While the second week of session was not as wild as the first, it was nonetheless eventful. After spending a lot of time juicing up the Senate’s bill for rural school broadband, the House majority still lacks the votes to pass it on the floor. And now Governor Mike Dunleavy (R – Alaska) has weighed into the growing fight surrounding education. Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson was in Juneau with his legislative director, former Senator Mia Costello. Members of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce and members of the several labor unions were also in town. And the filing period for the April Anchorage mayoral race, Anchorage School Board races, and special Chugiak/Eagle River Assembly election closed on Friday.
I have to say one thing. I came back to Anchorage this weekend and it’s been snowing like crazy. I have not seen a single plow or grader on the roads. But last week when Juneau got an absolute dumping, crews were out 24/7 plowing and clearing the streets. And not just downtown, the Glacier Highway and the Valley too. WHY CAN’T ANCHRAGE PLOW THE FUCKING ROADS?!
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Uncertainty looms on House majority’s education priorities
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 email@example.com.
Note: Shortly after this was published on Thursday, the House majority made the decision not to calendar Senate Bill 140 on Friday’s floor session. It is also not calendared for tomorrow’s floor session. Also, on Thursday afternoon GOP Gov. Mike Dunleavy told the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce that he would veto a standalone education bill with just an increase to the Base Student Allocation, adding further uncertainty to the growing dispute between the House and Senate.
Since the House Rules Committee made several additions to a high-profile Senate education bill last weekend, much uncertainty remains about the fate of the legislation on the House floor. It’s unknown if the House majority will be able to hold together enough support to pass the bill, or fend off amendments from the House minority. Much of this hinges on the Bush Caucus and the amount of increase to the Base Student Allocation.
To summarize the changes to Senate Bill 140, here is an excerpt from last week’s edition of the Political Report:
At the close of the last session, the bill quickly passed the Senate without change then, when it was then taken up by the House Finance Committee, it was significantly expanded in scope through amendments. The finance committee added a $680 increase to the Base Student Allocation (BSA) (11%), increases to pupil transportation reimbursements, and a requirement for the Department of Education to work with the Department of Labor on monitoring high school graduates.
Yesterday’s actions by the House Rules Committee further expanded the scope of the bill. The committee added in provisions allowing the establishment of charter schools in school districts, added provisions for students who are deaf and hard of hearing, removed the sunset date for education tax credits/deductions, increased funding for correspondence programs by applying the special needs factor to correspondence funding, and altered the BSA increase by reducing it to $300 (5%). This effectively merges several priorities of GOP Gov. Mike Dunleavy and House Republicans into the bill.
The new version of the bill was read over the House floor on Wednesday. Anchorage independent Rep. Calvin Schrage, the minority leader, objected, saying the actions by the majority violated the Legislature’s Uniform Rules – specifically, a rule that bans changing the title of a bill after significant changes are made. He later removed his objection when it was pointed out the House Finance Committee did introduce a resolution to suspend that rule. But that resolution needs 27 votes out of the House’s 40 members to pass, which would require votes from Schrage’s minority. “There is no deal on education at this time,” Schrage told the Political Report.
The House majority could ignore the title change resolution, but the minority would point that out. And if the bill does pass the House, the Senate could raise the issue if they wanted. It’s also unlikely that the Senate’s bipartisan majority will get behind all of the changes to their original bill proposed in the House’s new version of the legislation.
The calendar for tomorrow’s House floor session has not been published yet. The House majority has a caucus meeting this afternoon, where they will decide if the bill will be on tomorrow’s floor calendar. We are told that nearly 75 amendments to the bill have already been drafted. If the bill is not on tomorrow’s calendar, the next opportunity to have it on the floor will be on Monday.
The question remains if the House even has 21 votes to pass the bill. Dillingham independent Rep. Bryce Edgmon, Bethel Democratic Rep. CJ McCormick, and Nome Democratic Rep. Neal Foster are questionable. If all three vote no, the bill won’t pass, since the 23-member majority can only afford to lose two votes without help from the minority, which is unlikely here.
There has been a lot of discussion about raising the increase in per student funding in the bill to $680 from $300. That could get the Bush members and some minority members to vote for the bill. But sources tell us the majority is considering a number closer to $500. And the minority will surely have amendments for $680, or even higher. That will put several House Republicans in moderate districts in a tough position, at risk of losing support from centrist voters who want to see more money spent on Alaska schools.
The House minority has 16 members. If Edgmon, Foster, and McCormick vote yes on any minority amendments, just two Republicans in the majority need to break away for them to pass. Keep in mind, amendments on the floor pass with a majority of members present, so if a single majority member is missing, amendments would pass with just 20 votes.
We are watching this all closely and will have updates as they become available.
Filing Closes for April Anchorage Election
The filing period for Anchorage’s April election closed on Friday. There are ten mayoral candidates, just one for the special Chugiak/Eagle River Assembly seat, and two each for the three school board seats up. While there are ten mayoral candidates, the main four are Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson, Suzanne LaFrance, Chris Tuck, and Bill Popp. Congrats to Mark Littlefield for being the only candidate to file for the special election to serve out the remainder of Assembly member Kevin Cross’ term! In December, Cross announced that he was resigning from the Assembly.
The three school board races should prove to be rather loose. I would bet the races for Anchorage School Board members Pat Higgins and Carl Jacobs will be close. In 2017, Kay Schuster lost to now-School Board member Andy Holleman by just 55 votes out of more than 41,000 votes cast. That was a 0.13% margin. Chelsea Pohland is a business owner, is active in the community, and a mother of three kids attending the Anchorage School District. I am not familiar with Angela Frank, who is challenging School Board member Dora Wilson.
Members of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce board were in Juneau this week. They had a popping reception at the Sealaska Heritage Institute building in Downtown Juneau. One tiny issue, several attendees were overheard cautioning folks to not eat the undercooked meatballs and chicken from an unknown Juneau catering company. Luckily no one seemed to be sick the next day. I got ahold of this handout that their board members were giving to legislators. For a group comprised of really smart people, it’s bizarre how they could have such conflicting priorities.
— The Alaska Landmine (@alaskalandmine) January 26, 2024
The chamber were not the only ones with a weird handout. Mayor Dave Bronson had a handout for his legislative priorities (that differ from the Anchorage Assembly’s). His handout listed him and “MAYOR DAVE BONSON.” At least his team took it in stride and had some fun with it.
— The Alaska Landmine (@alaskalandmine) January 26, 2024
Several members of labor unions were in Juneau this week with the Alaska AFL-CIO. They had an event at the Baranof the same night as the Alaska State Chamber’s event. Several people, including myself, attended both. Both events were bi-partisan, attended by legislators and staff from both parties. I gotta give a special shout out to the folks from the Teamsters, especially Tony Pro (you know who you are). And I love my man Patrick Fitzgerald channeling the legend Jesse Carr!
This Week’s Loose Unit
There was a lot of real loose shit this week in Juneau. And there was something even looser shit in Anchorage. If you had not heard, Enstar’s system is being strained because of the cold temperatures in Southcentral. One of the wells in Cook Inlet Natural Gas Storage Alaska (CINGSA) was producing sand. It’s not time to turn down the thermostats just yet, but it’s close. And don’t forget we are only a few years away from potentially having to import LNG so we don’t all freeze. To live in a place with such an abundance of gas but have this kind of shit happening says a lot about our “leaders.” Anyhoo, the Loose Unit was going to be Alaska leaders for failing to do what every other place in the world with abundant gas reserves does – provide cheap energy for their people. But a late development changed that. This week’s Loose Unit is Juneau resident Naawéiyaa Tagaban.
Tagaban was invited to give a land acknowledgement at an event for Representative Mary Peltola (D – Alaska) at the Crystal Saloon in Juneau on Saturday. Tagaban opened by talking about the evils of American colonization in Alaska. He then said that “Alaska will always be connected to the victims of the Holocaust.” But he only said that to tee up his real point, that the Jews are committing a genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza. An ignorant talking point for people in the pro-Hamas crowd. He didn’t say a word about how Hamas brutally slaughtered and raped over 1,000 Jews on October 6, including many women and children. Classic fucking Loose Unit behavior.
He then called on Peltola to call for a cease fire and to end the genocide in Gaza, which really means telling Israel they can’t defend themselves against a group who literally calls for their extermination. Before he could finish, Shannon Mason, Peltola’s communications director, cut him off, telling him she invited him for a land acknowledgement and not to do what he was doing. Several people in the crowd told her to let him talk, but Mason handled it like a pro. The only thing she left out was telling him and his idiot friends to get the fuck out of their event. Peltola should tell all these useful Hamas idiots that she doesn’t want or need their votes and to please stop coming to her events.
And of course their his stunt was posted on Instagram after. You can watch the pathetic thing here.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.