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Special Session: Looking Back May 2, 2012

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Another special session in the can, and there are two very different ways to look at it.

The first: The special session was an abject failure by all parties involved, and Alaska will suffer for it.

  • The Governor pushed a new, ill-conceived and very poorly researched oil tax bill that wasted everyone’s time. Then, just as abruptly, he pulled it from consideration, killing the subject of 80 percent of the legislature’s efforts this session. Not exactly a strong move, politically or otherwise.
  • Once the oil tax issue was off the table, the Senate took their toys and went home. This is a little more understandable, since realistically it was very unlikely that they could make any progress on either a) a new oil tax bill that they drafted themselves in the remainder of the special session, or b) House Speaker Chenault’s HB 9 bullet line bill, which was DOA in the Senate. That’s because, as a large-diameter gas line proponent said to me earlier this year, it would have been fantastically expensive, the gas wouldn’t have been any cheaper than existing options, it wouldn’t have spur lines to the communities (Fairbanks, interior villages) that need energy relief most, and it would take gas from a place that has gas to another place that has gas. Maybe that makes sense if you’re Mike Chenault and you want to insure against the possibility that the USGS, Buccaneer Energy, and Furie are all wrong about there being massive gas reserves in the Inlet, but it’s a hard sell to most other people, especially ones outside the Anchorage bowl who would see very little benefit. But back to the Senate – even if it was the right call to close up shop early, was there any good reason not to at least have a conversation beforehand with House leadership, just so they wouldn’t complain about you blindsiding them?
  • The House, after the Senate left them with nothing on the agenda, pouted for a few days and then decided to end the session, call a press conference where they trashed the Senate, then went home. Seems like they could have done that last Thursday without the five-day wait and the associated (estimated) $200,000 cost to taxpayers.

All right, so that’s the glass-half-empty perspective. Here’s the glass-half-full: All things considered, having come out of the session with the oil tax structure unchanged and no concrete gas line plans isn’t nearly the worst thing that could have happened. The oil tax cut that Gov. Parnell pushed, if passed, would have put the state deep into the red with no guarantee that production would ever pick up enough that we would enjoy the same kind of state revenues that we do now. I don’t think anyone’s really heartbroken it didn’t pass. And as to the gas line, what if the legislature had passed HB 9 (or something like it, any kind of North Slope to Cook Inlet bullet line bill) and then this summer Buccaneer’s and Furie’s estimates of at least a few trillion feet of gas in Cook Inlet are borne out? That doesn’t seem unlikely, and then we’ve potentially dumped a lot of money into something that is now completely purposeless and economically irrelevant.

I’m somewhere in between those two positions. I think everyone involved could have done their jobs better, but given the other possible scenarios, status quo seems okay – for now. Over the next several months we’ll get more data on the state of Alaska’s gas supply, world gas demand, and the nature of the Point Thomson settlement and whether a large-diameter gas line is really in the offing. That should do a lot to add clarity to the picture when things get rolling again in January.

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Disclosure: UA Advocacy February 9, 2009

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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.

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!

Alaska Is Different: Your Vote Counts November 14, 2008

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Division of Elections officials resumed counting ballots today, and trends with the ballots today largely followed the pattern established on Wednesday, with Mark Begich extending his lead to over 1,000 votes over Ted Stevens and leaders in other close races continuing to pad their margins.

There was one exception to the general lack of Friday drama, however…

In House District 7’s race, challenger Karl Kassel narrowed the gap between himself and Mike Kelly to… wait for it… ONE VOTE.  The count now stands at 4999 votes for Kassel, 5,000 votes for Kelly, and 36 write-ins.  If you ever wondered whether or not your vote could make a difference, look no further.

It’s important to note that it’s still possible for a few more absentee votes to trickle in before the Nov. 19 deadline, so the ending margin likely won’t be just one vote.  Also, no matter who is ahead after counting finishes, a recount appears inevitable.  Still, this race is a perfect example of exactly how important it is to perform your civic duty.

Ballot Counting – Interlude November 13, 2008

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Division of Elections officials count questioned ballots Wednesday.

Division of Elections officials count questioned ballots Wednesday.

Yesterday’s flurry of activity which saw Stevens lose the lead in his race when the day’s counting shifted the total by over 4,000 votes in Mark Begich’s direction.  Today is a day of comparative quiet, the “calm before the storm”.

The state will be counting ballots again tomorrow (Friday)- they plan to count the districts that they didn’t do on Wednesday. These are mostly in Anchorage, and all of them are districts that Begich won on election day. So it looks pretty good for Begich and a bit dire for Stevens, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a recount demand and/or a lawsuit from the trailing party once all the ballots are counted.

The state will also be counting any at-large absentee ballots that have arrived between Wednesday and Friday, as well as any questioned ballots whose veracity has been determined. Those could go either way, and might even end up changing the balance in local races, such as the Kelly/Kassel race in District 7, where Kelly is hanging onto a 32-vote advantage.

The only people not holding their breath today are elections officials themselves, as they make determinations about questioned ballots under the watchful gaze of both Begich’s and Stevens’ campaign representatives.

STEVENS’ MARGIN EFFECTIVELY GONE November 12, 2008

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According to the Republicans’ spreadsheet, Ted Stevens lost 898 votes from his margin in the Fairbanks region. If you factor that into the Mat-Su numbers we got earlier, Begich is less than 200 votes down with Anchorage yet to report.

Mark Begich is the mayor of Anchorage. This one is going down to the wire.

UPDATE: STEVENS’ MARGIN DROPPING SWIFTLY November 12, 2008

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The Division of Elections just released new figures- Ted Stevens’ lead is now under 1000. This is BEFORE adding in the local numbers I’ve been reporting, and does not include Anchorage numbers either.

Things are looking a little more hopeful for Mark Begich.

No upset is in the cards in the Young/Berkowitz race, however… Young’s margin is holding steady. That one is over.

Ballot Counting Liveblog #2 November 12, 2008

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I had to step away for a minute and more returns came in- according to Joe Paskvan’s people, they are winning by 360 votes with only about 500 ballots left outstanding- they’re not declaring victory yet, but if their figures are right then the race for Senate Seat E is effectively over.

If the numbers hold, then the Democrats have successfully flipped a seat in the Senate, as the seat was previously held by Gary Wilken (R).

Election Part 2: Ballot Counting October 16, 2008

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I’m live at the state Division of Elections, where workers are counting the vast majority of the outstanding absentee, early, and questioned ballots.

So far, absentee ballots have been counted in Districts 7, 8, 9, and 10. No early or absentee ballots have yet been counted.

For the most part, absentees aren’t significantly changing the percentages we saw on election day.

Joe Paskvan holds a 133-vote advantage over Cynthia Henry for Senate Seat E.

Mike Kelly has a lead of 144 votes over Karl Kassel for House District 7.

David Guttenberg’s commanding lead over Will Finley in District 8 has grown by a few hundred votes. That race is definitively over.

Jay Ramras’ margin over John Brown in District 9 has grown by about 100 votes- it’s still too close to call, but it looks bad for Brown at this point.

In District 10, Scott Kawasaki’s razor-thin 67-vote margin has grown by 17 and now stands at 84 over challenger Sue Hull.

The more significant news is that in the absentees, Mark Begich appears to be gaining ground on Ted Stevens. In the absentees we’ve seen so far, Begich has gained about 440 votes on Stevens, cutting Stevens’ overall margin to under 3,000.

District 11 absentee and District 7 questioned ballots have just come in. I’ll cover them shortly.