Alaska News

Former Female Inmates Find Support And A Home In Juneau’s Haven House

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-04-13 17:23

Haven House’s first resident, Delia Williams (left), sits with Haven House staff Jennifer Brown and Kara Nelson. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Juneau’s first transitional home for women recently paroled or released from prison is welcoming its first residents.

Download Audio

“This is the resident manager’s room here and we have a bathroom. Of course we need three bathrooms because we have up to nine women, so women and bathrooms are a must,” says Haven House Director Kara Nelson as she walks through the two-floor, six-bedroom house.

“They’re pretty standard rooms, but not too small and everything is really nice and we really want it to be homelike because it is their home,” Nelson says.

All the women get a twin bed, closet space and half a dresser. On the bottom floor, there’s a washer and dryer, and a den with computers, a TV and a big bookshelf. Upstairs, there’s a living room, dining room, kitchen “and then we have our amazing back porch where I envision amazing barbeques,” Nelson says.

Once a week, the women share a group meal – spaghetti and meatballs on this day – and Nelson says that’s when it hit her. After years of working on the project, Haven House has finally become a home.

“Just having everyone sit there, especially those women. They’re very unique and I feel like they were meant to be here. I broke in tears right before dinner,” she says.

Haven House provides women who’ve left prison a place to call home for up to 2 years. It’s a structured living situation where they have to come up with an individual action plan and get the support to follow it through.  The women are expected to find a job, pay $550 in rent and help with household chores.

“It’s a place that you get to be vulnerable for the first time and, of course, when you’re vulnerable, it’s part of your freedom. It’s a place where you get to dream again and there are people that are going to do whatever it takes to make sure what you need is going to happen. And so, all they have to do is want it and follow the rules,” Nelson says.

The residents have to meet with Nelson once week to go over their plan and they must attend some sort of women’s support, recovery or Bible group.

Haven House will be able to accept up to nine women. Right now, three women live there – a live-in manager and two residents.

In the den, Kara Nelson holds up a blanket given to Haven House by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Twenty-six year old Samantha Garton is one of them. She just moved in after spending a month at Lemon Creek Correctional Center for using meth.

“Being here is probably the biggest blessing that’s ever happened to me. I love being here,” Garton says.

She’s working at Silverbow Bakery. She wants to take online business courses and has hopes of being the catering manager. Her primary goal, though, is getting her 8-year-old son back in her life.

“That was my biggest struggle in life was giving my rights up because of my addiction, and I need to get better before I can have him,” Garton says. “It’s not going to happen overnight, so I’m taking it one day at a time.”

Delia Williams, 34, is working toward a similar goal. Her 12-year-old daughter lives in Haines with Williams’ mother. Williams was the first former inmate to move into Haven House on March 17. She works at the Juneau Empire and goes to support groups and recovery meetings.

From left to right: Haven House residents Samantha Garton and Delia Williams, Director Kara Nelson and Administrative Assistant Jennifer Brown. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

For Williams, living at Haven House means accepting support from others.

“For me, it was really hard to ask for help or to accept anything from anybody just because, I don’t know, it made me feel bad. But just opening my eyes and feeling that support and lifting me up is really amazing,” Williams says.

Jennifer Brown says that’s the beauty of Haven House. Brown is the administrative assistant and also a former inmate.

“You know that you’re not alone in addiction and you know that there are people going to be supporting you and showing you how to be sober and how to work and how to live and how to get things back, just to give you the foundation that you need,” she says.

Brown says she’s happy to work for people who want help and are ready for it.

Categories: Alaska News

Tax-Related Identity Theft Increasing

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-04-13 17:22

Have you filed your taxes yet? Tax day is just a few days away. And the state’s consumer protection unit is warning it’s seeing an increase in a new type of tax time scam – tax-related identity theft. That’s where thieves use your personal information to file for a tax refund with the IRS before you get a chance to submit your taxes.

Ed Sniffen is an Senior Assistant Attorney General with the state’s consumer protection unit. He says the unit first started hearing reports of tax related identity theft in 2012.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

How Russian Easter Bread Became An Alaska Native Tradition

APRN Alaska News - Mon, 2015-04-13 17:21

The finished product: a decorative loaf of kulich (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Easter was last weekend but some Russian Orthodox Christians will observe it this Sunday. That’s where Easter, or what they call Pascha, lands on the Julian calendar. There’s a special treat that goes along with the celebration. It’s not a chocolate bunny. It’s called kulich.

Download Audio

Siouxbee Lindoff has been making Easter bread for over 40 years. It’s what she’s known for.

“I’m in such high demand. I posted on Facebook, ‘I’m only making two batches of bread. I’m only making two batches and no more,’” she says.

In the kitchen of the Juneau Tlingit Haida Community Council Building, she sifts flour and sugar into a large mixing bowl. Adding a dab of salt.

“I will add nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, cranberries, raisins, pecans,” Lindoff says.

After mixing in the yeast and cracking eggs, she stirs the dough with a spoon.

“My dream is to invest in a big commercial mixer but everything is still done by hand,” she says.

Siouxbee Lindoff heating up yeast to make Easter bread (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Lindoff measures all of the ingredients by sight. The whole process, she says, is intuitive. If you want to learn how to make kulich from her, she says it’s a hands-on process.

“People will look and say, ‘Well how can you make something and not measure?’ And I thought, ‘By the feel.’ And I don’t mind sharing, I don’t mind teaching. Cause to me, it’s like, saving our traditions,” she says.

Lindoff grew up in the Russian Orthodox church. Her family split their time between Sitka and Hoonah. Her dad was the only Tlingit priest ordained from St. Herman Theological Seminary in Kodiak. She says being a pastor’s kid could sometimes be a burden.

“My mom used to say, when they look at you they say, ‘There’s that father Michael’s daughter.’ Especially when I was doing bad.”

She says her parents were strict but fair. They tried to protect her from the same discrimination they’d endured growing up. But it came at a cost. They refused to teach the Tlingit language.

“My dad said, ‘You will speak the English language. You will use the correct pronunciation. You will enunciate your words correctly. I don’t want to hear no slang.’ He was adamant about that. He didn’t want us to suffer like they had, ” she says.

Siouxbee Lindoff mixes the kulich dough by hand (Photo by Elizabeth Jenkins/KTOO)

Lindoff’s father paid for his high school education. Her mother went to Wrangell Institute, which was a boarding school.

“And of course Tlingit was the first language that was spoken at home and she used to have to sit at the head of the class and have a dunce hat on her head. She died never wearing a hat,” she says.

Although her mom didn’t teach her how to speak Tlingit, she did show her the traditional way to make kulich.

“My mom tasted my first bread dough and she said yours taste better than mine. She never baked Easter bread again,” Lindoff says.

Russian Orthodox missionaries landed in Kodiak and the Aleutian Islands around 1780. The religion spread to Southeast almost 100 years later.

Sergei Kan, a professor of anthropology and Native American Studies at Dartmouth College, says the Russian Orthodox offered Christianity that was somewhat more tolerant of Native customs and also open to the use of Native languages. He says the Russian Orthodox Church translated the gospel into Native languages, like Tlingit.

“And I think the fact that the orthodox has survived in Alaska means that it was becoming a true Native church,” Sergei says.

After Siouxbee Lindoff incorporates the ingredients for the kulich, she sets the dough aside to let it rise for the next few hours.

“You can get frozen bread dough and you can go to the store but I don’t think you’ll be able to find kulich in the store,” she says.

Lindoff compares making the bread to other Native customs, like gathering herring roe. It’s a skill she’s passed down to her children.

“When I do things like this, it makes me feel like it’s part of the healing, like not being able to speak Tlingit because of that era where my mom and dad spoke it fluently and we didn’t and they didn’t want us to. But I feel like this is part of that healing now. This is part of us going forward with the traditional ways and saving what we can,” she says.

She’s excited to teach her great-granddaughter how to make kulich. She’s 5 years old and learning to speak Tlingit in an immersion class.

Categories: Alaska News

Education Tops List Of Contentious Cuts

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-10 17:35

As the Legislature enters its final days, the budget is the main concern. Alaska faces a multi-billion-dollar revenue shortfall, and even expenditures that have been considered sacrosanct are now seeing reductions. The cuts to education are among the most controversial. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez joins us to discuss them.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

Gov Focused On Working With Legislators On Medicaid

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-10 17:34

With time winding down in the scheduled 90-day session, questions remain about whether or not legislators can agree on Gov. Bill Walker’s proposal to expand and reform Medicaid.

Download Audio

House Finance Committee co-chair Steve Thompson said he’s concerned with whether thousands of people can be added to a system he calls broken.

Senate Health and Social Services Committee chair Bert Stedman says he thinks that financially it works in the state’s best interests to go ahead with expansion and reform.

If expansion doesn’t pass, some believe Walker, by law, could seek authority from the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee to accept and spend federal money tied to expansion and that even if the committee disapproves, he could move forward.

A Walker spokeswoman says the administration is focused on working with lawmakers.

Categories: Alaska News

Shell Seeks Restraining Order Against Greenpeace

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-10 17:34

Meanwhile, Shell’s attorneys appeared in federal court this afternoon to argue for a restraining order against Greenpeace.

Download Audio

The environmental group sent a half-dozen activists to camp on one of Shell’s Arctic rigs as it’s towed across the Pacific Ocean. If Shell gets its way, the group would have to surrender to the master of the Blue Marlin effective immediately.

Shell is also seeking a preliminary injunction, which would keep Greenpeace away from the rest of its Arctic fleet. The oil company got a similar buffer zone during its last drilling season in 2012.

Judge Sharon Gleason did not issue a ruling on either of Shell’s requests this afternoon. A decision is expected in the coming days.

Categories: Alaska News

Public Comment Period Opens Up For Shell’s Chukchi Plan

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-10 17:34

If you want to comment on Shell’s plan to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer, now is your chance. The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced Friday that it considers Shell’s latest exploration plan and supporting documents sufficient enough to begin an official review. The determination kicks off a public comment period that lasts through the end of April.

Download Audio

Shell’s multi-year plan calls for returning to the Chukchi Sea with two rigs to drill up to six wells, all into its Burger Prospect. That’s in shallow water about 70 miles northwest of the village of Wainwright. The company can only operate during the summer and has to pull its equipment out before fall ice returns.

Shell drilled one partial well in the area in 2012 but was not allowed to penetrate the petroleum layer because its containment dome was inoperable. It was one of a series of mishaps that marred the season.

The earlier plan called for a dozen support vessels. This time, Shell says it expects to have about 30, including tugs, anchor handlers and ice-management vessels. Although Shell expects to again use Dutch Harbor as a resupply base, it proposes to keep its well containment barges and tugs moored in Kotzebue Sound.

Federal regulators now have 30 days to consider Shell’s exploration plan.

Environmental groups issued a volley of critical statements today, calling Arctic drilling unsafe and the regulatory process rushed.

Categories: Alaska News

Tanaina Announces Move To St. Mary’s Episcopal Church

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-10 17:34

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

It has been just over two months since Tanaina Early Childhood Development Center was informed it would need to vacate its space at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Now, the center has reached an agreement to stay temporarily at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.

Download Audio

Tanaina was already planning on leaving their space at UAA for the summer while renovations are made to the Wells Fargo Sports Complex. So, the center was reaching out to St. Mary’s, but, Tanaina director Stephanie O’Brien says once the center found out it had to find a new home, the discussions changed course.

“Those conversations became a, ‘well how long could we stay here,’ and St. Mary’s is extremely kind and has been very generous to offer their space to us for as long as we need,” she said.

Students at St. Mary’s preschool prepare to go outside. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Reverend Michael Burke – the rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church – compares Tanaina’s situation to that of a neighbor who lost their home.

“Tanaina has lost their home, and that’s just tragic,” he said. “And we’re just a neighbor; we’re just a neighbor that says, ‘OK, we’ll double up as best we can and we’ll help and support you through this period while you figure out your next steps.'”

The church already serves 29 community organizations and non-profits each month. Despite all the activity, though, Burke says there’s plenty of room for Tanaina.

“We believe the people of St. Mary’s are up to the task; we believe Tanaina us up to the task,” Burke said. “We’ll all have to be patient with one another and we’ll have to be acutely aware of other people’s needs, but, I think this is something we can do.”

Burke says hosting Tanaina will not impact St. Mary’s Creative Preschool, but it will require some extra work over the weekends to accommodate the church’s Sunday school programs.

Discussions between UAA and Tanaina have been ongoing since early February. And Stephanie O’Brien says they will continue to explore future partnerships with the university.

“But right now their answer is ‘no,'” she said. “So we’re just kind of focusing on ok, great, we’re moving to St. Mary’s, they’re an amazing place to be, an amazing group of people and I think we’ll be a good fit.”

St. Mary’s playground. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

The University was providing Tanaina it’s current space free of charge. Tanaina will be paying rent in their new location, but O’Brien says St. Mary’s gave the childcare center a generous offer.

“It’s definitely affordable for us, and we’re able to be able to make the payments and take on those bills – totally fine,” O’Brien said. “Our enrollment will need to be at 100 percent at all times. So, we’re actively enrolling for our summer program for school-aged kids; we’ll have some spaces come up in preschool.”

Tanaina will keep it’s entire staff, and O’Brien says they will still be able to handle the same number of children.

Tanaina’s last full day at UAA is May 8 and reopen at St. Mary’s on May 12.

Categories: Alaska News

NPFMC Addresses Chinook Bycatch

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-10 17:34

This week, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council has been looking at ways to cut back on the number of Chinook salmon that get scooped up by commercial trawl boats in the Bering Sea.

The goal is to send more salmon back to subsistence users around the state.

Download Audio

It hardly needed to be said — but as state biologist Katie Howard pointed out in a presentation to the North Pacific council:

“These recent declines in run abundance for Chinook salmon [are] really a statewide phenomenon, but it has been very notable in Western Alaska stocks,” Howard said.

That’s led to commercial closures and subsistence restrictions around the region. At the same time, Western Alaska salmon made up about half of all the Chinook that were pulled up commercial trawl boats, out looking for pollock in the Bering Sea.

Researchers have spent the past few days trying to explain how the North Pacific Council could change that.

One option is make trawl vessels fish earlier in the year — when there are fewer salmon feeding in the Bering Sea. Another is to increase the penalties for the boats with the worst track records.

Alan Haynie is with the Alaska Fisheries Science Center.

“There’s a speed limit. And if you go over the speed limit, there’s something that you’re going to pay,” Haynie said.

Signing up for fines and voluntary closures is part of the reason why the pollock fleet has avoided heavy restrictions on bycatch until now.

Working together to avoid salmon has been pretty successful. The pollock fleet has never come close to catching their absolute limit of 60,000 Chinook — or having their harvest immediately shut down.

Lowering that cap is technically an option. But the North Pacific council’s advisory board voted against it this week.

As Haynie, the Alaska Fisheries Science Center scientist pointed out:

“One thing that’s really become clear in terms of assessing the impacts on the fleet is that the impacts aren’t just a little more fuel,” Haynie said. “They’re big changes in product value. When people move off of fish that are the optimal size and move somewhere else, there’s a real loss in that sense.”

Haynie says it won’t be possible to account for those losses before the North Pacific council takes a final vote this weekend.

When they do, they’ll be down one member. Simon Kinneen has been asked to recuse himself from voting on salmon bycatch.

Kinneen is a vice president for the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation, or NSEDC. They’re a community development quota group for Nome and surrounding villages — with their own piece of pollock quota and ownership shares in other seafood businesses.

Lauren Smoker is an attorney with the NOAA Office of General Counsel.

“If a council member has financial interests that exceed 10 percent of the harvests or processing, that is a threshold that has been exceeded and a recusal determination follows,” Smoker said.

Kinneen appealed the ruling, but it still stands.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: Exploring Identity

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-10 17:34

More than 90 languages are spoken in Anchorage. And one resident is trying to learn – and teach – about every single one as part of a new podcast. KSKA’s Anne Hillman found out the project comes from his desire to discover the diversity of his own background.

Download Audio

Corey Benefrayim sits on the couch in his one-room Fairview apartment, his wavy hair slicked back and tidy mustache styled with upturned points. A couple of years ago he tried an experiment. He walked around the Dimond Center with an audio recorder asking people to guess his ethnicity.

“’Native with Mexican.’ ‘I think you’re black or mixed.’ ‘Black and white, but I don’t know. I know, this is terrible. This one is awkward!

It’s a question Benefrayim has been asking himself for years – what is his background? His identity? He’s been mapping it out on his body.

Hillman: “Walk me through your tattoos.”
Benefrayim: “We could spend all day on this.”
Hillman: “Let’s start with your arms.”

Music notes loop up one forearm, an outline of France adorns the other.

“My cousin does tattoos in Michigan, and so a lot of the times it’s like ‘hey lets order pizza and do tattoos’ and before you know it you’re getting a tattoo that you don’t regret, so much, as ‘I wish I had put more thought into that,'” Benefrayim said.

The map of France is one of those. Benefrayim says he was trying to honor his mother’s family, but they’ve actually been in Canada for more than 200 years.

“So on the backside, I got the maple leaf,” he said. “The coordinates there are for the city they immigrated to from France.”

Benefrayim says he knows a lot about his mother’s side of the family but much less about his father’s. His dad wasn’t around when he was a kid growing up in Michigan. He says he knew the basics – his father is a mixture of Moroccan, Ethiopian, and African-American. And he’s Jewish. But Benefrayim says his mother never taught him about his father’s cultural or religious heritage. So as an adult, he picked up a book on Judaism.

“I just couldn’t put the book down,” Benefrayim said. “Everything spoke to me and it all made sense and the Old Testament, it clicked and this and that.”

He bought himself a yarmulke on Ebay, went to a synagogue, and eventually converted. His father’s past is now reflected in the tattoo on Benefrayim’s leg.

“I have the hamza, the Star of David, inside the star of David is the green star from the Moroccan flag,” Benefrayim said. “In Arabic it says ‘Morrocco is in my blood’ and here in Hebrew it says ‘My heart beats for Israel.'”

Benefrayim says his quest to find out about his own heritage made him curious about other people’s. So he started a podcast called “90+”. He’s trying to track down people who speak each of the more than 90 languages represented in the Anchorage School District.

Benefrayim walks into a cozy townhouse adorned with plush furniture and a friendly dog. He sits down with a high school student from Brazil and pulls out his mic.

“Okay, my full name is……”

He asks Vulgara about moving to the U.S. as a small child, learning English, speaking Portuguese at home. Eventually he gets to the heart of the matter.

“If someone asked you, how would you describe yourself, would you consider yourself a Brazilian, an American, an Alaskan?” Benefrayim said. “How would you describe yourself?”

“Ohh. A mutt, I guess, in that regard,” Vulgara said.

He says he’s influenced by his mother’s strong Brazilian culture, even though he doesn’t really speak Portugese. But he’s also shaped by growing up in Alaska and by living in Germany for a year. He says all of those things contribute to his identity.

And for Benefrayim, conversations about language are in many ways just a vehicle for talking about culture and identity – and for understanding those around you.

“You start looking at languages and cultures and stuff and you start to realize why people do a certain thing in a certain way,” Benefrayim said. “It’s beautiful.”

Back in his apartment, he shows me his mezuzah. It’s a small metal ornament that holds a Jewish prayer and is affixed to the doorframe of a home. His has symbols from both Judaism and Christianity. We talk about what it means to both of us. We’ve led very different lives, but both come from mixed religion families, both love radio. It’s a conversation we wouldn’t have had if he hadn’t started on the podcast.

“Do I really think at the end of the day my little podcast is going to create world peace?” Benefrayim said. “No. But it might make someone who normally otherwise would think badly about someone else, you know, once listening maybe to my podcast would think ‘Oh, okay, that’s a similar upbringing to what I had even though they grew up in some totally different part of the world.”

Right now, he’s only produced a few episodes. He says he’s stocking them up and they will begin airing on an Anchorage station soon.

Categories: Alaska News

49 Voices: Lupe Marroquin of Anchorage

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-10 17:34

This week, we’re hearing from Lupe Marroquin, who has lived in Anchorage for nearly 40 years. She moved to Alaska from Michigan and fell in love with it almost immediately.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: April 10, 2015

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-10 17:34

Stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn.

Download Audio

Education Tops List Of Contentious Cuts

The Associated Press

With time winding down in the scheduled 90-day session, questions remain about whether or not legislators can agree on Gov. Bill Walker’s proposal to expand and reform Medicaid.

Gov Focused On Working With Legislators On Medicaid

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Major conservative political groups are stepping into the Anchorage mayoral race. The May runoff  between Amy Demboski and Ethan Berkowitz is drawing increasing attention from state and national organizations hoping to influence local politics.

Public Comment Period Opens Up For Shell’s Chukchi Plan

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington DC

If you want to comment on Shell’s plan to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer, now is your chance. The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced Friday that it considers Shell’s latest exploration plan and supporting documents sufficient enough to begin an official review. The determination kicks off a public comment period that lasts through the end of April.

Shell Seeks Restraining Order Against Greenpeace

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

Meanwhile, Shell’s attorneys appeared in federal court this afternoon to argue for a restraining order against Greenpeace.

NPFMC Addresses Chinook Bycatch

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

This week, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council has been looking at ways to cut back on the number of Chinook salmon that get scooped up by commercial trawl boats in the Bering Sea. The goal is to send more salmon back to subsistence users around the state.

Tanaina Announces Move To St. Mary’s Episcopal Church

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

It’s been just over two months since Tanaina Early Childhood Development Center was informed it would need to vacate its space at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Now, the center has reached an agreement to stay temporarily at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.

AK: Exploring Identity

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

More than 90 languages are spoken in Anchorage. And one resident is trying to learn – and teach – about every single one as part of a new podcast. KSKA’s Anne Hillman found out the project comes from his desire to discover the diversity of his own background.

49 Voices: Lupe Marroquin of Anchorage

This week, we’re hearing from Lupe Marroquin, who has lived in Anchorage for nearly 40 years. She moved to Alaska from Michigan and fell in love with it almost immediately

Categories: Alaska News

National & State Level Conservative Groups Ramping Up Presence in Anc Mayor’s Race

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-10 16:57

Amy Demboski surrounded by supporters at Election Central on Tuesday night, including one holding a sign with the middle cut-out, a reference to attacks last week against her campaign posters. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, KSKA)

Major conservative political groups are stepping into the Anchorage mayor’s race. The May runoff between Amy Demboski and Ethan Berkowitz is drawing increasing attention from state and national organizations hoping to influence local politics.

Americans For Prosperity is a political group based in Virginia, backed by the Koch brothers, that advocates for conservative causes. They don’t endorse candidates, but will be seeking to inform Anchorage voters about their two choices for mayor.

“We’ve identified Ethan’s record as one that’s troubling, and we think will be devastating to the residents of Anchorage,” said Jeremy Price, spokesman for the Alaska chapter of AFP.

Price said that in the past Berkowitz has supported higher taxes and larger government. AFP is still developing a strategy for how to connect with voters, and that will determine whether or not they’re required to file financial disclosures with the Alaska Political Offices Commission.

“We don’t disclose who our donors are,” Price said, though he admits that funding comes from both inside and outside of the state. “But the longer our presence in Alaska is, the more we receive donations from Alaskans.”

Political Action Groups are barred from coordinating with campaigns directly. However, the Demboski campaign does appear to be drawing more heavily on the state’s conservative political resources as it picks up steam.

Before winning the second slot in the runoff election, Demboski received endorsements from high-profile conservative politicians Mead Treadwell and Joe Miller. Now, Miller’s former advisor, Matt Johnson, is working as Demboski’s campaign manager.

And, as of two weeks ago, she has brought on David Boyle to handle communications. Boyle was the chairman for the 2008 McCain/Palin campaign in Alaska.

“Conservatives in this city–from fiscal conservatives to social conservatives–will see that there’s a very distinct difference between Amy Demboski principals and policies, and her opponents’ more liberal policies,” Boyle said by phone.

For the last several years, Boyle has led the Alaska Policy Forum, a conservative think-tank that advises state legislators on issues like education and healthcare reform. The organization also publishes a controversial index of how much municipal employees are paid. The policy forum has received support in the past from a network of state-level groups promoting conservative public policy, and both local and national media outlets have cited the lack of transparency in the groups own finances, which are reported to be linked to major Republican donors like the Koch brothers.

Boyle says this weekend the Demboski staff will be drafting policy points and a campaign strategy for the weeks ahead.

“As you know, the Assembly has a liberal majority on it, and I think we need some balance there,” Boyle added. “So I think we need a conservative mayor, and Amy’s going to provide that.”

The Berkowitz campaign is also receiving support from Political Action Groups, though they are more parochial and traditional players in local politics. Anchorage labor and public employee unions have donated to the Berkowitz campaign, and the National Education Association’s Anchorage chapter is supporting him. The Alaska Democratic Party made robocalls and sent out emails to registered party members during the first phase of the election.

“We’ll be contacting voters in a variety of ways,” said Travis Smith, communications director for the party, “phoning and door-knocking, for example.”

The Berkowitz campaign disagrees with the claims about his record from Americans for Prosperity. Communications Manager Nora Morse said that during his time in the Legislature, Berkowitz was part of a bipartisan coalition that worked on budget solutions when oil was $9 a barrel.

“I think that’s very interesting that Americans for Prosperity is playing in this mayor’s race, and the fact that they’re coming in claiming to care what Anchorage voters want, when really Anchorage voters are talking about, number one, public safety, the city budget, and public education,” Morse said by phone. “They haven’t talked about any of those issues, and that raises some red flags.”

Candidates met Friday with the officials from the union representing the Anchorage Police Department, who have so far not made any endorsements in the mayor’s race.

Categories: Alaska News

Health Care Costs in Alaska

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-10 12:00

Do you dread getting a bill from the hospital or your doctor’s office? Healthcare costs are rising quickly in Alaska and we’re all paying the bills. We’ll look at why health care costs so much here and what we can do to reduce those costs.

HOST: Annie Feidt

GUESTS:

  • Greg Loudon, Health Benefits Consultant for Parker, Smith and Feek
  • Mouchine Guetabbi, Assistant Professor of Economics, UAA
  • Matthew Eisenhower, director of community health development
  • Callers statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, April 14, 2015 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Delving Into Anchorage’s Municipal Election Results

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2015-04-10 09:00

Today, we’ll be talking about he aftermath of this week’s Anchorage municipal election – results that were surprising to some.

Download Audio

HOST: Ellen Lockyer

GUESTS:

  • Eric Croft, chair, Anchorage School Board
  • Marc Hellenthal, Hellenthal and Associates
  • Ivan Moore, Ivan Moore research

KSKA (FM 91.1) BROADCAST: Friday, April 10 at 2:00 p.m. and Saturday, April 11 at 6:00 p.m.

Alaska Public Television BROADCAST: Friday, April 10 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, April 11 at 4:30 p.m.

Categories: Alaska News

Funding Cut To Kivalina School Could Pose Legal Problem For Legislature

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-09 18:25

On Wednesday, the Senate Finance committee slashed more than $40 million in state dollars from the capital budget. A rural school project the state is legally obligated to complete was among the reductions.

Seven million dollars had been set aside for the construction of a school in Kivalina, and a road to it. The state committed to building the school in 2011, as part of a long-fought education lawsuit known as the Kasayulie case. The plaintiffs argued there was a disparity in how the Legislature treated rural schools, and that the state was not meeting its constitutional obligation to educate students in villages.

Sen. Donny Olson represents Kivalina and serves on the finance committee. He opposes the cuts, and worries the state may expose itself to more litigation if it backs out of funding the school.

“If the state’s in a position where it’s got to continue to defend itself on a consent decree that’s already been accepted by both plaintiffs and defendants, we’ve got to reopen it,” says Olson. “Then we’re spending a lot more money, and we’re already in a financially strapped time.”

One of the complicating factors in the project is the school’s location. Kivalina is a poster child for climate change — it is on a barrier island on Kotzebue Sound, and it is experiencing steady erosion. Because the community may face relocation, the school mandated by the Kasayulie case will be built outside of the village and requires a new road.

Olson says the Senate Finance committee is now trying to restore some of the funding for the project, but there has been resistance to paying for the road. For him, the road is needed for the state to meet its obligations in the Kasayulie case.

“You can’t have a school without a road to build the school,” says Olson.

The cuts caught Kivalina by surprise. Millie Hawley is president of Kivalina’s tribal government, and she had not heard of the cuts until reached by phone for this story. The Kivalina school funding was one of the few new capital projects included in Gov. Bill Walker’s budget because of the state’s legal duty to pay for it.

“It would be very detrimental to the students and the school here in Kivalina,” says Hawley.

Sen. Anna MacKinnon, an Eagle River Republican who is in charge of the capital budget, was not available for an interview.

In February, a delegation of nine legislators visited Kivalina as part of a trip to confront United States Interior Secretary Sally Jewell over drilling prohibitions in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.Lawmakers toured the existing school and village elders pleaded with state and federal officials to aid the erosion-stricken village.

Categories: Alaska News

Media Awaits Release Of National Guard Emails

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-09 17:29

The State of Alaska still has not released all documents and emails related to the Alaska National Guard scandal. Alaska Public Media and the Alaska Dispatch News sued the state for the documents last October after the Parnell administration took four months to deny public record requests.

Download Audio

At the time, Gov. Sean Parnell was running for re-election and media outlets argued it was important for the public to know how Parnell dealt with allegations of corruption and sexual misconduct in the Guard.

A federal report in September found serious problems in the organization, including fraud, favoritism and an overall lack of trust in Guard leadership.

Assistant Attorney General Cori Mills wouldn’t say exactly how many emails will be released, but she says they’ll be available later this month.

“We are a few weeks behind on when we thought we would be getting the documents to the plaintiffs in the National Guard case, but we are looking at releasing those documents to the plaintiffs and having them ready no later than April 24th,” Mills said. “Hopefully earlier, but definitely no later than the 24th,”

John McKay, the attorney representing the media outlets, says the emails are just as important now as they were before the election.

“There’s serious underlying questions about the National Guard, the treatment of Guard members, the standing of the Guard and it’s reputation and performance that really needed to be addressed,” McKay said. “That didn’t end with the election and neither did our interest in the documents.”

McKay says the state could and should have released the emails by now. He suspects the state is trying to time their release with the publication of a report by retired Juneau judge Patricia Collins.

Collins was chosen by the Walker administration in January to investigate the allegations of sexual assault and harassment in the Guard. Walker campaigned on the issue, saying Parnell was stonewalling to keep alleged wrongdoing out of the public eye until after the election. He said he’d make the transparency of public records a higher priority in his administration.

Categories: Alaska News

Lawmakers Discuss Medicaid Expansion, Meaning Of ‘Payment Reform’

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-09 17:28

The state House Finance Committee spent two hours this morning considering the Governor’s Medicaid expansion bill- HB 148. Lawmakers spent part of that time talking about “payment reform.” But what exactly does that mean?

Download Audio

The Medicaid expansion bill allows the department to consider payment reform, along with other innovations, as it works to control costs in the state’s Medicaid program.

Representative Lance Pruitt, an Anchorage Republican, wanted to know more.

“I’ve heard and seen a lot about payment reform,” Pruitt said. “There’s even parts of the bill that say payment reform. But I don’t have a definition, from what I can tell, of what does payment reform exactly mean.”

Health Commissioner Valerie Davidson spent several minutes answering Pruitt. But her main point was that payment reform would involve reimbursing doctors based on patient outcomes instead of paying for every specific service. The idea is to give doctors incentives to provide the best care instead of a lot of care:

“Alaska is a fee-for-service state and quite frankly we are interested in changing that dynamic and quite frankly we have to,” Davidson said. “And we are interested in reforming Medicaid, not just for the expansion population, but for everybody. Because we don’t have a choice.”

At the federal level, Medicare recently announced it’s also moving away from fee-for-service.

Davidson said providers in Alaska know the current Medicaid system isn’t sustainable. And they also know payment reform is coming. Davidson said the state is in a good position to bargain with providers, but she said the department also needs to involve them in the reform process:

“We have to be able to work with the providers, and they certainly know what our challenges are in this state,” Davidson said. “Our budget problem has been all over the news. All over social media. And people recognize we have to do things differently.”

Pruitt is worried about the incentives of the status quo when it comes to health care payments in Alaska. He cited an Anchorage School District report that identified 300 specialists in the state who bill over a billion dollars a year for their services. He wondered if doctors earning that much money would be willing to negotiate.

He told the story of a woman who was diagnosed with a brain tumor and spent $750 dollars to see a specialist who essentially said, “I can’t do anything for you.”

“Maybe we’re in the wrong terminology here. Maybe it shouldn’t be Medicaid reform, maybe it should be medical reform,” Pruitt said. “Because in Alaska we’ve got serious problems where just the public can’t seem to pay. I mean it’s out of control. Three times what it would cost in the rest of the us for a primary care visit, that’s insane. we have bills all the time on gas gouging, maybe we should look at medical gouging in this case.”

The Health Department is hiring a contractor to look at the types of payment reform that have worked in other states to get a better idea of what could work in Alaska.

The House Finance committee plans to spend more time considering the Medicaid expansion bill Thursday morning.

Categories: Alaska News

Citizen Group Seeks Water Rights in Proposed Mining Area

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-09 17:26

Chuitna Coal Mine. (Graphic Courtesy DNR)

The public comment period closes Thursday on a water-rights petition from a citizen group fighting a proposed coal mine in the Chuitna watershed on the west side of Cook Inlet.

Download Audio

In 2009, the Chuitna Citizens Coalition filed a series of water-rights petitions to theDepartment of Natural Resources. They asked DNR to reserve water rights in a tributary of the Chuitna River called Middle Creek.

Judy Heilman helped start the coalition which comprises fishermen, some residents from the community of Beluga, and others. The group filed the petitions in response to a proposed coal strip mine in the watershed. Specifically, they are asking the water in Middle Creek to be saved for salmon.

“That’s the first mining LMU, logical mining unit, that they want to start and it’s 14 miles of salmon spawning stream and they want to mine down 300 feet deep,” says Heilman.

She says 15-20% of the silver salmon for the Chuitna River are spawned in Middle Creek. She and other opponents of the mine are concerned not only about the resource itself, but about fishermen and subsistence users who depend on it.

“It’s very important for Alaskans to be able to fish and fill their freezers with salmon. There’s never been a salmon stream that’s been restored that’s been destroyed like that,” says Heilman.

Bob Shavelson is the director of Cook Inletkeeper, which has partnered with the coalition.

“Well, the west side of Cook Inlet is still a very remote and spectacularly beautiful place and the Chuitna watershed is unique in that it supports all five species of wild pacific salmon,” says Shavelson. “Like everywhere around Cook Inlet, the Chinook fisheries have been getting hammered recently and nobody has a great understanding on that. But, the Chuitna River has been listed by the Department of Fish and Game as a fishery of concern for Chinook. That’s just another reason that we should protect it because if our king salmon are hanging on by a thread right now, we need to provide everything that we can in a changing climate to make sure they have the resilience to fight back.”

In 2013, PacRim Coal LLC filed for water rights for Middle Creek to divert the water from the stream and mine underneath. According to DNR’s Chuitna mine page, it’s part of a surface coal mining and export development proposal. It would be a 25-year project producing nearly 12 million tons of coal annually.

If it were constructed, the coalition says it would be the state’s largest coal strip mining operation.

Since the coalition and PacRim Coal have both filed for water rights, only one will emerge with the state’s approval.

“I think it’s important to recognize that Governor Walker came in and it was a refreshing openness that he brought and he put together a transition team,” says Shavelson. “The fisheries transition team unanimously came up with a recommendation for what they call a Fish First policy, and that is when we’re making management decisions around our natural resources, we should put fish first and I can’t think of a better example than Chuitna to implement that policy.”

According to DNR, PacRim Coal has made changes to their original mine proposal and has not yet submitted an updated draft. However they are aware of the Coalition’s instream flow reservation petition.

In an email response to a request for comment, PacRim’s Chuitna Coal Project Manager, Dan Graham, wrote quote “PacRim is currently reviewing the notice and applications on file and has no further comment at this time.”

Shavelson says the state’s decision in this case could have ramifications for other areas.

“Well it really would be a new policy in the state’s history because never before has a wild salmon stream been mined completely through,” says Shavelson. “Looking back over decisions about salmon habitat, I can’t think of a more important decision in the past 25 or more years for the management of our resource because if we trade salmon for coal here, if we sacrifice a vibrant salmon ecosystem for a one-time use, then we’re going to set a precedent that’s going to put salmon streams across the state at risk.”

Judy Heilman says she thinks this could be one step down that path.

“It’s very important for the next generations coming up. We can’t leave them polluted streams, no fish in the streams, polluted air. We can’t do that to the kids coming up and the next generation. We have to leave them better than what we have now.”

Categories: Alaska News

Some Alaska Ferry Trips On The Chopping Block

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2015-04-09 17:25

More than 9,000 people are booked for Alaska Marine Highway sailings that will likely be cut due to budget reductions.

Download Audio

Ferry Chief Mike Neussl says about 2,500 vehicles are also scheduled for those sailings.

But for now, the ferry system isn’t letting travelers know.

“I am reluctant to pull the trigger (and) cancel those runs that we’ve already sold tickets on and rebook all those passengers because of the possibility that some of that service may be restored if funding is restored,” Neussl said.

Neussl explained the situation to the state’s Marine Transportation Advisory Board during a Wednesday meeting in Juneau.

He said travelers will be contacted and, if possible, rescheduled as soon as it’s clear how deep the cuts will be. He acknowledged some will be angry.

Categories: Alaska News

Pages