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We Build Alaska

The Sunday Minefield – March 17, 2024

We have reached the halfway point of the 121-day constitutional limit for the legislative session. If all goes to plan, the session should be concluded by mid-May. The big news this week was Governor Mike Dunleavy’s (R – Alaska) veto of Senate Bill 140, the big education bill. The Legislature is scheduled for a joint session tomorrow afternoon to consider overriding the veto. The Legislature met in joint session on Tuesday (3/12/2024) to vote on Dunleavy’s 12 proposed executive orders relating to boards and commissions. And ballots for the April Anchorage mayoral election went out in the mail this week.

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!

If you missed our Anchorage mayoral debate yesterday with the four main candidates, you can watch it here!

SB 140 Veto 

On Thursday (3/14/2024), hours before the constitutional deadline, Governor Dunleavy vetoed SB 140, the omnibus education bill passed overwhelmingly by the Legislature. This came after weeks of speculation about what he would do. Many suspected he would let the bill go into law without signing it. But after the press conference he held several weeks ago, it was clear to me he had to veto the bill. In that press conference, he signaled to the Legislature that unless he got some of his priorities, he would veto the bill. He would have looked weak and foolish if he would have just let it go into law. He really boxed himself in with that press conference.

The veto brings with it a major political dilemma for several Republican legislators. For the ones in vulnerable districts, they are in a real lose-lose situation. If they vote to override the veto, they will be going against a Republican governor, which could either lead to conservative challengers or an issue with core Republican voters. If they vote to sustain the veto, they will be vulnerable to attacks from the education community and their progressive challengers.

Both sides are actively trying to influence these Republicans. Judy Eledge, a well-known Republican activist, sent out the below message to encourage Republicans to lean on Republicans who may vote to override. Americans for Prosperity Alaska, who encouraged Dunleavy to veto the bill, has also been working it. Some members have even said that Dunleavy told them if they voted to override he would support their Republican challengers.

The Alaska AFL-CIO released a poll yesterday that shows overwhelming support to override the veto. This is a signal to Republicans in vulnerable districts that if they don’t vote to override, a barrage of money will be spent against them and for their opponents.

Forty of 60 votes are required to override the veto. Of the 20 senators, I count 14 or 15 for sure yes votes to override the veto. The three members in the minority will vote no. Which leaves the 17 in the majority. I count the following as undecided for these reasons:

  1. Senator Jesse Bjorkman (R – Nikiski): He’s probably a yes but he has to be thinking about how Representative Ben Carpenter (R – Nikiski) would use the vote against him.
  2. Senator James Kaufman (R – Anchorage): He lives in a conservative leaning district, but it’s not the Mat-Su Valley. One of the reps in his district is Representative Calvin Schrage (I – Anchorage). There’s been chatter that Schrage might consider running against him if he votes to sustain the veto.
  3. Senator David Wilson (R – Wasilla): He’s facing a conservative challenge from Rob Yundt. Wilson is already in a bi-partisan coalition. A vote to override a Republican governor would hand the race to Yundt.

There’s also the small possibility that some of the Democrats and moderate Republicans in the Senate majority will vote to sustain. If the veto is overridden, the few things Dunleavy did get (small increase to correspondence program and statewide charter coordinator) will remain, and then he can just veto the Base Student Allocation increase in the final budget. That would require 45 votes to override instead because it’s an appropriation bill. The reason some of them could vote to sustain is very political. If the veto stands, they can hang it around the neck of Dunleavy and the Republicans in vulnerable districts.

Of the 40 representatives, I count 20 for sure yes votes to override the veto. This is the entire 16-member minority plus Representatives Bryce Edgmon (I – Dillingham), Neal Foster (D – Nome), CJ McCormick (D – Bethel), and Will Stapp (R – Fairbanks). I had Stapp as undecided but he wrote an op-ed in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner today saying he’s a yes vote. I count the following as undecided for these reasons:

  1. Representative Thomas Baker (R – Kotzebue): Dunleavy appointed him. A yes vote would end him but he doesn’t seem to have very good political instincts.
  2. Representative Julie Coulombe (R – Anchorage): In 2022 she beat independent Walter Featherly by just 112 votes out of 7,242 votes cast. He’s running against her again.
  3. Representative David Eastman (R – Wasilla): You never know what he’s going to do.
  4. Representative Craig Johnson (R – Anchorage): He beat Democrat Caroline Storm by nearly nine points in 2022. But a no vote could mean a tougher race for him.
  5. Representative Justin Ruffridge (R – Soldotna): He’s probably a yes, but the Kenai Peninsula is very conservative. A yes vote would give a lot of ammo to a conservative challenger.
  6. Representative Jesse Sumner (R – Wasilla): He could really go either way. He helped put the deal together, which is why he might vote to override. But if he does decide to run again, a yes vote would be a death sentence.
  7. Representative Stanley Wright (R – Anchorage): In 2022 he beat Democrat Ted Eischeid by just 72 votes out of 3,772 votes cast. He’s running against Wright again.

Lots of lobbyists and education folks are saying a veto override is in the bag. But I’m not so sure. Whatever the outcome is tomorrow, it’s going to be close. If Dunleavy does get overridden, it will be not only be embarrassing, it will trigger a war between him and the Republicans who voted to override him.

Other Happenings 

The Legislature rejected eight of Dunleavy’s proposed 12 executive orders during a joint session on Tuesday. You can read more about it in this Alaska Public Media article.

Representative Jamie Allard (R – Eagle River), the House Education Committee co-chair, is now without any staff. She had Labor Commissioner Cathy Muñoz present a committee substitute bill this week. Which is really bizarre.

The Harding Lake Mafia is at it again. Their don, Gary Wilken, is on the Interior Gas Utility board of directors. I would love to see someone try and stop the trucks bringing gas from the Slope to Fairbanks just to see how this NIMBY fucko would react.

Representative Edgmon and Senator Donny Olson (D – Golovin) filed letters of intent for re-election this week. Reprersentive Craig Johnson officially filed for re-election this week.

I don’t believe there is rampant or widespread voter fraud. But I do believe there are improvements that need to be made. Brian Fechter moved to Washington in August. He got a driver’s license and registered to vote there on September 6, 2023. Both Alaska and Washington are members of the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC). His Washington voter registration should have triggered the cancellation of his Alaska voter registration. But instead he got an Anchorage ballot in the mail at his Washington address. And for all the people who have been saying it is a municipal election, the municipalities use the state voter database for their elections.

This Week’s Loose Unit 

This week’s Loose Unit is Governor Mike Dunleavy. And not necessarily because of the veto, but how it happened. After the press conference a few weeks ago where he indicated he was ready to work with the Legislature to get some of his education priorities, he went to D.C. for meetings and to attend the State of the Union. Very loose behavior. And then he waited until nearly 9 pm on the day of the deadline to act. This required legislative staff to stay late so they could process the veto. That’s not only loose, it’s inconsiderate. But what was really loose is how he just didn’t communicate about his intentions for weeks. He held a press conference the day after (where he had a black eye) where he thanked the Legislature but also went off about how they did not do what he wanted, and also said even if they override him he will partially veto the increase in the budget. The whole thing was just really 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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floridawoman
4 months ago

If SB218 is NIMBY I guess every bill is? The regs would apply to heavy (>140,000 pound) natural gas trucks. SB218 is based on an Alaska DOT funded study. Simple logic suggests if the bill passes: Kinross would simply lower their loads (from Tok and soon Hatcher Pass) to avoid paying the fee, which would lead to increased truck jobs and less damage to our roads. SB218 should be sold as a pro-job bill. 1) Alaska is the only state that has no upper weight limits on their roads. Other states have figured out that overweight fees are a legitimate… Read more »

Dan
4 months ago
Reply to  floridawoman

Also, Gary Wilkin is a decent man who is neither a mafia don, nor a fucko. He’s also a politician whom I’ve never convinced myself to vote for, but such vitriol for a man doing the most basic of public services (mitigation of a road safety and maintenance threat) is puzzling.

Someone who wants Jeff to grow up
4 months ago
Reply to  Dan

One of the things that distinguishes juvenile Jeff from legitimate journalists: No legitimate journalist would EVER refer to a former state senator as a fucko or as a Mafia don. Jeff is still 9 years old.

Someone who wants Jeff to grow up
4 months ago
Reply to  floridawoman

Did Jeff even read the bill (and learn that it would also apply to Slope gas trucks) before maligning a former state senator?

David Eastman
4 months ago

Firm NO vote on SB140.

Given that I was one of only two legislators to vote against SB140 when it passed the house, that should be a safe bet.

It hasn’t gotten any better since I voted against it the first time.

Marlin Savage
4 months ago

“participants across the state of Alaska who have been verified and matched against information in the Alaska voter file, among other sources.”

Did information “among other sources” include membership in an AFL-CIO affiliated Union?

Mark Kelsey
4 months ago

Total nonsense that a vote against the governor would be a “death sentence” in November. But I’m sure the guv appreciates your assist in trying to bully legislators.

What about the overwhelming number of Alaskans who value public education? What about ranked-choice voting? Seems like moving away from an extreme position is more politically advantageous than supporting a weak, extremist governor who puts special interests ahead of Alaskans and the state’s future.

Wilson will support the governor, by the way.

Wayne Wilken
4 months ago

Dear Jeff.
“If you see me coming ya better step aside.”

Ten
4 months ago
Reply to  Wayne Wilken

A lot of men didn’t.

Allen
3 months ago

Ben Carpenter now has no chance of beating Jesse Bjorkman, not that he ever did: I mean this is the guy who bullies high school students who go to Juneau. Justin Ruffridge got it right.