Christmas has come and gone and it will be 2023 in less than a week! The Minefield is a day late because of the holiday weekend. Sorry to all the Alaskans who got stuck traveling this weekend. Hopefully everyone made it to where they were going. Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration blew up when he suddenly announced the ouster of Amy Demboski as municipal manager. The House remains unorganized almost two months after the election, and session starts in just over three weeks. A judge ruled that Representative David Eastman’s (R – Wasilla) membership in the Oath Keepers does not preclude him from serving in the Alaska Legislature. Representative-elect Jennie Armstrong was on the stand this week in her residency trial, and it got pretty weird. And several politicos are on the move.
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After a trial that lasted more than a week, Judge Jack McKenna ruled that David Eastman is eligible to serve in the Alaska Legislature. Eastman was sued by Randall Kowalke, who argued his membership in the Oath Keepers disqualified him from serving in the Legislature because of a Cold War era clause in the Alaska Constitution. The clause has never been tested until now. In his ruling, McKenna said the clause must be “interpreted in harmony with the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.” This is something I, and a lot of lawyers, have been saying from the beginning. Good on McKenna for making the right ruling, which is a huge win for the First Amendment.
In his ruling, McKenna did say the Oath Keepers are an organization that took concrete action to overthrow the government, but that Eastman “did not possess a specific intent to further the Oath Keepers words or actions aimed at overthrowing the the United States government.” Much of the trial focused on the role the Oath Keepers played in the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. Eastman was in D.C. on January 6 but never entered the Capitol.
The trial itself was pretty bizarre. Much of it was held remotely because of the snow storms. The bad internet connection for Joe Miller, Eastman’s lawyer, was a theme throughout the trial. The star witness for the plaintiffs was Jon Lewis, a research fellow at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. Dude looks like he’s 25. Stewart Rhodes, the convicted leader of the Oath Keepers, testified by telephone from jail. He had to stop several times and tell loud inmates to be quiet because he was testifying at a trial. John Eastman (no known relation to David Eastman) testified for the defense. During the trial, the January 6 Committee recommended John Eastman, who represented Trump in his attempts to overturn the 2020 election, face criminal charges for his role as Trump’s lawyer. Overall it was a really loose trial. At least in the end the judge made the right ruling. The plaintiffs have until January 4, 2023 to appeal the ruling.
On Thursday, Jennie Armstrong spent much of the day on the stand in her residency trial. Armstrong defeated Republican Liz Vazquez for the open West Anchorage House seat. But when the election pamphlet came out before the election, she said she had only been an Alaska resident since 2019. This got me curious because, according to the Alaska Constitution, a person must be an Alaska resident for three years when they file to run for office. Armstrong filed on June 1, 2022, meaning she would have had to been a resident by June 1, 2019 to qualify. Instagram posts from the time and subsequent fishing licenses we obtained all point to Armstrong becoming a resident after June 1, 2019.
Armstrong came to Alaska to visit her now-husband Ben Kellie on a planned trip from May 10-20, 2019. Armstrong said a friend introduced them in January 2019. They communicated by phone, text, and video message until her trip to Alaska in May 2019, when they first met in person. It sounds like the texting and video messaging was pretty hot and heavy! Kellie persuaded Armstrong to visit him by making some Power Point presentations that highlighted Alaska. Which I must admit is a legit move.
On her declaration of candidacy, Armstrong wrote that she’s been an Alaska resident since May 20, 2019 – the day she left Alaska. Armstrong said she and Kellie decided she would move in with him before she left. She, and Kellie who later testified, both said they did not sleep that night. Armstrong also said that while in Chena Hot Springs, Tarot cards told her to move to Alaska. Yes, she really said that. Stay tuned for the “Jennie Armstrong Legislative Tarot Card Deck.”
Armstrong provided a text message from 2020 where she told a friend she moved to Alaska in May. She also said she left a pair of boots, a jacket, and a sweater at Kellie’s house before she left. But everything else points to her actually becoming a resident after June 1. On one of her Instagram posts she wrote, “My whole life I’ve wanted to twist the narrative of my story.” The plaintiffs loved that one. But she tried to explain it away by essentially saying it was a vulnerable post and, to the best of my understanding, was about how she was raised privileged and it would be a better story if she was raised poor and marginalized. Really weird.
Judge Herman Walker should issue a ruling this week. He will have to decide which residency definition applies to legislative candidates and if Armstrong meets it. There has never been a legal challenge on the three year residency requirement. But there have been many on the requirement that says a candidate must live in the district they are running in for at least one year before they file. An employee of the Division of Elections testified that the Division takes everyone at their word and doesn’t do anything to verify residency. If Walker does rule Armstrong ineligible, it’s not clear what would then happen. He could declare Vazquez the winner. He could order Dunleavy to choose a Democrat replacement. Or he could even order a new election! Regardless of his ruling, this will likely be appealed to the Supreme Court by the losing side.
Oh, and check this out. Armstrong is asking for money for her legal defense fund. But according to her financial disclosure, she and her husband made AT LEAST $1.5 million last year. She’s going to fit right in in Juneau. That amount could be much higher because Kellie’s “Partial buyout of the The Launch Company LLC by Voyager Space Holdings” was listed at “$1,000,000 or more.” For some reason anything over $1 million is treated as the same for financial disclosures. So Kellie could have received $1.1 million or $25 million, or $100 million! The Legislature needs to tighten up these reporting amounts.
Governor Dunleavy appointed Heidi Hedberg as the new Health commissioner this week. Dunleavy appointed her as acting commissioner in mid-November after he appointed Adam Crum Revenue commissioner. Hedberg previously served as the director of Public Health. She’s been with the state in various health roles since 2009. I have gotten to know her over the past few years. I am a big fan! She’s smart and very personable. Congrats, Heid! Funny aside, she and Anne Zink are good friends. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, used to be Hedberg’s boss but now she’s Zink’s boss.
Governor Dunleavy also appointed Laura Stidolph as his new legislative director. Stidolph previously served as his deputy legislative director before going to work at GCI to head up government affairs. She also worked many years as a legislative staffer for legislators across a broad political spectrum. Stidolph is a great pick and will do a great job. Congrats, Laura!
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority board appointed Randy Ruaro as their new executive director. Alan Weitzner, the previous executive director, abruptly resigned last month with no explanation. Ruaro recently served as Dunleavy’s chief of staff and as a special assistant for statehood defense. Prior to that, Rurao served as chief of staff for members of the House and Senate Finance Committees. Hopefully he can turn things around at AIDEA, which has been plagued with scandals and a mass exodus of staff.
Kelly Goode left her role as deputy commissioner for the Department of Corrections to take a job in the Legislature. She will serve as Senator Donny Olson’s (D – Golovin) chief of staff. Olson will serve as one of three Senate Finance co-chairs in the next Legislature.
This Week’s Loose Unit
This week’s designee was an extremal easy choice. This week’s Loose Unit is Amy Demboski. By now I’m sure you are aware of all the drama surrounding her abrupt exit as municipal manager. Thanks to the work of me an Paxson Woelber, we were able to uncover one of the loosest things in local or state government I have seen in a while. During a high level meeting on December 12 of Bronson administration officials, Demboski expressed her desire for all municipal employees to come to work. If they choose not to, she wanted them to use leave. That alone is pretty loose. This was in the middle of the storms that paralyzed Anchorage. Rachelle Alger, who Demboski has been in a power struggle with, said she thought that was a bad idea because of how bad the roads were.
After some back and forth, Bronson’s Chief of Staff Adam Trombley or Dave Bronson ended the meeting. Alger, who was attending via Microsoft Teams with several other people, was gone when the meeting ended. Immediately after the remote session stopped, Demboski stood up, pointed to Trombley, and exclaimed, “You tell that fucking cunt to never question me again!” MAXIMUM LOOSE. You can read about the entire loose situation here.
And if that wasn’t loose enough, Demboski then went on a press tour after our article came out. On KTUU, she did an interview that was somewhere between Hard Copy and Dateline. It was super loose. You definitely need to watch it. This dude Mike Mason, a new KTUU reporter, thinks he’s in New York City or Miami. He asked zero real questions. Demboski’s crocodile tears at the end are pretty amazing. Demboski either printed off or sent herself a bunch of emails she sent to Bronson about alleged malfeasance involving Sullivan Arena the Purchasing Department. She knew she was done so made sure to save the receipts. Since she was ousted, she’s been sharing the emails with a lot of media. The term megalomanic is apropos in this situation. Classic Loose Unit.
If you have a nomination for this week’s Loose Unit, or if you have any political news, stories or gossip (or any old pics of politicians or public officials) please email me at email@example.com.