TALL TALES from Juneau
Eyes on the Babcock/Dunleavy administration
Dressing for the budget
MOVEMENT IN THE HOUSE - THE WRONG WAY
Rumors are swirling this morning about a potential organization in the House. It looks like after holding out for a month because he knew that a 21-member Republican majority in the House would be a train wreck, Rep. Gary Knopp (R) may have caved to pressure from his own District 30 Republicans who took a vote 10-9 with one abstention asking him to immediately caucus with the Republicans or resign. Tuckerman Babcock's wife was rumored to be holding Sen. Peter Micchiche's proxy vote according to The Alaska Landmine. The Babcockian purity tests continue unabated. But we won't know for sure what happens until the vote on the House floor for Speaker which will presumably come later this morning. Hopefully Rep. Knopp will rediscover his spine.
DOOMSDAY CLOCK, ONE DAY AND COUNTING
As Rep. Lance Pruitt [R] put it gleefully, Alaskans are "going to have a heart attack on February 13." That's budget day, and from what we can tell it's going to be brutal. The University of Alaska is in panic mode because years of Republicans bashing higher education means that now that the far-right is in the governor's mansion, the suffocation of what's left of the university can begin. Signs also point to privatizing prisons, and rolling back Medicaid expansion which would take health care away from 44,000 needy Alaskans. And Mike "Friend to Education" Dunleavy gave some sneak peek interviews to the media saying that K-12 education won't be spared either. But don't worry kids, we've been told by the governor that he's not "cutting" anything... you see, “What we’re doing with this administration is, we are not cutting,” Dunleavy told KTVA. “We are building a budget from the bottom up, from zero up. We’re going to build that up to where we reach our revenues.” Ohhhh, so he's just taking all the money and giving back LESS. Got it. And yes, this was said with a straight face.
Money is scarce, but only sometimes, it seems. Not only did the husband of the new Commissioner of Administration land a fancy new $139,000 job as the "Assistant Commissioner of Education" which never existed before, now there's a newly-created job called "Executive Assistant to the First Lady." Looks like the administration found some more money in their other pants! Wonder which kids and sick people are going to have to do without to accommodate these new positions.
One of the solutions we can expect to come down the pike as the budget gets examined is the privatization of public institutions. Babcock/Dunleavy is a big fan – school vouchers, private prisons, and they've already privatized the state-run mental hospital, the Alaska Psychiatric Institute. Granted, API has been criticized lately for some pretty serious problems. But suddenly, Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum (remember the failed senate candidate who worked for a truck driving school, and said he's "not a health care policy guy") has decided he IS a "health care policy guy" after all, and has declared a state of emergency, and awarded a no-bid contract to privatize API. The company, Wellpath, is a newly-named hybrid of two other scandal-plagued companies, and has ties to… wait for it… you know it's coming... brand-new Outside hatchet-for-hire budget director Donna Arduin! Oh, and they must have checked the couch cushions because they found another million dollars a month to put towards paying Wellpath to evaluate their options.
DO YOU UNDERSTAND?
Speaking of Donna Arduin, she got a roasting over the coals in an informational meeting in the House. They may not be organized yet, but boy they can still pack a wallop when they want to. Republicans and Democrats alike questioned her supplemental budget which proposed cutting $20 million out of THIS year's education budget. Yes, the one that the last legislature voted on and promised to school districts, and the one those school districts are spending NOW. After several House members asked incredulously if she understood the ramifications of these cuts, she said to stop asking her if she understood, because it was "pejorative." Then she said it's not her job to think about the ramifications of what she proposes. So, we can assume she does indeed understand, she just doesn't actually care. Got it.
TOO BIG FOR HIS BREECHES
Actual photo of Ben Carpenter crowning himself Emperor of France Chair
Someone needs to have a little sit-down with freshman Rep. Ben Carpenter, who pulled a "Napoleon crowning himself" moment in a hearing on Friday. The unflappable Rep. Matt Claman (D-Anch) was the recipient of Carpenter's self-important ire. Claman was questioning Nancy Dahlstrom, Commissioner of Corrections, and Carpenter, who didn't like his questions, kept saying things like, "I think I am the Chair and YOU ARE DONE!" He really must have liked saying, "You are done!" and "I'm the Chair!" because he said it a few more times. But, spoiler alert: He's not the Chair because they don't have committees yet. You can read the whole back and forth HERE, but it ended with Rep. Tammie Wilson having to pause the meeting and explain to Carpenter how this works. Claman was then allowed to finish his question without someone shouting at him, and the question was answered. If Rep. Carpenter gets power-drunk during an unofficial committee meeting in which he is not actually the Chair, one can only imagine what a Republican-controlled House would be like. Hang in there Gary Knopp!
If you were going to appoint someone to the commission that adjudicates complaints against judges, who might you seek for that job? If you answered a 23-year old who couldn't even hold a Ketchikan School Board seat after facing a recall amid scandal, who then ran and lost a race for State House, you might be Governor Michael J. Dunleavy. Or Tuckerman Babcock. Or both. Yes, the latest in the incredibly long and controversial string of questionable hires by the administration is none other than Trevor Shaw. You can read more details HERE.
But wait, you don't even have to be a Republican who lost an election to get a job for Senate Finance. They've just hired Cale Green, former KTVA cameraman and son of Rick Green, aka Rick Rydell, the right-wing talk radio host who is now working as an "adviser" in the Department of Fish and Game. His son's newly made up job will be "messaging" for the Senate Republicans on the Finance Committee about the soon-to-be budget.
NOT ANSWERING THE QUESTION
Commissioner in the headlights
During a finance committee meeting last week, there was a very interesting exchange between Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D) and Education Commissioner, Dr. Michael Johnson. Wielechowski, concerned about the fate of public education (mainly because when Gov. Dunleavy was in the Senate, one of his failed bills involved siphoning state money from public education for use by religious and private schools) asked the following: "Do you believe the constitution should be changed to allow public funds for private or religious schools?"
The answer: "I don't think the constitution should be changed without the vote of the people."
(That wasn't the question)
FIRING THE WATCHDOG
Babcock/Dunleavy are also trying to get rid of the thorn in their side who has the temerity to do his actual job of being a watchdog on the oil and gas industry as the Chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (AOGCC). The complication comes because unlike others who serve "at the pleasure of the governor" Hollis French was confirmed by the legislature and can only be fired for cause. So, they're busy ginning up causes as fast as they can, but none of them had any teeth in the weekend-long hearing because "being a former Democratic legislator who drove Republicans crazy by holding them accountable for things" isn't a cause they can use out loud. Former Rep. Les Gara lays out the whole case in a Facebook post starting off with: "Hollis' job was never in danger until he asked his co-Commissioners to join him in looking into whether this Commission had the power to act on Hilcorp's month-long, 2017 gas leak in Cook Inlet…"It's definitely worth a read HERE.
That's it for now. Hang in there and ready your metaphorical torches and pitchforks, and your megaphones, and dialing fingers, and boots on the ground, and pens, and laptops and whatever else you've got. Your state is going to need you, and it's not ok to sit on the sidelines.