30 March 2007

The Return

Don't know how I got this e-mail but Andrew Halcro sent me a link today to this announcement on his web site:

I'll return to the pages of the Anchorage Daily News Opinion section on Sunday April 1, 2007.

My first column will be on campaign promises and the current state of Alaska's fiscal landscape.

I welcome this news as I would welcome the news of any well-written attempts to hold politicians to account, particularly given the state of reporting from Juneau of late. And since I don't want to see Andrew Halcro fade from the political landscape, I welcome the pulpit it will give him as he plots his next run (and the one after that and after that...)

29 March 2007

Great Leaders

"All politics is local," they say (or, rather, Tip O'Neill said). This is usually seen as advice to politicians to take care of their home district if they want to be re-elected.

But it's equally important for citizens to remember. Important decisions that have demonstrable impacts on our lives are made by those friends and neighbors of ours who decide to sit on local councils and boards.

That's why I liked the advice the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner gives today:

The pending departures of Mayor Thompson and Councilman Cleworth, whatever you think of their beliefs about city government, are a loss for the city. Both men are exceptionally knowledgeable about the workings of the city government. They know its abilities and its shortcomings. They know its potential.

So now, four months ahead of the filing deadline, is when people should be thinking about who their next batch of leaders will be.

Just five people ran for the two City Council seats on last year’s ballot. It was the same in 2005. Mayor Thompson and Councilman Seeliger ran unopposed in 2004. Just three people, including an incumbent, ran for the two council seats on the 2003 ballot.

Where are the rest of the great minds that we know live in Fairbanks?

No doubt those people are reluctant to step into a difficult situation not of their making and face the constant sour tone of talk radio and the disparaging comments that often pockmark the City Council meetings.

But needed those great minds are.

Election Day is a long way away but it's not too early too think about using it as an opportunity to change the direction of your community by suffering the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" (to toss another gratuitous quotation in there) and serving.

28 March 2007


Carl Gatto comes up with the response to the watered-down Ocean Ranger bill I wish I had thought of:

Gatto said anyone who is party to overturning the voter mandate should step down. If voters didn't know what they were voting for with the initiative, he said, then maybe they were wrong about the lawmakers they elected, too.

Gatto said he has a message for his colleagues who don't support the initiative: “If (the public) voted right in voting for you, then they voted right on the cruise ship initiative,” he said. “We cannot violate the will of the people."
This is also interesting:
The five members of the Transportation Committee who did not oppose HB 164 received a total of $11,300 in campaign contributions from cruise industry interests in the last election cycle, according to APOC records. Rep. Kyle Johansen, a first-term Republican from cruise industry-reliant Ketchikan who chairs the committee, led the pack with $3,900 in contributions from industry interests, despite having no opponent in the November election.
(This, incidentally, is good reporting. It researches the issue and puts the legislative debate in a context of cruise-ship contributions, rather than simply reporting "he said, she said," which is what a lot of legislative articles turn into. Wouldn't want to be too controversial, you know.)

At a bill-signing today, Governor Palin didn't threaten a veto but she compared Gatto favorably to Thomas Jefferson and said she appreciated his comments. I wonder if this is one of those manifestations of the clash between the old party politics Palin campaigned against and the "new politics" she might represent.

The problem is that if she vetoes this watered-down bill, there might not be anything in place for this cruise season, which would be disappointing. On the plus side, the ADN finally got around to covering the issue today so that might result in a little positive public pressure.

27 March 2007

Vox Pop

As we know, some House Republicans really want to know what the people of Alaska think about granting benefits to same-sex partners of state employees. That's why they decided to spend all this money on a special advisory election on the issue to find out if they should consider putting a constitutional amendment on the 2008 ballot.

Apparently, a couple of these House Republicans have impressive powers of clairvoyance and are confident Alaskans will support the idea of banning benefits. Why else would they have held a hearing today on the constitutional amendment and passed it out of committee?

This does not make sense. Either, lawmakers could cancel the vote, do their job, and represent the will of the people. Or, they could go ahead with this unique vote but actually mean it and wait until the results are in before beginning to move the constitutional amendment through committee.

Of course, we know how lawmakers treat other expressions of public opinion.

Mark Hamilton

We had University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton on air today, taking questions from listeners and talking about UA. I've interviewed him before but this was the first time we'd had him on air live.

Hamilton has a fascinating background for a university president and he is easily one of my favorite interviews in my radio career.

University presidents these days are mostly just cheerleaders and fundraisers for their institutions. I don't know a lot about Mark Hamilton but I'd say he does a good job in this role.

26 March 2007

Stretching to the Bering Sea

The ADN has an interview today with Interior lawmaker Woodie Salmon. One of the themes of the interview is the trouble of representing a rural part of the state in a body dominated by urban representatives who don't know their problems or concerns.

This sentence caught my eye:

Salmon's region is larger than Texas and stretches from the Canadian border to the Bering Sea.
Actually, if you check out the map of the state's legislative districts, you'll see District 6 doesn't touch the Bering Sea. (Hence the reason Salmon is referred to as an "Interior" lawmaker.) Richard Foster and Mary Kapsner/Nelson have a lock on the ocean.

As I've said before, mistakes aren't helpful but everyone makes them so they're forgivable.

Ironically, however, this particular mistake confirms the theme of the story, which is that Anchorage folk are out of touch with rural Alaskans, so out of touch, in fact, they can't even get the geography of the region right.

Seward's Day

Happy Seward's Day. I don't have it off but it seems like everyone else in Nome does.

So what does one do on Seward's Day? How about celebrating it by committing acts of folly.

23 March 2007

Unsubstantiated claims

If you go back and listen to the House Republicans' press availability from last Monday, you'll hear two rather remarkable claims from House Speaker John Harris:


"Did the public understand about the Ocean Ranger program they voted on? Because quite frankly in the whole debate over cruise ship head tax which is really what the debate was about the Ocean Ranger program was never discussed by anybody. There can be, as far as I can tell, no record at all in any newspaper, no record at all in any media program that I can find where the Ocean Ranger program was part and parcel of the discussion."
I guess the Speaker and I consume different media sources. I can absolutely guarantee that the Ocean Ranger program was mentioned in KNOM's coverage of the the ballot measure. We're regional media, for sure, but I know that APRN devoted at least a full hour on Talk of Alaska to the program and I'm sure it came up there. On top of all that, the Division of Elections sent around a detailed description of the initiative, including the Ocean Ranger program. To state as unequivocally as the Speaker did that the program was never mentioned strikes me as just begging to be contradicted.

"We're trying to figure out exactly what the intent was and if the sponsors themselves had conflicts of interests involving people they represent."
First of all, I'm not sure it's the legislature's job to figure out what the intent of the initiative is. That was the job of the voters and the voters expressed their opinion on the measure last summer. Now lawmakers need to implement it.

But more importantly, the conflict of interest charge is spurious if provided without any back-up or supporting evidence. It's particularly spurious given the contributions of the cruise ship industry to the Republican party. If you want to talk conflict of interest, that's where I would start.

I waited during the press availability for someone to challenge the Speaker on both of these claims, to make him - you know - support his claims with evidence. That never happened. At a minimum, the goal of the media should be not to allow politicians to make claims without being forced to substantiate them. Otherwise, "facts" just enter the public record (e.g. "Iraq has weapons of mass destruction") when they have no right to.

I've been waiting since Monday for some statewide media organization to mention this mendacious approach to the will of the people. There can be, as far as I can tell, no record at all in any newspaper, no record at all in any media program that I can find where the Speaker's comments were part and parcel of the discussion.

22 March 2007

The Will of the People?

Republicans in Juneau claim to want to hear what the people think about the possibility of a constitutional amendment that bans employment benefits for same-sex partners of state employees. That's why they're willing to spend 1-point-2 million dollars from the state treasury to have a special election. (And they do this even as they reject hundreds of thousands of dollars in spending on social programs, citing a need to keep spending in check.)

Leaving aside all the obvious objections to this election (legislating through the constitution, Anchorage-heavy turnout, no provision in the constitution for an advisory vote, etc.), let's just consider how lawmakers are responding to recent expressions of the will of the people.

Voters established a 90-day legislative session last year. We've already heard some lawmakers reject that idea and say the constitution hasn't been changed so they'll stay in session just as long as they please.

House Republicans are moving a bill that eviscerates the Ocean Ranger program established by a voter initiative last fall. Apparently, when we approved the measure we didn't actually know what we were doing so it's fine to ignore our constitutionally binding vote, particularly when you're taking contributions from the cruise ship industry.

Were it not for the heightened attention to ethics this session, I imagine there would be a push to undo some parts of the campaign finance initiative that passed last session as has happened in the past. That would make lawmakers three for three in ignoring their constituents.

I'm going to go vote on April 3rd but only because I like voting, not because I'm confident lawmakers will actually listen to my vote.

20 March 2007

Setting the terms

Apparently, there's a crucial bit missing from AGIA - how do you decide who gets the contract based on the proposals that are submitted? When you need someone to pave your driveway, you probably just get a couple of bids and take the lowest. But with all the factors surrounding a gas pipeline, low bid probably won't get you where you need to be.

I don't know how to resolve this issue but I did hear one interesting thought today: the conditions for different entities should be different. For instance:

  • If Exxon wants to be the winning bidder, make them - finally - pay the fishermen in the Gulf of Alaska who still haven't got their money from the 1989 spill.
  • If BP wants to be the winning bidder, make them spend more money on safety and corrosion prevention.
The list could be longer, of course, but you get the idea.

Economic Effects

Lisa Murkowski is apparently basing her decision on whether to support a cap-and-trade approach to reducing emissions on whether such a program would have an economic effect on Alaska:

Murkowski has asked the state university's Institute of Social and Economic Research to study the impacts of Bingaman's bill on Alaska's economy, Sweeney said. If it doesn't hurt the economy too much, she may vote for it, he said.
The problem with this approach is that the traditional measures of "the economy" don't include the resources that are really being hurt by global warming. Just look a little bit earlier in the article:
Warmer air and water have caused diseases in fish, plants and wildlife, the resolution says. Storm-bred waves are eating the ground beneath villages -- they're less protected by shoreline ice -- forcing a handful of villages to plan for relocation. Thinning ice has made winter travel on lakes and rivers riskier because snowmachines and people can crash through.

People in Shishmaref, a village of 581, are afraid walrus will stop coming, Weyiouanna said.

Walrus hunt from the ice, diving to sea bottoms to feed. If the ice moves out too far, above sea bottoms the walrus can't reach, they may not survive, he said.

Walrus habitat, the integrity of the shoreline, the health of fish or plants, the temperature of the permafrost, the thickness of the ice, and so many other immediate and clearly visible impacts of global warming are not easily measured by gross national product, per capita GDP, productivity, etc., etc. And yet it is absolutely these signs and indications that demand action on global warming.

The word "economy" is rooted in a Greek word ("oikos") that means household. Economics is initially based in what affects homes and families. The question Lisa Murkowski should be asking is what is the impact of global warming on the households of Alaska natives that are being devastated by warming temperatures.

19 March 2007

Ramy Brooks

There's a lot of kerfuffle surrounding Ramy Brook's Iditarod finish. I just want to add two thoughts:

First, I want someone to ask how common the abuse that Brooks is accused of (and has apparently admitted to) is. While wrong, hitting a dog with a lathe doesn't strike me as a completely unpardonable offense (jockeys hit horses with crops all the time, greyhounds live in small cages and wear muzzles and I'm sure are hit) and there are many long hours on the trail when mushers are far from any observation. It doesn't make sense to me that Brooks is a random outlier who happened to make a mistake right in front of a bunch of people. It strikes me more that Brooks was the one who got caught. And he got caught doing something that reveals the tension in Iditarod between the reality of raising and racing large amounts of animals and the media and fan-fuelled anthropomorphization and romanticization of the "Last Great Race."

Second, could the ADN please use a better picture of Brooks? The picture they have used in all their stories on him so far make him look like an ax murder (or dog abuser) when he is, in fact, a pleasant man with a nice smile. I don't want to say he's a perfect person and doesn't deserve what he got but using a picture like this I think pre-judges the story for people who might just be flipping through the paper without reading the entire story.

Making the big time

Someone recorded one of my Iditarod updates and posted it to their Iditarod blog. You can hear me share my extensive "expert" knowledge of all things Iditarod.

I'm on the Internet! I've made the big time.

16 March 2007

Waiving the limitations

I have been reading lots of court documents over the last many months and years and writing many stories about sexual abuse lawsuits filed against former Catholic clergy in Western Alaska. Most of those stories have been about courts dismissing these lawsuits because the statute of limitations has passed.

So my ears perked up when I heard about Hollis French's idea to waive the statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases for one year.

It's an intriguing idea but one that generates numerous questions:

  • If the legislature waives the statute of limitations on this issue, won't there be pressure do the same with other sorts of topics? I can't think of any of the top of my head, though.
  • How does this affect lawsuits against clergy and the Catholic Church hierarchy?
  • Will courts be overwhelmed by the number of cases that would be filed during this window?
  • Will this generate a number of spurious lawsuits?
  • Are civil penalties really the best way to address this issue? Criminal penalties are out but the Catholic Church hierarchy has repeatedly stated if all the suits were successful, it would be bankrupt and not able to help a single person. It repeatedly commits itself (in word) to helping all abuse victims and says it can't do that if it has to pay out huge penalties.
A very interesting bill about a very important topic to Western Alaskans. French told me this morning he's been asked to hold the bill for a few weeks so folks can organize their testimony.

Only one committee of reference... clearly, it's got friends in high places.

Sam Bishop

I don't know Sam Bishop but I'm sure he's a very nice person. But I'm still disappointed to see he's decided to go to work for the state in Washington, D.C. He provides excellent reporting of Alaskan issues from D.C. and I find his articles often very important.

If I count correctly, I think that means Joel Southern at APRN is the only Washington-based Alaska reporter left. There need to be more.

14 March 2007

Historic? Unbeatable?

I was fortunate to be able to travel out of town last night and watch Lance Mackey cruise to victory yesterday evening. The pictures tell the tale:This is my particular favorite of Lance and his father. (In true Nome fashion, Dick missed the finish because he was on the jet.)

It is truly a remarkable accomplishment and we were speculating yesterday that it might never be replicated - winning both the Quest and the Iditarod in the same year.

Jon Little's article on the surprising top three to this year's race is one of his best yet:

Obviously, Gebhardt has been here before. This is his second time as runner-up, and he finished third last year. But not too many people predicted Mackey, and especially Steer, would soar into the first and third spots.

The joy and enthusiasm Lance demonstrated in the chute last night was perhaps my favorite part of the entire race. That is always fantastic to see in any situation in life.

13 March 2007

Gone to the dogs

Just a note to mention that I updated my post on the ADN's reporting in Juneau and my apparent "insight" into Rep. Les Gara's legislative strategy and tactics. You can read those at the end of the post.

Also, I hate to keep pointing this out because I like to be a generally modest sort of fellow, I'll be busy soaking in Lance Mackey's amazing victory this evening, which I - ahem - boldly predicted way back when.

I am also assiduously trying to start talk of a "mushing Triple Crown." I figure if horse-racing and baseball can have one, why not sled-dog racing. But all I can come up with are two legs, the Quest and Iditarod. Perhaps the Kusko 300? What about one of those European races?

12 March 2007

Whither the reportage?

Again, I find myself disappointed with the ADN's Juneau coverage. I fail to see the point of today's story on "canny planning" getting bills passed, even though the only bill cited as having actually passed is the Susan Butcher Day bill, which I attribute more to the fact that no one felt they could oppose it than to any canny planning.

To start with, the story is factually wrong:

A sampling of House bills and where they stand:

HB 42: Raise minimum wage, adjust it for inflation.

Status: Heard but held in Labor and Commerce Committee on Feb. 23.

Check BASIS on that and you find:

Failed To Move Out Of Committee

I've made factual mistakes before so that's not the end of the world. But Les Gara has mentioned - I think - at a previous weekly press availability that his new strategy on this bill is to bring it to the full House to make representatives go on the record about it on the theory that if Don Young voted for a minimum wage bill on the floor of Congress so too would state representatives. I wouldn't have minded seeing some mention of that. (Of course, it was some time ago and it was only an off-hand comment and I haven't heard anything about it since and I'm far away from any Juneau under-currents. Nor is it even clear to me how he could procedurally bring it to the floor.) (This paragraph has been re-written after much reader feedback. See the bottom of this post for more.)

But my biggest problem is why a story like this even gets written when so much else is unwritten. I don't believe I've seen any coverage of any of the community revenue-sharing action this session or the important VPSO budget hearings or the first PPT payments and maybe only one on the renewable energy fund.

If one of the arguments for keeping the legislature in Juneau - even though it makes lawmakers more remote - is that the media will hold them accountable, I'd like to be able to read about what's important on a regular basis.

Good thing so much is now online that I can follow it there.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: This post has generated some significant e-mail comments so I just want to correct my comments about Les Gara. What I heard him say was something to the effect of "When Congress voted on the minimum wage bill, even Don Young voted for it," the idea being that when people have to go on the record like that, they're much less likely to oppose these sorts of ideas for fear of looking bad or being "embarrassed" (my word).

My general point in that paragraph, however, still stands. I wish the ADN had asked Rep. Gara about what he wanted to do with this bill.

Also, not to undermine myself or my readership here, but I am just an interested observer writing a great distance from Juneau. I have no special knowledge that anyone else in my position has, certainly not any special knowledge of Rep. Gara's plans or strategies. Thanks for reading my musings though. I always appreciate it.

UPDATE AGAIN: I completely emended the language in the Gara paragraph to make it accurate through and through. To repeat, I have no special insight into anything going on in Juneau. I never have.

Can't believe it

I haven't been writing much about it but I have been more or less consumed by the Iditarod this past week and a half.

To that end, I can't believe my pre-race prediction might, in fact, come true. At least, Jon Little thinks so.

Too bad I switched my loyalties (but not my prediction) in the middle of the race to Paul Gebhardt, who looks like he'll be a bridesmaid yet again.

If Mackey does win, I'll be interested to see how KTUU and other media outlets (like my own) covering the finish live manage to deal with Mackey's notoriously foul mouth.

09 March 2007

Passing the buck

Freshman Senator Bill Wielechowski is asking the governor to do something (what exactly is unclear) about all the vacant Village Public Safety Officer positions out there:

Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D – Anchorage) today called on the Palin administration to take quick action to develop a plan to increase the number of Alaska State Troopers and Village Public Safety Officers in Alaska. During a Senate Finance Subcommittee meeting on Public Safety, members of the administration described severe staffing shortages within the Alaska State Troopers and Village Public Safety Officer program. 31 VPSO positions are vacant and 52 authorized trooper positions are vacant, despite the fact the Legislature has funded these positions. Meanwhile, virtually all the trooper command positions are staffed.
What is so ironic (it'd be funny if the results of an under-staffed VPSO force weren't so tragic) about the current state of the VPSO program is that everyone can identify the program isn't working but no one seems to come up with the political courage to implement the necessary solutions.

A couple weeks back at a committee hearing, Walt Monegan said he wanted to have a "summit" on the program, you know, bring all the important people together and talk about the issues. That's great, but the Senate established a taskforce with a similar purpose last year and that has apparently gone nowhere, even though its report was due by January.

Here's what I bet the governor is going to do in response to Senator Wielechowski's demand: establish a committee to look into the issue and report back. And here's what that committee will say - there's huge trouble recruiting and retaining VPSOs because of the long hours, the stressful job with little support, and the lack of weapons training and there should be some sort of tiered program that might let VPSOs move into the ranks of police officers or State Troopers. Then that report will gather dust for a while until someone issues another press release asking somebody else to address the "crisis" in the program.

It's not like Governor Palin can snap her fingers and fill all the empty positions out there. There's systemic difficulties here - that have been identified by people who deal with rural public safety issues all the time - that need to be addressed. Rather than taking the opportunity to criticize the governor, perhaps Senator Wielechowski could have spent some time bringing about that systemic change.

07 March 2007

National IDs

I keep getting e-mails from a Bill Scannell about his apparently single-handed effort to stop the DMV from making driver's licenses national IDs. He's persistent - he called me on Monday and talked my ear off. As a sop, I'm posting what he e-mailed me.

First this:

Did the Alaska DMV illegally begin to implement a national ID scheme without permission from the state legislature? And did DMV chief (and Murkowski appointee) Duane Bannock violate Alaska's own administrative rules to do it?

We think so.

And that's why a lawsuit was filed in state court today. We're asking the judge to declare Bannock's rules invalid and to bar the DMV from being involved in any national ID card plan unless the legislature agrees to it first.

To learn more about the lawsuit; and what you can do to stop the REAL ID national ID card scheme from becoming reality in Alaska, visit: http://www.myalaskaid.com
Then this:
Moves are now underway by both the Alaska DMV and the state legislature to force a national ID card into the hands of every Alaskan man, woman, and child.

The DMV continues to implement REAL ID regulations that it has no authority to promote. Meanwhile, a bill called HB 3 is making its way through the legislature. This bill --if passed-- will allow the DMV to turn our Alaska drivers licenses into national ID cards.

The time to stop them is now. Please take a moment to make your voice heard by visiting:


Do it now. The freedoms you help save will be your own.
If you can't tell, I'm a bit skeptical of the seriousness of the issue. After all, isn't a Social Security card essentially a form of national ID? I don't feel my civil liberties are hugely compromised if the limited information on my driver's license is shared on a national level.

06 March 2007

No More Politics?

Sarah Palin campaigned on a pledge that there would be no more "politics as usual." (I'm pretty sure that's a direct quotation.) But the way she's been acting lately, it's as if she wants no more politics, period.

I've been noticing, when I listen to her press conferences and read her public statements, that there's a certain approbation attached to the word "politics" whenever she uses it. When asked about the potential of her running for the U.S. Senate in 2008, she said something to the effect of, "Oh, that's politics and I don't have time to think about that." There was a definite distaste attached to the p-word when she used it.

Now, she's criticizing the senate majority for passing ethics legislation without her amendments. Notice the use of the p-word:

“My hope was that the Senate Majority was following our lead in setting politics aside and doing what is best for Alaska,” said Governor Palin. It appears today, some politicians are more interested in politics as usual.”
I guess my problem with all this is that I don't understand what the governor means.
What exactly is "politics as usual" (a fine shibboleth if there ever was one) and what does it mean not to practice it/them anymore? Is politics as usual a campaign for public office in which one identifies with a particular party and puts forth one's platform? Surely that can't be bad.

In the ethics legislation case, the governor appears to be asking the senate majority to set aside not politics but process, i.e. the process of considering ideas in committee, refining them, and forwarding them to the senate floor for a vote.

The much larger problem here is that to criticize one's opponent for practicing "politics as usual" is an intensely political act. Can you honestly tell me there is no political advantage to be gained from portraying the senate's ethics reforms as insufficient and demanding more? Just like in the campaign when Palin said she didn't want to divide people by talking about subsistence like her "opponents" did, she's acting as if she is pure and above the issue but actually engaging in it just the same.

I'm all for a honest and open discussion of policy and I'm hopeful we'll always be able to have one. But politics - however you define it - will always be intricately linked to policy. Accepting that now and seeking to minimize some of the excesses of politics (blind partisanship, a stifling of minority rights, and so forth) seems the best approach to me.

05 March 2007

AGIA and all that

The AGIA roll-out on Friday was well-done overall, I thought, what with all those oil industry types there to lend their support to the idea. The terms and conditions were more or less explained and everything seemed to go well for the Palin administration.

But there's one nagging question I have not yet heard answered by Palin's people: what's the point? If we accept that a pipeline will cost in the range of 25-30 billion dollars (at least), isn't only the big energy companies that are going to be able to make this project work? Andrew Halcro's argument during the gubernatorial campaign to this effect still makes a lot of sense to me? Jim Whitaker and his fine people might want to build an all-Alaskan pipeline but will they actually be able to get together the cash? The energy companies, on the other hand, are still racking up near-record profits.

I can't help but escape the conclusion that AGIA is just for show, a document to show that the governor is serious about her campaign pledge to open up the process to all interested comers and make sure Alaskans' gas benefits Alaskans. That's fine but don't we know that the energy companies are going to end up with the contract anyway? And if so, why bother spending all this time on the legislation?

Iditarod Pick

I meant to post this before the race began so the first day wouldn't affect my pick but I forgot.

Anyway, my pick for Iditarod is Lance Mackey. There's just something about him this year that makes me think he's got it.

To quote Don Young, "my prediction is as good as anyone else's."

02 March 2007

"You were wrong... but will you still vote for me?"

I am taking great delight in watching lawmakers try to squirm out of their 90 day commitments, trying, as politely as possibly, to tell the voters they were horribly wrong. I suppose what we're seeing is proof positive that this measure would never have passed the legislature and needed the public's input. There's a strong status quo bias in any institution and it's coming out in spades here... for legitimate reasons I might add.

Jay Ramras has apparently wriggled out of any responsibility altogether and the News-Miner justly chastises him for it:

Rep. Ramras was asked by a member of the Senate State Affairs Committee, which is working on legislation to implement changes necessary to conduct business in a shorter session, for some suggestions on how to remove 30 days from the Legislature’s calendar.

He had none.

Instead, Rep. Ramras, a Republican who represents House District 10 in Fairbanks, offered this to a query from Republican Sen. Gary Stevens of Kodiak:

“I’m not trying to sound cute, but would defer to the institutional wisdom you would bring to this subject matter,” Rep. Ramras said, suggesting that the members of the State Affairs Committee had the experience necessary to figure out the details of the problem he helped create. “I would encourage the committee to look at this as a living, growing thing.”

For the record, I went back and listened to my interview with Ramras from December 2005 and he did have some ideas then, including taking a look at the rules and procedures the various bodies follow. That appears to be the most sensible way to approach this - start the session later, allow less public comment, and so on and so forth. Ramras could have - and should have - come up with a lot better answer.

(The problem with small-government conservatism is that when it finally gets what it wants - less government - it can't handle the consequences, viz. the Bush administration, FEMA, and Hurricane Katrina. Is it because these conservatives are so surprised to have finally got what they want or because their ideas are completely devoid of any philosophical base?)

I am still opposed to the idea of a 90-day session and for all the reasons many of these lawmakers are mentioning. I still, of course, have a bias in this debate, perhaps as significant as that displayed by the lawmakers who are saying they're not afraid to go for longer than 90 days.

It's always fun to watch an organization try to regulate itself, from ethics to policies and procedures.

01 March 2007

Budget / AGIA

I guess I was a little underwhelmed by the budget press conference today. All that work, all that effort, and they still feel short? Plus, events have overtaken them and the supplemental spending for this year appears to undo whatever savings they might realize next year. And I'm not really sure what exactly is being cut. "Efficiencies" seems to be the word of the day but that can hide a lot of pain.

The big news, of course, will be the Gasline Inducement Act on Friday. AGIA (I realize I may have been inadvertently referring to it as AIGA in previous posts) is being much-hyped, much more so than I expected. But I suppose after a first couple weeks of the term that were fairly quiet and ho-hum, they're going to want to build up to this as much as possible so they can prove they've actually been working, which I'm sure they have been, quite hard.

I look forward to AGIA with an open mind.

It's a Hoax?

I find myself disappointed that the New York Times has decided to spoil a cherished Alaskan myth:

“I’ve heard lots of stories,” said Kristin Fischer, a guide at the Alaska Public Lands Visitor Center, in Fairbanks. “One explanation says they want to conceive under the northern lights, so they’re more likely to have a boy. Another version was for a gifted child. There’s also supposed to be a belief the child will be well off.”

She added: “I’ve also heard it’s a complete hoax.”

Debbie Eberhardt, the proprietor of A Taste of Alaska Lodge, a few miles north of town, called the rumors about Japanese fertility beliefs “a crock” and said, “The Japanese come to Fairbanks in the winter because they love the extreme cold, not to make babies.

Dr. Syun-Ichi Akasofu, the recently retired director of the International Arctic Research Center of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, which operates a Web site predicting nightly auroral activity (www.gedds.alaska.edu/auroraforecast), calls the procreation story a “joke.”

“It was started by ‘Northern Exposure,’ ” he said.

The 1992 episode in question of “Northern Exposure,” a popular TV series of the era, was written by Jeff Vlaming, a screenwriter now living in Pasadena, Calif. Reached by phone, Mr. Vlaming said he didn’t invent the baby-making rumor.

“I picked up a copy of Alaska magazine, and there was this quarter-page article in there about some ancient belief that was held by the Japanese that if you conceived a child under the northern lights, it would be a gifted child,” he said, referring to an article in the November 1991 issue of the magazine. “I thought, ‘This is great — exactly the colorful type of thing I’m looking for.’ So I put it in the script, and ‘Northern Exposure’ bought it. It was one of their best episodes ever, I think.”
It was so much fun to tell people!

It's very interesting that a made-up story becomes self-perpetuating.