Alaska Politics Blog

This is the place to talk about Alaska politics, state, local, national. Public life in the Last Frontier has rarely been more interesting -- a full slate of federal and state elections, the influence of former Gov. Sarah Palin, the usual hardball Alaska politics. Come here for news, tidbits and information, and join the discussion. We encourage lively debate, but please keep it civil and stay on point. Don't use profanity, make crude comments or attack other posters. Posts that violate the Terms of Use will be deleted. Repeat offenders will lose their ability to post comments.

New Senate organization announced - 11/7/2012 12:48 pm

Homer Revealed - 8/22/2012 2:08 pm

Seven-day countdown - 5/25/2012 8:37 pm

Anchorage city clerk resigns (UPDATED) - 5/23/2012 10:51 am

Gara to seek re-election - 5/2/2012 2:04 pm

For one lawmaker: Good news - 4/27/2012 12:20 pm

Anticipation in the Capitol - 4/26/2012 11:38 am

Election Commission finds 1/2 of precincts ran out of ballots; recommends no investigation - 4/25/2012 5:08 pm

Begich to head subcommittee that oversees oceans, fisheries

From Erika Bolstad in Washington D.C. --

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, was named chairman of the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard.

It's a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The panel has prime jurisdiction over fisheries and other ocean and coastal issues.

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Senators challenging the governor on health care

From Lisa Demer in Juneau --

Seven state senators are questioning Gov. Sean Parnell on why Alaska is the only state not to have applied for a $1 million federal grant to plan for a health exchange, a key element of federal health reform.

The exchanges are envisioned as Web-based marketplaces for individuals and small businesses to shop for health care policies that would be subsidized by the federal government.

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Film tax credits seem popular in Alaska

From Lisa Demer in Juneau --

Call it the "Everybody Loves Movies" bill.

State legislators are considering whether to tweak and extend a law passed in 2008 that gives tax credits for films made in Alaska.

At a meeting Tuesday morning of the House Special Committee on Economic Development, Trade and Tourism, legislators heard from a string of Alaskans about how they benefited from films produced here since the film-incentive program became law in 2008.

People mainly talked about two movies filmed last summer in Alaska: "Everybody Loves Whales" starring Drew Barrymore, and a movie tentatively titled "Ghost Vision" with Jon Voight.

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Murkowski reintroduces ANWR bills

From Erika Bolstad in Washington D.C. --

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on Tuesday introduced two bills seeking to open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.

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Murkowski, Begich comment on Mubarak's departure

From Erika Bolstad in Washington D.C. --

Both of Alaska's senators released statements on today's decision by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska: "This has been a painful process for the Egyptian people, and I welcome President Mubarak’s decision to step down. Egypt is undergoing a generational political change, and at this point no one can say for sure what the outcome will be," she said. "It is my hope that this action will relieve some of the tension and put the Egyptian people on a path to greater stability and political freedom."

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska: "I am pleased that President Mubarak has finally listened to the Egyptian people and allowed them to move one step closer to freedom and democracy," Begich said. "I hope the transition in the coming weeks will be free of violence and that all sides will come together to build a better future for the Egyptian people."

Begich used the news as a springboard for a discussion on the stability of international oil supplies: "I remain concerned that instability in the Middle East continues to threaten international oil supplies and oil transportation," he added. "The demonstrations we’ve witnessed over the past few weeks underscore America’s need to stabilize and secure its energy sources by increasing domestic energy production. Certainly the responsible development of Alaska’s resources would lessen our dependence on foreign oil and help insulate America’s families from political turmoil half the world away."

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FBI releases Stevens files

From Erika Bolstad in Washington D.C. --

The FBI today released 3,600 pages from its files on former Sen. Ted Stevens, a document dump that sheds little light on how prosecutors pursued their corruption probe against one of Alaska's most prominent figures.

Stevens, the longest-serving Republican senator in U.S. history, died in a plane crash in August, at age 86. The documents were released in response to multiple Freedom of Information Act requests.

Most of the material in the 3,600-page file is connected to the “Polar Pen” political corruption investigation conducted by the FBI’s Anchorage office. The wide-ranging investigation, which is still ongoing, was led by the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section. The elite unit secured convictions of three Alaska state legislators, several businessmen and a lobbyist, but then the investigation collapsed under allegations of prosecutorial misconduct in Stevens’ 2008 trial.

But the documents about the corruption investigation reveal little, and are derived mostly from news accounts. The portion of the file about the criminal probe doesn’t include any investigative documents, such as those known as 302s -- notes FBI agents take when they interview people. The bulk of the file is derived from publicly available information, including documents filed in court. Mostly, though, it’s made up of clippings from newspaper, television and investigative websites that followed the corruption probe over the past five years.

If they reveal much, it’s to confirm that federal investigators had indeed cast a wide net in their probe, and that the FBI’s interest dates to February 2006. They gathered news accounts of the business dealings of Steven’ son, Ben Stevens, the pipeline negotiations ongoing in Alaska, fisheries legislation being considered by Congress. They clipped articles about the corruption trials and the key figures in them. They filed articles about ethics, including stories in the Daily News about the effect a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision might have on prosecutors bringing corruption cases against public officials. The file has news clippings dating through November of 2010. It also includes an article about the suicide last year of one of the Justice Department’s public integrity prosecutors in the case.

The FBI also released the older files it has on Stevens, some of which date back to his time as a federal prosecutor in Alaska, pre-statehood. The file include letters from people suggesting the FBI investigate alleged improprieties.

Among those the FBI looked into were allegations in 1991 that an employee of Markair was pressured into contributing $100 to the Stevens re-election campaign, and was told she would be reimbursed by the company for her trouble. The file also includes an allegation by an informant who told federal authorities in 1988 that Stevens paid $350 for an eighth of an ounce of cocaine. Other people wrote to the FBI enclosing newspaper articles about Stevens’ business associations, and suggesting the agency look into them. They included the 2003 allegations that one project involving asbestos removal and a land donation would require Stevens’ backing, and that the business owner was advised that could be had by hiring Stevens’ brother-in-law as a lobbyist.

The file also includes letters from people suggesting Stevens investigate marijuana growers, gambling operations and other crimes -- all of which he forwarded on to authorities. Stevens himself also forwarded on potential avenues of inquiry, including in 1991 sending a letter to the FBI that included a newspaper article in the Juneau Empire about an alleged "anti-Semitic cult" near Ketchikan.

The file pulls back the curtain an another era in Alaska, when Stevens was a young federal prosecutor in Fairbanks. The FBI followed up on a complaint that a federal judge was "publicly intoxicated and associated with a disbarred attorney." Stevens, questioned in the 1955 inquiry, admitted taking the judge to a night club. The judge admitted to drinking in public, but denied being intoxicated "or other misconduct." Stevens told investigators that for one of their nights out, he called up a deputy U.S. marshal so the judge would have an armed escort in a shady part of Fairbanks.

It also includes several references to threats Stevens received on his life, which were sometimes referred to the FBI for investigation. Among them: A 1974 call to the Federal Energy Administration office from someone complaining that he couldn’t get unleaded gasoline in Tok while driving his new Cadillac El Dorado from Detroit to Anchorage. The caller threatened that if he "had a hold of Senator Stevens he would kill the whole bunch."

The release of such information is common after the death of prominent individuals, and the FBI has a number of such files on its websites. Others released recently include those of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and radical historian Howard Zinn.

A Washington, D.C.,-based ethics watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, has sought investigative files of one of the figures cleared in the probe: Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska. The Justice Department claims the files are exempt under the Freedom of Information Act, but CREW intends to go to court to ask for their release. Along with Young, CREW is seeking the investigative files of Republican Rep. Jerry Lewis from Redlands, Calif., who was accused of steering earmarks to the clients of a lobbyist friend. It earlier asked the Justice Department for the investigations of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and lobbyist Paul Magliocchetti, who pleaded guilty in September to making hundreds of thousands of dollars of illegal campaign contributions.

We'll continue looking at the files today -- feel free to chime in in the comments if you see something interesting you'd like to bring to our attention. (In fact, the FBI files even include comments from readers of the Anchorage Daily News website; whoever printed them out also printed out the comments, and included them with the original articles.)

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New gig for Berkowitz

Ethan Berkowitz, a former Alaska lawmaker and the Democratic candidate for governor last year, has a new job working for a Northwest consulting firm. Berkowitz has been tapped as senior vice president of Strategies 360, the company announced Thursday.

Strategies 360 describes itself as a "strategic communications and positioning firm." It has offices in Alaska, Montana, Oregon, Washington state, Idaho and Washington, D.C. Clients come from a number of fields including energy, natural resources, health care, education and nonprofits.

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Begich, Murkowski split on health care repeal vote

From Erika Bolstad in Washington D.C. --

Alaska's senators voted with their parties Wednesday as a Republican-led effort to repeal the landmark 2010 health care bill was defeated in the Senate.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski voted for repeal; Democrat Mark Begich against it.

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Both Begich and Murkowski decry earmark ban

From Erika Bolstad in Washington --

Both of Alaska's senators said Tuesday they were disappointed the top Senate appropriator was calling for a moratorium on earmarking, the practice that has directed billions of dollars in federal spending to Alaska.

Democratic Sen. Mark Begich and Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski both said they agree there's a need to cut federal spending, but neither thinks an end to earmarks is the way to do it.

"I have said many times before, Alaska is a young state with many needs, and we deserve our fair share of federal funding to develop our resources and our infrastructure," Begich said.

Murkowksi, who sits on the Senate Appropriations
Committee, said she believes it's up to Congress to determine spending. By leaving the executive branch to determine such appropriations, they're ceding power to the White House, she said.

"We are in essence abdicating our constitutional duties, giving cabinet departments and federal agencies the sole power, authority and ability to target and spend taxpayers’ money," she said.

The proposed ban by the Senate Appropriations Committee came after President Barack Obama pledged last week in his State of the Union address to veto any bill with earmarks. As a result, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee said Tuesday that he would ban the practice for the next two years.

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The push is on to give more money to schools

From Sean Cockerham in Juneau –

There’s some good news for Anchorage School Superintendent Carol Comeau, who is arriving in Juneau this weekend to lobby for money to help stop serious program cuts.

The co-chairs of the Senate education committee said today they’ll be putting in a bill to increase school funding. They want state money for schools to go up in the range of $100 for every Alaskan student for each of the coming three years.

The co-chairs, Anchorage Republican Kevin Meyer and Fairbanks Democrat Joe Thomas, also said they want to create a separate funding stream for vocational education.

There is a lot of skepticism in the Legislature about giving schools more money -- given the increases of recent years.

But this proposal gives school advocates a chance. And Anchorage Democratic Sen. Bettye Davis introduced her own bill today that proposes to increase school funding by $200 per student next year.

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Palin e-mail release date set

From Richard Mauer in Anchorage --

The long quest by journalists and a citizen activist for former Gov. Sarah Palin’s official e-mails may reach its end by late spring.

Recently appointed Attorney General John Burns said in a letter Wednesday to the requesters that he will hold the office of Gov. Sean Parnell to the work plan it proposed in December. That would mean that thousands of e-mails would be released May 31.

The requests for the e-mails of Palin and her husband, Todd, a quasi-official advisor, were made shortly after Sen. John McCain’s stunning announcement that she would be his running mate in the 2008 presidential election.

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Murkowski: federal spending freeze worrisome for Indian Country

From Erika Bolstad in Washington D.C. --

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, spoke Thursday morning at the National Congress of American Indians, as part of the group's annual "State of Indian Nations" address.

Murkowski said she's worried about a proposed federal spending freeze and its effect on Indian Country, because it comes at a time of "great financial stress for the nation."

"I understand that this is a cause of great anxiety throughout Indian County," she said. "Indian programs remain among the most underfunded programs in the entire federal government."

Funding gaps are still "quite significant," she said, but added that Indian programs and the federal responsibility for them are firmly rooted in the Constitution. In the coming months as the federal budget is being drawn up, Murkowski said, they must use that argument -- that funding for Indian country is not "nice to have," but "must-have."

Her speech begins at the 25 minute mark.


Watch live streaming video from ncai at livestream.com

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Watchdog group wants files from Young investigation

From Richard Mauer in Anchorage --

A watchdog group said today that it is asking the Justice Department to release its files into at least two closed corruption investigations of Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska.

Washington, D.C., based Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal-leaning nonprofit, will go to court if, as likely, the Justice Department claims the files are exempt under the Freedom of Information Act, said CREW executive director Melanie Sloan.

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Alaska lawmakers press the oil spill commission, introduce Arctic drilling bills

From Erika Bolstad in Washington D.C. –

Bob Graham and William Reilly, the co-chairmen of the president's oil spill commission, came to Capitol Hill Wednesday to testify about the panel's findings, appearing before committees where both Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young are members.

Meanwhile, Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, introduced a package of legislation to address offshore development in the Arctic, including a bill that would provide Alaska with revenue from offshore development in federal waters.

Murkowski, who's the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in an opening statement Wednesday at the committee's hearing that the nation must "decisively recognize the risks and the rewards of offshore energy exploration."

"There is simply no better way to take measure of those risks and rewards than by visiting the Gulf of Mexico and witnessing the balance between the many users of the ocean, and their respect for one another," she said. "In my experience, the fishing, tourism, and energy industries are perfectly capable of coexisting – just as they did for many decades before last year’s incident. The economies of states like Alaska and Louisiana indisputably depend on all three, and the loss of any one will lead to instability and hardship. Americans require seafood, we love our vacations at the beach, and we depend on oil to live our lives. It’s a delicate balance – but a coexistence we have to sustain."

She also issued this statement on Arctic development:

"The United States is an Arctic nation because of Alaska. We cannot ignore the fact that Russia will drill in the Chukchi Sea in coming years and that Canada is already exploring the Beaufort Sea. Alaska cannot be forced to sit in the middle of this activity – bearing all the same risk but none of the reward – while our pipeline runs dry and our jobs disappear."

In the afternoon, Young expressed some concerns at the House Natural Resources Committee hearing about some conclusions in the report, including what sort of focus to have on domestic production. Young, a Republican, made similar comments Tuesday night after the State of the Union address.

"The oil we have is a bridge across to the future," he said Tuesday night. "You can't not do this without oil. That's one thing I didn't like about the commission's report. You've got Graham saying the best way to be less dependent on foreign oil is not to produce any domestic oil. Well, how do we function?"

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Murkowski: "Why not start with a symbolic gesture?"

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, speaks to reporters about Democrats and Republicans sitting together during President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, speaks to reporters about Democrats and Republicans sitting together during President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

From Erika Bolstad in Washington D.C. –

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who was among the first senators to call for bipartisan seating at tonight's State of the Union address, acknowledged that the move might be little more than a nod to civility at a time of rancorous political discourse.

But even if it's mere symbolism, she said, "why not start with a symbolic gesture?"

"Maybe we do need to get out of our conventional skins every now and again, and come out and do something that indicates to the rest of the country that we're not afraid to sit next to one another, there are no cooties to be had between Republicans and Democrats," she said Tuesday morning at a press conference

She was joined at the event by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who led the effort to reach across the aisle, and brought on board House members from each party: Reps. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., and freshman Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz.

The one common factor: all are westerners, Udall said, joking that Shuler counts because he represents "western North Carolina."

Like Murkowski, Udall said he realizes the mixed party seating is a symbolic gesture, but that he hopes to build on it by emphasizing "unity over division."

"If we can't sit together, how can we face the real challenges that the country has?" he asked.

Their friendly press conference, with its focus on respectful behavior in Congress, was prompted in part by a tragedy: the Jan. 8 shooting in Tucson that injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and killed six people.

Murkowski, asked about the divisive language of the current political debate, cautioned political figures to be conscience of the incendiary language they use – and warned the media that they, too, are responsible for ginning up partisan conflict.

She also urged people watching the speech not to focus too much on the middle school, gossipy nature of who would be sitting where, and with whom. Focus on the president's speech, she said.

For the record: she said she'll be representing "the Polish caucus" with her date, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. The two women will be joined by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii.

Her Democratic colleague from Alaska, Sen. Mark Begich, plans to sit with Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, D-NY. Begich also will be joined by Republican Rep. Don Young, who's was elected in 1973 and is making his first appearance at a State of the Union address since 1974.

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Alaska's senators announce their SOTU dates, and Young says he, too, will attend

From Erika Bolstad in Washington D.C.

Alaska's senators were among the first to call for mixed-party seating at Tuesday's State of the Union address, and today they announced their seatmates.

Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat, will join Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, D-NY. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, will sit with Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.

Begich also is likely to be joined by Rep. Don Young, who's making his first appearance in decades at the State of the Union speech. The Alaska Republican rarely attends the annual event, which packs much of the country's political leadership into the House chambers for the night.

Generally, Young stays home and watches the speech on television. He told Begich, though, that he would join him this year.

Young told Alaska Public Radio Network last year that he had been to just two State of the Union speeches since 1974. The prospect of so many elected officials herded into one place makes him nervous, Young said, which is one reason he doesn't usually attend.

"Because I’m an old hunter," he told APRN. "And when you have the president, the vice president, the speaker of the House, the president of the Senate, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Supreme Court, the diplomatic corps, and everybody together under one roof, it always gives me great concern."

Typically, Democrats and Republicans don't sit together at the State of the Union speech, which can be a little like watching a basketball game in a crowded gym. Members of Congress stand to cheer and applaud for the home team – the president – when he scores a point they like. And the other party stays seated.

The move this year toward for bipartisan seating was prompted by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and was taken up by Murkowski and other members of Congress. Their call for civility came following the Jan. 8 shooting in Tucson that injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and killed six people.

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Johansen will fight recall effort

Rep. Anna Fairclough, R-Eagle River, Majority Leader Kyle Johansen, R-Ketchikan, Rep. Carl Gatto, R-Palmer. Fairclough, during the 2010 legislative session in Juneau. (Photo by Richard Mauer / ADN)Rep. Anna Fairclough, R-Eagle River, Majority Leader Kyle Johansen, R-Ketchikan, Rep. Carl Gatto, R-Palmer. Fairclough, during the 2010 legislative session in Juneau. (Photo by Richard Mauer / ADN)

From Sean Cockerham in Juneau --

Rep. Kyle Johansen says the Ketchikan Republicans are trying to “thwart the will of the people,” and he will fight their effort to recall him.

Republican Party officials in Ketchikan said this weekend that they plan to circulate a petition to recall Johansen from office.

Johansen, a Republican, has been Ketchikan’s lone member of the Alaska House of Representatives since 2006.

Johansen this morning walked into the press room at the Capitol to deliver a written statement on the attempt to recall him.

“While I respect the right of the Republican Party leaders in Ketchikan to take this step, I am disappointed that they have chosen to do so. I strongly disagree with their attempt to thwart the will of the people as expressed in the November election and I plan to vigorously fight this effort,” he said.

Johansen’s statement said his experience as a legislator, and as a former legislative staffer and lobbyist for Ketchikan, are an advantage to his constituents. He said he will dedicate “every ounce of energy and focus I have” to his work in the next three months the Legislature is in session.

“In order to remain focused on the issues and priorities relevant to the residents of District One and the State there will be no further comment from Representative Johansen on this issue during the legislative session,” the statement said.

Johansen had held the influential position of state House majority leader before he walked out of the majority caucus last fall. Johansen left after the caucus refused to give a seat on the finance committee to Anchorage Republican Rep. Charisse Millett, who had also walked out.
Johansen and Millett asked to be allowed back into the majority caucus, but were rejected. That’s when the Ketchikan Republicans launched the recall effort, saying Johansen acted inappropriately and against Ketchikan’s interests.

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Doogan talks about his recovery from a brain tumor

From Sean Cockerham in Juneau –

Anchorage Rep. Mike Doogan told his colleagues today that he has mostly recovered after surgery to remove a brain tumor.

“The good news for me is that I would live beyond the first of this year because I wouldn’t have otherwise,” the Spenard Democrat said on the floor of the House. “The bad news for the members (of the Legislature) is that I can talk now.”

Doogan, a novelist and former Daily News columnist, said he found during last year’s legislative session that he was having trouble speaking. He said after returning to Anchorage he went to the doctor at his wife’s strenuous urging.

Doogan was found to have a meningioma, “which is a large and it turned out benign tumor in my head.”

The tumor was removed in Seattle the first of July and Doogan started his rehabilitation. Doogan told his colleagues that his main remaining issue is some vision problems.

“And one of the reasons I wanted to speak to the (House) about this, is if you come up to me on my right side and start talking and I don’t respond it's because I just can’t see you at the moment,” he said.” So it’s not meant in any other way.”

Doogan has said his progress is better than expected, and that he expects to have no lingering effects in a year or so.

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Bill filed to name part of Minnesota Drive after Hickel

From Sean Cockerham in Juneau –

It is quiet in the Capitol today, with just one committee meeting scheduled this afternoon as lawmakers get out of town for the weekend.

There were brief floor sessions held this morning, which included the filing of bills to name a roadway after Wally Hickel and to look into naming something after Ronald Reagan.

Anchorage Rep. Craig Johnson put in a bill to designate much of Minnesota Drive in Anchorage the “Walter J. Hickel Expressway.” It would still be called Minnesota Drive, though, as the bill says both names would exist “concurrently.”

“The portion of Minnesota Drive in Anchorage from 15th Avenue to the New Seward Highway is concurrently designated the Walter J. Hickel Expressway,” according to Johnson’s House Bill 115.

Chugiak Rep. Bill Stoltze also today introduced a resolution “urging the Alaska Historical Commission to prepare recommendations for the naming of a geographical feature in the state as a permanent legacy in recognition of President Ronald Reagan's service to the United States of America.”

Almost half the House (all of them Republicans) signed on to co-sponsor that resolution.

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Young back on highway, maritime subcommittees

From Erika Bolstad in Washington D.C. --

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, on Thursday was named to three subcommittees of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, the committee he once chaired.

He'll be a member of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation subcommittee, the Highways and Transit subcommittee, and the Water Resources and Environment subcommittee.

"I am excited to be back on these subcommittees," Young said in a statement. "Through these subcommittees I'll be able to help craft the new highway bill, which is once of the best vehicles we have for jobs and economic development."

Young in 2005 oversaw a $286.4 billion highway bill as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The committee will continue work on a new highway bill this year.

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