Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: November 7, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-07 17:03

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

Trial Begins For Man Charged With Killing VPSO Thomas Madole

Dave Bendinger, KDLG – Dillingham

After a lengthy four days to select a jury, opening statements were made this morning in the murder trial of Leroy Dick Jr. at the courthouse in Dillingham.

Bering Sea Storm Hits Aleutian Islands

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

After a week of warnings, a heavy-duty storm washed into the Bering Sea early this morning. Hurricane-force winds smacked the far western Aleutian Islands. And while the storm has disturbed life at sea, it’s expected to start losing power fast.

How Will Legal Marijuana Work In Rural Alaska?

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

Early next year, Alaskans will be able to legally buy, transport, and use small amounts of marijuana. The initiative will not be law until three months after the vote is certified, and the state has more time to come up with rules for marijuana sales.

Alaska Miners Association Convention Held In Anchorage

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

The Alaska Miner’s Association annual convention has been going on all week in Anchorage.  Coinciding with the AMA’s 75th year, is the 25th anniversary of Kotzebue’s Red Dog Mine.

Rep. Mike Chenault Tapped For 4th Term As House Speaker

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN

Nikiski Republican Mike Chenault will serve his fourth term as House Speaker in the Alaska State Legislature. That will make him the longest serving speaker in legislative history.

UA President Warns Regents About Budget

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The University of Alaska Board of Regents has passed a budget for next year, but there’s concern about state funding.

Crews Troubleshoot Bethel’s Pool Sprinkler System

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel

There’s no timeline for reopening the $24 million Bethel pool, which closed right after the grand opening this past Saturday due to a sprinkler system issue.

Ferry System Limits Solo Travel By Kids, Teenagers

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

The Alaska Marine Highway System will no longer allow children and teen-agers under 18 to travel solo.

AK: High Tech Surgery

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Surgeons these days have a lot of futuristic tools at their disposal in the operating room. They use robots, high definition cameras and special dyes to help them complete complicated procedures. And you don’t have to travel to big cities in the Lower 48 to find the most up to date technology.

300 Villages: Kivalina

This week, we’re heading to Kivalina on the Chukchi Sea. Stanley Hawley is the Tribal Administrator for the City of Kivalina

 

Categories: Alaska News

Ferry System Limits Solo Travel By Kids, Teenagers

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-07 17:03

The Alaska Marine Highway System will no longer allow children and teenagers under 18 to travel solo.

Download Audio

The current rules place no restrictions on 16- and 17-year-olds. Solo ferry travelers 12 to 15 need a note from a parent or guardian. Kids under 12 must travel with an adult, but it can be anyone.

Spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says the new rules focus on safety.

“We are on large ships, we’re on open ocean. If they’re unsupervised, different accidents could happen, especially if we’re in rough weather,” he says.

The new rules say anyone under 18 must travel with an adult. That adult must be a parent, legal guardian or have notarized authorization from a parent or guardian.

Minors traveling as part of chaperoned youth groups, such as school sports teams, are exempt. So are teens who are married or legally emancipated.

Woodrow says there’s a reason for requiring permission slips to be notarized.

“There have been instances where runaways have been aboard the ferry system. And this prevents a 15- or 16-year-old from forging their parents’ signature and saying, yes, they’re allowed on board,” he says.

He says the rules will also help protect children from being assaulted or abused while on a ferry.

The policies will be enforced beginning Nov. 20.

Woodrow says the rules were changed as part of an ongoing policy review.

“This was one that stood out as being outdated. [It was] time to be renewed and brought up more to current standards and expectations of what travelers expect on a public transportation system,” Woodrow says.

He says no one incident led to the change. But he says the old policy created a risk for children and a potential liability for the ferry system.

Categories: Alaska News

AK: High Tech Surgery

APRN Alaska News - Fri, 2014-11-07 17:02

Dr. Donna Chester operates the da Vinci robot during surgery. (Photo by Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage)

Surgeons these days have a lot of futuristic tools at their disposal in the operating room. They use robots, high definition cameras and special dyes to help them complete complicated procedures. And you don’t have to travel to big cities in the Lower 48 to find the most up to date operating room technology.

Download Audio

Miranda Studstill is 24 years old. And for the past two years, she’s been in near constant pain.

“It’s just like a searing, stabbing pain. It feels like… your insides are like play dough and somebody’s digging their fingernails into it. It hurts so bad.”

Miranda has endometriosis, a disorder where tissue that usually lines the inside of the uterus, grows outside of it instead. And lately, her life has been dictated by the disease. She’s endured three surgeries so far. When I meet her for the first time in a doctor’s office in East Anchorage, she’s preparing for surgery number four.

Her surgeon, Dr. Donna Chester lays out the plan for the next morning. She is going to remove Miranda’s right ovary and any endometriosis she sees. She’s hoping that will relieve her pain.

Less than 24 hours later, Miranda is under anesthesia on an operating table at Alaska Regional. It’s hard to even see her under a mound of sterile blue drapes. And Dr. Chester is not standing over her. She’s ten feet away- sitting at a console that looks like a high tech video game.

A monitor shows the bright green firefly dye technology in the operating room. (Photo by Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage)

The robot is called a da Vinci. Chester’s hands are on two controls that manipulate robotic instruments inside Studstill. TV screens illuminate what the cameras attached to those instruments are capturing. As Chester moves the controls, the instruments respond, snipping tissue apart that is stuck together. They’re called adhesions, and they can be very painful for patients like Miranda.

Chester doesn’t see much else near the right ovary that is a cause for concern. She pops up from the console:

“Since all that pain was because of that adhesion, I can leave that ovary in, I mean, she’s only 23 I hate to take an ovary out.”

To make sure she’s not missing anything, Dr. Chester uses a new technology called Firefly. It’s a bright green chemical dye that will light up any endometriosis Chester can’t see with the robotic cameras.

“It’s a dye that goes in there, and any area that has endometriosis is more hypervascular and it’s supposed to show it up more. I’m not seeing any additional stuff in here. Which is good for her- all she had were the adhesions. And… that’s so much better.”

Chester goes out to the waiting room to check in with Miranda’s mom, and then comes back to close up the four small incisions. She does that the old fashioned way- without a robot. She’s pleased with how the surgery went.

“I think she’ll feel the pain difference almost immediately when she wakes up.”

As for Miranda, she was thrilled to be able to keep her right ovary:

“When I woke up in the recovery room, that’s the first thing my mom said, ‘you still have it’ and I started crying, it was really, really awesome.”

I meet with Miranda less than two weeks after the surgery. She has already started back at her job as a court reporter. And her pain is a lot better:

“It’s still kind of there but it’s so much better, it’s not the first thing on my mind now.”

She says she’s eager to get her life back:

“I’m really hoping that it will change everything. The last two years my life has really been on hold because I’ve been so sick and it’s been so difficult.”

Miranda’s hoping this is the last surgery she’ll have to go through for a long while.

 

Categories: Alaska News

ASD asks state legislators for new education funding formula

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-11-06 17:17

The Anchorage School District made their case for increasing state education funding to legislators during a luncheon Thursday. With the current funding formula, the district projects they will cut 720 jobs over the next three years. Class sizes will increase to about 10 more students per class than evidence-based research recommends.

School board president Eric Croft says the Base Student Allocation funding formula needs to change.

“I’ve had legislators say, ‘Why do we have to have this same debate every year? Why is there another $22 million dollar deficit in the Anchorage School District’s budget?’ We just responded, without inflation-proofing of the formula, that discussion is going to happen every year,” Croft told the crowd, which included state and municipal lawmakers.

Currently inflation in Anchorage is at 3 percent.

Croft also wants the legislature to consider using the cost-of-living in the Mat-Su Valley as the base for the school funding formula, not Anchorage. Preliminary ASD studies show that the cost of living is lower in the Mat-Su Valley than in Anchorage, mostly because of the price of housing. If the Valley is used as the base, the formula would be adjusted to account for higher costs in Anchorage and increase the funding for the city’s schools. ASD is asking for a more formal cost-of-living study from the legislature.

Anchorage Rep. Andy Josephson, a Democrat, agrees that school funding must be a priority over other projects. He explains that HB 278 requires the legislature to hire a consultant to look at the base funding formula, but he’s not sure it will help the district’s problems.

“I think the net result is going to be, it doesn’t change the number of brick and mortar buildings you need, the number of personnel you need, so I question whether we’re going to achieve a whole lot doing that.”

Rep. Harriet Drummond, a Democrat from Anchorage, says she and the other Democrats plan to look at education funding first this session.

“Education is my first priority. I think we fund education first, early in the session, then everything else follows.”

Drummond says she echos the district’s concerns about how the cost of housing is impacting how the district can attract and retain employees

ASD also wants the legislature to consider the trickle down effect of losing 720 jobs in the community.

Categories: Alaska News

Aleutian Communities Brace For High-Powered Storm

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-11-06 17:15

The Aleutian and Pribilof Islands are no stranger to strong winds and rough seas. And that’s exactly what they can expect Friday night, when a high-powered storm hits the Bering Sea. Communities are gearing up to face the historic front.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

U.S. Senate, Gubernatorial Races Remain Undecided

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-11-06 17:14

Two days after the election, both Alaska’s senate race and its gubernatorial race remain undecided, and both incumbents are lagging behind their challengers. Democratic Sen. Mark Begich is down by 8,000 votes in his race against Republican Dan Sullivan, while Republican Gov. Sean Parnell trails unaffiliated candidate Bill Walker by 3,000 votes. Neither candidate plans to concede at this point, and at least 20,000 votes still need to be counted next week. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez ran the numbers on both of those races, and joins us to talk about the trends she’s seeing.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

Former ASD Teacher Charged With Sexual Abuse Of A Minor

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-11-06 17:13

Former Anchorage School District teacher David Schwantes was arraigned Thursday afternoon in an Anchorage court.

Schwantes, 73, is charged with seven counts of sexual abuse of a minor.

Download Audio

Anchorage Police Department Detective John Vandervalk says the arrest is based off an investigation of a complaint lodged by a former student who is now an adult, who alleges Schwantes molested him in the 1990s.

A teacher picture of suspect David Schwantes from the 1990s. (Photo via APD)

“Many times in life, people are triggering events that bring these things forward and in this case it was one of those things for this particular person,” Vandervalk said. ”And it came into the issue of trust and what to do now with their children and childcare situations, and that’s what triggered them and brought this case forward for us.”

Schwantes taught at Mt. Spurr Elementary School on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson from 1968 until 1993. Between 1993 and 1996, he worked as a substitute teacher with the Anchorage School District. Then in 1999 and 2000, he worked in Title 1 after school activities at Muldoon Elementary.

Prior to working in the Anchorage School District, Schwantes taught briefly in Southeast and rural Alaska.

Detective Vandervalk says there may be additional victims.

“Whether or not people want to come forward after this many years, realize every victim deals with a situation in their own way,” he said. “Some people may have put it behind them and it may be too difficult to deal with and they may not want to come forward anymore.”

“That’s their own particular choice and what we want to have come out of this is the best possible outcome for the victim.”

APD is working with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations to identify other victims who may have attended Mt. Spurr Elementary in the past.

 

Categories: Alaska News

UAF Athletics Penalized For Eligibility Violations

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-11-06 17:12

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has been penalized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association for eligibility violations. Wednesday, Chancellor Brian Rogers wanted it understood that that the athletes are not to blame.

Download Audio

“These infractions were the result of university error and not due to wrongdoing by any of our student athletes,” Rogers said.

Sanctions include a $30,000 fine, the short term elimination of some scholarships, no post season play for some teams during the 2014-15 season, and the vacation of wins and records achieved by offending athletes and teams they competed for. The academic eligibility violations involve 40 athletes in 9 UAF sports, between 2007 and 2011.

The NCAA eligibility violations were self reported by UAF in 2011 and 2012. Chancellor Rogers attributed them to UAF failing to fully understand, and identify issues for student athletes.

Among the numerous NCAA penalties, is a requirement that UAF develop a program to educate staff on eligibility certification and advising practices, something Athletic Director Gary Gray says the university has already implemented.

“That has been in place now for quite sometime. We continue to educate folks and employees in the registrar’s office, advising, ect.,” Rogers said. “We meet with them monthly; we have a great process, it works, it’s well documented and I would hold it up as a model process. So we’ve completed that requirement.”

UAF has also has hired an academic adviser for student athletes, and designated staff to manage their records.

The NCAA is requiring the university to file an annual compliance report, including a review by an outside consultant.] Gray says UAF will now figure out what records need to be vacated as a result of the NCAA penalties.

Categories: Alaska News

Election signs find new homes under flooring, in chicken coops

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-11-06 17:11

Election day is over and political signs are disappearing from yards and intersections. But where do they go?

Download Audio

Some might end up in the rusty blue dumpster outside Central Recycling Services on N. Sitka Road. At the moment it sits with one lonely campaign sign inside. It’s the beginning of the company’s collection.

“We see them all over and they litter the streets,” said Resource Manager Nate Kruk. “We figured there’s got to be a place for them instead of the landfill.”

He says people can drop off their old vinyl political signs for free. If he can collect about 4,000 pounds of them, the company will ship them off to be melted back into crude oil. But that’s about 2,000 signs, depending on the size.

Kruk says if they don’t get enough, the signs can be reused instead as insulation for cabins or underneath flooring.

“You put em underneath linoleum. Some people use cardboard, some people use special foam, and from what I’ve heard these signs do a pretty good job.”

Others use them to line their chicken coops because they’re easy to hose off. The signs can also be turned into ramps for guinea pigs, spray painted to look like holiday decorations, or saved in case your candidate of choice ever runs again.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: November 6, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-11-06 17:11

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

Aleutian Communities Brace For High-Powered Storm

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

The Aleutian and Pribilof Islands are no stranger to strong winds and rough seas. And that’s exactly what they can expect Friday night, when a high-powered storm hits the Bering Sea. Communities are gearing up to face the historic front.

U.S. Senate, Gubernatorial Races Remain Undecided

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN

Two days after the election, both Alaska’s senate race and its gubernatorial race remain undecided, and both incumbents are lagging behind their challengers. Democratic Sen. Mark Begich is down by 8,000 votes in his race against Republican Dan Sullivan, while Republican Gov. Sean Parnell trails unaffiliated candidate Bill Walker by 3,000 votes. Neither candidate plans to concede at this point, and at least 20,000 votes still need to be counted next week. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez ran the numbers on both of those races, and joins us to talk about the trends she’s seeing.

Former ASD Teacher Charged With Sexual Abuse Of A Minor

Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

Former Anchorage School District teacher David Schwantes was arraigned Thursday afternoon in an Anchorage court. Schwantes, 73, is charged with seven counts of sexual abuse of a minor.

UAF Athletics Penalized For Eligibility Violations

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has imposed penalties on the University of Alaska Fairbanks for student athlete eligibility violations. The University blames a systematic failure to understand and help athletes navigate academic eligibility requirements.

What Happens To Political Signs After Election Day?

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Election Day is over and political signs are disappearing from yards and intersections. But where do they go?

‘All Alaska Juried Exhibition’ Showcases New, Evolving Art

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

The Anchorage Museum is set to open the All Alaska Juried Exhibition on Friday – a show bringing together works of contemporary art from across the state. In its 48 years the semi-annual exhibition has served as a showcase for new and evolving art in a state with a rich creative tradition.

‘The Fortunate Child’ Focuses On Education, Equality

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

A novel by first time author Archana Mishra focuses on the need to make education more readily available to women. The Anchorage resident is a Native of India and lived and worked in Australia before moving to Alaska. She says for rural women in India, indigenous people in Australia and rural women in Alaska, the need is the same. Education creates equal societies. Mishra is an attorney and says all of the women in her family are highly educated. Her book, The Fortunate Child follows a girl who dreams of changing the world through helping others.  She says women can’t be part of a thriving economy if they are not educational equals

Categories: Alaska News

‘The Fortunate Child’ Focuses On Education, Equality

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-11-06 17:09

A novel by first time author Archana Mishra focuses on the need to make education more readily available to women. The Anchorage resident is a Native of India and lived and worked in Australia before moving to Alaska. She says for rural women in India, indigenous people in Australia and rural women in Alaska, the need is the same. Education creates equal societies. Mishra is an attorney and says all of the women in her family are highly educated. Her book, The Fortunate Child follows a girl who dreams of changing the world through helping others. She says women can’t be part of a thriving economy if they are not educational equals.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

‘All Alaska Juried Exhibition’ Showcases New, Evolving Art

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-11-06 17:09

The Anchorage Museum is set to open the All Alaska Juried Exhibition tomorrow–a show bringing together works of contemporary art from across the state. In its 48 years the semi-annual exhibition has served as a showcase for new and evolving art in a state with a rich creative tradition.

Download Audio

Categories: Alaska News

Assembly Approves $750,000 for Another SAP Audit

APRN Alaska News - Thu, 2014-11-06 00:11

The Anchorage Assembly spent a good portion of its meeting debating whether $750,000 was too much to spend on what is called a Quality Assurance audit by the same company designing the municipality’s new software system, SAP. But the resolution passed with ample support, and most assembly members saying too much money has already been spent on implementing the new automation software to skimp on what are hopefully some of the last steps in the process.

There were questions about whether paying less, or using municipal employees rather than outside contractors, could keep the project on schedule while still ensuring its quality. The dollar amount and the timetable were designed to limit the risk of any more problems popping up amid program’s roll out.

“Our staff would not have the ability or resources to do the technical analysis of the configuration that SAP is being hired to do,” explained the city’s Chief Financial Officer Katherine Giard in response to a question. “Nor would they have the time.”

The audit process will bring in SAP consultants to make sure the software’s technical features are in good working order, and to offer advice when they are not.

“It’s a very big expense,” said Assembly member Paul Honeman, summing up the general sentiment of comments made ahead of the vote authorizing the resolution. ”It’s sad that we’re here at this point. We’re down that path, we’re way down the path where we should have turned around and said ‘we were sold a bill of goods,’ or ‘we’re paying way more than we should have.’ So I say let’s move forward and get it finished.”

The Quality Assurance audit is totally seperate from the external audit that the assembly voted to authorize a few weeks ago. An RFP hit the street yesterday for bids to look into why costs have run so far over on the SAP program’s implementation. That audit will be around $200,000.

Elsewhere in last night’s meeting, the assembly put off making a decision about a comprehensive plan for access points into Chugach State Park, and took more public testimony ahead of a revised resolution on towing laws.

Categories: Alaska News

State Senate Majority Names New Leader

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-11-05 17:30

The Republican Senate Majority has named a new president. Sen. Kevin Meyer of Anchorage will be taking the reins from Wasilla’s Charlie Huggins. Huggins will take the position of rules chair.

The new organization is otherwise much like the old. Sen. John Coghill of North Pole remains the majority leader, and a number of committees are keeping the same chairs with a few notable exceptions. Sen. Anna Fairclough of Eagle River was promoted a co-chair position on the Senate finance committee, while Sen. Mike Dunleavy of the Mat-Su was made chair of the education committee. Dunleavy was a member of the education committee last legislature, and sponsored a constitutional amendment that would have allowed public funds to be used at private schools.

Republicans picked up one Senate seat on Tuesday, with Mia Costello taking over the seat vacated by Democrat Hollis French, giving them 14 out of 20 seats in the state senate. The caucus currently includes all 14 Republican members, 13 of which were present for a press conference held at the offices of a construction industry trade association. Anchorage Sen. Lesil McGuire, who previously held the influential position of rules chair, was absent from the media availability.

The last Senate majority included two Democrats whose districts covered areas off the road system. Dennis Egan of Juneau and Donny Olson of Golovin were not invited to Wednesday’s organization meeting.

“We are having discussions the minority, but whether or not they want to join us or we want them to join us has not been resolved yet,” says Meyer.

With the election just a day behind them, Meyer says the caucus is still working out its legislative priorities. But the state’s gloomy revenue outlook is an issue the organization plans to address.

“We all know what oil prices are doing and we know that what we budgeted for and we know we’re going to have a deficit,” says Meyer. “And so we’re focused on budget sustainability and how we can make gradual reductions in our budget while at the same time keep the economy strong and keep jobs and keep people employed.”

Legislators may also have to deal with the question of marijuana legalization — whether they want to or not — thanks to the passage of Ballot Measure 2. Rules Chair Charlie Huggins says he was perplexed that the initiative passed and that Alaska could see some legislative “speed bumps” but would not elaborate further.

The Senate Republicans also demurred on the question of Medicaid expansion. While the governor’s race is too close to call, unaffiliated candidate Bill Walker holds a narrow lead, and he has said that his first act as governor would be to accept the federal expansion for 40,000 Alaskans.

Senate President Kevin Meyer says it’s too early to say what the Legislature’s role will be with Medicaid. He says the caucus is generally willing to work with Walker if he wins election.

“You know, it doesn’t matter to us who the governor is,” says Meyer. “We’re going to work together with the executive branch, and we’re going to do what’s best for the state of Alaska.”

The Republican House Majority plans to hold its organization meeting on Thursday.

Senate Majority Leadership Positions
President: Sen. Kevin Meyer (R-Anchorage)
Majority Leader: Sen. John Coghill (R-North Pole)
Rules Chair: Sen. Charlie Huggins (R-Wasilla)
Finance Co-Chair- Sen. Pete Kelly (R-Fairbanks)
Finance Co-Chair – Sen. Anna Fairclough (R-Eagle River/East Anchorage)
Resources Chair – Sen. Cathy Giessel (R-Anchorage)
Community and Regional Affairs Chair – Sen. Click Bishop (R-Fairbanks)
Education Chair – Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla)
Judiciary Chair – Sen. Lesil McGuire (R-Anchorage)
Health and Social Services Chair – Sen. Bert Stedman (R-Sitka)
State Affairs Chair – Sen. Bill Stoltze (R-Chugiak)
Transportation Chair – Sen. Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna)
Labor and Commerce Chair – Sen. Mia Costello (R-Anchorage)
Legislative Council Chair – Sen. Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak)

Categories: Alaska News

Sullivan Leads Begich by 8,000 votes

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-11-05 16:59

Sullivan at Election Central. Photo by Ashley Snyder / APRN.

Alaska appears to have followed the national trend and elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate. But Democratic Sen. Mark Begich isn’t conceding and it’s likely the race won’t be decided until next week.

Download Audio

Republican Dan Sullivan was ahead by almost 4 percentage points at the end of election night. He thanked his volunteers and told them he wasn’t making a victory speech.

“Door Knocking! Phone Calls! You guys made it happen!” Sullivan said, to loud cheers.

Begich went home before midnight, saying he’s hopeful his massive outreach in rural Alaska will pay off. Jim Lottsfeldt ran a $10 million superPAC supporting Begich. He maintains the uncounted early and absentee votes will break their way.

“Oh it’s not over,” Lottsfeldt said, echoing the senator’s words to supporters from a few minutes before. “Begich has never had a result that was good for him on election night. It always goes down to the wire. I think in about 10 days when all the votes are counted, we’ll see. “

All precincts had reported by early this morning. More than 22,000 ballots remain uncounted, and more are arriving in the mail. But with Sullivan  ahead by more than 8,000 votes,  the uncounted ballots would have to favor Begich by a huge margin if he’s to stay in office.

In a written statement before all the precincts reported, the Begich campaign said the Democrat would make a statement about the race after all the villages had reported “and when the number of outstanding absentee and questioned ballots is clear.”

Categories: Alaska News

Knowns and Unknowns Among Uncounted Ballots

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-11-05 16:58

Gail Fenumiai, director of the Division of Elections

With a few candidates up and down the ticket unsure whether they won or lost, a lot of Alaskans are looking to the thousands of ballots that remain uncounted.

Download Audio

Division of Elections chief Gail Fenumiai says it’s too early to say exactly how many ballots are outstanding.

“Right now we have, in the offices within the state, 23,608 absentee and early votes that are eligible to be counted,” said at mid-day today.

They are from voters who live throughout the state, not in any particular district.

“The majority of them are from non-rural areas of the state, meaning Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, the Mat-Su area,” she said.

Those are, if you will, the known unknowns. But there are thousands of other kinds of ballots to be added to the total. It’s not clear how many are in these other categories.

For starters, Fenumiai is expecting thousands of questioned ballots. Four years ago there

Voting equipment awaits storage at Division of Elections Anchorage office.

were 13,000, so that’s her ballpark figure. Also, almost 14,000 absentee ballots were sent to voters but not yet returned. Some of those are still arriving by mail. Plus, this year Alaska had more than 200 absentee in-person voting locations across the state.

“And those ballots, we still have some of those who will still be coming back in that were probably voted within the last five to six days,” she said.

She won’t have a count of those until they actually arrive, but she says those are likely number in the thousands, too.

The next count will take place Nov. 11, and again on the 14th through the 19, as needed.  Once the elections are certified, toward the end of the month, anyone can ask for a recount, which is free only if the results are within 10 votes, or 0.5 percent.

Fenumiai says a few precincts had trouble getting the ballots into the voting machines this year, particularly early in the day.

“The ballots were just longer. The Accuvote units just were having trouble just sucking them through, you know the roller heads on them to feed them through,” she said. “The ones that couldn’t go through went into the emergency compartment and then were fed through the unit at the end of the night before they submitted their results.”

Any that didn’t get into the machines Tuesday night are sent to Juneau so that the state review board can consider them, she said.

Despite all the money and advertising in this election, Fenumiai says turnout appears to be lower than in the three previous mid-terms. It was 44 percent by election night, but that number will rise as more ballots come in.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaskan Voters Opt To Legalize Marijuana

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-11-05 16:57

Voters approved ballot measure two last night. The measure makes legal the production, sale and use of marijuana for Alaskans over 21 years old. Washington DC and Oregon approved similar measures.

Download Audio

Today, supporters laid out the plan for how the initiative will move forward. 90 days after the vote results are certified, the initiative becomes law and marijuana use will no longer be a crime. A nine month rule making process follows.

Campaign spokesman Taylor Bickford says this nine-month process will enable Alaskans on both sides of the legalization campaign an opportunity to weigh in on how the law should be implemented. Bickford says that will help Alaska avoid making mistakes that other states, like Washington, may have made when they wrote rules on the front end of their legalization push.

“We’ll have more flexibility in coming in to those decisions. Which I think ultimately is good because we’ll have the ability to learn from what’s happening in those states over the course of the next year as opposed to if we had all of that written in at the beginning of the initiative, there would have been less flexibility, you would have been stuck with some of those decisions,” Bickford said. ”It also gives Alaskans from various stakeholder groups, the opportunity to engage in the process and to have a role in the process and I think that’s going to be incredibly important.”

Bruce Schulte with the Coalition for Responsible Cannabis Legislation said CRCL is a group of Alaskan business leaders from across Alaska who see the new law as the start of a legitimate industry.

“Just as the name would imply, the goal really is to work with the legislature and their control board and all of the other various groups on the rule making process, so at the end of the rule making period, we’ve got a set of rules that make sense, that address all the concerns that folks have and allow a legitimate marijuana industry to thrive in the state,” Schulte said.

Bickford says if the state does not set it’s own regulations within the nine-month window, regulatory authority would then be transferred to municipalities to implement the measure as they see fit.

Categories: Alaska News

Faced With Min. Wage Hike, Seafood Plants See Room to Cut

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-11-05 16:56

Alaska’s minimum wage initiative flew mostly under the radar this fall, overshadowed by high-profile Congressional races. But ballot measure three proposes a big change to state’s minimum wage structure — increasing it by two dollars over the next two years, to $9.75 an hour. After that, it would be adjusted for inflation.

Download Audio

In Unalaska, at least 83 percent of voters supported that plan. The seafood industry — which is the biggest source of minimum wage jobs in Unalaska — didn’t expect anything less.

Pollock processors at UniSea’s G2 plant in Unalaska. (Lauren Rosenthal/KUCB)

Leading up to the election, they were already considering ways to scale back their workforce.

“We’ll have people who, as they retire out of the industry, we just won’t replace them,” says Alyeska Seafoods plant manager Don Goodfellow. “Machinery will take over a lot of those jobs.”

Eventually, Goodfellow thinks up to 30 percent of Unalaska’s processing workers could be automated. He says the seafood business is well overdue to make that kind of change.

“I think we’ve already started and it’s not as a response to that bill, specifically,” he says. “It’s the need to be more efficient about how we do things.”

At UniSea, the potential wage hike makes that need more urgent. Chris Plaisance is a human resources director for the company. If they had to implement the pay increases laid out in Tuesday’s ballot initiative, it could cost up to $3.5 million.

“Our margins are so thin that we need to make improvements or we’re gonna have a problem,” Plaisance says.

UniSea would need to trim its workforce. Instead of layoffs, Plaisance says they would leave entry-level jobs empty at the end of each season. That leaves room to keep employees who’ve been with the company the longest.

Levell Curtis Standifer, Jr. has been working for the company almost year-round since 2010. He’s originally from Washington State.

“Down in the Lower 48, the economy is real bad,” he says. “And I thank God for the state of Alaska, and how they create fishing jobs.”

Standifer and many of his coworkers start out earning minimum wage. But they have ample opportunities to work overtime. Plus they receive free room, board, and transportation from UniSea.

Still, Standifer thinks his employer can afford to pay a little more.

“The fishing companies, they’re doing quite well off our labor,” he says. “That’s the bottom line.”

Judging by preliminary tally, he wasn’t the only one that felt that way. And he certainly wasn’t the only UniSea employee at the polls. Once an hour, the processing plant trucked in employees to cast their votes — and possibly, set their pay.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: November 5, 2014

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-11-05 16:55

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

Gubernatorial Race Still Too Close To Call

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN

The gubernatorial race is still too close to call. Republican incumbent Sean Parnell is trailing by three thousand votes.

Sullivan Maintains Lead Over Begich In Race For U.S. Senate

Liz Ruskin, APRN

Democratic Sen. Mark Begich isn’t conceding and it’s likely the race won’t

be decided until next week. More than 22,000 ballots remain uncounted, and more are arriving in the mail. But with Sullivan ahead by more than 8,000 votes, the uncounted ballots would have to favor Begich by a huge margin if he’s to stay in office.

Certain Races Awaiting Absentee Ballots

Liz Ruskin, APRN

With a few candidates up and down the ballot unsure whether they won or lost, a lot of Alaskans are looking to the thousands of ballots that remain uncounted.

State Sen. Kevin Meyer Named New Majority President

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN

The Republican Senate Majority has named a new president. Sen. Kevin Meyer of Anchorage will be taking the reins from Wasilla’s Charlie Huggins. Huggins will take the position of rules chair.

Alaskan Voters Opt To Legalize Marijuana

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Voters approved ballot measure two last night. The measure makes legal the production, sale and use of marijuana for Alaskans over 21 years old. Washington DC and Oregon approved similar measures.

Faced With Min. Wage Hike, Seafood Plants See Room to Cut

Annie Ropeik, KUCB – Unalaska

A plan to raise Alaska’s minimum wage saw widespread support during Tuesday’s election. In Unalaska, at least 83 percent of voters approved the measure. And the seafood industry – which is the town’s biggest source of minimum wage jobs — wasn’t expect anything different. They’re factoring in the wage hike as they look cut costs.

Anchorage Voters Overturn AO-37, Support Most Incumbents

Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

Anchorage voters repealed AO-37, the controversial labor law, during Tuesday’s election. They returned many incumbents and also sent some new Republicans to the state legislature as well.

House 36 Race Remains Too Close To Call

Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan

The House District 36 race remains too close to call after Tuesday’s general election. With all 10 precincts reporting to the Alaska Division of Elections, Dan Ortiz, who is not affiliated with any party, has a 19-vote lead. He holds 50.03 percent of the vote, compared to 49.66 percent for Republican Chere Klein.

NTSB: Pilot Decisions Caused Alaska Copter Crash

The Associated Press

The National Transportation Safety Board says a fatal Alaska State Troopers helicopter crash was caused by the pilot’s decision to fly into bad weather and the agency’s inadequate safety management.

Massive Typhoon Bears Down on Aleutian Islands

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

An Alaska-sized storm could bring high winds and destructive waves to the Aleutian Islands this weekend.

Hunter Injured In Bear Mauling On Sally Island

Jay Barrett, KMXT – Kodiak

A 65-year-old deer hunter was injured and needed a medevac after he was attacked by a sow bear on an island near Kodiak yesterday afternoon. Sitka resident Michael Snowden suffered injuries to his legs. His hunting partner, Jeff Ostrin age 38, of Camas, Washington, was not injured.

Fairbanks Ski Area Still Seeking Buyer

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

The alpine ski area, Skiland, north of Fairbanks, made news last month when a mineral exploration project threatened to take over some of its trails.  That’s been ironed out, but Skiland is still looking for a buyer.

Categories: Alaska News

Anchorage Voters Repeal AO-37, Return Many Incumbents

APRN Alaska News - Wed, 2014-11-05 16:55

No on 1 supporters were abundant at Election Central on Tuesday night. Photo by Ashley Snyder / APRN.

Anchorage voters repealed AO-37, the controversial labor law, during Tuesday’s election. They returned many incumbents and also sent some new Republicans to the state legislature as well.

Download Audio

Anchorage’s election sported its own special ballot measure on Tuesday – should the municipality keep AO-37, the controversial labor law created by Mayor Dan Sullivan’s administration in 2013. After heavy campaigning by city labor unions against the ordinance, the community voted to repeal it. The vote no campaign won by nearly 7,000 votes, or 54 to 46 percent.

Jillanne Inglis is vice president of the Municipal Employees Association and a spokesperson for the No on One campaign. She says the repeal will help employee morale and recruitment.

Gabrielle LeDoux. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage_

“When you have an ordinance like this and a cloud over the city like that and people are looking for employment, they look at what’s going on at the city at the time,” Inglis said. “So they may have been looking elsewhere for employment.”

Anchorage voters reelected all House incumbents who were up for re-election. The tightest of those races was between Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux and Rt. Colonel Laurie Hummel. LeDoux led at the end of the night with fewer than 200 votes.

Two House races in west Anchorage had no incumbents. Republicans retained their hold on Mia Costello’s former seat in House District 22 in Sand Lake. Republican Liz Vazquez beat Democrat Marty McGee by nearly 1,000 votes. She says she took a localized approach to get her name out there.

Laurie Hummel. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

“Concentrate on my people, concentrate on my district, put up those signs so there will be lots of name recognition,” Vazquez said. “But with that, I would knock on people’s doors and they would say, ‘Oh, Liz,’ you know it’s like they kind of recognize my name.”

The race for House District 21 is still too close to call. Republican Anand Dubey led for most of the evening, but when all of the precincts reported, Democrat Matt Claman was ahead by 35 votes. Absentee, question, and early voting ballots could change the outcome.

Republicans dominated the contested state Senate seats in the city. Republican incumbent Kevin Meyer overwhelmingly beat political newcomer Felix Rivera for Senate seat M.

Senate K in West Anchorage was expected to be a tight race between Republican and former-representative Mia Costello and Democrat Clare Ross. But by the end of the night, Costello led 57 to 43 percent. Don McKenzie lives in the district and said it was a tough choice between two strong candidates.

Mia Costello (R) – Senate District K. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

“But, I know Clare, and she’s done a great job too. I think she would make an excellent representative at some spot,” McKenzie said. “It’s just that she had a tough race running against the incumbent, and I think she showed well.”

Education was a key issue in Costello’s campaign and she says she’ll focus on many ways to improve the state’s education system while in the Senate.

“I also think that looking at the Department of Education to find out how they can serve teachers better,” Costello said. I would like to survey teachers and ask them what they want, or even students and ask students, ‘What kind of a school do you want to be in? What are the things that you are motivated by?’”

Cathy Giessel is a candidate for Senate District N. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

Two experienced politicians vied for Senate District N. Democrat and former representative Harry Crawford lost to incumbent Senator Cathy Giessel by 10 percent of the vote. Crawford says he’s disappointed, but it doesn’t mean he’s out of politics.

“I like to watch politics and call people on it when they’re not doing the right thing,” Crawford said. “So, I will be watching and, like I said, holding Cathy Giessel accountable for her votes.”

Giessel says she’ll continue to work for her community, and…

“I think I’m like all the rest of the citizens in this state – they’re glad it’s over,” Giessel said. “Enough already!”

Final results for all of the races won’t be released until all of the more than 22,000 question, early, and absentee ballots are counted.

Categories: Alaska News

Pages