‘We’ll get through whatever we’re getting through right now’

It's been an exhausting week navigating covid deniers in the Alaska Legislature.

Good evening, Alaska! It’s the end of the third week of the 32nd Alaska Legislature, a week closer to the end of Alaska’s pandemic disaster declaration and the House took a step toward organizing on Thursday. Thank you to everyone who’s subscribed to the newsletter so far, it’s been a bright spot for me in an otherwise pretty tough legislative session to watch.

‘We’ll get through whatever we’re getting through right now’

Those were the words of the newly elected House Speaker Pro Tempore Josiah Aullaqsruaq Patkotak, a freshman independent from Utqiagvik, after he took over the gavel on Thursday and sent Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer back to the third floor after serving as the chamber’s presiding officer for two and a half weeks. Perhaps it’s nearly a year of living under a pandemic, perhaps it’s watching an election season culminate with an attempted insurrection or perhaps it’s the old partisan ruts that the Legislature has already found itself mired in, but I found some inspiration in the reminder that we, not us or them, will get through whatever it is that we’re getting through. I think we could all use a little more of that type of thinking.

There’s a lot facing us. The House is still unorganized, the state faces monumental questions about the direction of state government and there’s a pandemic that’s turning the corner with the rollout of the vaccine but not without leaving several, deep economic scars. And while debate over the direction we’re pulling in is a normal part of the process, it unfortunately seems like more often than not that we’re not even in the same boat. 

This week, the Legislature’s covid skeptics—the most vocal of which are Sens. Lora Reinbold, Mia Costello and Shelley Hughes—have signaled that they plan to block the extension of the state’s covid disaster declaration for what seems to be the belief that if we stop calling it a disaster then everything can go back to normal. They tilt against things that aren’t even contained in the state’s disaster declaration—fretting about mandatory vaccines, school closures and limitations on businesses—as justification for their opposition.

State public health officials and others have sounded the alarm, warning that such a move would undermine the vaccination effort, leave many local governments unable to respond to the virus and scrap just about any other friendly regulation written in the last year. 

What’s most frustrating about the push to end the disaster declarations is that they can’t point to what, exactly, is wrong with it other than to claim, as Costello has suggested several times, that “it sends the wrong message.” (What, the message that we need to continue to be careful and look out for each other?) They propose that everything that’s important can simply be taken up and passed through a different avenue, a preposterous claim given just how many provisions are tied up in the disaster declaration and not to mention that none have come forward with their own proposal to actually do so. So far, it’s just been talk.

Their only proposed alternative it seems is to give up, relent to the political pressures that they’ve cultivated on a steady diet of disinformation and collectively accept that continued infections and deaths are just something we have to live with while the state’s vaccination program—the one thing that will truly settle things—is set back. And if they win the day, they won’t even be accomplishing what seems to be their main goal of forcing Anchorage schools back to in-person instruction and businesses to fully open up. 

Look, it feels like it bears repeating after hearing the torrent of allegations and mischaracterizations from the last two weeks, but no one likes the situation we’re living under. No one wants to see the economic damage, no one likes seeing kids set back a year, no one likes wearing a mask or forgoing family visits or seeing businesses close. I do think there’s an incredible amount of opportunity for the Legislature to play an important role in serving as a check on the governor’s powers to ensure that constitutional freedoms are protected—issues that they would find broad bipartisan support for exploring in a serious and clear-eyed fashion—but instead we’ve spent the first two weeks of session tilting at imagined enemies and childishly flouting the Legislature’s own masking rules.

For most, the pandemic has been a practice in patience, tolerating the uncomfortable and making sacrifices so the most vulnerable among us can stay safe. For most, we’ve worked to keep up with an ever-changing set of recommendations, understanding that much about what is going on is unprecedented and that things change. Reinbold, Hughes, Costello and their supporters would suggest that it’s all been for naught. That we were wrong to weigh the safety of seniors and at-risk individuals the way we did.

When their side is so fueled by disinformation, so fueled by anger at others—giving platform to claims that schools are closed only because of the teacher’s union and lazy teachers—and so lacking in real alternative policy proposals, it makes it difficult to pull together. When Costello’s chief concern seems to be with a made-up reality where vaccines are mandated by government—a policy that has never been on the table—what common ground is there to be had? 

As long as politicians see more utility in riling up their base of supporters over imaginary grievances than to offer realistic proposals about how the state’s handling of the pandemic can be improved and comport better with our Constitutional freedoms then I’m not entirely sure that we’ll get through whatever it is that we’re getting through.

A change in décor

Following this week’s mask-less moment, which you can find recapped here, we noticed a new sign in the Legislature:

Patkotak elected temporary speaker

The House took its first significant step toward organizing on Thursday with the election of freshman Rep. Josiah Aullaqsruaq Patkotak, I-Utqiagvik, as the chamber’s temporary speaker. Typically, it’s a role that’s only held for a matter of minutes while the chamber elects a permanent speaker but when the House is divided 20-20 nothing is typical.

Patkotak has continued to be solidly aligned with fellow Bush Caucus members in protecting services and programs that are critical to rural Alaska, which means that nothing seems to be swaying in the favor of a Republican-led House Majority (which would contain some decidedly anti-rural members).

Twitter jail

My 12-hour Twitter suspension closed Thursday evening, just as I was taking the pizza out of the oven (just one of the silly things I occupied my time with instead of Tweeting). While I was raring to get back into things today, I have to say that I’m feeling a little conflicted and uncertain about things going forward today, especially when the Legislature continues to be a source of rank disinformation on coronavirus. I’m going to reflect on it over the weekend before I want to say too much more, but you can find an interview I did with Coast Alaska’s Jacob Resneck here:

And now for something completely different

Guys, there’s a ton of silly YouTube videos and content creators that I love. One of them is Brett Kollman, who has been making these deeply nerdy breakdowns of football for years. He’s really hit his stride during the last season as someone who has the knowledge and skills to make post routes and defensive coverage schemes interesting… at least to nerds like me. Here’s his latest on Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ brutal offense, which, given his track record, is a sure sign they’ll lose this weekend.