The Sunday Minefield – February 25, 2024

It’s the Monday Minefield this week. I have been in Olympia and Seattle this weekend working on a story and had a busy weekend! I fly back to Juneau tonight. Last week was consumed by the education bill in the House, which finally ended up passing in a compromise after a ton of infighting. It still needs to pass the Senate, and there is uncertainty whether or not Governor Mike Dunleavy (R – Alaska) will veto the bill. Senator Dan Sullivan (R – Alaska) addressed a joint session of the Legislature. The deadline to file individual bills was February 19. And Alaska Public Offices Commission reports show the main Anchorage mayoral candidates raised more than $630,000 for the first report of the campaign.

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!

Education Bill Fight

The only thing that really happened last week in Juneau, besides Senator Sullivan’s address to the Legislature, was the fight in the House over Senate Bill (SB) 140, the House’s omnibus education bill. If you were following Landmine Twitter (X), you know just how wild the whole process was.

It started off on Monday. The House failed 20-20 to adopt the Rules Committee substitute for the bill. Representatives Bryce Edgmon (I – Dillingham), Neal Foster (D – Nome), and CJ McCormick (D – Bethel) broke from their majority, along with Representative David Eastman (R – Wasilla), in joining the 16-member minority to vote against adopting the Rules substitute. This is the one Representative Craig Johnson (R – Anchorage) loaded up with their education priorities during the first week of session.

They then took a long break, eventually adjourning on Monday night. Most of Tuesday was spent negotiating with the House minority. It seemed a deal had come together between Representative Calvin Schrage (I – Anchorage), the minority leader, House Speaker Cathy Tilton (R – Wasilla), and Governor Dunleavy. That deal gave the Republicans their priorities, like Dunleavy’s teacher retention bonuses, as well as increased funding for the state correspondence program. But as soon as the Senate found out, they made it clear they were not going to go for that. A smart negotiation usually includes all parties. Leaving out the Senate was a mistake.

Once that deal died, the House then failed to adopt the Finance Committee substitute for SB 140. This was adopted last May and had a $680 increase to the Base Student Allocation (BSA) and increased pupil transportation funding. This meant the bill reverted back to the original Senate version, which was a simple increase in broadband speed for rural schools that qualify for a federal subsidy program. And this was the reason the bill was brought up. Wednesday is the application deadline for rural schools that have to go out to bid for the program.

The House voted down a ton of minority amendments 19-21. Edgmon, Foster, and McCormick kept voting with the minority, while Eastman voted with the majority. They adjourned Wednesday with no deal.

On Thursday it seemed some kind of deal was shaping. Representative Jesse Sumner (R – Wasilla) was seen all over the building. Everyone was being really quiet, which is usually a telltale sign something is coming together. By the late afternoon, it was clear some kind of deal had been made.

The House went back on the floor Thursday evening. After voting down some more amendments, including one from Representative Mike Cronk (R – Tok/Northway) for teacher bonuses that failed 20-20, an amendment from Representative Stanley Wright (R – Wasilla) was adopted 36-4. This amendment was the deal they cut. It included the $680 increase to the BSA, a small increase in the correspondence program, a statewide charter coordinator, the increase from 25 Mbps to 100 Mbps for rural schools, $500 for K-3 kids who need help with reading.

What it did not include was teacher bonuses, a statewide charter program, or a substantial increase in the correspondence program – all things Dunleavy wanted. It does include intent language for teacher bonuses, which is either an insult or an attempt to give Dunleavy some kind of moral victory.

The final bill ended up an overwhelming 38-2. It’s now in the Senate awaiting concurrence. The Senate will likely concur with the bill today as they were part of the negotiations on the deal, and there is the clock on the rural school internet portion. The Senate concurred with House changes this morning by a vote of 18-1.

There is still uncertainty whether or not Dunleavy will veto it. He got very little in the deal, and none of his big priorities were included. He’s made it clear education is a big priority. He’s been governor almost six years and has not accomplished much, so he might decide to take a stand here. If he does veto it, the Legislature will need 40 votes to override. The Senate seems to have 15, which means the House would need 25. The 16-membner minority plus Edgmon, Foster, and McCormick would be yes, meaning six Republicans would have to break. That could end up being close. Voting yes for a bill is different than voting to override a governor in the same party.

It would put Anchorage Republicans like Representatives Wright, Julie Coulombe, and Tom McKay in a tough spot. Voting to override Dunleavy would anger Republican voters but make the education lobby happy. Voting to sustain would please Republican voters but make the education lobby furious. Dunleavy could also choose to wait 15 days (excluding Sundays) and let the bill go into law. Then he could make it clear he plans on vetoing the line items in the budget if he does not get some of his priorities approved. What is clear to me is he won’t be signing the bill.

Year start reports shows Anchorage mayoral candidates raised more than $630,000

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.

Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) year start reports for Anchorage mayoral candidates and legislative candidates were due on Feb. 15. These reports cover the start of the campaign to Feb. 1, 2024. We will have a breakdown of House and Senate candidates out soon in a special edition.

Ten candidates filed to run for Anchorage mayor, but only five filed year start reports (one, Jenny Di Grappa, reported only $500 in non-monetary contributions).There are four main candidates: Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson, Suzanne LaFrance, Chris Tuck, and Bill Popp. Combined, they raised more than $630,000.

Ballots for the election go out in the mail on March12, and the election concludes on April 2. The next report is the 30-day report, which is due by March 4. It will cover the period from Feb. 2 – March 1. Below is a summary of their contributions, expenditures, and closing cash on hand.

You can click on the name of the candidate to view their report.

  • Suzanne LaFrance, a former Anchorage Assembly member, reported income of $291,000. She spent $169,000, leaving her with $122,000 cash on hand. Notable donations came from labor PACs ($13,500), $1,000 from lobbyist Jim Lottsfeldt, $1,000 from lobbyist Kim Hutchinson, $1,500 from Anchorage Democratic Sen. Forrest Dunbar, $2,000 from former legislator and former Anchorage Assembly member Eric Croft, $2,200 from former Assembly member John Weddleton, $5,000 from Anchorage resident Judy Sola, $10,000 from Anchorage residents Michael and Nancy Stallings, $5,000 from Anchorage resident Barbara Carlson, $1,000 from former legislator Andrew Halcro, and $1,000 from Anchorage Assembly member Meg Zaletel. She paid Anna Hutchinson, her campaign manager, $60,000 for “campaign management,” she spent just under $27,000 on polling with D.C. based Lake Research Partners, and $21,000 with D.C. based Hamburger Creative for “photography and videography.” She lists $25,000 in total debts to the Alaska Democratic Party for “Votebuilder access,” Katherine Scovic for “communications support,” Anna Hutchinson for “campaign work,” and Barb Jones for “volunteer coordination.”
  • Mayor Dave Bronson started with $50,000 cash on hand and reported income of $184,000. He spent $67,000, leaving him with $164,000 cash on hand. Notable donations came from Anchorage Assembly member Scott Myers ($1,000), $1,000 from Larry Baker, $1,000 from HEX/Fuire owner John Hendrix, $2,500 from Anchorage contractor Todd Christianson, $1,000 from builder Chuck Spinelli, $2,000 from Anchorage builder David Hultquist, $3,000 from Charles Grimm from BAC Transportation, $3,000 from Anchorage resident Ron Hoffman, $2,500 from Anchorage resident Rosemary Borchardt, $5,000 from Anchorage resident Robert Thorpe, and $5,000 from Anchorage resident Cristin Hinger. He paid Dittman Research $15,000 for “polling,” $2,500 to Blake Stieren (son of Dave Stieren) for “campaign coordination,” and $9,000 to Salt Lake City based Arena for “consulting services.” He lists one debt for $1,900 to Arena.
  • Chris Tuck, a former legislator, reported income of $93,000. He spent $89,000, leaving him with $4,400 cash on hand. Notable donations came from labor PACs ($2,000), $1,000 from Nick Begich (father of congressional candiate Nick Begich), $2,500 from Jonathan Rubini from JL Properties, $5,000 from himself, $5,000 from Anchorage resident Charity Kadow, $9,000 from Anchorage resident Karen Malcolm Smith, and $5,000 from Anchorage residents Michelle and William Scannell. He paid $15,500 to Jenna Fleur Designs for “design services,” $10,000 to Katherine Pfeiffer for “professional services,” $11,250 to Odom Virgil Services, owned by Besse Odom (legislative staffer to Anchorage Democratic Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson) for “professional services,” $5,000 to Louis Tozzi for “professional services,” and $1,000 to Firetap Alehouse for “event hosting and catering.” He lists no debts.
  • Bill Popp, the former head of the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation, reported income of $65,000. He spent $51,000, leaving him with $13,800 cash on hand. Notable donations came from labor PACs ($2,000), $5,000 from Tennessee resident Daniel Moore, $4,950 from himself, $1,000 from Anchorage resident Henry Penney, and $2,500 from Jonathan Rubini from JL Properties. He paid Winfluence Strategies, owned by former legislator Chuck Kopp and Cherie Curry, $20,000 for “Campaign Management, Graphic Design, Mail Service, Advertising Placement, ” he spent $4,500 at the Bridge for a “fundraiser,” and he spent $3,500 with Alaska Survey Research, owned by Ivan Moore, for polling. He lists a debt of $4,950 to himself for a loan to his campaign.

This Week’s Loose Unit 

This week’s Loose Unit is the entire House of Representatives. If you read the above write-up on the education bill, you are aware how loose it was. First, the majority failed to garner the votes to adopt their own committee substitutes, which is very loose. Then, the minority cuts a deal with the majority and Dunleavy but left out the Senate. Super loose. Then, the finally make a deal but basically but out Dunleavy. Maximum loose.

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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Shelia
1 month ago

One of the best that I have seen you do. The education bill that has now been rolled out lacks any real difference than throwing more money at the problem and hoping the problem goes away. It won’t. Innovation in teaching is sorely needed, along with those bonuses to retain the top performers. Backup for charter schools and for home schooling programs is also a must. A friend of mine put her five children through high school on home schooling programs and then got them all scholarships to universities. All have masters degrees or more. So a three-pronged approach works.… Read more »

Whitehouse pharmacy
1 month ago
Reply to  Shelia

“A friend of mine put her five children through high school on home schooling programs and then got them all scholarships to universities.”

One of my neighbors put their 3 children through home school. They’ve all seen the inside of prison cells as inmates.

Akwhitty
1 month ago

It is imperative we stop the madness of starting schools at the new time required by the School district and return to starting everyday at the same time. Starting school for middle school at 10:30 on Mondays is a farce. High School at 9:45. WTF