A federal judge has dismissed the appeal of an Alaska man convicted of charges stemming from a 2010 run-in with park rangers in the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve.
Jim Wilde was arrested after failing to stop his boat for a safety inspection on the Yukon River. In his appeal, he argued the National Park Service lacked authority to stop him because the lands beneath the Yukon River are owned by the state and he was not involved in a subsistence activity. U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline disagreed.
Wilde’s attorney told the Fairbanks Daily News-Mineran appeal was possible.
A federal magistrate in 2012 found Wilde guilty of three misdemeanor counts, and Wilde was ordered to pay a $2,500 fine.
The value of Bristol Bay driftnet permits continues to increase.
The value placed on those permits by the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission jumped up over $14,000 to about $117,000. That’s compared to the more than $102,000 dollars value recorded back in October. The November figure of about $117,000 is the largest value for Bristol Bay driftnet permits in over a year.
The Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission bases their value on the actual prices that permits are sold for but there is a lag, sometimes as much as a couple of months. A look around some of the brokerage sites shows quite a bit of variation in the prices for Bristol Bay driftnet permits.
For instance Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer has 4 drift permits listed for sale with prices ranging from $140,000 to about $185,000. Dock Street Brokers in Seattle confirms that a driftnet permit sold back in mid-October for $135,000 and they have a seller with a permit currently listed at $140,000.
While there appears to be quite a bit of momentum for higher driftnet permit prices the same can’t be said for setnet permits in Bristol Bay.
The November value placed on those permits by CFEC is about $36,000, which is unchanged from the value recorded back in October. That value is the lowest such value for Bristol Bay setnet permits in the last year. Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer has two setnet permits listed.
One has an asking price of $43,000 and the second has an asking price of $45,000. Dock Street Brokers has two setnet permits listed at $46,000 each. They have other Bristol Bay setnet permits listed with prices from $80,000 to $120,000. However, those permits come with sites and, in a couple of instances, gear.
A Bethel man is facing a felony assault charge for allegedly hurting his two-year-old son. Last week, Bethel Police were called to a home early in the morning and arrested 30-year-old Maurice Andrews Senior.
The investigation showed a 2-year-old child had suffered visible facial wounds after reportedly being thrown on the ground and kicked multiple times. The child was treated in Bethel for multiple wounds and a broken clavicle and flown to Anchorage for further testing.
Court documents indicate that Andrews had a strong odor of alcohol.
Andrews is facing a felony assault three charge involving a child under the age of ten. Bail was set at 5,000 dollars. Andrews’ next court appearance is Friday afternoon.
Researchers expect that salmon productivity could shift in Southeast Alaska streams over the next 70 years as temperatures rise and rainfall increases because of climate change.
Projections suggest that the average annual temperature for Southeast Alaska and western British Columbia coast would increase 6.1 degrees to just under 44 degrees Fahrenheit in the year 2080. Precipitation in the form of rain could increase over twenty inches to a total of 145 inches, while snowfall could drop about 30% to about 30 inches a year.
“There could be some serious differences,” said Michael Goldstein of the U.S. Forest Service.
Goldstein was among a group of researchers who briefed attendees on the unpublished research at the recent Southeast Alaska Watershed Symposium in Juneau. A similar presentation on the impacts of climate change was made during the recent Al-Can Summit organized by the Juneau World Affairs Council.
Goldstein said the changes in temperature and precipitation would not be uniform throughout the entire Southeast Alaska and western British Columbia area.
So, temperature and precipitation had the greatest change in the northern mainland and the least change in the southern island provinces. Precipitation as snow had the greatest change in the southern mainland and the least change in the outer coast.”
It could mean warmer and drier extended summers, and warmer and wetter winters.
By 2080, Juneau could be like Prince Rupert. Projected average of 45 degrees Fahrenheit or thereabouts is similar to the average temperature of May 2013. I was looking around the internet and Alabama has an average winter temperature of 45 degrees as well.”
Returning spawning salmon near Salmon Creek in 2013. Photo by Greg Culley
The projections were presented in conjunction with separate research and modeling done by Colin Shanley, a planner and analyst with The Nature Conservancy in Juneau, in his effort to identify salmon habitat ranging from the most vulnerable to the most resilient.
This is watershed-based analysis. Not a cell-based analysis or estuary-based analysis. Basically, watershed area, monthly precipitation both present and predicted from the present climate model, same thing for monthly temperature, watershed elevation, percent lakes, and percent glaciers as well.”
Dr. Sanjay Pyare, associate professor of geography and environmental science at University of Alaska Southeast, said that climate change could play a crucial role in altering stream temperatures and episodic discharges from nearby glaciers and the ice field.
“If you look at the overall discharge coming out of an area like Southeast Alaska and northern British Columbia annually compared to a place like the Mississippi River Basin, it’s actually something like two times the overall freshwater discharge,” Pyare said. “Obviously, it has a lower land mass overall. So, there’s a lot of water coming down the pipes in a place like Southeast Alaska.”
Watersheds that are predominately glacial-fed may, for example, have their peak discharge in mid-summer with colder water. Snow- or rain-fed watersheds may have two discharge peaks in the spring and early fall.
The State of Alaska is expecting to take in $2 billion less in oil taxes over the next fiscal year, according to the Department of Revenue’s fall forecast. That means a 30 percent drop in the state’s unrestricted general fund, the pool of money that the state’s elected leaders control.
Commissioner Angela Rodell says there are a number of factors contributing to this decline, but the biggest ones are lower production and lower prices for oil. While the state had expected a barrel to cost around $109 on average, they’ve changed that estimate to $105.
“We can’t discount just how influential oil prices are and will continue to be on future forecasts,” says Rodell. “So, even when we turn oil production around and stem the decline, oil prices will continue to be a very heavily influential factor on future state revenues.”
Rodell says the state’s new oil tax law, which goes into effect this January, plays a smaller role in this anticipated downturn. Under the old system, the tax rate went up as oil prices increased. The new system, which the Parnell administration has named the “More Alaska Production Act” or MAPA — sets a tax ceiling of 35 percent with tax credits issued as the price of a barrel of oil goes down. Opponents of the new tax law have called it a “giveaway” to oil companies, and a referendum to repeal it is slated to appear on the August primary ballot.
Rodell says that since oil prices are lower than anticipated, the Department of Revenue is seeing less of a difference between the two system than anticipated.
“That’s not to say that MAPA doesn’t have an influence on the decline in revenue because we have estimated that decline in revenue attributed to tax reform to be roughly $250 to $300 million,” says Rodell. “My concern is that they think the entire decline is due to MAPA, when in fact the vast majority of the decline is due to the reduction in oil prices.”
But some Democratic lawmakers who opposed the new law think the difference between two oil tax regimes is being downplayed. Anchorage Sen. Bill Wielechowski has dubbed the law an “unmitigated financial trainwreck” after looking at the forecast. House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula says she’s still reviewing the forecast, but that revenue hit is concerning to her.
“That’s a lot of schools. That’s a lot of hospitals. That’s a lot of roads,” says Kerttula.
The forecasted decline is expected to influence Gov. Sean Parnell’s budget, which is due out next week.
The Second Annual Prevention Summit kicked off Tuesday in Juneau. Sponsored by the stateCouncil on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, the three-day summit at Centennial Hall brings together teams from 19 communities with the goal of exchanging ideas about prevention.
At the start of the summit, participants told KTOO about what is working in their community and what they hope to gain over the next couple of days.
Tasha Bird is a rural outreach coordinator for the women’s shelter in Emmonak, a Yupik village of about 800 people. “My job is to educate youth and young women to stop domestic violence from happening to them and their children, their neighbors,” she says.
Bird also reaches out to 13 surrounding villages. She says the nine-bed shelter has been busy all year. The six extra cots have also gotten a lot of use. Bird says domestic violence and sexual assault in Emmonak is often caused by drinking or jealousy.
“We try to ask them to go get marriage counseling or to go talk to the elders, and they could also come to the shelter and talk to us,” Bird says, “but it’s the men who don’t want to participate or they don’t want to come forward and deal with everything.”
Being able to reach the men in her community is part of what Bird hopes to get out of the Prevention Summit. She’s heard about the statewide program Alaska Men Choose Respect and wants to learn more.
“Lots of the guys at home like to play basketball and maybe I’ll work with the city league and see if they could help me with something because I know lots of the young boys, they look up to those guys,” says Bird.
Bethel resident Winifred Kelly-Green is the healthy families coordinator for the Association of Village Council Presidents. She says she has started working on healing historical trauma, “The attempt to assimilate Yupik people – with that there was a lot of traumatizing things that happened, including the great death, but there were other things – boarding schools, taking children away.”
Historical trauma, Kelly-Green says, is linked to domestic violence and sexual assault in Bethel, “We have parents now who don’t know how to be parents because they weren’t home. They weren’t being parented because of the boarding schools.”
Through forced assimilation, Kelly-Green says Yupik men lost their capacity to pass knowledge to younger generations.
“In the Yupik culture, our men had a place that they called the qasgiq. It’s the men’s house where they gathered and worked together, taught the young boys. And that was their way of maintaining whole health,” Kelly-Green explains. “And with the Christianity that came, they saw that as something bad, so they went up and down the river in every village and burned the qasgiqs down, and leaving our men lost.”
In Dillingham, Greg Marxmiller works at SAFE, a domestic violence prevention agency, and runs the youth program called Myspace. “The youth program there is huge,” he says. “Getting kids a place to go that’s consistent, that they’re able to have somebody that cares about them and have advocacy and being trained to become leaders and lead in their town and making it a better place.”
In Marxmiller’s opinion, everybody in Dillingham comes from a place where there’s domestic violence and sexual assault.
“It’s something that everybody in the community has to deal with because we’re a community and we all have to deal with our ills, so in essence, everybody from Dillingham comes from an issue of domestic violence and sexual assault,” Marxmiller explains. “So knowing that, there are a lot of people who are working to do something about it and try to stop this domestic violence and sexual assault epidemic.”
Marxmiller’s goals for the Prevention Summit is to network, take new ideas back to Dillingham, and get resources to continue the prevention efforts that are already taking place.
Brace yourselves for higher airline ticket fees, maybe. In Congress, budget negotiators are trying to craft a deal that would keep the government running and avoid automatic spending cuts without raising taxes. But lawmakers say the deal may include higher user fees, among them, a doubling of the security fee air passengers pay – from $2.50 per flight segment to $5.
Alaska Congressman Don Young says it’s not fair to his constituents.
“We don’t have any highways. We fly more,” Young said. “There’s really no way we can get around without air, so we’ll be the heaviest taxed, and by the way, again I think that’s unconstitutional.”
He says such an increase should go through the normal congressional committee process, not come locked in as part of a budget bill.
“I’m inclined not to vote for it now [if] that type thing is in the bill,” Young said.
It’s unclear whether negotiators will be able to reach a budget agreement, without or without the air travel fee hike, but the airline industry is fighting back hard. They had leafleteers at the airport nearest the U.S. Capitol this week, handing out airsickness bags with their message on them.
“Are higher taxes on air travel making you sick?”
They say taxes on a typical $300 round trip fare already come to more than $60.
Two bills aimed at helping coastal communities deal with marine debris advanced in Congress on Wednesday.
Alaska Congressman Don Young, a co-sponsor, says they would make it easier for local, state and tribal governments to get money to remove rubbish that floats to their shores.
One bill would broaden the ability the federal government to reimburse communities for cleaning up debris stemming from the 2011 Japanese tsunami, using $5 million Japan donated last year.
The other would speed grants to communities in the midst of a severe debris event. Young says the bill doesn’t appropriate funds so it’s unclear how much would be available.
Both bills cleared the House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday.
Japan estimates the tsunami washed 5 million tons of debris out to sea.
NOAA said in September the greatest concentration of flotsam is likely to be northeast of Hawaii, about half way to the West Coast of the U.S., but that the debris field extends to Southeast Alaska and the Gulf of Alaska.
There’s push back on the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed extension of time for states to develop plans to reduce fine particulate pollution. Clean air advocates are opposed to potential delay in improving air quality in communities suffering with air pollution, like Fairbanks.
After two months of back and forth about whether a rec center with public tennis courts should be built in Anchorage with grant money from the state legislature, the city assembly voted the idea down at their regular meeting Tuesday night, but Mayor Dan Sullivan has already introduced a new proposal.
Several options for what to do with the money meant for construction of the Northern Lights Recreation Center in the Turnagain neighborhood were introduced at Tuesday’s Assembly meeting, but none succeeded. Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan introduced a new ordinance toward the end of the meeting. He explained his proposal at a press conference at City Hall.
“I laid on the table an ordinance that again reallocates funding from the state grant at a level that I think is probably appropriate,” Sullivan said. “It leaves $7.2 million for the new multi-use sports facility which was the amount of their original request to the legislature back in the spring.”
Tennis supporters had the backing of Mayor Sullivan, but not the Assembly. The Anchorage Tennis Association lobbied Juneau directly for the money to build a rec center. Then millions in funding, which the Assembly did not request, was rolled into a 437 million allocation for city infrastructure maintenance.
Some Assembly Members disagreed with the process. Some Lawmakers say they were unaware they had given money for the project. Mayor Sullivan said there was nothing wrong with it.
“It’s not uncommon for a group like the Alaska Tennis Association, a nonprofit, to go to Juneau and seek support to improve or add to municipal facilities,” Sullivan said. “It happens all the time. So the complaints about the process are probably political in nature and not logical in nature.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, Assembly Member Amy Demboski proposed an amendment that would have sent millions intended for the rec center back to Juneau – it failed.
Measures introduced by Tim Steele and Bill Starr setting aside funding for the project also failed.
Tennis supporters seemed baffled and disappointed after the votes. Originally the Mayor and the Tennis Association had discussed the possibility of $10.5 million for the project. The Alaska Tennis Associations original request was $7.2 million says Allen Clendaniel, President of the Alaska Tennis Association.
“7.2 is what the Alaska Tennis Association asked for when we started this project a long time ago,” Clendaniel said.
Clendaniel says if he could do it all over again, his organization would have gone to the Assembly as well as the Mayor.
“In hindsight, I wish we would have done that. You know, we’re a non-profit board that generally tries to teach kids tennis and run tennis tournaments. And we just you know went straight to the legislature,” Clendaniel said. “I wish we’d gone to the Assembly and have done that. It’s probably our lack of sophistication in how the capital budget process worked.”
Clemdaniel says he’s hopeful that at least one assembly member will switch sides on the issue to allow it to pass.
Public testimony on Sullivan’s new proposal is set for the next regular Assembly meeting Tuesday, Dec. 17.
The federal program extending unemployment benefits past the 26-week limit offered by the state will end on Dec. 28 unless Congress opts to extend it.
Bill Kramer is the Chief of Unemployment Insurance for the State of Alaska. His department is working to get people back on their feet before the program closes for good.
“We’re trying to make sure that people hear about it and know about it and everybody who’s filing is getting the message about the end of it coming up and trying to encourage people to utilize the job centers or whatever resources they can to try and get back to work,” Kramer said. “Hopefully we can find work for most people so they can move on and get reemployed.”
Approximately 6,500 unemployed workers in Alaska are taking part in the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program.
Kramer encourages those who are affected to look into alternate resources for household aid.
- Alaska Job Centers – Toll-free 877-724-2539
- Alaska Department of Health and Social Services
- United Way Alaska – 2-1-1
In less than three weeks, the Winter Solstice will mark a gradual lengthening in the daylight hours in Alaska. And, with more light, come thoughts of next spring’s garden. Anchorage Daily News gardening columnist Jeff Lowenfels is the author of two books on the soil and food web: Teeming With Microbes and Teeming With Nutrients. Lowenfels says even though it’s frigid outside, it’s a good time to be thinking about gardening.
Garden guru Jeff Lowenfels will speak at Alaska Pacific University’s Grant Hall on Thursday evening, as part of the APU President’s Forum series. The event is co-hosted by the Alaska Botanical Garden. Lowenfels is an internationally recognized author and columnist. He is working on the third of a trilogy of books on organic gardening. The first, “Teeming With Microbes”, and second, “Teeming With Nutrients” have gained wide acclaim. Lowenfels’ talk, “Horton Hears A Who – And So Can You”, will follow a wine and appetizer reception. The event starts at 6:30 pm at Grant Hall. Admission prices are $15 for members and students, $20 for non-members, $30 for two tickets.
Rural Alaska communities rely on mail service more than most. For many, it is a source of not just communication, but a supply line for things like medication and other necessities. That’s why Skagway residents are concerned with their postal service, after two employees were let go, leaving the post office short staffed and overwhelmed.
After two months of back and forth about whether a rec center with public tennis courts should be built with grant money from the state legislature, the Anchorage assembly voted the idea down at their regular meeting Tuesday night.
Several options for what to do with the money meant for a rec center were introduced to find a way forward but none succeeded. Assembly member Amy Demboski introduced an amendment that would have sent $6 million back to the state and said the assembly should ask for a reappropriation for tennis courts.
“The Administration and Mr. Starr have put in so much work on this project and I appreciate it and both have tried to alleviate my concerns. But ultimately, when we come back to it project 80′s deferred and critical maintenance to me is just that,” Demboski said. “It’s not for building tennis courts, it’s not for buying a tennis facility. It’s for deferred and critical maintenance of existing structures.”
The Anchorage Tennis Association lobbied Juneau directly for the money to build a public rec center with tennis courts in the Turnagain neighborhood. Then millions for the project, which the Assembly did not request, were rolled into a $37 million allocation for infrastructure maintenance.
Most Assembly Members disagreed with the process. Some said legislators were unaware they had given money for the project. Assembly member Bill Starr said a smaller amount should be set aside for the time being and that returning the money was a bad idea.
“If we don’t send legislative intent or speak to it on the record or put it in a reserve account or whatever we run the risk of losing it. I’ve learned that we can un-appropriate the money,” Starr said. “Maybe the next assembly comes along and isn’t pro tennis and they decide to go back through whatever procedure un-appropriate the money and do something else with it. I think I would speak strongly against sending it back.”
Assembly member Tim Steele agreed.
“I don’t think it was a mistake that the legislature put money in and sent it down to us. I think it was a lobbying effort by the tennis association,” Steele said. “It happens all the time that entities other than the governmental entity goes down and lobbies for issues and gets money, on every level of government.”
Assembly member Chris Birch said the best idea was to scrap efforts for the rec center this time around and hope that a new request for the money is approved.
“To me the best bet would be that you know we’ve approved a capital budget request for facility upgrades that we’re going to be approaching the legislature with this session for $10.5 million for a multiuse sports facility,” Birch said. “And I think that that’s where this thing started and that’s where we should end up.”
Demboski’s amendment failed 8-3.
A measure introduced by Time Steele and Bill Starr’s setting aside smaller amounts for the project also failed.
Tennis supporters, who had the backing of Mayor Dan Sullivan on the project, seemed baffled and disappointed after the votes and said they’re determined to introduce new legislation right away to insure a rec center with public tennis courts is built.
Alaska state fishery managers are predicting a strong sockeye salmon run in Upper Cook Inlet next year.
The Alaska Journal of Commerce reported the 2014 forecast by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game calls for 6.1 million sockeyes, or red salmon.
The forecast, released last month, predicts a run of between 4.4 million to 7.8 million sockeyes.
At the 6.1 million level, Fish and Game calls for a total harvest of 4.3 million sockeyes and an escapement of 1.8 million fish to all rivers, mainly the Kenai River.
Upper Cook Inlet sockeye are caught in personal use, sport, subsistence and commercial fisheries.
About 2.6 million sockeyes were caught in regional commercial fisheries this year. About 3.4 million fish was the average harvest between 2003 and 2012.
Alaska State Troopers say musk oxen have been seen in and around the Bethel area, and people should keep their distance.
Troopers say the musk oxen have been seen near homes, on winter trails and near the local waterfront.
According to troopers, musk oxen can move long distances quickly and they often appear in new areas overnight.
Troopers say people should take safety measures to view the animals, which can be aggressive and easily agitated.
Troopers say dogs should be kept away because they are seen as predators and musk oxen will protect themselves accordingly. Troopers also say it’s a good idea for people to stay at least 150 feet away.
What do the Space Needle, Sitka Sound Science Center, and Cafe Juanita in Kirkland, Washington have in common? They all carry artisanal salt made by Alaska Pure. The Sitka company’s sea salts are designed around flavors reminiscent of Southeast Alaska. In 2013 their wild blueberry sea salt captured a national taste-test award.
The Egyptians revered the pyramid shape in part because they believed it to be the shape of the primordial mound from which the Earth was created.
Jim: This is where the salt gets made. [ROLLING DOOR UP]
Jim and Darcy Michener love the pyramid because…
Darcy: When you bite into it, it kind of yields a fine crunch.
It refers to artisanal finishing salt – the kind that’s sprinkled on a dish right before it’s served. Their attention to detail won the Micheners a national taste-testing award from Cooking Light magazine. The editors wrote:
“It’s hard to know which is more divine; this salt’s texture or its vivid hue. The gorgeous flat flakes are delicate on the palate, shattering beautifully with the faintest pressure. It’s nice, clean salt flavor has just a hint of fruity acidity. Equally striking sprinkled on scallops, dusted on a cookie or clinging to the rim of a margarita glass.”
Jim: If you look closely enough you can see little inverted pyramids floating on the surface. And they start out as a minuscule speck and they grow, and grow, and grow. When they get large enough and heavy enough they sink down to the bottom.
EF: And this is your day job? This is your everything right now?Jim: This is our everything.
Jim: So once the salt is made and we harvest, it drains.
Jim: And it just looks like freshly fallen snow.
EF: It looks like the kind of snow that if you were to visit Santa at the mall…
Jim: Yes, we think it would be great for movie sets.
The love affair with salt production started as a happy accident on their honeymoon. They left salt water evaporating on a wood stove too long and crystals formed. From then on it was long, slow, not always scientific process. Back breaking at times. For the first six years they lugged five gallon jugs of water from the harbor…
Jim: Ten five gallon jugs in the morning, ten five gallon jugs in the evening.
Everyday. The hard part was nailing down all the variables, and figuring out how to replicate the experiment for quality and consistency.
Jim: I would say its 70% science and 30% art. I mean it really is an art to learning what your salt is doing. Like a living thing, and nurturing it, making sure the conditions are right.
The Micheners described their first night after they made the leap to the large scale production facility that they operate now. They couldn’t make a single grain of salt. They say that night really tested their marriage
EF: I’m curious too in what ways this has shaped your relationship?
[SILENCE FOLLOWED BY LAUGHTER]
Jim: Uhh, good communication is key.
Jim and Darcy seem to have found the right balance – both with salt production and their partnership.
Jim handles the mechanics and Darcy handles taste – for instance how the blueberry salt finishes on your palate.
EF: Does the blueberry taste like blueberry?
Darcy: It does, if you don’t have a real discerning palate some people can’t pick that up. A lot of people will taste salt and say oh it tastes like salt. Well of course it tastes like salt first, you’re going to get salt first. But if you let it sit for a minute you will get a real bright acidity to it and a real berry flavor. It’s undeniable in my opinion.
What some might consider just flavored salt flakes, the Micheners believe are tiny monuments to the natural environment of Southeast Alaska. Pyramids for the Last Frontier.
The City and Borough of Juneau has called the first air emergency of the winter.
For residents of the Mendenhall Valley, that means wood stove burning is banned until the alert is lifted.
An air emergency is called when particulate levels are at or near unhealthy levels and there’s no wind or precipitation to clear the air. CBJ Deputy Lands Manager Dan Bleidorn said the particulate matter is less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, about 1/30th the thickness of a human hair.
“So, it’s very fine stuff,” Bleidorn said. “It causes lots of health issues. It gets lodged in the lower portions of your respiratory system. Children and elderly folks and people with asthma and things like that, they can really suffer when the limits go above what it’s supposed to be at.”
The federal Environmental Protection Agency sets the limits on air particulate levels. Juneau has been non-complaint with the rule in the past, but not since 2006.
Old style wood stoves produce a lot of particulate matter, which is why they are banned during an air emergency. Open burning is also banned in the Mendenhall Valley from November 1st to March 31st. Newer pellet stoves and pellet boilers burn hotter and more efficiently, so they are exempt.
The ban is enforced by the Juneau Police Department. Repeat violators can face fines up to $300 dollars, but Bleidorn said they are rarely issued.
“It seems like at the beginning they give a lot of warnings, because people are new to the valley or this is the first time of the year they’ve used their wood burning stove,” he said. “So they are just unfamiliar with the rules to begin with. And then as the season progresses, generally people come on board.
Over the next year, millions of dollars are expected to enter Alaska in the form of campaign spending. The Alaska Senate race could end up being one of the more expensive races in the country, because Republicans need to unseat Democrat Mark Begich if they want to take control of Congress. Since much of the money is going to be spent on political ads, some state legislators would like to see stronger federal disclosure laws, so voters know who’s paying for the airtime. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.
If you spend any time watching local television, there’s a good chance you’ve seen this during a commercial break:
ACTRESS: For too many of us, costs are going way up. Sen. Begich didn’t listen. How can I ever trust him again? It just isn’t fair. Alaska deserves better.
NARRATOR: Call Sen. Begich. Tell him no more broken promises. Stop Obamacare.
The ad was put together by the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, and it’s been criticized for being filmed in a Lower-48 kitchen and for featuring a Maryland actress.
But Democratic state legislators Hollis French and Les Gara have a bigger problem with the ad than the shooting location. They think it should name the organization who paid for it, and who their top donors are. Alaska law already requires that of campaign ads in state elections, but no such rule exists at the federal level.
“When you peel back the layers, you realize it’s just a couple of super wealthy individuals that are funding these,” says French, who is also a candidate for lieutenant governor. “I think it makes a difference if their names have to be read as the person funding the advertisement.”
In the case of Americans for Prosperity, that would be Texas billionaires David and Charles Koch, who operate a multinational conglomerate with interests in Alaska.
“It’d be, you know, the first Koch brother, the second Koch brother, and then they’d probably run out of donors unless they’ve got some third person to throw in some money,” jokes French.
French and Gara held a small rally to draw attention to the issue in Anchorage on Tuesday, and they plan to introduce a resolution this upcoming legislative session that would ask Congress to pass stronger disclosure laws.
They want to see something like the so-called DISCLOSE Act, which was introduced after the Supreme Court decided corporations had the right to make campaign expenditures. That bill would have put a number of limits on corporations, and one of the measures in it would have made interest groups list their donors at the end of attack ads.
The bill lost momentum in Congress after being filibustered in the Senate. But French wants Congress to revisit the law, so campaign ads in federal races are treated the same as ads in state races.
“Come on, Congress,” says French. “If we could do it, you can do it.”
Alaska’s congressional delegation is largely on board. Sen. Mark Begich originally supported the DISCLOSE Act, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski has introduced separate legislation that would tighten rules for political action committees. Rep. Don Young voted against the DISCLOSE Act, and still opposes the legislation.
For its part, Virginia-based Americans for Prosperity doesn’t like the DISCLOSE Act. They think their donors could be harassed or face other negative consequences for supporting their organization.
Michael Macleod-Ball with the American Civil Liberties Union says that whether or not you like a group’s message, that’s a legitimate concern for free speech advocates. He cites an effort by opponents of the civil rights movement to make the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People reveal their membership list.
“People were in fear of their lives for being disclosed as members of the NAACP,” says Macleod-Ball. “Times are different now, but there are always organizations where membership in that organization presents a particular threat.”
Americans for Prosperity also holds that Gara and French are raising the issue as a way of deflecting negative attention from a fellow Democrat.
“They bring it up just as we start holding the Senator accountable for his Obamacare vote,” says AFP President Tim Phillips.
And as far as that ad with the Maryland actress? Phillips is standing by it. He says it’s the message that matters, and that Alaskans should expect see more spots like it on television going into campaign season.
“I think you’re going to see additional ads coming from us,” says Phillips.
No word on shooting location yet. Phillips says decisions involving set and casting have yet to be decided.
Groups in Alaska working to sign people up for health insurance on the federal marketplace say the website is working much better. The Obama Administration re-launched an improved healthcare.gov marketplace yesterday. Now insurance agents and navigators have three weeks to help Alaskans enroll in insurance plans that start offering coverage January 1st.
Tyann Boling probably knows HealthCare.gov better than any other Alaskan. And the COO of Enroll Alaska is not shy about grading the web site. In October, on a scale of 1 to 10, she gave it just a one. In November, a four. And now?
“I’m very pleased to announce that I would say on a scale of 1 to 10 it’s operating at about a seven. I would say our enrollment numbers are coming up dramatically.”
Boling says yesterday her insurance agents enrolled 14 people in the marketplace, a tally that was unimaginable a few weeks ago. She says the process usually takes around 45 minutes. But the web site needs work. Boling says her agents still encounter technical issues, especially with more complicated cases:
“You know I can’t pinpoint one situation that is the main problem, its just the complexity of people’s lives that can make it more challenging to get people enrolled.”
When problems do pop up, Boling says her agents are usually able to work through them instead of sending clients home, another big difference from the old website. Susan Johnson is the regional director of the federal Health and Human Services Department. She says she’s aware the site still needs attention:
“We’re working everyday with teams 24/7 to get to a 10.”
Johnson wants people who gave up on the site in the early months to give it a try again.
“It’s continuous progress. We didn’t get to December 1st and say, ‘we’re done.’ We’re going to get to December 23rd and continue to work through improving the site, all the way until March and beyond.”
December 23rd is the date people need to be enrolled to have coverage by January 1st. The open enrollment period extends through March 31st.
The Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center has three people working to sign up Alaskans for insurance. But the clinic says about 1/3 of the people they help earn too little to qualify for subsidies to help them buy insurance. Under the Affordable Care Act, they should be eligible for Medicaid, but Governor Sean Parnell declined to expand the program. Development Director Jon Zasada says that puts the center in a tough spot:
“The work that we do in providing primary care does not equal having access to quality insurance. For us and for, we think, other community health centers around the state, this does amount to an unfunded mandate.”
Alaskans who would have qualified for Medicaid under the expansion can apply for a hardship exemption, so they don’t have to pay a penalty for being uninsured. Overall, the main groups assisting Alaskans with healthcare.gov have enrolled 96 people since October 1st. They hope that number will increase substantially in the next few weeks.
This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, Kaiser Health News and NPR.