The Sunday Minefield – September 3, 2023

It’s Labor Day weekend! Which means summer is, unfortunately, coming to and end. Tomorrow is also the last day of the Alaska State Fair. The leaves will be changing colors before we know it. The Alaska Oil & Gas Association (AOGA) held their annual conference this week in Anchorage, which included some high level speakers. Representative Tom McKay (R – Anchorage) and Republican U.S. House candidate Nick Begich each held fundraisers this week. And two other key figures are out at the Office of Management and Budget.

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AOGA Conference 

The Alaska Oil & Gas Association held their annual conference this week on Wednesday and Thursday at the Dena’ina Center in Anchorage. Representative Mary Peltola (D – Alaska) and Senator Dan Sullivan both Sullivan spoke in person. AOGA President and CEO Kara Moriarty interviewed each of them in front of attendees. One of the major items of discussion at the conference was the Biden administration’s approval of ConocoPhillips’ Willow project. Another was global energy security amid the war in Ukraine. Several legislators and politicos were spotted at the conference, including Senators Cathy Giessel (R – Anchorage), Jesse Bjorkman (R – Nikiski), Shelley Hughes (R – Palmer), Löki Tobin (D – Anchorage), Representatives Mike Cronk (R – Tok/Northway), George Rauscher (R – Sutton), Andy Josephson (D – Anchorage), Calvin Schrage (I – Anchorage), Alyse Galvin (I – Anchorage), Dan Saddler (R – Eagle River), Cliff Groh (D – Anchorage), Julie Coulombe (R – Anchorage), Nick Begich, and Kelly Tshibaka.

Governor Mike Dunleavy (R – Alaska) was on a panel with former Texas Governor and former U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry. It was moderated by former Environmental Conservation Commissioner Jason Brune. Perry was as super entertaining and a high energy speaker! Check out this little snippet:

David Bernhardt, who served as Secretary of the Department of Interior in the Trump administration, also spoke at the conference. Thanks to Kara Moriarty and Sarak Erkmann Ward, I was able to get Bernhardt on my podcast. You can listen here. His story about how Trump asked him to lead the Department of Interior is really interesting. He was also the designated survivor during former President Trump’s 2020 State of the Union. I am planning on reading his new book, “You Report to Me: Accountability for the Failing Administrative State.” I even got a signed copy!

Other Happenings 

There’s been some interesting staffing changes at the Office of Management and Budget. When I asked Governor Dunleavy during a Friday press conference why he quietly replaced Neil Steininger with Lacey Sanders as OMB director, he said, “That’s a good question. But we don’t comment on personnel matters.” It was really weird.

Republican U.S. House candidate Nick Begich held a fundraiser this week at Keith Manternach’s hangar on Lake Hood. I was unable to make it but I was hold well over 100 people showed up. Begich had a pretty big list of co-hosts.

Representative Tom McKay (R – Anchorage) held a fundraiser at the Petroleum Club in Anchorage on Thursday evening. McKay, who was feeling under the weather, did not attend his fundraiser, but spoke to guests via speaker phone. House Speaker Cathy Tilton (R – Wasilla) also spoke. She stressed how important it is for Republicans that McKay, who only won by seven votes last year, is re-elected.

Democrat Denny Wells, the guy who McKay narrowly defeated last year, filed a letter of intent this week. Wells did not indicate an office but he’s surely to challenge McKay again. That is definitely going to be a race to watch.

Representative Peltola has a fundraiser scheduled on Wednesday in Juneau at the home of Joey Bosworth. Peltola has three fellow U.S. House Democrats listed on the invitation, as well as several well-known Juneau Democrats.

Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson’s former chief of staff, Sami Graham, has been summoned by the Anchorage Assembly. They want her to come to a work session on the report about her election complaint based off an unknown IT policy concerning elections. I doubt she will show up. The question is will the Assembly, who is charged with overseeing elections, issue a subpoena if she does not voluntarily participate?

Legislative Council met on Monday at the Anchorage LIO. One of the items on the agenda was furniture for the Assembly Building in Juneau. This is the building across from the Capitol that the Legislature is turning into apartments for legislators and staff. They issued an RFP for furniture in early August. According to a Legislative Affairs Agency staffer, there was only one qualified response, which came from Capital Office Systems. Another response came in but it was after the deadline.

Get this, on an 8-5 vote Legislative Council approved nearly $750,000 for furniture! Keep in mind we are talking about 33 units, which works out to about $22,000 in furniture per unit. I just hope they have enough legislators and staff willing to stay there. Many I have spoke with told me there is no way they would stay in what is essentially a dorm across from the Capitol. One legislator told me they expect it to be a frat house. Another said they expect it to be like Animal House. Whatever happens, it’s definitely going to get weird over there during session.

This Week’s Loose Unit 

This week’s designee really went out of their way to earn Loose Unit status. This week’s Loose Unit is ConocoPhillips Alaska. On Thursday, Conoco held a Willow stakeholder appreciation event in their building after the AOGA conference. I hadn’t heard about it until Thursday. Apparently an ADN reporter became aware of it, and when they inquired Conoco got super weird about press being there. It was originally supposed to be in Conoco’s main atrium, but in order to keep press away they moved it to the twenty-first floor. You have to be allowed through security to go up there. Moving the party to an area that requires going through security is fairly loose. But it gets looser.

I was invited by a buddy. When I walked into the building, a Conoco minder immediately told me, “No press.” I said I was invited, but that didn’t matter. I was not allowed in. Not being allowed into their private VIP party didn’t bother me that much. But after I found out Representative Peltola, Senator Sullivan, and nearly a dozen legislators were in attendance, I started thinking. Conoco enlisted the help of the entire Alaska congressional delegation, the Legislature, business leaders, labor leaders, Native leaders, and many more to get Willow approved. And that’s a great thing. Alaska needs the project. I was very happy it was approved.

But while at the same time Conoco was enjoying their VIP party for Willow, they also have an ongoing lawsuit against the state for giving Santos a permit to use the Kuparuk road for their Pikka project. Conoco wants to shake down Santos for something like $20 million a year to use the Kuparuk road for Pikka. Classic Loose Unit behavior.

While everyone and their brother lined up to help Conoco get Willow approved, Conoco is making it very difficult for Santos and their Pikka project. And Pikka is on state land, meaning it’s better for state coffers. Also, more oil in the pipeline means a lower tariff for everyone. The whole situation is hyper loose. I hope Conoco loses and Santos is allowed to use the road without the shake down fee. I would then encourage Santos to throw a big party, and make sure all the press is invited.

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

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7 months ago

I am shocked to learn that in Alaska money buys access and influences. Am so glad Alaska’s elected officials have never had a corrupt bastards club: oh never mind….

Hey look at the brite side, you can now stop kevetching about not being considered press and now can kibbitz about being denied access because your press.

7 months ago

Where’s ask a cat? Quit playing journalist and give the people what they want.

Pierre Lonewolf
7 months ago

Has to the beer thing, its just a recommendation to limit oneself to a couple beers a day for health reasons from the CDC…

To reduce the risk of alcohol-related harms, the Guidelines recommend that adults of legal drinking age can choose not to drink, or to drink in moderation by limiting intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men or 1 drink or less in a day for women, on days when alcohol is consumed.

Of course the Republicans are fear mongering again……

7 months ago

There’s a better Loose Unit; he’s listed as an attendee at the Peltola fundraiser above: Ben Brown, the silly little sycophant for the Capital City Republicans, will be sneaking in the door.

7 months ago
Reply to  wlmleitch

Ben’s actually listed as a co-sponsor, not an attendee. Maybe he’s a spy, but it’s also possible he just genuinely likes Mary, with whom he worked when they were both legislative aides.