The Sunday Minefield – March 24, 2024

The big news this week was the Legislature’s failure, by one vote, to override Governor Mike Dunleavy’s (R – Alaska) veto of Senate Bill 140. The House held an odd marathon floor session on Wednesday that went until early Thursday morning. The House Finance Committee rolled out a second committee substitute for the budget, this time with a Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) amount that is significantly smaller that the full dividend Dunleavy requested. And two big challengers filed against Republican representatives.

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Failed Veto Override

On Monday (3/18/2024) the Legislature met in a joint session to consider an override on Governor Dunleavy’s veto of SB 140, the omnibus education bill passed overwhelmingly by the Legislature. Dozens of education advocates wearing red shirts lined the halls of the Capitol. I’ve never seen anything like that before. They would cheer for legislators who they knew were supportive, and be quiet for the ones they knew were not on their side. I thought to myself how weird it would be if employees or oil or mining companies did the same thing.

The bill passed with 38 votes in the House and 18 in the Senate, for a total of 56 yes votes. But for many of the Republican members voting for an education bill and voting to override a Republican governor are two different things. Overriding a veto of a non-appropriation bill requires 40 votes (overriding an appropriation bill requires 45). The vote to override the veto was 39-20, just one vote shy.

In the House, all 16 members of the minority voted to override, as well as seven members of the majority. Three of the majority votes predictably came from rural members: Representatives Bryce Edgmon (I – Dillingham), Neal Foster (D – Nome), and CJ McCormick (D – Bethel). Four Republican representatives voted to override the veto: Justin Ruffridge (Soldotna), Will Stapp (Fairbanks), Jesse Sumner (Wasilla), and Stanley Wright (Anchorage).

Ruffridge and Sumner both represent very conservative districts. This vote will definitely be used against them by their opponents. Republican Steve Menard – who Sumner beat in 2022 and then hired to work in his office last session – filed to challenge Sumner. Ruffridge does not have an opponent yet, but there will almost certainly be a conservative challenger.

Stapp also represents a conservative district, but he is in better shape based on how much he won by in 2022. Wright narrowly defeated Democrat Ted Eischeid in 2022, winning by just 72 votes, or 1.9%. Eischeid is challenging Wright again this year. For Wright, a no vote would have made him extremely vulnerable to attacks from Eischeid in a split East Anchorage district. Wright will still be tagged by Eischeid and the education lobby as being a member of the Republican-led House majority, but his yes vote will shield him a bit.

Sixteen House Republicans voted to sustain the veto. At least three of them are going to have to deal with that vote in November: Representatives Thomas Baker (Kotzebue), Tom McKay, (Anchorage), and Julie Coulombe (Anchorage). Their opponents will all claim they were the deciding votes that prevented the veto override.

Baker was appointed by Dunleavy to fill the seat of now-North Slope Borough Mayor Josiah Patkotak. He’s been under attack by the Alaska Democratic Party and the wife of Senator Donny Olson (D – Golovin) since the vote. Coulombe and McKay both narrowly defeated their challengers in 2022. Both of them, independent Walter Featherly and Democrat Denny Wells, are challenging them again this year. Wells wasted no time using McKay’s vote against him. The Alaska Democratic Party is already attacking Coulombe over her vote.

The House is ruled by a shaky 23-member majority, which includes Edgmon, Foster, and McCormick. If one or two Republican seats flip in November, the result could be another majority coalition in the House next year. Education will be a major election issue in many House races. Republicans, however, will get a boost in several districts as it’s a presidential election year.

In the Senate, all but one member of the 17-member majority voted to override, Senator David Wilson (R – Wasilla). Like Ruffridge and Sumner, Wilson represents a district that overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump in 2020. Wilson is already contending with two conservative challengers, Mat-Su Borough Assembly member Rob Yundt and Stephen Wright. A yes vote, combined with joining a bi-partisan majority, would be impossible for Wilson to defend in his district.

Of the 16 senators who voted yes, nine are up for re-election this year. Four are Republicans: Senators Jesse Bjorkman (Nikiski), James Kaufman (Anchorage), Kelly Merrick (Eagle River), and Click Bishop (Fairbanks). Like the House Republicans who voted yes, their conservative opponents will use the vote against them. Their opponents will also point out they in addition to voting to override a Republican governor, they joined a bi-partisan coalition.

Bjorkman and Merrick both have conservative challengers. Bjorkman is facing Representative Ben Carpenter (R – Nikiski). In 2022, Bjorkman beat Republican Tuckerman Babcock by seven points. But his district overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump in 2020, and Carpenter will campaign on his vote against Dunleavy and joining with Democrats in Senate majority.

Merrick easily beat former Representative Ken McCarty in 2022. McCarty and Republican Jared Goecker are challenging her this year. Merrick, however, had previously been in a House majority coalition, and still managed to easily win her Senate race in 2022. While turnout will be higher in a presidential year, she is not as vulnerable as Bjorkman.

The Senate has a larger and more stable majority than the House. And only half of their 20 seats are up this year. Senator Scott Kawasaki (D – Fairbanks) has a tough race against Republican Leslie Hajdukovich. But even if Kawasaki, Bjorkman, and Wilson lose to their conservative challengers, there will still eight Democrats in the Senate. The likeliest result will be another bipartisan coalition in the Senate next year, though it may be only 12 or 13 members instead of 17.

Note that even though Click Bishop has filed for re-election, there have been a rumors that he may not seek re-election in order to run for governor in 2026. If he does not run for re-election and Representative Mike Cronk (R – Tok/Northway) runs for and wins that seat, things could get very interesting when the Senate organizes.

Now that SB 140 has been vetoed, the main question is will the Legislature be able to pass another education bill that gives Dunleavy enough to not veto it? While many want that to ensure more funding for schools, some see an opportunity by not doing anything. That would give progressive and Democratic challengers more ammo in November, which could lead to another bipartisan coalition in the House. While Dunleavy got a big win with his veto not being overridden, he may face a loss in the last two years of his term with the possibility of bipartisan coalition in the House and Senate.

Other Happenings

The House Finance Committee came out with another committee substitute for the budget late this week. The operating budget is handled by Representative DeLena Johnson (R – Palmer), but the Republican-led majority definitely has their say. The most noteworthy addition was the PFD amount. It’s approximately 30% of the POMV draw, or about $1,700 per Alaskan. Recall last year the finance committee cut down Dunleavy’s request for a full PFD down to the 50/50 amount. Now it’s down to 30/70! I am calling this the “one third, two third.” We all know the concept of a full statutory dividend is fucking dead. The fact that the Legislature won’t replace that statute with something reasonable is telling. They also included a one-time $680 increase to the Base Student Allocation. And not surprisingly they are proposing that all the extra money for this fiscal year goes to an energy rebate instead of being split 50/50 between an energy rebate and a deposit into the Constitutional Budget Reserve. YOLO!

Republican Jubilee Underwood filed to run against Representative David Eastman (R – Wasilla). Jubilee serves on the Mat-Su Borough School Board. She already seems to have a lot of conservative support. But a lot of people have run against Eastman in the past. It is definitely going to be a big race. If she does manage to win, it will give the Republicans an extra number in the House for organization.

North Slope Borough School Board President Robyn Burke filed for the District 40 House seat. Representative Thomas Baker is the current representative, but he’s done. See this week’s Loose Unit for more on that.

A bunch of pro-Palestine lunatics held a protest outside the Capitol on Monday. One had a large flag that read “End Israel.” One of their chants referred to “American pigs.” I walked by them with a Star of David printed on a piece of paper. The visceral hatred coming from many of them was palpable. It’s incredible to me how dumb these people are. At one point they did a land acknowledgment, not seeming to realize that Jews were in what is now Israel long before the Arabs or before Islam was even a religion. A woman on a bullhorn was railing against our congressional delegation, but she could not remember the names of all three members. There was a cease fire before the Hamas terrorists decided to end it by by slaughtering and raping over a thousand innocent people. It’s sad that so many Americans have been either brainwashed or are uncappable of learning simple history.

This Week’s Loose Unit 

This was one of those really easy weeks. This week’s Loose Unit is Representative Thomas Baker. Baker, who was appointed by Governor Dunleavy to fill the seat of Josiah Patkotak after he was elected North Slope Borough mayor, has had a rough start in Juneau. First, he’s the son of shadow lobbyist Andy Baker, a friend of Dunleavy and Loose Unit in his own regard. Second, if Baker had any political sense he would have switched his voter registration from Republican to undeclared or non-partisan as soon as he was confirmed. But lastly and most importantly, Baker voted against overriding Dunleavy’s veto of SB 140. I could honestly care less how he voted. But he should care about what his districts wants.

Regardless of your feelings on education, no one can argue costs have dramatically increased for schools, especially rural schools. And part of SB 140 was for increased internet speeds for rural schools. Baker’s no vote was not just loose, it was dumb. But Baker was not representing his district when he voted, he was representing Dunleavy. According to Dunleavy’s February public calendar (something we obtain for the Alaska Political Report), he met with Baker five times in February! He was definitely given his marching orders. 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 jeff@alaskalandmine.com.

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Someguy
21 days ago

Does Jeff ever proofread his blogs? Have you guys considered having an editor on staff? Jeff may also do well to expand upon his basic knowledge of history. Oh yeah, while I do appreciate an opinionated perspective of what’s going on in state politics, can we make the Landmine great again by getting back to what made the Landmine so great in the first place? Bring back the stalker!

Steve-O
21 days ago

It would be strange if Jubilee Underwood were to win and be able to bring conservative representation to Wasilla instead of having Representative Eastman who actively works against conservatives, in one of the more supposedly conservative districts in the state.

The Alaska Poaster
20 days ago
Reply to  Steve-O

You don’t understand Eastman’s philosophy, and frankly I think he’s a hero for introducing a bill of equal protection that would criminalize abortion. Most Christless conservatives think that goes too far, which indicates they will not defend the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. Conservatives couldn’t even conserve the women’s restroom.

Steve-O
20 days ago

You mean the philosophy of alienating those who hold views closest to the ones you claim to support, but then actively work against those same views while also convincing enough ill-informed Christ-believing conservatives that it’s better to get absolutely nothing than to make even the slightest amount of movement towards a conservative viewpoint?

Yeah, you’re absolutely correct, I don’t understand that philosophy at all.

Corky
19 days ago

You mean the philosophy that holds that women are merely brood mares with no right to control their bodies or lives?

Dan
21 days ago

Jeff – you are participating in a bit of erasure yourself – while Jews were in Israel prior to the locals speaking Arabic, many Palestinians come from the same Canaanite stock that the Jewish people came from. Changing one’s language and religion doesn’t negate the rest of one’s history. We see evidence of that right here in Alaska.

All of us could stand to observe events halfway across the world with a bit of objectivity and compassion.

Shazbot
21 days ago
Reply to  Dan

Thanks Dan for saying what needed to be said. The blame game Jeff just played out is a “same difference”. We are pointing fingers at historical citizens of Israel and historical citizens of Palestine when there isn’t really much of a difference. Unfortunately, its imperialists with guns and other methods of decimating human flesh that have perpetuated the problem. Yes, Hamas is murdering people. Also yes, Netanyahu and the IDF are murdering people. For F sake, the average age of a Palestinian is 19 years old… That doesn’t happen by accident.

Scott
21 days ago
Reply to  Shazbot

Over and over I used to antagonize my big brother until he got fed up and kicked my butt.

I used to run to Mom and Dad hoping to get my brother in trouble.

Never worked but eventually I learned not to pick fights.

I hereby nominate Mom and Dad to be the new leaders of Gaza…and my big brother to govern Israel.

Floridawoman
20 days ago
Reply to  Scott

I hearby nominate mom and dad to be rapists? Like Hamas?

oy.

Read What Hamas wants for Jews everywhere. Fatah? The PLO? The PLJ? They do not want a two state solution. They want the final solution. Jews slaughtered and raped everywhere.

Please advocate for a two state solution, with a DMZ patrolled by the US-UN and a non-militarized Palestinian Country, like Japans was for 50 years.

Or just keep on hating Jews, it is not an rare nor original activity.

Someguy
19 days ago
Reply to  Scott

Are you saying you want your big brother to eliminate your mom and dad?

Corky
19 days ago
Reply to  Dan

Jeff is pointing out a common phenomenon in the U.S. which is the amount of pro-Palestinian militancy by people who know little to nothing about the politics of that area of the Middle East over the millennia. The L.A. Times has a good article about pro-Palestinian propaganda efforts on U.S. college campuses for decades (although the article is behind a paywall, there are ways around that).
https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2023-12-07/college-campuses-embrace-palestinian-cause-began-long-ago

Shelia
4 days ago

Jeff – How do you get the governor’s calendars? There is a wealth of information in them about what a governor really does. Amazing stuff. Regarding Gaza and Israel. I have done political research onsite in both areas and the situation is a lot more complex than represented here. At any rate, equating all Palestinians as HAMAS supporters is wrong, as is punishing the whole community for the actions of some. The Germans did the same in WWII, as did the British in Kenya after the war when the Kenyans started rebelling for independence. In truth, there have been several… Read more »