The Sunday Minefield – February 18, 2024

As we enter the sixth week of the legislative session, things are looking to heat up again tomorrow in the House on the omnibus education bill. The House Education Committee imploded on Wednesday when the committee refused to adopt a committee substitute for a bill to reauthorize a vocational education program. The big news this week was the rejection of the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), which was broken by the Landmine. Governor Mike Dunleavy’s (R – Alaska) amended budget came out this week. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R – Alaska) addressed a joint session of the Alaska Legislature. Year-start reports for legislative and Anchorage mayoral candidates were due on February 15. And the ex-girlfriend of a representative filed to run against him.

A friendly message and reminder to all our readers. The Landmine is made possible by myself and a team of awesome Alaskans. I am back in Juneau for my sixth session in a row reporting on the Legislature. If you enjoy the content we provide, please consider making a one time or recurring monthly donation. You can click here to donate. We have a donation system that makes it super easy. We would really appreciate it. And thanks to everyone who has been supportive!

House Education Bill is Back The

The House majority has calendared Senate Bill 140, their now-omnibus education bill, on the floor tomorrow. The bill stalled for several weeks because the House majority did not have the votes to pass it after they added several of their education priorities during the first week of session. Sources report that well over 100 amendments have been drafted.

Members of the House and Senate majorities have been meeting to try and hammer out a deal, but it is not clear if the House majority has the 21 votes needed from their 23-member majority to pass the bill. While several of the Republican members have expressed confidence they have 21 votes, it will all come down to three non-Republicans: Representatives Bryce Edgmon (I – Dillingham), Neal Foster (D – Nome), and CJ McCormick (D – Bethel). If all three of them vote no, the bill would only pass with minority support.

But the situation is further complicated due to the exclusion of the House minority from negotiations. With 16 members, their votes could impact which amendments pass or fail, or if the bill even passes. Representative Calvin Schrage (I – Anchorage), the minority leader, told the Alaska Political Report, “We are not off to a good start given that we’ve been left out of the process and have not had any input into the legislation.”

Part of the urgency is that a provision in the bill needs to pass by February 27 in order for rural schools to qualify for a federal broadband subsidy. The current statute is for up to 25 Mbps, but the bill would raise it to 100 Mbps. Many of the schools have the capacity to go above 25 Mbps, but state law needs to be amended to allow the federal subsidy to apply for up to anything over 25 Mbps. The application deadline for the program is February 27, so if the bill is not passed, and signed into law by then, schools would have to wait another year. This is really important to members of the Bush Caucus, a reason they may end up supporting the bill even if they don’t like some of the other Republican education priorities. (Representative Edgmon has another bill for just the broadband subsidy [what SB140 originally was] but even if that were able to get passed and sent to the Senate in time [extremely unlikely], Governor Dunleavy has said he would not sign that.)

It’s hard to say how the House floor session will go tomorrow, but it’s guaranteed to be loose!

Q4 FEC reports show Peltola with big cash advantage over Republicans Begich, Dahlstrom

The following is an excerpt from this week’s edition of the Alaska Political Report. You can click here for more information about the Political Report. A subscription is $1,299/year per organization. Discounted pricing is available for non-profits and government entities. Our coverage of the budget starts with the governor’s proposed budget, and we track everything in detail through the entire process. If you have any questions or would like to subscribe, please email jeff@akpoliticalreport.com.

The fourth quarter Federal Election Commission finance reports were due on Jan 31. They cover the period from Oct. 1 – Dec. 31. This is the first report showing activity for Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom (R-AK), who entered the race in November. Republican Nick Begich, who filed to run in July, is once again challenging Rep. Mary Peltola (D-AK) but now also has to contend with fellow Republican Nancy Dahlstrom.

As the incumbent, Peltola has a major fundraising advance over her two Republican opponents. She raised more than three times as much as Begich and Dahlstrom combined during the reporting period. Peltola reported more than $1.2 million in donations, while Dahlstrom reported $204,000 and Begich reported $190,000.

While Peltola spent considerably more during the period ($460,000) that her opponents, she still maintains a large cash advantage over Dahlstrom and Begich. Peltola reports $1.7 million cash on hand. Dahlstrom reports $200,000 while Begich reports $180,000. Begich reported spending $173,000 during the period, while Dahlstrom spent just $3,200.

Keep in mind that spending from third party groups like political action committees and political parties will be significantly higher than that of the candidates during the election cycle. For example, sources tell us that the National Republican Congressional Committee has earmarked up to $10 million for the race.

Here is a summary of their Q3 filings:

Mary Peltola

Peltola reported $1.2 million in income, $508,000 of which came from individuals – $94,000 from Alaskans and $414,000 from out of state. The rest, $609,000, came from political action committees and political groups. She spent $460,000 that includes $176,000 on media, postage, and advertising, $147,000 on salaries and related costs, $14,000 on fundraising, $10,000 on research and polling, $27,000 to ActBlue, $20,000 to Which Side Digital, and $18,000 to New Way Forward Strategies.

Nancy Dahlstrom

Dahlstrom reported $204,000 in income,$51,000 of which came from individuals – $18,000 from Alaskans and $34,000 from out of state (including $6,600 from Ross Perot Jr. son of the 1992 presidential candidate). The rest, $132,000, came from political action committees and political groups. She spent just $3,200 during the reporting period: $1,200 to Arena, $1,100 to WinRed, and $950 to Apex Strategic.

Nick Begich

Begich reported $190,000 in income, $126,000 of which came from individuals – $47,000 and $79,000 from out of state. The rest, $64,000, came from political action committees and political groups. He spent $173,000 that incudes $24,000 on media, postage, and advertising, $32,000 on salaries and related costs, $31,500 on fundraising, $14,000 on research and polling, $12,000 to American Made Media Consultants, $9,000 to Moneyball Strategies (owned by Anchorage politico Bernadette Wilson), $28,000 to WinRed, and $19,000 to Rival Strategy Group.

Other Happenings

Governor Dunleavy released his amended budget this week. Amendments totaled just $9.1 million for FY2025 and $11.5 million for FY2024. One interesting item is a $4.5 million reduction in the cost of replacement for the R/V Pandalus. Trident Seafoods has gifted the Department of Fish and Game a new vessel to replace the recently decommissioned Pandalus. The donated vessel requires $3 million of work to bring it to spec for the department’s needs. In the budget documents, OMB has removed the $7.5 million FY25 project for vessel purchase and replaced it with a supplemental request in FY24 for $3 million in vessel retrofit.

The House Education Committee imploded on Wednesday. The committee was going to hear Representative Ashley Carrick’s (D – Fairbanks) bill to reauthorize the Technical Vocational Education Program (TVEP). Representative Jamie Allard (R – Eagle Rive), the co-chair, had a committee substitute, but some of the members of the committee did not want to adopt it because they had not seen it. They could have adopted it anyway and then waited to a future meeting to amend it or vote against it. It’s odd they just refused to adopt it. Anyhoo, after an at ease Allard came back and adjourned the meeting! And now she and Representative Justin Ruffridge (R – Soldotna), the other co-chair, are at odds. They could not agree on the schedule for next week by the deadline, so there are no House Education Committee meetings scheduled for next week or for the foreseeable future.

Representative McCormick’s filed to run against him! She was in Juneau with McCormick last session and worked for Senator Donny Olson (D – Golovin) and Senator Scott Kawasaki (D – Fairbanks). She told me she is running because of the lack of action for her region that she witnessed in Juneau. She also told me she thinks the region needs to be represented by a Native woman who understands the issues and can represent the district. I can’t wait to see that debate.

Representative Ruffridge filed for re-election this week.

This Week’s Loose Unit 

This was one of those really easy weeks. This week’s Loose Unit is the State Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (DOT), with an honorable mention for the Harding Lake Mafia. You probably heard the STIP was rejected by the feds. I have been tracking problems with the STIP since December, and broke the story on Tuesday. Credit to reporter James Brooks for being the only member of the media who credited me for publishing the rejection letter from the Federal Highway Administration.

This is a big deal. It means around $900 million a year to the state. There seems to be a myriad of problems with how DOT bungled this thing. Hopefully they can get it resubmitted by March 1 so it can be approved by March 31. But the STIP not getting approved in a timely manner is unprecedented. It is a major fuck up and classic Loose Unit behavior.

I would like to give a special mention to the NIMBYs who live in Harding Lake, known as the Harding Lake Mafia, for doing their best to covertly get the STIP rejected. Led by former Senator Gary Wilken, the Harding Lake Mafia does not want trucks from Mahn Choh mine using the Richardson Highway – A PUBLIC ROAD! There were a few projects in the STIP for road improvements for the Richardson Highway, and they Harding Lake Mafia made sure to do what they could to cause problems. NIMBYs are systematically preventing anything at all from happening in this state. They are the epitome of Loose Units.

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 jeff@alaskalandmine.com.

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floridawoman
1 month ago

Yes our roads are public. As public roads it is illegal to travel them with unsecured loads with flying debris a hazard to other drivers and toxic dust a hazard to our fisheries. Yes Kinross is a foreign national company and yes Kinross needs the federal government to fund about a billion dollars of upgrades/post use funds to extract about a billion dollars of gold. Please read up on the Kinross ore trucking scam. Anchorage area is the next target. The education, not opposition to the Kinross ore trucking scam has state-wide advocates…though its cute ya think a few cabin… Read more »

Bills Johnson
1 month ago
Reply to  floridawoman

Florida woman commenting on Alaska. RICH. Just like the owners of “Cabins” on Harding Lake. Public roads are used for commerce, and should be to help create jobs in a state that needs more good paying jobs. As long as the mine can follow the law, they have the right to use the roads like anyone else. Bridges in the STIP have been deficient long before the mine came along. They need replaced regardless. Alaska is a resource state, that is how we survive.

floridawoman
1 month ago
Reply to  Bills Johnson

This is factually not true. The plan is to upgrade only the northbound lanes which just benefits Kinross.

floridawoman
1 month ago
Reply to  Bills Johnson

Bills if you don’t know who floridawoman is a reference to you clearly are not aware of Alaska’s political machine.

Dan
1 month ago

Is it really NIMBYism when all of Fairbanks is standing up for eachother. Trucking a mountain from Tetlin to Cleary Summit is an insane use of public roads, and DOT made little effort to include the local planning committee in it’s decision to direct limited funds towards projects necessary for the ore hauling. Also, Gary Wilken has a long enough history of representing the center of Fairbanks, and absolutely doesn’t deserve to be compared to the Mafia. I wonder how much the LM has been paying attention to this issue. I don’t know what Wilkins did in secret, but it’s… Read more »

Bills Johnson
1 month ago
Reply to  Dan

Nah, FAST had been hijacked by people in Fairbanks, when the STIP affects the whole State. FAST had maybe one person involved who knows anything about transportation or roads. The rest are politicos. They couldn’t get anything done without DOT getting it done.

floridawoman
1 month ago
Reply to  Bills Johnson

Bills,

Engineers, DOT, Military…these are politicos you are talking about?

https://fastplanning.us/about/staff/tc/

Dan
1 month ago
Reply to  Bills Johnson

Just to be clear, FAST is – by design – a committee of Fairbanks interests. No hijacking is necesary to cause FAST planning to be locally focussed. AMATS is the Anchorage equivelant. AMATS was also frozen out of the STIP planning process, and complained in a letter that also pointed out many technical errors in the finished document.

Dunleavy’s STIP process was illegal, and it resulted in a shoddy product that wasn’t aporoveable anyways. This entire episode demonstrates how necessary local planning committees are – especially in the prescence of administrative incompetence.