Out There

Alaska Politics as Usual

Posted in politics by Pete on March 19, 2015

Sigh.  This isn’t that big of a deal, but wasn’t it just a few years ago that the FBI did it’s big sting operation in our state capitol?  How quickly we forget.  The Alaska state legislature is apparently about to change the deadline for filing annual financial disclosure reports from March 15 to May 15.  Allegedly so that the date lines up better with tax day.  Note that the legislative session runs from Jan 20 to April 19, so that the new date is almost a month after everyone has left Juneau.  Les Gara has it right:

“The public is entitled to know what potential conflicts we have, what business interests we own, during session when the bills are pending — not after session, after it’s too late,” said Gara.

If the concern really has to do with tax day, why not change to April 15, when they’re at least still (barely) in session?  And the truth is that most people have done their taxes by March 15 anyway.  Most people have all the financial information needed to do it by the end of January – March 15th was not an impractical burden.  So it’s tough not to be cynical here.  It seems that the politicians don’t like having people going through their reports and identifying conflicts of interest during the session.  Real-time accountability and transparency are good, but this reduces both.  Maybe we should just get rid of the filing requirement altogether?  Or require a filing 10 years after they quit the legislature?  Sigh.


Posted in politics by Pete on February 22, 2012

I was disheartened to see this story on APRN.  If I wasn’t such a young Pollyanna maybe I wouldn’t have been.  You can read it or scroll down and click the arrow at the bottom to hear the audio news clip.  Requiring our state senators and representatives to file their financial reports online is an overdue no-brainer.  It allows any Joe Citizen to go online and view the reports as soon as they are filed.  When they file the old fashioned way, on paper, it takes a long time for the state to go through it all and post it online for public review, sometimes until after the election.  Filing electronically is of course more efficient, but beyond that it shines the light of public scrutiny on each politician’s donor listing.  And transparency in this case is a very good thing.

The legislature passed the law creating the requirement in the first place, but now they have the nerve to blame the bipartisan commission (which they also created) tasked to enforce it.  The 2007 legislation was born out of the scandals of 4 or 5 years ago that brought down several career politicians, most notably Ted Stevens.  Grainy FBI surveillance tapes showed money changing hands in a suite at the Baranof Hotel in Juneau, and notorious audio recordings capture the oilmen saying things like “We own his ass” in reference to specific legislators they supported financially.

Anyway the recent news is that our politicians, in their wisdom self-serving, short-sighted foolishness, recently voted to water down and delay the implementation of the law.  And the senate even had the gall to vote that any sitting politician be grandfathered in and not be required to ever file electronically.  Note that the APOC commission is bipartisan, and they unanimously “blasted” the legislature.  Also note that the legislature passed this almost unanimously, so both parties share the blame.

I can’t believe Republican reps Mike Hawker and Craig Johnson were so brazen as to call in to the APOC meeting and defend the legislature’s actions.  How about this quote?

“I don’t know if you guys are aware of this, but 17 percent of Alaskans have no access to Internet – none – and if you go beyond that into the people that have dial up, that number goes up to almost 20 percent, 25 percent,” Johnson said. “And this is typically the very poor and the people in rural Alaska. And by implementing this policy you have effectively excluded those people from running for office.”

Yes that would be the Alaska Republican politician, the champion of Alaska’s rural poor, coming to their rescue (that sound you hear is the dripping of sarcasm).  The view I heard from a very prominent Republican leader in Anchorage that has always stayed with me is that the natives should be forcibly rounded up, relocated to homes on the road system, and given lump sum cash payments in exchange for the nonnegotiable revocation of all present and future government obligations to them.  So yes I’m a bit cynical about the concern of road system republican politicians for the rural poor.

Addressing the quote specifically, note the word “you” in the final sentence, though the legislature is the one that put this policy together.  And in Kasigluk where we live there IS dial-up internet available.  I’ve traveled around western Alaska to perhaps a dozen different villages and I’m not aware of any that have no dial-up option, though it may well be true for some of the tiniest communities in the state like Platinum, Oscarville, Red Devil, Perryville, Lime Village, Pelican, etc.  An internet provider might not want to pay for a phone line if the community has 9 people in it or whatever.  However,  those sorts of places all put together don’t come anywhere close to 17% of the state.  So I would challenge those figures.  And further as the article points out, communities of less than 15,000 (which is all but 4 or 5 cities in the state) are exempt from this law when it comes to municipal elections.  And in the unlikely hypothetical that a person from a tiny village wanted to run for state office and had no access to internet, I can say from experience that the local school (which all have internet – usually satellite) would let them hop on a computer for a few hours to get it done.  Every school or district would love to have a politician elected from their back yard.  And the schools in the bush serve the whole community, not just the active current student body (or at least they should).  This is why the whole village comes to prom, and why you see adults doing distance-delivered college classes in the school library or computer lab in the evenings, and men playing ball in the gym at night.  You think the local school will tell a guy running for state office that he can’t use a computer for a few hours on a Saturday?  OK, and if the person running for state office lived in a community without a school, that means it is a miniscule community indeed and they could request a waiver from the electronic filing requirement and as mentioned in the article they would certainly get it.

So to sum up, Johnson’s figures are almost certainly wrong, the conclusion (“you have effectively excluded those people from running for office”) is a knowing lie, and the motivation is entirely selfish.  All in a day’s work in Juneau?   It’s bad enough when you see such blatantly self-serving legislation sail through the house and senate.  But it’s even worse when some try and pretend that they’re passing it out of concern for the poor.  Am I wrong about any of this?  Make a thoughtful comment to the contrary.  I know that they may have had some legitimate reasons for trying to delay implementation of the electronic filing, but I haven’t heard any.  And isn’t it a really, really bad idea on the heels of a massive bribery scandal to start rolling back the protections just recently put in place?  Yes I’m overreacting – this is just a tiny blip in the grand scheme of things but for whatever reason as you can see it obviously got me worked up so there you go.  I process by talking or writing, and this is the kind of processing I do with my evenings while away from home.  Hopefully now that it’s all processed I can leave it here and move on.  That’s what this blog was meant for anyway – my mental dump.  ; – )