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We Build Alaska

The Sunday Minefield – March 31, 2024

Happy Easter! This was a short week in Juneau due to the holiday weekend. We are 75 days into the 121-day legislative session and the end game is not at all clear. The House Finance Committee struggled to hear budget amendments this week due to turmoil among the majority members. Representative CJ McCormick (D – Bethel) was chastised by his fellow majority members in two committees, one that he chairs! And the Anchorage mayoral election concludes on Tuesday. If not candidate gets more than 45% of the vote, which is almost certain to not happen, a run-off with the top two will take place in May. Don’t miss our live coverage of the results and candidate interviews. I will be joined by co-hosts Mark Begich and Matt Shuckerow!

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 Finance Drama 

On Wednesday (3/27/2024) the House Finance Committee began taking up amendments to the operating budget. There are around 100 total amendments. It did not take long for things to go off the rails. Representative Neal Foster (D – Nome), one of the co-chairs, introduced an amendment for a full Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD). Representative Will Stapp (R – Fairbanks) responded by proposing the elimination of entire departments, including the Department of Corrections, in order to pay the extra nearly $1 billon. He was grandstanding and trying to make a point, but it seemed to set off Foster.

After a long break, Foster had his own proposal to pay for the full PFD – eliminating the $8 per barrel oil tax credit! This really set things off. Representative DeLena Johnson (R – Palmer) the co-chair who oversees the operating budget, adjourned the meeting because it was getting way too loose.

Johnson had expressed a desire to finish the amendment package in time so that members can spend Easter weekend with their families. They came back Thursday afternoon to hear more amendments. It was a total train wreck. Foster’s full PFD amendment the day before failed. He originally proposed to overdraw the Earnings Reserve of the Permanent Fund to pay for it, but ended up switching it to the Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR). He attempted to rescind action on the previous vote. Johnson could not explain what they were voting on. It took several breaks to finally work it out.

After a lot of frustration and voting on a few more amendments, Johnson adjourned until Monday so members could go home for Easter. They are meeting again tomorrow. There are more than 80 amendments left. Assuming they can get those done by Tuesday, they might be able to pass out the budget so it can be read on the floor on Wednesday. But at the pace they have been going, it’s more likely it won’t be until Friday.

The fact that the House majority has no control of the finance committee is telling. Whatever budget the committee passes out will be subject to a new round of amendments on the House floor. It’s anyone’s guess how wild that process is going to get. I don’t see any way the majority has 21 votes to pass a budget no matter how you slice it. If the PFD is too big they will lose some members, if it’s too small they will lose others. Some of the more conservative members will probably vote against any budget. The House majority has no rule or agreement that their members vote for the budget.

The majority’s only hope is the House minority rescues them like they did last year. If they do, the question is what will the minority’s price be? My guess is a guarantee to pass another bill to increase the Base Student Allocation with a promise for enough votes to override a veto. Or they could tell the majority to piss off and watch it all fall apart. That would play well for Democrat and independent challengers in November.

Whatever happens, the House and Senate have a tentative deal for a budget handoff on April 12. The House is going to have to hurry up if they hope to meet that date. If not, I can see Senator Bert Stedman (R – Sitka) saying all bets are off.

New campaign reports out for upcoming Anchorage mayoral candidates

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.

In recent editions, we looked at the year start and 30-day reports for the four main Anchorage mayoral candidates. Those reports showed they collectively raised more than $820,000. Seven day reports for the April 2 election were due this week. With these new reports, they have collectively raised over $1 million. If no candidate get over 45% on April 2, there will be a run-off election in May between the top two vote getters. Below is a brief summary of the recent reports:

  • Mayor Dave Bronson started with $141,570. He reported $66,062 in income and $39,633 in expenditures. After $10,429 in debts, he is left with $157,571.
  • Suzanne LaFrance started with $146,134. She reported $43,998 in income and $96,901 in expenditures. After $38,893 in debts, she is left with $54,336.
  • Bill Popp started with $15,242. He reported $27,475 in income ($20,000 came from Dean Weidner from Weidner Homes) and $28,843 in expenditures. After $4,950 in debts, he is left with $8,923.
  • Chris Tuck started with $14,194. He reported $9,293 in income and $35,967 in expenditures. He reports a negative balance of $12,478.

Other Happenings 

Representative CJ McCormick had a rough week. First, during a hearing of the House Community & Regional Affairs Committee, which he chairs, he got rolled by his fellow majority members! Representative Kevin McCabe (R – Big Lake) objected to an ACLU presentation on deaths in Alaska prisons due to ongoing litigation. After a long chat with legislative lawyers, McCormick lost the vote to hear the ACLU’s presentation 4-3 to. He was not happy. Then, the next day during a House Education Committee meeting, Representative Jamie Allard (R – Eagle River) objected to a button McCormick was wearing for raising the BSA. He refused to remove it, so Allard called the legislative lawyers! I’m not sure if the House majority has an issue with counting, but if they lose McCormick they go from 23 members to 22 members…

The Joint Armed Services Committee held a hearing this week with military leaders. Top brass from the Air Force, Army, Navy, Coast Guard, and Alaska National Guard all presented. It was a very informative and interesting meeting, especially on the threats posed from Russia and China. It’s worth watching if you are interested in how national defense pertains to Alaska.

I still can’t get over how weird this AI graphic from the Alaska Republican Party is. I had to check first to make sure it was actually something they posted. Turns out it is. I think that is supposed to be Governor Mike Dunleavy’s (R – Alaska) wife behind him, but it also kind of looks like Representative Mary Peltola (D – Alaska). Whoever it is appears to be carrying an Uzi of MAC-10. Dunleavy also looks more like Will Ferrell than himself. And the background gives off more Sound of Music vibes that Alaska vibes. If their convention is anything like this graphic, it should be very entertaining!

This Week’s Loose Unit 

Between the loose activity in the House Finance Committee, the weird Alaska Republican Party AI graphic, and Representative McCormick getting attacked by his fellow majority members, there were a lot of candidates this week. But one really stood out. This week’s Loose Unit is Representative CJ McCormick. First, I want to say I feel bad for McCormick. Getting rolled as a committee chair and then having another chair call the lawyers because of a button is embarrassing. But the Loose Unit knows no bounds!

I don’t know if McCabe warned McCormick that he was going to object to his presentation from the ACLU, but based on how it went down, I doubt he did. Either way, for it to play out the way it did was very loose. And regardless of how you feel about any issue, it’s loose behavior for a legislator to be wearing any buttons during a committee hearing. I’m not saying he shouldn’t be allowed to, but it’s just strange for legislators to be wearing buttons for or against issues during committee hearings. McCormick exhibited classic Loose Unit behavior this week.

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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Mark Kelsey
3 months ago

Ridiculous to blame Rep. McCormick. You don’t see any looseness in a majority caucus member ambushing a fellow caucus member at a committee table? Rep. Kevin J. McCabe of Big Lake, who seems to make no secret of his sneering contempt for the Native community in Alaska, has been dogging McCormick since last year. As someone astutely noted about McCabe recently, he’s never been in the majority before, and it shows.

Ruth
3 months ago

Maybe McCormick shouldn’t have gotten rid of his only experienced staffer earlier this month who was helping keep the train on the tracks.

Miles
3 months ago
Reply to  Ruth

Maybe his only experienced staffer should have been better at their job and not tried to use CJ for their personal political agenda.

Will
3 months ago
Reply to  Miles

Maybe you don’t know and shouldn’t be rude.

Justin
3 months ago
Reply to  Will

Maybe if one looks at the employment history of that staffer and how they never last more than a session in an office, one would be aware of how they likely forgot who is the legislator and that it’s small building and one eventually runs out of people to step on and backstab in attempts to get seniority.

Ruth
2 months ago
Reply to  Justin

They worked for several legislators who did not run again and others for more than one session. Get your facts straight.

Joe Smalls
2 months ago
Reply to  Ruth

McCormick’s office is pure dysfunction

Akwhitty
3 months ago

Did you hear about the gay cannibal who had to go on a diet?
Seems his trans fat intake was off the charts.

Rick G
3 months ago

And, Allard wasn’t loose? Or, does she does loose things so often that it doesn’t matter any more?