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OPINION: Fixing Alaska schools begins with overturning the education veto

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OPINION: Fixing Alaska schools begins with overturning the education veto


As a retired educator and current Anchorage School District School Board member, I try to follow the discussions about education closely. While some issues seem simple, putting plans into action across a large district with more than 40,000 students is always complex, with unexpected outcomes. People with experience that understand the hurdles will often disagree, and that’s where we try to bring logic and clarity to bear in order to get the most efficiency we can with the best outcomes for students. On this point, a number of statements by our governor leave me confused.

On Friday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy properly thanked and lauded the legislature for moving on education early. It is rare that a bill that includes significant funding is ready for a signature before the end of the session. Decades ago, as a new teacher, I couldn’t understand this, because I saw the damage it did. Budgets that start in July have to be mapped out now. Based on that budget, schools are allocated staff for the fall. Principals have to choose which teachers will stay or be involuntarily transferred and build a schedule so that students can begin to be enrolled in classes for the fall. Knowing what the budget is now makes for much more accurate planning, with positive results for students. ASD and other districts across the state have lost good teachers and good programs simply because funding came late. Uncertainty has a real cost.

Education is a big expense, with people passionate about supporting it. That has always created an opportunity for other legislators to hold any increases hostage so they had leverage for the things they cared about. Education funding always became a bargaining point for other things, and that meant it always stayed uncertain until close to adjournment when the whole budget had to be voted on. That the Alaska Legislature put that aside and came to an agreement in February truly is an achievement of legislators understanding the importance of taking action early, and separating education funding from other legislative priorities.

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And yet Gov. Dunleavy, while praising this, has completely negated it, making funding a bargaining chip still, and assuring us that nothing will get decided early after all. The governor is asking for some things that many of us see as detrimental to public education.

Yes, we’re proud of the results from our charter schools. Ours are structured differently from any other state in the union, and they have good outcomes. The governor notes this, but wants to change the structure to be more like other states — states where charters aren’t having such positive outcomes. I don’t understand that.

Gov. Dunleavy wants to incentivize people to become teachers in Alaska. A bonus will do that, but this is not a temporary or local problem. Many teachers recognize that a bonus from the state for three years makes a teaching career even more politicized than it is now. I don’t know why anyone would want that.

And he repeats “it can’t just be about the BSA (Base Student Allocation),” but the BSA helps your neighborhood schools, it helps charter schools, it helps home school programs offered by many districts, and it helps with teacher retention. It has a positive impact on all the things the governor wants, but he chooses to make it the last thing we can change. I don’t understand that.

These issues, and others, are all things the governor can bring to the Legislature in standalone bills and have them be debated and decided, up or down. That is a positive discussion and benefits us all. I’m not sure why it all has to be in one bill.

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There are two ways legislation moves forward. One is when most legislators see something as worthwhile and beneficial, so they deal with it on its merits in a timely way. The other is when you sense a significant number of other legislators value something and you leverage your vote to get their agreement on other things. The governor has clearly chosen the second path, meaning that budgets will continue to be decided by our best guess of the resources that will be coming later, that resources will be funneled to programs based on political whim rather than reason, and that things like continuing programs and class sizes will get decided by discussions behind closed doors.

Instead, we could be moving to rational class sizes and keeping programs fully staffed that the public loves. We know they do, because they’ve taken time to come tell us at School Board meetings, but flying to Juneau to talk about it is out of their range. We need to keep this local.

If you think that all of this has no impact on good teachers staying in the profession, or good students choosing something other than education to begin with, the numbers of people training to be educators or applying for jobs to teach would suggest you are wrong. And if you think that doesn’t have an impact on the quality of education in your local classroom, you would also be wrong.

Let’s get funding to the right place and make adjustments for inflation routine. Let’s decide on policy changes by discussion and logic and not by leverage, or starving funding for students in neighborhood schools. Let’s not let inflation carve away at our programs that work until we’re down to bone.

The Legislature has the opportunity in the coming week to assert themselves again and complete their very positive steps by overriding the veto. I hope they will.

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Andy Holleman is a 35-year resident of Anchorage, retired from Anchorage School District and a current ASD School Board member, as well as a former president of the Anchorage Education Association.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.





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gBETA Chooses Five Alaska Businesses for Accelerator Support – Alaska Business Magazine

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gBETA Chooses Five Alaska Businesses for Accelerator Support – Alaska Business Magazine


At the end of the gBETA program, the startup founders will pitch their companies to investors, community partners, and the public at a showcase event in Anchorage on May 30.

“I’m thrilled to get to work with these five incredible Alaska-based companies on their growth,” says Erica Dye, gBETA Alaska program manager. “This program not only supports these five companies but brings opportunity and economic development to the entire state of Alaska.”

gener8tor is a global venture firm and accelerator network that supports startups, workers, employers, artists, and musicians by partnering with companies, governments, universities, and nonprofits. Partners in Alaska include the Alaska Investor Network, Denali Commission, and UAF Center for Innovation, Commercialization, and Entrepreneurship (Center ICE).

“Center ICE is honored to bring this program to Alaska to support our top entrepreneurs and help grow Alaska’s innovation economy,” says center director Mark Billingsley.

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Since launching in 2015, gBETA accelerator alumni have raised more than $741 million in capital and are credited with creating more than 4,500 jobs in the US and Canada.

Another gBETA Alaska cohort is scheduled to be chosen in the fall.



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Relocation of eroding Alaska Native village seen as a test case for other threatened communities • Alaska Beacon

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Relocation of eroding Alaska Native village seen as a test case for other threatened communities • Alaska Beacon


The Yup’ik village of Newtok, perched precariously on thawing permafrost at the edge of the rapidly eroding Ninglick River, is the first Alaska community to begin a full-scale relocation made necessary by climate change.

Still, the progress of moving to a new village site that is significantly outpacing relocation efforts at other vulnerable Alaska communities, remains agonizingly slow, say those who are in the throes of the transformation.

“There is no blueprint on how to do this relocation,” said Carolyn George, one of those still living in Newtok. “We’re relocating the whole community to a whole different place, and we did not know how to do it. And it’s been taking too long — over 20 years, I think.”

George, who works at the Newtok school, was one of the self-described “Newtok mothers” who made comments at a panel discussion at the recent Arctic Encounter Symposium in Anchorage. The river waters, once at least a mile away, have edged closer and closer, and the village, once sitting high on the landscape, continues to sink as that permafrost thaws, she said.

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Plans to move Newtok started to solidify in 2006 with the formation of the local-state-federal Newtok Planning Group, but that followed many years of debate and study that led to the decision to relocate. according to the Alaska Division of Community and Regional Affairs. The new site, about 9 miles away on the south side of the Ninglick River, is called Mertarvik, meaning “getting water from the spring.”

In 2019, the first Mertarvik residents settled into their new homes. As of now, more than half of the residents have moved to Mertarvik.

The latest count is 220 in Mertarvik and 129 still at Newtok, said Christina Waska, the relocation coordinator for the Newtok Village Tribal government.

Children walk to school on a boardwalk in the village of Newtok in 2012. Residents have been moving in phases from the old site, which is undermined by erosion, flooding and permafrost thaw, to a new and safer village site called Mertarvik. (Photo provided by the Alaska Division of Community and Regional Affairs)

The goal is to have everyone in Mertarvik by the fall, even if that means some people will be living in temporary housing, like construction work camps.

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“Our ultimate goal is to not leave anyone behind,” she said.

With a single local government, a single Tribal government and unified services like mail delivery, Newtok and Mertarvik technically make up a single community. But often it does not feel that way.

George is among those coping with a sense of limbo.

Her five daughters and their father have moved to a new house in Mertarvik, but she remains in Newtok because of her job. That is a hardship, she said. “Being alone, I get anxiety, and I miss my girls, you know. Especially at night,” she said.

And the school where she works, and which is set to be demolished this summer, is in dire shape.

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The four classrooms are heated by a small generator. There is no food cooked on-site for the kids. There is no plumbing – a situation that, for now, is being addressed with a “bathroom bus” that shuttles kids to their homes as needed.

Conditions are notably better at Mertarvik, said speakers at the conference.

Christina Waska, relocation coordinator for the Newtok Village Tribal government, mans a booth on APril 12, 2024, at the Arctic Encounter Symposium in Anchorage. Waska was a speaker in a panel discussion on Newtok residents' move to a new village site. She was also one of the craftspeople displaying works at the conference, and sold earrings. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Christina Waska, relocation coordinator for the Newtok Village Tribal government, mans a booth on April 12, 2024, at the Arctic Encounter Symposium in Anchorage. Waska was a speaker in a panel discussion on Newtok residents’ move to a new village site. She was also one of the craftspeople displaying works at the conference, selling her beaded jewelry. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

Lisa Charles, another panel member, described the difficult conditions her family left behind in Newtok. The family was packed into a too-small, two-bedroom house with thawing permafrost below and mold growing inside. It took a toll on their physical well-being, she said.

But once the family settled in at Mertarvik, things improved, she said.

“After moving over to the new village site, we noticed all of our health improved, especially for my daughter that grew up with asthma,” Charles said. “After we moved over to our new home, she grew out of her asthma problem.”

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There have been complications, like power outages affecting the school, attributed to demand that outstripped capacity.

Among the challenges is a timing mismatch. Waska and new Tribal administrator Calvin Tom started their jobs only recently, too late for them to place summer barge orders, and as a consequence, no building materials are expected to be barged in 2024 and no new houses will be built this summer in Mertarvik, Waska said.

There is still plenty of work to be done aside from construction, she said. And construction is seen as a process that will continue long after all residents are settled at Mertarvik, she added.

“It’ll never be done. If you look at every village, even Anchorage, Fairbanks, it’s always under construction,” she said.

While Newtok is the first Alaska village to relocate, others will follow.

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A new house in Mertarvik is seen during construction in 2011. Mertarvik is the new village site where residents of Newtok, a Yup'ik village on the eroding Ninglick River, are moving. (Photo provided by Alaska Division of Community and Regional Affairs)
A new house in Mertarvik is seen during construction in 2011. Mertarvik is the new village where residents of Newtok, a Yup’ik village on the eroding Ninglick River, are moving. (Photo provided by Alaska Division of Community and Regional Affairs)

Even two decades ago, 31 communities were identified as facing imminent threats that would make their locations potentially unlivable in the near future. Of those, nearly half were planning or considering some form of relocation.

Next after Newtok to relocate entirely may be Kivalina, an Inupiat village on the Chukchi Sea coast that is facing numerous climate stressors along with rapid erosion. The community now has a new evacuation road, completed in 2021, that can better enable movement to a new site.

But plans hit a snag after a study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers revealed that the originally chosen relocation site, called Kiniktuuraq, is also vulnerable to the same climate change stressors that are expected to make Kivalina uninhabitable in the relatively near future.

Napakiak, a Yup’ik village perched on a section of eroding land along the Kuskokwim River that is being quickly eaten away in large chunks, has also made progress. The community is now engaged in a partial relocation, a strategy known as “managed retreat.” Some families have already moved from vulnerable sites to safer ground upland, and there is state money available for a new school to replace the erosion-threatened building.

There is no single source of money to pay for relocation work, even for the Newtok-Mertarvik transformation, the most advanced of the projects.

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Carolyn George, who works at the school still operating in the eroding and sinking village of Newtok, speaks on April 11, 2024, at the Arctic Encounter Symposium in Anchorage. Her five daughters and their father have moved to the new village site at Mertarvik. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Carolyn George, who works at the school still operating in the eroding and sinking village of Newtok, speaks on April 11 at the Arctic Encounter Symposium in Anchorage. Her five daughters and their father have moved to the new village site at Mertarvik, but her job keeps her in the old site. The separation from her family can make her feel lonely at times, she said. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

The Newtok-Mertarvik move has been funded through various allocations over time. Among the recent infusions were $25 million through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and another $6.7 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Napakiak received a similar $25 million grant through the infrastructure law and a $2.4 million infusion earlier this year from FEMA.

The combined costs of full and partial relocations for all the villages that need them are expected to be staggering.

Of 144 Alaska Native villages with damages from flooding, erosion, permafrost thaw or some combination of those impacts, costs for protecting infrastructure are expected to mount to $3.45 billion over the next 50 years, according to a 2020 report by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. An additional $833 million is needed to protect the hub communities of Utqiagvik, Nome, Bethel, Kotzebue, Dillingham and Unalaska, said the 2020 BIA report, which was produced in cooperation with the Denali Commission and other agencies.

The sources for the needed funding remain unclear, and bureaucratic hurdles are delaying progress toward necessary relocations, a recent report from the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium said.

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High water laps at the Kivalina shoreline in 2012. The Inupiat community on the Chukchi Sea coast is battered by erosion. (Photo provided by Alaska Division of Community and Regional Affairs)
High water laps at the Kivalina shoreline in 2012. The Inupiat community on the Chukchi Sea coast is battered by erosion, storm surges and other effects of climate change. A relocation plan is in the works. (Photo provided by Alaska Division of Community and Regional Affairs)

There are fundamental obstacles in rural Alaska that make it extremely difficult for Alaska communities to work through the federal system, said Jackie Qataliña Schaeffer, ANTHC’s director for climate initiatives.

She cited an example during the Arctic Encounter Symposium forum. “Every federal agency requires you to have some type of reporting and in most of the cases you have to apply for the federal funding online. If you don’t have stable internet, how do you do that?” she said.

The ANTHC report recommends an overhaul to streamline a process that is a poor fit for remote Alaska villages.

In some ways, the Newtok-Mertarvik residents said, their split community has successfully overcome difficult challenges, making their relocation a possible example for other threatened communities in Alaska and elsewhere in the United States.

But those successes can also be bittersweet.

Relocation is absolutely necessary because the old village site is now an unhealthy place to live, Waska said. Nonetheless, she feels conflicted about abandoning the hometown she loves.

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“Newtok is my home. It’s kind of sad. It kind of breaks my heart that Newtok is no longer going to be there,” she said.

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The Sunday Minefield – April 21, 2024

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The Sunday Minefield – April 21, 2024


We are almost to day 100 of session, meaning just over three weeks remains until the constitutional session limit of 121 days. There is still a lot remaining to do including the budget, education, and energy. Don’t hold your breath that anything significant will happen on education or energy. The Senate Finance Committee rolled out their committee substitute for the operating budget this week. The House Resources Committee held an explosive hearing where managers from a small oil company attacked Shell and Department of Natural Resources Commissioner John Boyle. And the Alaska Republican Party held their convention this weekend in Anchorage at the Captain Cook. They elected Carmela Warfield as their new chair.

A friendly message and reminder to all our readers. The Landmine is made possible by myself and a team of awesome Alaskans. I am back in Juneau for my sixth session in a row reporting on the Legislature. If you enjoy the content we provide, please consider making a one time or recurring monthly donation. You can click here to donate. We have a donation system that makes it super easy. We would really appreciate it. And thanks to everyone who has been supportive!

Session End Approaching 

Just 24 days remain until the constitutional session limit. The House and Senate did manage to meet their agreed upon deadline last week to exchange budgets. But the budget is just one part of the adjournment package. Various energy and education priorities are being floating around, but there is still no clear alignment between the House and Senate on them. And Governor Mike Dunleavy (R – Alaska) has essentially been checked out.

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A problem with the budget could arise in the House. The Senate already cut the dividend down to approximately $1,500 when you factor in the surplus “energy rebate” that was put in place last year if oil prices remain high. That’s a $750 reduction from the House number. If the dividend number that comes out of a conference committee is not acceptable to the mega PFD members of the House majority, the majority will need minority votes to get to 21 to pass the budget. The House majority has 23 members, meaning they can only lose two votes if the minority does not vote for the budget. The House majority has at least eight mega PFD folks.

The House minority will want something for their votes. Probably a guarantee of an education bill like SB 140 and funding to upgrade the railbelt intertie. Those things cost a lot. The good news is it’s the second session. So if some members of the House majority cut a deal with the House minority and the Senate, things probably won’t get too loose because it’s an election year. There will be a new Legislature come January.

The next few weeks will be interesting. The Senate majority is a fine-tuned machine, so they will be taking the lead on the budget. If things do fall apart, they have the option to extend for 10 days. But the will to stick around does not seem to be there, at least now. The weather has been great and everyone wants to get out of town. It’s also an election year so members want to go home and campaign.

No consensus on energy reforms as legislative session nears end

The following is an excerpt from this week’s edition of the Alaska Political Report. You can click here for more information about the Political Report. A subscription is $1,299/year per organization. Discounted pricing is available for non-profits and government entities. Our coverage of the budget starts with the governor’s proposed budget, and we track everything in detail through the entire process. If you have any questions or would like to subscribe, please email jeff@akpoliticalreport.com.

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Even as Southcentral nearly experienced a gas supply crisis, and with a huge number of bills circulating in Juneau, no consensus has emerged around the reforms lawmakers are considering. In January, this session was billed by legislative leaders and GOP Gov. Mike Dunleavy as an energy and education session. But with just under a month to go before the constitutional session limit, the Legislature has yet to pass any major energy legislation.

Transmission, natural gas subsidies and storage in Cook Inlet, and renewables are all on the table. But whatever lawmakers end up passing is still far from clear.

In early February, a long cold snap stressed the power grid in Southcentral due to a natural gas distribution problem. This was primarily caused by an issue with some of Enstar’s storage wells in the Cook Inlet Natural Gas Storage Alaska (CINGSA). Declining gas supply and production in the Cook Inlet means importing LNG is likely in the years to come.

Multiple proposals are floating around the House and Senate, including royalty relief and gas storage in Cook Inlet, a railbelt transmission organization, and funding for modernizing the railbelt energy grid.

The Political Report sat down with Fairbanks Republican Sen. Click Bishop, the co-chair of the Senate Resources Committee, and Anchorage Republican Rep. Tom McKay, the chair of the House Resources Committee, to talk about their energy priorities and get their thoughts on what might happen this session.

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Bishop’s priorities are focused on the railbelt. Gov. Dunleavy introduced legislation in February that aims to increase efficiency and lower power costs in the railbelt. Bishop referenced a trip legislators took to Iceland last year. He said after Iceland formed the equivalent of a railbelt transmission organization (RTO) between their utilities, they saw an improvement. But Dunleavy’s bills have yet to see traction in either body.

Bishop also emphasized the importance of funding the Grid Resilience and Innovation Partnership (GRIP) with the federal government. This project, which in total would cost the state more than $200 million (with the same amount in federal match) would upgrade the intertie between the railbelt utilities, providing redundancy and allowing more power to be moved.

Bishop acknowledged the need for increased gas storage in Cook Inlet and also the potential for royalty relief. There are two gas storage bills, Senate Bill 220 and House Bill 394. HB 394, a bill by McKay’s House Resources Committee, is likely to be the vehicle for gas storage in Cook Inlet. Bishop said the Senate is waiting for the House to send them Cook Inlet legislation.

There are also several royalty relief bills floating around. But Sitka Republican Rep. Bert Stedman, co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, told the Political Report that he does not see any kind of Cook Inlet royalty relief passing the Legislature until they get proper input from their oil and gas consultant, GaffneyCline. It is not clear if that information will be provided in time for lawmakers to act before the end of session.

McKay is much more concerned with Cook Inlet. He wants to see increased gas storage and royalty relief. He acknowledged the benefit of upgrading the railbelt, but his clear priority is Cook Inlet. McKay said he is not interested in tapping the treasury – what occurred a decade ago when the Legislature approved cash credits for Cook Inlet – but instead, through royalty reduction, he believes more gas will be produced.

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McKay told the Political Report, “My agenda to address our energy needs is natural gas from Cook Inlet in the short-term and a gas pipeline from the North Slope in the long-term.”

Any energy legislation that passes the Legislature will likely be part of an adjournment package as only 27 days remain in session. And after the Superior Court ruling ruling on the correspondence program last week, education is sure to take up a lot of time in the final weeks of session. The House and Senate have different energy priorities, and Gov. Dunleavy has not made any public statements on energy in several weeks.

Early on in session, there was agreement between both bodies and Dunleavy that Alaska is facing an energy crisis. But so far, no meaningful action has been taken. The Legislature has the ability to extend 10 days or call a special session. But it’s an election year and legislators want to get home. Bills need to start moving quickly in order to pass before the end of session. We are watching closely and will provide updates in the weeks to come.

Other Happenings 

If you have not seen the debate I hosted on Friday between John Sims, president of Enstar Natural Gas, and Brad Keithley, managing director of Alaskans for Sustainable Budgets, on the natural gas supply issue in Southcentral, you can check it out here.

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The Alaska Republican Party held their biennial convention this weekend in Anchorage. Carmela Warfield was overwhelmingly elected as the new chair, getting more votes than the other three candidates combined. Congrats to her! And good riddance to Ann Brown, an extremely dishonest and nasty person. I stopped by for a bit yesterday to check it out. Several Republican legislators were in attendance. But my big takeaway was that many of the attendees are living in the past. The biggest and best thing the single primary and ranked choice voting did was diminish the role of the already waning political parties. But a lot of the people in both parties have failed to grasp that. These party types should familiarize themselves with the term “adapt or die.”

A House Resources Committee hearing on Monday (4/15/2024) got explosive when two representatives from the independent oil company Narwhal gave a presentation on oil leases they hold in West Harrison Bay. The West Harrison Bay Unit (WHBU) is currently controlled by Shell, but Narwhal holds adjacent leases. Check out this Landmine article to read about what happened.

Check this out. The plaintiffs in the Texas lawsuit against Furie, owned by John Hendrix, sent letters to Governor Dunleavy, Senator Cathy Giessel (R – Anchorage), Senator Jesse Bjorkman (R – Nikiski), and former Governor Bill Walker requesting their depositions and asking they preserve any correspondence related to the matter. The chickens are coming home to roost for John Hendrix.

Representative Andi Story (D – Juneau) filed a letter of intent for re-election this week. No one else has filed for the seat yet. The filing deadline to run for office is June 1.

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Representative Mike Prax (R – North Pole) picked up an opponent this week, North Pole Mayor Michael Welch. Prax was unopposed the last two cycles. Sources say Welch is running because Prax won’t request money for capital projects for the district.

There has been a lot of chatter thar former Republican Representative David Nelson is going to challenge Representative Cliff Groh (D – Anchorage). Groh beat Nelson in 2022 by 3.8 points. But that district includes JBER and it’s a presidential election year, meaning turnout will be higher. Turnout in that district was only 18.7% in 2022. If Nelson runs, that will be a race to watch.

This Week’s Loose Unit 

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There were plenty of good candidates in Juneau this week. But a weekend trip home made this week’s designee clear. This week’s Loose Unit is Anchorage. I got back on Thursday night and right away noticed the sheer amount of trash on the roads. Ok, it’s break up and this normal, I thought to myself. But the squalor I noticed this weekend was just fucking depressing. In addition to the large amount of garbage all over town, there are tents all over the place, homeless people congregating and sleeping all in public spaces, abandoned vehicles in parking lots, and just a general feeling of decay.

I went to Barnes and Noble this evening. I discovered an old Ford Expedition in the parking lot that looked like something out of Sarajevo in the 1990s. One commenter on the Facebook post said it’s been there for weeks. And one reported another abandoned and stripped vehicle in the Applebee’s parking lot, just down the road.

If you drive around Anchorage, especially Midtown, you will encounter tents all over. It’s only April. Just think how much worse it’s going to get. There’s also that large encampment at Cuddy Park. In addition to the homelessness, Anchorage just feels like a city in decline. I was driving down Lake Otis yesterday and saw several properties that were being used as storage for old cars and RVs. It looked horrible.

I remember when I moved to Anchorage in 2004. The city was clean and it felt thriving. The last decade has been a steady decline. And no one seems to want to fix it. Sure, we all talk about it. But the problems just worsen. Old roofs have been collapsing. We can’t seem to figure out how to plow the roads. Housing prices are continually rising because we can’t build more homes, which leads to people leaving and/or not moving here. The whole situation is depressing. We have to fix this town.

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If you have a nomination for this week’s Loose Unit, or if you have any political news, stories or gossip (or any old pics of politicians or public officials) please email me at jeff@alaskalandmine.com.





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