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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: 30 min 22 sec ago

Alaska Public Media, Alaska Dispatch News Take State To Court Over National Guard Documents

Wed, 2014-10-29 17:47

Alaska Public Media and Alaska Dispatch News are taking the State to court because the state government has failed to provide documents regarding the National Guard Scandal.

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The two media outlets sued the state on Oct. 8 after being denied public records requests filed last spring. The Attorney General’s office agreed to provide emails, documents, and document logs related to the scandal to avoid going to court. To this date, they have only provided a few emails.

The media outlets are asking the courts to expedite the process and hear the suit as soon as possible. They want the Governor’s Office to provide the documents before next week’s election.

In the request to the court, the media outlets say they believe the Attorney General’s office is trying to get the documents but they are reaching a bottleneck at the Governor’s Office.

The judge will hold a hearing on the issue tomorrow afternoon.

Categories: Alaska News

Medicaid Reform Group Hears Passionate Testimony On Proposed Cuts

Wed, 2014-10-29 17:46

The State’s Medicaid Reform Advisory Group has met for the last six months in relative obscurity. That changed today (Wednesday) when more than 200 parents, doctors and physical therapists showed up to testify about a list of proposed “innovations” the group hopes will help curtail the growing cost of program. The message the group heard was that the reforms would have huge impacts on the people who rely on Medicaid for health services. 

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Jamie Robinson approached the microphone with an 11-month-old baby snuggled on her chest in a baby carrier.

Robinson’s second child, a first grader named Brooke, is one of more than 150,000 Alaskans who benefit from the state’s Medicaid program. Brooke has cerebral palsy and other developmental delays. Robinson became emotional as she said Brooke was born by emergency c-section:

“She’s my miracle child because she should have died,” Robinson said. ”When she was born doctors didn’t know if she would walk or talk. We didn’t know anything, so we just had to wait.”

Robinson says Brooke is now walking and talking- and thriving in school. She says her daughter has benefited from frequent occupational, physical and speech therapy. One of the proposed reforms would limit the number of therapy sessions to no more than six per year, after that a patient would need to be reevaluated. Robinson says frequent evaluations would be harmful to Brooke and cutting back on therapy would be devastating.

“Brooke has to work really really hard. you gotta think of this as a gym membership right,” Robinson said. ”If you go to a gym, if you go six times a year, are you going to see a result? No you are not, you have to go and you have to work your body and she works her butt off.”

Nearly everyone who testified in the morning talked about problems with requiring frequent evaluations for therapy. And it was a message Division of Health and Social Services Commissioner Bill Streur had heard even before the meeting began. He committed to revisiting the issue.

“It was excellent testimony and it helped us realize we need to focus on the person, on the kid, on the child, on the parent on the family,” Streur said.

Commissioner Streur says he was pleased with the level of public involvement at the meeting. He says he heard good recommendations on specific reform ideas. One of the things he took away from the meeting is that a cookie cutter approach to reform won’t work:

“Focus the treatment on the stuff that you preach about Streur and that’s right care, right time, right place for the right person,” Streur said. ”So it has to be person specific. What we came out with are broad recommendations and folks have come back to us and said, ‘tailor it and we can live with it.’”

Commissioner Streur says he’s committed to getting a list of reform ideas to the governor by the deadline of Nov. 15. But he says that is just the start of the next phase of the process, which will involve more analysis on each reform.

Still, for committee member Sandra Heffern, the testimony highlighted how rushed the process has been. Governor Parnell announced he was creating the Medicaid Reform Advisory Group last November. Members were appointed in March and have been meeting monthly since April. Heffern, who is a health care consultant with a background in home healthcare services, says there hasn’t been enough time for deep discussion on the recommendations:

“The recommendations are these are things we need to further explore, but to say were going to do any kind of reform based on any of the innovations that are brought forward is well I don’t want to use the word ludicrous, but that’s what comes to mind,” Heffern said.

Several people who testified brought up new reform ideas for the group to consider, like paying for hospice care at the end of life to save on hospital costs and reusing expensive medical equipment like wheelchairs. That last idea came from Medicaid recipient Ric Nelson, who uses a wheelchair and serves on the Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education. He is also getting a graduate degree in public administration. Speaking through an interpreter, he left the committee with this thought:

“Without these services or therapies, I wouldn’t be who I am today. So I urge you to please look carefully at what you’re doing- you might affect someone like me in the world.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

DOJ May Intervene In Alaska Supreme Court Case

Wed, 2014-10-29 17:45

The U.S. Department of Justice may intervene in an Alaska Supreme Court case concerning a non-Native couple’s adoption of an Alaska Native child. In September, the Native Village of Tununak lost its appeal against the State of Alaska and the adoptive couple.

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DOJ is trying to determine, does the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Baby Veronica case apply to the Tununak case? Baby Veronica was about a private adoption. The Tununak case is concerned with a state-sanctioned adoption.

Matt Newman is an attorney for the Native American Rights Fund, which has been involved in the Tununak case as a friend of the court.

“I think what is definitely of note and definitely what was a bit surprising is the Tununak decision is now on the radar of the Department of Justice,” Newman says. “Through this extension they’re certainly not committing to anything. They’re not saying ‘we have a brief to file.’ But they’re at least showing that there’s an interest in the case at levels higher than just the bar here in Alaska.”

The fate of a 6-year-old the court calls “Dawn” is at stake in the case. Dawn was placed into foster care as an infant in Anchorage near her mother in the hope that they could be reunited.

That was a deviation from the Indian Child Welfare Act, which mandates a preference for Native family placement. But the tribe and the child’s grandmother Elise agreed–initially. After a year Dawn was placed with a new non-Native family, the Smiths, who are now trying to finalize their adoption of her.

Three years after Dawn first entered the State of Alaska’s custody, her mother’s parental rights were terminated. After the termination the tribe argued that keeping Dawn in Anchorage was no longer warranted and they stepped up their efforts to have Dawn placed with her grandmother in Tununak. According to the September decision, Elise had requested custody of Dawn since the beginning and had made efforts to bring her home into compliance for placement.

During the last appeal the state court had initially granted the tribe a stay of the adoption. Four days later the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in Adoptive Couple vs. Baby Girl, otherwise known as the Baby Veronica case. In light of this, the state court requested supplemental arguments from the parties.  Because the grandmother did not formally file for adoption, the court reasoned that the Baby Veronica decision meant that there was no ICWA placement preference to apply.

A window to appeal the decision to federal court closed Friday, the same day that the DOJ requested its own extension. The DOJ wrote that the “United States has a strong interest in the interpretation of the Indian Child Welfare Act,” and that the department was not aware of the case until after the September decision.

The DOJ has until November 24 to decide if it will intervene in the case. The Village of Tununak’s tribe is represented by Alaska Legal Services Corp.

Categories: Alaska News

GOP’s U.S. Senate , House Hopefuls Try To Tie Democratic Foes To Obama, Reid et al.

Wed, 2014-10-29 17:44

Candidates for Alaska’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate squared off at a forum in Fairbanks Tuesday.

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On the Senate side, Republican Dan Sullivan relentlessly tried to tie incumbent Democrat Mark Begich to President Obama and majority leader Harry Reid.

“Under the Obama administration, where you’ve supported those policies 97 percent of the time, most of that has been about consolidating power in Washington, consolidating power with regard to D.C. bureaucrats,” Sullivan said. “And I think that Alaskans have a very different approach.”

Sullivan also reminded Begich that Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowksi took issue with a Begich political advertise suggesting she supported the Democrat. Begich responded saying he and Murkowski mostly vote the same way.

“Y’know, when you’ve have an 80 percent voting record together on every single item — I’m for that,” Begich said. “That’s what we need more of in Washington, D.C. , than the partisan bickering that goes on, especially in this campaign, by my opponent, who only talks about Reid and Obama. This is about Alaska, and what’s important for Alaska.”

Candidates vying for the House seat talked about the problem of gridlock in Washington. Democrat Forrest Dunbar pointed to term limits as part of the solution, citing the connection between Washington D.C. K Street lobbying firms and Congress.

“Right now, there’s a huge incentive for those staffers to go to K Street firms for million-dollar salaries, and then funnel money back to their former bosses on various committees,” Dunbar said. “We need to reform D.C., reform the system in D.C. And that will help change the partisan nature of our capitol.”

Incumbent Congressman Don Young, the longest serving Republican in the House, blamed the ineffectiveness of Congress on a structural shift.

“When I was chairman of both of my committees, the partisanship did not exist,” Young said. “We worked together. And then Nancy Pelosi created what we call the ‘brain trust’ in the Speaker’s office. The Speaker runs the Congress, regardless (whether) it’s a Democrat of Republican. And the chairmen have no real authority anymore. I want to get the chairmanship back to have the authority to run the Congress.”

Libertarian House candidate Jim McDermott maintained a third-party Representative is the best way to break up the zero sum game being played in Washington.

“The elite side of the Democrats and the Republicans are in a room,” McDermott said. “They’re in a room with a can of paint and a brush. They start at the door, there’s only one exit, and they paint themselves into a corner. So they don’t have any room to maneuver. They have to go one way or another, or I guess they get thrown out and annexed out of the party. Where in the Libertarian Party, we obviously are going to start painting towards the door. Which means we can give ourselves options.”

The House and Senate candidates also responded to questions on numerous other topics during the forum sponsored by the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce, ranging from resource development to health care and the federal deficit.

Categories: Alaska News

Property Crime Victims Often Given The Back Seat

Wed, 2014-10-29 17:43

Nikiski residents are frustrated by a recent rash of property crimes and are dissatisfied with law enforcement’s response. A state agency set up to help crime victims claims there is a larger trend of disenfranchisement among property crime victims across Alaska.

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Categories: Alaska News

Unalaska Holds On As America’s Top Fishing Port

Wed, 2014-10-29 17:42

The port of Dutch Harbor will hang onto its title as the nation’s busiest fishing port for another year.

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According to the latest rankings from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, about 753 million pounds of seafood were landed here in 2013. That’s more than any other port in America. And it marks the 17th consecutive year Unalaska has gotten that distinction.

It’s mostly due to the large volume of pollock brought in from the Bering Sea, along with crab and other groundfish. Those deliveries were worth slightly less last year. But at $197 million, they were still the second most profitable in the nation behind New Bedford, Mass. Their sea scallop harvest helped bring in $379 million.

Overall, Alaska’s fishing ports saw the biggest value from their catch. Kodiak came in third, with landings worth $153 million. Cordova, Naknek, and Sitka were in the top ten, with Ketchikan, Petersburg, and Seward trailing close behind.

Those ports were also some of the busiest in the country, thanks to a record-breaking salmon season. Alaska’s seafood landings spiked 26 percent — getting close to 5.8 billion pounds of fish statewide.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Ranks Among Nation’s Least Energy-Efficient States

Wed, 2014-10-29 17:41

Alaska rates near the bottom in a nationwide survey on how states are improving energy-efficiency programs. A state energy official says the survey may not be giving Alaska enough credit for the programs it has put in place in recent years.

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Energy-policy analysts say the U.S. industrial base is riddled with energy-inefficiency. A2009 study by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory says the United States wastes more than half of all energy it produces, about 58 percent, due to such inefficiencies as unused waste heat from power plants and poorly heated and insulated buildings.

Washington D.C.-based American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economyhas for eight years now been tracking those inefficiencies, and issuing an annual survey on how, and whether, states are making progress to improve.

Annie Gilleo, the council’s state policy research analyst, said in a Wednesday teleconference announcing this year’s survey that energy efficiency doesn’t just save money; it also boosts economies.

“The benefits of energy efficiency have been proven,” Gilleo said “We see it creating jobs, we see it saving customers money on their energy bills. We see it cleaning up environments.”

This year’s survey shows Alaska for the second consecutive year rates 47th in the nation, with Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming rounding out the bottom five.

“Most of these states at the bottom have not made energy efficiency a priority in their policies, with low scores across the board,” Gilleo said.

Much of Alaska’s low rating is based on the state’s failure to develop energy-efficiency programs for utilities and the transportation sector. It gave credit to some state policies, such as those based on legislation passed in 2010 that among other things set a goal of generating half of the state’s electricity with renewable-energy sources by 2025. But the state doesn’t get credit for that because it’s voluntary, not required.

Sean Skaling is the Alaska Energy Authority’s deputy director for Alternative Energy and Energy Efficiency. He believes Alaska’s low rating is largely because the council isn’t giving enough credit for its energy-conservation efforts.

“The state-government-led initiatives are where our score is very good, actually,” he said. “We’re well above average there.”

Skaling’s referring to the high marks that the council gave for the state’s Village Energy Efficiency Program, which provides audits for public buildings in remote communities and helps pay for improvements; and the Commercial Building Energy Audit program, which provide similar help for those qualifying private-sector property owners.

Skaling suspects the council’s low rating for Alaska is based at least in part on statistical quirks arising from a small population spread over a large area in a cold, requiring high energy use.

“Y’know, things are a little different in Alaska,” he said. “Sometimes a lot different.”

The council also credits Alaska for its two residential energy-efficiency think tanks, including Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks. And the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation’s energy-rebate program, which gives qualifying homeowners up to $10,000 to improve their house’s energy efficiency.

But the Council faults Alaska for among other things not requiring commercial buildings to comply with thermal- and lighting-efficiency standards, like those required of all public facilities. It also cites the state’s failure to require all new construction to adhere to the state’s building-energy codes, instead of just state-financed construction.

Categories: Alaska News

New Geologic Materials Center Opens In Anchorage

Wed, 2014-10-29 17:40

David LaPain. (Photo by Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage)

The State has a new library – for rocks. The new Geologic Materials Center opened in Anchorage Wednesday in what used to be the old Sam’s Club. The facility is aimed at giving industry members, academics and the public access to the wealth of data kept in core samples from around the state.

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More than a hundred people milled about a white concrete room, pouring over conveyor-like roller tables holding boxes of rocks. Some of the cylindrical core samples showed cross sections of rough sediment. Others were a smooth grey.

“Do you feel how gritty that is?” asked Jim Carson from Canrig Drilling Technology. “That’s sandstone.”

(Photo by Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage)

He offered an impromptu lesson on oil reservoir geology. “So that’s the sand with the oil. And some of this stuff, I know it sounds gross, if you go smell that dark looking stuff,” he said while pointing to a deep black core sample, “you’ll smell oil. There’s actually oil in there.”

Around the room guests furtively dipped their noses to the samples. Carson said the new facility is nothing like the old center in Eagle River.

“To actually see it in this setting now, compared to a dark Conex out in Eagle River with a flashlight, is a huge step forward. This is a world class facility here in Alaska, and we should be very proud of it.”

The state spent $24.5 million and two years to buy and renovate the old warehouse store. They originally planned to spend 9 years and nearly $45 million to build a completely new facility.

Dave LaPain, a geologist with the Department of Natural Resources who heads the Energy Section, said the core collection is an invaluable resource for oil and gas developers in the state because it can help them make predictive models without spending millions on drilling new wells.
“A facility like this, I think, is an economic engine for the state. Because as the bigger companies tend to leave the state and the smaller companies tend to come in the state [and have fewer resources for exploration], whatever we can do to help them to have a leg up and help them learn the geology of the basin they’re exploring in, we should do.”

(Photo by Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage)

GMC Curator Ken Papp said the center is like a library of more than 100,000 boxes of rocks where companies and individuals can check out cores and even take new, small samples from them.

“So it’s kind of a back and forth between promoting science and the knowledge of the rocks we have here and yet keeping things accessible and preserved for future generations to learn about.”

Some students started learning about the rocks during the opening ceremony.

Eighth graders from Clark Middle School streamed down the endless rows of towering orange shelves. Some, like Emmanuel Nansen, stopped into the private sample viewing rooms. He peered at beige rock cores wondering how to extract gold from them. He couldn’t see the point of studying lava.

“What do you make out of it?” he said looking at an array of tan and black rocks.

Despite his skepticism, Nansen and his classmate Brandon Sperry say the rocks piqued their interest.
“Do you guys think you’ll do geology, be involved with rocks when you’re older?” I asked.

“Yeah. Probably,” said Nansen.

“50% chance,” said Sperry.

Most of the center’s samples will stay in Eagle River until the end of winter when it’s cheaper to move them. The new center is large enough to almost quadruple the size of the collection through donations. They can also store permafrost and lake sediment samples in the same freezers and refrigerators that used to hold ice cream and bacon.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: October 29, 2014

Wed, 2014-10-29 17:22

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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Alaska Public Media, Alaska Dispatch News Take State To Court Over National Guard Documents

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

Alaska Public Media and Alaska Dispatch News are taking the State to court because the state government has failed to provide documents regarding the National Guard Scandal.

The two media outlets sued the state on Oct. 8 after being denied public records requests filed last spring. The Attorney General’s office agreed to provide emails, documents, and document logs related to the scandal to avoid going to court. To this date, they have only provided a few emails.

The media outlets are asking the courts to expedite the process and hear the suit as soon as possible. They want the Governor’s Office to provide the documents before next week’s election.

In the request to the court, the media outlets say they believe the Attorney General’s office is trying to get the documents but they are reaching a bottleneck at the Governor’s Office.

The judge will hold a hearing on the issue tomorrow afternoon.

Medicaid Reform Group Hears Passionate Testimony On Proposed Cuts

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

The State’s Medicaid Reform Advisory Group has met for the last six months in relative obscurity. That changed today (Wednesday) when more than 200 parents, doctors and therapists showed up to testify about a list of proposed “innovations” the group hopes will help curtail the growing cost of the program. The message the group heard was that the reforms would have huge impacts on the people who rely on Medicaid for health services.

DOJ May Intervene In Alaska Supreme Court Case

Jennifer Canfield, KTOO – Juneau

The U.S. Department of Justice may intervene in an Alaska Supreme Court case concerning a non-Native couple’s adoption of an Alaska Native child. In September, the Native Village of Tununak lost its appeal against the State of Alaska and the adoptive couple.

GOP’s U.S. Senate , House Hopefuls Try To Tie Democratic Foes To Obama, Reid et al.

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Candidates for Alaska’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate squared off at a forum in Fairbanks Tuesday.

Wrangell Doctor Pleads Not Guilty To Child Porn Charges

Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau

A jury trial is set for early January for a Wrangell doctor accused of distributing and viewing child pornography.

Property Crime Victims Often Given The Back Seat

Quinton Chandler, KBBI – Homer

Nikiski residents are frustrated by a recent rash of property crimes and are dissatisfied with law enforcement’s response. A state agency set up to help crime victims claims there is a larger trend of disenfranchisement among property crime victims across Alaska.

Unalaska Holds On As America’s Top Fishing Port

Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska

The port of Dutch Harbor will hang onto its title as the nation’s busiest fishing port for another year.

Alaska Ranks Among Nation’s Least Energy-Efficient States

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

Alaska rates near the bottom in a nationwide survey on how states are improving energy-efficiency programs. A state energy official says the survey may not be giving Alaska enough credit for the programs it has put in place in recent years.

New Geologic Materials Center Opens In Anchorage

Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage

The State has a new library – for rocks. The new Geologic Materials Center opened in Anchorage Wednesday in what used to be the old Sam’s Club. The facility is aimed at giving industry members, academics and the public access to the wealth of data kept in core samples from around the state.

Categories: Alaska News

Letter Shaming Alaska Voters Cribbed From Study Proving Its Value

Tue, 2014-10-28 18:56

If you’re registered to vote, your  voter history — whether or not you voted in past elections — is a public record. So is your name, address and party affiliation. But letters aiming to shame Alaskans into voting by threatening to reveal their voting history aren’t going over well.
Margie Hall, a nurse and a Republican voter from Eagle River, got a letter by email AND regular mail that listed her voting history, her husband’s and that of a lot of other people the letter claimed were her friends, neighbors and colleagues.
“I thought well, somebody is being a righteous idiot,” she said. “Why would they think that shaming would make people comply?”
Because, well, it does. That’s according Chris Larimer, associate professor of political science at the University of Northern Iowa. And he’s done the research to prove it.
“We found that when you make people aware of the norm of voting and that somebody else is going to observe whether or not you vote, people are more likely then to vote,” he said.
The letter from the so-called Alaska State Voter Project is nearly identical, word for word, to one that he and other researchers tested in Michigan, right down to the typography and punctuation. In that 2006 research, Larimer and colleagues sent voters one of four different letters. The softest message just urged people to do their civic duty and vote. The most aggressive letter is the one that matches the Alaska missive. It included the addressee’s voting history as well as those of their neighbors. Like the Alaska one, it contained something of a threat: it promised a follow-up letter to show the results of the upcoming election. Larimer says they got complaints, but the technique worked quite well.
“As you ratchet up that social pressure, or the sense that other people are going to comply with a particular norm, we found that turnout increases dramatically,” he said, “such that in that last mailing –what we call the ‘neighbors mailing,’ which again is what’s being used in Alaska — we found effects that are similar (to what) you observe through door-to-door canvassing.”
Larimer says door-knocking campaigns tend to increase turnout 8 to 9 percentage points.
“We found that 8-point effect with just using a very simple mailer, so a much more cost effective way to increase turnout,” he said.
The Alaska letter has  major elements of public shaming.
“WHAT IF YOUR FRIENDS, YOUR NEIGHBORS AND YOUR COMMUNITY KNEW WHETHER YOU VOTED?” it says at the beginning, in all caps. (The first line of the aggressive letter the researchers sent in 2006 was identical, minus the words “your friends” and “your community.”)
Larimer says a 2007 follow-on study found that shame is a particularly powerful motivator, even without the element of public humiliation. In that experiment, also in Michigan, they sent voters letters that showed whether they voted or not in a past election and included a blank for the current year, which they said would be filled in in a future letter. But, in this test, some people got positive messages. Their history listed a prior election in which they did, in fact, vote. Other people, Larimer says, got “shaming” messages, showing the recipient as a non-voter in a prior election.
“Both mailers increased turnout significantly, but the shaming was significantly more effective,” he said.
In the 2007 research, the letters revealed only the household’s voting record and said nothing about the neighbors. Still, even private shaming boosted turnout by more than 6 percentage points. Instilling pride for voting boosted it by only 4 points.
Not that he’d necessarily advise a campaign to use such methods. He says softer approaches, like using positive messages or expressing gratitude for past behavior, produce results, too, and are less likely to result in voter backlash.
Groups on both the right and left have used this research in past elections, by sending letters only to people leaning their way.
A Washington,D.C.-based group called America Votes that’s affiliated with labor unions says it’s sending Alaskans letters that employ public information to improve turnout.
“We’ve found that using mail that tailors publicly available information about election participation to each voter helps engage those voters who might otherwise sit out in November,” a spokeswoman for the organization wrote in an email. She declined to send a sample letter, saying she couldn’t find one.
The letter from the so-called State of Alaska Voter Project, the one that’s caused the biggest stir, says it was paid for by Opportunity Alliance PAC. Its chief donor is 81-year-old John Bryan, of Oregon, a retired chemical company executive who is a major contributor to conservative causes.
“I haven’t seen the letter. I don’t know what it’s all about,” he said, reached at his home in Lake Oswego.
He gave the PAC $200,000 in May. (That was Opportunity Alliance PAC’s only contribution until a woman in Texas later kicked in $50,000, according to the website OpenSecrets.org.) In Alaska, Bryan has given $2,000 to U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan, but says what he really cares about is charter schools and school choice. He says he’s supporting Republican Senate candidates because he thinks the current Senate log jam hampers his cause.
Bryan referred questions about the letter to Stuart Jolly in Oklahoma, who directs a school choice political operation Bryan founded. Jolly was, until last year, Oklahoma director for Americans for Prosperity.  Jolly didn’t return messages today.

Categories: Alaska News

“CEO of the City” Campaigns to Bring Anchorage Business Acumen to Governor’s Cabinet

Tue, 2014-10-28 18:15

Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan’s controversial A0-37 will appear on the same ballot as his bid to be Lieutenant Governor. (Photo: Dan Sullivan for Lt. Gov Facebook Page)

 

 

Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan is the lower profile Sullivan candidate in the upcoming elections. With two candidates—same party, same names, same state-wide campaign aims—this election cycle has been slightly more confusing than most. So, just to be clear, the next 700-or-so words are entirely about “Mayor Dan” Sullivan, born in 1951, co-owner of McGinley’s Pub downtown, and long-time Anchorage political presence.

Affixed to incumbent governor Sean Parnell’s campaign for re-election, Mayor Sullivan’s bid for state-wide office has been low-key: few lawn signs, scant press releases, and the campaign has no website of its own beyond a Facebook page last updated on July 26th.

But Sullivan aims to bring his focus on fiscal issues to the governor’s cabinet. Money has been the major theme of his time as mayor, and that’s how he’s framing his candidacy.

Sullivan comes from a long-line of Alaskans, and first arrived in the city, or the state for that matter, were transformed by waves of money and development.

“In 1959 we moved down to Anchorage,” Sullivan explained. The family had been in Nenana, and then Fairbanks before heading south. “It was literally still a small town in those days. You know, we grew up by the Park Strip on 12 Ave and those were dirt roads in those days.”

This is Sullivan’s first run for statewide office. After nine years on the Anchorage assembly he was elected mayor in 2009, and then again in 2012.

Having hit his term-limit as mayor, Sullivan decided to run for Lieutenant Governor, wanting to bring his record of financial prudence to the Governor’s inner-circle.

“As Lieutenant Governor, in addition to your perfunctory duties of running elections and keeping notaries from going rogue on you,” he joked, “you are a member of the governor’s cabinet, you have a seat at that table when policy is being developed and decisions are being made. And as the leader of the largest city in Alaska by far, the CEO of that city, I think I can lend some really valid experience to those discussions.”

Sullivan is a pocketbook politician: fiscal issues are his main priority. Even his early memories of Alaska are inflected with details about dollars.

“I grew up in a time…before there was oil money. And I don’t think we had any conception that we were somehow poor or lacking in either in facilities or opportunities,” he reflected.  “And now that we have billions in the bank, students get charged for everything. And I still haven’t figured that out,” he finished, drifting off slightly.

Sullivan sees the successes of his time as mayor, and on Assembly, as being the financial policies that helped the city emulate a healthy business: budget surpluses, improved credit ratings, and the controversial labor reform AO-37 that will appear on the ballot with Sullivan.

Those who’ve worked with Sullivan in the past say it’s not just political posturing.

“As long as I’ve known him he’s been consistent in his philosophical beliefs,” says Debbie Ossiander, who, in her nine years on the Assembly, worked closely with Sullivan, and sees a straight line in the policies he pursued.

“I could have forecast that his focus would be on containing the budget and curtailing labor costs,” she continued. He talked about that when he was on the assembly, and it was no surprise to me that that was his focus when he was mayor.”

Sullivan believes that since 55% of Alaska’s population lives in Anchorage and the Mat-Su valley, what’s good for Southcentral is good for the state. Take, for example, an investment opportunity he’s eager to continue if elected: modernizing the port of Anchorage.

“The Port of Anchorage is considered the Port of Alaska,” he said, growing animated as he spoke. “Over 90% of all the goods that come in to the state, that are on the shelves throughout the Interior, Western Alaska come through the port…This port is so crucial to the entire state. That’s probably job number one in my mind. And it’s kind of self-serving because it’s my city and my port.”

Sullivan’s current plan for overseeing the Division of Elections, one of the few concrete functions of the Lieutenant Governor’s office, are managerial modifications that make the organization run more efficiently, much like those he’s sought at the municipal level while mayor.

It’s another example of Sullivan’s stance that the edicts of business should be imported to better deliver government.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: October 28, 2014

Tue, 2014-10-28 17:36

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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‘Shaming’ Letters Aim to Boost Voter Turnout

Liz Ruskin, APRN

Letters from an unknown group calling itself the Alaska State Voter Project are appearing in Alaska mailboxes. They purport to be aimed at boosting voter turnout by listing the voting history of the addressee – along with that of other community members. Many recipients are outraged, saying the letters are an attempt to shame them into voting.

‘CEO of the City’ Campaigns to Bring Anchorage Business Acumen to Governor’s Cabinet

Zachariah Hughes, KSKA – Anchorage

Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan is the lower profile Sullivan candidate in the upcoming elections. Affixed to incumbent governor Sean Parnell’s campaign for re-election, Mayor Sullivan’s bid for state-wide office has been low-key: few lawn signs, no press releases, and the campaign doesn’t have its own website beyond a Facebook page not updated since July. Sullivan wants to bring his focus on fiscal issues to the governor’s cabinet.

Fire Burns Bethel Alcohol Treatment Center Construction Project

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

Officials are investigating a large fire in Bethel that started just after 8 o’clock Monday night, behind the post office. The Fire destroyed an alcohol treatment center under construction by the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation.

Diocese: Fairbanks Priest Held on Federal Child-Pornography Charges was Screened

Tim Ellis, KUAC – Fairbanks

A Fairbanks Catholic priest accused of trying to produce child pornography, underwent a two stage screening process as part of his hire and ordination.

City engineer: No Good News On Juneau’s Sewage Sludge Disposal

Jeremy Hsieh, KTOO – Juneau

The way the City and Borough of Juneau currently disposes of its sewage isn’t sustainable, and the long-term solution consultants are recommending will be expensive. That was the message to the Juneau Assembly at a committee meeting Monday night.

Bethel Food Pantry Struggles to Open

Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel

The Bethel Food Pantry is having trouble getting enough food to open. They usually open in August or September according to officials, but this year they won’t open until November.

Is Someone Poisoning Sitka Bears?

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau

Someone appears to be poisoning bears near Sitka’s Sawmill Creek Road. A young male found dead earlier this month may be the latest to be killed.

Why Alaska Researchers Want To Use Drones To Find Hibernating Bears

Kayla Desroches, KTOO – Juneau

For the first time, Alaska researchers plan to use drones with thermal cameras to detect hibernating polar bears and grizzly bears on the North Slope.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks team is working without dedicated funding, but is seeking industry support for the project.

Categories: Alaska News

Diocese: Fairbanks Priest Held on Federal Child-Pornography Charges was Screened

Tue, 2014-10-28 17:09

A Fairbanks Catholic priest accused of trying to produce child pornography underwent a two-stage screening process as part of his hiring and ordination.

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57-year-old Clint Michael Landry was arrested Friday after a federal grand jury indicted him earlier last week on one count of attempted production of child pornography and one count of attempted coercion and enticement of a minor to participate in the production of the porn.

According to the indictment, the latter charge stems from Landry’s alleged attempt to get a youth to, quote, “engage in sexually explicit conduct” on May 18th and 19th. The indictment states that Landry planned to transmit a live depiction of that conduct.

Ronnie Rosenberg is director of human resources for the Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks, and she’s also its legal coordinator. Rosenberg says officials with the diocese responded immediately when they learned about the alleged incidents.

“As soon as we thought that there may be a problem with computer usage, the computers were secured and we called the Alaska State Troopers. They in turn turned it over to the FBI,” she said.

The diocese placed also Landry on leave that week.

Rosenberg can’t go into detail about the case, but she says the diocese followed its policy in responding to the situation.

“We immediately report anything suspicious, any kind of suspicious activity of this nature, to law enforcement so that we don’t taint an investigation,” she said. “We let law enforcement take it from there.”

Landry served as priest at Sacred Heart Cathedral after he was ordained there in 2011. He came here in 2009 from New Orleans, where he taught school.

Rosenberg says the Fairbanks diocese screened Landry, as it does for all prospective employees. And then subjected him to additional screening that the diocese requires for those seeking the priesthood – and those who’ll be working with children and youths.

“Well, he would go through our standard clergy screening. And that was done prior to his coming here, while he was still a candidate in the seminary,” she said. “And then when he moved here, it was repeated.”

The indictment doesn’t identify the alleged victim. It states the person is under age 18 and identifies him or her using only the initials “C.J.”

Landry was arraigned Friday afternoon in Fairbanks via video teleconference with a federal judge and prosecutor in Anchorage.

Court documents say a bail hearing is set for Friday. A trial by jury is scheduled for Dec. 22 before U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline.

If convicted, Landry faces up to 30 years in prison on the porn-production count, and up to 10 years for the attempted coercion count. He also faces up to a quarter-million-dollar fine for each count, and the possibility of lifetime supervised release after serving time.

Court documents state Fairbanks attorney Bill Satterberg was retained as Landry’s counsel. Satterberg declined comment Monday, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyle Reardon did not return a phone call.

Categories: Alaska News

City engineer: No Good News On Juneau’s Sewage Sludge Disposal

Tue, 2014-10-28 17:08

Michele Elfers listens as Wastewater Utility Superintendent Samantha Stoughtenger describes options for processing and disposing of biosolids at a Juneau Assembly Committee of the Whole meeting Monday. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

The way the City and Borough of Juneau disposes of its sewage sludge isn’t sustainable, and the long-term solution consultants are recommending will be expensive.

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“I don’t know that I have any good news for you in all this,” City Engineering Director Rorie Watt told the Assembly last night.

Hired consultants recommended in September that the city build a 7,100 square foot facility at the Juneau-Douglas Wastewater Treatment Plant off Thane Road. The new facility would dry sewage sludge, burn it as fuel in a furnace, then feed heat back into the drying process. The only waste would be an inert ash.

The consultants estimated such a facility would cost $28.7 million to build. Meanwhile, the city is bracing for another year of budget deficits.

Mayor Merrill Sanford pointed out that the city plans to request some $22 million in grant money from the state for the project, “Which is probably not necessarily feasible, or not necessarily … going to happen with the shortage of funds at the state level, too,” Sanford said.

The Juneau Assembly Finance Committee intends to hear from the city’s sustainability and planning commissions about the proposal, and examine options for paying for the new facility. The finance committee’s next meeting is Nov. 12.

For now, Waste Management is shipping the sewage sludge to a landfill it owns in Oregon under a tenuous 5-year contract.

“We, as efficiently as possible, want to drive towards moving forward to not loading shipping containers full of sludge for lots of obvious reasons,” Watt said. “We really need to move beyond our current solution.”

In a memo, “perilous” was the word Wastewater Utility Superintendent Samantha Stoughtenger and Engineering Project Manager Michele Elfers used to describe the status quo.

Waste Management was reluctant to be in the sewage sludge business after its last contractended in 2013. The stopgap worked out earlier this year left Waste Management with the option to walk away at any time without consequence.

Categories: Alaska News

Bethel Food Pantry Struggles to Open

Tue, 2014-10-28 17:07

The Bethel Food Pantry is having trouble getting enough food to open. They usually open in August or September but this year they won’t open until November.

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The Bethel Lion’s Club runs the Food Pantry. President Carol Ann Willard says there’s less help from the government at a time when more people need food.

(Photo by Daysha Eaton, KYUK – Bethel)

“Over the years we’ve seen a decrease in the food we get from Food Bank of Alaska, basically the government food. Also there’s more people, a lot of new people – every month it seems like there’s a lot a new people coming in and needing the food. So that’s just the economy and people without jobs. So the need has increased as well as the food supply has decreased,” said Willard.

Willard says as help from the government has dropped off, the Pantry has been seeking more local support. Last year the Bethel branch of Alaska USA Federal Credit Union donated several thousand dollars so the Pantry could purchase food and will donate again this year. In addition, Willard says food pantry officials are calling on local Grocery stores to help out.

“We’re trying to partner with the stores and other food service facilities in Bethel. We’re always looking for partnerships. That helps us out a bit. Those are more perishable items that we get so it’s kind of time sensitive,” said Willard.

Local groups are also doing food drives. She says they need canned items and non-perishable dry goods. Canned items cannot be dented. She says they also need volunteers:

“It takes volunteers to pull this of every third Saturday of the month as well as collecting food, storing the food – there’s different things that we can do. So anybody who would like to help volunteer and help that would be great,” said Willard.

The Bethel Food Pantry is set to open on November the 15th. They’ll be open on the third Saturday of the month after that.

Categories: Alaska News

Why Alaska Researchers Want To Use Drones To Find Hibernating Bears

Tue, 2014-10-28 17:05

Ptarmigan drone designed by UAF in Selfoss, Iceland. (Photo courtesy Steve Kibler)

For the first time, Alaska researchers plan to use drones with thermal cameras to detect hibernating polar bears and grizzly bears on the North Slope.

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The University of Alaska Fairbanks team is working without dedicated funding, but is seeking industry support for the project. For now, they’re relying on UAF resources like the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration.

Federal law requires oil and gas companies to remain one mile away from polar bear dens and a half mile away from grizzly bear dens from November to April. Otherwise, they risk disturbing their hibernation with noise and vibration from vehicles and other off-road operations. Keith Cunningham is a research assistant professor at UAF and has worked on drone data and applications for various organizations.

“On the North Slope right now, there are experts who are trained in chasing off bears that get too close to some of these oil production areas,” says Cunningham. “We call that bear hazing. There might be bean bags or fire crackers that are shot at the bear to scare it away.

Cunningham says the drones will use specialized cameras to detect the bears.

“These infrared cameras basically spot emitted thermal heat. A sleeping bear is actually burning calories and radiating heat. And you can pick that up with a camera.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game have been experimenting with artificial dens for several years. Part of the upcoming UAF research will involve constructing wooden dens and mimicking body heat using a device set to about 60 watts.

Weather stations outside the dens will measure conditions like wind speed, wind direction and temperature. Another device will measure snow depth and density. As they run trials, that data should tell the researchers how effective their drone is under different conditions.

The goal is to provide this technology and information to oil and gas companies active on the North Slope.

Cunningham says the team is interested in both polar bears and grizzly bears in the field.

“As we get closer to the foothills of the Brooks Range, we’re also interested in the denning activity of grizzly and brown bears because they’ll dig their dens about the same time as the polar bear. The polar bear is digging his den in the snow while the brown bear is going to dig his den in the dirt, like along a creek.”

They will set up their first artificial den on the North Slope in early November. In the first stage, the researchers will test drones only on artificial dens. In the second stage, they’ll test the drones on bears with radio collars that send location data to a satellite.

Cunningham and other researchers have experimented with thermal cameras before, but this is the first time they’ll use cameras and drones together to track bears. They’re examining camera options, and they’ve already decided on the drone they’ll use.

“The university actually builds its own unmanned aircraft systems,” says Cunningham. “And we have one that is designed specifically for research and development. And we call it the ptarmigan. The ptarmigan is the state bird of Alaska. It’s got six propellers, it flies like a helicopter. It takes off vertically, and it lands vertically.”

UAF sent their first drones into Alaska airspace in May with permission from the Federal Aviation Administration. The drone can fly for about 20 minutes before it needs a battery replacement. Cunningham says drones will fly lower and more quietly than manned aircraft.

Wildlife biologist Anthony Crupi works for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and studies brown bears in Southeast. He and his colleagues use a variety of methods to trace large animals, including GPS collars and manned aircraft. While thermal imaging makes sense in the treeless North Slope, Crupi says it’s not a good fit for finding bear dens in Southeast.

“They’re such a secretive species that they really stick to the forested environment and I think it would be difficult for us to do things like counts on brown bears in Southeast.”

Cunningham says that there is plenty of interest in the bear den project from industry funders. The bear den team hopes to use the drones in the field by 2016. If it’s a success, the researchers will conduct further experimentation to optimize the method.

Categories: Alaska News

UAS Chancellor Pugh to Retire in May

Tue, 2014-10-28 12:04

UAS Chancellor John Pugh. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

University of Alaska Southeast Chancellor John Pugh will retire in May. He announced his retirement Monday in an email to Southeast campus councils and the UAS Alumni Board of Directors.

Pugh has overseen several major changes at the Juneau campus during his tenure, including the construction of the Egan Classroom Wing, the recreation facility and the freshman residence hall. Pugh said two things he knows will be on the next chancellor’s list of priorities will be to increase recruitment and continue to improve graduation rates.

“We have not been where we would like to be,” Pugh said.

“We have had great improvements in our retention rates but we need to continue to work on our program completion rates–that part we are still lagging behind our peers and averages nationally–and we can do that.”

UAS, which also oversees campuses in Ketchikan and Sitka, currently has two years left to implement their seven year strategic plan. Pugh said leadership at the university has made great progress on the plan and it’s something the new chancellor will also get to be a part of.

“We really do have remarkable leadership right now at UAS and it’s good timing because I think they will carry on,” Pugh said. “Obviously anybody new comes in might have some different vision, but we’re in a seven year strategic plan and we’re committed to completing it. I think everybody here has been a part of that and pretty committed to it, so I think that will continue.”

Carla Beam, vice president of university relations, said that University of Alaska President Pat Gamble will travel to Juneau in the next few weeks to meet with faculty and community members.

“President Gamble does anticipate that this will be a collaborative process and we expect it to go very smoothly,” Beam said. “We’ve got quite a few months yet to look, but we will want to get community input and then map out the process as we know a little bit more.”

Pugh was first hired by UAS in 1987; he became chancellor in 1999. He has also served as dean of the School of Arts and Sciences and dean of faculty. Before joining the university, Pugh served as commissioner of the state’s Department of Health and Social Services from 1983 until 1986.

Categories: Alaska News

Fire Burns Bethel Alcohol Treatment Center Construction Project

Tue, 2014-10-28 12:00

(Photo by Dean Swope)

Officials are investigating a large fire in Bethel that started just after 8 o’clock Monday night, behind the Bethel post office. The Fire destroyed an alcohol treatment center under construction by the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation.

No one was hurt in the fire and YKHC officials don’t know how it started.

A cloud of orange lit up the Southwest Alaska town’s horizon and could be seen across town.

Marlin Lake from Chevak stood outside in the rain nearby the fire looking on in disbelief.  The 21-year-old says he had just been released from the hospital when he stepped outside and noticed the fire.

(Photo by Dean Swope)

“When I first came out of the hospital I saw these big flames going up in the air. There was a couple explosions.” said Lake.

YKHC officials say the 12.5 million dollar alcohol treatment center had been under construction for about a year. The center was meant to be a 16-bed regional facility.

About a thousand yards away Jerry Fredericks with the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative, AVEC, is assisting with traffic control and monitoring the town’s diesel power plant.

“We’re keeping an eye on it. Lucky it’s far enough away, but what a waste of a brand new building.”

Fredericks says he been monitoring the progress of the project.

“They had the roof on and it’s this foam panel building. They’re called Sips, they’re insulated panels and you can see how hot they burn,” said Fredericks.

(Photo by Dean Swope)

Up closer the building crackles and pops as rain and snow fall.

Dan Winkelman the President and CEO of YKHC was fielding phone calls. He said he was most concerned about safety.

“I just don’t want anyone to get hurt, any of the fire crews or anyone, contain the fire as best they can. I thank everyone for that but I just don’t want anyone to get hurt over this,” said Winkelman.

Winkelman, told KYUK in an email Monday night that he does not believe the building is a total loss. He says the foundation is good as well as some panels and other materials at the site. He says the building is insured and adjusters as well as state arson investigators are scheduled to arrive Tuesday.

Categories: Alaska News

Massive Ground Game Underway in Senate Race

Mon, 2014-10-27 18:25

Between the candidate campaigns and Outside groups, nearly $52 million has been spent to try to influence your vote in the U.S. Senate race. Much of that is spent on advertising, for Sen. Mark Begich or Republican challenger Dan Sullivan. But in the end, every race is decided by who actually turns out to vote, so there’s a ground game underway.
If you just look at the number of groups on the ground, the Begich side seems to have the edge.
“I can tell you that we’ve got a bigger operation in the state of Alaska than we’ve ever had before. On Saturday we had about 130 -140 people out walking, knocking on doors,” said Alaska AFL-CIO President Vince Beltrami. “We’re doing phone banks nightly. We’re walking during the week.”
The unions are big supporters of Begich, and Beltrami says they’re bringing in union members from out of state to pitch in.
“We actually have a campaign headquarters we had to rent because our offices weren’t big enough. So I had to rent a 7,000 square foot facility to house all the release staff and the volunteers we have doing all the work,” he said.
In addition to the union effort, a group called Alaska Salmon PAC is in the field with about 30 paid foot soldiers a day. They’re backed by $1.4 million from League of Conservation Voters. Plus, Working America is here. That’s a national AFL-CIO campaign aimed at non-union members. On a recent Sunday, they had several dozen paid canvassers working in Anchorage, including Rob Gruss. He carries an iPad that shows him which doors to target and who lives there.
He knocks on GeorgeAnne Sprinkle’s door, then stands back a few feet, to be better seen from the living room windows.
Gruss, from Ohio, has been doing work like this around the country for four years. At some doors, no one responds, even though it sounds like someone’s home. Sprinkle answered but she wasn’t happy about it.
“Oh sheesh you guys are Begichers?” she said, her voice rising with exasperation.
She says she’s had multiple visits from Begich supporters. Gruss knows that’s true because he’s knocked on her door before. And he’s unapologetic about saying he might be back.
“It’s extremely important. That’s how we win,” he said.
While voters may see the person on their doorstep as part of the barrage of political communication that’s burying them this election season, Gruss has a different take.
“What we’re doing I believe when we come to folks’ doors with somebody who really cares, like myself is we’re cutting through a lot of that red tape, a lot of that misinformation that’s Spewed on radio, spewed on television, spewed blatantly on the Internet,” he said.
Door-knockers give out literature and make their pitches, usually targeting voters deemed persuadable. They also collect information on iPads and clipboards – those who are noncommittal, or iffy about whether they’re going to vote are marked for future visits. Both sides are cagey about what data they collect and how they use them.
Kyle Kohli , Republican National Committee spokesman for Alaska didn’t want to reveal the Republican script, what his volunteers say at each door.
“We identify who we’re talking to. It’s data driven. We know who our supporters are. We know which voters we need to turn out in order to win on Election Day and that’s what we’re out here to execute,” he said.
The RNC, the Sullivan Campaign and the state Republican Party are running a joint field operation. They have 11 paid staff. Kohli says they had “hundreds” of doorknockers in the field this weekend, a large number in Anchorage and most of them volunteers.
Will Friar, a civil engineer, is a regular. He recently spent several minutes talking at the threshold of one south Anchorage house.
“He’s definitely a Sullivan supporter but he’s a little leery about whether he’s going to vote or not,” Friar said afterward in the driveway. “So we just chatted about the importance of the election. We have these cards we can get them to sign that says ‘yes, I will vote’ … and it just gets a little more commitment out of them.”
The Democrats have about 90 paid staffers, and Kohli, the RNC spokesman, acknowledges he’s outnumbered on that score but says that doesn’t mean much.
“That doesn’t translate to excitement. It doesn’t translate to votes,” he said. “We engineered our operation specifically so we’d have volunteers like Will out here, reaching out to their friends and neighbors … because we know that’s a far more effective strategy than having someone whose simply knocking on doors because their paid to.”
Independent of the RNC operation, Americans for Prosperity also has workers in the field for Sullivan. With nine staffers and several volunteers, they figure they’ve hit 15,000 doors in the past two months, in Anchorage and the Mat-Su.
The Begich campaign, whose field operation is combined with the Democratic Party, says they’ve knocked on 20,000 doors just this past weekend, at least half in Southcentral Alaska.
By the way, there’s a way to keep these people away from your doorstep: Vote early. More than 6,500 Alaskans already have. Division of Elections director Gail Fenumiai says the campaigns buy an updated voter list every few days now, so they have the names of everyone who has already cast a ballot. Once you’ve voted, most campaigns will strike you from their list.

Categories: Alaska News

State Begins Releasing National Guard Documents

Mon, 2014-10-27 17:47

The Department of Law has let out a trickle of state documents concerning the National Guard, in response to a lawsuit filed by Alaska Public Media and the Alaska Dispatch News. Their search turned up over 10,000 records that require legal review, but the first batch is made up of just a handful of personal e-mails to and from Gov. Sean Parnell’s chief of staff. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.

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On November 7, 2010, the governor’s sexual assault response coordinator, Katie TePas, sat down with a National Guard chaplain about trouble in the force. Two hours later, she e-mailed her meeting notes from her personal account to the personal account of Chief of Staff Mike Nizich.

Much of the e-mail is redacted, because of executive privilege. But between the black boxes, TePas wrote that the chaplain, Lt. Col. Richard Koch, appeared to be “very credible.” Koch documented concerns with National Guard leadership, with specific complaints about then-Adjutant General Thomas Katkus, and wanted a guarantee that Katkus would not be informed of the complaints against him. Koch told TePas that he feared reprisal, and so did victims of sexual assault.

“Koch has had several contacts with victims of sexual assault who have not come forward due to fear of reprisal and actual reprisal. One of those victims is an officer,” TePas wrote in the e-mail.

The TePas e-mail was part of a set of five released by the Department of Law on Monday, one month after the Office of the Governor denied a request for state records sent to and from Chief of Staff Mike Nizich’s personal account. The other four e-mails have already been shared with the press outside of official channels.

The thread is between Nizich and chaplain Koch, with Koch e-mailing Nizich with concerns about the Guard three times and with a two-week lag time before getting a brief response from Nizich acknowledging receipt of the e-mails. The correspondence discusses the sexual assault of young women, credit card fraud to the “tune of over $200,000,” and the trade of illegal drugs.

The thread is identical in format to the leaked e-mails, with time and date stamps missing for half of the messages.

The documents are accompanied by a certification that Nizich searched his non-State of Alaska e-mail account for responsive records, that all such documents have been turned over, and that no other e-mails were sent to or from his personal account “to the best of [his] knowledge and recollection.”

Nizich’s personal e-mails are only one part of the records request submitted by Alaska Public Media and the Alaska Dispatch News. The Department of Law also searched the state e-mail system for specific key words related to National Guard misconduct and turned up over 10,000 documents. The Department provided a 352-page log of those e-mails, including parties involved and subject line, and a team of attorneys is currently reviewing them to make sure they are germane to the request and do not fall under an exception to the public records law. Responsive e-mails are to be released on a rolling basis.

The records request lawsuit was filed October 8, after the Office of the Governor took four months to deny a records request from Alaska Public Media concerning their response to misconduct in the National Guard.

Categories: Alaska News

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