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Sisters get the big goals as U.S. ends Canada’s streak and wins gold in hockey final

Wed, 2018-02-21 23:00

GANGNEUNG, South Korea – The long wait is over for the U.S. women's Olympic hockey team.

Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson scored in the sixth round of the tiebreaking shootout and goaltender Maddie Rooney stopped Meghan Agosta to give the Americans a 3-2 victory over Canada and the first Olympic gold medal for the women's team since the inaugural women's tournament in 1998 at Nagano, Japan.

The American players jumped off the bench, hurling their sticks and gloves in the air as they hugged each other and cried on the ice at the Gangneung Hockey Centre to celebrate a victory that showcased the two best teams in the sport Thursday before a spirited crowd. Canada had won the previous four Olympic tournaments, three of them at the expense of the U.S.

Chants of "USA!" alternated with chants of "Go Canada Go!" as the overtime continued, with fans aware of the gold-medal possibilities on every foray up ice and every shot. The game was played at a breathtaking pace and with a physical edge that often exceeded the rules but was sometimes ignored by officials whose skills didn't match those of the players. The U.S. killed a penalty in overtime, but just barely, sending the game to the decisive shootout.

Second-period goals by Canada forwards Haley Irwin and Marie-Philip Poulin — who both played college hockey in the U.S. — had given Canada a 2-1 lead. But a bad line change by Canada gave the Americans an opening, and they took advantage of it to pull even at 2-2 at 13:39 of the third period.

Monique Lamoureux-Morando, twin sister of Jocelyne, took a lead pass from linemate Kelly Pannek and got behind Canada's defense, giving her time to go from her forehand to her backhand and then to the forehand again to lift a shot into the upper-right corner of the net.

The U.S. players and team executives had focused on this game for the past four years, since its defeat at Sochi, creating a residency program in Florida that would allow players to practice and train together for months and retooling the roster to bring in young, swift skaters with the aim of increasing its speed. The team was fast and it got strong goaltending from 20-year-old Olympic rookie Rooney, who stopped 29 shots Thursday and yielded two goals in the shootout.
Capitalizing on the third of three straight advantages they gained in the first period, the U.S. women scored the game's first goal.

Defenseman Sidney Morin, who was among the last players added to the U.S. roster in late November, made the goal possible when she controlled the puck in the left circle and launched a low shot on net. Hilary Knight, playing in her third Olympic hockey tournament, was in position in front of the net to redirect Morin's shot past goaltender Shannon Szabados at 19:34 of the period.

As the players filed off the ice to their respective locker rooms, Canada coach Laura Schuler — who had been exasperated with the officials' call of interference against Sarah Nurse on that third penalty — summoned the officials to the bench to chat before they left the ice. The referees were Nicole Hertrich of Germany and Katarina Timglas of Germany, and the linesmen were Lisa Linnek of Germany and Johanna Tauriainen of Finland.

Canada pulled even early in the second period. Blayre Turnbull deked past U.S. defenseman Lee Stecklein and sent a centering pass to Haley Irwin, who batted the puck out of midair and past Rooney at the two-minute mark. Irwin played college hockey at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Canada pulled ahead soon after, when Agosta took control of the puck in the neutral zone and slid a pass to an onrushing Poulin, who went to one knee for a shot from the inside edge of the right circle that found room inside the left post at 6:55. Poulin, who played college hockey at Boston University, has been a nemesis for the U.S.; she scored the tying and winning goals for Canada in the gold medal game four years ago at Sochi.

The Americans couldn't take advantage of a power play late in the second period, continuing their scoring woes against the better teams in this tournament. They probably should have gotten a power play early in the third period, when Poulin elbowed Brianna Decker in the face in front of Canada's net, but no penalty was called.

It was the second straight overtime in the gold- medal game for these two teams, but the first shootout in Olympic women's hockey history. The men have done it, most recently when Sweden beat Canada in 1994.

Readers write: Letters to the editor, February 22, 2018

Wed, 2018-02-21 22:35

Ninth Circuit ruling threatens Native subsistence rights
Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat, or VOICE, is disappointed by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on Feb. 12 to approve threatened-species status for the bearded seal — a decision that will significantly impact Iñupiat subsistence rights and food security. The Iñupiat have a high regard for sound sciences that protect our resources, but we believe sound science was not used by the Ninth Circuit and therefor strongly disagree with its ruling.
The court's decision was based on ambiguous 100-year climate models and directly undermines the Endangered Species Act requirement that threats to a species be identified as "foreseeable." The predictive climate projections used beyond 2050 were highly speculative and the current bearded seal population is plentiful.
Our goal at VOICE has been to work to protect our subsistence rights, our environment, and the cultural and economic sustainability of our communities. Our members have a long history of working to manage seal resources through the Ice Seal Committee that monitors seal populations in our region. We are concerned that this ruling shows a lack of consideration for Native sovereignty over a resource that we have relied on and protected for generations.
We urge the federal government to mandate that Alaska Native peoples not be disproportionately impacted by this ruling by guaranteeing that our right to harvest bearded seals will be protected and our harvest limits maintained.
— Sayers Tuzroyluk, Sr.
Point Hope

We don't need more gun laws
It's so sad that every time some mentally deficient individual gets hold of a gun and does something stupid everyone immediately jumps on the anti-gun bandwagon. You don't need any more gun laws; you need to enforce the ones we have. It's not a gun issue, it's a mental health issue. The people who are supposed to report individuals of questionable stability to the proper authority need to do their job. Guns are tools just like a hammer. It's not the tool — it's the operator of the tool.
— John Vandike
Eagle River

Schools need armed guards, metal detectors for safety
So the high school kids want to march on D.C. to push gun control to save innocent lives. Talk about grandstanding hypocrites. High school girls kill more innocent lives each year by abortion than all the AR-15 deaths put together. These school kids' bullying leads to more deaths than all the AR-15 deaths put together. Just maybe had they been nicer to their fellow classmates hundreds of kids would be alive today. It's a joke that every time there's a school shooting like this the focus turns to banning the AR-15. The clear facts show pistols are the main killer, not the AR-15.
Do we really want to reduce school shootings? If we do, armed guards and metal detector screenings at all school entrances solves most of the problem. However, to make that logistic work we'd have to have closed campuses. That means no kids leaving schools for lunch. Tell these kids that and they'll march on D.C. to protest their lost freedom.
— Richard Rhyner

The views expressed here are the writers' own and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a letter under 200 words for consideration, email, or click here to submit via any web browser. Submitting a letter to the editor constitutes granting permission for it to be edited for clarity, accuracy and brevity. Send longer works of opinion to

A fairy-tale finish at the Olympics for Kikkan Randall and Jessie Diggins

Wed, 2018-02-21 22:05

The women's team sprint was coming down to a sprint finish for the gold medal Wednesday at the Winter Olympics, and like so many Alaskans who were watching with bated breath, Kikkan Randall was on pins and needles.

She stood next to Sweden's Charlotte Kalla in the finish area at the Alpensia Ski Center in Pyeongchang, South Korea, as their teammates – Jessie Diggins for the United States, Stina Nilsson for Sweden – fought ferociously through the final few meters.

When Diggins came from behind to capture the gold medal by .19 of a second, not even those with front-row seats knew who the winner was.

"I was standing in the finish with Charlotte and we were both screaming at the top of our lungs for our teammates, so we were having our own little competition," Randall said Thursday at a press conference in Pyeongchang.

"From our perspective it was really hard to tell who was going to be ahead, so it was a nail-biter all the way to that finish line. When Jessie (was done), I looked over at the scoreboard and saw 'United States: No. 1' and just let out a scream and tackled Jessie, and she said, 'Oh my gosh, did we just win the Olympics?'

"And I said, 'YEAAHHH!''

This was something worth shouting about.

Randall, 35, and Diggins, 26, are the first American women to win Olympic medals in cross-country skiing. They ended a 42-year medal drought for the U.S. cross-country team, whose only other Olympic medal came in 1976 when Bill Koch skied to silver in the 30-kilometer race.

Diggins raised a pole in triumph as she lunged across the finish line, gave a big roar and collapsed to the ground on her back. Then came Randall, who pounced on Diggins to form the most jubilant two-woman dog pile in the history of dog piles.

The pair won the 7.5-kilometer freestyle race in 15 minutes, 56.47 seconds, a heartbeat ahead of Sweden and 2.97 seconds ahead of Norway, whose bronze medal made Marit Bjoergen the most decorated athlete in the history of the Winter Olympics with 14 medals.

Skiers took turns racing 1.25 kilometers at a time, with Randall going first and Diggins going second for the United States.

During her fifth and final leg, Randall refused to let Sweden and Norway pull away, putting in a gritty effort that allowed her to tag off to Diggins in third place, .75 of a second off the lead.

Those 1,250 meters were the last of Randall's Olympic career. She is a five-time Olympian who was a bright-eyed kid in Salt Lake City in 2002 and a heartbroken gold-medal favorite who faltered in Sochi in 2014.

America's greatest cross-country skier of all time – a status Randall can claim now that she has an Olympic medal in her pocket – capped her career in the most glorious way imaginable.

Like the baseball star who homers in his final at-bat, Randall scripted a storybook ending to a golden career that includes three World Championship medals, three World Cup sprint titles and numerous World Cup podium finishes. And, at long last, an Olympic medal.

"I think of it as a story that I might read to my son one day. It's a fairy tale," Randall said. "I remember competing in my first Olympics in Salt Lake City, finished 44th and feeling so far from that podium and yet still feeling that glimmer of hope. And then progressively getting closer and closer in each Olympics."

It's a fairy tale for Diggins, too, a two-time Olympian who said she still has a poster of Koch hanging on a bedroom wall back home in Afton, Minnesota.

Like Randall, Diggins owns three World Championship medals, including two in the team sprint — gold in 2013 with Randall and bronze last year with Anchorage's Sadie Bjornsen.

Diggins ranks third in this season's World Cup standings, and twice in Pyeongchang she came agonizingly close to a medal, finishing 3.3 seconds off the podium in one race and 4.6 away from bronze in another.

The Americans were part of a big lead pack for the entire race until Diggins, Nilsson and Norway's Maiken Caspersen Fall made it a three-team race in the final leg.

With a few hundred meters to go, Diggins and Nilsson surged ahead of Fall to make it a two-woman race for the gold. Diggins was right behind Nilsson until the final dozen meters or so, when she moved to her right to create space to make her bid for victory.  She took the lead with a ski-length or two to go and sealed the victory with her lunge.

"It took a lot of hard work and a lot of sweat and a lot of belief," Diggins said of the buildup to this golden moment. "But for me the biggest thing was seeing the team and knowing that Kikkan was waiting for me at the finish line. When your teammate's waiting for you and you know their dreams are on the line as well as yours, that brings out the absolute best in me every single time."

Both women spoke about their drive to succeed as a team. They are part of a U.S. team that has gone from participant to powerhouse during Randall's reign – Bjornsen is ranked seventh in the world and Vermont's Sophie Caldwell is ranked 17th – and they mean it when they post on social media that they are #bettertogether.

After her disappointment in Sochi, where she was a medal contender in the freestyle sprint but failed to advance to the quarterfinals, Randall had to decide whether to keep racing or start a family with husband, Jeff Ellis.

As it turned out, she did both. She gave birth to Breck in April 2016, and in her comeback season she claimed a bronze medal in the freestyle sprint at the World Championships.

It was the idea of helping the U.S. break into the medals in Pyeongchang in one of the team events — the 4x5K relay or the team sprint – that inspired her to stick around for one more Olympics, she said.

"When we really started to build this team, that's when I really began to flourish," Randall said. "… I've learned as much from them as I hope they've learned from me, and it's really what really motivated me to go for this fifth Olympics.

"… I couldn't imagine a better way to finish my career (than) to win a medal in a team event."

Even more growth ahead for Alaska cruises, industry group says

Wed, 2018-02-21 19:12

The number of cruise visitors to the state is expected to grow 19 percent between 2017 and 2019, industry group Cruise Lines International Association Alaska said in its annual projections released last week.

CLIA member ships brought a record-setting 1,089,700 passengers to the state last year, and that's expected to grow to about 1.2 million this year and about 1.3 million next year, the group said in a statement.

This coming season and next year's will bring an increase of $137.5 million in annual passenger spending here, according to CLIA Alaska.

[Projections show Alaska's cruise industry just had a record-breaking season]

The expected growth continues a yearslong trend for Alaska's cruise sector. In 2016, the number of cruise passengers to the state topped 1 million for the first time since 2009, and it grew again last year.

The cruise industry has been growing globally for years, said CLIA Alaska President John Binkley, and Alaska's exoticism is a draw. The expansion of the Panama Canal also means bigger ships can journey between Alaska and the Caribbean.

Some communities in Alaska will need more or larger docks to handle the growth, said Binkley.

The number of CLIA member ships traveling to the Last Frontier is also projected to grow from 33 last year to 37 in 2019. In recent years, some cruise lines have also grown their capacity to Alaska by replacing smaller ships with larger ones.

Can long-acting contraceptives fix some of Alaska’s most vexing social problems? A state lawmaker wants to find out.

Wed, 2018-02-21 19:09

JUNEAU — Could the state of Alaska help fix one of its most costly public health problems by giving long-acting, reversible birth control to women addicted to drugs or alcohol?

Senate President Pete Kelly wants to find out.

Kelly, a Republican from Fairbanks, introduced legislation this week directing the state university to conduct a study. It would examine how long-acting birth control could help fight Alaska's high rate of babies born with complications from their mothers' drinking — as well as the growing problem of children born to mothers addicted to opioids.

[Related: How hospitals are treating babies caught in the crosshairs of Alaska's opioid crisis]

Kelly, who's up for re-election this year, is a small-government social conservative who in the past has resisted the idea of expanding access to birth control.

But he's also long recognized the scope and cost of Alaska's problems with alcohol abuse, particularly among pregnant women. He described his legislation, Senate Bill 198, as a narrow effort focused on an "extreme population" that can't control drug or alcohol addiction.

"It's not just handing it out," Kelly said in an interview. "If it was broad-based I wouldn't support it. This is targeted, trying to fix a very specific thing."

He added: "This can act as part of a treatment program. It can actually prevent fetal alcohol syndrome babies. And it will provide you some data, as well."

As introduced, the legislation lacks any cash to pay for what researchers say could be a $500,000 study. But lawmakers could ultimately attach money to it, and Kelly said the bill would provide the university with "legislative direction."

The legislation has support from staff at the University of Alaska Anchorage's Institute for Circumpolar Health Studies, as well as Jeff Jessee, dean of the university's College of Health and a longtime mental health advocate. Jessee, in a phone interview, said Kelly's legislation aims to deal with a "huge social problem."

"The consequences to everyone from this problem are really significant — from the mother, who will often have the child taken away from them, to of course the child themselves," Jessee said.

Jessee is part of a group convened several years ago by Kelly, Empowering Hope, that's worked to reduce Alaska's high rate of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, which stem from a mother drinking while pregnant.

New research released earlier this month found that the disorders are as much as five times more common than previously thought, affecting up to 5 percent of American children.

Kelly's legislation also targets the growing problem of neonatal abstinence syndrome — when babies go through withdrawal after being born to mothers who used opioid drugs.

[Related: Far more U.S. children than previously thought may have fetal alcohol disorders]

Both problems are costly, with bills sometimes footed by the government.

An average hospital stay for a child born with neonatal abstinence syndrome costs about $90,000, according to state data collected through 2012. And the cost of treating a single case of FASD can exceed $1 million over a person's life.

Kelly's proposed legislation is the second high-profile effort to emerge from the Empowering Hope group. The first, in 2015, was a plan to study the effectiveness of putting free, state-funded pregnancy tests in bars, driven by the idea that most women would stop drinking if they were aware they were pregnant.

[Related: State-funded pregnancy test dispensers debut in Anchorage]

About half of pregnancies are not planned and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most women are unaware that they are pregnant until four to six weeks later — increasing the risk that their child could be exposed to alcohol.

The study found that FASD prevention messages paired with the pregnancy test dispensers could "effectively promote informed alcohol consumption decisions among women who are, or may become, pregnant."

But at the time, Kelly was skeptical about pairing the pregnancy tests with state-sponsored birth control — considered by many experts to be an effective preventive measure. He made national news in 2014 when he told an Anchorage Daily News reporter that birth control is for "people who don't necessarily want to act responsibly."

Kelly subsequently said that birth control could become part of Empowering Hope's efforts later. And he explained that his skepticism stemmed from the fact that birth control may not work 100 percent of the time — leaving some potential for a fetus to be exposed to alcohol if the mother is drinking.

His new legislation directs the university to collaborate with hospitals and health care providers; evaluate best practices for treating women and children with a high risk of alcohol- and drug-related disorders; create a network to share best practices; and find a group of women and children that can be followed over time to assess costs and effects of those health problems.

Participation would be voluntary, according to the legislation. It doesn't specify a type of long-acting contraceptives, and the intent is to let participants choose, a spokesman for Kelly said.

UAA's Institute for Circumpolar Health Studies is ready to start such a study, though it still needs the money to do it and is looking to the state for help, said Amanda Slaunwhite, an assistant professor there.

"There's a lot we don't know. And much of the literature around substance abuse in utero, including opioids, is really underdeveloped," she said in a phone interview. "Given how quickly and urgently the opioid epidemic has come to Alaska, we need to quickly understand the demographics, the profiles of these moms, these infants — figure out where they come from so that we can best support them."

One nurse practitioner who works with mothers and children to diagnose FASD, Marilyn Pierce-Bulger, said she welcomes Kelly's proposal and is "fascinated to see what happens." Long-acting contraceptives aren't "dependent on the user" and can be more successful than other forms of birth control, she said.

"The fact that somebody's thinking about using user-independent methods as a way to reduce FASD, that's real," Pierce-Bulger said. "That is an effective strategy."

FASD, she added, poses a risk to mothers in different social classes, including those who are college-educated and working. But for a subset of mothers who also suffer from FASD themselves, long-acting birth control can be especially helpful because it doesn't require them to remember to "do something every day."

A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood, meanwhile, said the organization has concerns about how Kelly's legislation is specific to long-acting, reversible contraceptives instead of proposing increased access to a full range of birth control methods.

"This bill seems entirely aimed at improving a specific set of child health metrics and cost efficiency without a single mention of improving women's health," said the spokeswoman, Jessica Cler. "We know that when women have access to the full range of birth control methods and access to health care that the state does see savings."

Cler said her organization supports ideas like House Bill 25 — legislation from Anchorage Democratic Rep. Matt Claman that requires insurers, including the government-funded Medicaid program, to give a year's supply of contraceptives at once.

Kelly said his proposal doesn't address the broader issue of access to contraception.

"The larger question is a debate for another day," he said.

I’m a lifelong ‘gun guy,’ but the Florida shooting has changed my mind

Wed, 2018-02-21 19:03

On the early morning of Feb. 15, the Labs, the setters and I headed to the shop, where we hung out for a few hours. The ritual includes listening to the 550 AM Anchorage radio station, an ESPN affiliate that airs a show from South Florida. It's a program hosted by a very bright fellow who doesn't really like to talk about sports much. Rather, he talks of social and cultural issues in a humorous and intelligent manner and he isn't afraid to get controversial.

But that morning he told his listeners, who were no doubt expecting it, that he would not be discussing the recent school shooting in South Florida, and wouldn't entertain calls or other talk of it. He added that there was no reason from either side of the gun control debate and it was impossible to have a reasonable discussion of the subject.

The rhetoric of the extreme ends of the argument demands attention, as sensationalism always does. The shootings continue, and it seems as if much of the population backs away, knowing that any attempt at reason will bring abuse on social media. Perhaps worse, the broken bodies of children aren't even cold before the extremists start firing insults across the bows of the fallen. It's disgusting.

Instead of reasonable discussion and problem-solving, the extremists lock onto the object, the black gun or AR-15. One side argues that no one should have one — the other, that everyone should. And yet these two extremes find themselves in agreement on some of the things that could, perhaps, solve some of this. It seems the only way to be heard is as a member of one "camp" or another.

The reports on the deranged perpetrator (if you can walk into a school and shoot children, you are deranged by any definition) indicate there was something not right with him. There were multiple police visits to his home, and an internet posting that he was "going to be a school shooter" was brought to the attention of the FBI. The warning signs were there, as they almost always are.

So, for argument let's say the FBI or the local police, armed with this knowledge, swooped in and removed his guns and insisted he be evaluated and kept under close watch. In an instant, one extreme side would scream a violation of civil liberties. Just because he is clearly mentally deranged, he still has rights. The other extreme would holler from the roof about his inviolable right to own his guns. After all, he answered the questions on the yellow form and passed a background check that made him fit for gun ownership.

Some may recall that a while back, a man who committed another mass shooting in Florida had previously had contact with the Anchorage Police Department and there were some questions of his mental state, but not enough to take significant action.

Individual judgment, for fear of accusation of police misconduct or heavy-handed judicial decisions or even hurting someone's feelings, has been all but removed from the equation. Erring on the side of caution has been usurped by individual freedom, even at the cost of children's lives.

The pro-gun extremists offer that there are already gun laws that would keep citizens safe if they were enforced. The other side wants more gun laws and ignores the reality that some places with strict gun laws also have high crime rates.

But none of that matters much. Since the millennium, it is as if people have become gun-crazed. Well over 10 million AR-15s have been put into public circulation and gun purchases were at record numbers until the Trump administration took over and the fearmongering promoted by the gun industry didn't hold as much water.

Isn't it ironic that the gun control lobby and its promotion of politicians who were in favor of gun control prompted the most significant influx of private gun ownership we have ever seen? Not hunting guns or target-shooting firearms, but the civilian equivalent of commando weapons promoted by the motion picture industry that glorifies them. Assault-type firearms are in vogue these days.

For most of my life I never bought the idea that what people saw on TV or in the news molded their behavior. For me it never did, but it seems I was being a bit naïve. It now seems clear that people are influenced by what they see and some are willing to act it out. And the means to do so is readily available.

I can't explain why this most recent tragedy in Florida has tipped the scale for me. I know I've had conflicting emotions regarding guns in America for the last ten years or so. Always being a "gun guy," I've made some of the rhetorical arguments that I now find distasteful.

But as one goes through life and something slaps you in the face often enough, you get tired of it and you start looking for ways to make it stop. Every news story that comes across the wire involving these mass shootings is a slap in the face. People are turning what I have loved, respected and honored into something evil. Shooting children in their schools, for God's sake.

The new, unspoken mantra of the hunting world is that no matter how distasteful a particular hunting act might be, so long as it is legal, we are supposed to support it. I don't agree. It is the same with the gun world: Gun owners are to be defended at all costs. I don't agree with that either.

I've written about the AR-15 and assault rifles in general in the past. I've alluded to having a distaste for them in the hunting world. But I've pointed out some of the virtues they may have for folks who do use them and say they're not assault rifles if they're not capable of automatic fire. I was staying in role. The truth: It disturbs me to see these guns, used in mass shootings, having any connection to the hunting and sport shooting world.

I'm not buying it anymore. I'm stealing away, running from camp, out into the darkness where one resolves issues with clear thought instead of cheerleading. The phrase so often touted — "Guns don't kill people; people kill people" — may be technically true, but it only echoes around the graveyards of the dead if we aren't doing something to stop those people.

We Alaskans who use guns in daily life for hunting, target shooting and personal protection seem insulated from the rest of the world. We cringe when anyone suggests gun control measures that may be perceived as a threat to our lifestyle.

Alaska is among the few places left in America where people do use guns in their daily lives. Alaskans are not giving up their guns without a fight. But that doesn't mean we can't start a reasonable dialogue.

I write this as a challenge, not to gun control advocates or to the pro-gun lobby, but to you, the reasonable men and women who own guns for hunting, for sporting purposes or simply to protect yourself and your loved ones. The challenge is to brainstorm and come up with reasonable and viable solutions to the gun problem in America.

Like the radio host suggested, a reasonable conversation is unattainable with zealots. It's time for the reasonable people to be heard.

Gold medal belongs to Kikkan, but Alaska’s past Olympians helped forge it

Wed, 2018-02-21 18:52

Dissect Kikkan Randall's Olympic gold medal and you will find Alaska DNA at its core.

America's greatest cross-country skier capped a brilliant career Wednesday by becoming an Olympic champion in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Randall will retire at the end of the season at the top of her sport, an athlete whose greatest achievement came after she turned 35 and after she had a baby.

Randall's medal is hers to treasure forever. But bits and pieces of it belong to the people who long ago made Alaska the perfect breeding ground for an Olympic champion.

Alison Owen, Margie Mahoney, Barbara Britch, Judy Rabinowitz, Lynn Spencer, Betsy Haines, Nina Kemppel. All blazed trails for Randall to blaze down.

In 1972, the United States sent female cross-country skiers to the Winter Olympics for the first time. The Olympic team was essentially coach Jim Mahaffey's Alaska Methodist University women's team. Three AMU athletes — Owen, Mahoney and Britch — joined Vermont's Martha Rockwell on the U.S. team in Sapporo, Japan.

Mahoney and Britch were both home-grown talents, and Owen came to Anchorage from Wenatchee, Washington.

They were part of an AMU team masterminded by Mahaffey. During the 1970s, Alaska Methodist — now Alaska Pacific University— was one of the nation's best cross-country ski programs.

[Anchorage skier Kikkan Randall wins Olympic gold]

In the 1980s, the AMU women gave way to Rabinowitz and Spencer. At the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, Owen and Spencer helped the U.S. women to a seventh-place showing in the 4x5K relay. At the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics, Spencer and Rabinowitz were on the relay team that repeated that finish.

No group of American women finished higher in a relay until this year, when Randall helped the Americans to a fifth-place finish.

Those 1980 Olympics featured 19-year-old Betsy Haines, who finished 37th in the 5-K race. Not a flashy result, but the role Haines played in the creation of Kikkan Randall, Olympic champion, was critical.

Haines is Randall's aunt, and Randall grew up striving to match her achievements, whether it was her aunt's high school mile record, or her Mount Marathon championship, or her Olympic appearance. The Haines/Randall clan is all about taking up challenges and pursuing goals, and Randall owes much to that DNA.

[When Kikkan Randall was an East High freshman, she was already going places]

In the 1990s came Nina Kemppel, another of Randall's early athletic role models.

For years Kemppel was the lone American woman on the World Cup circuit, living a solitary existence in which she often communicated with her coach via fax. Today Randall is the leader of a robust U.S. team she all but willed into existence by showing younger skiers like Jessie Diggins and Sadie Bjornsen what is possible on the world stage.

Kemppel, a four-time Olympian from 1992 to 2002, won a record 15 national championships — a mark that stood until Randall raised the bar to 17.

For a time Kemppel and Randall shared the same coach, Jim Galanes, who like Mahaffey provided immeasurable opportunities and guidance for Alaska skiers.

He created the Gold 2002 program that evolved into the Alaska Pacific University nordic center, which today is known around the country, if not the world, for producing standout skiers like Randall, Bjornsen, Holly Brooks and others.

Pioneers sometimes beget new pioneers, and Randall's story is proof. Mahaffey and Owen gave way to Galanes and Kemppel, who gave way to Randall and APU coach Erik Flora, who has taken the Alaska Pacific program to unheard of levels — 10 APU skiers are competing in Pyeongchang. Not to be forgotten are clubs like the Alaska Winter Stars, Alaska Nordic Racing of Eagle River and FXC of Fairbanks that help develop young Alaska skiers.

[Photos: Kikkan Randall has been a standout Anchorage athlete for decades]

As Randall nears retirement, a new wave of promising young women are training in Anchorage. UAA sophomore Hailey Swirbul is the nation's first three-time medalist at World Junior Championships, and one of her medals came last year with a relay team that also included APU's Hannah Halvorsen.

Yes, Olympic gold belongs to Randall. But it was forged in a flame that has long burned in Alaska, one passed like a torch from one great skier to the next.

This column is the opinion of sports editor Beth Bragg. Reach her at

Anchorage man charged with manslaughter, marijuana-related DUI for August crash

Wed, 2018-02-21 18:03

A man has been charged with manslaughter after blood test results showed he was under the influence of marijuana at the time of a fatal car-motorcycle crash over the summer, Anchorage police said.

Christopher Turkette, 41, was also charged with driving under the influence and reckless driving for a crash that occurred in August, police said in a release Wednesday.

The charges were delayed until now while police waited for toxicology results, Oistad said.

"Toxicology for drugs is done out of state so it just takes a while," Oistad said.

When asked what the toxicology results showed, Oistad said that "the level of marijuana intoxication in Turkette's system will not be released prior to the case being closed."

In Alaska, you aren't allowed to have any level of marijuana in your system while driving, Oistad said.

In Colorado and Washington, states where recreational marijuana is also legalized, a person must have more than 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood to be considered impaired.

Since 2014, marijuana DUIs have made up roughly 5 percent of all driving under the influence charges in Anchorage, Oistad said. In 2016, there were 64 marijuana DUIs. From January to September 2017, there were 42 marijuana DUIs.

On Aug. 8, 30-year-old Douglas J. Bittinger died after the collision with Turkette. Bittinger was traveling eastbound on Dowling Road, straight through the intersection with the Old Seward Highway, on a red 2015 Ducati motorcycle. He had a green light, according to police.

Christopher Turkette was driving a 2005 Chrysler Pacifica, heading westbound on Dowling, Oistad wrote. Turkette reportedly had a yellow flashing arrow as he turned south onto Old Seward.

"The two vehicles collided in the intersection; Bittinger was pronounced deceased approximately ten minutes after the crash," Oistad said.

Bittinger was wearing a helmet, police said.

After the crash, Turkette stayed on the scene and provided blood samples, Oistad said Wednesday. Charges were filed against Turkette on Tuesday, online records show. He was arrested on Wednesday.

2 scientists have left the Interior Department after Zinke demanded confidential data on NPR-A

Wed, 2018-02-21 17:13

WASHINGTON – Two senior U.S. Geological Survey officials have stepped down after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke demanded that they provide his office with confidential data on the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska before it was released to the general public.

Murray Hitzman and Larry Meinert – who had served as the agency's associate director for energy and minerals and acting deputy associate director for energy and minerals mission area, respectively – charge that the request violated the USGS's scientific integrity policy because such commercially valuable data should not be shared in advance. Section 3c of the policy states, "Particularly sensitive results, however, such as energy and mineral resource assessments and mineral commodity reports that typically have significant economic implications are not disclosed or shared in advance of public release because pre-release in these cases could result in unfair advantage or the perception of unfair advantage."

Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift, however, said Wednesday that the solicitor's department had determined that Zinke and his deputy, David Bernhardt, have to right to "review data, draft reports, or other information as it deems necessary" under the department's 1950 reorganization plan.

[Federal report finds 'huge' increase in North Slope oil potential]

The dispute, which was first reported Wednesday by Mother Jones magazine, represents the latest clash between career federal scientists and the Trump administration. Scientists at Interior, as well as at the Environmental Protection Agency and elsewhere in the government, have raised objections over issues ranging from the scrubbing of data from government websites to limits imposed on what federal scientists can say in public about their work.

Hitzman offered his resignation letter on Dec. 17, saying that he objected to the idea of providing the results of an assessment of the energy reserve's potential "several days in advance of the information's public release, in contradiction of my interpretation of U.S.G.S. fundamental science policy."

Meinert, who retired on Jan. 31, said in a phone interview that he had planned to retire anyway, but the incident "certainly increased my desire to step out the door." He emphasized that there was no indication that either Zinke or any of his deputies intended to use the information for personal gain. But he cited a long-standing practice of withholding the information until it is made widely available because when it is released, "that directly affects markets and who's interested in investing in a geographical area."

"This is the first time we've had anyone insist we want that number," said Meinert, who joined USGS in 2012. "This is simply a matter of them wanting to control information."

USGS Deputy Director William Werkheiser, who serves as Interior's scientific integrity officer, said in a statement that this principle is violated "when there is a significant departure from the accepted standards, professional values, and practices of the relevant scientific community," which he said did not happen in this case.

"I do not believe that current or proposed practices for the notification of DOI leadership constitute a loss of scientific integrity," Werkheiser said. "In fact, at no time was USGS asked to change or alter any of the findings for the assessment."

The Obama administration put half of the 22.8 million-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, known by the abbreviation NPR-A, off limits to drilling in 2012 but allowed energy exploration in the rest of the area.

Zinke, who signed orders in March 2017 aimed at jump-starting energy exploration on federal and tribal lands, hailed the USGS assessment when it was released on Dec. 22 as proof that more leasing could take place there. Recalling an earlier visit that year to Alaska's North Slope, Zinke said that when he asked Alaskans what they were seeking in terms of energy policy, "The response was overwhelmingly positive and the message was clear: the path to American Energy Dominance starts in Alaska," according to an Interior press release.

"Today's updated assessment is a big step toward that goal," Zinke added.

[With high expectations, Alaska's petroleum reserve should see 'unprecedented' exploration this winter]

Zinke noted in his statement that USGS estimated Alaska's federal reserves onshore offer a mean of 8.7 billion barrels of oil and 25 trillion cubic feet of gas. "This is a significant increase from the 2010 resource assessment which estimated a mean of 1.5 billion barrels of oil," the statement added.

In December, Interior's Bureau of Land Management auctioned off 900 tracts in the reserve spanning a total of 10.3 million acres, but the sale attracted few bidders.

Legislature hires consultant to scrutinize China gas pipeline deal

Wed, 2018-02-21 17:07

JUNEAU — The Legislature has hired an expert on energy in China to offer political advice and analysis on the state's nascent partnership with that country on Alaska's massive proposed natural gas export project.

Sitka Republican Sen. Bert Stedman, chair of the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee, signed the contract, capped at $35,000, earlier this month. It's with Wenran Jiang, who worked for more than two decades as a professor at the University of Alberta and once directed its China Institute.

Jiang will earn $350 an hour to provide information, opinions and "expert consulting services" on China, its energy policy and infrastructure, according to the contract. He'll also help the Legislature analyze the state's recent agreement to jointly develop a huge pipeline and LNG export project with three Chinese entities: oil company Sinopec, the Bank of China and China Investment Corp., a state-owned investment fund.

The project, Alaska LNG, would include a natural gas pipeline running 800 miles from the North Slope oil fields to the Kenai Peninsula. It's estimated to cost $43 billion.

Jiang is making two presentations Thursday at the Capitol — one in the morning at an informational meeting organized by Stedman, and another in the afternoon hosted by the House finance and resources committees.

Counting calories is not the key to weight loss, a new study finds

Wed, 2018-02-21 16:54

Anyone who has ever been on a diet knows that the standard prescription for weight loss is to reduce the amount of calories you consume.

But a new study, published Tuesday in JAMA, may turn that advice on its head. It found that people who cut back on added sugar, refined grains and highly processed foods while concentrating on eating plenty of vegetables and whole foods — without worrying about counting calories or limiting portion sizes — lost significant amounts of weight over the course of a year.

The strategy worked for people whether they followed diets that were mostly low in fat or mostly low in carbohydrates. And their success did not appear to be influenced by their genetics or their insulin-response to carbohydrates, a finding that casts doubt on the increasingly popular idea that different diets should be recommended to people based on their DNA makeup or on their tolerance for carbs or fat.

The research lends strong support to the notion that diet quality, not quantity, is what helps people lose and manage their weight most easily in the long run. It also suggests that health authorities should shift away from telling the public to obsess over calories and instead encourage Americans to avoid processed foods that are made with refined starches and added sugar, like bagels, white bread, refined flour and sugary snacks and beverages, said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

"This is the road map to reducing the obesity epidemic in the United States," said Mozaffarian, who was not involved in the new study. "It's time for U.S. and other national policies to stop focusing on calories and calorie counting."

The new research was published in JAMA and led by Christopher D. Gardner, the director of nutrition studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. It was a large and expensive trial, carried out on more than 600 people with $8 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health, the Nutrition Science Initiative and other groups.

Gardner and his colleagues designed the study to compare how overweight and obese people would fare on low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets. But they also wanted to test the hypothesis — suggested by previous studies — that some people are predisposed to do better on one diet over the other depending on their genetics and their ability to metabolize carbs and fat. A growing number of services have capitalized on this idea by offering people personalized nutrition advice tailored to their genotypes.

The researchers recruited adults from the Bay Area and split them into two diet groups, which were called "healthy" low carb and "healthy" low fat. Members of both groups attended classes with dietitians where they were trained to eat nutrient-dense, minimally processed whole foods, cooked at home whenever possible.

Soft drinks, fruit juice, muffins, white rice and white bread are technically low in fat, for example, but the low-fat group was told to avoid those things and eat foods like brown rice, barley, steel-cut oats, lentils, lean meats, low-fat dairy products, quinoa, fresh fruit and legumes. The low-carb group was trained to choose nutritious foods like olive oil, salmon, avocados, hard cheeses, vegetables, nut butters, nuts and seeds, and grass-fed and pasture-raised animal foods.

The participants were encouraged to meet the federal guidelines for physical activity but did not generally increase their exercise levels, Gardner said. In classes with the dietitians, most of the time was spent discussing food and behavioral strategies to support their dietary changes.

The new study stands apart from many previous weight-loss trials because it did not set extremely restrictive carbohydrate, fat or caloric limits on people and emphasized that they focus on eating whole or "real" foods — as much as they needed to avoid feeling hungry.

"The unique thing is that we didn't ever set a number for them to follow," Gardner said.

Of course, many dieters regain what they lose, and this study cannot establish whether participants will be able to sustain their new habits. While people on average lost a significant amount of weight in the study, there was also wide variability in both groups. Some people gained weight, and some lost as much as 50 to 60 pounds. Gardner said that the people who lost the most weight reported that the study had "changed their relationship with food." They no longer ate in their cars or in front of their television screens, and they were cooking more at home and sitting down to eat dinner with their families, for example.

"We really stressed to both groups again and again that we wanted them to eat high-quality foods," Gardner said. "We told them all that we wanted them to minimize added sugar and refined grains and eat more vegetables and whole foods. We said, 'Don't go out and buy a low-fat brownie just because it says low fat. And those low-carb chips — don't buy them, because they're still chips and that's gaming the system.'"

Gardner said many of the people in the study were surprised — and relieved — that they did not have to restrict or even think about calories.

"A couple weeks into the study people were asking when we were going to tell them how many calories to cut back on," he said. "And months into the study they said, 'Thank you! We've had to do that so many times in the past.'"

Calorie counting has long been ingrained in the prevailing nutrition and weight loss advice. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, tells people who are trying to lose weight to "write down the foods you eat and the beverages you drink, plus the calories they have, each day," while making an effort to restrict the amount of calories they eat and increasing the amount of calories they burn through physical activity.

"Weight management is all about balancing the number of calories you take in with the number your body uses or burns off," the agency says.

Yet the new study found that after one year of focusing on food quality, not calories, the two groups lost substantial amounts of weight. On average, the members of the low-carb group lost just over 13 pounds, while those in the low-fat group lost about 11.7 pounds. Both groups also saw improvements in other health markers, like reductions in their waist sizes, body fat, and blood sugar and blood pressure levels.

The researchers took DNA samples from each subject and analyzed a group of genetic variants that influence fat and carbohydrate metabolism. Ultimately the subjects' genotypes did not appear to influence their responses to the diets.

The researchers also looked at whether people who secreted higher levels of insulin in response to carbohydrate intake — a barometer of insulin resistance — did better on the low-carb diet. Surprisingly, they did not, Gardner said, which was somewhat disappointing.

"It would have been sweet to say we have a simple clinical test that will point out whether you're insulin resistant or not and whether you should eat more or less carbs," he added.

Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said the study did not support a "precision medicine" approach to nutrition, but that future studies would be likely to look at many other genetic factors that could be significant. He said the most important message of the study was that a "high quality diet" produced substantial weight loss and that the percentage of calories from fat or carbs did not matter, which is consistent with other studies, including many that show that eating healthy fats and carbs can help prevent heart disease, diabetes and other diseases.

"The bottom line: Diet quality is important for both weight control and long-term well-being," he said.

Gardner said it is not that calories do not matter. After all, both groups ultimately ended up consuming fewer calories on average by the end of the study, even though they were not conscious of it. The point is that they did this by focusing on nutritious whole foods that satisfied their hunger.

"I think one place we go wrong is telling people to figure out how many calories they eat and then telling them to cut back on 500 calories, which makes them miserable," he said. "We really need to focus on that foundational diet, which is more vegetables, more whole foods, less added sugar and less refined grains."

A buttermilk waffle recipe that won’t let you down

Wed, 2018-02-21 16:48

In lieu of a big layer cake for his 13th birthday this past year, our middle son requested buttermilk waffles from scratch. While at first I was a bit sad, I quickly dispensed with tradition and made the waffles, finding myself relieved by their ease. The funny thing is, I had never developed a classic waffle recipe. I had gingerbread waffles for the holidays, Meyer lemon waffles for citrus season and cornmeal waffles with fresh blueberries for the end of summer. No basic, trusty waffles. I just hadn't yet landed on the my favorite waffle recipe.

My idea of a perfect waffle is a crispy waffle — golden and crunchy on the outside and tender and tangy on the inside. I am not a fan of a soggy waffle. Or a flimsy waffle. Or a spongy waffle. In order to achieve the perfect texture, I've learned a few tricks. The first is to use cornstarch in the batter to get a nice crunch. Second, use a fair amount of butter. Fats help crisp things up nicely. And who doesn't love a buttery waffle? Third, leave the waffles in a little longer than you think you should, getting them a deep golden brown. Finally, if you're not going to eat your waffles as soon as they emerge from the waffle iron (which I highly recommend), keep the waffles warm in a 200-degree oven in a single layer. Waffles get less crisp as they cool, and if you stack them they are sure to get soggy from the steam.

When I first made this version, tweaking as I went, I jotted the recipe down on a neon yellow slip of paper and have been keeping it tucked away on the kitchen counter with my cookbook collection. I've decided it's about time to share the love. And if you happen to be celebrating something like a birthday, whipped cream and sprinkles are a nice touch. Otherwise, warm maple syrup will be all you really need. This recipe can easily be doubled.

Crispy buttermilk waffles

Makes 2-3 large waffles

3/4 cup flour

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon sugar

3/4 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup milk

6 tablespoons butter, melted

1 egg, separated

1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat a waffle iron, greasing as needed to prevent sticking.

In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the flour, cornstarch, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar. Pour in the buttermilk, milk, melted butter, egg yolk, and vanilla. Whisk to combine.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg white until soft peaks form. Fold the egg white into the waffle batter.

Scoop the batter into the waffle iron. Cook until dark golden brown and crisp, about 4-5 minutes, depending on the waffle iron. Serve promptly with warm maple syrup. Repeat with remaining batter.

Maya Wilson lives in Kenai and blogs about food at Have a food question or recipe request? Email and your inquiry may appear in a future column.

Watch: West High students rally in solidarity with Florida students for gun control

Wed, 2018-02-21 16:37

Students of at least three schools in the Anchorage School District held rallies and walkouts Wednesday, in the wake of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, last week. Catherine Esary, ASD spokeswoman, said that the events were completely student-planned and that it was "totally organic." Dozens of students gathered outside West High School at noon and had several speakers.

Anchorage School Superintendent Deena Bishop said in an interview Tuesday that the district was reviewing its schools' safety procedures in light of the Florida school shooting.

"Something like that could happen anywhere," Bishop said. "No one is going to be immune to this type of business. It's everywhere, so we just need to know what to do."

Parents and students plead with Trump: ‘How many children have to get shot?’

Wed, 2018-02-21 15:00

WASHINGTON — The father of an 18-year-old girl killed last week in a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, made an impassioned plea to President Donald Trump on Wednesday at the White House to act quickly to protect children in the country's schools.

"We're here because my daughter has no voice — she was murdered last week, shot nine times," said Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was one of the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. "How many schools, how many children have to get shot? It stops here, with this administration and me."

[Florida Republicans face mounting pressure to act on gun control]

Pollack was an unannounced guest at a listening session in the State Dining Room of the White House, which called the session a discussion of school safety.

"We're going to do something about this horrible situation," Trump said as he opened the session, adding that his administration would be "very strong on background checks" of those wishing to purchase guns, and put "a very strong emphasis on the mental health of somebody."

But what began with a recitation of somber statements and vows to act quickly became emotional when Pollack took the microphone, venting raw anger and grief.

"It should have been one school shooting, and we should have fixed it, and I'm pissed," Pollack said, raising his voice as he looked at Trump, "because my daughter, I'm not going to see again."

Pollack said he did not favor adopting new gun restrictions, but pleaded for Democrats and Republicans to come together to create new school safety measures.

"It's not about gun laws right now — that's another fight, another battle," he said. "We need our children safe."

Nick Madigan contributed reporting from Miami.

Parkland shooter always in trouble, never expelled. Why didn’t school system do more?

Wed, 2018-02-21 14:46

MIAMI — At times, Nikolas Cruz's behavior could be a school administrator's nightmare: Teachers and other students said he kicked doors, cursed at teachers, fought with and threatened classmates and brought a backpack with bullets to school. He collected a string of discipline for profanity, disobedience, insubordination and disruption.

In 2014, administrators transferred Cruz to an alternative school for children with emotional and behavioral disabilities — only to change course two years later and return him to a traditional neighborhood school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Cruz was banished from Douglas a year later for other disciplinary violations — then toggled between three other alternative placements, school records obtained by the Miami Herald show.

If the frequent transfers — records show there were six in three years — did little to stanch Cruz's disruptive behavior, they eventually became the only option left in the school district's toolbox. Contrary to early reports, Cruz was never expelled from Broward County schools. Legally, he couldn't be.

Under federal law, Nikolas Cruz had a right to a "free and appropriate" education at a public school near him. His classmates had a right to an education free of fear.

Their rights often collided.

[Florida Republicans face mounting pressure to act on gun control]

Long before Cruz carried an AR-15 assault rifle into Stoneman Douglas and carried out one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history, the awkward, socially isolated youth puzzled, disrupted and sometimes terrified his schoolmates.

Broward County school administrators say they do all they can to offer a traditional education to youngsters whose mental illness or behavioral disorders leave them at risk for upheaval or violence, and provide therapeutic services to help them improve. School leaders are equally obligated, they say, to protect others around them.

"Every student in Broward County is entitled to a free and appropriate education. If there are certain areas where that can't be done, we need to make sure those students are given a place that is the least restrictive environment for their ability and they can thrive," said Broward School Board chair Nora Rupert. "You also want everybody to have safety."

Expelling Cruz from the Broward school system altogether was never an option, and what little is known of the teen's educational history illustrates the sharp limitations that confront school administrators who must deal with profoundly troubled students.

"You can't just kick kids out of the public schools because you are afraid of them, or because they are hard to educate," said Stephanie Langer, a Miami special education lawyer and advocate. "It has to be a balance, and I think it's a really hard one."

Since the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the first law that articulated a federal role in enforcing the rights of disabled people, the laws surrounding the education of children with special needs have evolved. In general, school districts are required to provide kids with physical, emotional or intellectual disabilities a free education in the "least restrictive" setting, and to accommodate the needs of such students.

Defining the word "accommodate" has kept judges busy for decades.

The tension between schools and parents has created a cottage industry for lawyers and advocates. For the budget year 2017, the state Division of Administrative Hearings docketed 244 appeals of Florida school board decisions, with the largest number of them being filed in South Florida. The Broward County School Board defended 38 appeals, the most in the state, followed by Miami-Dade with 37, DOAH reported last month.

Broward School Board member Robin Bartleman has been forced to ponder the conflict between troubled students and their sometimes-vulnerable peers intensively in recent days.

"I've been to five funerals already," Bartleman said Monday, adding that it's been difficult to spend time with her own family. "I'm watching parents bury their children. It is the worst thing I have ever seen."

In the aftermath, school leaders are examining every aspect of the tragedy, including what role they can play in passing "common sense gun laws," Bartleman said. "As a district, we're going to look at everything. We know that mental health is a huge need in this country. We, as a district, recognize that, before children can even worry about tests or learn, they need to be mentally healthy."

"This is about getting children the services they need," Bartleman said. "That's been a goal of this district."

Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie wouldn't discuss Cruz's school records, citing a federal law that protects student privacy, but said he didn't think providing Cruz with more school services would have prevented the shooting.

"Based on what's reported in the media, here's a kid who's lost both parents, he's obviously got some mental health challenges," Runcie said. "Let me just say if we provided every service that we could and did all that in exemplary fashion, if he can still get access to guns what's the point of all this?

"This is a systemic problem we have that isn't about blaming one agency or the other," he added. "What we need to do is move from trying to play the blame game and find real solutions."

[JROTC members killed in school shooting receive medal, one admitted to West Point posthumously]

Absent Cruz's school records, it is hard to say precisely when Cruz's behavior became an acute problem for teachers and administrators. Disciplinary reports obtained by the Herald show that at Westglades Middle School, which he attended in 2013, he had been cited numerous times for disrupting class, unruly behavior, insulting or profane language, profanity toward staff, disobedience and other rules violations.

Records show the behaviors continued at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, which he attended in 2016 and 2017 before being transferred, with discipline being dispensed for fighting, profanity and an "assault." It appears the Jan. 19, 2017, assault resulted in a referral for a "threat assessment." A few months later, Cruz landed at an Off Campus Learning Center, where he remained for only about five months.

At Westglades, Cruz was disruptive and would sometimes make "disturbing comments," said former classmate Christopher Guerra.

While the other students waited in the hallway for their eighth-grade science teacher to let them into the classroom, Cruz would sometimes bang and kick the door, Guerra said. He would yell profanities at the teacher, telling her to "Open up the f—–g door!"

The teacher sometimes had to call security to let Cruz into the classroom and to keep an eye on him during class, Guerra said. Once, during a Westglades class party, Cruz asked a teacher if he could have the leftover ice cream, according to what Guerra told his mother at the time. The teacher gave Cruz the ice cream tub, but told him not to do anything bad with it.

"As soon as the bell rang, he just threw it everywhere," said Jenny Carbo, Guerra's mother, recounting the story her son told her in eighth grade. One of her friend's children came home that afternoon with his clothes full of ice cream stains, Carbo said.

"What surprises me is that this was a child who was ignored," Carbo said. "He was crying out for help."

From Westglades, Cruz was transferred to Cross Creek School, a K-12 program with intensive programming for kids with emotional and behavioral disabilities. Retired Broward teacher Joe Carrier taught a woodworking class at Cross Creek while Cruz attended the school, and remembers Cruz as "a quiet kid" who kept to himself and appeared to be "mildly autistic."

"He was odd but he never showed any sign of aggression," Carrier said. Cruz never had fights with other students in Carrier's class and never discussed his life outside of school with the teacher. "He was really withdrawn," Carrier said.

At Cross Creek, students always have access to counselors and can ask for "time outs" during the day if they feel frustrated or upset, Carrier said. A student who needs a break from class can visit his or her counselor or take a walk outside with a teacher's aid to "de-stress." Carrier said he doesn't recall Cruz asking to see a counselor during his class and said that if he did, it wasn't a frequent occurrence.

"Nikolas was a very odd child and we never really pushed him academically at Cross Creek to where he would face frustration or kids were belittling him," Carrier said. That may have changed when Cruz got to Stoneman Douglas, where former classmates said he was bullied.

['I would take a bullet for the kids': Teachers face a daunting new role]

While students at Cross Creek receive regular counseling and the school is prepared to handle emotional outbursts, Carrier added, the lack of support at a regular school can be difficult for children with behavioral issues.

"It's unfortunate that we couldn't have looked at this child a little more closely before transitioning him to Stoneman Douglas," Carrier added.

At Douglas High, Cruz's outbursts and penchant for weapons were well-known among students and staff. Several students have confirmed they reported his stalking and violent threats to school staff, but it was never enough to get him arrested.

Guerra, Cruz's middle school classmate, would occasionally run into Cruz between classes at Stoneman Douglas and at the Dollar Tree, where Cruz worked as a cashier.

Cruz sometimes asked Guerra about Stoneman Douglas while he rang up his purchases at the store, and told Guerra he hated the school, Guerra said. Cruz also talked about guns, and about how he wanted to buy an AR-15.

Once, about two years ago, Guerra and a friend stopped at the Dollar Tree on their way to a movie theater and Cruz said something particularly troubling when he asked them about the high school. "I'm going to go there and shoot it up," he said, according to Guerra. Then he told Guerra and his friend not to worry, that they would be safe because they had always been nice to him, Guerra said.

When Guerra and his friend asked Cruz what he was talking about, Cruz said he was kidding. They didn't think he was serious, Guerra said, but the comments still stuck with them.

"He wasn't a mean kid in the sense that he would try and be hurtful to people," Guerra said. "He was just a kid that I feel was looking for a friend and no one was there for him in a time that was rough for him."

(Miami Herald reporter David Ovalle contributed to this report.)

When Kikkan Randall was an East High freshman, she was already going places

Wed, 2018-02-21 14:34

This story was originally published on Aug. 24, 1997.

Lew Haines returned to the Anchorage high school sports scene this year to discover that not much had changed during his 16-year absence.

"It's the same scene, the same chatter. It's almost the same coaches, " Haines said Saturday while soaking up sun and atmosphere at the Bartlett cross-country relay races.

And beginning this year, it's the same family. Again.

The second generation of the Haines family enters high school this fall, and if early performances are any indication, Generation Next is as athletically gifted as Generation First.

Throughout the '70s and '80s, the Haines family was a constant source of talent for East High. Lew and Tone Haines' seven children — six of whom graduated from East — excelled in any number of sports, from running to tennis to gymnastics to swimming to skiing.

Especially skiing. Two of the Haines children, Chris and Betsy, were Olympic cross-country skiers.

Following in their fleet footsteps are Kikkan Randall of East High and Jamie Haines of Service High, who begin their freshman year of high school as the defending junior high cross-country champions.

[Anchorage skier Kikkan Randall wins Olympic gold]

In the second race of her high school career, Kikkan finished second Saturday in a field of 160 girls — defending state champion Darcy Dugan of Dimond was the only girl to outrun her — and Jamie finished 80th in a field of 168 boys.

The cousins are among 16 Haines grandchildren, 11 of whom live in Anchorage. Five of the seven Haines kids still live in Anchorage, including Kikkan's mom, Debbi, who skied on a national championship team at the University of Utah, and Jamie's dad, Chris, who was a member of the 1976 Winter Olympic team.

Kikkan and Jamie are extending a family tradition that actually spans three generations. Though Lew and Tone Haines were well out of high school when they brought their family to Alaska in the mid-1960s, Lew played a pivotal role in the development of Anchorage sports. He was the athletic director at the University of Alaska Anchorage when the Great Alaska Shootout began 25 years ago and was the school's provost when its first athletic team — a coed ski team — was formed.

Lew Haines, 76, thought he'd seen his last high school race 16 years ago when the last of his children, Mary, graduated in 1981.

"When Mary had her last race I said, 'I'm through, finished, kaput, ' " he said. "It's different now, in a way. I can be a little more relaxed with (the grandchildren) running."

But you have to wonder if there's relaxation of any sort when the Haines clan gets together.

The family celebrated Lew's 75th birthday last year by hiking the Crow Pass trail from Eagle River to Girdwood, a marathon-length wilderness trek that lasted 17 hours. For Saturday's race, Debbi arrived on a mountain bike and left on roller blades. Even the various in-laws are involved in sports, including Kikkan's dad, Ronn (a swimming instructor and avid Alpine skier), and Jamie's mom, Tracy (also a swimming instructor).

The way Jamie sees it, if you're born a Haines, you have little choice but to be active.

"They just make you do a lot of stuff, " he said. "They say you get choices, but you don't. Right now I'm doing tennis and cross country. When I learned tennis, my dad said once I learned it, it would be my choice (to continue playing). But if I didn't do it, I'd get bugged."

Relatives jokingly call Jamie a rebel, and Kikkan says he's more laid back than she is. His sport of choice — the one he does because he loves it, not because everyone else in the family is doing it — is snowboarding. He banters easily with his family, and when his grandfather mentions that Jamie was part of the Crow Pass birthday trip, Jamie responded with a laugh: "And I didn't like that, either."

Kikkan, meanwhile, is as goal-oriented as a 15-year-old can be. She took advantage of the school district's transfer policy to enroll at East instead of Bartlett, and not just because she wanted to wear the same blue-and-red that her mom and aunts wore.

[Photos: Randall has been a standout Anchorage athlete for decades]

She was enticed by East's school-within-a-school academic program, evidence that her interests extend beyond athletics. She's one of 12 youths on the mayor's Anchorage Youth Advisory Commission, and she was the president of a youth organization that successfully campaigned to reinstate junior high sports in Anchorage.

Kikkan's athletic achievements already are notable. She has twice finished second in the Mount Marathon junior race (mom Debbi and aunt Betsy are both former winners of the women's race) and is perhaps the fastest girl in the state on skis. At the state speed-skiing championship last winter at Arctic Valley, Kikkan hit 74.1 mph to win the state title.

Kikkan considers the family legacy an inspiration, and an advantage.

"If I ever need any advice, I can ask, " she said. "And they all come to cheer for me."

Before last year's junior high cross-country championships, for example, Betsy walked the course with Kikkan and offered advice. And every time Kikkan visits her grandparents, she gets a family history lesson.

"There's pictures and stories all over the wall about what everyone's done, " she said. "Right now there's a picture of Jamie and I in a relay race, so we're starting to replace them."

[Kikkan Randall blazed a cross-country trail. Jessie Diggins followed it to history.]

If things go the way Kikkan hopes they do, she might even replace Betsy in the record books. Though she admires her accomplished aunt — a member of the 1980 Winter Olympic team who won three straight state cross-country championships and lost only one race during three years of track for East High — Kikkan wouldn't mind one-upping her.

"My biggest goal is beating Betsy's sub-five-minute mile that she ran in high school, " Kikkan said.

And so it goes in the Haines extended family, where the new generation is quickly catching up with the old.

Alaska updates vaccine guidelines as mumps outbreak swells with over 200 cases

Wed, 2018-02-21 13:36

As Alaska's first mumps outbreak in decades continues to spread, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services updated its vaccination guidelines on Wednesday, allowing residents who would like to get a third dose of the vaccine to do so.

"Because we are beginning to see cases identified in communities outside of Anchorage, it is becoming ever more difficult to determine who is at increased risk for acquiring mumps," the state said in a public health advisory.

The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is routinely administered to children in two doses.

Any Alaskan who would like additional protection against mumps — so long as it has been five years since they received their last mumps vaccine — may get a third vaccination, according to new guidelines.

Alaska's mumps outbreak began in May. As of Feb. 15, 214 confirmed and 33 probable cases of mumps had been identified.

"There is no sign that the outbreak is slowing down," the health advisory said.

The vast majority of those cases were in Anchorage. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough saw five cases, one came from the Gulf Coast, and one was in the Interior. Two cases were in Southeast Alaska.

On Friday, officials at Dimond High School in Anchorage notified students, parents and staff that "persons" at the high school have been diagnosed with mumps.

And on Tuesday, Alpenglow Elementary School sent out a message to parents that one case of mumps at the school had been "clinically diagnosed based on signs and symptoms." Lab results are pending and could take up to three weeks.

Mumps is a viral illness that causes headaches, fever, muscle aches, fatigue and swollen salivary glands around the jaw. In rare cases, it can lead to more dangerous complications, including deafness or meningitis.

The virus is passed through coughing, sneezing and touching objects with unwashed hands. Symptoms can take around two or three weeks to develop, and people are contagious for two days before salivary glands start to swell, and five days afterward.

The mumps vaccination is 88 percent effective, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The state is recommending that health care providers ensure all patients are up to date on the vaccination.

For people working in a group setting like a school or church, or for Anchorage residents who self-identify as Pacific Islanders, a third dose is recommended if at least five years have passed since they received the vaccine.

Alaska's last mumps outbreak was in Kodiak in 1995, when 10 people were infected. The current outbreak far exceeds the last one of similar scale, in 1974, when 42 mumps cases were reported.

Wednesday's announcement is the second time that the state agency has modified its vaccine recommendations since the mumps outbreak began. In late December, the state recommended that people in high-risk groups get a third dose of the vaccine if it has been five years since their last one.

If you think you have mumps, the most important thing to do is isolate yourself for five days, health officials say. Call your health care provider and let them know you may have mumps before visiting, so you don't infect people in the waiting room.

Arctic temperatures soar 45 degrees above normal, flooded by extremely mild air on all sides

Wed, 2018-02-21 13:28

While the Eastern United States simmers in some of its warmest February weather ever recorded, the Arctic is also stewing in temperatures more than 45 degrees above normal. This latest huge temperature spike in the Arctic is another striking indicator of its rapidly transforming climate.

On Monday and Tuesday, the northernmost weather station in the world, Cape Morris Jesup at the northern tip of Greenland, experienced more than 24 hours of temperatures above freezing according to the Danish Meteorological Institute. "How weird is that?" tweeted Robert Rohde, a physicist at the University of California at Berkeley. "Well it's Arctic winter. The sun set in October and won't be seen again until March. Perpetual night, but still above freezing."

[Warming of the Arctic 'unprecedented over the last 1,500 years,' federal scientists say]

This thaw occurred as a pulse of extremely mild air shot through the Greenland Sea.

Warm air is spilling into the Arctic from all sides. On the opposite end of North America, abnormally mild air also poured over northern Alaska on Tuesday, where the temperature in Utqiaġvik, previously known as Barrow, soared to a record high of 31 degrees (minus-1 Celsius), 40 degrees (22 Celsius) above normal.

For Feb 20th, (unofficial) average daily temperature departure-from-normal for North Slope locales: Umiat: +45F (+25C) , Deadhorse +44F, Nuiqsut: +43F, Wainwright: +40F Utqiaġvik: +39F, Kaktovik +35F. #akwx @Climatologist49 @CinderBDT907

— Rick Thoman (@AlaskaWx) February 21, 2018

The warmth over Alaska occurred as almost one-third of the ice covering the Bering Sea off Alaska's West Coast vanished in just over a week during the middle of February, InsideClimateNews reported.

Temperatures over the entire Arctic north of 80 degrees latitude have averaged about 10 degrees (6 Celsius) above normal since the beginning of the calendar year, sometimes spiking over 25 degrees (14 Celsius) above normal (the normal temperature is around minus-22, or minus-30 Celsius).

These kinds of temperature anomalies in the Arctic have become commonplace in winter in the past few years. "(T)he 'persistence' of the above average temperatures is quite striking," tweeted Zack Labe, a Ph.D. candidate in climate science at the University of California at Irvine.

While there is always large variability in the #Arctic winter, the *persistence* of the above average temperatures is quite striking in the last few years.

Average is the light blue line. Gray lines indicate years from 1958-2015 [>80°N latitude;].

— Zack Labe (@ZLabe) February 20, 2018

Some of the most extreme warmth of the year so far is forecast to flood the Arctic in coming days, with a number of areas seeing temperatures that exceed 45 degrees (25 Celsius) above normal and up to 60 degrees (34 Celsius) above normal. The mercury at the North Pole could well rise above freezing between Thursday and Sunday.

This next batch of abnormally warm air is forecast to shoot the gap between Greenland and northern Europe through the Greenland and Barents seas. Similar circumstances occurred in December 2016, when the temperature at the North Pole last flirted with the melting point in the dark, dead of winter. We documented similarly large jumps in temperature in November 2016 and December 2015.

An analysis from Climate Central said these extreme winter warming events in the Arctic, once rare, could become commonplace if the planet continues warming. A study in the journal Nature published in 2016 found the decline of sea ice in the Arctic "is making it easier for weather systems to transport this heat polewards."

Arctic sea ice was at its lowest extent on record this past January, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"I have sailed boats through (the Arctic Sea) but never this time of year," tweeted David Thoreson, an Arctic photographer. "It's amazing to watch this unfold."

The record-setting temperatures and lack of ice is exactly what scientists have projected over the Arctic for years and it's fundamentally changing the landscape.

"Arctic shows no sign of returning to reliably frozen region of recent past decades," NOAA concluded in its Arctic Report Card, published in December.

Florida Republicans face mounting pressure to act on gun control

Wed, 2018-02-21 12:21

The campaign ads are already blaring, attacking Florida Republicans for supporting pro-gun laws. Nowstudents — survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — have traveled by busloads hundreds of miles to protest in the state Capitol.

Seven days after the killing of 17 people at the Broward County school, Republicans, who dominate government in the state, are facing pressure unlike any they have experienced before to pass legislation addressing gun violence. The state Legislature is in session for roughly two more weeks, and Republicans have concluded that it would be catastrophic to wrap up without doing something to address the mounting outcry.

The debate now is over what counts as doing enough.

Republicans split — sharply, and sometimes face to face — with student demonstrators over that question Wednesday morning. Having arrived in Tallahassee overnight, the young activists quickly set about advocating for sweeping new gun restrictions, included expanded background checks for gun purchases and an outright ban on the sale of military-style firearms. One student, Alondra Gittelson, 16, confronted the powerful speaker of the Florida House, Richard Corcoran, demanding to know why "such a destructive gun" — the AR-15 rifle — is widely accessible.

"How is an individual in society able to acquire such a gun?" Gittelson asked Corcoran on the House floor.

Corcoran's reply, that he saw the rifle as a legitimate hunting weapon and did not believe a ban would help matters, encapsulated the far more conservative instincts of Florida's Republican-controlled government.

Stopping well short of the clampdown sought by survivors of the school shooting, Corcoran, Gov. Rick Scott and other Republicans appear set on pursuing a narrower resolution — a package of incremental measures that would improve certain background checks and bolster mental health services and school security.

The developing clash over firearms could help define Florida politics in a critical election year, testing Republicans' decades-old grip on state government and handing proponents of gun control a potent issue to wield with moderate voters. In a state where the National Rifle Association has long held powerful influence — every governor for 20 years has been an ally of the group — even fierce supporters of gun rights now say Republicans cannot afford to seem passive in response to gruesome scenes of violence.

Will Weatherford, a former speaker of the Florida House, said Tuesday that the ferocious public response to the Parkland shooting exposed pent-up feelings of alarm and horror that have mounted over time. Weatherford, a conservative Republican, said legislators might be able to move quickly on a few tailored proposals, such as raising the legal age for possessing assault rifles.

"With Pulse, with what took place in Las Vegas, there's been an aggregate effect," Weatherford said, referring to the mass killings in 2016 and 2017 at an Orlando, Florida, nightclub and an outdoor concert in Las Vegas. "All of it is adding up and there's a lot of frustration that's boiling over."

Weatherford said he expected the Legislature to take action of some kind, but cautioned: "It's hard to write a thoughtful policy in three weeks."

Proponents of stricter gun control, however, seem unlikely to be appeased by what they perceive as half-measures. Democrats and activists responded with fury to a vote in the Florida House on Tuesday against considering a ban on assault weapons, and Gwen Graham, a leading candidate for governor, said in an interview that the vote showed "the gun lobby is in control of Tallahassee."

On Wednesday morning, students voiced exasperation and distress in response to the reticence of some Republicans to back new gun regulations. One such lawmaker, state Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Republican, told students that she supported raising the age requirement for purchasing assault weapons from 18, and rebuffed criticism from one student, Daniel Bishop, 16, who said that measure alone would not stop mass killings.

"We can't stop crazies," Mayfield said.

Amanda De La Cruz, 16, was dismayed. "She doesn't support the ban on semi-automatic weapons," she lamented. "I want the ban on semi-automatic weapons. I don't care about the crazies."

That ban appears likely to be on the ballot, at least figuratively, in this year's elections: All four Democrats running for governor in 2018 have called for an assault weapons ban, and members of Florida's congressional delegation have pushed for a broad reassessment of gun regulations at the federal level. No Republican candidates for statewide office have backed the proposal.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Democrat who represents the Orlando area, said voters in her largely suburban district had reached a breaking point on the gun issue. Murphy, who has introduced legislation to authorize the Department of Health and Human Services to study gun violence, said the government had failed to keep pace with regular people's concerns about mass killings.

"People are angry and they're outraged and they're motivated," said Murphy, who defeated an NRA-backed Republican in 2016. "We were affected by Pulse less than two years ago, and here's another mass shooting."

The revival of gun regulation as a political issue comes at a precarious moment in Florida politics, as a polarizing president warps traditional political boundaries in the state. President Donald Trump narrowly defeated Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the state in 2016. But since then, Republicans have experienced several setbacks in special elections, as traditionally Republican-leaning voters have deserted the party in heavily suburban and Hispanic districts. In 2018, control of Florida's governorship, the state Senate, several congressional seats and a U.S. Senate seat are expected to be intensely contested.

The gun issue could drive an even deeper wedge between rural parts of the state, where Trump remains popular, and its cities and suburbs. In other states such as New York and Colorado, Democrats have campaigned confidently on gun control in more densely populated and diverse areas and pushed for the passage of gun laws, only to see rural voters swing hard against the party in response.

The growing pressure on Florida Republicans may reflect the changing national contours of the gun debate, which for years has been shaped chiefly by ardent supporters of the Second Amendment who vote in force. While several Democratic-leaning states, such as Connecticut and Colorado, passed ambitious gun-violence laws after previous mass shootings, no state wholly controlled by Republicans has enacted legislation even on the comparatively modest scale currently contemplated in Florida.

As a matter of electoral politics, the Republican with the most at stake may be Scott, an ally of Second Amendment groups who has signed a number of laws easing access to firearms. A former hospital executive, Scott has been moving toward a challenge to Sen. Bill Nelson, a long-serving Democrat who supports gun control. Scott has signaled to lawmakers this week that he is eager to embrace some form of a public-safety package, and his political allies believe passing such legislation could be essential to his prospects as a Senate candidate.

Scott has given little indication that he will entertain more aggressive forms of gun control, and allies of Nelson said Tuesday that they are preparing to wage a scathing campaign against Scott's gun record. A commercial blasting Scott for rejecting "policies that could keep Florida children safe" was released this week by Giffords, a gun control group founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who was shot outside an Arizona supermarket in 2011, and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly.

Peter Ambler, the group's executive director, said opposing Scott was an urgent priority for the well-funded organization. The legislative activity by Republicans so far, he said, amounts to an effort to do something minimal until the sense of urgency on guns goes away.

"Rick Scott can't be a United States senator," Ambler said, pledging the Giffords group would "make sure that every single voter in Florida is informed about the decline in public and community school safety that the governor is responsible for."

But with a strongly conservative Florida House, Scott is likely to have ample company in his skepticism of new gun laws. And it is still uncertain whether even a modest gun-violence package can clear the state's Legislature. State Rep. Matt Caldwell, a Republican, said he believed it would be a mistake to treat the "availability of guns" as a threat, rather than more general mental health and security concerns. Caldwell said he had spoken privately with Scott and believed the two of them were on the same page.

"He wants to do something that is going to be effective," Caldwell said. "We can't be doing something that just makes us feel good."

Ballot initiative sounds good, but devil’s in the details

Wed, 2018-02-21 12:01

Ballot initiatives were established in the early 20th century as part of the "Progressive" movement's kit of tools designed to trim back power from entrenched political interests and return it to the voters.

By the early 21st century, however, this noble purpose is too often subverted by entrenched political interests as a way to dodge the sunlight of the traditional open legislative process, using half-truths in the guise of feel-good slogans to advance their own interests.

A case in point is the initiative sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (a second-term Sitka Democrat), Rep. Jason Grenn (a freshman Anchorage independent) and one private citizen.

Both lawmakers belong to the Democrat-led House majority caucus, and co-chair a group called "Alaskans for Integrity" that's gotten its "Alaska Government Accountability Act" certified for the next statewide ballot.

These two young, progressive politicians claim their "anti-corruption" initiative would speed the budget process, resolve legislators' conflicts of interest and limit lobbyists' corrupting influence — all noble-sounding goals, on first glance. Sadly, a first glance is all that most people may give this initiative, never understanding who's behind it and what it would really do.

Grenn and Kreiss-Tomkins' initiative is funded by an Outside political activist group pushing "anti-corruption" initiatives around the country. Such groups exploit controversial issues to boost turnout by voters aligned with their own partisan political interests. A closer look at these sponsors' claims, and their initiatives' true effects, is instructive.

First, Grenn and Kreiss-Tomkins target per diem. Is there an Alaskan alive who isn't mad at those darn legislators, wasting time in Juneau but racking up overtime pay? The initiative would end legislative per diem if no budget passed by the 121-day session constitutional deadline. It's the same hot button that Gov. Bill Walker is pushing with his "pink-slip the politicians" slogan.

The truth is, state law sets legislative pay at $50,400 per year, whether for 90 days of work or 365. The law also establishes per diem at near the regular state employee rate to defray legislators' costs to live and work away from home. It was the governor wielding his constitutional powers who has forced seven special sessions since 2017, not legislators.

In 2016, session went past 90 days when the House Democrats resisted advancing a budget unless it drained our savings to pay for non-essentials like online homework help. In 2017, session ran 181 days because Grenn and Kreiss-Tomkins' new Democrat-led majority refused to pass a budget without Gov. Walker's income tax, stoking public anger and building pressure.

This initiative would encourage lawmakers to spare themselves financial pain but inflict it on constituents in the form of new taxes and bigger budgets. Is that really what we want?

Second, Grenn and Kreiss-Tomkins' initiative would establish new rules for how legislators deal with conflicts of interest. Current law makes lawmakers publicly self-report possible conflicts and ask to be excused from voting on the issue. If a single legislator objects, permission to abstain is denied, and the member must vote.

The initiative would set new rules which a partisan majority could easily exploit.

For example:

If a legislator who worked for an oil company asked to be excused from voting on an oil tax increase bill, the majority could all vote "yes" to approve his request, so he could not vote. But if a member who worked for a public union asked to be excused from voting on a generous labor contracts, the majority could vote "no" to deny his request, so he could vote. That is unfair, and possibly unconstitutional.

Alaska's citizen legislators already must publicly report details of their personal finances and employment every year and must disclose possible conflicts before voting on a bill. Voters know, or should know, their candidates well enough to judge whether their day jobs carry conflicts that should disqualify them for election — or re-election. That should be the voter's choice; no one else's.

Third, the initiative would block "fat-cat lobbyists wining and dining legislators at fancy restaurants" by demanding lobbyists report buying any meal worth less than $15 – about the price of a hamburger and fries. But since 2007 lobbyists must publicly report buying any such meals worth more than $15. (For the record, I buy my own meals, whether eating with constituents, colleagues, lobbyists or friends.)

Our legislators vote on billion-dollar budgets and bills that critically impact Alaskans' public health, safety and well-being. If you think your legislator will sell out his convictions and principles for less than the price of a hamburger, you might need to spend more time vetting your candidates and less time signing initiatives.

All Alaskans should support "government accountability," and everyone should be an "Alaskan for Integrity." But we shouldn't let pretty packaging and fine-sounding words lull us into supporting an initiative that at best makes only minor tweaks to the rules, but at worst twists those rules to let partisan interests trample basic fairness.

Good government depends on clear and transparent processes that hold everyone accountable. Alaska voters should not let themselves be fooled by slick-sounding initiatives that conceal their true effects. Vote "no" on the Alaska Government Accountability Act.

Rep. Dan Saddler is the Republican minority floor leader and is in his fourth term representing Chugiak and Eagle River.