31 August 2006

The Long Arm of the Law

I wanna know more.

Federal agents raided Alaska legislative offices in Juneau, Anchorage, Eagle River and Wasilla today, with search warrants executed on the offices of several state legislators.

Among the offices being searched were those of Senate President Ben Stevens, R-Anchorage, and Senate Rules Committee Chairman John Cowdery, R-Anchorage. They’re next door to each other on the fifth floor of the downtown legislative offices. Agents were also seen in the Anchorage and Juneau offices of Sen. Donald Olson, D-Nome, and the Wasilla office of Rep. Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla.

The Associated Press reports that the offices of Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, and Rep. Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, were also part of the raid.

Hmmm... what themes are there here? Five Republicans and one Democrat, three lame ducks (Stevens and Weyhrauch are not running again and Kott just lost the primary), and Southeast, Anchorage, the Valley, and the Bush are all represented.

I really want to know about Donny O. What has the senator from Nome done to land himself in this?

30 August 2006

The Chosen Few

So let's say the Republican leadership is sufficiently enticed by Governor Murkowski's offer of a role at the negotiating table with the producers, are looking over their shoulder at an AGPA-fueled Palin candidacy, and just generally want to put the whole natural gas pipeline deal behind them. I want to know who the Republicans are going to pick to represent the state legislature at the negotiating table.

My picks for the Senate.

-Ralph Seekins because he chairs the Special Committee on Natural Gas Development;
-Gene Therriault because he's been the go-to guy on the oil tax

The House side is a bit murkier. Ralph Samuels or Kevin Meyer, maybe, but aren't they both employed by the producers? I don't think either John Harris or John Coghill are the kinds of leaders who want to get into the nitty-gritty. Jay Ramras would love it and he's got some claim as co-chair of the Resources committee. There are others that are slipping my mind, I'm sure, at this hour.

This assumes, of course, the Republicans shut out the Democrats (not necessarily a certain assumption) and that the leadership doesn't overload the negotiating team with a whole lot of players.

Any other thoughts?

Heating Up

As I've indicated previously, I have some difficulty figuring out what Republican gubernatorial candidate Sarah Palin thinks on certain issues. Over at ADN's blog on the campaign, some of the commentors seem to be having a field day pointing to some Palin inconsistencies. Kyle Hopkins begins to address some of them:

I'll never disagree with people who say the stories could be meatier or the questions could be tougher. It's true. Always. That said, every candidate has to be held the same level of high accountability, and that's the goal over the next several weeks.

Of course, I'll agree. But there's only so much that can be done in a relatively short news story, be it in a newspaper or on radio or television. At some point, people just begin to tune out, baffled by the complexity of it all.

Part of the problem is that the general public is not nearly as wonkish and or politically-interested as the media that report on elections and policy are. I would gladly produce to a newscast full of pieces on policy and elections but I know that not all my listeners are interested in that. Part of the news business is, unfortunately, giving people what they want and not necessarily what they need. (To be fair, the public also needs non-policy-related news.)

One of my favorite parts of this job is talking with people about the topics they're most passionate about, whether it be the superintendent's latest program for the school or the woman who is researching how reindeer came to Alaska. One of the reasons I give Andrew Halcro any say and credibility at all is that he came into KNOM in April and sat for a very long interview, during which I was able to pepper him with all sorts of questions about all manner of topics. I can't wait for the opportunity to do the same with Sarah Palin. But how many people will listen to the resulting story?

R.I.P. Sirius

Some sad news from the Delta Discovery:

On July 4th, 2006 at 0730 hours Alaska State Trooper K9 Sirius died unexpectedly while on vacation with his partner Investigator Hazelaar and family in Fairbanks. He left behind a long legacy of service and accomplishments to the citizens of Alaska, Troopers, his partner and more importantly his family Jessica, Braedyn 8, Jamin 6, Ethan 6, and Jalyn 5 whom truly knew this great friend and protector....

With medical problems that slowed his initial start, K9 Sirius only had the ability to work for the citizens for approximately 6 months prior to his passing away. In that short time, K9 Sirius was the sole reason for 41 arrests in drug trafficking to the YK Delta. Of those arrests, K9 Sirius was attributed with a total of 57 pounds of marijuana seized, 7 ounces of Cocaine, 63 bottles of Distilled spirits, $93,000.00 in currency seized, and four vehicles. The total Street value on the narcotics and alcohol totaled $1,350,650.00 on the street and the total value on assets seized totaled over $175,000.00.
Sirius indirectly entered my life indirectly with the giant drug bust in Bethel in April. I was taken with the story, not only because I like seeing drug dealers caught and I like knowing that a million or so dollars might be spent on better items than illegal drugs but also because it allowed me to say "Big Bethel Bust" on air several times, which was endlessly amusing... and still is.

The Commissioner of Public Safety told me in April that they really liked having a K9 unit in the bush and Troopers said the bust was due to Sirius. Now with Sirius gone, will they be able to bring another dog into the position?

Incompetent Press

This isn't strictly Alaska-related but today's account of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's press conference is classic:

The news conference veered off into an unruly question-and-answer session, with reporters praising the president, questioning him and some jumping from their seats demanding that their questions be taken. The president politely admonished one reporter, saying he needed to behave better.

One reporter said he had no question but wanted to recite poetry.

A reporter for a small newspaper called The Path of the People stood to ask a question and said: “I was hoping when you arrived I would share my pain with you. Now I have no pain in my heart, only happiness.”

I have been to a few press conferences in my short time as a reporter, though none that are nearly as entertaining as this (though last weekend's joint Rumsfeld / Ivanov availability had the potential to come close). I guess it's as possible in Iran as it is in the United States to be blinded by the star quality of the person you're interviewing.

Bong Hits 4 Jesus

I absolutely agree with Beth Bragg this morning that the Juneau School District is only making itself look bad by taking the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case to the Supreme Court.

If the Juneau School Board, in its infinite stubbornness, is so worried that the message waved on a banner four years ago at a nonschool event will lead high school kids down the path to illegal drug use, why does it insist on giving the message such tremendous exposure?

Google "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" and you'll get 14,100 hits. Included among them is proof positive that the message has become part of the vernacular: It has its own Wikipedia entry.

To add a point that Bragg wouldn't be aware of, KNOM airs every story on this case because saying "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" is just a lot of fun. Try it. It just rolls off the tongue so nicely.

29 August 2006

America's Welfare State?

One of the things about living in Nome is that it can take mail a little while to get here. That means I just got my issue of the Economist and turned quickly to the article that trashes Alaska - America's Welfare State.

So let's take this article piece by piece.


Alaskan licence-plates may growl that this is the “The Last Frontier”, but urban areas—where four-fifths of Alaskans live—are amply stocked with espresso bars, broadband connections and all the comforts of modernity. Alaskans are, on average, slightly richer than Americans who live in the “lower 48” states.
I'm not sure where the 4/5s statistic comes from but it's clearly an elastic definition of urban. The trickier part about this is the second sentence. Sure, Alaskans may be "on average" slightly richer than people in the lower 48 but this only reveals yet again how misleading averages can be. There may be several people in Anchorage, Fairbanks, the Mat-Su who are quite well off. But what about the thousands of people who live in rural Alaska, in conditions that Alaska's own junior senator, Lisa Murkowski, has frequently compared to "third world." If Bill Gates and I are in a room together, our average net worth is slightly more than Tom Cruise's but that doesn't mean I'm richer than ol' Tom.

Citizens Against Government Waste, a watchdog, calculates that Alaska guzzles more pork per head than any other state.
Yes, this is probably true. Alaska knows how to ride the Stevens-Young-Murkowski gravy train pretty well, as Lexington notes later on. However, this is as much a criticism of Congress as it is of Alaska. Congressional funding is largely dependent, as we see over and over again, on a seniority system, where lawmakers who have been around for a long time can send more money home than those who haven't been. Fortunately for Alaska (but unfortunately for its reputation), Ted Stevens and Don Young (and even Frank Murkowski) have been around for a long time and know how to pull the right levers. Let's re-evaluate this claim when both are gone.

It is not as if they have no other source of cash. Alaska's oil wells allow the state to function without levying an income tax. And the interest from a $34 billion “Permanent Fund”, in which past oil receipts are stashed, gives every Alaskan man, woman and child an annual handout, expected to be about $1,000 this year.
And, as a matter of fact, hasn't Ted Stevens been making this exact point this year? In several speeches, Stevens has noted that it's hard to get funding for the Denali Commission, for instance, when the PFD is so large and there isn't an income tax. Lisa Murkowski, in my recent trip with her, made a similar point in Stebbins.

[Murkowski] shed the “longevity bonus”, a handout to persuade old people to stay in Alaska.
Another way to look at it is to see it as a means of off-setting the high cost of living in the bush so that Alaska native elders can continue the only lifestyle they've ever known.

The victor in the Republican primary, with 51%, was Sarah Palin, an articulate former small-town mayor.
By Alaska standards, I do not consider Wasilla a small town. It's part of the fastest-growing region of the state!

Sixth and finally,
Both candidates agree that Alaska needs to diversify, so that its economy depends less on a commodity whose price goes up and down like a drunken mountaineer.
Yes, of course, the economy needs to diversify (and there's a third candidate who has been talking about the boom and bust economy for some time). Ted Stevens has been arguing for some time that all the federal money is needed precisely so that Alaska can build an economy that is not so dependent on the price of natural resources. Isn't that the argument behind the Gravina Island "bridge to nowhere"? That the money be spent now to open that area to economic development? And the same argument underlies the painting of an Alaska Airlines 737 like a fish. That the industry be promoted so that there is less of a need for federal spending. This argument only holds so much water (after all, there is the question of proportion and the Gravina Island bridge carries a price tag out of proportion to its expected benefits) but it is a discussion that has been going on for some time.

Further, Stevens has called Alaska a "frontier state." The infrastructure in this state is under-developed, which is precisely why the state needs federal money. When you've got scores of villages without running water or flush toilets, it makes sense to ask for some money to provide basic services. Of course (and see point three), the state can kick in some of its own but there are needs in Alaska that do not exist in the lower 48.


One difficulty I have with an ADN article about Barrow:

Polar bears, which top 1,000 pounds, commonly wander through the village of 4,200.
Is Barrow not a first-class city? Aren't 4,200 people a few too many people for a village? Isn't Barrow a hub for the North Slope. If you're not comfortable calling it a city, at least you could use the phrase "community." But Barrow is definitely not a village.

27 August 2006


Unfortunately, my digital camera has at last given up the ghost so my pictures from today's Lend-Lease festivities are on 35mm. I'll post them when I get the film developed.

That being said, I enjoyed covering the hoopla of the dedication, with all the guests from near and far, even if the event was very poorly set up for radio coverage meaning I had to stand directly in front of a speaker, distorting my sound quality and blasting out my ears.

Earlier in the afternoon, I attended a press conference with Rumsfeld and Ivanov. It was frustrating in that there were both Russian and American national media in attendance and thus only one member of the Alaskan press corps was called upon to ask a question. Fortunately, that person was me. (Here's a tip for those kind of deals - figure out who is picking the questioners, get in his or her line of sight, and then stare at them until they look at you and motion you want to ask a question. Do this on several occasions and they'll get so sick of you, they'll call on you.) Unfortunately, my question was inartfully worded, about the 600 or so Alaska National Guardsmen from rural subsistence villages who have been called up and are in Mississippi getting ready for Iraq. So I got a boilerplate answer about honouring the service of all who serve. But it was my boilerplate!

Some reflections on the day -

-Loren Leman gets a bad rap. He's often portrayed as a cardboard cutout, lacking in charisma. He was quite funny today and must have been funnier in Russian because whenever he switched languages, which he did fairly well, the Russians cracked up.

-Ted Stevens was quite moving, I thought, at least much more so than when I saw him in Nome. He just kind of stumbled and mumbled, as he is want to do, through some thoughts on World War II that were made more meaningful by the fact that he himself is an Air Corps vet.

-Donald Rumsfeld tied World War II to the war on terrorism and then sat down. How predictable.

-Sergey Ivanov speaks quite good English, apparently, as he spoke in Russian but corrected his interpreter on more than a few occasions.

-As much as I loathe Gary Wilken for seemingly single-handedly ensuring that rural Alaska gets the shaft each and every legislative session, he is quite an eloquent speaker and even had me listening when he started talking about the history of the program, which I thought I already knew quite well.

-There was a good crowd of protesters on hand but I was dismayed by their posters. No catchy or original slogans at all. Then again, when the issues are drearily the same, I suppose the slogans can be as well.

A memorable experience for a relatively inexperienced rural Alaskan reporter.

Opening Today

The Lend-Lease Memorial dedication - the purpose of my visit to Fairbanks - is today (can you handle any more coverage from the News-Miner?) and last night there was a swanky reception for some of the many people in town for the event. My shoulders (in a slightly-too-small but ever-so-cheap-from-the-Nome-thrift-store suit coat that was just a little too informal for last night's festivities) are still a bit sore from rubbing with so many of the high and mighty. Donald Rumsfeld and Sergey Ivanov were there, as was Uncle Ted Stevens, military and diplomatic representatives of Canada, Russia, Great Britain, and France, Loren Leman, the entire Fairbanks state delegation, and various and sundry others.

Not that this is a tremendously earth-shattering revelation or anything but I realized - as I was pushed aside by Loren Leman and John Binkley, who were trying to get the best shot possible with their digital cameras - that the "high and mighty" (such as they are) are no different than the rest of us, just people looking to enjoy the memories.

I spent - again - much of my time speaking with the veterans, who are always so eager to talk and glad to have someone who will listen. I nearly had an interview with Ivanov but I let him go when I saw a former test pilot become available at the same time. Kind of chickening out, I know, but I figured the test pilot would be more willing to speak, spoke un-accented English, and would have a better story to tell.

Canadian Lt. General Eric Findley, deputy commander of NORAD, is retiring in December to the same area where I went to school - the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia. His wife and I are alumni of the same school.

I spoke with John Binkley a little while and told him there are people in Nome who are disappointed he didn't win (though I'm not sure I count myself among them). He said (and I agree wholeheartedly with this), "I sure hope we don't become a state where only what people in Southcentral think is important. There's so much else this state has." (That's a bit of a paraphrase).

Worrisome noises for Palin?

Some selections from this morning's ADN that, if I were Sarah Palin, would give me some cause for concern:

-A rather long story about the intra-party fight the Republicans appear to be engaged in. This might be a case of the media blowing something out of proportion but this could quickly become the story of the campaign, creating two races, Palin v. Knowles and Palin v. Ruedrich. If I were Palin, I'd want to talk only about the first one.

-This comment from the Alaska Ear:

In case you missed it, the governor's personal concession to Sarah Palin was truly classy, including a promise he would work hard for her election -- a vow Ear doubts Sarah would have made had the situation been reversed. Anyhow, it seemed to take Sarah by surprise. At one point, she said he was making her cry.
Now that Sarah is a statewide force for at least the next two or so months, she'll be facing increased scrutiny. Gut reactions and first impressions count for a lot and this is not a good one.

-A challenge to Sarah to re-invent herself:

Others suspect the voters' distemper was aimed primarily at Murkowski.

"I don't think that focus is going to sustain itself," said Moore. "I think it's going to gravitate to a debate on the issues."

Said Fradley: "If her big claim is 'I'm not Frank,' who cares now that Frank's gone?"

You can, of course, take issue with this analysis but it is a challenge to Palin. A reporter ends his articles with the thought he or she wants to leave with readers. These are the last paragraphs of a lengthy article.

My point is simply that on the weekend after what was really a stunning victory by a young, maverick, female candidate who ran against her party, was outspent, and running against an incumbent, the paper could have spent time acknowledging that. Instead, in at least three different places, it made comments and paid attention to issues that are going to raise substantial issues for Palin as enters the general election.

26 August 2006

No more pizza (or news!)

From time to time, I have submitted stories to Alaska Public Radio's weekly news magazine "AK." I've always enjoyed the process and done my best to step up to the challenge of making my stories of a slightly higher quality than the usual fodder for the daily news folder.

Now, I hear AK is getting cancelled, one of many changes coming to Alaska public media. At KNOM, we used the stringer fees from shows like AK to treat ourselves and the station staff to occasional parties and circular Italian tomato pies. Following the cancellation of Independent Native News earlier this summer, we now have no feasible pizza fund-raising strategy.

As difficult as this news is to take, I am far more disappointed by the cutbacks, particularly given the personal and professional relationships I have developed with many of the APRN staff. Particularly in a state the size of Alaska with frequent extreme weather events and a dispersed population, radio is vitally important. I have learned that from my own experience. APRN was (and will continue to be, I am sure) an important piece of that radio puzzle but if it continues to get its funding cut and find itself hamstrung, the results are not going to be pretty.

Fairbanks on Saturday

I continue to enjoy myself thoroughly in Fairbanks. At a welcoming reception last night for guests of the Lend-Lease memorial weekend, I had a fascinating conversation with a former transport pilot who supplied the Lend-Lease airstrips in Canada and Alaska. It was his first time back in the Great Land since he left in 1945. I just love hearing stories from World War II veterans.

I haven't been able to figure out a way to post the stories I'm filing but the News-Miner is doing a fine job covering the event.

The Role of Money

As I noted earlier, one of the most surprising aspects of the recent primary election was that candidates and causes that spent the most money did not do so well.

To that end, why is Eric Croft complaining?

Sponsors of a proposed tax on natural gas reserves say they are determined to find out who is funding television ads against their ballot measure.

State Reps. Eric Croft and Harry Crawford say the recent ad by the non-profit group Alaska's Future crosses a line because it advocates voting against the $1 billion gas reserves tax. Croft and Crawford say that means the Alaska Public Offices Commission should require the group to disclose its contributors.
Just let them keep playing those ads, Eric. Sooner or later, Alaskans will evaluate the measure on its merit and it'll get the result it deserves. Or, at least, that's what last Tuesday's results would seem to indicate.

25 August 2006

What Changes are Necessary?

The Governor seems intent on calling another special session. It's not going over so well:

House Judiciary Committee chair Lesil McGuire says the House leadership has told the governor they are not interested in another go-around on the same contract, with its decades-long lock-in of tax rates, the surrendering of the state's right to sue and other controversial provisions.

“I think what you're seeing is a real reluctance to go back and just sort of beat our head against the wall over and over again with the same set of problems. So the hope is that this governor would present a new set of terms to the Legislature, take the feedback that we've given in the last year and put that to constructive use,” said McGuire, R-Anchorage.
So here's the question. What will it take for the legislature to willingly return to Juneau at the height of campaign season? What changes need to be made for the contract to make more progress than it has made either of the two previous times?

(This discussion, of course, leaves aside the administration's failure to submit proposed changes by the deadline earlier this week. The legislature almost extended the deadline and then didn't during the last session and yet the administration is still late.)

The first major issue is the freezing of oil and gas taxes, the "fiscal certainty." It appears to be a non-starter for most lawmakers. Is there a compromise on the horizon?

The second issue is Alaskan access to the gas. Sure, the proposed deal allows for take-off points in Alaska but this seems to have emerged as a big deal.

And there's a little disagreement about the route.

Looking at all that (and I've quickly made this list based on my relatively cursory knowledge of the issues at hand), it's hard to see what changes could be made in the next month or so that are both acceptable to the producers and acceptable to the legislature. Right now, I'd put good odds on the legislature convening, listening to the governor talk, and then adjourning sine die.

Poor Frank Murkowski. Only 19 per cent of his party support him and the one lawmaker who came out in support of his plan - Ben Stevens - is an even lamer duck than he was in the last special session.

On the other hand, how united are Republican lawmakers? Are they all going to be busy currying favor with Sarah Palin and thus rejecting whatever the governor comes up with? Or, are they so frightened of what Palin could do that they'll take whatever the governor gives them?

In the Golden Heart

Let me correct one small item from KTUU's recent press coverage of Donald Rumsfeld's trip to Alaska:

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will be in Alaska this weekend. He's expected to meet with the families of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team at Fort Wainwright Saturday.

The Pentagon says he's also planning to discuss North Korea's nuclear program with the Russian defense minister Sunday. It's part of a four-day trip to Alaska.
The SecDef will also be holding a media availability on Sunday and then speaking at the opening of the Lend-Lease Memorial. KNOM AM/FM Nome will be present. Suggestions for probing questions?

I must say that I really am enjoying Fairbanks. Not only is it far superior to Anchorage, it is just so much closer (if I can use that word non-spatially) to the Alaska that I have come to know and love in Nome. You could pick up Anchorage and put it down pretty well anywhere in the Lower 48 and it wouldn't look or feel that out of place. That's not true of Fairbanks, I think (with the exception of certain parts).

24 August 2006


I'll be in Fairbanks this weekend, covering the opening of the Lend-Lease Memorial. My suit coat is packed (two dollars at the thrift store - definitely not something I've ever needed in Nome) and it has been brushed down so I can properly rub shoulders with all the VIPs.

The Fight Within the Fight

Sarah Palin is clearly not satisfied with just winning the Republican nod for governor:

On election night, Palin had suggested that Republican Party of Alaska chairman Randy Ruedrich, who paid an ethics fine after Palin told the state that he was mixing his political duties with his former state job, should resign as head of the party.

On Wednesday, Palin said her lopsided victory in the Republican primary was a sign that voters want the same thing.

"Last night, those numbers that poured in were a mandate for positive change, not just in state government but in the party also," she said.

This is the challenge faced by every victorious maverick - how do you use the establishment to your advantage once you win? Palin is taking one route - take over the party establishment and re-form it in your image. The other route is letting the establishment take over you. This story is made all the more interesting because of the personal connection between the two.

KTUU also has a story on this:

“Candidates say a lot of the things, in the moment and everything. At the end of the day, the party is more than a candidate, more than an individual. And I would say to Sarah Palin, and I am a strong Sarah Palin supporter, that is really not her call,” said Joe Geldhof (right), a Juneau Republican.
It may not be her call but she does have quite a bit of power in the party right now - more than half the Republican electorate supported her. That being said, how does she want to use it? The party establishment can presumably offer her quite a bit of organizational support in the fall election (maybe get her out to rural Alaska). She'd be foolish to turn it down.

It doesn't look like Ruedrich is leaving. This could be a real fight.

23 August 2006

The Big Bad Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood

I'm almost blinded by the glare from the white teeth in this picture.

Tony can't help but look like the Big Bad Wolf taking on the statewide political neophyte. Sarah does a good job of conveying her charm, sophistication, and "I'm-so-going-to-own-you-in -November" attitude.

Suggested captions?


Frank Murkowski's defeat gets covered in the New York Times. And they make Sarah Palin seem a real qualified and experienced candidate:

Sarah Palin, the former mayor of a small town who has never held statewide office, was leading with 50 percent of the vote.
Well, Wasilla isn't exactly a small town (at least by my standards) and she was on the AOGCC (not an elected office, of course), it does summarize Palin's career in one short sentence. And makes Frank's defeat seem all the more pathetic.

Money talks?

If you ask a political analyst to size up a race, one of the first things he or she will look at is the relative spending by the two candidates. Money buys ads, pays for campaign trips, spreads literature around, and generally greases the wheels of a candidate's shot at office.

Therefore, one of the most surprising things about Alaska's election results, is that money manifestly did not talk. Binkley outspent Palin three-to-one (as of the latest - but not final - figures) and still lost by 20 points. The cruise ship industry spent millions of dollars trying to shoot down measure 2, an attempt that appears to have failed. And Alaskans confirmed their views on money in politics by overwhelmingly supporting measure 1, which puts a variety of campaign finance restrictions in place.

Clearly, in the Republican governor's race, there was another strong motivating factor that really swept people into the Palin column. What was it? I'd say it was the combination of three things.

First, it's a strong anti-incumbent year combined with an unpopular incumbent. People were looking for the anti-Frank Murkowski and perhaps found Binkley not sufficiently different. For sure, he was different but Palin was the diametric opposite in a lot of ways.

Second, I think there's a strong anti-establishment sense this year. Binkley was pretty closely associated with the Republican establishment. Sarah, for obvious reasons, was not. Looks like she had the better strategy.

Third, I guess Palin just had the more appealing policies and positions. (But even after nearly a year-long candidacy, I can't figure out what she thinks of the gas pipeline, education, health care, public safety in rural Alaska, and so on and so forth. Who is Sarah Palin?)

Bush Voting

I spent election night at the Region IV election headquarters on East Front St. in Nome. Our goal was to provide live results from the precincts in the villages in our listening area.

Well... it didn't work out. By the time midnight rolled around, we did not have any regional results to report on so we packed up and headed home. Paul, the news director, and I did manage to fill a fair bit of air time speculating on statewide results and talking about some of the other races. What was frustrating, though, was that we were listening to coverage from the Egan Center in Anchorage with one ear and they had practically called the race even before the 100 or so villages in Region IV had managed to report. For several hours last night I sat and watched a bunch of hard-working volunteers try to tabulate results so let's take a moment to talk about the challenges of counting ballots in rural Alaska.

First of all, there was all kinds of new machinery. From what election officials were telling us, the Diebold touch-screen machines were creating all kinds of headaches in the villages. Add to that, the three different types of ballots and there were a lot of results to report.

Second, there were a number of different races, from governor on down to state representative and the two ballot measures. Unlike urban Alaska, where you can just write down your results on a piece of paper and hand them in (I surmise), out here you need to phone those results in. It takes a lot of time to recite statistics on turnout, questioned ballots, absentee ballots, and then results for each of the number of candidates running for each seat. Then those numbers have to be double-checked and so on and so forth.

Third, let's talk about the phone. If you've ever made a call to a village in rural Alaska (even from a hub like Nome), you'll know the connection is never great. Most of the time, there's an echo and a delay and the volume is generally quite low. Add to this the fact that you might be speaking with someone for whom English is not a first language and that adds up to a long (and trying) conversation for each precinct. And when you've got nearly a 100, like you do in Region IV and a handful of people answering the phones, it can take quite a while.

I understand that the you can make some pretty good guesses based on urban Alaska's votes, since the majority of voters are there. But I was so frustrated last night listening to urban Alaska media sources essentially rendering the rural Alaska vote meaningless by calling the race and signing off before Region IV (representing a huge chunk of the state) managed to get its results together.

More on the election results another time.

22 August 2006

Waffle Overload

One of the things about living in Nome is the high cost of living. This is the obvious point. When everything has to be flown or barged in, costs go up.

And the effects of those high costs play out in many ways. For instance, Eggo waffles were on sale the other week - 4 packages of 16 waffles each for $11. I don't normally eat Eggo waffles and I don't particularly like them but 64 waffles for $11 was too good a deal to pass up. So I bought them.

Now I'm stuck with more waffles than I know what to do with. As I ate waffles number 21-24 this morning for breakfast, I seriously questioned the wisdom of my decision and just how else I could eat waffles other than my usual peanut butter and syrup route.

But a sale's a sale. And you can't pass them up.

I Voted

Matt Volz says the election turns on oil and natural gas issues. Not for me. My vote came down to who I thought would help rural Alaska out the most. And based on my previous musings, it shouldn't be that hard to figure out who I voted for.

What ultimately turned the tide for me is that I realized it was a primary election and not the general election. I realized the obvious point that even though I voted for a Republican today, I can easily change my vote in November based on whomever emerges from today.

One question I have not seen addressed much is the effect of Andrew Halcro's candidacy on the race, particularly since he seems to have enough signatures to make the ballot. From Halcro's perspective, I think the best match-up would be Murkowski-Knowles. Halcro could present himself as the new face of the Republican party and also the face of the next generation of Alaska leaders, given the generational gap. The worst Republican candidate for Halcro would be Palin, since it would take away Halcro's arguments about age and about being a counter-establishment Republican. Since Murkowski isn't going to win, I bet Halcro is voting for Binkley today.

21 August 2006

Weighing my choices

I'm still weighing my choices in advance of tomorrow's election. I think now it's just going to be a gut decision when it comes to ballot.

As for the ballot measures, I'm voting yes on both, following my general belief that less money in politics and more money in the state treasury are both good things. Yes, ballot measure 2 in particular is flawed and I have problems with legislating through the ballot box but this was not a difficult decision.

Frank Murkowski's troubles make the Washington Post. People are asking now how low will he go? I honestly think single digits is pushing it. I don't think the winner of this race will get more than 35 per cent of the vote, which leaves plenty for Frank to get into double digits... not very far, though.

Also, I've been meaning to call up the Division of Elections for the past few weeks and volunteer to work on election day, handing out ballots or whatnot. It seems like they always say they need more people. I finally get around to stopping by today and they say they don't need anyone else. I guess it's my own fault for being so late.

Go vote... it'll do your body good.

20 August 2006

One year ago

In a continued effort to put off the inevitable darkness, I have some more pictures of beautiful sunsets.
The Gold Rush City and the Bering Sea as seen from the top of Anvil Mountain on a clear August evening almost exactly one year ago.
This seemed like a remarkably late sunset at the time. I think this picture was taken around 10:30 from the top of Anvil Mountain. Now I scoff at 10:30. Why must the sun insist on leaving us so early each night?

Oil Tax

Governor Murkowski signs the new oil tax bill.

Hollis French questions the timing:

On Saturday, French accused the governor of playing politics with the tax bill by calling a press conference to sign it three days before Tuesday's Republican primary election.

"The governor was trying to kind of throw a 'Hail Mary' pass here, trying to generate some enthusiasm prior to Tuesday," said French, who attended the bill-signing at Murkowski's Anchorage office. "More like a fumble to me."

My particularly favorite part of the whole thing is that this a tax rate that Murkowski clearly didn't want, as he made clear on number of occasions during the process. And now he signs a 41-page bill (remember, his initial proposal was only about 14-pages long), with a higher tax rate, and takes all the credit for being the oil tax visionary.

Yes, I'd say French's charge sticks.

19 August 2006

Palin candidacy

As I've noted before, my problem with the Palin candidacy is that - to the best of my knowledge - she has done no campaigning in rural Alaska. Confirmation again in the News-Miner today:

Palin is passing on Fairbanks, but was here last week and has hardly given up on it, according to Bailey. She’s made at least eight trips to the city since she declared her intention to run for governor, many of them while campaigning in her Volkswagen Jetta.
As a general rule, when campaigning in a state with so few roads, a Volkswagen Jetta strikes me as not the ideal form of transport.

The worst part is that Palin declared last October (on Alaska Day) and was in Nome in February for Iron Dog to support her husband. You would think that between $300,000, a snow-machining husband, and 10 months on the campaign trail, she could have shown rural Alaska a little love.


There's no real reason to post these pictures other than that I want to share them. I guess my trip to Diomede was just about five months ago now.This is a shot out the plane window of the tiny community, perched on a steep rock face on a small island just about a mile and a half from the International Date Line and less than three miles from Big Diomede Island, which is Russian territory.

As you can see from the map, it's pretty far from Nome. There isn't a runway on the land so access is by weekly helicopter during the non-ice months and by plane on an ice runway during the winter months. The runway is actually quite smooth, I must say.

Like many, many other people, I was weathered into Diomede for a bit longer than I anticipated. Though one could probably explore the entirety of the entertainment opportunities in Diomede in less than half an hour, I was pleased to be invited to a night of drumming and dancing. Every time I feel like I'm close to "getting it" with the dancing, I'm positive they go and switch it all on me. Drumming was a bit easier but not nearly as easy it looks.

Mayor and elder Pat Omiak Sr. showed me how he carves ivory. He's drilling a piece right now with his mouth drill. A few weeks after returning from this trip, I was working down at the museum and came across a picture of a man using an identical tool. The picture was from 1909, I think.

Good memories...
I'd like to return.

18 August 2006

Two Weeks On...

This is me, fifteen days ago, standing amidst what was left of the Hooper Bay School. I'm wearing my Nome Ambulance Department jacket (that got me to Hooper Bay) and my KNOM hat (what I did while I was there).I haven't been back since - travel is difficult between the Bering Strait region and the Delta - but I post this picture because I've been impressed at what I've been hearing. The site is largely cleaned up, housing is on the way, the Red Cross has raised enough money, the school has figured out what it's going to do until the new school is ready, and so on.

When I first heard about the fire, almost the first thing out of my mouth was, "This is how the bush dies." What I meant was that if villages keep having devastating fires, pretty soon urban Alaskans are going to get tired of paying the bills. Fortunately, I was completely and utterly wrong.

Sunsets are Coming

In a vain attempt to put off the earlier and earlier setting of the sun, I am posting some images of the sun setting in the hopes that just seeing the sun set will help us realize just how frustrating the sun set is and push back darkness just a bit longer.

The photo above was taken in late September of last year on the east beach of Nome. That's Sledge Island on the right.

The photo on the right was taken in Gambell last December. It's about 3:30 in the afternoon.

We are crossing some important psychological barriers lately with our sunrises and sunsets. The sun is now rising after 7am, which means I'll soon have to struggle through darkness when I wake up. The sun is about to start setting before 11pm, which actually might work out as it will help me go to bed a bit earlier. In the past few weeks, I've been staying up very late, to enjoy every last moment of daylight. Finally, we're about to go below 16 hours a day of daylight. 8 full hours of darkness! The tragedy of it all!

Going Smoke Free

Anchorage is going smoke free.

What I really like about this decision is how far-reaching the ordinance is (although I think opponents do have some legitimate concerns about the "baby-sitter clause"). That being said, why the long wait? I can see some time being necessary but nearly a whole year?

Here's the real question, though - if Anchorage can do it, why don't other parts of the state follow suit? I was driving to Teller to the other day and we started talking about smoking bans. All of us in the truck were non-smokers but I was surprised at the vehemence with which we all hated smoking in bars. It wasn't just a sort of, "oh yeah, that's annoying but what can you do about it"; it was a full-throated, "I hate smelling like smoke and smoke-free bars are so much nicer" type of feeling. The population of smokers is rapidly diminishing. When will bars stop making their establishments havens for all of them when there is clearly some latent wishes for a smoke-free environment?

If the Nome Common Council can talk about banning plastic bags, surely they can talk about a smoking ordinance?

Reason #4,685 I like living in Nome

Nome River valley on a rare, beautiful late July morning near Dorothy Falls. The water sure was cold when I forded it!

Which is worse?

That the Fly by Night club is closing or that it's being turned into a sports bar, the last thing Anchorage needs more of?

Oh Anchorage... let me add to my list of reasons I am glad I live in rural Alaska

17 August 2006

Which Ballot?

So the primary election is just around the corner. Here's my dilemma - as a non-declared voter, which ballot do I select?

I have three choices - the Republican ballot, all parties-but-Republican ballot, and the measures-only ballot.

The third choice is out because I want to have my say in the governor's race. That leaves me two options. The deciding factor between the ballots has to be the governor's race. Richard Foster is unopposed in the House race for District 39 and Donny Olson's seat isn't up for grabs.

I know people in a similar situation who reach for the Republican ballot naturally because the contest is closer there and the winner has a better shot at the mansion in Juneau. I'd like to follow suit, but for two factors.

The first is my natural predilection to vote Democrat. I realize Alaska is a less partisan state than most but I still find it difficult to cast a vote for a Republican, even if I later have an opportunity to vote against that same candidate.

The second is that I endeavour to make all my votes affirmative votes. That is, I don't want to find myself in a position of voting for the candidate that is the lesser of some evil but for a candidate who I think will legitimately do a good job promoting policies that I believe in.

I am in a fortunate position in that as a news reporter I have met and/or interviewed many of the candidates, sometimes on more than one occasion. With that knowledge, I can safely strike Frank Murkowski from my list. He's friendly and reminds me of my grandfather but I can't help but think his time has come and gone. I haven't met Sarah Palin and am a little worried that $300,000-plus didn't buy her a trip to the bush or even a phone call. I met - but did not interview - John Binkley and was impressed, particularly by his bush experience and his energy. On the Democrat side, I have met neither candidate and am disappointed for the same reasons I am in the Palin candidacy. Nor did I find myself particularly drawn to Eric Croft during the legislative session (but Mary Kapsner likes him and I do like her).

That would leave Binkley as the obvious choice and I can probably stomach my uncertainties about voting Republican and realize my vote is simply a vote for the person who will treat the bush the best, regardless of party affiliation.

But there are two more complicating factors. The first is that I'm not wholly comfortable with Binkley in a way that I can't quite express. Of course, I doubt that I'd ever be entirely at ease with any candidate. The second is the lieutenant governor's race. If I pick a Republican ballot, I'd be forced to pick between two yahoos who I care little about. And I wouldn't be able to vote for Ethan Berkowitz, the one candidate I have spoken with that I legitimately appreciated and was on board with. (Why did he defer to Tony? My life would be a lot easier right now.) Sure, he may just be talking the talk but I really like his experience in Antarctica and his degrees.

So I'm still undecided about the ballot. Maybe I'll just vote for Binkley and write Berkowitz in on the Republican ballot to assuage my conscience.

Once more...

After more than a year away from blogging, I've returned to the sport for a couple of reasons.

First, I really like to write. I know there are numerous avenues for that and I've been enjoying many of them - including in my professional, day-to-day responsibilities - but I often find myself wishing I had a much larger audience. I don't know who'll stop by this corner of the web, but it's always worth a shot.

Second, life in rural Alaska is just so overwhelming and so richly expressive that it strikes me as a true shame that there aren't more people chronicling the intriguing tapestry of events that makes up life in this glorious part of Creation. My posts will only scratch the surface but that's better than nothing.

Third, why not?

I'd like to keep this blog focused on Alaska, particularly my experience of Alaska. That means posts primarily about rural Alaska and the Bering Straits Region more specifically. Given my professional responsibilities and natural political inclinations, I foresee more than a few posts that apply perhaps to the issues of statewide significance. What I'd really like to avoid is writing about the same old national and international events that everyone writes about with no degree of authority. What I've realized is that the only thing I can speak with any authority about is my own experience and that will be my focus. Not, of course, that authority is necessary when it comes to blogging but it is a nice place to start...

One more rule for myself is that I'd like to limit the amount of time this takes from my life. That means there probably won't be daily posts. I'll be too busy experiencing all that rural Alaska has to offer.