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Influential fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, creative force behind Chanel, has died

Tue, 2019-02-19 05:24

Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld takes a bow at the end of his Metiers d'Art fashion show, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File) (Tony Gutierrez/)

PARIS — Chanel’s iconic couturier, Karl Lagerfeld, whose accomplished designs as well as trademark white ponytail, high starched collars and dark enigmatic glasses dominated high fashion for the past 50 years, has died. He was around 85 years old.

Such was the enigma surrounding the German-born designer that even his age was a point of mystery for decades, with reports he had two birth certificates, one dated 1933 and the other 1938. In 2013, Lagerfeld told French magazine "Paris Match" he was born in 1935, but in 2019 his assistant still didn't know the truth — telling AP he liked "to scramble the tracks on his year of birth — that's part of the character."

Chanel confirmed that Lagerfeld, who had looked increasingly frail in recent seasons, died early Tuesday. Last month, he did not come out to take a bow at the house's couture show in Paris — a rare absence that the company attributed to him being tired.

"An extraordinary creative individual, Lagerfeld reinvented the brand's codes created by Gabrielle Chanel: the Chanel jacket and suit, the little black dress, the precious tweeds, the two-tone shoes, the quilted handbags, the pearls and costume jewelry," Chanel said in a statement.

"Thanks to his creative genius, generosity and exceptional intuition, Karl Lagerfeld was ahead of his time, which widely contributed to the House of Chanel's success throughout the world," the brand's CEO Alain Wertheimer said. "Today, not only have I lost a friend, but we have all lost an extraordinary creative mind to whom I gave carte blanche in the early 1980s to reinvent the brand."

Chanel said Virginie Viard, his longtime head of studio, will be tasked with creating upcoming collections. Chanel did not say whether her appointment was permanent.

Lagerfeld was one of the most hardworking figures in the fashion world, holding down the top design jobs at LVMH-owned luxury label Fendi from 1977, and Paris' family-owned power-house Chanel in 1983. He lost around 90 pounds in his late 60s to fit into the latest slimline fashions.

Though he spent virtually his entire career at luxury labels catering to the very wealthy — including 20 years at Chloe — Lagerfeld's designs quickly trickled down to low-end retailers, giving him an almost unprecedented impact on the entire fashion industry.

At Chanel, he served up youthful designs that were always of the moment and sent out almost infinite variations on the house's classic skirt suit, ratcheting up the hemlines or smothering it in golden chains, stings of pearls or pricey accessories. They were always delivered with wit.

"Each season, they tell me (the Chanel designs) look younger. One day we'll all turn up like babies," he once told The Associated Press.

His outspoken and often stinging remarks on topics as diverse as French politics and celebrity waistlines won him the nickname "Kaiser Karl" in the fashion media. Among the most acid comments included calling former French President Francois Hollande an "imbecile" who would be "disastrous" for France in Marie-Claire, and telling UK's The Sun that he didn't like the face of Pippa Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge's sister.

"She should only show her back," he advised.

Lagerfeld was also heavily criticized for sending out a negative message to women when he told France's Metro newspaper that signer Adele was "a little too fat."

Despite this, he did have an under-reported soft side. He was known to be very kind to his staff at Chanel and was famous for according journalists generously long interviews after each fashion show. He also shared his unmarried life in his Parisian mansion with a Siamese cat called Choupette.

"She is spoilt, much more than a child could be," he told AP in 2013, revealing also that he would take her to the vet every 10 days overcautiously.

Lagerfeld had little use for nostalgia and kept his gaze firmly on the future. Well into his 70s, he was quick to embrace new technology: He famously had a collection of hundreds of iPods.

A photographer who shot ad campaigns for Chanel and his own eponymous label, Lagerfeld also collected art books and had a massive library and a bookstore as well as his own publishing house. He was also an impressive linguist, switching between perfect French, English, Italian and his native German during interviews at post-catwalk celebrity media scrums.

Although he spent much of his life in the public eye, Lagerfeld remained a largely elusive figure. Even as he courted the spotlight, he made an apparently deliberate effort to hide what was going on behind his trademark dark shades.

"I am like a caricature of myself, and I like that," British Vogue quoted Lagerfeld as saying. "It is like a mask. And for me the Carnival of Venice lasts all year long."

After cutting his teeth at Paris-based label Chloe, Lagerfeld consolidated his reputation in the 1980s when he revived the flagging fortunes of the storied Paris haute couture label Chanel. There, he helped launch the careers of supermodels including Claudia Schiffer, Ines de la Fressange and Stella Tennant.

In a move that helped make him a household name, Lagerfeld designed a capsule collection for Swedish fast-fashion company H&M in 2004 and released a CD of his favorite music shortly after.

A weight-loss book he published in 2005 — "The Karl Lagerfeld Diet" — consolidated his status as a pop culture icon. In the book, Lagerfeld said that it was his desire to fit into the slim-cut suits by then-Dior Homme designer Hedi Slimane that had motivated his dramatic transformation.

The son of an industrialist who made a fortune in condensed milk and his violinist wife, Lagerfeld was born into an affluent family in Hamburg, Germany.

Lagerfeld had artistic ambitions early on. In interviews, he variously said he wanted to become a cartoonist, a portraitist, an illustrator or a musician.

"My mother tried to instruct me on the piano. One day, she slammed the piano cover closed on my fingers and said, 'draw, it makes less noise," he was quoted as saying in the book "The World According to Karl."

At age 14, Lagerfeld came to Paris with his parents and went to school in the City of Light. His fashion career got off to a precocious start when, in 1954, a coat he designed won a contest by the International Wool Secretariat. His rival, Yves Saint Laurent, won that year's contest in the dress category.

Lagerfeld apprenticed at Balmain and in 1959 was hired at another Paris-based house, Patou, where he spent four years as artistic director. After a series of jobs with labels including Rome-based Fendi, Lagerfeld took over the reins at Chloe, known for its romantic Parisian style.

Lagerfeld also started his own label, Karl Lagerfeld, which though less commercially successful than his other ventures, was widely seen as a sort of sketchpad where the designer worked through his audacious ideas.

In 1982, he took over at over Chanel, which had been dormant since the death of its founder, Coco Chanel, more than a decade earlier.

"When I took on Chanel, it was a sleeping beauty — not even a beautiful one," he said in the 2007 documentary "Lagerfeld Confidential." ''She snored."

For his debut collection for the house, Lagerfeld injected a dose of raciness, sending out a translucent navy chiffon number that prompted scandalized headlines.

He never ceased to shake up the storied house, sending out a logo-emblazoned bikini so small the top looked like pasties on a string and another collection that dispensed entirely with bottoms, with the models wearing little jackets over opaque tights instead.

Lagerfeld was open about his homosexuality — he once said he announced it to his parents at age 13 — but kept his private life under wraps. Following his widely known relationship with a French aristocrat who died of AIDS in 1989, Lagerfeld insisted he prized his solitude above all.

"I hate when people say I'm 'solitaire' (or solitary.) Yes, I'm solitaire in the sense of a stone from Cartier, a big solitaire," Lagerfeld told The New York Times in an interview. "I have to be alone to do what I do. I like to be alone. I'm happy to be with people, but I'm sorry to say I like to be alone, because there's so much to do, to read, to think."

As much as he loved the spotlight, Lagerfeld was careful to obscure his real self.

"It's not that I lie, it's that I don't owe the truth to anyone," he told French Vogue in an interview.

___

Former AP fashion writer Jenny Barchfield provided biographical material for this story.

Our Health in Our Hands, Part 2: The road to self-governance, 1968-1980s

Tue, 2019-02-19 02:11

SPONSORED | PART 2 OF 4: On a summer day in 1975, a Washington, D.C. attorney, Jacob Pompan, flew to the village of Tanana, then boarded a boat and traveled 12 miles upriver to a fish camp.

Fish strips hung in the smokehouse. Flies and mosquitoes buzzed around the outhouses.

Pompan stepped off the boat in a three-piece suit and wing tip shoes.

“I don’t know where he thought he was going, but he dressed for D.C., and he came to Indian Country,” recalled Paul Sherry.

Sherry, who would later go on to be the first CEO of Alaska’s statewide Tribal health consortium, was one of a group of Tanana Chiefs Conference health board members and staff gathered at the fish camp to learn from Pompan about the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, a new law poised to open up a whole new universe of possibilities for Alaska Native Tribes.

It was the kind of training that’s be held in a conference center or hotel, but as Sherry tells it, TCC Health Director Claude Demientieff Jr. wanted to show people that the road to self-determination didn’t have to follow the beaten path. Alaska Native people could forge their own way, guided by their own values.


Photo courtesy of Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium

It was as much a learning experience for the attendees as it was for Pompan -- who continued to work with Tribal health leaders but presumably packed differently for his next trip to Alaska.

If a big city attorney on the banks of the Yukon seems like an odd visual, it might also be the most vivid example of the monumental shift that was then taking place across Alaska’s Tribal health care system. For the first time, Alaska Native people were in control of their health priorities -- not as wards of the federal government, but as its partners.

The early days of health self-determination in Alaska

In 1968, the Indian Health Service Alaska Area was led by Gerald Ivey, an Athabascan man from McGrath who felt strongly that Alaska Native people needed more of a voice in their health care. During Ivey’s tenure, IHS authorized the creation of the Alaska Native Health Board to provide the Alaska Area Native Health Service with input into its programs and priorities.

Around the same time, a movement was afoot to begin improving health care at the regional level. In the Bering Strait and Yukon Delta regions, Norton Sound Health Corp. and Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. were established with funding through the federal Office of Economic Opportunity. Each corporation was governed by a board elected by local Tribal councils.

Another program, Healthright, funded by the OEC, was an AFN initiative to fund health services development in the rest of the state. In some regions, this money was used to expand existing organizations by adding health care programs within nonprofits such as TCC, the Maniilaq Association, and Chugachmiut. In others, separate nonprofits were established, leading to the development of Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium and the Bristol Bay Area Health Corp.


Photo courtesy of Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium

Self-determination and self-governance emerged early as priorities. Leaders felt it was essential for Alaska Native communities to take an active role in managing health care problems and solutions, rather than being treated as passive recipients of federal services.

“The health system can be as good as it can be, but if the people don't become a partner to the health system, then you don't see improvement,” Sherry said.

Federal legislation brings sweeping change

In December 1971, Congress approved the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The 13 new ANCSA regional corporations created a second, for-profit tier of Tribal resources, while preserving the nonprofit network of Tribal organizations and associations, which address health care, education, social services, along with the federal obligation to support those programs.

As the dust from ANCSA settled, a shift started to take place. IHS began contracting Alaska initiatives to regional nonprofits, beginning at the front lines with Community Health Aides. The Community Health Aide Program was unique to Alaska and made more sense under Tribal management, Sherry said, making it the perfect place for Tribes to begin dipping their toes into health care.

Then came another turning point: the 1975 passage of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act. Previously, government officials had the option to enter into contracts with Tribes, as IHS had done with the Community Health Aides. Under the new law, if a Tribe asked to provide services to its own members, the federal agency was now required to agree to a contract.

With the regional health organizations already in place, Alaska Tribes were ready to begin taking responsibility for health care. Year after year, Tribal organizations brought more programs under their management through IHS contracts.

Bureaucracy moves slowly, and IHS was no exception. Tribal organizations sometimes felt as though IHS contracting requirements were unduly burdensome, from highly detailed budgets to rules around who could approve certain hires.

“It used to drive us absolutely crazy, the amount of control that they demanded,” Sherry said.

In fairness, he added, it was critical that the Tribal organizations be set up for success.

“If you don't have systems in place to support your employees, to house your employees, to manage your funds, all of that, you're going to fail,” Sherry said. “The Indian Health Service, to their credit, demanded that these organizations prove that they could do that.”

Dr. Dick Mandsager, who took over the Alaska Area director role in 1985, acknowledged the process could be complex and challenging even as IHS recognized the importance of supporting Tribal groups.

“Generally speaking, we all saw that our job was to make this transition happen,” he said.


Photo courtesy of Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium

Slow, steady progress

The Self-Determination Act was written with the Lower 48 reservation system in mind. Tribal governments were required to authorize any new contract that served their members, a task that was more challenging in Alaska.

“The fact that every village is its own Tribe makes (Alaska) very different from any other region in the IHS,” Mandsager said. With regional health organizations serving multiple Tribal governments, the process of communicating the details of each contract and securing approval from dozens of Tribes could be time-consuming.

Slowly but surely, progress was made. Tribal organizations worked with the Alaska Legislature to secure capital funding for clinic and hospital buildings. Improved runways and telecommunications, along with water and sanitation, were other top priorities. State grants helped augment existing programs such as emergency medicine and substance abuse treatment. Funding increased with the passage of the 1976 Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which afforded Tribal health organizations the ability to bill Medicare and Medicaid for eligible patients.

In 1980, Bristol Bay Area Health Corp. made history when it assumed exclusive responsibility for its service area, including Dillingham’s Kanakanak Hospital, becoming the first Tribal group in the U.S. to manage an IHS hospital. By the mid-1980s, several more of the regional Tribal health organizations were ready to assume responsibility for management of their IHS service unit hospitals.

Behind the scenes, there were even bigger changes beginning to take shape.

Next week: A new hospital, a new compact, and a new Tribal health consortium emerges.

This story was sponsored by Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, a statewide nonprofit Tribal health organization designed to meet the unique health needs of more than 175,000 Alaska Native and American Indian people living in Alaska.

This story was produced by the creative services department of the Anchorage Daily News in collaboration with Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.

Stone deletes photo of judge presiding over his case, says he didn’t mean to threaten her

Mon, 2019-02-18 19:53

Roger Stone, longtime adviser to Donald Trump, arrives at the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse in Washington on Jan. 28, 2019. Washington Post photo by Calla Kessler. (Calla Kessler/)

Days after a federal judge imposed a limited gag order on him, Trump confidant Roger Stone posted a photograph of that judge to his Instagram page and included her name, a close-up of her face and what appeared to be the crosshairs of a gun sight near her head.

Stone deleted the picture soon after, then reposted it without the crosshairs before deleting the second post.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson is presiding over Stone's criminal trial in which he has pleaded not guilty to charges of lying about his efforts to gather information about hacked 2016 Democratic Party emails that were published by WikiLeaks.

Jackson imposed the gag order Friday, telling Stone that he could not make statements to the media about his case near the federal courthouse in Washington, but imposing no other restrictions on his ability to make public comments.

The judge put greater constraints on attorneys and potential witnesses, telling them not to make statements that could prejudice jurors.

In the text accompanying the first post, Stone referred to special counsel Robert Mueller, who brought the case against him. "Through legal trickery Deep State hitman Robert Mueller has guaranteed that my upcoming show trial is before Judge Amy Berman Jackson," Stone wrote, and added that Jackson is "an Obama appointed judge" and the "(hash)fixisin."

The U.S. Marshals Service, which provides security to federal judges, did not respond to a request for comment.

In a text message to The Washington Post on Monday, Stone said the photograph of Jackson had been posted by a "volunteer" who helps him with his social media accounts.

"The photo has been misinterpreted, and in no way did I mean to threaten the judge or disrespect the court." Stone wrote. "(It) is a random photo selected from the internet and was posted at my direction. Because it was open to misinterpretation, I have ordered it taken down."

Stone also disputed that the original post included crosshairs.

"What some say are crosshairs are in fact the logo of the organization that originally posted it - something called Corruption Central," Stone told The Post. "They use the logo in many photos."

The photograph does indeed appear on at least one far-right blog, emblazoned with the crosshairs-like logo.

However, in a Monday court filing, Stone's lawyers formally apologized for the post. "Undersigned counsel, with the attached authority of Roger J. Stone, hereby apologizes to the Court for the improper photograph and comment posted on Instragram today," the filing reads. "Mr. Stone recognizes the impropriety and had it removed."

Stone has used the possibility of a gag order as a cudgel to attack the special counsel's office. Earlier this month, Stone posted a photo of himself on Instagram with what appeared to be a large piece of gold tape over his mouth.

Beneath the photo, he wrote: "Now an Obama-appointed Judge wants to gag me so I can't defend myself from the many media leaks by the Mueller hit squad... My lawyers are fighting this effort to abridge my First Amendment Rights."

In the days leading to Jackson's courthouse-vicinity gag-order decision, Stone and his family members frequently argued that a gag order would limit his ability to raise money for his legal defense fund.

In a Feb. 8 fundraising letter, Stone's wife, Nydia Stone, wrote: "The same Obama appointed judge who put (former Trump campaign Chairman)] Paul Manafort in solitary confinement prior to his being convicted of any crime is now considering issuing a gag order so that my husband can no longer publicly raise money for his legal defense - that's why it is important that you rush me your answer today." She underlined the sentence for emphasis.

Jackson is the same judge who ruled last week that Manafort - Stone's longtime friend and former business partner - lied to Mueller's prosecutors last week.

In past messages to The Post, Stone has struck a more conciliatory note, writing on the day of the partial gag order, "I am pleased that the judge's order leaves my first amendment right to defend myself in public intact."

“I will of course continue to be judicious about my comments regarding the case,” he added.

Alaska’s alcohol, marijuana regulatory boards would be scrapped under Dunleavy plan

Mon, 2019-02-18 18:54

The Alaska State Capitol on Monday. (James Brooks / ADN)

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy is planning to introduce legislation repealing the state boards that regulate alcohol and marijuana businesses, according to a letter from a commissioner to state employees, and industry groups are pushing back.

A letter from Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development commissioner Julie Anderson told employees about the governor’s plans to repeal the boards. The intent, the letter says, “is to transfer the authority and responsibilities of the two boards to the commissioner and remove the marijuana control board and the alcoholic beverage control board.”

The proposed change is one of many in Dunleavy’s plan to dramatically cut the state’s budget to close a $1.6 billion deficit.

Alaska’s control boards for marijuana and alcohol are responsible for licensing, enforcement and inspections of businesses. The boards hold meetings where members of the public can comment on proposals. Alaska has about 1,900 liquor licenses statewide, and there are about 275 marijuana businesses that are fully licensed to operate.

Anderson’s office and Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office director Erika McConnell referred questions about the proposed changes to Dunleavy’s press secretary, Matt Shuckerow. The forthcoming legislation will provide additional insight, he said via email.

Dunleavy “is looking to identify business process realignment to better serve Alaskans and streamline areas of duplication,” Shuckerow said. "That effort included examining boards that serve similar functions and capacities in order to reduce the regulatory burden and expand entrepreneurialism.”

The governor’s fiscal year 2020 budget proposal reduces Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office budget by $48,700, cut entirely from travel, according to documents for the Marijuana Control Board’s meeting this week. Those documents also mention that Dunleavy has indicated his intention to disband the boards.

Board members are not paid a salary but do receive per diem and travel expenses while attending board meetings.

The Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association, known as CHARR, is “vehemently opposed” to the disbanding of the alcohol board, said CHARR president and CEO Sarah Oates.

“We’re concerned with how that could be dangerous for business and the public, having one person making decisions about a highly regulated industry,” Oates said. She noted she hasn’t seen the forthcoming legislation.

As it stands now, each board has five members, appointed by the governor. They represent specific sectors: industry, the public, and also public health and safety. That balance, Oates said, is key. While industry interests are important, she said, so is public health and safety.

“Having one person responsible for such a highly regulated industry just seems irresponsible,” she said.

Repealing the Marijuana Control Board would remove the public’s say in the licensing and regulation process, said board chairman Mark Springer.

Cary Carrigan, executive director of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association, said, “The Dunleavy administration is trying to destroy the marijuana industry in Alaska.”

Alaskans voted to legalize recreational marijuana in 2014.

In another email, Shuckerow said: “I want to reiterate that Gov. Dunleavy recognizes that recreational marijuana is the law of the land and he has no intention of changing that."

The process for developing rules for that industry is a “bit slow” and the industry knows that, Carrigan said.

“And we get it, but we have worked our way through that to make sure the public is OK with what is going on,” he said.

The administration would also consolidate investigator positions from the commerce department and others — including the state labor department, and the state health department — into the Department of Law, according to Anderson’s letter. Inside the commerce department, there are investigators who work on marijuana and alcohol licenses.

“I’m concerned about them pooling everything together because I’m afraid the people with the expertise necessary won’t be able to focus on the areas we need that investigation,” Carrigan said.

It’s hard to say at this point what the proposal would look like for local governments, said Patrick Flynn, a former chairman of the Anchorage Assembly who owns liquor and marijuana business licenses.

He said it raised questions about who would handle enforcement and who would make the call for whether a business can stay open.

In Anchorage, the local government issues special land-use permits to alcohol businesses but does not have direct control over the fate of a license. Cannabis businesses face stricter regulation, with the city adopting its own licensing framework.

If a city has a robust regulatory framework for marijuana or alcohol, it may be able to manage a major state regulatory change, Flynn said.

“If you don’t, I don’t know,” Flynn said. “Is it now one guy who decides, or woman, if a store is allowed to keep operating?”

For fairness reasons, Anchorage could run into problems if it tried to set up its own alcohol license, Flynn said. He said the state should consider involving local governments in the change to see how it would work.

Both the marijuana board and the alcohol board have overseen emotional community debates in recent years.

The Daily News’ James Brooks contributed.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein plans to leave Justice Department next month

Mon, 2019-02-18 18:54

In this Jan. 31, 2019, file photo, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein speaks before welcoming Vice President Mike Pence to speak to Drug Enforcement Administration employees at their headquarters in Arlington, Va. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File) (Andrew Harnik/)

WASHINGTON - Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein plans to leave the Justice Department in mid-March, an official familiar with the matter said Monday night, and an announcement on his successor is expected imminently.

Rosenstein, the No. 2 Justice Department official who has spent nearly two years in the hot seat after he appointed Robert Mueller to lead an investigation into whether President Donald Trump's campaign conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election, had made it known in recent weeks that he planned to leave if and when a new attorney general was confirmed by the Senate.

With William Barr's ascension to that post last week, Rosenstein has set a more precise timeline for departure - though the official stressed that his plan could shift if needed to ensure a smooth transition.

People familiar with the matter said the administration also has decided to nominate Jeffrey Rosen, the deputy secretary of transportation, to take over the job. He would need to be confirmed by the Senate, which probably would occur after Rosenstein leaves.

The news of Rosenstein's expected departure date comes as the deputy attorney general is again facing allegations from former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe that he talked about taking dramatic steps against Trump after the president fired James Comey as FBI director in May 2017. McCabe said in an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes" on Sunday that Rosenstein broached the idea of ousting Trump by using the 25th Amendment, or of wearing a wire to secretly record him in the White House.

"He said, 'I never get searched when I go into the White House. I could easily wear a recording device. They wouldn't know it was there,' " McCabe said, describing what he said Rosenstein told him. "He was not joking."

The interview sparked an angry reaction from Trump, who said on Twitter that it appeared Rosenstein and McCabe were "planning a very illegal act." The official, though, said Rosenstein's departure was expected before that, and the timeline was not affected by McCabe's recent comments.

Rosenstein has vaguely disputed McCabe's allegations. In response to the "60 Minutes" interview, a Justice Department spokeswoman said: "The deputy attorney general never authorized any recording that Mr. McCabe references. As the deputy attorney general previously has stated, based on his personal dealings with the president, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment, nor was the DAG in a position to consider invoking the 25th Amendment."

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has said he wants to investigate McCabe’s assertions.

Seawolves go 1-3 in a sprint race at Kincaid Park

Mon, 2019-02-18 18:40

Sigurd Roenning, left, holds the Seawolves flag and stands with teammate JC Schoonmaker before the two took their places on the podium Monday at the UAA Invitational at Kincaid Park. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

The home-trail advantage paid off for the Seawolves at Kincaid Park on Monday.

The UAA ski team put two men on the podium in the classic sprint race, the second of eight NCAA races being held this week in the Anchorage area.

Sigurd Roenning claimed his second victory of the season and J.C. Schoonmaker placed third to register his first podium finish of the season. Denver’s Eivind Kvaale grabbed second place in the closely contested final by nipping Schoonmaker in a photo finish.

Familiarity with the course made a difference, Roenning said in a post-race interview.

“Me and J.C. have been doing a lot of training together,” he said. “We had a sprint simulation two weeks ago and we figured out a lot of tactics and stuff, and we know how to do this final.

“I’m so proud of him. I think it’s really awesome to have two Seawolves in the finals and (on) the podium.”


UAA's Sigurd Roenning smiles after winning the men's classic sprint race Monday at the UAA Invitational cross-country ski race at Kincaid Park. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

The win was the second in eight races this season for Roenning, a freshman from Vikersund, Norway. He also owns a pair of second-place finishes and has placed no lower than 11th in any race.

It was the first top-10 finish for Schoonmaker, a freshman from Tahoe City, California, whose previous best was an 11th-place finish.

In the women’s race, Utah’s Julia Richter took first place, followed by Hedda Baangman of Colorado and Jasmi Joensuu of Denver. Joensuu was the winner of Sunday’s distance race at Kincaid.

Kati Roivas finished fourth for the second straight day for UAF. UAA’s top finishers were 11th-place Casey Wright, 14th-place Natalie Hynes, 17th-place Hannah Rudd and 20th-place Jenna Difolco. In the men’s race, Tracen Knopp placed 20th for the Seawolves.

Nordic skiers get Tuesday off before heading to Hatcher Pass for a Wednesday race. Sunday’s and Monday’s races were part of the UAA Invitational; Wednesday’s and Thursday’s cross-country races are part of the NCAA Western Region championships.

The first of four alpine races -- two in the UAA Invitational, two in the NCAA Western Region championships -- is Thursday at Alyeska.

Wednesday — Interval-start freestyle races, 11 a.m., Government Peak

Thursday — Giant slalom, 10 a.m., Alyeska Resort

Friday — Giant slalom, 10 a.m., Alyeska Resort; mass-start classic races, 10 a.m., Kincaid Park

Saturday — Slalom, 10 a.m., Alyeska Resort

Sunday (Jan. 24) — Slalom, 10 a.m., Alyeska Resort


APU's Hailey Swirbul took first place in the open division of the 10-kilometer freestyle race Sunday and second place in the classic sprints Monday at the UAA Invitational cross-country ski race at Kincaid Park. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)

Fire destroys Dungeon of Doom carnival attraction in Anchorage

Mon, 2019-02-18 18:35

The Dungeon of Doom, an attraction at the Alaska State Fair, was destroyed by an early morning fire on Monday while it was parked at the American Legion Post 1 on Fireweed Lane. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth / ADN/)

The charred heap of an attraction that once entertained audiences at the Alaska State Fair is the latest victim of a blaze in Anchorage, but fire officials aren’t pointing their fingers at arson.

“Not at this point,” Jodie Hettrick, chief of the Anchorage Fire Department, said Monday.

The Dungeon of Doom, a haunted house attraction, burned in the parking lot of the American Legion Jack Henry Post 1, near the intersection of Fireweed Lane and Arctic Boulevard. The fire department was alerted to the fire shortly after 1 a.m., and 11 vehicles responded.

“We don’t have cause or origin (of the fire),” Hettrick said. “We got on scene and it was pretty much fully engulfed.”

The attraction was on a trailer that had been parked in the parking lot. The burned wood-and-metal framing sat above the ash-covered snow Monday.

Officials with the American Legion post could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.

Hettrick said the Speedy Glass building next door may have been damaged from the fire’s heat. There were no reports of injuries.

The fire temporarily shut down traffic at the intersection, but it was reopened shortly after 3 a.m.

Investigators suspect arson in two different fires at restaurants in the same building on Tudor Road near Midtown Anchorage early this month, at Noodle World and the Yakitori Sushi House, Hettrick said.

[Police identify arson suspect seen fleeing Anchorage sushi restaurant fire]

Arson is also suspected in January at a huge fire that destroyed an under-construction Courtyard by Marriott hotel, on A Street between Tudor Road and International Airport Road.

Federal investigators are helping look into that fire after the blaze caused an estimated $20 million in damage.

Crowded Alaska classrooms likely under Gov. Dunleavy’s education budget, lawmakers say

Mon, 2019-02-18 17:23

Department of Education and Early Development Commissioner Michael Johnson testifies in front of the Alaska Senate Finance Committee on Monday morning, Feb. 18, 2019 in the Alaska Capitol. Johnson is sitting next to Heidi Teshner, administrative services director for the Department of Education and Early Development, with Donna Arduin, director of the Office of Management and Budget, at far left. (James Brooks / ADN)

JUNEAU — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy is proposing to cut state funding for K-12 education by more than $300 million next year, but that idea met criticism Monday from state lawmakers who appeared to reject the concept.

“You’re talking about pushing high 20s and 30s for student per teacher proportion right now,” said Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, during a Monday morning Senate Finance Committee meeting. “The question for the commissioner is: With this adjustment, you’re going to be talking 40-44 kids per classroom. Can we adequately deliver an adequate educational product with 44 kids per classroom?”

Department of Education and Early Development Commissioner Michael Johnson said he doesn’t know.

“Any reduction in funding is going to be difficult for everyone. There are no easy answers before us,” he said.

“I think class sizes will vary from district to district. … I can’t anticipate how each district or each classroom would respond if these reductions are passed."

Micciche’s figures aren’t solid: They’re based on an extrapolation. The governor’s budget proposal cuts about one-quarter of the state’s support for education, and that might mean one-quarter fewer teachers.

Dunleavy last week proposed cutting more than $1 billion in state spending, including the reductions in education funding, and his plan is being considered by the Alaska Legislature.

This year, the state’s budget for K-12 education is $1.6 billion. The governor has proposed reducing that to $1.3 billion, according to figures from the Office of Management and Budget.

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At the core of the reductions is a $270 million cut to the state’s foundation formula, which sends money to school districts for each student who attends class.

“From my viewpoint, I find that completely unacceptable,” said Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel.

In the Anchorage School District, that means a $77.2 million funding loss, according to state figures, though the school district has calculated the loss to be slightly higher.

The reduction to the foundation formula isn’t the only cut: The governor has proposed eliminating a $30 million boost to school funding next year and retroactively cutting a $20 million funding increase this year. The Legislature approved those increases in 2018. If Dunleavy’s cuts happen, Anchorage would lose another $8.6 million and $5.8 million, respectively.

The governor’s budget proposal also eliminates state help for school construction and renovation. Traditionally, school districts pay only a portion of any bond issues when they borrow money to build new schools or renovate them. On Monday, the governor introduced legislation to eliminate that program.

A state estimate indicates the Anchorage School District would have to pay an additional $41.2 million next year if the legislation passes.

In total, the Anchorage School District would take a direct $133 million hit under the governor’s proposed budget.

But that isn’t the end of the story.

As Micciche pointed out Monday, when the state reduces its contribution to schools, a formula built into state law also reduces the maximum amount that local governments can contribute to schools.

“It exacerbates the problem. The locals can’t respond with local funding,” he said.

According to figures presented to the finance committee of the Anchorage School Board on Friday, the local contribution to schools would have to decline by $19.7 million.

“In my community of Anchorage, there would be a loss of $150 million in state funds for education,” said Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage.

State and district calculations differ slightly, but both arrive near the $150 million figure.

Anchorage, as the largest school district in the state, suffers the biggest cuts under the governor’s proposed cuts, but all of the state’s school districts are affected.

Sen. Natasha Von Imhof, R-Anchorage, criticized the administration for not offering a plan to ameliorate the effects of budget cuts.

“I would just think there would’ve been more of a plan when rolling out one of our top constitutional requirements here,” she said.

Donna Arduin, director of the Office of Management and Budget, implied that some ideas could come later from the administration.

“This is the beginning of that process, not the end. The process to work on this challenge,” she said.

The governor has repeatedly said that his goal is to increase the Permanent Fund dividend without raising taxes or spending from the state’s dwindling savings account. That goal, combined with a pre-existing budget, has led the governor to propose cutting $1.8 billion in spending.

At one point in Monday’s meeting, Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, asked Arduin how the cuts would improve education.

“We’re doing this because the state is out of money and we need to balance our budget,” she said.

“With all due respect, ma’am, that’s the wrong answer,” Bishop said.

Von Imhof summarized the debate now facing Alaskans.

“You have a choice. The public has a choice," she said. "This is what a budget looks like to pay a full dividend. How does it sit with you?”

Related:

Dunleavy budget prompts hiring freezes and warnings of local tax increases

Ferries on the chopping block and cuts to Pioneer Homes: A rundown of how Gov. Dunleavy’s budget cuts would affect Alaskans

Dunleavy says his budget will favor ‘core services’ while cutting $1.6 billion

Letter: Bad solution for API

Mon, 2019-02-18 16:29

The Corrupt Bastards Club sequel is coming to light. This time, it is forming in Gov. Dunleavy’s administration. He is using the excuse of an emergency order to award a no-bid contract to a private for-profit company with close ties to Donna Arduin, the governor’s budget director. This is at the expense of very vulnerable Alaskans and the safety of the employees at Alaska Psychiatric Institute.

Past Legislatures, through their draconian budget cuts to API, the Department of Health and Social Services, treatment programs, staffing to these departments, and education, to name a few, must share responsibility for many of the problems at API. The Legislature and the governor must fix the revenue shortage problem.

More budget cuts is not the answer. Privatization of the management of API is not the answer either. What is the cost of oversight to protect the clients and staff? The only real winner is for-profit Wellpath Recovery Solutions.

— Laura Bonner

Anchorage

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Letter: Focus on the job

Mon, 2019-02-18 16:26

After reading Rep. George Rauscher’s opinion about the “process” of building a consensus in the Legislature, I am compelled to respond. I was undecided whether to send him a bouquet of roses or a set of diapers. I think the latter is more appropriate. He was elected to do a job. He has the job. Now he should do it. If he has enough time to write such a tome, he certainly has enough time to focus on the task at hand.

The biggest issues confronting Alaskans — not Democrats, not Republicans, but Alaskans — are revenues and expenditures, with the elephant in the room being the PFD. I think it is time for representatives such as Mr. Rauscher to grow up and realize we have to pay for our lunch. That requires reasonableness to the circumstance. That is how I understand the push for bipartisanship.

There is a large enough contingent of representatives who realize the pickle we are facing, and they want to jar the pickle. Without reasonable certainty, all of us Alaskans will be in a very, very tight spot. The reach for bipartisanship in Alaska is very refreshing because decisions made by our (I write that in the collective, not the partisan viewpoint) representatives affect all of us. Without collective discussion our nation would never have been conceived. I ask Rep. Rauscher to not abort our nation’s history of discussion and resolution and yes, inclusion.

— Jon Stewart

Palmer

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Letter: Governor’s partisanship is wrong

Mon, 2019-02-18 16:22

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has lost my vote in the next election. I supported him because I wanted a governor who was willing to work across party lines. I thought that person was Dunleavy, based on his work to restore the Permanent Fund dividend. I couldn’t have been more wrong about his motives. Now, after Dunleavy started going against the Alaska Constitution and attempting to fire several liberal state employees based on political belief, I see he has one loyalty: to the Republican Party.

I believe partisan politics will lead to the destruction of our state. I hope we, as a state, can stand up to this dangerous governor and fight for our diligent state employees.

If I could say one thing to Gov. Dunleavy, I’d say: “Firing Hollis French will be the biggest mistake of your career. He is one of the most hardworking people I know. He is a true statesman, and I know for a fact he is willing to reach across party lines for the greater good of Alaska. You should take a page from Mr. French’s book. Be the bridge that brings the two parties together and not the wedge that drives them further apart.”

— Sterling Emmal

Anchorage

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Coalition of states sues Trump over national-emergency declaration to build border wall

Mon, 2019-02-18 16:22

In this Jan 15, 2019 image, a section of newly-replaced border wall separates Tijuana, Mexico, above left, from San Diego, right, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull) (Gregory Bull/)

WASHINGTON - A coalition of 16 states filed a federal lawsuit Monday to block President Donald Trump’s plan to build a border wall without permission from Congress, arguing that the president’s decision to declare a national emergency is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit, brought by states with Democratic governors - except for one, Maryland - seeks a preliminary injunction that would prevent the president from acting on his emergency declaration while the case plays out in the courts.

The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, a San Francisco-based court whose judges have ruled against an array of other Trump administration policies, including on immigration and the environment.

Accusing the president of "an unconstitutional and unlawful scheme," the suit says the states are trying "to protect their residents, natural resources, and economic interests from President Donald J. Trump's flagrant disregard of fundamental separation of powers principles engrained in the United States Constitution."

The complaint, filed by the attorneys general of nearly a third of the states and representing tens millions of Americans, immediately became the heavyweight among a rapid outpouring of opposition to the president's emergency declaration. In the White House Rose Garden on Friday, Trump announced that he was instituting a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border because Congress did not provide the money for a wall that has stood as one of the most enduring promises from his 2016 campaign.

Several nonprofit organizations already have gone to court or announced plans to sue. And protesters took to the streets in several cities Monday. Across from the White House, demonstrators held neon-colored letters that spelled "Power grab."

"You wouldn't expect to celebrate Presidents' Day this way, but we do what you got to do," California's Democratic Attorney General Xavier Becerra, leader of the states coalition, said Monday in an interview. "In this case, we are having to commemorate . . . by protesting, whether marching in the street or marching into court."

Through the president's declared emergency, White House officials plan to use $8 billion to build sections of a barrier that Trump says will obstruct or deter migrants from crossing into the country. That sum is about $6.6 billion more than Congress allotted for the purpose in its latest spending plan. To fill in the gap, the White House intends, among other things, to divert $3.6 billion from military construction accounts and $2.5 billion from Department of Defense efforts to fight illicit drugs.

In the 56-page complaint, Becerra and his counterparts argue that diverting money that Congress has designated for other purposes violates the separation of powers defined in the Constitution.

The complaint says that once Congress passes laws and a president signs them, the Constitution requires that the president "take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

Another clause of the Constitution, the lawsuit notes, prevents money from being paid from the U.S. Treasury unless Congress has appropriated it.

The lawsuit also says that the "federal government's own data prove there is no national emergency at the southern border that warrants construction of a wall. Customs and Border Protection data show that unlawful entries are near 45-year lows."

And it enumerates ways that residents of the participating states - and the states themselves - could be harmed by the diversion of funds.

In addition to California, the states participating in the suit are Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Virginia. With the exception of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, the governors of the states are Democrats.

The suit names as defendants the president; the departments of Defense, Treasury, Interior and Homeland Security; and senior officials of those departments.

In filing the case in the San Francisco-based Northern District, the attorneys general chose a jurisdiction that has repeatedly been at odds with the president. According to a count by The Washington Post, the court's judges have ruled against the Trump administration in at least nine important cases.

Judges there, for example, have ruled against efforts by the Commerce Department to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, numerous rollbacks of environmental regulations, efforts to curtail asylum for migrants and the Department of Homeland Security's revocation of special "temporary protected status" for hundreds of thousands of immigrants legally living in the U.S.

Cases appealed from that court go to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which has been challenging for Trump, who has derided it as "a complete and total disaster" and "a thorn in our side."

Since the president's announcement, GOP members of Congress have shared mixed opinions of the declaration, with some contending that it is legitimate and others portraying it as a power grab that could create a dangerous precedent in the event of a future Democratic president.

Congressional Democrats plan to vote in coming weeks on a joint resolution that would repeal the national emergency, and they predict that some Republicans will support it.

Trump has said that his declaration is allowed under a 1976 law called the National Emergencies Act and that it has been used dozens of times. Outside analyses, including by the Brennan Center for Justice, have shown that virtually all such emergencies involved sanctions against foreign governments and groups for reasons such as human rights violations, rather than to spend money Congress intended for other purposes.

President George W. Bush declared a national emergency soon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but the spending it allowed had not previously been designated by Congress for other purposes.

On Friday, Public Citizen and the Center for Biological Diversity filed separate lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleging that Trump's emergency declaration is unconstitutional.

Another advocacy group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, sued the Justice Department on Friday, accusing it of withholding legal opinions, communications and other documents related to the president's decision to declare a national emergency.

- - -

The Washington Post’s Fred Barbash, Devlin Barrett and Alex Horton contributed to this report.

Investigators focus on wood stove after man dies in Seward sailboat fire

Mon, 2019-02-18 16:17

The Seward fire chief is warning people living in boats and other dwellings to install smoke and carbon monoxide alarms after a man and his dog were discovered dead after a fire on a sailboat Saturday morning.

The Perspective, a roughly 30-foot sailboat moored in the city’s small-boat harbor, appears to have lacked the detectors, Chief Eddie Athey said Monday. Video of the blaze on Facebook shows the sailboat mast crashing down, but Athey said damage was limited to the boat.

Boat fire in the harbor today! #sewardalaska #alaska #boat #fire

Posted by Seward Ocean Excursions on Saturday, February 16, 2019

The man appears to have been one of several “liveaboards” who reside on boats in the harbor. Many of the boats lack smoke alarms, though they’re required wherever people sleep, Athey said. They also often lack carbon monoxide detectors, required where diesel heaters burn fuel or, in this case, where a wood stove provided heat.

“We often don’t find them,” on vessels, he said. “We did not find any (in this case).”

Athey did not release the name of the victim, who he said may be in his mid-40s. Authorities were waiting to confirm his identity and contact his family before publicly identifying him.

The ongoing investigation is targeting the wood stove as the possible source of the fire, he said.

The U.S. Coast Guard handles boat inspections in the harbor, Athey said. The fire department educates liveaboards about installing detectors.

"They are such cost-effective insurance,” Athey said. “You can get a combination of both for $35 and they’re good for 10 years.”

The partly volunteer Seward fire department was notified about the fire at about 11:30 a.m. Bystanders and harbor officials had already begun attacking it with extinguishers, Athey said.

Members of the nearby Bear Creek Volunteer Fire Department also responded, Athey said. The fire was brought under control within about 10 minutes.

The harbor crews that walk the docks regularly to make sure things are safe had walked past the sailboat just before flames shot out, Athey said. They cleared other boats from the area, helping prevent additional damage, he said.

Bixler McClure, owner of sightseeing company Seward Ocean Excursions, said he was getting his boat ready for the day when he noticed black smoke coming from the Perspective. Bystanders quickly arrived with extinguishers, and McClure called emergency dispatchers.

“About 20-30 seconds from when I saw black smoke, that’s when I saw the flames leaping out top of boat,” he said. “It definitely took a turn for the worse.”

Letter: Establish school board districts

Mon, 2019-02-18 16:17

School board members should be elected from like-populated districts, similar to the Anchorage Assembly. The board members would be more accountable to their respective neighborhoods. Presently, they represent nobody. Additionally, it is difficult to campaign for a seat areawide unless one is supported by special interests. A local door-to-door campaign could be readily accomplished in one’s own neighborhood.

— Karl Schroeder

Anchorage

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Letter: Stand with Knopp

Mon, 2019-02-18 16:05

I trust Rep. Gary Knopp’s judgment. Having served on the Kenai Peninsula Assembly with Gary when he was president, I know he is rational, thoughtful and attentive. His character and skills are sorely needed in today’s unsettled times.

Although we may have had policy differences, it was a pleasure to sit on the Assembly under his capable leadership. Our discussions were lively and productive and the Kenai Peninsula is better off for it. The state of Alaska is lucky to have him.

— Mako Haggerty

Homer

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Use a thorough vetting process to avoid being duped by job candidates

Mon, 2019-02-18 15:56

You thought the applicant knocked it out of the park with both his resume and his answers to your interview questions. You interviewed the references he provided. Do you make the offer?

Not so fast. Have you fully checked out the real person behind the resume and interview answers? Have you asked probing questions or just the standard ones? What about the references he didn’t provide? If you search him out on social media, will you find posts that shock you?

If you limit your reference-checking to only the references your applicant provides, remember the Alaska commissioner appointee whose candidacy tumbled when an unsolicited but key reference surfaced. If you don’t believe you need to check social media, remember the candidate who appeared to be a shoo-in for a Board of Regents appointment until criticism of her inflammatory social media posts torpedoed her candidacy.

If you’ve ever been fooled by a job applicant you’ve taken at face value, try the following next time:

Ask non-standard interview questions

When clients ask me to vet out-of-state candidates before they bring them up for in-person interview, I expect the applicants to voice excitement about Alaska. So I ask, “Would you be more interested in a job offer from a company in LA or Portland?" If they respond with LA, I ask, “How come?” If they answer, “More opportunities,” I then ask, “San Francisco or Seattle?” If they answer “San Francisco because it’s more cosmopolitan,” it makes me doubt their long-term interest in Anchorage.

Questioning

Many were shocked recently when the candidacy of a nominee for one of Alaska’s most significant state offices crumbled after questioning. In hindsight, the questions seem obvious for an applicant touting his entrepreneurial prowess: When did you sell your stake in the business and who were your co-investors? The candidate named a year and credited his high school friend as his co-investor — except he didn’t own the business.

Avoid being fooled by someone’s facade by asking questions that take interviews from surface to in-depth. For example, ask your applicant, “When I call your last supervisor, what will she tell me about you?” and “If you took this job, hoping it would be an ‘A’ job, what are the small disappointments that would tell you it was really a ‘B+’ job?”

Dig into reference information

Most employers don’t adequately question references. A thorough reference check contacts the references not listed as well as those listed by the applicant and lasts at least 15 minutes. I won’t soon forget my uneasiness when interviewing a subsidiary manager accused of sexual harassment while conducting an investigation for a new client. On impulse, I asked for the manager’s resume and conducted my own reference check, although my client insisted they’d conducted one pre-hire. When I asked one reference, “How long did you supervise him and in what capacity?” the vagueness of the answer bothered me, so I probed further. The glowing reference came from a supervisor at a prison library where both were inmates.

Check out your candidate on social media

You can’t afford to ignore social media. It can reveal whether your candidate can present herself professionally; discrepancies with her resume or application; whether she’s viciously bad-mouthed past employers; and even her involvement in illegal activities.

Vetting job candidates on social media opens Pandora’s box. You learn information that federal and state laws don’t allow you to consider, such as the applicant’s race, family status, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, age and medical conditions. Further, if your applicant has a common name, you may find posts authored by someone other than your candidate, leading you to assess the wrong individual.

Manage these risks by making social media vetting part of the reference and background check process and by focusing on job-related characteristics, such as verification of work history, education and credential, memberships and other criteria important to the position and ignoring anything related to protected categories. You can find this information in blog posts, press releases and other media mentions. If a post showing questionable judgment leads you to make a no-hire decision, make a screenshot of the post along with the URL.

If you haven’t searched out your candidate on LinkedIn, Twitter and haven’t asked in-depth questions of the applicant and his references, remember this: Avoiding a bad hire is a hundred times easier than getting rid of a problem employee.

N.C. operative for candidate falsified ballots, tried to obstruct investigation, officials say

Mon, 2019-02-18 15:52

Leslie McCrae Dowless in his kitchen in Bladenboro, North Carolina, on Dec. 5, 2018. (Photo for The Washington Post by Justin Kase Conder) (Justin Kase Conder/)

RALEIGH, N.C. - State election officials in North Carolina said Monday that a political operative for Republican Mark Harris orchestrated a “coordinated, unlawful, and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme” in the 9th Congressional District last year, hiding evidence of the operation as it unfolded and obstructing the state’s investigation after the election.

Those explosive charges opened an evidentiary hearing Monday in Raleigh, where the North Carolina elections board began listening to witness testimony to decide whether enough ballots were tampered with to taint the outcome of the 9th District race.

The state board's executive director, Kim Strach, told the five-member board that Leslie McCrae Dowless, a longtime political operative from Bladen County, paid workers to collect absentee ballots from voters, a felony in North Carolina. Dowless and his employees in some cases forged voter and witness signatures and filled out blank or incomplete ballots, Strach said. They operated in Bladen and Robeson counties, she said - submitting as many as 1,249 ballot request forms in the general election. It's unclear exactly how many actual ballots Dowless and his associates turned in.

Strach did not offer evidence that Harris knew of the alleged scheme. Harris personally directed Dowless' hiring despite being warned about his tactics, but he has said repeatedly that he had no knowledge of Dowless' allegedly illegal operations.

The election has been in limbo since November, when the state elections board declined to certify Harris's 905-vote lead, instead launching an investigation into the allegations against Dowless. After it hears the evidence from that investigation this week, the board will decide whether to certify the results or call for a new election.

The investigators painted a portrait Monday of a widespread scheme to illegally handle absentee ballots. They did not offer evidence that enough ballots were tainted to change the narrow outcome of the race - a fact that Republicans seized on as evidence that Harris remains the rightful winner in the last undecided congressional race in the nation.

"While it is disappointing that folks may have violated the law, at this point we are dealing with a limited number of ballots that are nowhere close to bringing the election result into question," Dallas Woodhouse, head of the state GOP, told reporters Monday.

That same evidence prompted Democrats to argue that the overall result is tainted, which can also prompt a revote under state law.

Dowless and his employees went to some lengths to avoid "raising red flags" with election officials, Strach's first witness, Lisa Britt, told the board Monday. They mailed no more than nine or 10 ballots at a time, and they made sure to mail them from the nearest post offices to the voters' homes, even though many of the ballots were signed and witnessed en masse at Dowless' office. They took pains to use the same ink for voter and witness signatures, and to make sure stamps were affixed to the ballot envelopes in a way that didn't reveal a pattern, Britt said.

"I had placed a stamp upside down" on one of the ballot envelopes, Britt testified. "Mr. Dowless fussed at me about that. I guess one or two wouldn't have mattered, but if you've got 10 or 15 coming in that way, they're going to say, 'Now hey, wait a minute.' "

Britt never discarded a ballot, she said, nor did she see Dowless do so.

Another witness, Sandra Dowless, who is Dowless' ex-wife and Britt's mother, said she heard Dowless on the phone before the election, telling Harris he was ahead among absentee voters. When Harris asked Dowless how he knew that, Dowless said he'd looked at data at the county elections board.

The board published evidence in December that the county election staff improperly released early voting results. Strach said Monday that no evidence has emerged that anyone inside the local board released those results to Dowless.

But she also said the investigation has shown serious security lapses in the county election office.

Harris lawyer Alex Dale said Dowless told Harris he was relaying publicly available information.

One element of the controversy on vivid display Monday was the pervasive economic hardship of eastern North Carolina, which was devastated by Hurricane Florence just weeks before the November election - and where many of Dowless' associates were drawn to him because he was kind to people in need.

Kelly Hendrix, who testified that she illegally collected and signed ballots for Dowless, wept on the witness stand as she described how she began helping him after he had given her rides to her job at a fast food restaurand. Dowless occasionally gave her gas money while she helped him collect ballots, she said.

Hendrix also offered a glimpse of what a small community Bladen County is, saying that most of the people from whom she collected ballots were "pretty much my in-laws, my boyfriend's family, my family."

In a courtroom that the North Carolina State Bar usually used for disciplinary hearings, spectators, witnesses and more than a dozen attorneys mixed with the principals in the case, including Dowless and many of those who worked for him in the alleged scheme.

There were few fireworks, but Strach's assertion that Dowless had sought to interfere with the investigation generated attention, including a note Strach produced that Britt said Dowless gave to her, instructing her to assert her Fifth Amendment rights and not answer questions at Monday's hearing.

McCready's lawyer, prominent Democrat Marc Elias, drew a rebuke from board Chairman Bob Cordle for not giving Britt enough time to answer questions before throwing out a new one.

Harris watched the hearing from the front of the room, occasionally jotting down notes and at times turning to take in the reactions of the audience. Dowless, sitting in the back of the room with his legal counsel, sat erect and at times strained to hear the witness testimony.

At the end of the day, Strach surprised the room by calling Dowless to testify, but his lawyer, Cynthia Singletary said he would not testify without immunity. Cordle told her that the board policy allowed it to draw an an adverse inference about Dowless' potential guilt from his decision not to testify.

The investigation has refocused the national debate about election fraud, which has typically featured Republicans, led by President Donald Trump, talking about ID laws and criminal prosecutions, while Democrats have accused Republicans of trying to hinder ballot access and intimidate voters who typically vote Democratic.

This time it is Democrats seeking to show that fraud affected the outcome of a federal election, while Republicans are trying to save the narrow projected victory of their candidate.

The state elections board requires a supermajority of four votes to call for a new election. With three Democrats and two Republicans, the board will not have the votes to take any action if its members vote along partisan lines. That would turn attention to Congress, which also has the power to order a new election.

One seat in the hearing room Monday was labeled "U.S. House counsel."

Britt, the first witness, declared on the stand that Harris knew nothing.

"I think you've got one innocent person in this thing who hasn't done anything wrong and who is getting a really bad rap in all of this, and that's Mr. Harris," she said.

Dowless' lawyer, Cynthia Singletary, told reporters that Britt's testimony "is not true." Asked whether Dowless directed illegal ballot-harvesting, she responded, "Hell no!"

Strach told the board that the staff deployed four investigators in the 9th District, interviewing 142 voters and 30 witnesses and examining thousands of subpoenaed campaign and phone records. She said Dowless paid his workers $125 for every 50 absentee ballots they collected.

Dowless, 63, was investigated in 2016, when he helped deliver an overwhelming share of the mail-in vote in Bladen County for a different Republican congressional candidate, Todd Johnson. The 9th District stretches along the South Carolina border from Charlotte to rural, eastern North Carolina.

It's unclear whether Dowless will agree to testify or decline to do so to avoid self-incrimination, as he did at a hearing over similar irregularities more than two years ago.

Also on the witness lists, among dozens of others: Harris; McCready; North Carolina GOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse; and Andy Yates, the GOP consultant who worked for Harris and hired Dowless at Harris' direction.

A lawyer for Yates, Mark Jones, said Yates will testify if he receives a subpoena to do so. North Carolina law allows the state board to compel witnesses to testify but requires it to grant immunity when it does.

In her testimony, Britt said she's not "100 percent sure" but she believes Yates knew of Dowless' ballot-tampering scheme. Yates has denied knowing of any illegal ballot collection.

The board has planned for three days of hearings this week, but gave no sign by the end of the day Monday whether the testimony would wrap up by then.

- - -

Kirk Ross in Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report.

Letter: Governor’s bait-and-switch

Mon, 2019-02-18 15:15

Gov. Mike Dunleavy promised Alaskans a huge Permanent Fund dividend. His unprecedented budget proposal is so outrageous it is unlikely to pass. Once his proposed plan falls flat, will he shift blame onto legislators for not ensuring a huge PFD to all Alaskans? Time will tell.

- Alex Derrera

Anchorage

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Letter: On budgets and weight loss

Mon, 2019-02-18 15:09

About the governor’s budget: If you want to lose weight, you do it by going on a diet. You don’t cut off your arm.

- Richard Kullberg

Anchorage

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Anchorage Museum launches record label to convey the sounds of the North

Mon, 2019-02-18 14:12

Nicholas Galanin, left, and Zak Wass of Indian Agent play at a sound check on Friday, Feb. 8, at the Anchorage Museum. The band is one of the artists featured on the album "Arc," the first vinyl release from the museum's record label Unbound Records. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News/)

An evening sky faded into night filled with stars on the ceiling of the Anchorage Museum planetarium on a recent night, as songs by northern musicians faded in and out accompanied by images of planets and constellations.

Together, the nine tracks make an album called “Arc,” the inaugural vinyl release on the museum’s new record label. The museum celebrated the occasion with the planetarium show and performances by artists on the album.

The label, called Unbound Records of the Anchorage Museum, aims to convey the sounds, landscape and people of the circumpolar north. Hollis Mickey, director of learning and engagement at the museum, said the record label represents a different way of thinking about museum publishing.

“Museums have this history of putting out beautiful coffee table books and objects that commemorate an experience," she said, and a record is another way of doing that in audio form.

“In thinking about how we can push the boundaries of publishing and sharing contemporary creative practice, the museum thought that producing some sound work would be an exciting step," Mickey said.

“Arc” — pressed on blue-and-green vinyl — focuses on artists who are doing experimental work in their genres, Mickey said. The album includes songs from Canadian musician Cris Derksen, Icelandic band Amiina, Swedish-Finnish artist Tsembla, two Alaska bands and more.

“I would say it feels definitely like a reflection of the environment quite a bit,” said Rebecca Menzia of the band Harm, when asked about the sounds that define the North. Harm formed in Fairbanks and has a track called “Cope Alaska” on the album.

“Definitely unique, at times maybe even a little bit stark, as a reflection of the landscape," Menzia said. "Maybe — I know for us at least, a little bit of a darker sound.”


A copy of the album "Arc," the first vinyl release from the Anchorage Museum's record label Unbound Records. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / Anchorage Daily News/)

At the album’s release party at the museum on Feb. 8, Harm opened its performance with that song, which featured Joanna Newsom-like vocals on top of beat-boxing, dreamy guitar and synthesizer.

“There’s so many musicians and artists and writers that I think really hunker down in the dark, in the cold, and have all this space to create,” said Heather Warren, another member of Harm. “And this is like a perfect showcase for it.”

Nicholas Galanin is a member of Indian Agent, a Sitka-based band that also has a track on the museum’s first record. Asked about the album, he talked about the role of environment in shaping artistic work.

“You can’t deny it, really, how much we’re impacted by where we are when we’re creating,” said Galanin, who is Tlingit and Unangax̂. “It’s unique in that sense.”

A second album from Unbound is already in the works and due out later this year. That one will focus on circumpolar hip-hop, with many of the raps in Sami and Greenlandic.

Since there’s not a record production facility in Alaska, Mickey said, the museum worked with a company called Erika Records in California to make the vinyl.

Want to hear a sample? Watch a previous performance of Harm’s “Cope Alaska,” one of the tracks on “Arc,” in the video below:

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