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A Quick Non Sequitur February 12, 2009

Posted by roothogreport in Executive, Site News.
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This doesn’t really have anything to do with Alaska politics, but it does have everything to do with the changing face of journalism.

Did you catch Obama’s first prime time press conference the other day?  Yeah, neither did I, but I did read the transcript, and was struck by something: not only does The Huffington Post apparently have a reporter in the White House press pool, the President called on them for a question.

Online news has come a long way.


Disclosure: UA Advocacy February 9, 2009

Posted by roothogreport in Legislature.
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I really should have mentioned this before, especially in the light of the Anna Fairclough story, but somehow I didn’t think to.

I have been selected by UAF’s student government (of which I am not a member) to take part in the University of Alaska’s advocacy efforts in Juneau.

The trip will take place later this month, and I plan to report on the process both here and for UAF’s weekly student newspaper, the Sun Star.  It should be an interesting trip for me, as I’ve never been to Juneau before.  It’s one thing to talk to legislators on the phone, and entirely another to talk to them in person.  I’ve heard it’s beautiful down there, and that they’ve been getting a ton of snow.  I’m excited.

In case you’re wondering what exactly we’re advocating for, the short answer is full funding for the university.  To expand a bit, we’ll be asking for increases in maintenance allocations (the governor’s budget only allocated $10 million of a requested $50 million for upkeep of existing facilities), funding for a life science research and teaching facility at UAF (which has been UA’s number one capital funding priority for at least five years and has thus far received no funding), funding for K-12 outreach programs (did you know that Alaska has the worst high-school-to-college matriculation rate of any state in the nation?), and a host of other budget issues related to education.

I don’t expect that this trip (for which the university will foot the bill) to substantially change my opinion on education issues- I’m already a pretty strong proponent of education funding, which is probably why I was selected to go- but I did think that anyone who reads this blog deserves to know about the trip.

The Fairclough Flap, And Why It Matters February 8, 2009

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I spent quite a bit of time chasing down the story on Rep. Anna Fairclough’s remarks about the University of Alaska and some of the views its students and faculty express.  I actually ended up speaking to all of the principal figures (except UA President, who is notoriously difficult to get ahold of… I guess there’s a reason he’s the highest-paid person in the state who has to disclose their salary), which is a testament to the accessibility of Alaska’s legislators.

Along the way, I found myself explaining the story many times in very simple terms to people who didn’t know the particulars, which was just about everybody.  What I found is that different people had different reactions, but there were a few common threads:

  • Just about every voting-age Alaskan, contrary to Rep. Fairclough’s assertion,  is acutely aware of the role that resource development plays in the state economy.
  • A lot of people, particularly conservative people, agree with Rep. Fairclough- not just about university students/faculty, but in general.  In some conservative circles, there’s a definite “love-it-or-get-out” sentiment with regard to development- that is, anyone who doesn’t support oil, gas, mining, and timber development shouldn’t get to share in the proceeds.
  • Many people I talked to seemed to focus on the development at the expense of the actual heart of the matter, which I see as being this: the reason this story blew up the way it did is that no matter how students feel or vote, there is something deeply wrong with making a link- even a speculative one- between political beliefs and education funding.  

Anna Fairclough touched that third rail, and although she probably won’t suffer much political consequence from it, she brought a dangerous idea out into the open: why not stifle your political enemies by cutting, or threatening to cut, their funding?

The issue is deeper than Fairclough on both sides of the political spectrum, and I feel like we’ll see more of it before we see less.  The trick is recognizing it when you see it, because it’s not always as obvious as, “So help me here in understanding how I should advocate funding more for an entire group that really doesn’t want to see development go forward?”

Are UA personnel anti-development? Should it matter? February 7, 2009

Posted by roothogreport in Legislature.
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In Tuesday’s State House Finance Committee meeting, Rep. Anna Fairclough (R-Eagle River) caused a stir when she asked University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton for help understanding why she should advocate funding the University when many students and staff oppose the development that provides the lion’s share of state revenue.

Fairclough is the chair of the UA Funding subcommittee, so many observers interpreted this as a sort of shot across the bow.  Fairclough denies that she meant the comments as a threat in any way.  I’ll write more on this soon, but for now, here’s a transcript of what Fairclough asked Hamilton:

Last year I had many passionate students come to my door and ask for support for the scholarship program that was out there- to support that.  And I had many passionate university instructors and staff from across the university.  And I found it amazing that there was a large disconnect in where the dollars from the state of Alaska comes from on a regular basis as far as the production of oil on the North Slope and how that is turned into revenue for the state of Alaska and in turn is invested in the university system.

  President Hamilton, if I asked university staff, the people who are educating our future leaders, if they support the Chukchi Sea development, Red Dog Mine, Pebble Mine, or any type of industry along those lines, a stereotypical response is that they are in opposition.  If I asked- or I did ask- I asked them when they came through the door, each different group- the students that were passionate- the same questions.  Whether they supported it, whether they thought their friends supported it. 

Predominantly, each of the student groups that came through said they opposed all the things that I just said- oil exploration, expansion… and they were concerned, in a very idealistic way, about our environment, which I greatly appreciated, but the question I ask you, is when you come to us asking for more dollars for the university and the system itself is creating- those that are engaged in the system may be creating an inability for us to provide those resources to you- what can I do to help clarify inside of that population that if you want more money, you can either choose- because I asked them if they wanted to tax themselves, too, and that wasn’t a good solution either. 

So help me here in understanding how I should advocate funding more for an entire group that really doesn’t want to see development go forward?

-Representative Anna Fairclough, 2/3/09

Sarah Palin Hates Me? January 13, 2009

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Apologies for the long hiatus between the last news item and this one; I was on a sandy beach escaping Fairbanks’ two-week cold snap.

Sarah Palin has been busy with the media lately, giving interviews to whoever wants them.  In these interviews, she mostly criticizes the same people who are keeping her fifteen minutes of national fame alive- the media.

She’s come out really strong lately against bloggers, probably (and I’m only guessing here) because the majority of the high-quality blogs out there weren’t particularly supportive of her political ambitions.  In an interview with Esquire, Palin let this little gem fly, “Bored, anonymous, pathetic bloggers who lie annoy me….I’ll tell you, yesterday the Anchorage Daily News, they called again to ask — double-, triple-, quadruple-check — who is Trig’s real mom. And I said, Come on, are you kidding me? We’re gonna answer this? Do you not believe me or my doctor? And they said, No, it’s been quite cryptic the way that my son’s birth has been discussed. And I thought, Okay, more indication of continued problems in the world of journalism.”

Upon the publication of Palin’s attack on their reporting, the ADN released a lengthy, point-by-point response- published, fittingly, on the editor’s blog.  In their response, the ADN claimed that the only reason their reporter was asking about Trig at all was that the paper was working on a story debunking conspiracy theories about Palin and her campaign.  Furthermore, the paper claimed that they had to abandon the story due to lack of cooperation from Palin’s family and office.  The ADN characterized Palin’s attack as at best factually incorrect, and at worst intentionally misleading.

Sarah Palin, though, tends to move in only one direction once she’s going, so she hasn’t backed down on the anti-blog rhetoric.  In an interview with Alaska Report published today, Palin opined that bloggers aren’t held appropriately to account when they lie.

The subject of people not being held to account when they lie, especially in the world of politics, is an area which has become rich with examples over the past five or ten years.  Given this, it’s extremely tempting to caustically turn Palin’s words right back at her.  I think that in this particular instance I’ll take the high road, though, and leave you to pick your own favorite person who hasn’t been held to account for lying to the Alaskan and/or American people.  I feel like bloggers don’t rate very high on the list, but maybe I’m too close to the topic.

Palin’s Problem: Not Enough Media Attention? December 23, 2008

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Apparently our governor has decided that her problem during the campaign was that she didn’t give enough interviews. That’s great logic, because she was so well-prepared for the few that she did. If she had done more, I’m sure it would have done great things for the public’s opinion of her.

Alaska Briefs December 20, 2008

Posted by roothogreport in Executive, Legislature.
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Here’s a recap of news of the past several days in Alaska politics:

-Sarah Palin’s church was damaged in a “suspicious” fire. Firefighters are treating it as an arson. Members of my family were in Eagle River for the state high school wrestling tournament, but they insist that their proximity to the fire was coincidental.

-Don Young stepped down from his seat as ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee. He stated that it’s a temporary move for the good of the party.  Question: If it’s for the good of the party (that is, if they want him to have  a lower profile in the event he gets indicted for something), how is it going to be a temporary move?  Good luck getting that seat back, Don. 

-Levi Johnston’s mother was arrested on six felony drug possession charges.  In case you forgot, Levi Johnston is Bristol Palin’s betrothed.  Word from the ADN is that the drug in question was oxycontin, a.k.a. “hillbilly heroin,” which gained notoriety as Rush Limbaugh’s painkiller of choice.  I have to say that with Bristol’s unplanned pregnancy, the Katie Couric interview, the $150,000 $180,000 clothes debacle, the turkey interview, and now this, the Palin clan is really making Alaska look like a classy, forward-looking state.

North to the Future, indeed.

KELLY KEEPS SEAT December 9, 2008

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This is going to be short because I’m posting from my phone, but the News-Miner is reporting that Mike Kelly has won the race for House District 7’s seat by four votes. There were only four challenged ballots- one by Kassel and three by Kelly- so this one is over.

The 2008 Alaska general election is finally complete, and the state house will be split 22-18 with Republicans in the majority.

Monday Briefs December 8, 2008

Posted by roothogreport in Executive, Legislature.
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A few little items that didn’t really merit a post on their own:

  • The District 7 recount is scheduled for tomorrow.  Check here for news as it comes in.
  • The Sarah Palin clothing story resurfaced– the cost of the clothes is now up to $180,000, and the cost of her makeup was $110,000.  I really dislike this story- it feels so tabloid-ey. Even though I find the expenditure wasteful in the extreme and indicative of poor judgment, I’m not planning on bringing it up again unless someone brings charges or something.
  • A grand total of six Alaskans contributed to Obama’s transition fund.  One of them was my sister’s second grade teacher.  Alaska is a small place.
  • Ted Stevens has asked for a new trial in Alaska.  No clue if the request will be granted, but if it is, good luck finding an impartial jury here… at least that’s what Stevens is banking on, I’m sure.

Palin Won’t Release Troopergate Deposition December 5, 2008

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ADN’s political blog is reporting that the governor’s office is refusing to release the deposition Sarah Palin gave to the Alaska Personnel Board.  Apparently Palin views the matter as over and done with, and wants to put it behind her.  She’s also refusing to release Todd’s deposition and a host of other related material.

Her promise to make the personnel board’s findings public, she says, didn’t apply to material which was not explicitly in the final report.  That promise notwithstanding, what does Sarah have to gain by refusing to make her testimony public?  Much of her side of the story has already been made public in the news media, and I don’t anticipate that her answers to the personnel board were substantially different than the ones we’ve heard, so she probably doesn’t have to worry about charges of her story changing.  Furthermore, the personnel board cleared her of wrongdoing, so nothing she or Todd said in the depositions can be that damaging, can it?  I’m baffled.

I will say this: the question of whether Sarah Palin acted improperly in
a) trying to get Trooper Wooten fired, and/or
b) in removing Walt Monegan as Commissioner of Public Safety
completely aside, the one thing I’m taking away from this case so far as an Alaskan is that our governor, whose chief talking point in the campaign was that Alaska’s government should be transparent and accountable to the people, didn’t mean what she said.  

More than anything else, I’m disappointed.