TALL TALES from Juneau
Eyes on the Dunleavy Administration
Cast of Characters Edition
As we move closer to the legislative session which begins on Tuesday, January 15, the new governor, Mike Dunleavy, continues to make appointments to his cabinet and other important state positions - and it’s even worse than we thought.
Here’s a list of a baker’s dozen appointments that concern us so far, and confirm that this administration, which claims to be all about “restoring trust in government” is starting on a very bad note.
1) Chief of Staff Tuckerman Babcock: Plucked right from his position as Chair of the Alaska Republican Party. Not only is the selection literally partisan, Babcock has been an incredibly divisive figure, and a far-right party purist. He turned against his own candidates because they chose to work with Democrats and ran far-right loyalists to oppose them in their re-election bids. Because, compromise? Anyone who compromises in good faith so government can actually function is a "turncoat."
2) Attorney General Kevin Clarkson: An anti-abortion lawyer, and a founder of Jim Minnery’s Alaska Family Action, a political organization pushing extreme anti-LGBT, and anti-choice policies. Minnery and Clarkson were even featured in a special issue of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Watch. Clarkson also advocated for an invocation/prayer policy which banned Muslims and Jews from participation, and fought to ban trans women from shelters. Openly hostile to the Alaska Constitution’s privacy clause, he called it “Roe v. Wade on steroids.” He tried for a position on the Supreme Court a few years ago and didn't get the job based in part on the less-than-stellar ratings from his fellow attorneys.
3) Budget Director Donna Arduin: Never heard the name? Not surprising. A hired hatchet-woman from Outside, Arduin has made a career of traveling from red state to red state hacking budgets for various Republican governors. Since Alaska is the only state with a new incoming Republican governor after the midterms (lucky us), she was available. She hasn’t been here long enough to remember back to the Big Earthquake of 2018, but Gov. Dunleavy has given her sweeping consolidated powers and control over our budget and cuts, without knowing Alaska or Alaskans at all. Google her, and it doesn’t take long to find the phrase “junk economics” and “history of dubious reports.”
4) Deputy Chief of Staff #1 Amy Demboski: Assemblywoman from Eagle River, Demboski is a failed Anchorage mayoral candidate who was far too extreme to run a viable campaign. She has called the Anchorage Assembly a “liberal hell,” and became a right-wing radio host to vent her spleen about “the left” going so far as to suggest she'd like more-conservative Eagle River to secede from the Municipality. She was also a resounding vote against providing equal rights in employment, housing, education, and use of public facilities to Anchorage's LGBT community.
5) Deputy Chief of Staff #2 Jeremy Price: There’s no doubt about his agenda. He’s the immediate past director of the Alaska chapter of Americans for Prosperity, an Outside Libertarian/conservative organization founded and funded by the Koch Brothers which serves as their primary political advocacy group. He recently testified against Anchorage’s plastic bag ban. Apparently preserving the landscape, our streams, and the infrastructure at the wastewater treatment facility is really all about “the government telling you how to grocery shop” and is a slippery slope to socialism.
6) Commissioner of Health & Human Services Adam Crum: When he ran a failed campaign for State Senate in the Mat-Su Valley, he told the Associated Press that he’s “not a health care policy guy.” Before his appointment as Alaska’s top health care policy guy, he was working at a family business which involves training people in construction. Now he’ll be running a department with 3,000 employees and a budget of more than $2 billion which he called "unsustainable." He's also stated that "we need to get people off of state-paid healthcare" and was endorsed by Alaska Right to Life.
7) Special Adviser for Constitutional Reform Dick Randolph: An insurance agent, and long-ago former legislator involved in the repeal of Alaska’s state income tax, Randolph has repeatedly called our constitution “awful” and says it’s “socialist doctrine.” Yes, really. Now he’ll be advising the governor on how to “reform” our founding document. Dunleavy has said part of Randolph's job will be looking at the PFD, but other issues have long been on Republicans’ wish list, like changing the way judges are appointed to make the process more political, getting rid of Alaskans' ownership of our resources (socialism!), and doing away with the privacy clause which made Alaska a pro-choice state 3 years before Roe v. Wade.
8) Deputy Commissioner of Labor Cathy Muñoz: A former Representative from Juneau, Muñoz was driven out of office in disgrace after it was discovered she had written multiple letters begging for leniency for sexual offenders and pedophiles. Juneauites, rightfully outraged, sent her packing and It should have ended her political career, but now she’s back on the state payroll.
9) Special Assistant Rick Rydell & his nephew: Apparently one right-wing talk raidio host in the administration just wasn't enough. Rick Rydell has spent years in front of a microphone railing against Democrats, liberals, and state workers. He described himself as “one of the God-given greatest conservative minds of our time.” *cough* Now he’ll be making $86,000 a year as a “special assistant” in the Department of Fish & Game. What are his qualifications you ask? A “passion” for fish and game, and a GED. His nephew got a nice job from the administration as well. Because, why not?
10) Director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation Eddie Grasser: ‘Kill ‘em & grill ‘em’ Eddie Grasser is the former head of the Safari Club, and a back-door lobbyist for several groups including big game hunters, the NRA, a whole host of oil companies, and even Pebble Mine. He advocated for the reinstitution of aerial wolf hunting, calling opponents of the measure “outside extremists.” He was also the chief of staff for former Rep. Beverly Masek who went to prison after the Alaska political corruption probe into the “Corrupt Bastards Club.” Now he will be tasked with wildlife "conservation."
11) Special Assistant Ben Stevens: Another prominent figure in the Corrupt Bastards Club scandal, whose office was raided by the FBI when he was Senate President. The son of Ted Stevens was never indicted, but he was also never able to explain hundreds of thousands of dollars he received from VECO, which coincidentally was paying for other legislators votes at the very same time... Stevens became unelectable for public office, but that didn’t stop him from getting this job from Dunleavy which will get him a $150,000 a year paycheck from the State of Alaska. He was also known for calling Alaska’s last Wasilla governor, Sarah Palin, “Valley Trash.”
12) Commissioner of Environmental Conservation Jason Brune: To round out our Orwellian dozen, Brune’s career path has not been about conservation, but only development -- including representing Pebble Mine in public and government relations, and working in the Resource Development Council advocating for oil, mining, and logging. Brune says he’s "confident he can be objective" and listen to all sides.
13) Special Adviser Sean Parnell: Yep, THAT Sean Parnell. A sitting Republican governor who was voted out of office during a sexual assault scandal that rocked the Alaska National Guard is now back on the state’s dime. Maybe it was his history of kowtowing to the oil industry, giving away the farm with SB21, or his history as an attorney fighting on behalf of Exxon during the oil spill. Either way, your least-favorite oil company lobbyist will be advising the governor on gas line issues.
Is your "trust in government" restored yet?
BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE
There are still more appointments to come, and we are watching and waiting. Alaskans voted for a tall guy who wanted to give them back their PFDs. What we are getting is something much more. Extreme partisans, Outside hatchets, anti-choice zealots, anti-LGBT activists, Libertarian ideologues, anti-environmentalists, and right-wing radio talk show hosts will be taking over the third floor of our Capitol to steer the ship of state.
Dunleavy has put forward a temporary budget plan which says it will pay Alaskans a full PFD using the statutory formula, but doesn’t say how we will fill the huge deficit gap of over $1.5 billion. With promises of no taxes or revenue generators, that means one thing -- cuts. The three largest targets will be public education, health care, and transportation. We will see the full scope of these cuts when Dunleavy releases the actual budget in January.
In the meantime, we hope for a moderate state House coalition to form that will temper the obvious agenda we see before us. A bipartisan House would act as a firewall against what is sure to be an extreme right-wing force seeking to remake Alaska and its government while chopping the things we care about to the bone.
STAY IN THE KNOW
We will continue to update you throughout the session, and urge you to stay vigilant and connected through the following channels:
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