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Lydia Jacoby, a 17-year-old swimmer from Seward, is headed to the Summer Olympics

Alaska News - Tue, 2021-06-15 17:35

Lydia Jacoby of Seward, seen here winning her semifinal heat on Monday, placed second in Tuesday's 100-meter breaststroke finals to clinch an Olympic berth. (Jeff Roberson / Associated Press) (Jeff Roberson/)

Seventeen-year-old Lydia Jacoby is Alaska’s first swimmer to make it to the Summer Olympics.

Jacoby, a member of the Seward Tsunami Swim Club, grabbed second place in the women’s 100-meter breaststroke Tuesday at the U.S. Olympic Trials to secure a spot on the U.S. team headed to Tokyo next month.

For the second day in a row in Omaha, Nebraska, Jacoby broke the national age-group record in her event. And, also for the second day in a row, she unleashed a stunning push in the final half of the race.

Lilly King, the world record-holder in the event, won the race in 1 minute, 4.79 seconds.

Jacoby was next in 1:05.28. She was .32 of a second faster than third-place Annie Lazor (1:05.60).

The top two swimmers in each event at the Trials earn spots on the Olympic team.

Jacoby was coming off a record-breaking effort in Monday’s semifinals.

She won her heat in 1:05.71 to break the national age-group record for 17- and 18-year old girls.

That was the world’s fourth-fastest time of the season, and it propelled Jacoby into the finals, where she faced King and Lazor, who entered the race with the No. 1 and No. 2 times in the world, respectively.

Jacoby was fifth at the turn in Tuesday’s finals, but she swam the fastest final 50 meters to pass everyone but King. The day before, she came from behind to win her semifinal by posting the fastest time in the final split.

According to swimswam.com, Jacoby didn’t secure second place — and a trip to the Tokyo Olympics — until the final few meters.

King held the lead all the way to win in 1:04.79, but 17 year-old Lydia Jacoby surged the final few meters to touch 2nd. #SwimTrials21

— SwimSwam Live (@SwimSwamLive) June 16, 2021

Highly transmissible COVID-19 strain spreading in Washington state, virologists say

Alaska News - Tue, 2021-06-15 17:23

SEATTLE, Wash. — Researchers at UW Medicine’s Virology Laboratory are tracking the statewide spread of the highly transmissible COVID-19 Delta variant in Washington, with 170 cases detected as of Monday.

The lab identifies strains of the virus through genome sequencing of positive screening tests. According to a UW Medicine post, the process identifies the strains present locally and across Washington state.

“It’s something that we’re really concerned about when we’re watching those numbers over time,” said Dr. Pavitra Roychoudhury, acting instructor for the Department of Laboratory Medicine & Pathology.

The Delta variant, also known as B.1.617.2, is more transmissible than other mutations of the virus, health experts say. First identified in India, the variant has caused waves of new cases in India, China, Sweden and the United Kingdom — and is now on the rise in the United States, UW Medicine said.

Roychoudhury said FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines provide the best available protection against the Delta variant, as well as all other variants detected since the beginning of the pandemic.

US Senate approves bill that would make Juneteenth a federal holiday

Alaska News - Tue, 2021-06-15 16:33

WASHINGTON — The Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would make Juneteenth, or June 19th, a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.

The bill would lead to Juneteenth becoming the 12th federal holiday. It is expected to easily pass the House, which would send it to President Joe Biden for his signature.

Juneteenth commemorates when the last enslaved African Americans learned they were free. Confederate soldiers surrendered in April 1865, but word didn’t reach the last enslaved Black people until June 19, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to Galveston, Texas. That was also about two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

[Juneteenth events happening around Anchorage this month]

“Making Juneteenth a federal holiday is a major step forward to recognize the wrongs of the past,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “But we must continue to work to ensure equal justice and fulfill the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation and our Constitution.”

The Senate passed the bill under a unanimous consent agreement that expedites the process for considering legislation. It takes just one senator’s objection to block such agreements.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., had objected in the previous Congress to a bill to celebrate Juneteenth as a federal holiday because of the cost and lack of debate, he said. Johnson noted that he has supported resolutions recognizing the significance of Juneteenth, but he was concerned the new holiday would give federal employees another day off at a cost of about $600 million per year.

“While it still seems strange that having taxpayers provide federal employees paid time off is now required to celebrate the end of slavery, it is clear that there is no appetite in Congress to further discuss the matter. Therefore, I do not intend to object,” Johnson said in a statement before Tuesday’s vote.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and had 60 co-sponsors. He tweeted Monday: “We have a long road towards racial justice in the United States and we cannot get there without acknowledging our nation’s original sin of slavery. It is long past time to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.”

The vast majority of states recognize Juneteenth as a holiday or have an official observance of the day, and most states hold celebrations.

Under the legislation, the federal holiday would be known as Juneteenth National Independence Day.

CBJ redirects cruise line's donation offer

Juneau Hot Topics - Tue, 2021-06-15 16:00
... June 15, 2021 4:58pm; NewsCity and Borough of Juneaucruise shipsLocal News ... Of the total donation, the company offered $2 million to Juneau. ... or if they go directly to a charitable institution identified by the local officials. ... executive director of Juneau Community Foundation, told the Empire by ...

Let’s help families this summer by encouraging healthy behavior

Alaska News - Tue, 2021-06-15 15:32

FILE - In this Monday, March 2, 2020, file photo, Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum addresses the state's coronavirus preparedness at a news conference in Anchorage, Alaska. The state of Alaska has placed surgical abortions on a list of procedures that could be postponed to help conserve personal protective equipment for health care workers amid the COVID-19 outbreak. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, File) (Mark Thiessen/)

Athletics and group activities were a big part of my life growing up in Homer. The thrill of success for your team and teammates were regularly celebrated with high-fives, chest bumps and huddles – all of which required closeness and nothing about physical distancing. So I felt for Alaska’s kids who struggled during this pandemic as their sports teams paused practices, they missed games and lost chances to play together.

Summers as a kid meant fishing with my family for halibut and filling the boat up with salmon. I know many Alaskans suffered the disappointment last summer of canceling special family outings and overnight or day camps.

We know the value of playing together, staying active, and feeding our families healthy meals — but that doesn’t mean it’s been easy this past year. The pandemic has made it much harder for many Alaskans to make the healthy choices we all want for our families. When the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services surveyed families during the pandemic, seven out of 10 families said their children were getting less physical activity, and six out of 10 said their family’s mental health was suffering.

To support families, my department is organizing efforts to make it easier and more affordable for Alaskans to be active and to buy fruits and vegetables at lower costs. We’re working with grocery stores, farmers markets and state programs. As one example, Alaska’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program will use funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to help families increase their WIC benefits to buy more fresh, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables. This is in addition to the coupons some WIC-enrolled families already receive to buy local produce at farmers markets. These efforts will help Alaska families, farmers and local stores.

This pandemic year has reinforced the value of being healthy. Across the nation and within our state, we’ve seen that it’s been much harder for people to fight COVID-19 if their overall health was already taxed by smoking or having chronic diseases. Chronic diseases include Type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease and other conditions that can go on for a long time and often don’t go away completely.

Two out of three Alaska adults have chronic diseases and related behaviors that can be prevented and managed. The good news is being physically active, choosing healthy foods and drinks, maintaining a healthy weight, and never smoking are linked to reducing the chances of developing chronic diseases.

Physical and mental health are tied together. Healthy choices can often improve both. Eating fruits and vegetables helps prevent chronic diseases and has also been shown to help us fight off more immediate illnesses like COVID-19. We might make it a priority to walk every day, play outside with our kids or head to the gym because it’s good for our bones, muscles and heart health. But it’s also essential for our mental health. Being active helps us feel less anxious and depressed. Just one session of activity can improve sleep that night.

As the summer continues, I’m hopeful Alaska kids will be able to return to the activities they’ve been missing. On May 12, the Pfizer vaccine was approved for use and recommended for kids ages 12 to 15. We have enough shots to fully vaccinate all 40,000 of them right now. Once fully vaccinated, kids can play sports and be active and no longer need to quarantine if they get exposed to someone with COVID-19. Vaccination means play doesn’t have to stop this summer.

These are just a few ways we’re investing in Alaska families to make it easier for them to take healthy actions that will help them feel better now and for years to come. It will also cut their long-term health care costs and, in turn, can reduce costs on the Medicaid system that pays more than half a billion dollars every year to treat Alaskans with chronic diseases.

We’ll continue to work with partners across the state and the Legislature to make sure incoming federal stimulus dollars are used to improve the health of all Alaskans through new initiatives that help them stay active, eat nutritious foods and live their healthiest lives.

Adam Crum, M.S.P.H., is commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

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

Understanding our history starts with the truth

Alaska News - Tue, 2021-06-15 15:21

The aftermath of the Tulsa Race Massacre in the city's Greenwood neighborhood. (Library of Congress photo)

Recent attacks on “critical race theory” and other educational efforts to illuminate the enduring impacts of racism in America, sadly, come as no surprise. The campaign to reshape our country’s history of racial injustice into false narratives that minimize its harms and castigate its continuing victims is as old as our country. Yet my own family’s history has shown me just how widely the currents of racial injustice flow, and how deeply they still ripple outward.

Since childhood, my white father had dreamed about a professional career, influenced by watching his own father labor in tin mills and try without success to support his family as a farmer. Before World War II, Dad earned a master’s degree in chemistry from Oklahoma State University. After the war, he enrolled in a doctoral program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but a major tuition hike only three months later made staying unaffordable, and he was forced to leave. The Pennsylvania native then tried to study at Ohio State University, but that program soon closed to out-of-state residents, overwhelmed by the influx of its own returning soldiers eager to take advantage of the G.I. Bill. Persisting through other setbacks, Dad ultimately enrolled at Texas A&M University, where he received a doctorate in chemistry in May 1950.

My father encountered a few bumps in the road on his path to higher education, but one challenge he never faced was hostility to the color of his skin. The same month he earned his doctorate, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled – for the first time – that our nation’s graduate schools could not deny admission based solely on race. The same years my father was earning his life goal – a Ph.D. – two men with similar qualifications and ambitions were being denied the opportunity because they were Black.

George W. McLaurin was a middle-aged Black man with a master’s degree in education when the University of Oklahoma refused to allow him to pursue a doctorate in education. In 1948, a federal court had ordered the university to admit him, which it did. But in keeping with Oklahoma’s strict laws against educating Black people and white people together, university officials went to great lengths to ensure that Mr. McLaurin was isolated from his classmates in every possible way. They placed his desk in an alcove just outside the classroom so fellow students wouldn’t sit near him, set up his own table in the library so he wouldn’t mix with others, and even ensured that he ate alone in the cafeteria. McLaurin petitioned the federal court to lift the restrictions, but the court denied relief. Only after appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court did McLaurin achieve equal treatment.

The same day the McLaurin case was decided, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the law school at the University of Texas to admit Heman Marion Sweatt, a qualified Black man who had been refused admission based on Texas laws that prohibited integrated education. The state of Texas had attempted to satisfy the “separate but equal” standard by creating another law school for Black people. But the court compared the two schools and found them vastly different: the white UT school had more than three times the number of professors, four times the number of books in the library, and many more facilities and resources than the Black school. The court judged the schools to be far from equal and ruled in favor of Sweatt, setting a precedent for Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 decision that struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine in our nation’s public schools.

Today, it’s impossible not to wonder how different my father’s educational experience would have been if he had faced the same discrimination as men like McLaurin and Sweatt. He would never have earned his master’s degree from an Oklahoma university in 1940, because the school would not have let him in. And he would never have earned a doctorate from Texas A&M in 1950 because that door would have been closed, too. What my dad would have done instead will remain forever a mystery; he never speculated about it because he never had reason to. But one outcome is certain: He would have been deprived of his dream to be a scientist, and of the life of teaching and research he grew to love.

It’s also impossible to ignore the impact of my father’s white skin on the trajectory of my family. His academic achievements secured us a solid place in the American middle class, with titles and salaries that brought us not only social uplift but material stability. We lived in nice neighborhoods, attended good schools, and seized countless opportunities to enrich our lives. What my family’s story would have been without the underpinning of my dad’s academic degrees will forever remain a mystery, too, because we never had to think about it. But based on the well-documented financial advantage of my father’s higher education, another outcome is almost certain: We would have landed lower on the economic ladder.

In my father’s generation, countless Black men, no different from him except for the color of their skin, had their educational hopes and dreams dashed by deep prejudices against their race enshrined in our nation’s institutions of higher learning. They were deprived of careers that could have brought not only personal satisfaction but immeasurable benefit to their communities. And their families were deprived of the many fruits of higher education that pass down through generations, the fruits that enabled my father and my family – and me – to thrive.

Events of this past week have me thinking about the other branch of my family tree, on my mother’s side. My mother was born in a small white farm town in eastern Oklahoma, less than an hour’s drive from Tulsa. Her birth in early 1922 occurred just seven months after the Tulsa Race Massacre of May 31 – June 1, 1921. Commemorated this week on its 100th anniversary, the massacre destroyed the Greenwood section of Tulsa, once known as Black Wall Street for its prosperous rows of shops and businesses. Three hundred Black people were murdered, 10,000 were displaced, and 35 blocks of what had been a vibrant Black community were burned to the ground. Although the historical record confirms that a white mob carried out the bloodshed, no one responsible for the killing and destruction was ever brought to justice.

I visited Mom’s hometown often as a kid, and returned several times as an adult. Yet I had no knowledge of the brutal events until 2018, when I visited Oklahoma for a cousin’s funeral and a Black cab driver in Tulsa asked me if I knew the story of Greenwood. I said no, and he proceeded to tell me. As we drove near the section of town where Greenwood once thrived, I was stunned by his description of the tragedy, even skeptical. Surely such an atrocity could not have been hidden so long from the public eye? Surely a crime of such magnitude could not have happened with impunity? But the quiet authority of the man’s voice convinced me that he was speaking the truth, and my later research confirmed the details. Learning the brutal story, I felt anger and disgust at the massacre itself, but also shock at my ignorance, and questions about my own family’s awareness and long unbroken silence.

Was it possible that my mother’s family didn’t know about the horrific events that happened so close to their home? Was it possible they stayed quiet about the carnage because they endorsed it, and supported those who viewed successful Black communities as an existential threat? Was it possible they even participated, or knew others who did? Reflecting on these questions, I remembered the close relative who once told me “Black folks knew better than to come to our town.” And my other relative who uses the N-word freely, even today.

Of course, it’s also possible that my mother’s family never learned the full details of Greenwood. It’s also possible that if they did, they were appalled by the violence and opposed to the racist animus that fueled it. It’s also possible they stayed quiet through the years to avoid violence themselves. I dearly loved my Oklahoma family, so this is the narrative I prefer to believe. But now I can never know, because everyone from those generations is gone.

Today, all I can grasp with certainty is that a grave injustice happened near my family’s home ground that was never spoken about and almost disappeared from the public conscience. All I can know with confidence is that, had my family been Black, our hopes for prosperity – and our very lives – could have been ripped from us by a hatred we could not control, in ways that would echo still.

Those who suggest that a close examination of racism’s legacy is an attack on our country are asking us to ignore uncomfortable truths that still affect us every day. To me, it’s more vital than ever that we learn the hard lessons of our past. We can’t begin to rectify the impacts of racism – on ourselves, our families, or our communities - until we’re willing to acknowledge they exist. Our most difficult stories of racism’s reach, shared openly and honestly, won’t harm our country. They’re the best chance we’ll ever have to heal it.

Barbara Hood moved to Alaska from Texas a half century ago, and has worked for human rights and social justice for 40 years.

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

Anchorage woman pleads guilty to embezzling nearly $175K from now-defunct tribal organization

Alaska News - Tue, 2021-06-15 15:15

An Anchorage woman pleaded guilty this week to embezzling nearly $175,000 from a now-defunct tribal organization that she once led.

Joni Bryant, 44, will repay the money she embezzled from the Alaska Native Harbor Seal Commission to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, according to a federal plea agreement filed last month.

The Alaska Native Harbor Seal Commission was primarily funded through federal grants from NOAA and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the plea agreement said.

“The grants were intended to support tribal nonprofits in collecting harbor seal and Steller sea lion harvest data as well as conduct bio sampling to monitor the health of marine mammal populations in Alaska,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska said in a statement Tuesday.

The organization has not been operational since 2017, according to NOAA.

Bryant embezzled the funds from 2014 until 2016 while she worked as the executive director of the organization, according to the plea agreement. During that time, she managed federal grants and oversaw the operation’s day-to-day finances, federal prosecutors said in the statement. Bryant was removed from her position in October 2016, the plea agreement said.

Bryant used the commission’s funds to pay for personal travel, bills and shopping purchases, federal prosecutors said.

She was indicted about a year ago on one charge of embezzlement from an Alaska tribal organization and two counts of embezzlement from an organization receiving federal funds. Bryant pleaded guilty Monday to embezzlement from an Alaska tribal organization and the other two charges are set to be dismissed at sentencing, according to the plea agreement.

Bryant is scheduled to be sentenced in September.

Federal judge blocks Biden’s pause on new oil, gas leases

Alaska News - Tue, 2021-06-15 15:08

Drilling platforms in Cook Inlet in 2017. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth/)

NEW ORLEANS — The Biden administration’s suspension of new oil and gas leases on federal land and water was blocked Tuesday by a federal judge in Louisiana, who ordered that plans continue for lease sales that were delayed for the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska waters “and all eligible onshore properties.”

The decision is a blow to Democratic President Joe Biden’s efforts to rapidly transition the nation away from fossil fuels and thereby stave off the worst effects of climate change, including catastrophic droughts, floods and wildfires.

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty’s ruling came in a lawsuit filed in March by Louisiana’s Republican attorney general, Jeff Landry, and officials in 12 other states, including Alaska. Doughty said his ruling applies nationwide. It grants a preliminary injunction — technically a halt to the suspension pending further arguments on the merits of the case.

“The omission of any rational explanation in cancelling the lease sales, and in enacting the Pause, results in this Court ruling that Plaintiff States also have a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of this claim,” he wrote.

“We are reviewing the judge’s opinion and will comply with the decision,” Melissa Schwartz of the Interior Department said in an email. “The Interior Department continues to work on an interim report that will include initial findings on the state of the federal conventional energy programs, as well as outline next steps and recommendations for the Department and Congress to improve stewardship of public lands and waters, create jobs, and build a just and equitable energy future.”

The moratorium was imposed after Biden on Jan. 27 signed executive orders to fight climate change. The suit was filed in March. The Interior Department later canceled oil and gas lease sales from public lands through June — affecting Nevada, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and the bureau’s eastern region.

Biden’s orders included a call for Interior officials to review if the leasing program unfairly benefits companies at the expense of taxpayers, as well as the program’s impact on climate change.

The 13 states that sued said the administration bypassed comment periods and other bureaucratic steps required before such delays can be undertaken, and that the moratorium would cost the states money and jobs. Their lawsuit specifically sought an order that the government go ahead with a sale of oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico that had been scheduled for March 17 until it was canceled; and a lease sale that had been planned for this year in Alaska’s Cook Inlet.

Doughty heard arguments in the case last week in Lafayette.

Federal lawyers argued that the public notice and comment period doesn’t apply to the suspension, that the lease sales aren’t required by law and that the Secretary of the Interior has broad discretion in leasing decisions.

“No existing lease has been cancelled as a result of any of the actions challenged here, and development activity from exploration through drilling and production has continued at similar levels as the preceding four years,” lawyers for the administration argued in briefs.

But Doughty sided with the plaintiff states attorneys, who argued that the delay of new leasing cost states revenue from rents and royalties.

“Millions and possibly billions of dollars are at stake,” wrote Doughty, who was nominated to the federal bench by President Donald Trump in 2017.

“Local government funding, jobs for Plaintiff State workers, and funds for the restoration of Louisiana’s Coastline are at stake,” he added, alluding to a possible loss of oil and gas revenue that pays for Louisiana efforts to restore coastal wetlands.

Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and West Virginia are the other plaintiff states.

“This is a victory not only for the rule of law, but also for the thousands of workers who produce affordable energy for Americans,” Landry said in a statement issued shortly after the ruling.

___

Associated Press reporter Matt Brown in Billings, Montana, contributed to this report.

Federal judge blocks Biden's pause on new oil, gas leases

Juneau Hot Topics - Tue, 2021-06-15 14:52
Federal judge blocks Biden's pause on new oil, gas leases · Log in for full access to Juneau Empire using your subscriber account.

Alaska Senate delays action on proposed compromise budget plan

Alaska News - Tue, 2021-06-15 14:40

JUNEAU — The Alaska Senate delayed action on a state spending package Tuesday as lawmakers evaluated their options for getting needed votes on a budget and completing their work ahead of a Friday special session deadline.

The budget proposal that advanced from a six-member conference committee Sunday attached strings to funding for programs like the annual dividend paid to residents. It was criticized by some lawmakers as a strong-arm tactic.

Dividends typically have been paid using earnings from the state’s oil-wealth fund, the Alaska Permanent Fund. But the conference committee proposal cobbled together money for dividends from various sources, including the constitutional budget reserve fund that requires three-fourths support in each the House and Senate to tap.

The check size would be cut to $525 a person if the so-called three-quarter threshold is not met, according to the Legislative Finance Division.

Some lawmakers saw the budget proposal as a way for lawmakers to avoid taking out more than they previously planned from Permanent Fund earnings and as leaving room for additional discussions later this year on the dividend program’s future.

[New compromise plan for state budget puts pressure on supporters of a large Permanent Fund dividend]

The Senate and House had scheduled Tuesday morning floor sessions. The Senate met briefly and adjourned to Wednesday.

The House meeting time was delayed.

An “action alert” sent with Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s name Tuesday characterized the budget proposal as attempted coercion. But Lauren Giliam, a Dunleavy spokesperson, said the “messaging was not authorized or approved by the Governor.”

A statement from Giliam said the Restore the PFD Facebook page, administered by the governor’s office, sent an “unauthorized email with respect to the Governor’s advocacy of a vote on the budget.”

While the governor “strenuously opposes” the dividend amount proposed in the budget plan, “he did not authorize any advocacy efforts to urge votes one way or the other on the bill,” the statement said.

The budget is the subject of “vigorous negotiations” between lawmakers, and Dunleavy “is clear he is not going to interfere in those deliberations,” the statement said.

[Alaska is considering the biggest changes to the Permanent Fund since its creation, but lawmakers say public response has been light]

Dunleavy called the current special session to finish work on the budget and discuss his proposal to restructure the permanent fund and put a dividend formula in the state constitution. Special sessions can last up to 30 days, a mark that would be reached Friday.

A number of legislators have said they would prefer to discuss potential long-term changes to the dividend program with other pieces of a possible fiscal plan.

Another special session is scheduled for August, though the dividend is not currently on that agenda.

Curious Alaska: What’s Sarah Palin up to these days?

Alaska News - Tue, 2021-06-15 14:28

Sarah Palin at Politicon 2016 at The Pasadena Convention Center, June 2016. (Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Invision/AP) (Colin Young-Wolff/)

Curious Alaska is a weekly feature powered by your questions. What do you want to know or want us to investigate about life in Alaska, stories behind the news or why things are the way they are? Let us know in the form at the bottom of the story.

Question: What’s Sarah Palin up to?

Curious Alaska is glad you asked.

Thirteen years after her sudden rise to national notoriety, Sarah Palin is simultaneously the most famous Alaskan and nearly invisible within the state.

To answer this question, we tried reaching out to the former governor via the usual routes: Fairbanks-based attorney John Tiemessen, who has represented her on business matters over the years. The speakers bureau that represents her for paid appearances. We even tracked down the former editor of her website, sarahpalin.com, a recent Liberty University graduate named Larry. We reached out to Kevin Scholla, the host of Mama Grizzly radio and a Palin superfan. We called other past associates. We sent Sarah herself a direct message on Instagram.

No one responded. Not even an “absolutely not.”

It’s not that hard to see why. Palin hasn’t done mainstream media interviews in years. After a firestorm of media attention back in 2008, when Palin launched onto the national stage as John McCain’s running mate, the family and inner circle closed ranks and haven’t spoken to local media much since.

And when the Palin family has been in Alaska news reports over the past decade, it’s usually because a personal, painful family matter has spilled over into the public, like the 2014 Palin brawl, eldest son Track’s multiple domestic violence criminal charges (including one in which he assaulted his father) and Todd and Sarah’s divorce.

Lacking a direct line to Palin herself, we turned to the other space where she reveals details about herself regularly: social media. Public records filled in a few more facts.

Here’s what we could gather about Sarah Palin’s life these days: She lives, at least most of the time, in the same house on Lake Lucille in Wasilla that the family has occupied for more than a decade. She applies for a Permanent Fund dividend every year, which would indicate she spends the majority of the year in Alaska. She voted, absentee, in the 2020 presidential election from Alaska, according to Division of Elections records.

Todd and Sarah’s divorce was finalized last year. He has recently purchased land in the Big Lake area, according to property records.

The Palin kids have grown up and into adult lives of their own: Bristol is a real estate agent in the Austin, Texas, area with an Instagram following bigger than her mother’s. Willow has twins and a salon in the Mat-Su. Piper has pursued nursing school. Trig, born when Palin was governor, is now in high school. It’s not clear what Track is up to but court records show all of the criminal cases against him as resolved.

Though her SarahPAC closed in 2017, Sarah still maintains a national profile traveling to speak for conservative causes and candidates. Most recently, she was in Texas for Turning Points USA’s Young Women’s Leadership Summit, for a speech that promised “her signature zingers” as well as “homespun stories of everyday Americans.” She also has an ongoing federal lawsuit against The New York Times, which she says libeled her by suggesting she played a role in inspiring a 2011 mass shooting in Arizona. Her website, sarahpalin.com, is still a productive content farm, churning out a half-dozen pieces of byline-free clickbait daily. On Facebook, 4.5 million people follow her.

And then there’s Cameo, the site where people can buy custom videos from an array of celebrities ranging from Tony Hawk to Fran Drescher to Sarah Palin.

At a rate of $199 per video, Palin has filmed hundreds of messages, usually from her front yard on Lake Lucille, wearing mirrored aviators, her signature updo intact. She wishes aunts happy birthday and husbands happy retirement, sometimes uttering those self-deprecating lines about being able to see something from her house. Cameo seems to be a major Palin side hustle, which is something considering her speakers agency boasts she charges a fee of $100,000 to $200,000 for an appearance.

These days, her main form of communication is through her rather unfiltered social media pages, especially Instagram, where she appears to write her posts herself.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Sarah Palin (@sarahpalin97)

Much of the content could be categorized as classic Instagram mom and grandma: Digital scrapbooks of pictures of her granddaughters playing outside, set to an Uncle Kracker song, a proud mom montage of Trig at what looks like a Wasilla high school track meet, even an Instagram influencer moment in which she hawked a detox tea her daughter Bristol had been promoting. She’s liberal — in her use of emojis.

Palin has been almost entirely absent from Alaska politics. The administration of Gov. Mike Dunleavy — a fellow Wasillan — said she hasn’t reached out.

But last fall, she lobbed a grenade by posting a video of herself, mid-yardwork, in which she directly addressed U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, suggesting she was considering running for her seat in 2022.

“This is my house,” she said. “This is my house,” she repeated, intoning different syllables.

“I’m willing to give it up for the greater good of this country ... this state.”

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Sarah Palin (@sarahpalin97)

Fans — and not fans — jumped in to debate her strength as a potential candidate. Alaska Republican Party leaders say they have heard nothing from her.

Once, last September, she wrote about driving down Big Lake Road and spotting a sign for a Trump rally, being held down a dirt road at a hockey rink. She spontaneously went, she said. In her own verging-on-spoken-word poetry style, she described something that sounded like a moment of introspection about where she is, and what it feels like:

“Thought of my past Presidential/VP rallies back East (some 60,000 strong!) and aimed for these independent, patriotic, FED UP workhorses all committed to making America GREAT! Readied myself for any anti-Deplorable-ites who don’t have the cajones to be in the arena but live to see fighters fall ... and in my case jab that this “has-been” is HERE - not THERE with swamp dwellers pining for the next cocktail party invite to hobnob with elites trying to control you,” she wrote. “But alas! No loud-mouths this night to have to teach: ‘rejection is protection’ & there’s a season & reason for everything.”


Alaska’s back-to-work bonus plan is killed in compromise budget

Alaska News - Tue, 2021-06-15 12:31

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, talks about a budget amendment on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 with fellow senators. (James Brooks / ADN) ( /)

JUNEAU — A panel of the Alaska Legislature has killed a bonus program that would have paid $1,200 to unemployed Alaskans who find permanent work.

The $10 million plan was removed Sunday from a compromise budget plan under consideration by the full House and Senate.

Several other states have already begun to use federal economic aid to pay residents who find full-time or part-time work and leave unemployment.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, crafted the unemployment bonus plan and said he was inspired by those states after learning the Dunleavy administration would stop accepting a federally paid $300-per-week boost to unemployment benefits.

Now, he’s disappointed.

“It was an attempt to help small businesses, and there was a lot of pushback by Republicans and conservatives, and they did take it out. Businesses can instead raise their wages to attract people,” he said.

The Senate’s lead budget negotiator, Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, said lawmakers who crafted the compromise budget wanted to make the Permanent Fund dividend as large as possible without violating a limit on annual spending from the Alaska Permanent Fund.

At the same time, they also wanted to preserve funding for construction and renovation work in the state’s annual capital-projects budget. That meant getting rid of things like the back-to-work program.

“We took that out because we just didn’t have enough money,” Stedman said.

“Something had to give to keep the capital projects. So that was taken out yesterday for that very reason,” he said on Monday.

The compromise budget is awaiting a vote in the House and Senate.

Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson named president of Alaska’s largest tribal health organization

Alaska News - Tue, 2021-06-15 12:29

Lt. Gov. Valerie Davidson at the 7th annual AFN-NCAI Tribal Conference at the Egan Center on Oct. 17, 2018. (Bill Roth / ADN) (Bill Roth/)

Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson, Alaska’s former health commissioner and the first Alaska Native woman to serve as lieutenant governor, has been named the president of the state’s largest tribal health organization.

Davidson had been acting as interim president of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium since March following the resignation of Andy Teuber, who served for more than a decade as consortium president and CEO before abruptly resigning on Feb. 23.

The organization’s board of directors recently voted to remove “interim” from Davidson’s title. The change took effect Monday.

Davidson, who had been on a leave of absence from her role as president of Alaska Pacific University, said this week she was stepping down from that role in order to accept her new position. She was the first woman to lead APU.

“Working with the ANTHC team over the last few months has reinforced my belief that people can do the most amazing things under the most challenging conditions as long as we have the right reasons,” Davidson said in an emailed statement. “I’m honored to advance the Board’s vision and support the incredible ANTHC team in this important work on behalf of our children, families, and Tribal communities.”

Davidson is Yup’ik and a member of the Orutsararmiut Traditional Native Council.

In 2018, she became the first Alaska Native woman to serve as lieutenant governor, holding the position for a few months under former Gov. Bill Walker. Prior to that, she served as Walker’s commissioner of health and social services from 2014 until 2018.

When he named her a commissioner, Walker described Davidson as an expert on Medicaid in Alaska. She played a vital role in the governor’s decision to expand Medicaid in 2015, arguing the move meant broader health care services for Alaskans, including Alaska Natives.

Hilton Hallock will continue to serve as APU’s interim president while a search is conducted to hire a new president.

Vermont lifts coronavirus restrictions as it becomes first state to partially vaccinate 80% of eligible population

Alaska News - Tue, 2021-06-15 11:36

Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott announces on Monday June 14, 2021 in Montpelier, Vt., that the state had reached its goal of vaccinating 80% of the eligible population. As a result Scott lifted all remaining COVID-19 restrictions that were imposed to deal with the pandemic. (AP Photo/Wilson Ring) (Wilson Ring/)

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott said Monday that more than 80% of eligible residents have received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose, the first state to reach that milestone.

Scott said that he would immediately lift all remaining state pandemic restrictions as a result and that Vermont’s state of emergency would expire at midnight Tuesday.

According to the state, 80.2% of Vermonters age 12 and older and 81.8% of those 18 and older have received at least one shot. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show that 61.4% of the U.S. population 12 and older has received at least one dose.

“Our state has shown the world what’s possible when you have a group of people with the right attitude following the data and trusting medical science,” Scott said at a news conference.

State Health Commissioner Mark Levine said Monday that the high vaccination rate would help reduce the spread of the virus, decrease or eliminate hospitalizations and prevent deaths. Levine said it would also reduce the likelihood of more-virulent variants of the virus developing.

“This protection is what is allowing us to lift restrictions today,” he said. “That is public health at work.”

Scott noted that some businesses might choose to keep requirements in place as they wait for employees to get vaccinated. Vermont residents will still need to follow federal pandemic restrictions, such as those for public transportation, and Scott emphasized that this announcement does not mark the end of the state’s effort to vaccinate as many residents as possible.

Letter: Have faith

Alaska News - Tue, 2021-06-15 11:30

I’m really disheartened when I read the obituaries and realize another person has committed suicide. This is a heartfelt plea to those considering this terrible act. Think not about yourself; think about your friends and family instead. When you take your own life, you take other lives with you, as the people left behind have to endure this result for the rest of their lives. Your children you profess to love are left wondering if something they said, didn’t say, or what they did caused you to do this. You have affected me, and I don’t even know you. There is plenty of time in life to die, so don’t rush it. Put your faith in God; He can pull you through anything.

You may be suffering with pain and emotions. You are not alone. You may have trauma over losing a loved one. You are not alone. Life happens and we have to learn to live with it. There will be things ahead we will all have to face that are devastating, and the only thing pulling us through these times is faith in God.

— Rolf L. Bilet

Anchorage

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