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Stories about Alaska

Signatures submitted for Alaska initiative providing formal state recognition of federally recognized American Indian tribes in Alaska

On Jan. 13, 2022, Alaskans for Better Government submitted about 56,200 signatures for the ballot initiative. The ballot initiative would provide for formal state recognition of federally recognized American Indian tribes in Alaska.

Alaska has a signature distribution requirement, which requires that signatures equal to 7% of the vote in the last general election must be collected in each of three-fourths of the 40 Alaska House of Representatives districts. The campaign reported that signatures were collected from each of the 40 legislative districts. To qualify for the ballot, 36,140 of the signatures must be valid. Signatures needed to be submitted before the Alaska State Legislature convenes on Jan. 18, 2022. If the lieutenant governor certifies enough signatures as valid, the legislature can approve the indirect initiative or equivalent legislation, keeping the measure off the ballot. If the legislature does not enact the initiative, it will appear on the November 2022 ballot.

Alaskans for Better Government said, “This would create a long overdue permanent government-to-government relationship between the State and our Alaska Native Tribes. The math is quite simple: 1 + 1 = 2. With a respectful partnership we’ll have more ways to enhance the lives of Alaskans by streamlining services; partnering to amplify federal and state funding for deep, sustainable, and long-term impact; and tapping in to the 10,000 plus years of Indigenous brilliance, diversity, and knowledge of our Native homelands that so many now call home. The basis of any good relationship is respect, and too often when sovereign governments cannot work together our Tribal peoples disproportionately bear the price of injustice, diminishing equity, liberty, and freedoms for all.”

According to campaign finance reports covering information through Jan. 7, 2022, the Alaskans for Better Government campaign had raised $622,092 and has spent $485,759. The top donors were the Sixteen Thirty Fund ($500,000) and Tides Advocacy ($100,000).

Attorney General Treg Taylor (R) issued a review of the ballot initiative, stating that “[i]t is not clear whether the state recognition… would have any legal effect on the relationship between tribes and the State.” Taylor also noted that Legislative Legal Services analyzed a similar bill, concluding that “the bill would not have any legal effect, because the United States and Alaska Supreme Courts have already held that federally recognized tribes are sovereign entities.”[3] Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson, President of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, said, “As we try to build communities, build a better Alaska, it’s about relationships. And so the fact that the state of Alaska doesn’t recognize us currently is kind of a barrier in the building blocks, right? So that’s what it really comes down to.”

From 2000 to 2020, 45 statewide measures have been on the ballot in Alaska. Of the 45 measures, 22 were approved (48.89%) and 23 were defeated (51.11%).



Alaska adopts final state legislative map

On Nov. 10, 2021, the Alaska Redistricting Board adopted a new legislative map outlining the state’s 20 Senate districts and 40 House districts as part of the 2020 redistricting cycle. While the new map has been enacted, there will now be a 30-day period during which interested parties may file legal challenges against the new map.

The board’s three Republican-appointed members—John Binkley, Bethany Marcum, and Budd Simpson— voted in favor of the final map while the two nonpartisan members—Melanie Bahnke and Nicole Borromeo—voted against it.

The Midnight Sun’s Matt Buxton wrote that, during the Nov. 10 meeting, Bahnke and Borromeo, “pulled no punches when arguing that the Senate pairing for the Anchorage-area … were both a racial and partisan gerrymander that favored conservatives and drew the entirety of the plan into question.”

Regarding the process, Binkley, the board’s chairman, said, “I think the board earnestly … tried to put together a fair plan … But sometimes, those are in the eyes of the beholder. And some people … can look at one plan and say it’s fair. Other people can look at it and say it’s not fair.”

KTOO’s Andrew Kitchenman reported that, since the new map largely altered the state’s Senate districts, 19 of the 20 districts will hold elections in 2022. Alaska normally staggers elections to its Senate with half the chamber holding elections in one even-year cycle and the other half holding elections in the next and all members serving four-year terms. In 2022, certain districts will elect senators to two-year terms while others will elect them to four-year terms in order to restart the staggered process under the new lines. Alaska’s House districts hold elections every two years.

Additional reading:



Juneau voters approve sales tax renewal measure

Photo of the city of Juneau, Alaska

Voters in Juneau approved a measure on October 5 that renewed for five years (until June 30, 2027) the city’s 3% sales tax set to expire on July 1, 2022. The measure continued the existing total sales tax rate of 5%. The measure was put on the ballot through a vote of the Juneau Assembly.

With 40% of ballots counted on October 9, the vote was 3,560 (80%) in favor to 885 (20%) against. Official election results are expected to be available on October 19, 2021.

The 3% sales tax revenues will be distributed as follows:

  1. One percent for police, fire, emergency and ambulance services, street maintenance and snow removal, parks and recreation, libraries, and other general purposes;
  2. One percent for roads, drainage, maintaining walls, sidewalks, and stairs, as well as other capital improvements; and
  3. One percent tobe allocated annually by the assembly for capital improvements, an emergency budget reserve, and other general public services.

Voters last renewed the 3% temporary tax in Oct. 2016 in a vote of 76% to 24%. At the same election in 2016, voters rejected a measure 66% to 34% that would have made the 3% sales tax permanent. Juneau Budget Analyst Adrien Speegle estimated the tax generates $30 million per year.



Voters in Juneau, Alaska, decide Tuesday whether to renew a 3% sales tax

Photo of the city of Juneau, Alaska

On Oct. 5, voters in Juneau, Alaska, will decide a ballot measure—Proposition 1—to renew the city’s 3% temporary sales tax for five years. If voters don’t approve Proposition 1 the tax would expire on July 1, 2022. If voters approve Proposition 1, the city’s total sales tax rate would remain at 5%: this 3% temporary tax, a 1% temporary tax, and a 1% permanent sales tax. If voters reject Proposition 1, the total sales tax rate in the city would drop to 2%.

The Juneau Assembly’s intended use of the revenue from the tax would continue as follows:

  1. 1% police, fire, street maintenance, snow removal, EMT/ambulance service, parks and recreation, libraries, and other general purposes;
  2. 1% roads, drainage, retaining walls, sidewalks, stairs, and other capital improvements; and
  3. 1% allocated annually by the assembly among capital improvements, an emergency budget reserve, and other general public services.

Voters last renewed the 3% temporary tax in Oct. 2016. Juneau Budget Analyst Adrien Speegle estimated the tax generates $30 million per year.



45 years ago, Alaska voters approved measure removing residency requirement for presidential elections

Forty-five years ago—on August 23, 1966—Alaska voters approved a measure permitting the state legislature to shorten the residency requirement for persons living in Alaska who wished to vote only for President and Vice President of the United States. It was the first measure the state legislature referred to the ballot since Alaska received statehood in January 1959. Voters approved the amendment 75% to 25%.

According to a 1963 Senate Judiciary Committee report on proposed constitutional amendments, 35 states required residents to live in their current state for one year before becoming eligible to vote. These laws prevented people from voting—even for President—when they moved between states. The Senate even drafted a constitutional amendment to eliminate such requirements nationwide.

Here is a quote from the 1963 Senate Judiciary Committee report summarizing the issue:

“The victims of these outmoded residence requirements include many citizens who are best equipped to exercise the right of voting, such as educators, clergymen, and professional people. Interstate businesses constantly shift managers, salesmen, and other executives. The American Heritage Foundation estimates that 8 million adult American citizens were barred from the ballot box in the 1960 elections by inability to meet State, county, or precinct residence requirements. Apart from the possible effects upon election results, this produces apathy and bitterness in such people toward governments which cheat them of their democratic birthright merely because they move their residence.”

The Alaska measure removed the one-year voter residency requirement that was in the state Constitution. The following year—in 1967—the Alaska legislature eliminated those residency requirements in state law. 

In 1970, Congress amended the Voting Rights Act and abolished state residency requirements nationwide as a precondition for voting for President and established uniform standards for absentee voting in presidential elections.

Additional reading:

https://ballotpedia.org/Voting_Rights_Act

https://ballotpedia.org/List_of_Alaska_ballot_measures



Governors appoint new supreme court justices in two states

Alaska and Arizona have new state supreme court justices after appointments from their respective governors. Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) appointed Jennifer Stuart Henderson to the Alaska Supreme Court on July 7, and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) appointed Kathryn Hackett King to the Arizona Supreme Court on July 8.

Alaska

A seat on the Alaska Supreme Court became vacant when former Chief Justice Joel Bolger retired on June 30, 2021. Gov. Dunleavy selected Jennifer Stuart Henderson for the seat from a list of three finalists forwarded by the Alaska Judicial Council (AJC). Henderson is Gov. Dunleavy’s second nominee to the five-member supreme court.

On July 1, Dunleavy asked the AJC to reconsider its list of nominees and put forward a new slate to fill the vacancy. However, under the council’s bylaws, it may not reconsider nominees that have been sent to the governor except in specific circumstances. Ultimately, Dunleavy appointed Henderson from the original slate of three names put forward by the AJC.

Prior to her appointment to the supreme court, Henderson served as a judge on the Alaska superior court. She was appointed to the superior court in 2012 by former Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R). Her career experience also includes working as an assistant district attorney in Anchorage and as an attorney in private practice with the law firm of Farley & Graves. After law school, she served as a clerk for former Alaska Supreme Court Justice Warren Matthews. Henderson earned a J.D. from Yale Law School.

Arizona

A seat on the Arizona Supreme Court became vacant when former Justice Andrew W. Gould retired on April 1, 2021. Gov. Ducey selected Kathryn Hackett King for the seat from a slate of nominees put forward by the Arizona Commission on Appellate Court Appointments. King is Gov. Ducey’s sixth nominee to the seven-member supreme court.

Before her appointment to the supreme court, King was a partner at the law firm of BurnsBarton PLC. She also served as a member of the Arizona Board of Regents. From 2015 to 2017, King served as the deputy general counsel to Gov. Ducey. She previously practiced law at Snell & Wilmer LLP. After graduation from law school, King clerked for former Arizona Supreme Court Justice Michael D. Ryan from 2007 to 2008. She is the fifth woman in Arizona history to serve on the state supreme court.

King earned a B.A. in political science from Duke University and a J.D. from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law.

In 2021, there have been 14 supreme court vacancies in 12 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. To date, nine of those 14 vacancies have been filled.

Additional reading:



Alaska Supreme Court Justice Joel Bolger retires

Alaska Supreme Court Justice Joel Bolger retired on June 30. Former Gov. Sean Parnell (R) appointed Bolger to the state supreme court in 2013, and voters retained him in 2016 with 57% of the vote. When he retired, Bolger was the court’s chief justice, a position he had held since 2018.

Bolger is the only justice in Alaska’s history to have been appointed to all four levels of the state court system. Before joining the Alaska Supreme Court, he was a judge of the Alaska Court of Appeals from 2008 to 2013, the Kodiak Superior Court from 2003 to 2008, and the Valdez District Court from 1997 to 2003. 

When there is a midterm vacancy on the Alaska Supreme Court, the governor selects a nominee based on recommendations from the Alaska Judicial Council. To remain in office, the new appointee must stand for retention in the first general election after they serve at least three years on the bench. After that, the judge is subject to a retention election every 10 years.

Republican governors appointed three of the four active Alaska Supreme Court justices; an independent governor appointed the fourth. Bolger’s replacement will be Gov. Dunleavy’s (R) second appointee to the state supreme court.

In 2021, there have been 14 state supreme court vacancies caused by retirements in 12 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected.

Additional reading:

Alaska Supreme Court

Joel Bolger

State supreme court vacancies, 2021

Judicial selection in Alaska



Alaska legislature confirms Treg Taylor as attorney general

A joint session of the Alaska Legislature voted 35-24 to confirm Treg Taylor as the state’s attorney general on May 11. Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) appointed Taylor as acting attorney general on Jan. 29 after Ed Sniffen resigned following allegations of sexual misconduct. 

Before Dunleavy appointed Taylor attorney general, Taylor served as deputy attorney general in charge of the civil division at the Alaska Department of Law. In 2016, he ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Anchorage Municipal Assembly.

The two previous attorneys general of Alaska both resigned due to allegations of misconduct. Kevin Clarkson resigned after an investigation revealed that he had sent inappropriate text messages to a junior employee. Sniffen resigned after a former member of a high school mock trial team coached by Sniffen alleged that she and Sniffen had a sexual relationship when she was 17 years old.

The attorney general is a state executive office in all 50 states and is the chief legal advisor for state government. Attorneys general are empowered to prosecute violations of state law, represent the state in legal disputes, and issue legal advice to state agencies and the legislature. 

Nationwide, 26 states have Republican Party-affiliated attorneys general, and 24 states have Democratic Party-affiliated attorneys general. Virginia is the only state electing its attorney general this year. Thirty states will elect an attorney general in 2022.

Additional Reading:



Anchorage mayoral race remains uncertain as ballots continue to be counted

The outcome of the Anchorage, Alaska, mayoral election remains unclear after preliminary results posted by the city showed Forrest Dunbar leading Dave Bronson with 50.8% of the vote. As of the posting, at least 6,600 ballots had not yet been counted, and mail-in ballots continued to arrive. Mail-in ballots postmarked no later than election day, May 11, will continue to be counted if they arrive by May 21. Overseas ballots must arrive by May 25.

Based on the over 78,000 ballots received so far, the voter turnout rate is at 30.5% of registered voters and already exceeds the 75,441 votes cast in the April 6 general election. The city’s highest recorded voter turnout was in the 2018 mayoral election in which 36.3% of registered voters cast 79,295 votes. If the race remains within the current margins, the city will conduct a recount. The candidates are currently separated by 0.16% of the vote, and Anchorage municipal code stipulates that an automatic recount be conducted for city elections in which a candidate wins by less than 0.5%.

Additional reading:



Alaska ends coronavirus state of emergency for second time

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) lifted the state’s coronavirus emergency order on April 30. Dunleavy’s emergency powers originally expired Feb. 14, causing his emergency declaration to end. But the emergency order’s expiration prevented the state from accessing an additional $8 million of federal food assistance benefits for April.

In response, the legislature passed House Bill 76, and Dunleavy signed the legislation on April 30. The bill retroactively extended the disaster emergency from Feb. 14 through the end of 2021. The retroactive extension allowed the state to access the federal food assistance benefits. 

The bill also allowed Department of Health and Social Services Director Adam Crump to issue a limited disaster emergency order April 30 to secure future federal assistance. After Gov. Dunleavy signed the legislation and Crump signed the limited order, the governor re-ended the state’s emergency order, effective April 30.

HB 76 passed the state Senate April 28. The state House approved the legislation April 29. The new law also enacts legal immunity for businesses against claims related to COVID-19.