TALL TALES from Juneau

Eyes on the Babcock/Dunleavy administration

The “Avoid Being Obnoxious” edition


Who would ever think that the snooze-worthy “Department of Administration” would be the source of so much drama. And yet, here we are. Commissioner of Administration 2.0, Kelly Tshibaka (who is actually qualified to hold a commissioner job, and didn’t lie on her resume) is sadly not as uncontroversial as we had hoped. In addition to her work qualifications, she is also co-founder and co-pastor of a Pentecostal Foursquare church in the Washington D.C. area. To be crystal-clear --> Religiosity is not in itself an issue here. We are, and should be, an open-minded and progressive bunch. But the Foursquare church had this alarming observation of Ms. Tshibaka, talking about her work environment: “Her leading spiritual duty comes in the marketplace. Though emphasizing she avoids being obnoxious, she is still vocal about her Christian identity while at work. That includes leading discipleship groups at work, reading the Bible, and discipling people.” Considering that “obnoxious” is in the eye of the beholder, and this description seems to indicate something pretty close to proselytizing, this sets those red flags waving. In addition, she wrote a column in 2002 saying that “homosexuals can come out of homosexuality because their preference is not biologically mandated. Unlike race or gender, homosexuality is a choice.” We can hope that her thinking has evolved since then, and that her work behavior doesn’t cross a line, but if our hopes don't happen, it could be really interesting working in the Department of Administration if you are non-heterosexual and/or a non-Pentecostal Christian. We’ll refrain from judgment, but keep our eyes open.


It also appears she comes as part of a package. Her husband, and co-pastor Niki Tshibaka has gotten a brand-new position in the administration, created just for him. He’ll be the new Assistant Commissioner of Education with a salary of $139,000. That makes their combined household income from the state of Alaska a cool $280,000 a year – more than a million dollars by the end of Dunleavy’s term. What will he be doing in this newly-created position? “Implementing health, safety and well-being policies and practices statewide.” We are left to fill in the blanks on this vague and sweeping job description. Considering the governor’s zeal for restricting sex-education (which he tried to tie to health issues) while he was a senator, and attempting to put forward bills to alter the constitution so the state could skim off public education funding and divert it to religious schools, and allow home school dollars provided by the state to purchase religious materials, we can only imagine what may lie ahead.


It’s fun to note that in the corners of the internet, there’s a little right-wing sock puppet Fakebooker who keeps saying how great it would be if Andi Story (D-Juneau) would just jump ship and caucus with Republicans in exchange for a co-chair of Finance position, giving R's a majority in the House. Hey, if fake Russian political trolling worked, why not try it locally?  Back in the real world, the House floor session was canceled today and if there’s no organization by tomorrow we will have broken the record for the longest time with no House in session, as we continue to wait for a compromise to be struck. Meanwhile, David Eastman continues to prove why no one wants to work with him by writing blustery opinions on his own blog about how Republicans are the best and Alaska has spoken, and making random doomed nominations of Dave Talerico from the floor.


Even though Tuckerman Babcock has a new job as governor chief of staff, he’s having a rough time changing gears and leaving his last position behind. Apparently, he’s still trying to run the GOP from the marble halls of the Capitol, and he's as divisive as he was then. Once again, his sense of Republican purity was offended – this time when Gary Knopp refused to caucus with Republicans to give them a razor-thin majority in the House, and effectively allowing any one member to quash a vote. (We’re looking at you David Eastman). Knopp saw the writing on THAT wall, and is holding out for a bipartisan coalition with a strong center. The cardinal sin of bipartisanship on the part of Knopp reportedly enraged Babcock to the point that he demanded that Knopp be censured by the party. When that didn’t happen, he stomped away, broke his crayons, and stopped his monthly contribution to the Republican Party. It's hard to imagine why this administration is off to such an ignominious start.


It’s like a movie plot line that’s so transparent you keep calling things before they happen. Remember a couple editions ago when we were talking about all the signs that there may be a push to privatize Alaska’s prison system? Well… guess who has ties to the private prison industry? Yep, you guessed it! Outside hatchet-for-hire Budget Director Donna Arduin. A group of Democratic legislators have written a letterasking for more specifics on her current ties. And good on Dermot Cole for digging up this little nugget to remind us all why that would be an utter disaster.  


There are only eight days left until the actual budget gets dropped. And Arduin will have one more thing on her “to cut” list now after the new position created for Niki Tshibaka. His six-figure salary is going to have to be cut from somewhere. Hooray for eliminating government waste and overpaid bureaucrats!


Don't forget that tonight at 5pm Alaska time is the State of the Union address. Not sure how long that will last, but do remember to tune in afterward to hear the Democratic rebuttal from rising star Stacey Abrams. While voter suppression tainted the results of elections across the country, including in Georgia, Abrams’ campaign charted a path forward for our country and the Democratic Party. She focused on good, affordable education for all, expanding Medicaid and access to health care, growing the economy and supporting entrepreneurship – issues the majority of Americans agree with. She'll be a breath of fresh air after the hot air she follows.


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