'We will do whatever we can to be obstructionists'

The Legislature chugs along for another week.

Happy Friday, Alaska! It’s been quite the week.

Anchorage election results: Today’s tally includes an additional 7,000 votes that broke conservative. It has given extreme-right candidate Dave Bronson a slight lead over Anchorage Assemblymember Forrest Dunbar in the race for mayor, which is a symbolic victory as both will be headed to the May 11 run-off election. Races for school board have also narrowed but progressives are still holding onto the leads in the four seats on the ballot. The race between Kelly Lessens, extreme-right candidate Judy Eledge and two others has narrowed to 1 percentage point.

The Legislature: The whole legislators holding the lamest legislator party to ever be held continues to be lame, and continues to eat up attention but I’ll save that for Friday in the Sun (or, let’s be real, Saturday in the Sun). Instead, I want to talk about a pair of pretty meaningful bills that passed the House today.

The House today voted 31-8 on a bill (HB10 by Rep. Hannan) to transfer a 250-acre parcel of land on Admiralty Island to the Funter Bay State Marine Park that includes a cemetery containing the remains of more than 30 Unangax̂ people who perished after being forced to relocate from their homes in Pribilof Island to the internment camp in Southeast Alaska. The forced relocation took place during World War II, ostensibly to protect them from Japanese aggression but unchecked racism against Alaska Native people led to inhumane treatment of the roughly 1,000 people at the hands of the U.S. government. Many watched as soldiers burned and destroyed homes in the islands and their “camp” in Southeast Alaska was an abandoned cannery that didn’t have clean water, basic medical care or even enough blankets. Many who died were the old and the very young. It was bad, and descendants say it’s left a dark gap in their family history as surviving members frequently refused to talk about the events.

The legislation, which now heads to the Senate for consideration, transfers the state-owned land between divisions in the Department of Natural Resources and won’t cost the state. Separate efforts to establish a memorial and other measures are in the works.

Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky, D-Bethel, was one of the several who spoke in support of the measure, calling it a form of reparations for the atrocities committed against U.S. citizens and Alaska’s first people. It’s just one of the many horrid stories of mistreatment of Alaska Natives and U.S. citizens at the hands of their government. The Unangax̂ cemetery represents just one chapter of that story and it’s also one of the easier ones to recognize given that it involves only state land. There’s still serious work ahead but each step represents some meaningful progress in recognizing and appreciating what many Alaska Native communities have gone through.

The second bill was House Speaker Louise Stutes’ HB27 that seeks to rename a bridge at Mile 9.5 of the Copper River Highway after Irene Webber. Webber, an Alutiiq woman from Cordova who recovered from alcohol abuse to become an avid runner and founder of many races in the area, including a cancer walk that has raised more than $100,000 to help residents with cancer screenings and treatment expenses.

Yes, it’s another bridge-naming bill that we often, as legislative observers, roll our eyes at and ask “Don’t they have more important things to do?” Well, first I’d say that the Legislature can do a lot of things at once, but second things like these, as seemingly insignificant as they seem, mean an incredible amount to the people and communities that they recognize.

I think we frequently get bogged down in the cynicism of tracking the horse race of session, of trying to figure out what is in and what is out of the budget, and of following every little political machination, forgetting that what comes out of the Legislature can and does mean something to someone.

Even if it is a memorial citation for Hawkeye the Library Turtle.

An important quote: Of course, neither of the bills mentioned above saw entirely easy passage. A small group of Republicans worried that the establishment of the Unangax̂ cemetery was a “sweetheart deal” intended to favor the residents in the area. They wanted a smaller allotment of land transferred, arguing that maybe one day it’d be prime land for a mine. With the bridge bill, Reps. Kurka and Eastman said the cost of establishing the signage was too extravagant an expense when the PFD may be reduced (The cost is $10,158).

Nearly everyone of those Republicans had to speak, saying that while they understood that the Unangax̂ people should be remembered could it be done in a way that’s more friendly to mines (also, there’s apparently no major prospects in the area). The whole exercise calls to mind of what Rep. Kevin McCabe, one of the head worriers for the mine, said it at a Valley townhall a few weeks ago.

“All 18 of us in the minority agree with that as well and we will do whatever we can to be obstructionists, but in the minority in the House that’s virtually all we can do is be obstructionists. We can put in amendments, we can waste their time,” he said, as was reported by the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman.

I think it’s an important thing to keep in mind as the minority Republicans continue to cry foul over everything from the budget, bill treatment and gym parties. While some minority caucus members in the Senate and House have figured out how to be productive, this line of obstructionist thinking has a growing following as evidenced by all the pearl-clutching over the gym party. Yeah, it was a bad move and, yeah, everyone involved out to apologize, but should anyone lose their job over it? Absolutely not, but that appears to be the driver behind the last bit of theatrics from today’s House floor session.

As the House wrapped up its votes on the two bills mentioned in today’s article, Rep. Eastman made a motion for the “full and unedited video of the events that took place the evening of March 31st in the Terry Miller legislative gym be made available to the public immediately.” The House adjourned, returning late in the afternoon where the motion was tabled on a 29-9 vote.

And as if it didn’t end there, Eastman objected to the House adjourning to Monday. They adjourned on a 29-8 vote.

#NewsBoi

Anchorage Daily News reporter James Brooks was tapped by the White House press team today as part of their efforts to reach out to local press. Very cool, we just take umbrage with the suggestion that all reporters want to move to D.C.

Reading list

  • Newspapers (and every other form of media) are pretty important, folks! Just ask the residents of Chippewa Township where their main source of news and information comes from The News Alerts of Beaver County, a public Facebook group where about a quarter of the country’s population, make up their own news. It’s caused constant, widespread and nonstop panic of murderers and crimes that weren't actually there. From NBC News: In a Pennsylvania town, a Facebook group fills the local news void

  • Alaska U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan has already said he’ll back U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski in 2022, and so too will a Mitch McConnell-aligned super PAC that announced today it’s sticking with the independent-minded Murkowski. Their announcement notes her votes for the Trump tax cuts as well as her confirmation votes for Justices Gorsuch and Barrett. From Axios: McConnell-aligned super PAC endorses Murkowski for re-election

  • A story that I keep meaning to get around to is the pair of hearings the House Transportation Committee held on Gov. Dunleavy’s proposal to allow all-purpose vehicles (snowmachines, ATVs and, apparently, hovercraft) to operate on all roads 45 MPH or less. At least the Anchorage Daily News has ya covered: Some Alaska mayors worry about Dunleavy proposal to allow four-wheelers and snowmachines on roads

Weekend watching

It’s Wrestlemania Weekend! So here’s another wrestling-centric video essay talking about the undead wrestling wizard known at The Undertaker and a how long, decade-spanning storyline came together in a way that only professional wrestling (and comic books, too, I guess) can accomplish.

Have a nice weekend, y’all.