Alaska_Politics's blog

New Senate organization announced

Updated, 4:45 p.m.

By BECKY BOHRER
Associated Press

Republicans on Wednesday wasted no time in claiming control of the Alaska Senate, one day after winning a majority of seats in the chamber.

Coming into Tuesday's elections, the Senate was composed of 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans, with six Republicans joining Democrats to form a bipartisan majority. The GOP won at least 12 seats Tuesday, in a political landscape reconfigured by redistricting.

Homer Revealed

From Lisa Demer in Anchorage -

A Facebook campaign supporting Ballot Measure 2 that features disrobed Homer residents holding strategically placed Vote for the Coast signs is going viral.

Cook Inletkeeper‘s Bob Shavelson came up with the idea during a brainstorming session with a board member about how to fight all the big money on the other side. The Vote No group organized against the coastal management initiative had raised $1.5 million as of its most recent state filing. The Alaska Sea Party, the group behind the measure, had raised about $200,000.

“We thought what can we do? We thought we’d like to expose the Resource Development Council, because they are just the front group, they are the mouth piece for all these big corporations that are pouring all this money into it,” Shavelson said.

The council’s executive director, Rick Rogers, has spoken against the ballot measure at a number of forums, including one this week before the Anchorage Tea Party. Four oil companies, BP, Conoco Phillips, Exxon Mobil and Shell, all have put in $100,000 or more a piece in the effort to defeat the ballot measure. The Resource Development Council also has donated more than $60,000 in money and staff time.

Seven-day countdown

--- From Lisa Demer in Anchorage

There's a week to go before the candidate filing deadline for the August primary ballot.

But one thing already is clear: One Republican House member will be knocked out in the primary, and in five more races, sitting legislators may face off against one another come November, if they win their primaries.

Anchorage city clerk resigns (UPDATED)

From Kyle Hopkins in Anchorage --

1:45 p.m. UPDATE:

In Barbara Gruenstein's resignation letter to the Assembly, the longtime City Clerk says the April 3 election woes appear to have undermined the chairman's faith in her effectiveness.

Gruenstein would not say today whether Assembly leader Ernie Hall asked her to step down.

"I'm not going to go into any of that stuff," she told the Daily News in a brief interview at her City Hall office. "The letter is what it is."

"I serve at the pleasure," Gruenstein said, meaning she is an Assembly appointee. She offered to leave, she said, and Hall accepted.

City leaders have been under fire ever since the chaotic city election, during which more than half of precincts suffered ballot shortages.

Hall said today that he did not ask the clerk to quit. But when Gruenstein gave him her resignation letter, he did not ask her to stay on the job beyond a short one-month transition period, he said.

"If someone comes to you with that type of a letter, you know, I think you have some respect that you have to owe to them in that they're telling you they're ready for a change," he said.

It's been a difficult time for everyone at City Hall lately, he said.

I'll have more from Hall shortly. For example: Why did he fire the deputy clerk but leave Gruenstein on the job if the election is ultimately her responsibility? Co-chair Jennifer Johnston said the Assembly shares some of the blame for the election woes along with the clerk's office.

Hall said Gruenstein "has been an incredible asset to this city for a long time."

Gruenstein took the job in 2003. A former telecom executive, she'd recently finished helping Democrat Fran Ulmer run for governor when she was recruited to the city post by Assembly members Allan Tesche and Dick Traini, she said.

"It's been a good ride," Gruenstein said in her sunny second-floor office. She excused herself for a lunchtime walk with her daughter.

ORIGINAL POST:

Municipal clerk Barbara Gruenstein observes election workers as they count unscanned ballots from the Apr. 3 municipal election at City Hall on Apr. 12. Gruenstein has resigned from her post and will leave the job at the end of June, according to Assembly Chair Ernie Hall. (BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News)Municipal clerk Barbara Gruenstein observes election workers as they count unscanned ballots from the Apr. 3 municipal election at City Hall on Apr. 12. Gruenstein has resigned from her post and will leave the job at the end of June, according to Assembly Chair Ernie Hall. (BILL ROTH / Anchorage Daily News)

Anchorage City Clerk Barbara Gruenstein, who oversaw the troubled April 3 election, has resigned.

Assembly chairman Ernie Hall made the announcement to reporters this morning. Gruenstein will leave the job at the end of June, Hall said.

More than half of Anchorage precincts temporarily ran out of ballots on Election Day. Hall fired deputy city clerk Jacqueline Duke, a key election planner, on May 9.

The city clerk works for the Assembly. Gruenstein is paid about $117,000 a year, according to the muni employee relations department.

Here is the full text of Hall's announcement:

On May 22, 2012, Anchorage Municipal Clerk Barbara Gruenstein submitted her resignation to the Chair of the Assembly to be effective immediately. However, upon request, Ms. Gruenstein has agreed to stay with the Clerk's Office through the end of June to make a smooth transition.

The entire Anchorage Assembly is truly grateful for Barbara's many years of public service to the Municipality, and expresses gratitude for her many contributions to the Municipality and the State of Alaska.

Check back for details.

Gara to seek re-election

From Richard Mauer in Anchorage —

With his health concerns behind him, Rep. Les Gara said he will ask Anchorage voters to send him back to the Legislature for a sixth term this year.

Gara, a Democrat, would run in the new House District 18 if the election is held under the current interim redistricting plan. The district includes downtown Anchorage, Government Hill and Fairview, which makes it a fairly safe Democratic seat. Under the old district map from the 2000 Census, Gara represented District 23.

For one lawmaker: Good news

From Lisa Demer in Juneau —

The good news is that Rep. Les Gara’s cancer surgery in New York City went well on Tuesday and his doctor said he’s now cancer free, he said Friday.

Gara exited the Legislature’s special session to undergo prostate cancer surgery at Cornell Medical College on the Upper East Side.

Gara, an Anchorage Democrat, said it was more involved than anticipated. At one point, when he was almost ready for discharge, his blood pressure dropped by half. He stayed in the hospital two nights longer than expected.

“I feel like an invisible man has been punching me in the stomach for the last four days,” Gara said Friday afternoon, about an hour after he finally was discharged.

Anticipation in the Capitol

From Lisa Demer in Juneau —

UPDATE: Gov. Sean Parnell, in a telephone interview Thursday afternoon, confirmed that he is the first governor in Alaska to pull an item off a special session agenda. He said he consulted with the attorney general and the Department of Law before he took that step. Governors have added legislation to special session agendas, and Gov. Frank Murkowski once withdrew his call for a special session entirely, Parnell said.

If legislators want to keep working in oil taxes, they can call themselves back into special session, the governor said.

Meanwhile, senators in the bipartisan majority coalition met privately at least twice on Thursday. When the second meeting broke up just before 2:30 p.m., some didn't look happy but no one was ready to disclose what direction they were taking.

The Gavel to Gavel public television service is gearing up for an impromptu Senate floor session that is starting at 4 p.m.

ORIGINAL POST: The Capitol is still reeling from Gov. Sean Parnell's abrupt announcement Wednesday evening that he was pulling oil taxes off the agenda for the special session that he called.

Just about the whole building is waiting to see how the state Senate will respond. Senators had planned to make an announcement Thursday morning and some House members were lining up along with reporters to get into the Butrovich Room on the Capitol's second floor.

But just minutes before the press conference was to begin, the senators announced it was indefinitely postponed. The Senate's majority coalition of Republicans and Democrats has been huddling, as have Senate leaders. They should have the details of how they intend to proceed worked out by early afternoon, an aide said.

Among other things, Sen. Hollis French, a lawyer and Democrat from Anchorage, said he's requested a legal opinion on whether the governor can withdraw a bill from a special session, prohibiting work on the subject.

Legislative leaders said they hadn't heard of a governor yanking something from the agenda for a special session before. But a spokeswoman for Parnell, Sharon Leighow, said there have been instances were proclamations have been amended and calls have been withdrawn.

Election Commission finds 1/2 of precincts ran out of ballots; recommends no investigation

The city Election Commission has issued a series of recommendations for avoiding future Election Day boondoggles in Anchorage, but recommends the city does NOT hire an independent investigator.The city Election Commission has issued a series of recommendations for avoiding future Election Day boondoggles in Anchorage, but recommends the city does NOT hire an independent investigator.

From Kyle Hopkins in Anchorage --

A review by the Anchorage Election Commission found that more than half of city precincts ran out of ballots in the trouble-plagued April 3 elections, according to a report unveiled today.

Gara heading to NYC for cancer surgery

From Richard Mauer in Juneau —

After having delayed surgery for prostate cancer, Rep. Les Gara is leaving the special session to finally get it done, but plans to be back in Juneau by the first week of May. He expects the Legislature will still be in session then.

“I don’t want to be an idiot and wait, and find out I waited too long,” Gara said. At one point he thought about having the surgery at mid-session, when the Legislature went into a week-long hibernation for energy meetings in Washington, but that didn't work out, he said.

Gara, an Anchorage Democrat who has said he has health issues, announced in his most recent constituent newsletter that he had joined the Legislature’s “cancer caucus.” That caucus — and the House — lost one of its members April 10 when Rep. Carl Gatto died after attempting to return for the last two weeks of regular session.

Rep. Les Gara at a post-session news conference April 16. Gara will miss the first part of the special session for prostate surgery in New York. Photo by Richard MauerRep. Les Gara at a post-session news conference April 16. Gara will miss the first part of the special session for prostate surgery in New York. Photo by Richard Mauer

In a phone interview, Gara said he initially scheduled the surgery for May 17, thinking that the Legislature would have concluded its 30 days of special session by then. But Gov. Sean Parnell waited to call the session back till today — April 18 — and Gara feared the final votes on oil taxes and a gas line would take place while he was at the hospital in New York City.

Assembly does not plan to certify troubled city election tonight

From Kyle Hopkins in Anchorage --

6:10 p.m. UPDATE: Her voice quavering, 23-year-old Laura Herman delivered a warning to the Assembly tonight. Investigate the election or face one angry young East Anchorage voter.

“I will activally be involved in revoking all of you because my voice is being taken away," she said.

Herman was among maybe a half dozen people who have testified tonight, calling for a third-party review of the voting process. The meeting ended at 6:15 p.m. with no vote on an investigation but Assembly members making it clear they intend to launch some kind of inquiry at a later meeting.

5:30 p.m. UPDATE:

Ernie Hall has been selected as the new Assembly chairman. Jennifer Johnston edged Elvi Gray-Jackson 6-5 to become vice chair.

5:10 p.m. UPDATE:

In 2009, the year of the last mayoral election, the city rejected 15 ballots cast by people who were registered to vote outside the city.

This year, the Election Commission rejected 159 ballots cast people who were registered to vote outside of Anchorage. That according to both new and historical numbers provided today by the city clerk.

Among the other big difference between the two elections:

-- In 2009, the city received 1,999 questioned ballots. This year there were 5,756 questioned ballots.
-- The number of absentee-in-person votes grew to a lesser degree. In 2009, the city collected 4,303 of those early votes. This year: 5,789.
-- By about this time in the ballot-counting process, there were 8,857 votes still to be counted. This year there are 14,043.

Meantime, here's a clip of unhappy Anchorage voter Karli Kay, who showed up just minutes late to today's Election Commission to find it had already adjourned:

But the commission returned moments later to hear Kay's complaint. The Election Commission chair soon found Kay in the hallway and told her that her vote had indeed been counted this year:

House kills the Senate's oil-tax bill

From Richard Mauer in Juneau —

The House teased the Senate this morning when it moved the Senate’s oil-tax credit for new fields into the film tax credit bill and appeared ready to move it out of the House Rules Committee.

House Speaker Mike Chenault, left, hears from aide Tom Wright moments before a recess was called at the House Rules Committee Sunday morning. Photo by Richard Mauer.House Speaker Mike Chenault, left, hears from aide Tom Wright moments before a recess was called at the House Rules Committee Sunday morning. Photo by Richard Mauer.

Then Rules chairman Craig Johnson called a recess, huddled with House Speaker Mike Chenault and other Republican leaders, and called the committee back into session.

During a break in the House Rules Committee, chairman Craig Johnson listens to House Speaker Mike Chenault, covering his mouth to not be overheard. Vice chairman Kurt Olson is at left and Majority Leader Alan Austerman is standing. After the huddle, the committee killed the Senate's tax credit for new oil fields.During a break in the House Rules Committee, chairman Craig Johnson listens to House Speaker Mike Chenault, covering his mouth to not be overheard. Vice chairman Kurt Olson is at left and Majority Leader Alan Austerman is standing. After the huddle, the committee killed the Senate's tax credit for new oil fields.

Then he killed the Senate’s oil-tax reform.

The movie tax credit was probably the perfect venue for the morning’s dramatic short subject. Later, Chenault, a member of the rules committee, said it was never the intent of House leadership to put the tax measure in the film bill in the first place, and removing it was only an effort to fix a mistake. He said it was accidentally swept into the bill with several other tax credits sought by the House. (Since the film tax credit was a big Senate measure, the House-sought credits stood a better chance of passage as an attachment than as stand-alone bills.)

Not everyone believed that story. But in any event, with Sunday being the last day of the session unless the governor calls the Legislature into overtime, the new-field oil-tax credit is dead.

Or is it?

Senate moves new oil tax reform measure

From Richard Mauer in Juneau —

The Senate on Saturday morning took a small bill to encourage petroleum drilling in the state’s Interior and stuffed it with a key part of oil-tax reform that it had been unable to pass in a much larger bill.

The parliamentary move had been brewing since at least Friday as it became clear that the oil-tax measure it’s been working on for months, Senate Bill 192, couldn’t be molded into a compromise between the Senate’s Democrats and Republicans.

The move saved the part of SB192 that encourages new fields by reducing taxes for up to 10 years, giving substantial savings to producers. That component was popular with Republicans and Democrats and had gotten strong support from an independent North Slope company, Armstrong Oil & Gas, which described it as “meaningful,” a buzzword that other companies had used to dismiss other parts of the original bill as not meaningful.

After the Senate Finance Committee’s action, Sen. Bill Wielechowski, one of the authors of original Senate bill, said the smaller measure will still lead to greater oil development and a more diverse industry in Alaska without giving back billions of dollars to the big three: BP, Conoco Phillips and Exxon.

He said the bill should end talk of a special session, since it could clear the Senate Saturday and go straight to the House, which has long been clamoring for meaningful tax reform.

Count of 1,800 city votes begins; many questions, many ballots remain

From Kyle Hopkins in Anchorage —

When some Anchorage precincts ran out of ballots on Election Day, frustrated voters were asked to cast substitute ballots. They selected their mayor using ballots printed for faraway precincts. They marked their vote on a controversial gay rights proposal on blue sample ballots or hastily made photocopies.

Oil tax vote delayed

From Richard Mauer in Juneau —

Updated at 3:54 p.m.:

Senate President Gary Stevens just referred the oil-tax bill to the Rules Committee for further work.

Updated at 2:45 p.m.:

The oil tax bill is off the agenda for today's Senate session.

Autism bill may be dead

From Richard Mauer in Juneau —

Is the autism insurance bill dead?

The popular measure, sponsored by a majority of House members, is currently locked up in the House Health and Social Services Committee, where Chairman Wes Keller, R-Wasilla, held a hearing Tuesday but wouldn’t let the bill out.

Autism bill hearing Tuesday: Chairman Wes Keller of the House Education and Social Services Committee and a Republican from Wasilla, heard testimony Tuesday on the autism insurance bill from Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage. Photo by Richard Mauer.Autism bill hearing Tuesday: Chairman Wes Keller of the House Education and Social Services Committee and a Republican from Wasilla, heard testimony Tuesday on the autism insurance bill from Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage. Photo by Richard Mauer.

Rep. Charisse Millett, an Anchorage Republican and one of the sponsors, said she asked Keller in a conversation on the House floor today whether he would move the bill. He told her no.

Millett, who isn’t a member of either the Republican-led majority caucus or the minority Democrats, said there was not much pressure she could apply to pressure Keller to change his mind. But the matter may come up in the Republican caucus Wednesday evening, she said.

“I’m not going to give up,” she said. “I’m not going to give up.”

Cissna announces run for Congress

From Richard Mauer in Juneau —

Rep. Don Young picked up an opponent Wednesday when Rep. Sharon Cissna, a Democratic legislator from Anchorage, announced at a sparsely attended news conference that she was running for Congress.

Young, a Republican from Fort Yukon, has served 19 full terms as Alaska's sole Congressman and has steamrolled over most of his opponents over the years. Cissna said she wasn’t volunteering to be this year’s sacrificial lamb.

Cissna and Tarr announce candidacies: Rep. Sharon Cissna, left, said she will run for Congress as a Democrat. Geran Tarr, a community activist, will seek Cissna's Anchorage seat in the Alaska House. Photo by Richard Mauer.Cissna and Tarr announce candidacies: Rep. Sharon Cissna, left, said she will run for Congress as a Democrat. Geran Tarr, a community activist, will seek Cissna's Anchorage seat in the Alaska House. Photo by Richard Mauer.

“I’m not running against anyone in the primary or in the general,” Cissna said “I’m running for Alaska.”

Girl Scout resolution cruises through committee

From Richard Mauer in Juneau —

Last week’s great Girl Scout controversy was resolved today in one minute and 25 seconds when the House State Affairs Committee moved a Senate resolution honoring the organization’s 100 years of history and the Year of the Girl.

All four committee members present recommended the resolution pass the full House, including Rep. Wes Keller, who sparked the controversy last week when he held up the measure over a “rumor” he read on the Internet linking the Girl Scouts with Planned Parenthood.

APOC nominee withdraws name

This post has been expanded into a full article. Find it here.

---------------

From Richard Mauer in Juneau —

Gov. Sean Parnell’s nominee to the Alaska Public Offices Commission, David Eichler, withdrew his name from consideration just before what would have likely been a fiery hearing before the Senate State Affairs Committee Thursday morning.

Senate President: Solution may be to extend session

From Richard Mauer in Juneau —

Updated at 3:30 p.m.

Senate President Gary Stevens had a chance to reflect on what House Speaker Mike Chenault said earlier in the day, and agreed the House needed time with the Senate’s oil-tax bill.

His solution: continue meeting beyond the 90-day mark.

Two views on oil taxes: from BP and a senator from the Bush

From Richard Mauer in Juneau —

The Senate Finance Committee hearing on oil taxes, Senate Bill 192, may have droned on at times, but there were also some interesting moments.

Damian Bilbao: The head of finance for BP Exploration (Alaska) testified that the Senate's oil tax bill was inadequate to increase oil industry investment in Alaska.Damian Bilbao: The head of finance for BP Exploration (Alaska) testified that the Senate's oil tax bill was inadequate to increase oil industry investment in Alaska.

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