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Get Alaska statewide news from the stations of the Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN). With a central news room in Anchorage and contributing reporters spread across the state, we capture news in the Voices of Alaska and share it with the world. Tune in to your local APRN station in Alaska, visit us online at APRN.ORG or subscribe to the Alaska News podcast right here. These are individual news stories, most of which appear in Alaska News Nightly (available as a separate podcast).
Updated: 16 min 33 sec ago

AFN Asks Walker to Change Position on Adoptions

Tue, 2015-03-10 18:26

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The Alaska Federation of Natives, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and a dozen regional Native non-profits are asking Governor Bill Walker to change his position in a case involving the adoption of Alaska Native children. They say the state’s position in the case Tununuk v. the state of Alaska erects barriers between tribal children and tribal homes.

The state has said it’s only arguing for compliance with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Under the terms of the Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA, Alaska Native children must be placed for adoption with their relatives or tribal members unless it’s clearly in the child’s interests to do otherwise.

An Alaska Supreme Court ruling last December allowed the non-Native Smith family to adopt “Baby Dawn” even though her Native grandmother wanted to adopt her.

The state successfully argued the grandmother failed to file a required petition to adopt.

Lloyd Miller is a partner in the law firm Sonosky, Chambers, Sachse, Miller and Munson, which is representing the village of Tununuk. He says the state is misinterpreting the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling.

Miller said that ruling requires formal action, a standard he says the grandmother met when she told the state’s Office of Children Services and testified in court that she wanted to adopt her grandchild.

The village of Tununuk requested a rehearing in the cast. Briefs to the Alaska Supreme Court on that request are due Monday.

Categories: Alaska News

Buser Retakes Iditarod Lead, First to Tanana; Neff, Zirkle Not Far Behind

Tue, 2015-03-10 18:23

Martin Buser signs copies of his book prior to the ceremonial start in Anchorage on Saturday. (Photo By Patrick Yack – Alaska Public Media)

 

 

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Martin Buser regained the early lead in this year’s Iditarod. He was the first to Tanana Tuesday afternoon. He was followed by Hugh Neff and Aliy Zirkle, both had made it to Tanana by early evening. Aaron Burmeister was closing in on Tanana behind the leaders.

Iditarod dog teams had been filing in and out of Manley since the middle of Monday night.  Mushers were starting to search for the perfect balance between racing and resting as they made their way down the Iditarod trail.

Categories: Alaska News

House Finance Reduces Cuts to Pub Broadcasting, University System

Tue, 2015-03-10 18:22

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The House Finance Committee has approved restoring much of a proposed $1.7 million cut to public broadcasting and reducing by about $10 million a cut to the University of Alaska system. The committee is considering amendments to the operating budget, with a goal of getting a bill to the House floor this week. Whatever passes the House would go to the Senate.

Categories: Alaska News

Allen Permanently Takes Lead at Sitka Hospital

Tue, 2015-03-10 18:21

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After six weeks on the job, Rob Allen – the interim CEO of Sitka Community Hospital – has agreed to take on the position permanently. He announced his decision during the hospital board’s last meeting in February and expects to negotiate for a contract soon.

Categories: Alaska News

Fast Ferry Engine Damage Could Affect Service

Tue, 2015-03-10 18:20

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One of the Alaska Marine Highway’s new ferry engines is down. That could affect service in Southeast and Prince William Sound.

Department of Transportation spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says a gear tooth broke Saturday on one of four engines powering the fast ferry Fairweather. Sunday’s sailing was cancelled.

The ship, which is temporarily based in Cordova, sails to Whittier and Valdez, though not always on the same day.

Woodrow says officials hope to resume operations by Thursday, the next scheduled departure.

“We are requesting approval from the Coast Guard to operate the Fairweather on three engines, which we’ve done in the past,” he says. “If this is approved, the Fairweather will continue to service Prince William Sound until it’s scheduled to leave. At that time, either the Aurora or the Chenega or both ferries will move into Prince William Sound and continue ferry service for those communities.”

He says the engine is under warranty and the state will not have to pay for repairs.

A plaque onboard the Fairweather commemorates its construction. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)
The Fairweather started having engine trouble within a few years of its 2004 launch. The state sued and was eventually given four new engines for each of its two fast ferries, plus two spares, also called “swing” engines.

The Fairweather’s power plant was replacedabout a year ago at a Washington state shipyard. It’s been filling in this winter for the fast ferry Chenega, which is getting its own.

“Fixing this engine will be as simple as picking up one of our swing engines in Ketchikan on our way to Seattle and then replacing the engine and leaving the old engine or the damaged engine to be repaired,” Woodrow says.

The Fairweather will return to its Juneau base in May and resume sailing to Sitka and Angoon.

But the travel and engine-replacement time could delay the start of service, unless another vessel can fill in and give it an early start south.

Meanwhile, the ferry Aurora had to end a Juneau-to-Gustavus sailing Monday because of bad weather. No replacement sailing is planned.

Categories: Alaska News

YK Health Corp Launches New Health Campaign

Tue, 2015-03-10 18:19

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Calricaraq is an ancient Yup’ik holistic way to live a long, healthy, and balanced life. The Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation’s Preventative Services Department in Bethel is bringing the system back, that’s meant to guide the “real people” from conception to adulthood. They hope it will help curb alarming suicide rates and tough social issues facing Yup’ik people today.

Categories: Alaska News

Transgender Support Group Forms in Juneau

Tue, 2015-03-10 18:17

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The transgender community is finding a foothold in the capital city. A support and social group for transgender and gender questioning people had its first meeting in February with about 12 participants. It follows a trend happening elsewhere in the state.

Zeif Parish, 30, was born a female, but for as long as he can remember, he’s identified as masculine. He says he grew up in Juneau viewed as an unusually masculine girl.

“Half the people I met for my entire life until the last couple years would meet me and be like, ‘What’s her problem?’ and ‘What’s up with her? She’s weird.’ And it wasn’t my choice and I doubtless experienced more social rejection and stigma and negativity just based on that,” Parish says.

He started identifying as transgender when he was 20 and physically transitioned two years ago when he began taking testosterone. Parish says he’s had a supportive family, a strong Bahá’í faith and found happiness in his life, but he never had a community of gender variant friends.

Parish hopes a monthly support and social group in Juneau may change that. He’s one of the group’s organizers.

“I want to reach people who feel alone in their differentness whether it’s like totally a secret thing in their heart or if they express it, but still don’t like feeling alone,” Parish says.

Drew Phoenix, who’s also transgender, says having a support group is incredibly important. He’s the executive director of Identity Inc, a statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organization based in Anchorage. Phoenix says transgender people or people questioning their gender are an at-risk population.

“Many people in Alaska know of someone who is gay or lesbian or bisexual. They’re not as familiar with people who are gender nonconforming or transgender. So transgender people are in a much higher risk of physical violence and discrimination than the broader LGBT population,” Phoenix says.

In Anchorage, the Veterans Affairs center runs a weekly transgender group. Identity organizes three – two for adults and one for teenagers. The first one started January of last year. Phoenix says Identity will offer additional groups in April.

“More and more I’m getting calls from parents of children, like first graders, third graders, fourth graders, who the children need a play group to be part of with other gender questioning kids. And then the parents need the support of other parents,” Phoenix says.

Phoenix says the climate around being transgender is slowly shifting, encouraging people to come out. TIME Magazine featured transgender actress Laverne Cox from “Orange is the New Black” on its cover last June. Identity recently received a $10,000 grant from the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority to allow Alaskans in remote areas to videoconference in to transgender support groups. Phoenix says many organizations and businesses in Anchorage have reached out for LGBT cultural competency training.

Transgender or gender questioning individuals can also meet up prior to SEAGLA’s weekly Friday social at The Imperial Bar at 5:15.

But he says society still has a long way to go.

“I’m so aware of the discrimination that still occurs both in places of employment, public accommodations, like use of locker rooms and restrooms. I’m concerned about policies not being in place in local schools for young people who are transitioning,” Phoenix says.

Lauren Tibbitts is a board member and outreach coordinator of SEAGLA, the Southeast LGBTQ alliance group based in Juneau. She’s been helping Juneau’s transgender group get off the ground. Tibbitts is also part of it and identifies as gender non-binary, which means she doesn’t consider herself woman or man. You don’t have to be transgender to be part of the group, she says.

“It is welcoming anyone who considers themselves outside of gender norms, whether you consider yourself or identify as gender nonconforming, non-binary, or transgender or agender – anyone who doesn’t strictly identify with heteronormativity when it comes to gender,” Tibbitts says.
The group also welcomes allies of the transgender community and people who want more information.

Editor’s Note: The story has been updated to correct the number of participants at the first meeting – there were about 12, not 20. 

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 10, 2015

Tue, 2015-03-10 18:15

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.

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Sen. Sullivan: Letter To Tehran To ‘Enlighten Iranian Leadership’

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington
U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan is among 47 Republican senators who signed a letter to Iran’s leadership Monday. The letter concerns President Obama’s negotiations for a deal to halt Iran’s nuclear program without involving Congress. The senators warn Iran that the next president could reverse any executive deal between leaders “with the stroke of a pen.”

AFN Asks Walker to Change Position on Adoptions

Joaqlin Estus, KNBA – Anchorage
The Alaska Federation of Natives, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, and a dozen regional Native non-profits are asking Governor Bill Walker to change his position in a case involving the adoption of Alaska Native children. They say the state’s position in the case Tununuk v. the state of Alaska erects barriers between tribal children and tribal homes.

House Finance Reduces Cuts to Pub Broadcasting, University System

The Associated Press
The House Finance Committee has approved restoring much of a proposed $1.7 million cut to public broadcasting and reducing by about $10 million a cut to the University of Alaska system. The committee is considering amendments to the operating budget, with a goal of getting a bill to the House floor this week. Whatever passes the House would go to the Senate.

Fairbanks Looking for Cheaper Fuel Options

Dan Bross, KUAC-Fairbanks
Lower oil prices have eased the high cost of energy in Fairbanks. But concern they won’t last, has the local electric utility looking at other fuel options.

Buser Retakes Iditarod Lead, First to Tanana

Emily Schwing, APRN Contributor
Martin Buser maintained the early lead in this year’s Iditarod. He was the first to Tanana Tuesday afternoon. He was followed by Hugh Neff and Aaron Burmeister. Aliy Zirkle led the field of women and was behind Burmeister.

Iditarod dog teams had been filing in and out of Manley since the middle of Monday night.  Mushers were starting to search for the perfect balance between racing and resting as they made their way down the Iditarod trail.

Allen Permanently Takes Sitka Hospital CEO Job

Emily Kwong, KCAW-Sitka
After six weeks on the job, Rob Allen – the interim CEO of Sitka Community Hospital – has agreed to take on the position permanently. He announced his decision during the hospital board’s last meeting in February and expects to negotiate for a contract soon.

Fast Ferry Engine Damage Could Affect Service

Ed Schoenfeld, Coast Alaska – Juneau
One of the Alaska Marine Highway’s new ferry engines is down. That could affect service in Southeast and Prince William Sound. Spokesman Jeremy Woodrow says a gear tooth broke Saturday on one of four engines powering the fast ferry Fairweather. Sunday’s sailing was canceled.

YK Health Corp Launches New Health Campaign

Sophie Evan, KYUK – Bethel
Calricaraq is an ancient Yup’ik holistic way to live a long, healthy, and balanced life. The Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation’s Preventative Services Department in Bethel is bringing the system back, that’s meant to guide the “real people” from conception to adulthood. They hope it will help curb alarming suicide rates and tough social issues facing Yup’ik people today.

Transgender Group Forms in Juneau

Lisa Phu, KTOO-Juneau
The transgender community is finding a foothold in the capital city. A support and social group for transgender and gender-questioning people had its first meeting last month with about 20 participants. It follows a trend happening elsewhere in the state.

 

Categories: Alaska News

Buser Regains Iditarod Lead En Route To Tanana

Tue, 2015-03-10 12:26

Martin Buser. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

After briefly ceding the race lead heading into Manley Hot Springs, Martin Buser has jumped back to the front of the pack, leading the way along the trail to Tanana.

Buser trailed Nicolas Petit into Manley Hot Springs by just over an hour early this morning.

Hugh Neff, Aaron Burmeister, Jessie Royer and Aliy Zirkle round out the top-5.

Once racers hit Tanana, they will have a 119-mile run to Ruby — the longest leg of the race.

Categories: Alaska News

Sen. Dan Sullivan Signs On Letter To Iranian Leadership

Tue, 2015-03-10 09:08

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan is among 47 Republican senators who signed a letter to Iran’s leadership Monday. The letter is intended to scuttle President Obama’s negotiations for a deal to halt Iran’s nuclear program. It warns Iran that the next president could reverse any deal that’s not approved by Congress.

Speaking to Greta Van Susteren on Fox News, Sullivan answered her criticism that the letter looks bad, like an end-run around the president to the enemy.

Sen. Sullivan: “Well it’s not end-running to the Iranians. What’s going on here is that you’ve seen – the president obviously is telling the Iranians and John Kerry is telling the Iranians that Congress doesn’t need to be involved.

Greta Van Susteren: “And I think he’s wrong.”

Sen. Sullivan: “And I think he’s wrong, too. And what we were doing is we were trying to enlighten the Iranian leadership on what happens if Congress is not involved.”

The White House says the letter is an attempt to push the U.S. into another military conflict. Alaska’s senior senator, Lisa Murkowski, is one of seven Republicans in the Senate who did not sign the letter.

They include Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker. He says he’s focused instead on gathering a veto-proof majority for a bill ensuring Congress has final say on an Iran deal.

Categories: Alaska News

Iditarod Leaders Pull Into Manley Hot Springs

Tue, 2015-03-10 08:15

Girdwood’s Nicolas Petit pulled into Manley Hot Springs just after 3 a.m. Tuesday, with Martin Buser, Hugh Neff, DeeDee Jonrowe and Aaron Burmeister less than two hours behind.

The competition in this year’s Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race can only be described as stiff. There are six returning champions and a handful of other mushers vying for a top-10 finish. But, mushers are all feeling a little new to the race as they travel down an unfamiliar, rerouted trail.

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Last month, Brent Sass won the 1,000 mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race. This month, he says his recent win adds a little pressure to his Iditarod run.

Nicolas Petit. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)

“And this new route really plays into the favor of guys who like to run long distances and stay out of checkpoints,” Sass said. “There’s only five checkpoints in the first 500 miles, but there’s usually 12 in the first 500 miles.”

This year, there are three runs in the first half of the race that are longer than the longest run on the original southern route – the route that has been diverted this year due to poor trail conditions.

But long runs don’t faze former champion Mitch Seavey.

“It’s only as long as you make it,” he said.

Seavey says he’s also found a silver lining to this year’s reroute.

“Well, it saved us a lot of dog food because when you send stuff to all those places and then drive right by it and leave it behind, you just waste a lot,” he said. “So in this case, we’ll utilize what we have at the checkpoints and use those checkpoints to our advantage, but the dogs are still only trained for certain things and the more we adapt our race plan to what the dogs are trained for, the better our result’s going to be.”

Dogs take a rest in Nenana. (Photo by Emily Schwing)

The older Seavey has some simple advice for the rest of his competition: “Just mush!” he says.

“That’s become our mantra,” Seavey said. “There’s so many things you can worry about, you can analyze this and that and the other thing but at the end of the day, just mush!”

It’s advice he likely gave to his son, and defending champion, Dallas. But recently, the younger Seavey was doing a little more than just mushing. Last week, he travelled by snow machine between Huslia, Koyukuk and Galena to find out what the new trail has in store.

“What’s the trail like? What does it look like what’s the country like? Is there going to be mountains how does it react to snow, wind, cold?” Dallas said. “You know if you see big open swamps, it’s maybe more likely to drift. If there’s thick forest, it’s more likely to get packed out and stay there.”

“There’s certain things you see, so information is very valuable, it helps it make good decision as a dog drover or a coach, right?”

It’s a trip he’s not keen on publicizing.

Dallas: “The information I may or may not have gotten has been very valuable.”
Emily: “Why the secrecy?”
Dallas: “I don’t want to be the guy who knows, because then you’re the guys that everybody asks.”

What he knows for sure is who he’ll be racing against. The competition has become all too familiar. He’ll keep an eye out for his father, Aliy Zirkle and, he suspects, Jeff King.

“Certainly in the last several years, Jeff’s had some ups and downs, but there hasn’t been a single race that we haven’t counted him out,” Dallas said. “The last three or four years now, at some point he was a seriously threat to win the race, so to count Jeff out because he scratched, it doesn’t matter, he’s a good dog driver and you’ve got to take him seriously.”

Mitch Seavey gets ready to take off from Fairbanks. (Photo by Emily Schwing)

“If anybody is not watching me, they’re not doing their homework,” Jeff King said.

King, a four-time Iditarod champion, says despite a few early long runs and a trail that predominantly follows a flat river for the first half of the race, what he and the rest of his competitors really have going for them is that everyone is new to the rerouted trail.

“Most of us didn’t stop at all the checkpoints before and now they are long runs, but there’s also no mountains and it’s river and depending on the weather, my team and many others can do a 100 mile run pretty easily,” King said.

Teams are facing a stiff, cold wind as they make their way down both the Chena and Tanana Rivers toward Manley. Fresh snow is likely to drift and with night time temperatures forecast below zero, wind chill will also be factor.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: March 9, 2015

Mon, 2015-03-09 18:25

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

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Officer & Senator: Sullivan Cedes Command But Says Roles Jibe

Liz Ruskin, APRN – Washington, DC
Alaska’s Dan Sullivan is one of only two U.S. Senators who are current military reservists. His military service as a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Reserves was one of his strongest selling points as a Senate candidate. But now that he’s a senator, the Marines have removed him from his assignment as a commander, saying it’s incompatible with congressional office.

Senate Republicans Preview Medicaid Reform Bill

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage
Senator Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, previewed a bill he’s planning to introduce this week to reform the current Medicaid system. At a press conference this morning, he says the bill won’t include a provision to expand Medicaid. A group of Anchorage  religious leaders and lay people are in Juneau to try to convince him and other skeptical lawmakers to change their minds on the issue.

Buser Takes Early Lead in Iditarod

Emily Schwing, APRN Contributor– Fairbanks
Past Iditarod champion Martin Buser took an early lead in this year’s Iditarod. He was the first to and out of Nenana Monday afternoon. He was being trailed by rookie Thomas Waerner, and veterans DeeDee Jonrowe and Aliy Zirkle. But even before the race, mushers confronted some unexpected challenges because they had to travel a day from Anchorage to Fairbanks where the race began this year.

Swanson’s Store Closing in Bethel

Ben Matheson, KYUK – Bethel
OMNI enterprises is shutting down their large Swanson’s Grocery store in Bethel. The store occupies a brand-new building and is the only competitor for the Alaska Commercial store there. As they liquidate their inventory with a half-off sale, customers are swarming the store to take advantage of sales. Many also lament the loss to the community.

Petersburg Seafood Processor Testing Shrimp Market

Angela Denning, KFSK – Petersburg
One of Petersburg’s seafood processors is trying to make a go at shrimp. Tonka Seafoods is starting small to see if the market is there for their limited operation. They should have their answer in a few weeks.

Sikuliaq Commissioned, Ready to Begin Research Trips

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks
The Research Vessel Sikuliaq was officially commissioned Saturday in a ceremony at the boat’s home port in Seward. The commissioning marked the end of decades of efforts to design and build it; and the beginning of its mission to research the Earth’s rapidly changing and increasingly important polar regions.

Voices For Homeless Seeks Solutions To Region-Wide Problem

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage
Treating people who experience homelessness like people could help solve the problem. That was one of the solutions discussed by a group of community members who met on Saturday for the Northern Voices on Homelessness conference in Anchorage.

Categories: Alaska News

Swanson’s Store Closing in Bethel

Mon, 2015-03-09 18:05

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OMNI enterprises is shutting down their large Swanson’s Grocery store in Bethel. The store occupies a brand-new building and is the only competitor for the Alaska Commercial store there. As they liquidate their inventory with a half-off sale, customers are swarming the store to take advantage of sales. Many also lament the loss to the community.

Categories: Alaska News

Petersburg Seafood Processor Testing Shrimp Market

Mon, 2015-03-09 18:03

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One of Petersburg’s seafood processors is trying to make a go at shrimp. Tonka Seafoods is starting small to see if the market is there for their limited operation. They should have their answer in a few weeks.

Categories: Alaska News

Sikuliaq Commissioned, Ready to Begin Research

Mon, 2015-03-09 18:02

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The Research Vessel Sikuliaq was officially commissioned Saturday in a ceremony at the boat’s home port in Seward. The commissioning marked the end of decades of efforts to design and build it; and the beginning of its mission to research the Earth’s rapidly changing and increasingly important polar regions.

Categories: Alaska News

Senate Republicans Preview Medicaid Reform Bill

Mon, 2015-03-09 16:34

Senator Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, previewed a bill he is planning to introduce this week to reform the current Medicaid system.  He said the bill won’t include a provision to expand Medicaid, he said during a press conference this morning. A group of Anchorage religious leaders and lay people are in Juneau to try to convince him and other skeptical lawmakers to change their minds on the issue.

Senator Kelly said his Medicaid reform bill will feature Health Savings Accounts. A portion of the permanent fund dividends of Medicaid recipients would go into the accounts to pay for costs that are considered unreasonable:

“If you got to an emergency room when you shouldn’t have, then that comes out of that Health Savings Account [and] if you self-refer to a specialist; if you use brand name drugs instead of a generic when they’re available, those kinds of abuses,” he said.

The bill will also include a provision for managed care, a system for controlling health costs by managing how patients use health care services, he said. Full details won’t be available until the bill is formally introduced later this week.

One thing Kelly’s bill won’t include is Medicaid expansion. He said that may come as a surprise to the Walker Administration. Health Commissioner Valerie Davidson did not respond to requests for an interview. Her department issued a short statement saying they will comment on the bill after they have a chance to review it.

Kelly said he thinks reform should happen before expansion. “It’s a broken system,” he said. “I think everyone agrees that Medicaid is broken. I think it’s been broken for 30 years. And now to expand it and put more money into it, to bring more people into it, that’s certainly not going to help its brokenness.”

Kelly will likely encounter a large group of Anchorage residents in Juneau early this week who will try to change his mind. They are from Anchorage Faith and Action Congregations Together- or AFACT, a federation that represents 15 congregations and 10,000 congregants.

Reverend Julia Seymour expects their diverse group of 14 representatives to stand out at the capital. She says their message is pretty simple:

“We’re about honesty,” she said.  “And the reality is that Medicaid expansion is an honest need for Alaskans, and religious and faithful people support that.”

Reverend Seymour says Medicaid expansion has been a priority for AFACT for at least three years. In 2013, the group started publishing a small booklet explaining the complicated issue to congregants. AFACT decided to send representatives to Juneau this session, because it’s the first time the legislature has seriously considered the issue. Reverend Seymour is a pastor at Lutheran Church of Hope in  Anchorage.

Reverend Seymour said they will meet with as many lawmakers as possible on both sides of the aisle. “We’re hoping that we will come back from Juneau smarter about this issue,” she said. “With more knowledge about what’s going on with Juneau with the concerns of both the majority and minority caucuses and with a clear understanding of what needs to be done… to get Medicaid expansion in Alaska.”

For Reverend Seymour, approving Medicaid expansion is the moral and ethical decision to make for the state’s future:

“It’s about the health of Alaskans,” she said. “Healthy Alaskans are productive Alaskans. Productive Alaskans enjoy the gifts of creation and we have excellent gifts of creation in this state.”

At the press conference, Senator Kelly said he didn’t think Medicaid expansion is a moral imperative. But he didn’t shut the door completely on the issue either. Kelly said this draft of the bill doesn’t include expansion, but talks on whether it – or another bill- should include it will continue for the rest of the session.

“I’m one person with one bill, so I think expansion and reform are discussions that are going on with 60 people in this building, 61 including the governor. My bill just doesn’t have expansion in it.”

Kelly’s Medicaid reform bill is tentatively scheduled to have its first hearing Friday. Reverend Seymour said when their members return to Anchorage they will regroup to consider their next steps and also pray for lawmakers to do their work.

This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

Categories: Alaska News

Officer & Senator: Sullivan Cedes Command But Says Roles Jibe

Mon, 2015-03-09 15:44

Alaska’s Dan Sullivan is one of only two U.S. Senators who are current military reservists. His ongoing military service as a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Reserves was one of his strongest selling points as a Senate candidate. But now that he’s a senator, the Marines have removed him from his assignment as a commander, saying it’s incompatible with congressional office.

Sullivan’s dual role, as a senator and a military officer, is frequently seen at hearings of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Other senators and witnesses often commend Sullivan’s military service. It’s an extra credential that fortifies his denouncements of President Obama’s national security posture, which Sullivan says is too mild.

“In his state of the union,(Obama) painted what I would consider a benign, almost delusional view of the world environment,” Sullivan said at a hearing last month, “with quotes like ‘the shadow of crisis has passed …. We’re stopping ISIL’s advance …. We’re opposing Russian aggression …. We’ve halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program.’ These are quotes from the president. To the American people.”

Other Republican senators make similar arguments, but Sullivan can draw on his experience as a reservist for added detail, like when he challenges assertions, by the president and others, that America is a “war-weary” nation. Sullivan tells the Armed Services Committee the troops he knows aren’t weary.

“One of the concerns that they raise, at least with me — and these are just anecdotal but I’m throwing them out there — is they want to deploy,” Sullivan said at another hearing. “They joined the military to serve their country. They don’t want to be sitting around.”

Sullivan intends to remain a military officer and senator. But a clause in the U.S. Constitution has proved problematic. It’s called the Ineligibility Clause (or sometimes the Incompatibility Clause) and it prohibits members of Congress from holding office in the executive branch of government. Whether it applies to Reservists is an old dispute, but in December the Marines cited that bit of the Constitution in a letter telling Sullivan he couldn’t keep the commander job he’d had for 18 months. So in February Sullivan flew to the West Coast for a ceremony to relinquish command, ahead of schedule.

“It was a bittersweet change of command for me,” he says.

Sullivan was commander of 6th ANGLICO, a California-based Reserves unit, and he loved it. ANGLICO Marines deploy in small teams, often attaching to foreign allies on the battlefield to coordinate air strikes.

Professor John Harrison of the University of Virginia School of Law is an expert in the Ineligibility Clause, Article 1 section 6 of the Constitution. The relevant part reads:  ” … no person holding any office under the United State shall be a member of either house during his continuance in office.”

It’s a separation of powers thing. Harrison believes the clause bars senators from serving as any kind of officer in the Reserves, in a commander role or not.

“Well, because, as with any military officers, there’s an appointment from the president, giving that person some role in the government of the United States,” Harrison says.

Some argue the infrequency of Reserve duty doesn’t fit the definition of an executive branch office, so it’s OK to be both a Congress member and a Reservist. A report from the Congressional Research Service says the question has never been clearly resolved.

But the Constitution does clearly say Congress is the judge of the qualifications of its members, and Senate Historian Don Ritchie says Congress has been fine with simultaneous service.

“We have had a history of Reservists in the Congress,” Ritchie says. “In fact, there was a Reserve unit on Capitol Hill for many years. Barry Goldwater was the commanding officer for it.”

Lyndon Johnson was a Naval Reservist while in the U.S. House and was the first Congressman to report for active duty in World War II, two days after Pearl Harbor was bombed. Strom Thurmond was promoted to general in the Army Reserves during his long Senate career. And these days, Thurmond’s successor, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, is a JAG in the Air Force Reserves. (When Graham served as a military appeals judge, the Constitutionality of his dual service was challenged in court. A higher court said the Constitution doesn’t allow simultaneous service in Congress and the judicial branch. The opinion didn’t address his military service. Sen. Graham now instructs at the JAG school.)

In Sullivan’s case, a Marine spokeswoman cited several laws and policies along with the Constitution’s ineligibility clause to explain why Sullivan had to give up the position of 6th ANGLICO commander. Among them: rules that say Ready Reserves – those that might be called to mobilize in an emergency – can’t include people who have key federal jobs, or whose communities would endure extreme hardship if they were mobilized.

Sullivan says his understanding was the Ineligibility Clause was the main reason. The senator says he doesn’t have his own take on that part of the Constitution.

“I’ve not looked at it in depth,” he said.

But Sullivan says being a Reservist makes him more effective in the Senate, in part because he can better press to retain Alaska’s military assets.

“Having first-hand experience, being able to talk about just how incredible Alaska is for military training, I think, gives me a lot of credibility as a senator to make the case to not only my fellow senators but to senior administration officials,” he said.

Sullivan says it’s not hard to separate his two roles – one that entails criticizing President Obama, the other requiring that he obey him.

“When I put the uniform on, I’m on Marine and I don’t criticize the president of the United States when I’m a Marine,” he said. “As a U.S. senator, when I think it warrants it, I can be critical of the administration, but I’m doing it in a way that I think advances our national security.”

The senator says he’s in talks with the Marines now about what he’s next assignment will be. He’s not sure they’ll let him be a commander while he’s in the Senate, but he says he intends to carry on the tradition of serving as a senator and an officer.

Further reading:

www.heritage.org/constitution/#!/articles/1/essays/29/incompatibility-clause

http://georgetown.lawreviewnetwork.com/files/pdf/97-6/ShawFinal.PDF

http://scholarship.law.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2522&context=clr

www.armfor.uscourts.gov/newcaaf/opinions/2006Term/05-0260.pdf

http://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R40634.pdf

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Getting to Iditarod Start Line in Fairbanks Had Its Own Challenges

Mon, 2015-03-09 14:14

Teams prepare for the 2014 Iditarod start in Fairbanks Monday morning. (Photo By Emily Schwing – APRN)

Normally Iditarod dog teams restart the race from Willow the day after the ceremonial start in Anchorage, but this year, they spent an extra day travelling north for a restart in Fairbanks.  For some teams, the trip to the start line in Fairbanks Monday wasn’t without incident.

Many mushers left for Fairbanks directly from Anchorage’s Campbell airstrip following Saturday’s ceremonial start.  Curt Perano, also known as the Kiwi musher, says the combination of an unreliable dog truck and poor weather had him heading for Fairbanks immediately.

“Yeah we hit a bit of a snowstorm and then Bret Sass his real wheel, so we recovered him and helped haul his dogs up here to Fairbanks, so a six hour trip became like 10 [hours],” Perano said.  “The wheels fell off the truck literally, but yeah, we made it.”

Brent Sass won the Yukon Quest last month.  He says a hairy trip up the Park Highway hasn’t dampened his attitude.

“I feel great. I’m super stoked to get on the trail as always  it’s been kind of a bigger buildup now with the travel after the ceremonial,” he said. “The Iditarod is always a bigger build up than the Yukon Quest anyways, but yeah, I’m stoked.  I can’t wait until the say go.”

But Michelle Phillips was a little nervous.  She accidentally locked, her parka, warm clothes and other gear in her truck, along with the keys.

“Yeah, Murphy’s law.”

Phillips, from Tagish, Yukon tried to laugh it off as she waited for a locksmith arrive. It took a few minutes, but once the truck was open, Phillips was able to concentrate. Her goal is a top ten finish this year.

“You never know until you get out there and see what the race holds for you, you know. I’m just going to try to stick to my schedule, do my plan and see where that takes me,” Phillips said.

Nearby, long-time Iditarod musher Ray Redington, Jr. was scrambling.  His dog truck wouldn’t start, because it wasn’t plugged in overnight. He didn’t comment, but did find a way to make it down the trail, among 78 other teams who will race for Nome over the next two weeks.

Categories: Alaska News

“City Limits” explores development of Anchorage

Mon, 2015-03-09 13:39

New Anchorage Museum exhibit opened on Friday.

As part of Anchorage’s Centennial Celebration, the Anchorage Museum is hosting a new exhibit called “City Limits.” It’s a brief walk through Anchorage’s past that helps visitors understand how the city developed.

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Curator Carolyn Kozak walks past Dena’ina artifacts and an empty white tent into the echo-y museum gallery. Surrounding her are bits of Anchorage’s history –photos of the first railroad spike, a teal kitchen from the 1950s, the uniform of a pipeline worker.

Kozak says the exhibit tells the story of how Anchorage’s landscape and diversity came to be. When non-native settlers first arrived, they chopped down trees and built a work camp focused on the railroad. Kozak says the first Railroad Commissioner Frederick Mears soon realized that they needed to care for their environment before proceeding with development.

“The water was close to becoming contaminated so he changed his first order of business from railroad construction to surveying a new town site and getting people to higher, safer ground.”

That’s why downtown is a perfect grid, and the rest of the city is not.

The exhibit’s opening gallery during installation.

“The city limits were really only a small part of the town. Beyond that it was unregulated. They didn’t have municipal services. There wasn’t any running water. If you wanted a road out there you had to build it yourself. So it sort of explains the midtown sprawl in a way, and I think Spenard Road is a good example.”

Kozak says the exhibit is about more than the physical development of the city, it’s about the community as well. She walks into the center gallery and faces a giant map highlighting more than a hundred countries — they’re the places where Anchorage residents are originally from. Colorful graphs show how Anchorage’s diversity compares with other big cities.

“I’m hoping that this gallery will help dispel some myths that our visitors have about Anchorage and Alaska more broadly and also some permanent residents as well. I think people think of the state as being very homogeneous at times, especially visitors from the Outside, but in reality Alaska is the fifth most diverse state in the United States.”

The exhibit’s central gallery during installation.

Kozak says the exhibit also celebrates the city’s more colorful past with t-shirts from famous strip clubs and bars, a historic photo showing barrels of liquor being destroyed during Prohibition, and a cartoon of an animal chorus line the 1970s singing the old tourism theme song, “Wild! Wild about Anchorage…”

The City Limits exhibit runs through October 11.

Categories: Alaska News

Tonka Seafoods Tests Out The Shrimp Market

Mon, 2015-03-09 08:22

Seth Scrimsher stands in one of Tonka’s freezers with blocks of frozen pink shrimp. (Photo by Angela Denning, KFSK – Petersburg)

One of Petersburg’s seafood processors is trying to make a go at shrimp. Tonka Seafoods, Inc. is starting small to see if the market is there for their limited operation. As Angela Denning reports, they should have their answer in a few weeks.

Shrimping used to be a robust industry in Petersburg. The state’s first shrimp plant started here in 1916 but the market ceased being profitable and the last plant closed down ten years ago.

Still, co-owner of the local seafood processor Tonka Seafoods, Seth Scrimsher, says the product is special.

“There are very few cold water shrimp left in the world,” Scrimsher says. “It’s mostly warm water shrimp or farmed shrimp. And the cold water shrimp is known for a sweeter flavor.”

We’re talking about pink shrimps, the tiny ones found on salads.

Tonka Seafoods is a locally-owned business located just outside of downtown Petersburg and they think they may have found a new shrimp market involving Iceland and England.

“We need to see if we can freeze them fast enough and maintain the quality and ship it to the buyer as cheaply as possible to work under their budget contraints,” Scrimsher says.

Tonka can freeze up to 30,000 pounds of shrimp within 24 hours but this winter was about testing. They froze smaller batches totaling 250,000 pounds. Those shrimp are enroute to Iceland where they will be cooked and peeled and then sent on to markets in England.

“Iceland has a tremendous amount of quota for these pink shrimp but it’s been steadily declining which is why they’re looking over here to replace some of that,” Scrimsher says.

That means competing against Iceland’s at-sea processors who freeze the shrimp at sea.

Tonka’s process starts at the back dock of the plant located along the Wrangell Narrows so boats can drive up and unload their catches.

I follow Scrimsher into the first room off the dock.

“The shrimp comes in here, would get dumped on that table where the initial sorting and the distribution to the belt begins,” Scrimsher says.

As the shrimp travel along a large white conveyor belt they are rinsed and sorted by about a half dozen workers called “graders”.

“And they’ll pick out the seaweed, the pieces of broken shrimp and pick out the side stripes and so we’re just running clean pink shrimps,” Scrimsher says.

The cycle starts in the morning with the catch the fishermen delivered the night before. They try to have the shrimp frozen within 24 hours.

They’re already good and cold as fishermen are icing the shrimp when they catch them which Scrimsher says takes a careful hand.

“They’re layer icing them and then we ice them heavier once we get here,” Scrimsher says. “There’s kind of a fine line between too much ice and just enough ice.”

Too much ice changes the flavor of the shrimp and too little will spoil it.

The shrimp get frozen in 22 pound blocks in the freezing area. There are two huge storage freezers that keep the shrimp frozen before shipping.

Tonka should know by mid-March if this whole process will work out with the international markets. And if it does?

“Then we would try to add a few more fishermen to try to catch and process the entire guideline harvest amount,” Scrimsher says.That’s about three million pounds of shrimp near Petersburg. On a busy day, that would mean employing 18 people working shrimp at the plant.

Although there is a strong domestic market for pink shrimp, Tonka doesn’t have the equipment to process it yet but Scrimsher says with luck, that could one day be happening too.

Categories: Alaska News

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