A year ago, David Bianculli, TV critic on NPR’s Fresh Air, said: “I cannot tell you how pleased I will be to turn the calendar to 2021 except I feel like everybody listening feels exactly the same way.” Host Terry Gross replied, “Except the secret is 2021 could possibly be worse than 2020.” Bianculli sighed, “We all need a dose of Debbie Downer every now and then.” This year I am that Debby Downer. I am frightened about what lies ahead for our state and city in 2022. Here are my three principal concerns:
Last month, the Alaska Redistricting Board passed its proclamation for the new House and Senate districts. Of great worry is the new Senate district pairing south Eagle River with south Muldoon. This “naked partisan gerrymander,” according to redistricting board member Melanie Bahnke, dilutes the voice of the minority south Muldoon area by placing it in largely white, affluent Eagle River, which will now have two senators instead of one. This issue was discussed at length on the East Anchorage Book Club Podcast this past week with Ms. Bahnke. The litigation committee made up of Redistricting Board Chair John Binkley and board member Budd Simpson will try to delay court rulings as long as possible. They know that this Senate district likely won’t stand up, but if they can postpone the ruling for a year, then it won’t matter for the 2022 election cycle.
If the delay is successful, all is not lost. South Muldoon resident and long-term public servant Donna Mears has filed to run for that Senate seat. Perhaps with ranked choice voting, we can replace government obstructionist and anti-science Senator Lora Reinbold with Ms. Mears. This could potentially change the balance of power in the Senate and be the opposite of what the gerrymander was intended to do.
Governor Dunleavy is striving for a constitutional convention. Ostensibly, he says it’s to enshrine a guaranteed PFD into the constitution, but once the door is open to changing that document, the governor will want a partisan judiciary, greater influence from special interests, and restrictions to our individual freedoms. It’s surprising, considering conservatives favor state and individual rights, that the governor would want to remove those protections, but that’s where we are headed.
There is an organization seeking to preserve our founding document: “Defend our Constitution.” This group stated in a recent press release that legal scholarship has long regarded Alaska’s Constitution to be a model of its kind. “Think long and hard before we open our constitution for wholesale rewrite in these politically polarized times. Noble and civil discourse is required for such an undertaking,” said John Coghill, a co-chair of Defend our Constitution and a former state senator from Fairbanks.
Mayor Dave Bronson and City Manager Amy Demboski have been on a destructive path since taking office in July. They follow the Trumpian example that the more dysfunctional and inefficient a government is the better. It’s a strategy that wants the populace to believe that the government is so broken that the only solution is to give the chief executive more power. In the face of this effort, an unprecedented number of career employees have quit or been asked to leave. The recent demotion of now-former Deputy Police Chief Gerard Asselin and the resignation of Police Chief Kenneth McCoy are most worrisome. Recent reporting by the Alaska Landmine and by Andrew Halcro on his podcast “With All Due Respect” suggest that these resignations are due to a shadow police advisory council (“The Men’s Club”) that is instructing the administration on APD decisions and side-stepping the traditional chain of command.
There are two specific examples of this alternative chain of command that put citizens in danger. One was the order to remove a patient from Providence and transfer him to a different facility; officers were told to arrest any doctors or nurses who stood in the way. Since when do the police decide medical treatments for the hospitalized? The second was on Oct. 7 at a contentious Anchorage Assembly meeting when the city manager instructed the APD to leave the chambers. What was the goal of this instruction, which luckily APD refused to comply with? Some have said it was just intimidation, but personally I think it was more than that. I was in the hall that night; I felt the energy of the mask opponents firsthand and knew that the dais could have been stormed. Anchorage’s own January 6th could have happened that night with the blessing of the city manager and mayor. This alarm bell should have the whole city on high alert. We must stop this move to authoritarianism.
I hope I am incorrect about my pessimistic forecast for 2022; the truth is though I’ll only be wrong if more people react with action to the warning bells that are loudly ringing. It’s not enough to sit at home with your anxiety: show up to assembly meetings, write letters to the editor, support candidates who oppose authoritarian agendas, spread kindness to your neighbors and fellow citizens. Please, next year at this time let’s look back on this article and laugh about how much I got wrong. You are the key to making that happen. Happy new year and see you in the assembly chambers.
Andrew Gray is on the board of the Campbell Park Community Council, has taught yoga at the Alaska Club, and sings with the Anchorage Opera Chorus. He is host of the East Anchorage Book Club’s podcast and forum and co-founder of the political organization Anchorage Action.