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Here’s why I joined the House majority coalition

Sat, 2017-12-09 12:14

It has always been my plan to write a letter to my constituents addressing questions some have regarding my political standing and choice to join the House Coalition. Given recent events, this seems like an opportune time.

Joining the coalition was a difficult decision, but it was one that as a person of conscience, I ultimately had to make. I am a Republican and that has not changed; however, I am first and foremost an Alaskan and a representative of my district. My ultimate responsibility is to my constituents and the people of this state.

Clearly, the most pressing issues facing Alaska are addressing the deficit and achieving a sustainable and balanced fiscal solution. Despite having ample opportunity, the former House Majority proved itself unwilling to address these issues in a meaningful way. I was upfront with my colleagues and on the campaign trail that I would join the majority that was committed to taking the hard votes to get our economy back on track.

So, I joined the new Alaska House Majority Coalition, which is a group of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents who are committed to changing the status quo. The common thread that brought us together was not partisanship, but was a shared belief that action is needed now to ensure that our children and our children's children can continue to live, work and play in a prosperous Alaska.

[Alaska Republicans move to block primary ballot access to lawmakers who joined House coalition]

That being said, I want to address the recent vote by the Alaska Republican Party to bar myself and two other Republicans from next year's Republican primary ballot. Essentially, a small group of political elites is attempting to usurp voters and dictate who can run in their party's primary based on whether elected officials toed the party line.

Shouldn't the voters decide who is fit to be the party representative for their district? Aren't I ultimately accountable to my voters?

I did what I felt was right for the communities I represent and the people of Alaska. I stand by that decision. If my constituents are unhappy with those actions or the job I've done, I fully expect them to vote their conscience. That is what our electoral process is based on. It is the residents of my district that I am accountable to, not a group of people in a boardroom.

This is simply an attempt to diminish the power of voters by bolstering the power of a select few. The idea that a state political party may exclude individuals from their primary who acted on behalf of their constituents instead of the will of the party runs counter to the principles of a representational democracy. Moreover, it actively discourages independent thought and bipartisanship when that is clearly something we need more of.

[Alaska GOP should let primary voters decide fate of Musk Ox reps]

Lastly, bipartisan coalitions are not a new concept in this state. Alaskans are an independent group of people and our political history is replete with examples of legislatures that set aside party-line politics for the betterment of the state. There are many examples, but two recent ones come to mind.

• In 2007, Republicans held an 11-9 majority in the Alaska Senate. Despite being elected as Republicans, the mother-in-law of the current chairman of the Alaska Republican Party and five other Republicans joined nine Democrats to form a majority coalition. I don't recall an attempt to remove those individuals from the following year's primary.

• A little over a year ago, the former Republican-led House Majority bolstered its numbers with members who were elected as Democrats. The Alaska Democratic Party did not attempt to bar those individuals from running in their primary. Furthermore, it is ironic that an organization is suddenly taking issue with a practice that it has used to its advantage in previous years.

I do not believe this action will be enforceable. As a voter, however, I have to ask myself: Why is a political party attempting to manipulate the system to control the actions of legislators while in office?

I, for one, do not want Alaska to turn down that path.

There aren't a lot of certainties in this line of work, but I can promise this: As long as I am in office, I will not prioritize the needs of a political party over the communities I represent and the people of Alaska.

Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, represents District 12, which includes Kodiak, Yakutat, Cordova and Seldovia.

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

Disgruntled Anchorage McDonald’s customer shoots the building

Sat, 2017-12-09 12:06

A young man pulled up to a McDonald's drive-thru in West Anchorage early Saturday in an agitated state, then shot the building, police said.

No one was hurt, said MJ Thim, Anchorage police spokesman.

Police were called at 1:12 a.m. about the agitated customer, described as an Asian man in his late teens or early 20s wearing a red hoodie and a baseball cap, Thim said.

He was driving a red four-door sedan and had a passenger when he pulled up to the McDonald's window at 800 W. Northern Lights Boulevard, Thim said.

The man argued with the McDonald's employee over payment and eventually did pay.

"He drove forward, turned around and shot at the building," Thim said. The single shot hit the restaurant, he said.

"We still don't know why he was upset," Thim said. Witnesses told police that he was disgruntled from the get-go.

Police are looking for the man and reviewing security footage.

Prominent appeals court judge accused of sexual misconduct by 6 women

Sat, 2017-12-09 11:46

A former clerk for Judge Alex Kozinski said the powerful and well-known jurist, who for many years served as chief judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, called her into his office several times and pulled up pornography on his computer, asking if she thought it was photoshopped or if it aroused her sexually.

Heidi Bond, who clerked for Kozinski from 2006 to 2007, said the porn was not related to any case. One set of images she remembered was of college-age students at a party where "some people were inexplicably naked while everyone else was clothed." Another was a sort of digital flip book that allowed users to mix and match heads, torsos and legs to create an image of a naked woman.

Bond is one of six women – all former clerks or externs in the 9th Circuit – who alleged to The Washington Post in recent weeks that Kozinski, now 67 and still serving as a judge on the court, subjected them to a range of inappropriate sexual conduct or comments. She is one of two former clerks who said Kozinski asked them to view porn in his chambers.

[7 aides at Alaska Capitol say legislator made unwanted advances and comments]

In a statement, Kozinski said: "I have been a judge for 35 years and during that time have had over 500 employees in my chambers. I treat all of my employees as family and work very closely with most of them. I would never intentionally do anything to offend anyone and it is regrettable that a handful have been offended by something I may have said or done."

When Bond was clerking, Kozinski was on the precipice of becoming chief judge for the 9th Circuit – the largest federal appeals court circuit in the country, handling cases for a large swath of the western United States as well as Hawaii and Alaska. The other people who alleged that Kozinski behaved inappropriately toward them worked in the 9th Circuit both before and after her, up to 2012.

Bond said she knew that she was to come to the judge's office when her phone beeped twice. She said she tried to answer the judge's inquiries as succinctly and matter-of-factly as possible. Bond was then in her early 30s and is now 41.

If the question was about photoshopping, Bond said, she would focus on minor details of the image. If Kozinski asked whether the images aroused her, Bond said, she would respond: "No, this kind of stuff doesn't do anything for me. Is there anything else you need?" She said she recalled three instances when the judge showed her porn in his office.

"I was in a state of emotional shock, and what I really wanted to do was be as small as possible and make as few movements as possible and to say as little as possible to get out," Bond said.

Bond, who went on to clerk for the Supreme Court and now works as a romance novelist writing under the name Courtney Milan, and another clerk, Emily Murphy, who worked for a different judge on the 9th Circuit and is now a law professor, described their experiences in on-the-record interviews. The other four women spoke on the condition that their names and some other identifying information not be published, out of fear that they might face retaliation from Kozinski or others.

Kozinski, who served as the chief judge on the 9th Circuit from 2007 to 2014, remains a prominent judge, well known in the legal community for his colorful written opinions. His clerks often win prestigious clerkships at the Supreme Court.

[Lobbyists ask for votes. Some lawmakers want much more.]

Murphy, who clerked for Judge Richard Paez, said Kozinski approached her when she was talking with a group of other clerks at a reception at a San Francisco hotel in September 2012. The group had been discussing training regimens, and Murphy said she commented that the gym in the 9th Circuit courthouse was nice because other people were seldom there.

Kozinski, according to Murphy and two others present at the time who spoke to The Post, said that if that were the case, she should work out naked. Those in the group tried to change the subject, Murphy and the others present said, but Kozinski kept steering the conversation toward the idea of Murphy exercising without clothes.

"It wasn't just clear that he was imagining me naked, he was trying to invite other people – my professional colleagues – to do so as well," Murphy said. "That was what was humiliating about it."

Murphy, who was 30 at the time of the incident and is now 36, provided The Post with a 2012 email showing that she told a mentor about what had happened at the time. Two of Murphy's friends who were present at the time of the encounter, speaking on the condition of anonymity, also confirmed her account. Bond, similarly, provided emails showing that she told a friend what had happened at least as of 2008.

The friend, fellow romance novelist Eve Ortega, provided the same emails. She confirmed that Bond had told her years ago that Kozinski made inappropriate sexual comments and showed her porn.

Kozinski has previously been embroiled in controversies relating to sexually explicit material.

In 2008, the Los Angeles Times revealed that Kozinski had maintained an email list that he used to distribute crude jokes, some of them sexually themed, and that he had a publicly accessible website that contained pornographic images.

A judicial investigation ultimately found that Kozinski did not intend to allow the public to see the material, and that instead the judge and his son were careless in protecting a private server from being accessible on the Internet.

Anthony Scirica, then the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, wrote at the time that Kozinski's "conduct exhibiting poor judgment with respect to this material created a public controversy that can reasonably be seen as having resulted in embarrassment to the institution of the federal judiciary."

According to Scirica's report, Kozinski said that he used the server to keep a variety of items he received by email, including TV commercials, video clips, cartoons, games and song parodies.

Of the sexually explicit files, Kozinski testified: "Some I thought were odd or funny or bizarre, but mostly I don't have a very good reason for holding onto them. I certainly did not send them to anyone else or ask anyone to send me similar files," according to Scirica's report.

Kozinski also testified that he "does not visit and has no interest in pornographic websites," according to Scirica's report. He separately apologized for any embarrassment he had caused in maintaining the email list and said he had stopped sending the jokes.

Bond said the images Kozinski showed her seemed to come from his private server, because he pulled them from a site containing the term "kozinski.com."

[How Congress plays by different rules on sexual harassment and misconduct]

The other Kozinski clerk who said the judge showed her porn declined to provide specifics out of fear that Kozinski would be able to identify her. Bond said Kozinski also showed her a chart he claimed he and his friends from college had made to list the women with whom they had had sexual relations.

Bond said either Kozinski or his administrative assistant reached out to her around the time of the news reporting on his private server, asking if she would be willing to defend his character. She wrote Ortega about the inquiry in 2008, according to emails the women shared with The Post, and Ortega responded that it "sounds like a very bad idea to me."

"I know he brought you into his office to show you porn, I know he made sexual innuendos to you. I know this because you told me so in DC, and you even used the words sexual harassment," Ortega wrote. "You said you would warn off other women thinking of clerking for him. And if there's a woman out there he harassed worse than you, do you really want to be pitted against her? Because that's what it would be. I'm worried that this is what he's asking you to do – to be the female, intelligent face of his defense and make whoever it is accusing him look like a stupid slut, and then he hopefully never has to actually address those allegations."

Kozinski was born in Romania to Holocaust survivors in 1950, and the family fled the communist state when he was a boy. Decades ago, long before he was a federal judge, he appeared on the television show "The Dating Game," planting a kiss on a surprised young woman who selected him for a date. He is married and has three sons.

Kozinski was appointed to the 9th Circuit by President Ronald Reagan in 1985. He is an atypical federal appeals court judge – authoring irreverent opinions and not shying, as many of his colleagues do, from media appearances.

He styled one opinion in 2012 not as a traditional concurrence or dissent, but instead as "disagreeing with everyone." He famously wrote during a trademark dispute between the toy company Mattel and the record company that produced the 1997 song "Barbie Girl," "The parties are advised to chill."

In more recent years, Kozinski wrote that using lethal injections to impose the death penalty was "a misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and beautiful – like something any one of us might experience in our final moments," and he told the Los Angeles Times, "I personally think we should go to the guillotine, but shooting is probably the right way to go."

The Post reached out to dozens of Kozinski's former clerks and externs for this story. Many of those who returned messages said they experienced no harassment of any kind, and their experience – which entailed grueling work into the wee hours of the morning every day – was a rewarding one. They noted Kozinski's wry sense of humor.

Those who talked to The Post about negative experiences said that they felt his behavior went beyond bad jokes or that they felt personally targeted.

A former Kozinski extern said the judge once made a comment about her hair and looked her body up and down "in a less-than-professional way." That extern said Kozinski also once talked with her about a female judge stripping.

"I didn't want to be alone with him," the former extern said.

A different former extern said she, similarly, had at least two conversations "that had sexual overtones directed at me," and she told friends about them at the time. One of the friends, also a former extern, confirmed that the woman had told her about the remarks – though both declined to detail them for fear of being identified.

One former 9th Circuit clerk said she was at a dinner in Seattle, seated next to Kozinski, when he "kind of picked the tablecloth up so that he could see the bottom half of me, my legs." She said Kozinski remarked, "I wanted to see if you were wearing pants because it's cold out." The former clerk said that she was wearing pants at the time. The incident, she said, occurred in either late 2011 or early 2012.

"It made me uncomfortable, and it didn't seem appropriate," said the former clerk, who worked for a different judge.

All of the women The Post interviewed said they did not file formal complaints at the time. Bond said Kozinski had so vigorously stressed the idea of judicial confidentiality – that what is discussed in chambers cannot be revealed to the outside – that she questioned even years later whether she could share what had happened with a therapist, even though she had already talked with Ortega about what had happened.

Bond said Kozinski worked his clerks so hard that "there was no thought that I could see him as anything other than in complete control," and she feared that not leaving with a good recommendation from him might jeopardize her career.

"I did think about walking away and concluded I just didn't know what I would do if I did," Bond said.

The other former Kozinski clerk who said the judge asked her to watch porn in his chambers said she both feared what the judge might do and knew that a complaint was unlikely to strip him of his influence.

"I was afraid," the former clerk said. "I mean, who would I tell? Who do you even tell? Who do you go to?"

Murphy said she discussed what had happened with the judge for whom she was clerking, and he was supportive of her filing a complaint. But because the complaint would first go to Kozinski himself, then be referred elsewhere, Murphy said she chose not to proceed. The judge, Paez, declined to comment for this story through a representative.

As a judge, Kozinski has addressed the topic of sexual harassment in important ways. In 1991, he joined an opinion that decided such cases should be judged from the perspective of the victims, using what was then called the "reasonable woman" standard. The opinion, written by then-Judge Robert R. Beezer, noted pointedly, "Conduct that many men consider unobjectionable may offend many women."

Beezer died in 2012. Kozinski himself wrote about sexual harassment in 1992, commenting on how legal remedies could come with unforeseen consequences.

He wrote that men "must be aware of the boundaries of propriety and lean to stay well within them," while women "must be vigilant of their rights, but also have some forgiveness for human foibles: misplaced humor, misunderstanding, or just plain stupidity."

He acknowledged, though, that the problem of harassment was a real one.

"But who knew, who understood, that it was quite so pervasive," Kozinski wrote. "Apparently most women did, while most men did not. It was the best-kept secret of modern times."

– – –

The Washington Post's Julie Tate contributed to this report.

How skiers and snowmachiners are helping scientists improve snow models

Sat, 2017-12-09 10:57

Snow falling silently on Alaska's mountains will in a few months transform into a medium for migrating salmon, and so much more.

"That snowflake that falls on the mountain now is water that flows in streams and rivers late in summer," said Gabe Wolken, a glaciologist who works both for the state and the University of Alaska.

Wolken and his colleagues recently added a snow-depth button to a smartphone app that allows anyone to add information about favorite winter landscapes and help scientists in the process.

The free app, Mountain Hub, now allows skiers, snowmachiners, mountaineers and others to enter a snow-depth measurement that helps researchers calibrate models of snowmelt and ground truth measurements from aircraft and satellites.

[APU skiers help researcher conduct glacier melt study]

In Alaska, figuring how much snowfall will turn into river is a guessing game backed by a few real measurements fed into computer models. In other places, snow scientists can drive all over the place to sample, but Alaska has fewer miles of road than Vermont.

Wolken came up with the idea for help from "citizen scientists" a few years ago while flying a snow-measuring mission near Valdez. To check the accuracy of a series of photos taken from a plane to get snow elevations and compare them to the height of the bare ground, Wolken invited people from the Alaska Avalanche Information Center up to Thompson Pass, one of the snowiest places in Alaska and a favorite of backcountry skiers.

A group of snowmachiners and skiers took off in different directions that April day. They probed snow-depth measurements and added waypoints with GPS units. They met at the end of the day and gave their field books and handheld GPS receivers to Wolken.

"We ended up getting so many more measurements than we could with just a science team," he said.

When he saw a NASA call for proposals on projects to help make snowmelt models more accurate, Wolken got with scientists from UAF, the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys, the University of Washington and Oregon State University. They proposed to enhance the Mountain Hub app with a tab for snow-depth measurements. NASA funded their proposal for a prototype, and outdoors people have responded.

"There's lots of measurements popping up right now," Wolken said.

He has seen snow-depth readings from the White Mountains outside Fairbanks, Sitka and favorite climbing spots in the Alaska Range. Snow travelers have sent in more than 400 measurements from Thompson Pass.

People have measured snow using avalanche probes, often carried in the backcountry, but can use something as simple as a yardstick in areas like the Interior that receive less snow.

The app registers location and the typed-in snow depth even if the reporter has no cell signal. As soon as the smartphone senses a cell or wifi signal, the information is transferred to a site used by researchers. Though developed for Alaska, the app takes readings from anywhere in the world.

"We're trying to get people to do this anywhere, any time there's snow on the ground," Wolken said. "In Alaska, there are so many areas without weather or snow observations. And if we can get a better idea of baseline conditions now, we'll have a better idea of climate change effects."

As more reports come in on the Mountain Hub app, scientists will pay attention to where the reports come from.

"We want to let the data guide us to where we tune the next models," Wolken said.

For more information, see communitysnowobs.org.

Billionaire David Rubenstein and his wife, Alice Rogoff, divorce

Sat, 2017-12-09 10:49

WASHINGTON – After months of rumors, the marriage of billionaire philanthropists David Rubenstein and Alice Rogoff has officially ended.

The couple, who married in 1983, was granted a divorce in Montgomery County, Maryland, on Friday morning. All financial and other terms were settled privately and will remain confidential, according to Rubenstein's lawyer, Sandy Ein, and Rogoff's lawyer, Linda Ravdin.

"Alice and David Rubenstein have decided to formalize a divorce following a lengthy separation," Ein said in a statement on behalf of the couple. "The parties continue in support of one another and their respective endeavors. They are and continue to be devoted parents and their love and respect for their family is most important to each of them. They wish each other nothing but the best."

Ein said the two would have no further comment.

According to the court filing, the couple separated in 2005. Publicly, the two lived largely separate lives but appeared together periodically on behalf of their philanthropic projects, such as the Kennedy Center and other institutions, and formal events, such as a state dinner for Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2015. The Rubensteins never discussed their marriage in public. The most Rogoff ever revealed was saying "It's complicated" in 2014.

Rubenstein, 68, is co-founder of the private equity firm the Carlyle Group, chairman of the Kennedy Center and head of the board of the Smithsonian Institution. He is one of the most visible philanthropists in Washington, giving millions to the Kennedy Center, the National Archives and a number of universities. He has signed the Giving Pledge and says that he plans to donate the bulk of his fortune – estimated at $2.8 billion – to charitable causes.

Rogoff, 66, most recently published Alaska Dispatch News in Alaska, where she has lived for several years. (The organization was sold in September and renamed Anchorage Daily News.)

After living apart for years, rumors of a divorce intensified this summer after Rogoff referred to a "marital settlement agreement" in court documents for her newspaper's bankruptcy proceedings. It turned out that the agreement had been in place for several years, and it is not clear why the couple decided to formalize their divorce at this time.

The couple has three grown children.

UAF swarms past UAA 7-2 in Governor’s Cup hockey game

Sat, 2017-12-09 00:12

A small contingent of UAF jersey-clad, flag-waving fans behind the Nanooks bench had the most to cheer about at Friday night's Governor's Cup hockey game at Sullivan Arena.

The game was controlled by UAF from Colton Leiter's first goal 45 seconds into the game to the final buzzer in the Nanooks' 7-2 win over UAA in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association rivalry showdown.

The win gave UAF a 3-0 lead in Governor's Cup games with three games to go and it pushed the Seawolves' winless streak to seven games.

Even when trailing 4-0 midway through the second period, UAA actually led in shots on goal 14-13. The difference is UAF (6-11-2, 4-8-1 WCHA) got quality shots and some easy looks and UAA (1-10-4, 1-5-3) couldn't finish its attacks.

"They capitalized on all their chances that they had, especially early, (and) we didn't capitalize on any of ours," UAA coach Matt Thomas said. "We didn't play as bad as the scoreboard showed. Unfortunately, the scoreboard showed how much better they were at finishing."

Six players finished with two points for the Nanooks, who led 2-0 after the first period, 5-0 through the second and 6-0 before UAA got on the scoreboard on defenseman Mason Anderson's first career goal midway through the third period.

A pair of sophomore forwards, Tyler Cline and Leiter, paced the Nanooks with two goals apiece.

"We know what's at stake playing against Anchorage, so we just brought a lot of energy and we capitalized when we needed to," Leiter said. "It felt good to finally get one quick there off the start."

To start the third period, UAA benched starting goalie Olivier Mantha for Brody Claeys to get Claeys some more experience, Thomas said. But UAA's woes continued with an easy backdoor goal by Leiter 20 seconds into the period.

Claeys tallied eight saves in 20 minutes and Mantha recorded 14 saves in 40 minutes for UAA. UAF goalie Anton Martinsson snagged 22 saves.

Anderson's goal quelled UAF's shutout bid and an unassisted goal by UAA winger Jonah Renouf helped UAA avoid tying its worst loss to the Nanooks.

The two in-state rivals will meet for the fourth time Saturday night at Sullivan Arena.

"Tomorrow is a whole different day and I know our team will have the right attitude coming into it because just the way you're made up," Thomas said. "It will reveal a lot about our character."

Needed: Volunteers and gifts to help keep Christmas

Fri, 2017-12-08 22:16

On Wednesday and Thursday, Dec. 13 and 14, The Salvation Army will join the Food Bank of Alaska, U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots, Lutheran Social Services, United Way of Anchorage and many other social service organizations for one of Alaska's largest charity events, Neighborhood GIFT. The event, which will attract thousands of Anchorage residents, will take place at the Sullivan Arena and at St. Andrew Catholic Church in Eagle River.

This annual event is staffed by an army of community volunteers. These volunteers donate their time, energy, money and love to provide a full holiday meal including whole turkeys, stuffing, vegetables, plus children's Christmas toys to thousands of families in need here in Anchorage and Eagle River. Last year at GIFT more than 15,000 people were served and went home with the fixings of a great holiday meal or toys for their children or both.

In 2016, our volunteers and donors at GIFT helped 5,753 families who were facing a choice between a Christmas celebration or paying rent. Because of the community's generosity, families that otherwise would have spent Christmas pretending it is a day like any other could now afford to prepare themselves a well-stocked, nutritious, and fully donated meal. 7,767 children woke up on Christmas morning able to open presents that were provided by Neighborhood GIFT. Indeed, more than 15,500 toys and gifts were distributed during these two days.

The Salvation Army has spent weeks collecting toy donations through our Angel Tree program and other toy drives for Neighborhood GIFT, but sadly we are extremely low and do not have enough donations to provide what will be needed this year. Especially in short supply are gifts for children ages 9-14.

It is an unfortunate reality that we will never be equipped to help everyone who needs it, but this year it seems that Anchorage is being hit by hard economic times. There are more people than ever who need help during the upcoming Christmas holiday.

In 2016, The Salvation Army was blessed to have the help of 1,220 volunteers at GIFT who gave a combined 3,941 volunteer hours over two days.  It's only because of the kindness of our volunteers that we are able to provide some holiday relief for Anchorage families that need a hand.

We are desperately short of volunteers this year, and we are in dire need of toys and gifts for ages 9-14 by this Tuesday.

Please, go to volunteer.salvationarmy.org and sign up to volunteer and visit alaska.salvationarmy.org to find the many locations where you can drop off new, unwrapped toys to be donated to Neighborhood GIFT.

All over town you can find Angel Trees sponsored by Wells Fargo, Bass Pro Shops, Carrs, GCI, Sears Mall, Denny's, Chugach Electric Assoc. and scores more generous Alaska businesses and agencies. Pick a tag from a tree and bring some cheer to a child who needs it this year. You can also find toy and gift collection boxes at participating Walmart and Fred Meyer stores across Anchorage.

The Salvation Army, Lutheran Social Services, Food Bank of Alaska and all our partner agencies will be at the Sullivan Arena this Wednesday and Thursday. We'd love to see more Alaskans come together in this time of need and join us as we encourage our neighbors during these trying times.

There is always someone in need, but there is also always a way to help.

Thank you for helping us help others.

Merry Christmas.

Maj. Mike Dickinson is divisional commander for The Salvation Army Alaska.

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

Lobbyists ask for votes. Some lawmakers want much more.

Fri, 2017-12-08 19:30

Vanessa Alarid was a lobbyist in New Mexico when she asked a lawmaker over drinks one night if she could count on his support for a bill that appeared to be coming down to a single vote.

"You can have my vote if you have sex with me," Alarid recalled the lawmaker saying, although he used cruder language for sexual intercourse. He told Alarid she had the same first name as his wife, so he would not get confused if he called out in bed. Then he kissed her on the lips, she said.

Shocked, Alarid, who was 32 at the time, pushed him away. Only after he was gone did she let the tears flow.

When her bill came up on the floor of the New Mexico House of Representatives the next day, March 20, 2009, it failed by a single vote, including a "No" by the lawmaker, Rep. Thomas A. Garcia.

As Alarid watched from the House gallery, she said, Garcia blew her a kiss and shrugged his shoulders with arms spread.

[Alaska House leaders call for Westlake's resignation after report details alleged unwanted advances]

Charges of harassment are cascading through statehouses across the country, leading to investigations, resignations of powerful men and anguish over hostile workplaces for women that for years went unacknowledged. Amid this reckoning, one group of victims has stood apart: political lobbyists.

Part of a frequently disparaged profession, female lobbyists have emerged as especially vulnerable in legislatures and in Congress because, unlike government employees, they often have no avenue to report complaints and receive due process. Lobbyists who have been harassed are essentially powerless in their workplaces, all-dependent on access to mostly male lawmakers for meetings and influence to advance legislation and earn their living.

Alarid, who has not publicly told her story before, was fearful that in coming forward, lawmakers would shut their doors to her and she would lose clients as a lobbyist in Santa Fe, the New Mexico capital. "My relationships with legislators are so important and valuable to my job," she said.

Two former New Mexico legislators, Sandra Jeff, a Democrat, and Rod Adair, a Republican, said Alarid told them of the 2009 encounter shortly after it occurred. Will Steadman, Alarid's supervisor at the company she represented, SunCal, a land developer, said he was also told of the episode.

Garcia, who left office in 2012, denied he had offered to trade a vote for sex or blew a kiss to Alarid. "I held the institution of the Legislature with too high regard to do anything that would provide any kind of personal gain, financial or otherwise,'' he said.

Female lobbyists from Arizona to Virginia described statehouse cultures that were throwbacks to male-dominated institutions like 1960s Madison Avenue. Long working days flow into alcohol-fueled socializing with male lawmakers, often bunked in hotels in isolated small towns for the few months of a state legislative session.

[Seven aides at Alaska Capitol say legislator made unwanted advances and comments]

Seasoned lobbyists said that smoothly deflecting a lawmaker's physical advance was a job skill as essential as winning support for a bill.

"When I've been cornered up against a wall by a senator who is much larger than me, all I'm thinking is, 'How do I get out of this with a smile on my face and maintain the relationship?'" said Rebecca Johnson, a lobbyist in Washington state.

Text-messaging, ubiquitous between lawmakers and lobbyists, can easily slide into personal and suggestive banter, which women feel pressed to go along with.

Sarah Walker, a lobbyist for criminal justice groups in Minnesota, worked closely with state Rep. Tony Cornish, the gatekeeper in the House for policy about her issues. "From the very first time I met with him, he took a very acute interest in me and began texting me regularly, asking me out," she said.

One text, which Walker showed The Times, read, "Would it frighten you if I said that I was just interested in good times good wine good food and good sex?"

Cornish, 66, at first called Walker's charges "damned lies" in the Minnesota media. But last month, he reached an agreement with her to resign from office, apologize and pay her legal fees, avoiding a lawsuit. Cornish did not respond to a request for comment.

Female lawmakers often act as witnesses to harassment. Last year, state Rep. Kelly Fajardo, a Republican in New Mexico, was out with a young female lobbyist when the lobbyist got a text on her phone from an older, powerful legislator.

"The text said, 'Hey, let's talk about this bill, my wife's not here, come up to my hotel room,'" Fajardo said. "She didn't know what to do, and I didn't know what to do. It's bothered me ever since."

A symbiotic relationship

The lobbying profession is built on developing trust with lawmakers, often after office hours. Almost all lobbyists routinely throw fundraisers for lawmakers and direct contributions from political action committees. A close relationship develops, built on money and familiarity. Like any workplace, there are consensual sexual relationships, sometimes extramarital. Some female lobbyists pointed out that there are women in the field who have learned to manipulate men given to flirtation, when it suits their interest.

Thomas K. Norment Jr., the majority leader of the Virginia Senate, admitted to an affair in 2013 with a lobbyist whose firm pushed 63 bills that advanced to the Senate floor. He did not abstain on any of the votes. The relationship was reviewed by the FBI, but no charges were filed.

Although dozens of lawmakers in some 20 states have been accused of sexual harassment since last year, including by fellow legislators, staff members and lobbyists, many of the lobbyists have asked to remain anonymous for fear of ending their careers.

In interviews, female lobbyists said that there was a power imbalance between legislator and lobbyist and that they were usually at the losing end.

Elise Higgins, who lobbied for Planned Parenthood in Kansas from 2014 until this year, said she endured frequent hugs from male lawmakers — "a hello hug, a thank-you hug, a goodbye hug" — and comments about her body.

During a meeting with a lawmaker to discuss a bill, he ended the conversation with a remark on her appearance. "You're a pretty girl," he said approvingly.

"I remember being intensely annoyed," said Higgins, who declined to name the lawmaker. At the same time, "I always was deferential to legislators. I needed to be in good relationships with them in order to do my job. I couldn't afford to lose a vote."

[How Congress plays by different rules on sexual harassment and misconduct]

No place to report

For many female lobbyists on the receiving end of inappropriate comments and advances, reporting the offenses has rarely been a consideration. Nicole Grant, a lobbyist for an electricians union in Washington state from 2009 to 2015, recalled leaving a meeting with a group of lawmakers and lobbyists at the state Capitol. As she walked out of the room, Rep. Jim Jacks wrapped his arm around her lower back. Then his hand reached for her rear end and gave it a squeeze.

Shocked and distraught, Grant fled outside, but she didn't dare report the incident.

"I'm representing people just like me," said Grant, 39, a journeyman electrician. "I'm just really focused on delivering for them. You don't let anything get in the way. Some guy grabs you, it's like, eye on the prize."

The legislator, Jacks, resigned in 2011 after a female legislative staff member accused him of sexual misconduct. He blamed alcoholism for his departure. Jacks did not respond to a request for comment.

Walker, 40, described years of harassment by Cornish, the Minnesota legislator, including repeated propositions for sex. She never lodged a formal complaint, she said, because she feared losing access to Cornish.

"There was no possibility of me passing bills without interacting with him," she said. Cornish, a former police officer, once pushed her against a wall and tried to kiss her, Walker said, and another time stood up and told her he had an erection.

Samantha Spawn, a lobbyist for NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota, said she was sexually assaulted this year by a statehouse staff member whom she had considered a friendly acquaintance. After a party at the end of the legislative session in Pierre, the staff member persuaded her to let him stay in her hotel room, saying he was too drunk to leave. She reluctantly agreed and went to bed fully clothed, but he physically overcame her and raped her, she said.

After the allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein broke in October, Spawn decided to speak about her assault in the media. She has not named her assailant.

"There's no mechanism in the statehouse that I'm aware of for lobbyists to report harassment or assault, other than going to legislative leadership," she said. "But they're Republican men. No one in South Dakota is going to have sympathy for the NARAL lobbyist."

Work outside the capitol

In states like Wisconsin, lobbyists are forbidden from spending money on lawmakers. That tamps down on evening socializing and extravagant dinners that can feel transactional.

"We can't even give a legislator a pen in Wisconsin," said Amy Bliss, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Housing Alliance in Madison. "So we certainly can't buy them a drink."

But in most other states, the rules are far looser, if they exist at all.

When Marilyn Rodriguez was 25 and a new lobbyist in Arizona, she found herself unable to get Rep. Don Shooter, a powerful committee chairman, to pay attention to an issue in his office. He recommended they go for a drink to discuss the matter, Rodriquez said. Once at the restaurant, "He reached over and gripped my knee," Rodriguez, who was shocked, recalled. For the next two years, she avoided speaking to him, which made her less effective at her job. "Every time I saw him I felt ashamed," she said.

Shooter, 65, has been suspended from his committee chairmanship and is being investigated by the Arizona House after nine women, including Rodriguez and three female lawmakers, complained of harassment. Shooter did not respond to a request for comment.

Some women who spend time in statehouses say their only recourse is to confide in their own bosses, if they have them. Kady McFadden, deputy director of the Sierra Club in Illinois, said she had endured lawmakers' putting their hands up her skirt, running their fingers through her hair and giving it a flirtatious tug. She tells her supervisor every time something happens.

McFadden, who is not a registered lobbyist but runs the chapter's political work, said the harassment was a symptom of a system that devalued women at every turn.

"As important as it is to change the culture of sexual harassment, at the end of the day, this is about so much more," she said. "Men are leading our state governments, men are leading our corporations, men are leading our media organizations. This is about the ability of women and particularly women of color to be in leadership positions and be able to do their jobs."

After brief chase, car damages multiple trooper vehicles on the Glenn Highway

Fri, 2017-12-08 19:07

A car damaged two Alaska State Troopers vehicles after a brief chase on the Glenn Highway on Friday evening, troopers said.

The collision, at Mile 34 of the Glenn Highway, happened near the Wasilla and Palmer interchange, said troopers spokesman Tim DeSpain.

"There doesn't appear to be any serious injuries but obviously traffic is going to be tied up there," DeSpain said. Anchorage police said all lanes of the Glenn had reopened by 6 p.m.

The incident started when troopers spotted the car traveling fast from the Old Glenn onto the Glenn Highway, heading toward Anchorage. Troopers warned Anchorage police that the vehicle was headed their way, DeSpain said.

But then the car turned around, pulling into one of the median crossovers, and started heading back toward Palmer. A trooper "engaged in a pursuit at that point," DeSpain said, but as the car sped up, the trooper backed off.

Meanwhile, more troopers were waiting at another median, getting ready to deploy spike strips. The car crashed, damaging two vehicles. DeSpain wasn't sure whether the driver had hit two cars, or if one of the trooper vehicles had smashed into the second one when hit.

The driver has been detained, DeSpain said.

West girls put 5 skiers in top 10 on 1st day of at Lynx Loppet races

Fri, 2017-12-08 19:03

The West girls ski team has the rest of the field playing catch-up after the first day of Lynx Loppet nordic ski races Friday at Kincaid Park.

West's Molly Gellert won the girls 5-kilometer classic race in 15 minutes, 49.6 seconds to pace five Eagles in the top 10.

Service's Gus Schumacher won the boys race in 12:34.7. Second-place Ti Donaldson of West Valley finished more than a minute behind Schumacher in 13:40.5.

The other West girls in the top 10 were Aubrey LeClair (2nd, 16:06.5), Quincy Donley (6th, 16:34.4), Ellie Mitchell (8th, 16:59.6) and Ivy Eski (10th, 17:12.0). The Eagles' combined time of 1:05:30.1 is more than five minutes faster than Chugiak at 1:10:37.5.

On the boys side, Service leads West Valley by 35.4 seconds with a 56:51.4.

Eleven teams and 131 skiers competed in Friday's A races.

The Lynx Loppet continues Saturday with freestyle pursuit races based on Friday's finishes.

Lynx Loppet
Friday's 5-kilometer classic

Boys A

Team

1) Service 56:51.4
2) West Valley 57:26.8
3) West 58:24.2
4) Chugiak 58:31.2
5) Dimond 59:08.2
6) Soldotna 59:14.7
7) South 1:01:01.9
8) Grace 1:03:02.3
9) Colony 1:10:18.6,
10) Eagle River 1:10:38.4

Individual

1) Gus Schumacher, Service, 12:34.7
2) Ti Donaldson, West Valley, 13:40.5
3) Eli Hermanson, Service, 13:46.6
4) Zanden McMullen, South, 13:54.9
5) Miles Dennis, Chugiak, 14:08.4
6) Karl Danielson, Kenai, 14:15.0
7) Rhys Yates, West Valley, 14:16.4
8) John-Mark Pothast, Soldotna, 14:22.8
9) Koby Vinson, Soldotna, 14:28.3
10) Bryce Pintner, Dimond, 14:28.7
11) Jeremy Kupferschmid, Soldotna, 14:30.6
12) Micah Barber, Dimond, 14:31.5
13) Everett Cason, West, 14:33.9
14) Ari Endestad, West Valley, 14:34.3
15) Maxime Germain, West, 14:35.9
16) Max Beiergrohslein, Chugiak, 14:36.1
17) Noah Ravens, West, 14:36.9
18) Sam York, West, 14:37.5
19) Luke Fritzel, Grace, 14:46.3
20) Kai Meyers, South, 14:48.1
21) Michael Earnhart, Chugiak, 14:49.1
22) George Cvancara, Dimond, 14:53.0
23) Joseph Walling, Palmer, 14:55.1
24) Alexander Maurer, Service, 14:55.5
25) Jack Cater, West Valley, 14:55.6
26) Thomas Bueler, West Valley, 14:56.2
27) Sean Clapp, South, 14:56.9
28) Torsten Renner, Chugiak, 14:57.6
29) Avi Johnson, Grace, 15:02.1
30) Aaron Maves, West, 15:08.7
31) Peter Hinds, Dimond, 15:15.0
32) Konrad Renner, Chugiak, 15:20.2
33) Dale Baurick, West Valley, 15:25.3
34) Richard Gordon-Rein, West, 15:32.3
35) Parker Stoltz, West Valley, 15:33.6
36) Joel Power, Service, 15:34.6
37) Nick Carl, Eagle River, 15:35.5
38) Keleman Legate, West, 15:51.6
39) Joshua Shuler, Soldotna, 15:53.0
40) Kaden Denton, Dimond, 16:14.7
41) Aiden Gannon, Grace, 16:15.5
42) Hayden Ulbrich, Service, 16:22.9
43) Elic Cowan, Colony, 16:23.3
44) Sean Swalling, Dimond, 16:23.8
45) Luke Howe, East, 16:31.6
46) Brian Wing, Chugiak, 16:37.9
47) Joshua Bierma, Service, 16:41.3
48) Jacob Tyler Davis, Homer, 16:49.0
49) Jode Sparks, Soldotna, 16:53.6
50) Cole Fritzel, Grace, 16:58.4
51) Caleb Frederick Rauch, Homer, 16:59.3
52) Matthew Terry, Service, 16:59.7
53) Wyatt Barrett, South, 17:22.0
54) Nathan Kristich, Colony, 17:28.3
55) Curtis Bay, Eagle River, 17:41.2
56) Jaxson R Lee, Palmer, 17:42.4
57) Jared Haberman, South, 17:43.3
58) Calum Colver, Colony, 17:49.4
59) Alex Carl, Eagle River, 17:53.0
60) Aden Rothmeyer, South, 17:55.6
61) Kaj Taylor, Palmer, 18:07.8
62) Daniel Desaulniers, South, 18:16.2
63) Joshua Taylor, Colony, 18:37.6
64) Christian Baldridge, Eagle River, 19:28.7

Girls A

Team

1) West 1:05:30.1
2) Chugiak 1:10:37.5
3) Service 1:11:19.5
4) West Valley 1:11:30.1
5) South 1:13:54.6
6) Colony 1:17:21.0
7) Eagle River 1:18:58.5
8) Dimond 1:21:54.3
9) Palmer 1:24:50.7
10) Homer 1:45:41.8

Individual

1) Molly Gellert, West, 15:49.6
2) Aubrey LeClair, West, 16:06.5
3) Kendall Kramer, West Valley, 16:12.4
4) Helen Wilson, Eagle River, 16:20.4
5) Heidi Booher, Chugiak, 16:26.2
6) Quincy Donley, West, 16:34.4
7) Annika Hannestadt, Colony, 16:35.4
8) Ellie Mitchell, West, 16:59.6
9) Garvee Tobin, Service, 17:10.5
10) Ivy Eski, West, 17:12.0
11) Adrianna Proffitt, Chugiak, 17:13.3
12) Maggie Druckenmiller, West Valley, 17:13.9
13) Emma Nelson, Chugiak, 17:18.4
14) Caitlin Gohr, Service, 17:32.7
15) Addison Gibson, Kenai, 17:42.2
16) Grace Gilliland, South, 17:53.4
17) Maja Lapkass, West, 18:00.7
18) Maya Brubaker, Service, 18:04.5
19) Maggie Meeds, South, 18:05.1
20) Zoe Ratzlaff, West Valley, 18:22.8
21) Avery Mozen, West, 18:30.9
22) Adeline Wright, Service, 18:31.8
23) Alyson Kopsack, Colony, 18:45.2
24) Charlee Demientieff, Grace, 18:46.1
25) Kaylee Heck, South, 18:54.3
26) Sophia Cvancara, Dimond, 18:55.4
27) Maria Cvancara, Dimond, 18:58.2
28) Abby Amick, South, 19:01.8
29) Nadia Dworian, Service, 19:06.7
30) Elizabeth Kilby, South, 19:14.6
31) Aila Berrigan, Palmer, 19:25.3
32) Sarah Freeman, East, 19:36.8
33) Tatum Witter, Service, 19:37.7
34) Sofija Spaic, Colony, 19:39.0
35) Breanna Day, Chugiak, 19:39.6
36) Mallory Presler, West Valley, 19:41.0
37) Hannah Armbrust, South, 19:55.1
38) Emily Walsh, Eagle River, 20:02.9
39) Kellie Arthur, Soldotna, 20:04.7
40) Autumn Grace Daigle, Homer, 20:09.8
41) Hanna Wuttig, West Valley, 20:18.6
42) Sonora Martin, Soldotna, 20:34.7
43) Amy Baxter, Palmer, 20:35.7
44) Myah Smith, Eagle River, 20:36.7
45) Eloise Darrow, West Valley, 20:42.3
46) Olive Heatwole, South, 20:46.1
47) Sophie Ruth Wright, Palmer, 21:32.4
48) Cameron Blackwell, Soldotna, 21:34.3
49) Lindsey Gerlach, Chugiak, 21:36.1
50) Katelyn Marie Davis, Homer, 21:39.9
51) Hannah Cryder, Chugiak, 21:52.6
51) Maria Salzetti, Kenai, 21:52.6
53) Claire Nelson, Eagle River, 21:58.5
54) Milai Gilbert, Dimond, 21:58.8
55) Abigail Luiken, Dimond, 22:01.9
56) Zoe Margaret Stonorov, Homer, 22:07.0
57) Kate Baring, West Valley, 22:14.2
58) Nicole Bell, Colony, 22:21.4
59) Ashley Walsh, Eagle River, 22:21.8
60) Zoe T Copp, Palmer, 23:17.3
61) Ocean Tennant-McCubbin, Palmer, 23:38.9
62) Caitlin Fueg, Chugiak, 23:41.3
63) Quincy Smith, Dimond, 23:42.7
64) Shelby Kelliher, Dimond, 23:48.3
65) Megan Penman, Dimond, 25:21.6
66) Ariana O'Harra, East, 25:22.3
67) Brita Jane Restad, Homer, 41:45.1

A visit from Santa brings hope to a Western Alaska village

Fri, 2017-12-08 18:56

ST. MICHAEL — It would be hours before the sun rose over the treeless hills Tuesday in Saint Michael, a Yup'ik village of just over 400 people on the edge of the Bering Sea. Most of the community was fast asleep.

More than 400 miles to the southeast, at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, a group of volunteers and national guardsmen were busy loading ice cream, presents and Santa into an Alaska Air National Guard HC-130 Combat King II airplane. Soon Mr. and Mrs. Claus would be on their way to the village as part of Operation Santa Claus, a humanitarian mission started by the National Guard in 1956.

Sixty-one years later, Operation Santa Claus is now a collaboration between the National Guard, Salvation Army, Tastee Freeze, Costco and the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Each year the group visits two rural Alaska villages, delivering school supplies, presents and, perhaps most importantly, it brings the community together, spreading much-needed holiday cheer.

Daily life in Saint Michael revolves around subsistence activities, and with the changing seasons come different foods. December is a time to hunt reindeer and fish for tomcod, according to village elders Alice Fitka and Virginia Washington. In the fall, hunters harvest seal and beluga whale, and women pick berries. Spring is when they pick sweet onions that grow in the lakes, and summer is a time for fishing and gathering clams and sea urchins.

There aren't many wage-earning jobs in the community. The median household income in Saint Michael is $27,222 for a family of four, according to the Alaska State Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. That kind of money doesn't go very far in a place where the cost of heating oil can reach $300 a month, water and sewer is $250, and a gallon of gas is over $6. A bag of potato chips at the village store runs $10.

"It's hard to get by," said Saint Michael city clerk Richard Elachik Sr. "Even those of us that work have a hard time. We live off subsistence more than store-bought food." Housing is also tight in the community. In 2010 Elachik lived with 20 people in a four-bedroom home. Today he and his wife live with six children in a two-bedroom rental.

The struggle of making ends meet in a remote town with few jobs has taken a heavy toll, with many residents turning to alcohol and marijuana to cope. "Right now we are battling with the silent problem of homebrew and marijuana," said Virginia Washington, a village elder originally from Emmonak who married into the community in 1978. "I've been battling with homebrew from my adult children, and I'm not going to be ashamed to speak about it."

"Homebrew is a problem in Saint Michael," said Elachik, "and it's been getting worse. We saw our parents do it, and now we are their age."

Anthony A. Andrews School Principal Jon Wehde sees the effect that alcohol abuse is having on the children. "We will occasionally have a child reference homebrew," he said. "The tribal government is diligent with persistent intervention activities. This tells me that there is a need. It's an acute need."

With alcohol abuse comes other familiar problems. Domestic violence is enough of a concern that the community has developed a network of safe houses, distributed throughout the village so that one is always within walking distance. "The safe houses play a very critical role," said principal Wehde, who noted that there is no ambulance service and limited law enforcement presence.

The school provides breakfast and lunch for all their students, and the tribal agency offers regular evening meals. But even so, sometimes there's not enough food to go around. "I'm speaking from the Third World poverty level, which I'm living right now," said Washington. "It's kind of scary to see your own grandchildren hungry. So many times me and my husband don't eat so that our grandchildren can eat."

Saint Michael's problems with poverty and substance abuse have put strains on the community. "People nowadays aren't working together like they used to," said Elachik. "We used to gather for Christmas, Thanksgiving. Today families are fighting each other. This community needs to gather together more."

Operation Santa Claus last visited Saint Michael in 2003, and then, like now, nearly the entire community came together to take photos with Santa and open presents. "There's nothing more electric than singing 'Jingle Bells' and waiting for the big elf to come through the door," said principal Wehde, who has spent 30 years working in rural Alaska schools. "For the kids in a rural community in Alaska, to have an event like that lets them know that they are connected to a state that cares. They have an immediate sense of belonging."

"Everyone was waiting for it to come," said Elachik. "It was good to see the little kids and elders together."

Togetherness is what Virginia Washington is wishing for this Christmas. "I would really like peace in my home," she said. "I would rather have a peaceful, sober dinner on the table, where everybody is sober and well.

"That's my Christmas wish list," she said.

OneProtest responds to commentaries

Fri, 2017-12-08 18:39

Three OneProtest volunteers gave testimony at the Board of Game meeting in Anchorage recently. All three spoke in support of a single proposal. The proposal was to completely ban the hunting of bear cubs and sows with cubs in Alaska. They were not all from Florida. One member of our team was an Anchorage resident, one of the many that supported our proposal. The other two volunteers flew in to support her.

We are against the hunting of bear cubs!

We did not withdraw our proposal. It was not retracted. It was submitted, deliberated and ultimately the Board voted against it. We did amend our proposal with additional information as our understanding evolved. We spoke with the Board of Game members. They were courteous, helpful and open to feedback. In addition, we had discussions with advisory council representatives, elders and many others. They all said the same thing – they are not hunting bear cubs.

[Florida protesters schooled in Native ways at Alaska Board of Game meeting]

The apology was not offered for our proposal. Our apology was for any offense our initial misunderstanding may have caused the Native peoples. The Alaskan Administrative code 92.260 does sanction the killing bear cubs. The Board of Game voted to keep it as is. Although that would make for a sensational headline in national papers, it would be misleading. The people we spoke with were shocked and appalled at the accusation. It was not just the twenty students mentioned in the prior article. A great number of representatives traveled and testified, many for the first time, to clarify for us and the rest of the world. They are not hunting bear cubs. Regardless of what the administrative code may say, that is not part of their tradition and culture.

The intensive management and predator control program as a whole is a much larger issue. We understand there are other groups actively opposing this program and we commend their efforts, as science is clearly on their side. Our proposal was focused solely on bear cubs.

We strongly encourage everyone to watch the two-minute video and read our own article (www.stopcubhunting.org) for a full explanation. In addition, feel free to contact us directly if you have any questions at adams@oneprotest.org.

Adam Sugalski is executive director of OneProtest, an animal advocacy group based in Jacksonville, Fla.

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

Alaska House leaders, head of Democratic Party, call for Rep. Westlake’s resignation after report details alleged unwanted advances

Fri, 2017-12-08 18:29

Alaska Democratic leaders said Friday that Kiana Democratic Rep. Dean Westlake should resign in the wake of an Anchorage Daily News report in which seven current and former aides at the Capitol described Westlake making unwanted sexual comments and physical contact.

Both House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, and Alaska Democratic Party Chair Casey Steinau, issued statements Friday afternoon calling on Westlake to step down.

Steinau said Westlake should resign "immediately," adding that "the allegations against Rep. Westlake, as detailed in today's Anchorage Daily News, are serious and this behavior cannot be tolerated."

[Seven aides at Alaska Capitol say legislator made unwanted advances and comments]

Steinau's statement came moments after a similar message was issued by leaders of Westlake's largely-Democratic House majority.

"We take very seriously our obligation to ensure everyone who works in the Capitol feels safe and respected," Edgmon said. "In light of recent reports of inappropriate behavior related to his position in the Legislature, House leadership believes Rep. Dean Westlake should resign from the office his constituents sent him to Juneau to represent. This is an extremely difficult decision to make, but it is a necessary decision."

Another member of Westlake's majority, Anchorage independent Rep. Jason Grenn, endorsed Edgmon's message on Twitter, writing: "I 100 percent agree with this decision."

I 100% agree with this decision. https://t.co/LwTjlX4wRu

— Rep Jason Grenn (@RepJasonGrenn) December 9, 2017

Westlake didn't immediately respond to a phone message Friday afternoon.

He issued a written apology Thursday after one former legislative aide went public with allegations against him. But he hasn't directly addressed the six other aides who worked at the Capitol this year who described unwanted physical contact and inappropriate comments in an Anchorage Daily News report published Friday.

"I can't discuss the recent allegations made against me because it is a confidential personnel matter," Westlake said in his statement Thursday. "I firmly believe that everyone deserves a safe, healthy, and professional working environment. I sincerely apologize if an encounter with me has made anyone uncomfortable. That has certainly never been my intent."

[Sen. Wilson says unreleased video shows he didn't harass Capitol worker]

Westlake's largely-Democratic majority claims 22 members in the 40-member House. If he steps down, his caucus would be left with 21 – the bare minimum to maintain its majority.

Alaska Democrats provided financial and political support to Westlake in his bid for his House seat last year. He narrowly beat the incumbent Democrat, Ben Nageak of Utqiaġvik, who provoked the party's attempt to unseat him by having joined the largely-Republican House majority.

Sen. Wilson says unreleased video shows he didn’t harass Capitol worker

Fri, 2017-12-08 18:27

Wasilla Republican Senator David Wilson said Thursday that the video of a June incident shows that he did not sexually harass a female legislative staff member.

"My phone is off. It never leaves the waist side. It goes from my hand — I'm holding papers — down, comes back up," he said. "I never bend down, it does not go to the door, it does not go between anyone's legs. I can guarantee you that shows very clearly on the video. I am a couple of – great distance away from anybody during that conversation that occurred."

Two news reporters have said Wilson held his cell phone between the legs of the staffer.

Wilson was speaking at a press conference he put together, and called for an on-air apology from KTVA for reporter Liz Raines' coverage of the incident.

And he called on House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, a Dillingham Democrat, and House Rules Chairwoman Gabrielle LeDoux, an Anchorage Republican, to step down from their leadership positions.

"Allegations are being reproduced as facts and lives are being put in jeopardy without a hearing, due process or evidence," Wilson said. "I hope we can give people the benefit of the doubt before we rush to judgment. I have continuously denied these appalling allegations that are being peddled about me. It did not happen."

Wilson said a staff member of the Legislative Affairs Agency told Edgmon what was on the video. Wilson said Edgmon then allowed harassment allegations to continue without asking for an investigation.

Edgmon responded in a written statement: "Sen. Wilson crossed the line of appropriate behavior by using a press conference to chastise individuals who came forward as witnesses to an alleged incident of harassment."

Edgmon said he believes it violates the Legislature's harassment policy and warrants a serious investigation by the Senate.

Edgmon also said Wilson's statement about why Edgmon chose to allow the matter to rest is false. Edgmon said he couldn't both pursue the matter and respect the staff member's wishes to keep it private and not politicized.

Wilson said the agency has concluded an investigation. He called for the video as well as the report on the investigation to be publicly released in the next week.

Legislative rules say security video may not be released to the public. Senate President Pete Kelly has asked the Senate Rules Committee to hold a hearing to consider releasing the report.

Wilson spoke at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office. An hour and a half later, the Legislative Council subcommittee on sexual and other workplace harassment policy met.

Eagle River Republican Sen. Anna MacKinnon said people who make harassment complaints should be updated on how their complaints are being handled.

"People who make complaints don't know whether their superiors have actually acted on their behalf,"  MacKinnon said.

Other subcommittee members say the policy should spell out potential consequences for both lawmakers and legislative employees for harassment.

The subcommittee is expected to recommend changes to the policy before the next legislative session.

This story was originally published by KTOO Public Media and is reprinted here with permission. 

Shop Talk: KPB Architects’ strategy on chasing the right projects in a downturn

Fri, 2017-12-08 18:16

This is an installment of Shop Talk, an occasional series of interviews with business owners in Alaska, focusing on the state economy and how it is affecting them.

You've probably noticed KPB Architects' design work around Anchorage. Williwaw, Rustic Goat and Cabela's are just a few of the firm's projects. KPB, which has 17 employees and has been in business for 35 years, also has ongoing contracts with the federal government, Providence Alaska Medical Center and Cook Inlet Housing Authority.

In KPB Architects' sleek office space at Fifth Avenue and L Street, co-owner Mike Prozeralik and marketing director Kate Hostetler talked to the Anchorage Daily News about how Alaska's recession has been affecting their industry.

Can you talk a bit about what sort of impact you're seeing from this economic downturn on your company? What has it meant for you?

Prozeralik: With the contracts that we have … we've still continued to do work, design work. We're fortunate to have those. And it's really helped us with certain things, keeping people busy. Unlike some of my competitors — they've either laid people off, they've downsized. We had a firm, I think, this year that actually closed their doors. But then I'm seeing small little startups. … Competition hasn't died. It's just changed. For us, we've actually brought on staff.

I think with a lot of the public sector work, obviously, the state's not funding a lot of those projects. So that market has dwindled. I wouldn't say it's dried up. There's still stuff that is going on. … (Businesses) are just waiting for the state to make a decision, do a few things, and then I think the floodgates will open up.

I imagine it's tougher to get contracts in a time like this. How do you manage to compete?

Prozeralik: There's (requests for proposals) that come out, and then we're putting together our qualification package and submitting those. We're finding that before, where there might have been six or eight (others to compete with) — I mean, we just submitted one yesterday — 14 firms. Small business firms. It was a military project, but there were 14 submittals. Unheard of. Usually, half a dozen.

There's firms out there that are looking for work and some of them, I think, are now expanding into markets where they typically or traditionally had not worked in. It's part of the economy here. You have to be diverse. With 35 years of being here, we have a strong history in all markets. We're just kind of picking and choosing now what we want to chase. We can't go after everything, don't really necessarily need to go after everything. Just need to find the right clients and the right projects.

It sounds like maybe in some ways you're being more selective, but it also doesn't seem like a time when you could afford to do that. So how have you been adapting to this economic climate?

Prozeralik: Well, one of the things, how we adapted — we hired a director of marketing.

Hostetler: We're really formulating and concentrating on more of a strategy. Because there is some overhead cost with chasing proposals. But with that comes the strategy.

What is that strategy?

Hostetler: Basically, picking the opportunities we want to propose on, really finding those projects that mesh with our culture and with our business plan.

Prozeralik: We've done a number of (Alaska Native corporation) projects. A lot of the local ANC organizations, they have a little bit of residual cash, they have some money, they have a need. … We sit down and look at, strategically, OK, who's the competition, what sets us apart. … That helps us formulate either a "go" or "no go." This all takes time, costs money, basically overhead to bring that work in.

Hostetler: Performing a cost-benefit analysis.

Looking to the future, what are some of your biggest concerns?

Prozeralik: One of the reasons why we decided after seven years of not having somebody in marketing/business development that it was time, is because I can see two, three, four years down the road, the F-35 thing starting to drop off, other things starting to drop off. So I need to start looking now, start developing relationships with other clients that we can start backfilling over time. Developing relationships, and then in a couple years, I think everybody has an expectation, the state's going to get itself out of this (budget deficit), things are going to start to change. There's going to be either new lines of revenue coming into the state, new opportunities. We just want to be ready for those to happen.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.

Officials warn of low visibility as dense fog settles over Anchorage

Fri, 2017-12-08 17:44

Dense fog rolled in over Anchorage on Friday, prompting a warning about low visibility from the National Weather Service.

Areas of dense fog will remain in the Anchorage bowl through Saturday morning, the National Weather Service said in a winter weather advisory.

Visibility will drop to a quarter mile, or less, the agency said, which can cause "very difficult driving conditions."

"Slow down, use your headlights, and leave plenty of distance ahead of you," the warning said.

The advisory comes after rain, freezing rain and black ice contributed to dangerous road and sidewalk conditions earlier Friday.

On Friday evening, difficult driving conditions were noted for many major roads in Anchorage and Eagle River, including the Glenn Highway up to Eklutna, and the Seward Highway to roughly mile 105, according to the state's 511 website.

The fog is expected to lift by Saturday afternoon. Starting Sunday, a chance of snow is in the forecast through Thursday next week, according to the National Weather Service.

Federal jury convicts Washington man who smuggled meth and heroin into Southeast Alaska

Fri, 2017-12-08 15:58

A Washington man faces up to 40 years in prison for his role in smuggling heroin and methamphetamine into two Southeast Alaska communities.

On Wednesday, Zerisenay Gebregiorgis, 35, was convicted of conspiracy to distribute heroin and methamphetamine, and to possess the drugs with intent to distribute in both Ketchikan and Sitka, the U.S. attorney for the District of Alaska said in a written statement Friday.

In the summer of 2016, Gebregiorgis planned to distribute "large quantities" of the drugs. He "directed every aspect of the conspiracy," the statement said.

Gebregiorgis was arrested in August 2016 after police learned through an anonymous tip that he was the source of drugs being sold in Ketchikan.

Gebregiorgis, who was called "Bullet," was part of a group of people from Washington who had been flying to Sitka, police learned. He was said to "be selling and at the time giving away gram amounts of heroin to persuade the local addicts to buy from him in the future," an affidavit in the case said.

Gebregiorgis arranged for the meth and heroin to be smuggled from Seattle to Ketchikan by "means of female couriers," the affidavit said, and he would pay for the women's flights.

The couriers carried the heroin and meth "inside their bodies," Friday's statement said. Once they reached Ketchikan and Sitka, another group of people would distribute the drugs.

Drug money was then given to the couriers, who carried it back to Seattle, where the money was delivered to Gebregiorgis, according to federal prosecutors.

Gebregiorgis trafficked at least 100 grams of heroin and up to 50 grams of meth, the written statement said.

In September 2016, while out on bail, Gebregiorgis was arrested at the Ketchikan International Airport as he tried to board a plane out of state, Alaska State Troopers said at the time.

Gebregiorgis will be sentenced March 5. He faces between five and 40 years in prison and up to $5 million in fines.

Buzzer-beater sends UAA men to overtime and a Shootout victory

Fri, 2017-12-08 15:22

Maleke Haynes is turning into Mr. Clutch for the UAA men's basketball team.

The senior guard from Los Angeles made his case for shot-of-the-season on Thursday when he nailed a 35-foot, buzzer-beating 3-pointer to tie the game and send the Seawolves into overtime in a Great Alaska Shootout game against Santa Clara at the Alaska Airlines Center.

The Seawolves went on to win the game 78-73 in overtime for UAA's 39th all-time win in the Shootout. They'll have a chance to try for win No. 40 when they play Charleston at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the Shootout's fourth-place game.

With just 4.3 seconds left on the clock, Haynes received the inbounds pass from teammate D.J. Ursery, dribbled down court and launched a running 3-pointer from well behind the 3-point line. The shot rattled in to tie the score at 66-66 and teammate Jacob Lampkin lifted Haynes into the air as their teammates rushed the court to celebrate.

THE SHOT GOES AT THE BUZZER FOR MELEKE HAYNES AND THE SEAWOLVES!!! WE'RE HEADING TO OVERTIME!!! #GreatAKshootout pic.twitter.com/vjeuZ10vYB

— GreatAKShootout (@GreatAKShootout) November 24, 2017

"Coach drew up a play we call triangle," Haynes said. "D.J. was taking it out (and) whoever got open was gonna pretty much take the shot, I just happen to get open."

Haynes' buzzer beater was his second late-game 3-pointer for UAA so far this season. In UAA's regular-season opener against NAIA Antelope Valley earlier this month, Haynes sank a game-winning triple with 2.5 seconds remaining.

Haynes and Lampkin, two former teammates from Division I University of the Pacific, led UAA with 22 points apiece against Santa Clara.

Haynes went 4 of 8 from beyond the arc to provide a shooting touch that UAA has lacked so far this season and Lampkin pulled down 11 rebounds for a double-double.

UAA coach Rusty Osborne said the Seawolves (4-3) finally showed trust their offensive system in the Thanksgiving-day win. UAA entered the game coming its worst scoring performance at home in program history in a 59-39 loss to Cal State-Bakersfield on Wednesday.

"We were able to move the ball and execute some of our set plays," said Osborne, who has 12 new players on his roster this season. "We also executed a few little things that we drew up in the huddle in special situations."

Haynes and Lampkin came up big in overtime with 10 of UAA's 12 points in the period. Haynes got all four of his at the free-throw line and Lampkin's six points included a dunk that put UAA up 74-71.

UAA's final two points came from senior guard Malik Clements, who stole the ball in the final second with UAA leading by three and proceeded to make his two free throws.

"We got shots at the right moments and we were able to come away with a big 3," Clements said. "We just have a never give up mentality."

Seven aides at Alaska Capitol say legislator made unwanted advances and comments

Fri, 2017-12-08 15:20

Seven women who are current or former aides at the Alaska Capitol say a member of the state House of Representatives repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances toward them or otherwise behaved inappropriately during this year's legislative sessions.

The women described the behavior in interviews with the Anchorage Daily News this week after one of them went public and recounted, in a letter to legislative leaders, unwanted touching and sexual comments by first-term Rep. Dean Westlake.

Westlake, a Democrat from the village of Kiana, near Kotzebue, issued a written apology Thursday.

"I firmly believe that everyone deserves a safe, healthy and professional working environment. I sincerely apologize if an encounter with me has made anyone uncomfortable. That has certainly never been my intent," the statement said.

Olivia Garrett, who worked for Fairbanks Democratic Rep. Scott Kawasaki this year, wrote to House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, and House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, in March, detailing Westlake's behavior. She no longer works for the Legislature.

In one instance, she said, Westlake touched her and made a sexual comment. Another time, she said, he grabbed her inappropriately. Garrett, 23, said she released her letter this week because she felt the lawmakers' responses were insufficient.

Garrett's description of her interactions with Westlake parallels those of six other female aides interviewed by the Daily News this week.

Those staffers asked not to be identified out of fear of attracting attention to themselves in jobs in which discretion is prized. They described Westlake giving lingering hugs, making sexual comments, asking for dates and touching them inappropriately.

The incidents described were often witnessed by others and, some women said, are examples of a type of sexualized behavior that frequently goes unchecked in Juneau. Westlake was not the only person in and around the Legislature whose behavior they considered inappropriate for a workplace, they said.

[Contact reporters Nathaniel Herz and Julia O'Malley]

Most of the women said they did not formally report Westlake's behavior when it happened, citing the social and political pressures that come with working in Juneau.

Garrett and one of the other aides said they filed reports with the Legislature's human resources manager later on, after hearing other women describe Westlake's conduct.

Westlake's behavior continued after Garrett's letter to House leadership, according to the women. Four described encounters that took place afterward.

Edgmon, in a phone interview, wouldn't address the specifics of the incidents that Garrett described or the House's response to complaints. But after being told of the other women's accounts, he said he was "shocked" to see so many.

"I am committed, in the future, to changing the environment so that anyone who feels they've been violated can come forward in a way that allows them to be heard and allows them to feel safe in the workplace – and not be in a position of being retaliated against," Edgmon said. "If there's a takeaway for me, it's: Why is it that a lot of these women felt that they couldn't, or perhaps didn't, want to come forward in the past?"

Edgmon said their claims should be investigated, but he added that Westlake deserves "due process."

The Alaska Legislature's employee handbook for staffers says sexual harassment includes "unwelcome sexual advances" and "requests for sexual favors." It also includes verbal, physical or visual conduct "of a sexual nature," made when submitting to that conduct is an explicit or implicit condition of employment or when it creates a hostile work environment.

Managers and supervisors who witness or are aware of harassment must take action to stop the behavior and to report the alleged harassment, the handbook says.

There have been 22 investigations since the Legislature's harassment policy was adopted in 2000. Half were for sexual harassment, said Skiff Lobaugh, the Legislature's human resources manager.

Lawmakers from both the House and Senate this week held an organizational meeting for a subcommittee charged with updating the policy.

Legislative leaders have tasked the subcommittee with drafting recommendations to a full committee of House members and senators before the start of the legislative session in January.

Westlake, 57, is not married. He recently underwent heart surgery out of state and is now recovering in Alaska, an aide said.

He is finishing the first year of his first term, and is one of 22 majority members, most of them Democrats, in the 40-member House.

Last year, Westlake drew financial and political support from the Alaska Democratic Party in his primary campaign against the incumbent Democrat in the huge, northernmost state House district, which sweeps across much of Alaska's Arctic. The incumbent Democrat, Ben Nageak, was part of the largely Republican majority, which relegated the state House's urban Democrats to the minority.

Those urban Democrats, and party leaders, subsequently helped Westlake to a win so narrow that the Alaska Supreme Court had to reverse a lower court decision giving the seat to Nageak.

'We pass these policies …'

None of the women interviewed worked directly for Westlake. But in the Capitol it is common for staffers to change offices between sessions, they said, depending on whether their bosses are re-elected.

Many of the women worried that speaking publicly about Westlake would damage their reputations and make it harder to get work from other elected officials in the future.

Some described their encounters with Westlake as growing out of a Juneau culture that has few boundaries between work and after-hours social events.

One female aide in her early 30s said she was in a meeting around the beginning of this year's legislative session, which started in January. She was with her boss, who is a legislator, along with Westlake and one of his aides.

The aide said she was sitting on a couch next to Westlake when he put his hand on her leg. She said she brushed it off and moved away, and hasn't had another incident with Westlake since then.

A second aide said she was working at a committee hearing in April when Westlake asked her to pass a note to her boss, another legislator.

After the meeting, her boss showed her the handwritten message, stressing that he disapproved: Westlake had asked her boss to let her know that she "looked really good" in the dress she was wearing, she said.

Westlake repeated that comment directly to the aide in the hallway later that day, she said. After that, the aide said, she avoided Westlake.

A third staffer said she was wearing a button-up shirt, a skirt and leggings on a warm spring day in Juneau. When she approached Westlake, who was standing with another lawmaker, he asked how legislators were supposed to get any work done when staff members were dressed "like that."

The aide, who's in her early 20s, said Westlake referred to her at different times as "honey," "sweetheart" and "baby."

A fourth aide, in her mid-20s, said Westlake often tried to hug her in a way that was "too much" and told her she looked "beautiful."

A fifth aide at the Capitol, who's in her 30s, said that Westlake, several times, gave her "lingering" hugs that felt inappropriate and asked her on dates. After a fourth incident, the aide said, she told Westlake he was making her uncomfortable, and the advances stopped.

A sixth female legislative aide, in her 20s, said Westlake three times said things or touched her in a way that made her uncomfortable.

Asked about the specific behavior described by the women, an aide to Westlake referred reporters to the legislator's statement issued Thursday.

Garrett said her first incident with Westlake happened at a political fundraiser at a museum across the street from the Capitol, the night before the legislative session began in January.

Garrett was walking past Westlake in a hallway when, she said, he grabbed her arm, then told her that her hair "turned him on."

She said the comment and contact surprised her. She walked away before she could think of how to respond, she said.

Two months later, Garrett said, she was at a charity fundraising party in downtown Juneau in what she described as a dark, crowded room.

She said she noticed Westlake standing nearby. As he walked past, Garrett said, he grabbed her buttocks.

Garrett first came forward publicly about Westlake – without naming him – at an Alaska Democratic Party meeting last month in Soldotna. She said she was motivated to talk about Westlake after hearing other women describe similar incidents involving him, and after she decided it was worth the risk that she might not get another job in the Legislature.

"Nothing's being done, you know?" Garrett said in an interview this week. "We give all this lip service to this, we pass these policies, but that doesn't change that we have a culture that kind of lets abuse like this run rampant."

Alaska’s graduation rate is the fifth-worst in the nation

Fri, 2017-12-08 14:43

Alaska's on-time graduation rate in 2016 was the fifth-worst in the nation, according to data released this week by the U.S. Department of Education.

Among all 50 states and Washington, D.C., Iowa had the highest four-year graduation rate in 2016 at 91.3 percent and Washington, D.C., had the lowest at 69.2 percent. The nationwide average rose to a record high, with 84.1 percent of students graduating on time.

In Alaska, 76.1 percent of students in the Class of 2016 graduated in four years — the rest dropped out, needed more time to earn academic credits, or may have pursued a GED instead of a high school diploma.

"Alaskans have agreed that we are not satisfied with our current graduation rates," Alaska Education Commissioner Michael Johnson said in a statement. "We want better for all of Alaska's students."

While Alaska's ranking remains low, its four-year graduation rate has steadily risen over the years, as has the nationwide average.

In 2011, Alaska's four-year graduation rate was 68 percent.

In 2017, the statewide four-year rate reached 78.2 percent and its preliminary five-year graduation rate hit 81.3 percent, according to the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.

National graduation rate rankings for the Class of 2017 will not be available until next year.

Alaska's No. 47 ranking in 2016 was slightly worse than its No. 46 ranking in 2015, but better than its No. 48 ranking in 2014.

High school graduation requirements vary by state. Some states require students to take an exit exam or complete a senior project to get a diploma.

In Alaska, state law requires high school students to earn at least 21 academic credits to graduate.

Alaska students used to have to pass a high school exit exam to get a diploma, but the state Legislature eliminated that requirement in 2014. Then, Alaska students had to take the SAT, ACT or WorkKeys to graduate, but that part of state law expired in 2016.

Johnson said initiatives that would help increase Alaska's graduation rate included the state's Every Student Succeeds Act plan — which it recently submitted to comply with federal law — and its list of education commitments and recommendations gathered during Alaska's Education Challenge.

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