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Student Government: Valuable Experience or Sideshow? April 11, 2009

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Joe Blanchard prepares for an interview after winning a seat on the Fairbanks Borough Assembly.  Blanchard is a past president of the UAF student government, or ASUAF.

Joe Blanchard prepares for an interview after winning a seat on the Fairbanks Borough Assembly. Blanchard is a past president of the UAF student government, known as ASUAF.

Sorry for my absence over the course of the last month.  I’ve been sidelined for a variety of reasons, most of which have to do with reporting I’m doing on the student government at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.  I’ve been doing a series of stories for the UAF paper – the Sun Star – on the efforts of some members of the student senate to remove the student president.  The experience got me thinking about student government and its relation to “actual” politics.  Is it a jumping-off point where future politicians can get their feet wet, or is it a backwater where political science majors with no hope of a career in real politics can stroke their egos and hold rein over their own little corner of the universe?

More after the jump.



Sweeps Week November 17, 2008

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You might think that the week two weeks after the election is a dull week in politics.  This year, you’d be very wrong.  In addition to national happenings, such as the selection of President-elect Obama’s cabinet, the ongoing economic crisis, and some pretty tough back-and-forthing among members of the GOP about who is actually responsible for the party’s collapse on election day, there are quite a few significant events which will take place this week.  Here’s the rundown as I see it.

  • Monday will see more ballot counting by state elections officials. 24,000 ballots are still outstanding, and the plan is to count almost all of them tomorrow.  A few close local races will likely be decided on Monday, and Alaska’s U.S. Senate race could be as well.  This could be good news for both Republicans and Democrats on the national level, because of what happens Tuesday.
  • Tuesday, both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Senate will meet (in separate caucuses, of course) to determine assignments for the new Senate.  If the outcome of the Alaska Senate race isn’t determined by Tuesday, the Republicans will face the unpleasant question of whether or not to eject him from the caucus (as some Senate Republicans have suggested they will attempt) in the event that he wins his race.  The Republicans are understandably uneasy about doing this to an elder statesman of the party, but many feel they have no choice after Stevens’ felony convictions.  Realistically, while they would like to keep the seat, many Senate Republicans would count a Begich win as a mixed blessing, as it would spare them a difficult decision about one of their party’s most senior figures.
  • In the Democrats’ Tuesday meeting, they will decide whether or not to let fairweather Dem Joe Lieberman keep his important chairmanship of the Homeland Security committee.  If they decide to let him keep it, the internet will explode with the fury of a million (this number is probably not an exaggeration) liberal bloggers who insist Lieberman must be punished for deserting Obama (who, ironically, helped campaign for Lieberman in his Senate race) and campaigning for McCain.  Lieberman actually spoke against Obama at the Republican National Convention, so if the Democrats let him keep the chairmanship, it probably means bad things about their collective political will.  On the other hand, if they strip Lieberman of his chairmanship, he is left in a bind about whether or not to defect to the Republicans, who are currently in the minority and can’t offer him much in the way of powerful positions.  All right, enough national news, it’s back to Alaska.
  • Also Tuesday, the Division of Elections should effectively finish counting ballots, though a few may trickle in on Wednesday.
  • Wednesday is the last day ballots can be received by the Division of Elections and still be counted.  Almost all races in the state (except for House District 7 between Kelly and Kassel, with its one vote margin) will be decided on Wednesday if not before.
  • Thursday and Friday… uh… okay, I don’t really have much for Thursday and Friday.  Oh yeah, if you’re a student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, there are the student Senate elections on Thursday and Friday, but if you’re not a student, there’s really no reason for you to care.  In fact, even if you ARE a student, there’s really very little reason to care, as every seat has only one candidate running for it.  There’s even one seat- Senate Seat P- for which NO candidates will be on the ballot.  To highlight this travesty of disinterest in government, and also to make light of Alaska politics in general, I’ve started a campaign to write in Vic Vickers for ASUAF Senate Seat P.  As far as I know, Vic has no idea he’s a candidate, which will make my call to him on election day if he wins all the sweeter.  Who says politics can’t be fun?

All right, I’m done here for the night… check back on Monday to discover what I’ve been doing with my time such that I don’t update more often!

Debate #2: Kelly vs. Kassel October 28, 2008

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The following is part of a story I did for the UAF Sun Star on the second round of State House debates.  This portion covers the debate between Mike Kelly and Karl Kassel for House District 7’s seat.

Mike Kelly (R) and Karl Kassel (D) traded jabs in their debate, with incumbent Kelly mostly playing defense.  Kelly and Kassel are contesting House District 7’s seat in one of this year’s hardest-fought local races.  Kelly is a former president of both GVEA and the university’s Board of Regents.  Kasssel has just retired from a position as director of the borough’s Parks & Recreation department, and formerly served as president of the Alaska Dog Musher’s Association and the Yukon Quest.

Kelly and Kassel differed on the majority of the issues under discussion, including aid for Alaska’s college students.  Kassel stated his firm support for need-based financial aid for students meeting merit requirements, saying that, “We can’t let people fall through the cracks.”  Kelly was much more stand-offish with regard to student aid, saying, “I’ll listen, but I’m skeptical.”

Kassel attacked Kelly for many of his actions in Juneau, citing Kelly’s opposition to the state energy rebate and his attempt to stop the legislature’s Troopergate investigation from disclosing its findings.  In response, Kelly staked out a position that echoed Republican presidential candidate John McCain- that he voted based on his principles, which often made him unpopular among his colleagues.

The two also sharply disagreed on whether the pending gas line contract should include project labor agreements, or PLAs.  Kassel spoke in favor of the agreements, saying that they provide for fair wages and help ensure local hire.  Kelly came out against PLAs, stating that he feels they unfairly favor unions.

Kelly and Kassel’s exchanged their strongest words over Kelly’s controversial stance in opposition to a domestic violence bill.  The bill established stronger penalties for a third conviction on domestic assault charges, and Kelly was the only legislator in opposition.  “We’ve got to take action, we’ve got to move forward,” said Kassel, “And 59 to one says a lot to me.”  Kelly responded that he voted against the bill because he felt its language was overly complex. 

Audio of Kassel on Kelly’s opposition to the domestic violence bill:

I’ll put up Kelly’s response as soon as I’m done processing the audio file.

Debate #2: Coghill vs. Allen October 27, 2008

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The following is part of a story I did for the UAF Sun Star on the second round of State House debates.  This portion covers the debate between John Coghill and Corey Allen for House District 11’s seat.


Contrasts were hard to come by in the first debate, as Rep. John Coghill (R) squared off against Corey Allen (D).  Coghill and Allen are contesting House District 11’s seat, which Coghill currently holds.  House District 11 consists of the greater North Pole area, and both candidates reflected the district’s conservative sentiments.

Although Allen and Coghill are opponents, they rarely disagreed on the issues fundamental to the election.  Both staked out similar positions on energy issues, revenue sharing, and opposition to benefits for same-sex couples.  The candidates even agreed on the usually contentious subject of Alaska’s partial-birth abortion ban, with both men favoring the ban.

Coghill and Allen did draw contrasting positions on a few issues.  Allen came out strongly in favor of merit- and need-based aid for Alaskan college students. Allen specifically supported Rep. David Guttenberg’s pending bill that would establish college grants for Alaska residents.  Coghill was reluctant to support higher education grants, saying, “It depends on what’s put together,” and that he was generally wary of entitlement programs.

Debate Notes: Kawasaki v. Hull October 20, 2008

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These are debate notes for the third debate last Thursday- Scott Kawasaki (D) vs. Sue Hull (R) for State House District 10.

I’m testing audio functionality.  Enjoy Scott Kawasaki’s introduction, in which he makes a self-deprecating comment about how long it took him to finish college.

Kawasaki’s introduction: