From Kyle Hopkins in Fairbanks --
The chairman of the Alaska Federation of Natives Albert Kookesh said today that the AFN canceled today's U.S. Senate candidate forum because the group didn't want to give "air time" at its annual convention to Republican nominee Joe Miller.
Kookesh, also a Democratic state senator from Angoon, said the board made the decision to call off the scheduled Senate forum after Miller's campaign filed an FEC complaint against a political action committee comprised of Alaska Native corporations.
AFN president Julie Kitka told me earlier this week that the event had been canceled to allow people more time to talk about subsistence.
Kookesh says the change, decided upon before the convention began, was a "purely political move."
Here's portions of a conversation I had with Kookesh at the convention today. I was asking about the Senate race, 8(a) contracts and the schedule change:
Sen. Kookesh: The reason we canceled it. There was two reasons. One was because he filed a complaint with FEC against us spending Native money the way we’re spending Native money.
We didn’t feel if he’s going to be firing arrows at us that we should be turning around and inviting him into our house.
Secondly, it’s purely political move on our part. If we’re going to endorse Lisa Murkowski then why should we give him airtime on a statewide event that we’re having, when we’ve already endorsed somebody.”
ADN: Whose call was it to say, 'Lets call it off?'
Kookesh: We made it at the board level. The AFN board made it the day before the convention started. But we’d already heard about the complaint filed.
Why does he think that he can file a complaint against us and beat us up in the press and we would open the door for him to come in? Why would he think that?
ADN: Who made the motion to cancel?
I’m not going to talk to you about that. We’re a board. Our board of directors makes a decision and a we’re a majority controls and that’s what we do. But I want to tell you, I didn’t hear any opposition in the room when we said that we were not going to do the forum.
ADN: That reason is not what Julie Kitka described when I asked her about it. She said it was an effort to clear open mic time.
Kookesh: That’s another part … of the reason. But at the same time my thinking was, that I don’t appreciate, and a lot of people who are involved in 8(a) in that room didn’t appreciate him filing the complaint against us.
I mean, he didn’t help us earn that money. Why should he tell us how to spend it?
ADN: So the event was canceled because he attacked the 8(a) program?
Kookesh: Yes. He attacked us. That’s Native corporation money. That’s Native money. That’s us. That’s us. We’re Native. He attacked us.
ADN: What about this argument: AFN’s not just about corporations. There’s shareholders here who might want to get a look at this guy an see if he’s not as bad as all that. Why not put him in front of people so they can see?
Kookesh: He’s here. I introduced him on the floor. I told people that they could come see him. I told corporations that they could invite him to their caucuses. We’re just going to give him the air time. Air time costs money.
ADN: He’s saying, 'Look they didn’t want to put me out in front of this group of hundreds or thousands of people,' it sounds like it’s true, right?
Kookesh:That’s true. This is politics. He attacked us. We closed the door to him coming into our house. We endorsed another candidate. We gave the candidate air time. We’re going to do everything we can do get her elected. Why give him airtime?
The political landscape in Alaska has changed. The Native communities has some clout now. Politically, financially, they have some clout, whether people want to listen to us or not. That’s their decision.
You think next time the elections come around, people are going to ignore us? The political landscape has changed and let me tell you something. Right after the primary, right after the primary, AFN got its leadership together.
We asked Sen. Murkowski, Scott McAdams and Joe Miller to come meet us in Anchorage. He turned us down. He didn’t even answer our calls.
ADN: What about McAdams, in terms of cancelation of the Senate forum. How does McAdams figure into that? Did you guys want him in front of folks, or were you concerned? Because he could pull support.
Kookesh: Absolutely he can. Yeah, there’s no question he could.
ADN: Was that one of the reasons the Senate forum was …
Kookesh: I think you’re searching for something that’s not there. I’m sure you’re trying to make news. But we did it for those reasons I told you already. He attacked us. We closed the door. We endorsed Murkowski, we want to give her all the air time. What’s wrong with that? That’s a political decision.
Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller said this morning that he believes the Alaska Federation of Natives canceled a face-off among the Senate hopefuls – at least in part – to keep him from winning support among Alaska Native corporation shareholders.
Miller has called for overhauling the U.S. Small Business Administration program that delivers no-bid federal contracts to Alaska Native corporations and tribes. Yesterday, a speaker who is serving as co-chairman of Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s campaign blasted Miller from the convention floor and the AFN – the largest Native group in Alaska – voted to endorse Murkowski.
“Why not provide benefit to those that are disadvantaged,” Miller told reporters. “We see a lot of shiny buildings, you know, sprouting up in Anchorage. But where do we see the benefit to rural Alaskans? Where is also the oversight that the shareholders can have over the corporations. And I think, really, that’s what’s generated the animosity to this campaign.”
“I think that’s part of the reason why the debate didn’t happen today. Because the corporations don’t want me to talk to the shareholders, be educated by the shareholders and then let them know what my vision is for Alaska. And it’s a vision that is absolutely pro-shareholder.”
“It’s an opportunity for not just oversight, but also benefit in the form of jobs for the shareholders,” he said.
AFN President Julie Kitka said this week that the Senate forum was canceled to make more time for people to talk about subsistence. I asked McAdams why he thought it was canceled yesterday, and he declined to speculate. He'd leave that to the "pundits," he said.
Miller has mentioned the idea of changing the 8(a) program to focus on providing shareholder employment a couple times now. I tried asking for more detail on what that would look like, but Miller said he was off to a meeting with CIRI.
His campaign schedule lists an “AFN Delegates Welcoming Luncheon” for this afternoon.
I didn’t notice any security walking with Miller.