On Tuesday, Anchorage Journal of Commerce Managing Editor Andrew Jensen published a piece titled “OPINION: Finance co-chair doesn’t trust rural Alaska with early PFD.” In the piece he claims that Representative Jennifer Johnston (R – Anchorage), who serves as a co-chair of the House Finance Committee, called him in response to a piece he wrote about the legislature’s failure to approve a stimulus dividend. He claims she asked him, “Have you ever been to the villages at dividend time?”
The piece included:
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.
The opinion piece has been widely shared and circulated on social media. Not surprisingly, Johnston has been heavily criticized and slammed by the pro-PFD crowd and Republicans who oppose the bipartisan House Majority coalition. The next day Jensen’s column appeared in the highly partisan Must Read Alaska.
There has been an odd silence from members of the House Majority. You better believe if the tables were turned, and a similar article appeared about a member of the House Republican Minority, the House Majority would have had a press release out the same day. Majority members would have labeled the comments racist and insensitive and called for the member to resign. Remember in 2017 when the House censured Representative David Eastman (R – Wasilla) for a comment about women from villages getting pregnant to get a free trip to Anchorage?
As I was writing this I received an email with a statement from House Speaker Bryce Edgmon (I – 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. 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.”
Translation: It’s cool, she’s on our team.
As usual, the partisans have dug in. This is yet another example of how partisan politics–particularly surrounding the dividend–dictate how both politicians and constituents react when something controversial like this happens.
Jensen is a highly partisan individual who does not hide his feelings about Democrats or politicians who associate with them. Here is a Facebook post he made today.
Jensen was so proud of his piece he went on both the Dan Fagan Show and Mike Porcaro Show the next day. His “I got her” vibe was strong. Not surprisingly, Fagan and Porcaro were just as excited as Jensen. Porcaro even called for Johnston to resign.
Unlike Eastman’s public comments, we don’t know what Johnston told Jensen or how the conversation went. Only they do. But even if you take Jensen’s claims at face value, do you think he would have written the piece if he had the same conversation with a member of the House Republican Minority? Obviously not. Jensen’s “article” is a political attack piece.
The day after the piece came out Johnston posted an apology on her official Facebook page. The comments are a microcosm of the entire situation.
As in most political situations, nothing anyone says is going to change how people feel. And that’s too bad. Both sides acknowledge that Johnston made a dumb comment. However, notice that the PC police and “woke warriors” have been oddly silent. Johnston is on the right team, therefore she seems to be immune from condemnation.
Many who gleefully shared Jensen’s piece were quick to label Johnston a racist and call for her to resign. It doesn’t actually matter what she said or whether they’d react the same way if someone on “their side” had made the same comments, all that matters is she “took my PFD.”
This situation highlights that, unfortunately, politics is more important than issues for far too many. For partisans on both sides, it really doesn’t matter what she said.