass a budget by the end of the 90-day session end set by state law.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski Friday condemned President Trump for a vulgar term he reportedly used in the White House a day earlier, referring to countries in Africa and elsewhere. Murkowski issued a statement saying what the president said in a disucssion about immigration “is offensive and doesn’t reflect who we are as a country.” She suggested moving quickly to resolve the status of “Dreamers” – undocumented people brought to the U.S. as children – “in a way that truly reflects our values.”
— Sen. Lisa Murkowski (@lisamurkowski) January 12, 2018
Sen. Dan Sullivan issued a statement prasing the contributions of immigrants. His statement does not mention the remarks of the president.
— SenDanSullivan (@SenDanSullivan) January 12, 2018
Congressman Don Young has a challenger in this year’s midterm elections. At an event in Anchorage on Thursday evening, Alyse Galvin is set to announce her bid for Alaska’s single seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
A release from her campaign introduces Galvin as a mother, a leader, and a fighter for working families in Alaska.
Her career has largely focused on education, working for years as a teacher. More recently Galvin founded the public education coalition called Great Alaska Schools.
It was through that coalition that Galvin spoke out against the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education for the Trump Administration.
Along with continuing to advocate for public education, Galvin’s campaign announcement says she will focus on healthcare, the economy, and the opioid epidemic.
Galvin will run as an independent candidate and appear on the Democratic primary ballot in August.
Congressman Don Young is the longest serving member of the U.S. House of Representatives, holding the seat Alyse Galvin is vying for since 1973.