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4 minutes | Oct 12, 2021
Alaska GOP politicians are lobbying the governor and pharmacy board for easier access to ivermectin
Ivermectin is a drug approved for use in humans to fight parasites. Federal agencies caution against using it to treat COVID-19, as studies have been inconclusive. But conservative elected officials and activists in Alaska have been lobbying for easier access to the drug. (TajPharmalImages under Creative Commons license BY-SA 4.0: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/) An array of Republican state lawmakers and activists are pressing Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration and the state pharmacy board to make it easier for Alaskans to get access to ivermectin, the unproven COVID-19 treatment that state and federal agencies caution against using. In recent weeks, Palmer GOP Sen. Shelley Hughes has spoken with Dunleavy and his health commissioner to encourage them to consider supplying Alaskans with vitamins and drugs, including ivermectin, “that some Alaskan physicians are prescribing but pharmacies aren’t filling,” she said. Three Republican representatives and a pair of Dunleavy’s appointees to the Alaska Commission on Aging, meanwhile, also testified about ivermectin at a recent pharmacy board meeting — where some asked board members to lean on pharmacists who are denying prescriptions for the drug. Big Lake GOP Rep. Kevin McCabe, right, leaves the House floor at the Alaska Capitol in June, 2021. (Nat Herz/Alaska Public Media) “Maybe the pharmacists could be directed — or, directed’s the wrong word — suggested that they allow the doctors to actually be doctors and do their jobs,” said Big Lake GOP Rep. Kevin McCabe. “The patient and the doctor should be the ones to decide.” Pharmacy board members did not endorse McCabe’s suggestion. And less than a week later, the board’s chair drafted a letter to the three representatives that laid out that pharmacists have the authority to refuse prescriptions. But the legislators’ lobbying efforts highlight how some Alaskans’ insistence about ivermectin has persisted. That’s even with limited scientific evidence the drug is effective, and as federal regulators and an array of provider groups warn that it should not be used to treat or prevent COVID-19. Listen to this story: The drug, which is approved to treat parasites in humans but not the coronavirus, has been linked to multiple cases of hospitalizations and even deaths stemming from misuse. Many vaccine skeptics, meanwhile, have championed it as a cure. “Anyone who claims to be creating medical guidance and they don’t have vaccine as their No. 1 recommended tool are pushing misinformation,” said Coleman Cutchins, a state pharmacist. “Vaccine is our No. 1 drug for the prevention of severe disease from this virus.” Related: Amid one of the nation’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks, Anchorage officials say they’re rationing testing Very early in the pandemic, ivermectin showed some potential to be effective against the coronavirus in a lab setting. But further research suggested that huge doses would be necessary to work in the human body. And while dozens of trials are still underway, the ones conducted so far have produced mixed results. One study from Egypt that linked ivermectin to a huge reduction in deaths was withdrawn, amid allegations of plagiarism and data manipulation. “There is insufficient evidence for the COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines Panel to recommend either for or against the use of ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19,” the National Institutes of Health’s informational page says about the drug. “Results from adequately powered, well-designed and well-conducted clinical trials are needed to provide more specific, evidence-based guidance on the role of ivermectin in the treatment of COVID-19.” Still, people have been clamoring for access to the drug around the world, including across the United States and Alaska. In August, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce backed ivermectin and suggested that his area could become a testing ground for COVID-19 treatment research. Related: Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor promotes debunked treatment for COVID-19 Buoyed by endorsements from lawmakers and television and radio hosts, ivermectin has been particularly popular among political conservatives, who view federal medical authorities like Dr. Anthony Fauci with increasing skepticism. “My trust in Dr. Fauci is zero point zero zero, negative 50,” said Mike Coons, a 69-year-old conservative activist from the Mat-Su. Coons was one of the two Dunleavy aging commission appointees who testified at the pharmacy board last month. In a phone interview, Coons said he’s more familiar with and enthusiastic about hydroxychloroquine, another unproven drug once used to treat former President Donald Trump. But Coons said he’s also encouraged by what he’s read about ivermectin. And when he was exposed to a neighbor who had the coronavirus, his doctor said he’d be willing to prescribe both drugs if Coons needed them. Coons then called a local Fred Meyer pharmacy to ask if they’d fill the prescriptions. The response, he said: “Oh no, we can’t do that. Because we’re worried about liability.” Coons said he was also told that filling an ivermectin prescription written to treat COVID-19 could jeopardize a doctor’s license. In an email, a Fred Meyer spokesperson cited warnings against the use of ivermectin by both the FDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Fred Meyer supports our pharmacists’ exercise of professional judgment, including consideration of information published by the FDA and CDC, in deciding whether to fill or refill prescriptions,” the spokesperson said. After the phone call, Coons then joined the pharmacy board’s meeting to express his frustration and issue a request. “What we need this board to do is to tell Kroger and Fred Meyer’s and Safeway and Carr’s and Walgreens that if you’re going to operate in the state of Alaska, under state of Alaska licensure, when a doctor gives a prescription, they get that prescription out to that patient — no questions asked, other than what they’re normally supposed to be asking,” Coons testified. [Sign up for Alaska Public Media’s daily newsletter to get our top stories delivered to your inbox.] While it’s rare for even one lawmaker to call into a pharmacy board meeting, each of the three Republican state lawmakers also referenced ivermectin in their testimony. Rep. Ken McCarty of Chugiak expressed his concern about “making sure that our state has all the medications necessary.” Rep. Chris Kurka of Wasilla told board members that “we should allow doctors the freedom, if they’re using good clinical judgment, to treat their patients.” And McCabe, the Big Lake representative, said he’s heard from doctors, physician assistants and nurses in his district who are frustrated “when they issue a prescription and the pharmacy will not fill it because it’s ivermectin.” “Several pharmacists claim that they are being threatened, or their licenses are being threatened by this board,” McCabe said. “In times like this, where no one seems to have a cogent solution, the Alaska pharmacy board could provide leadership and guidance by at least getting out of the doctor’s way.” Board members, however, were largely unmoved. Chair Justin Ruffridge, a Kenai Peninsula pharmacist, pointed testifiers toward a draft ivermectin Q&A document under consideration by the board that highlights a joint position statement from three national doctors and pharmacists groups: They “strongly oppose” dispensing the drug outside of a clinical trial. Pharmacist Justin Ruffridge pre-loads COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at a clinic at a Soldotna school. (Nat Herz/Alaska Public Media) Less than a week after the meeting, Ruffridge drafted the letter to the three lawmakers emphasizing pharmacists’ potential legal liability for drugs they dispense, and said pharmacists were free to use their “professional judgment” when deciding whether to fill prescriptions. (The letter was dated Sept. 29, though after this story was published, the lawmakers said they never received it, and pharmacy board officials acknowledged that, in an error, it may not have been sent.) The board has made no threats against pharmacists’ licenses related to ivermectin, Ruffridge said in the letter. But he noted that the reports of misuse of ivermectin to treat COVID-19 “should give most prescribers and pharmacists reason to pause.” Hughes, the Palmer GOP state senator, bypassed the pharmacy board and took her ivermectin case directly to Dunleavy and Adam Crum, the state health commissioner. Hughes, who responded to an interview request with a prepared statement, said she encouraged both Dunleavy and Crum to consider providing Alaskans with “therapeutic kits” for people who test positive for COVID-19, and their family members. “I challenged Gov. Dunleavy and Commissioner Crum to make Alaska be the first state in the US to take this proactive step,” she said. “They said FDA doesn’t allow off-label use. I said, ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way, when it comes to saving lives.’” Crum and a health department spokesman didn’t respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for Dunleavy, Jeff Turner, said the governor “maintains that decisions regarding COVID should be left between individuals and their doctor.” Turner also referred to Dunleavy’s comments from a news conference where he was asked about ivermectin nearly two months ago. “I know what ivermectin is — I’ve had horses and mules, and you use it for worming and other issues that horses and mules have,” Dunleavy said. “But as far as prescribing it as a therapy for humans, I haven’t heard about that.” This story has been updated to correct a reference to Ruffridge’s letter, which pharmacy board officials originally said had been sent to the three Republican lawmakers. The legislators said they never received it, and pharmacy board officials now say that in a possible error, it may not have been sent.
3 minutes | Oct 7, 2021
For some Alaskans, getting vaccinated is a simple choice. For others, like this Anchorage pastor, it’s complicated.
Pastor William Tauanu’u at the University Baptist Church in Oct. 2020 (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media) Pastor William Tauanu’u of Anchorage knows how dangerous COVID-19 can be. Last year, he spent weeks on a ventilator with the disease. He’s back to preaching Sunday sermons at University Baptist Church but he still suffers the effects of long-haul COVID, which leave him exhausted after bouts of effort. “Right after church, I would come home and go right to bed and put on the oxygen machine again the CPAP machine,” he said in a recent Zoom interview. He says his doctors have expertly guided him through his recovery. But he hasn’t taken one piece of their advice: that he should get vaccinated against COVID-19 Six months after the vaccines became widely available, tens of thousands of Alaskans still haven’t gotten a single dose. While some people are dead set against the shot, about 60% of unvaccinated Alaskans say they’re still open to the idea, according to a yet unpublished statewide survey recently cited by Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink. Tauanu’u is one of them. Listen to this story: Back in July, Tauanu’u scheduled an appointment for a vaccine. He was planning to visit family in California and wanted to be protected even though he likely has some natural immunity from surviving COVID. But fearing a reaction, he said, he canceled his appointment at the last minute. In September when he returned, he made another appointment. But he canceled that one too after hearing from a relative about someone who had died after getting the vaccine. “These are like first cousins, these folks who are telling me this, and they went to the funeral,” he said. RELATED: Alaska’s Pacific Islanders are being hit hard by COVID-19. But they aren’t getting vaccinated. Spooked, he waited another month. He made another appointment for early October. Again, he heard a horror story about someone getting vaccinated on Facebook. “These information come at the weirdest time, like right after I make an appointment,” he said. Serious injury or death from the vaccine is exceedingly rare, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But there have been a small number of reports of serious allergic reactions, and many report flu-like symptoms and intense fatigue for a day or two after getting the shot. Scientists have also documented cases of people recovering from long-haul COVID after getting vaccinated. Tauanu’u said he’s skeptical because of the discrepancy between what he hears from the CDC in the media and what he sees friends and family posting on Facebook. “Is it something that the media is trying to avoid? Or, you know, they only try to promote something?” he said. Skepticism of media and scientific organizations like the CDC is a big predictor of whether people get vaccinated, according to national polling. There isn’t any recent data specific to Alaska about what causes vaccine hesitancy, though a survey is currently being prepared to publish. RELATED: Anchorage Pacific Islander community brings COVID-19 vaccines to church Public health officials in Alaska have tried to tackle the hesitancy through PSAs featuring trusted community leaders, online ad campaigns and engaging with, most recently, a vaccine sweepstakes that pays out nearly $100,000 a week. But state data shows vaccine rates haven’t really changed since the sweepstakes was announced. Health officials say vaccines are still the most effective public health tool to slow the spread of the coronavirus — more effective than masking or social distancing. But for people like Taunau’u, those messages aren’t very effective: He said he trusts people he knows, and he tells his congregation to do the same. “I said it again last Sunday: It’s not a faith thing … it has nothing to do with your faith in God, no. God has given you a brain and senses that you know what to do, and the time to do it to protect yourself and your family,” he said. For him — and tens of thousands of other Alaskans — that time hasn’t come yet. [Sign up for Alaska Public Media’s daily newsletter to get our top stories delivered to your inbox.]
3 minutes | Sep 29, 2021
As critics question CDC’s booster decision, Alaska providers welcome added protection amid nation’s worst COVID surge
Alaska Native Medical Center nurse Rocky Carloni rolls up her sleeve before getting a COVID-19 booster shot Monday. (Nat Herz/Alaska Public Media) Alaska health care providers, facing an intense surge of COVID-19 that’s overwhelmed the state’s hospitals, say they’re relieved and grateful for a decision by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that allows them to get vaccine booster shots. Some experts have questioned Walensky’s decision last week that said healthy people in high-risk jobs, in addition to the elderly and at-risk groups, can get the boosters if they want to. Critics said Walensky’s move, which overruled a divided CDC vaccine advisory panel, gave Americans too much leeway to seek third shots before residents of poorer countries could get their first ones, and created confusion over who qualifies. But in interviews, many Alaska health care providers said Walensky’s decision fit with the demands and risks they’re taking on in the middle of the nation’s most intense, delta variant-driven surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. Some remote clinics also had doses nearing their expiration dates. The island community of Unalaska. (Berett Wilber/KUCB) “It’s like your parents telling you to finish your dinner because there’s kids starving in Africa,” said Dr. Megan Sarnecki, medical director at the clinic on the Aleutian island of Unalaska. “You’re not sending your leftovers to kids starving in Africa. And we’re not sending a vial that we only used half of to a third-world country.” Related: Alaska reports thousands more COVID cases over the weekend, additional deaths from backlog A national debate has been playing out over booster shots for more than a month, since President Joe Biden announced that every adult would qualify for one eight months after their original two-dose vaccine. Afterward, federal expert panels charged with evaluating the vaccines recommended them only for certain groups, with members voicing concerns about giving unnecessary shots and a lack of data showing clear benefits from authorizing boosters for a larger group. While the Food and Drug Administration’s panel agreed to offer the shots to people in high-risk jobs, like health care workers and teachers, the CDC’s expert panel disagreed, in a 9-6 vote Thursday. Members said they were concerned that the move would distract from the nation’s focus on giving out shots to the unvaccinated, which has a much higher public health benefit, and they also questioned whether the recommendations were too vague and undermined public confidence. “We might as well just say give it to anyone 18 and over,” the Washington Post quoted one expert on the CDC panel, pediatrician Paul Sanchez, as saying. “We have a really effective vaccine, and it is like saying that it is not working, and it is working.” Walensky, the CDC director, announced her decision to break from the panel on Friday, a day after its vote. The agency’s final statement said people 65 and older, nursing home residents, and people 50 and over with at-risk conditions “should” get booster doses, while younger people with underlying medical conditions and people in risky workplaces “may” get the third shots. Related: Emotions high as testimony begins on Anchorage Assembly’s proposed mask mandate The recommendations only apply to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine; the expert panels have not yet considered the question of broad-based boosters for the vaccines made by drug companies Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. While Walensky’s move set off criticism from some academics and health care administrators, there was little backlash in Alaska, where the current surge is placing the state’s hospital system under intense strain. Administrators, with their workforces already stretched, said they did not want risk losing more employees to breakthrough COVID-19 cases. In Unalaska, when an employee had to quarantine at one point, the chief executive spent a week answering phone calls, Sarnecki said. Dr. Thomas Kelley works in the intensive care unit at the Alaska Native Medical Center. (Nat Herz/Alaska Public Media) Then there were the personal risks. A recent shift working in the intensive care unit at Anchorage’s Native hospital was the “hardest, most, grueling, most depressing and overall most sad period I’ve ever been through,” Dr. Thomas Kelley said in an interview this week, outside a clinic where dozens of hospital employees had received their third shots. “We were just watching people die, regardless of what we did,” Kelley said. “My reaction to the recommendations to have the booster was, ‘I just want the booster.’ I’m terrified of what I see, I remain terrified of what I see, and I don’t scare easy.” There’s data to suggest that the boosters are safe, effective and can minimize the risk of COVID-19 either for people with health problems or who face repeated exposure, said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer. She said the CDC’s “permissive language” addresses concerns about legal protections and liability around the booster doses and “allows individuals, in combination with their health care provider, if needed, to make that risk-benefit decision.” “I just think it really recognized the variety of clinical scenarios and situations that we see, the variety and diversity of human experience and what we’re seeing with COVID overall,” Zink said in an interview. “There are very few health care workers that I work with on a regular basis who were not anxiously anticipating this information from the CDC, simply because they’re seeing so much COVID right now and really wanting to do everything in their power to keep themselves, their family and their community healthy and safe.” Zink said Alaska’s health department had been debating whether to release its own recommendations breaking from the CDC’s expert panel, though that’s no longer necessary after Walensky’s decision, she added. [Sign up for Alaska Public Media’s daily newsletter to get our top stories delivered to your inbox.] Many Alaska hospitals and health care systems had already started moving forward with booster doses for staff members before the CDC’s announcement. In the rural Western Alaska hub town of Nome, the tribal health organization, Norton Sound Health Corp, started giving out boosters to staff two weeks ago, after a previous CDC recommendation that immunocompromised people should get them. “We are an incredibly rural, austere medical environment. It takes us a long time to get people in and out of here,” said Tim Lemaire, an NSHC doctor. “It will be interesting to see what the evidence shows in the long run. But for us, we felt like it was the right call to at least offer it to everyone.” This story has been updated: The Unalaska clinic employee had to miss work due to a quarantine, not COVID-19 infection.
4 minutes | Sep 22, 2021
Inside of Alaska Native Medical Center’s ICU, doctors and nurses fight to keep COVID patients alive
Hospital workers at the Alaska Native Medical Center ICU on Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. (Shirley Young/Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium) On Monday morning at a wing of Alaska Native Medical Center’s ICU, workers in masks and scrubs darted in and out of hospital rooms. But it was relatively quiet except for the pings of medical machines and the ringing of telephones at the main desk. The morning before was different: a code blue. Somebody’s heart had stopped beating. Workers rushed to the doors of a negative pressure room where the patient, suffering from COVID-19, was on a ventilator. But workers couldn’t just rush in to start CPR right away. Instead, they had to put on fit-tested powered air purifying respirators, isolation gowns, gloves and goggles to protect them against the virus. “I think the hardest moments are when you have to take the time to gear up when people need you right away,” said nurse Kassandra Eyre. Only a few workers entered the patient’s room, while the others stood outside and passed supplies through the doors or gave treatment advice. One of them had to position a medical cart outside the glass window with an iPad on top of it, so a loved one could catch a last glimpse of the patient. “It sucks the life out of your soul,” said Jorin Calt, a nurse on duty. “Day by day, somebody’s dying, everybody’s getting worse.” A nurse in a negative pressure room at the Alaska Native Medical Center on Sept. 20, 2021. (Shirley Young/Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium) Listen to this story: Nurses say they’re working overtime — often 18-hour days — to provide the care their patients need. “We’re really tired,” said nurse Kirsten Larson. “But we keep making the choice to come back to work every day.” And they’re also dealing with the emotional trauma of deaths, almost every days. It’s exhausting and frustrating, staff said, especially since most of the suffering is preventable through vaccination. “The last two months have been some of the toughest of my career,” said Mike Stauffer, the nurse in charge of the unit on Monday. Stauffer ducked into a quiet hallway to speak with Alaska Public Media over a video call. On the walls beside him were lockers covered with printed slogans like ‘I am important.’ Stauffer said COVID-19 patients take more time and staff than the usual ICU patients. Normally at this ICU, there’s one nurse for each patient. Now one nurse takes care of two patients because of an increase in patients and not enough staff. “I’ve never seen this volume with so many people in one unit requiring as much resources as they require,” said Stauffer. RELATED: 1,251 new COVID-19 cases reported in Alaska, breaking daily record Each time nurses need to enter a negative pressure room where a COVID patient is treated, they have to suit up in a fit-tested mask and other layers of other equipment, like firefighters preparing to run into a burning building. Respiratory Therapy manager Holly Polaski gave a different metaphor. “It’s almost like PTSD, like that war syndrome, PTSD,” she said, holding back tears. “And I can say that because I was in the military. And when you’re in a war zone, and you’re seeing all this stuff, it’s hard.” For hospital staff, there’s another factor making things even harder: public hostility. It spilled over at an Anchorage Assembly meeting last week. Dozens of hospital workers showed up to testify about the importance of vaccines and masking, and to warn that ICU beds were full. At times, they were booed by audience members who support Mayor Dave Bronson’s hands-off strategy for dealing with the pandemic. Jacque Quantrille, director of nursing at ANMC on Sept. 20, 2021 (Shirley Young/Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium) “We as nurses went from being the most respected career in the world, you know, in the nation, to being, ‘Oh, you’re just a naysayer, you’re just making this political,’” said Jacque Quantrille, the director of nursing at ANMC. RELATED: 400 health care workers on their way to help fight Alaska’s COVID-19 surge Quantrille said she hasn’t been verbally accosted, but she’s felt judgment online and at the grocery store. At the Assembly meeting, an Assembly person questioned whether doctors were doing everything they could to help patients get better. Quantrille said hearing doubts like that tests the resolve of hospital workers. “That’s really hard on our morale,” she said. “I didn’t spend thousands of hours in nursing school so that someone could tell me I’m causing harm.” With the current COVID surge expected to get worse before it gets better, Quantrille said she can only hope more people get their COVID-19 vaccine and start wearing a face mask in public. [Sign up for Alaska Public Media’s daily newsletter to get our top stories delivered to your inbox.]
3 minutes | Sep 13, 2021
Watching patients die of COVID-19 is taking a toll on Alaska’s hospital workers
Dr Javid Kamali, an intensive care physician at Providence Alaska Medical Center on Sept. 10, 2021. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media) As COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to break records in Alaska, health care workers in the state’s emergency rooms and ICUs say watching patients die is becoming routine, and it’s taking a toll on their mental health. “The range of emotions that I go through in an ER shift now is unbelievable: anger, sadness, compassion, empathy, disappointment,” said Matthew Kinsler, an emergency room nurse at Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage. He said lately he’s taken to venting in the hospital’s supply rooms, where he’ll go to swear out loud to himself and throw things around until he’s comforted by coworkers. Listen to this story: At the ICU, where the sickest patients come, providers are used to losing patients, but the most recent wave of COVID deaths is unprecedented. As of Friday, 208 people were hospitalized in Alaska with COVID-19 and 27 of them were on ventilators. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about 50% of patients on ventilators will die. “I’ve heard many of our therapists say, ‘I feel like a failure working in this unit, because everything I know to do doesn’t work, it doesn’t make a difference,’” said Karen Good, who oversees respiratory care at Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage. Good said it’s stressing family relationships and testing the patience of hospital workers who say that the suffering is largely preventable through vaccination. Heidi Decaro, a respiratory technician at Providence’s ICU, said she’s had patients who don’t take COVID precautions seriously, or even deny that the coronavirus is real, even as they are dying. It’s stretching her professionalism. “You really do have to bite your tongue, because you are a professional first of all, but you are there to help them and so you have to work on building a relationship,” she said. “Because there’s already a barrier of: This isn’t real versus this is real.” Decaro said it’s making her more irritable at home. After losing patients — she says four patients under her care died last week — she’ll snap at her family for small annoyances. “People are dying out there, just do the dishes!” she said. “It’s the little things.” Decaro said ICU workers feel isolated from the rest of the city where it seems like life is going on as normal. Doctors and nurses have publicly implored political leaders to put restrictions back in place like required masking, but the governor and Anchorage mayor have not. RELATED: Anchorage mayor doubles down on opposition to public health measures, prepares for ‘more combative’ Assembly “Everybody in the health care system feels helpless, because we see the end result of something that could have been preventable,” said Javid Kamali, an intensive care physician at Providence. Kamali, 56, said that aside from seeing sicker COVID-19 patients in the hospital now, he’s also seeing younger patients. “For the first time in my entire career, which spans about 20 years, I’ve had a whole ICU filled with patients who are younger than me,” he said. “That has never happened before” He said unvaccinated patients in their 30s and 40s have died from COVID in recent weeks. Hospitals have been forced to keep people being treated for COVID in emergency rooms instead of ICUs, where they could get better care. They’re being held for hours, or even days, taking up space for new patients who come in with less serious issues. “You see your family, your loved ones, your friends, waiting in the emergency department waiting room with really bad abdominal pain, chest pain, shortness of breath — all of these awful symptoms that you’d want to get addressed immediately — are generally getting pushed to the backburner,” said Kinsler, the Alaska Regional ER nurse. Kinsler said that ER nurses are used to stabilizing patients and moving them out of the beds. With COVID, he said, they’re forced to do a job they’re not as well trained for. Nationwide, news outlets have reported patients dying while waiting for a bed in the ER, as the latest surge in COVID-19 cases keeps hospitals at or near capacity. When asked whether Alaska has gotten to that point, Kinsler gave an unequivocal “yes.” “It’s there, absolutely. 100% there,” he said. It’s especially hard to see patients come in one day, and have their parents come in a few days later and die from the disease. He said those patients often blame themselves. “It’s pretty jacked up to say, you caused your parents to die because of the decisions that you made. But it’s an easy leap to make in the brain,” he said. “That is the most heartbreaking thing and I’ve seen it multiple times.” [Sign up for Alaska Public Media’s daily newsletter to get our top stories delivered to your inbox.] One of the few comforts health care providers have is one another. They say they’re forging tighter bonds through after-work beers or hikes on days off or bringing cookies to work to share. Good said that if nurses or technicians blame themselves for losing a patient, physicians will often round up the staff to remind them of everything they did do. “We help each other the best we can. We bring them snacks, we sit down with them, we wipe off the tears,” said Kamali. “But that’s pretty much all we can do.” He said there’s something the public can do to help: get vaccinated.
15 minutes | Sep 8, 2021
Read the full transcript of the Alaska Public Media interview with Dave Bronson
Below is the full transcript of a phone interview with Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. It has been edited for clarity and some context has been added. Lex Treinen: Going back to the beginning of the administration, the first big project was the building of a homeless shelter. That got shut down by the Assembly in sort of a weird and convoluted way. What did you learn from that? What did you take away from that? And what have you learned about working in politics for the last few months? Dave Bronson: This may sound weird, but there’s really been no surprises. I’ve been around. I’m old enough to understand what’s involved with politics. It’s hard work, it’s long hours, and you’re always trying to keep up on the most current things. We’re learning. The secret is — and I’d said this a lot during the campaign — is your team. My campaign team was fantastic and in this team that I have around me right now it is even better. It sounds weird, but it’s a joy to come to work. And it’s because of the people. Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson announces four directives for city operations on July 1, 2021, his first day in office. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media) Lex Treinen: Well, speaking of your team, you had some trouble getting a nomination through — a couple of nominations through — the Assembly approval process, most recently with Sami Graham. A few days later, you appointed a new nominee, Judy Eledge, to be the next library director, and several Assembly members say they expect her to be voted down as well. What are you trying to accomplish with this? Do you hope to get this nomination approved by the Assembly? What’s your political goal here? Dave Bronson: Sami Graham was grossly overqualified for that job. Chief of Staff Niki Tshibaka made the best argument — he spent many hours preparing for that. We made the decision for the Assembly to approve Sami absolutely as easy as possible. They still refused to do that. That decision by them is actually a bit of a sea change here. We’d spent about six weeks up to that point working well together, at least on the surface I thought. That was a change. When people attack me I expect it, but when you attack my people that’s a whole different thing. Sami Graham does not need that job. She and her husband are financially well off. She did that as an act of public service and they attacked her competency. She’s grossly overqualified for that job. And they just don’t like her. And they use the qualification metric as their justification for it. But what that did is it kind of flushed out the people who are going to work against me no matter what. And that’s actually very good to know. I think on the left, you saw Chris Constant demonstrated reasonableness and voted for Graham and John Weddleton. Now we know where the lines are drawn. And that’s fine. I can operate under those more combative rules. I will. But you don’t get to attack my people and not — let’s just call it what it is — pay a price. I don’t put up with that at all. RELATED: Anchorage mayor doubles down on opposition to public health measures, prepares for ‘more combative’ Assembly Lex Treinen: It sounds like you’re saying that that denial of your nominee was a little bit of an escalation in your eyes. And you’re showing that you’re willing to fight head-to-head with the Assembly over this. Are you confident that you can get your agenda passed, and that an escalation of the sort of tension between the Assembly and your administration is a good thing for the city? Dave Bronson: I hate to sound like a child on the playground, but I didn’t start this. We came out to this on July 1, wanting to work with the Assembly. We knew there’d be conflict but we knew we’d agree on 80% of the things: we still need to plow streets and fix potholes and all the stuff that it takes to run a city. But attacking Sami, that wasn’t just a small escalation, that was a very significant one. I understand that. That’s the way they’re going to play the game from now on. And it’s just, how we’re going to interface with the Assembly. “Attacking Sami, that wasn’t just a small escalation, that’s a very significant one.”Dave Bronson Lex Treinen: Let’s move on to COVID. Hospitalizations are at the highest level they’ve ever been. You’ve said you’re committed to getting the accurate information out about COVID, but not doing any restrictions or business closures. If hospitalizations keep rising, and the emergency rooms keep filling up — and we keep hearing these stories about people not getting care in the ER — is there a point at which you would be willing to reconsider your stance on mask mandates and business closures, things like that? Or is that just a hard no, that’s just not something that you’ll never consider? Dave Bronson: No. Lex Treinen: So if we hear that people were not getting care in the ER — waiting in lines, people out of the doors — you would not consider any business closures or mask mandates? Dave Bronson: I would look at the cause of the people standing outside. We simply need to — quite frankly — follow the science on this and we can look at the jurisdictions over the last 18 months. Now the meta-analysis is quite clear. In those jurisdictions, whether state, local or national, that did shutdowns vs. not shutdowns, the data is quite clear that the results are about the same. But the economies aren’t destroyed. [Sign up for Alaska Public Media’s daily newsletter to get our top stories delivered to your inbox.] Lex Treinen: Sorry to interrupt there, but just so I know what you’re referencing, can you reference that study? I’m not familiar with that analysis. Dave Bronson: Well, the meta-analysis where you start to study large populations with large sample sizes. So let’s compare two identical countries in population, Sweden and Israel. And even today, Israel is having a great deal of problems. They’re at 98% — I think 96% or 98% — vaccination rates and they’re still having huge breakthrough cases. And their economy is definitely harmed. (Editors note: Sweden and Israel have similar vaccination rates. Israel has recently experienced a wave of cases driven by the highly-contagious delta variant and instituted new restrictions. Sweden avoided many restrictions during the pandemic but has experienced a higher death and hospitalization rate than Israel and its Nordic neighbors. You can compare the two countries’ COVID outcomes here.) You can compare, say, states like South Dakota — actually the better choice would be Florida vs. California. One was an extreme shutdown mandate state, the other one wasn’t, and Florida’s economy is booming. People are still trying to move in. And their outcomes are about the same. And they didn’t destroy the economy. (Editor’s note: Florida’s COVID-19 death and hospitalization rate is significantly higher than California’s. You can compare the two states’ COVID outcomes here.) You can look at smaller states like South Dakota: Governor Kristi Noem did not do a shutdown. And her state has been booming. I used to live there for four years. That state is booming. In the states, the more you shut down, the more economic problems you had. Lex Treinen: And what about masking? That’s something that’s been suggested that makes it a lot easier to keep businesses open and keep events going on and things like that. Are you willing to reconsider your stance on masking if we were to see continued rise in hospitalizations, or is that in the same category as business closures? Dave Bronson: Well, again, I keep coming back to the science of this. I’m a data-driven guy. I’ve always been that way. And, I know what a lot of people say, and it’s like their last-ditch, ‘Well, we have to do something.’ And we even hear this from national leaders, ‘We have to do something.’ There’s no study that says masking really works, because they’re not being worn correctly. Masks work in hospitals because those people wear N-95s. And two, they know how to wear them and they wear them properly. So in hospitals, it is helpful. But in public, people are touching their masks, and hanging their masks on their car mirror, they’re not handling masks correctly. And that actually, many people believe that it contributes to the spread of COVID because you’re touching your face very often. (Editor’s Note: There are numerous studies that show that masks work to slow the spread of coronavirus, including this recent study from Bangladesh.) I get this from doctors, so I’m not sitting here living in a vacuum. I’m talking to doctors all the time. Some of them are afraid to come out and speak against the public, maybe political issue or perspective of masks. But they said this is ridiculous. Lex Treinen: At the previous press conference that you held, you said that you hadn’t been vaccinated because the vaccine was experimental. Now that the Pfizer vaccine is fully authorized by the FDA, are you considering getting that vaccine or any others? Dave Bronson: For me, personally, no, I’m not. I have natural immunity. I had COVID. Our state epidemiologist said, I think over the weekend, that natural immunity is a better immunity than acquired immunity through vaccination. So there is a very small risk of problems with the vaccine. So, you know, for me, I make a personal health care decision. I don’t make other people’s personal health care decisions. And I don’t want anyone making mine. I’m not against vaccinations. I’ve got a vaccine record that’s quite extensive. And I take vaccines fairly regularly. And so I’m not against vaccines, and I just don’t see the need to take this one since I have natural immunity. (Editor’s note: There’s conflicting evidence about the relative effectiveness of vaccines versus natural immunity, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone eligible get vaccinated.) Lex Treinen: The city budget process is coming up. What can we expect from the upcoming budget proposal from your administration? Dave Bronson: Well, my directive to all the directors and the department heads was: We have to get, throughout the city, a 5% budget cut. The taxpayers demanded that. Property tax has been going up, spending has been going up, that has to end. And we’re well on our way to accomplishing that.
59 minutes | Sep 24, 2020
LISTEN: Primaries or ranked choice? Vote Yes and Vote No make their case on Ballot Measure 2.
Voters cast ballots in Tuesday’s primary election at Glacier Valley Baptist Church in Juneau. (Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO) This election season, in addition to voting on candidates, Alaskans will also decide on ballot initiatives. Ballot measure 2 seeks to make changes to the state’s election structure by replacing the political party primary and by selecting candidates through ranked choice voting. There would also be campaign finance disclosure changes. What would it mean for elections and what do you need to know about the measure before voting on it? We’ll hear from supporters and opponents on the next Talk of Alaska. HOST: Lori TownsendGUESTS: Brett W Huber, Sr., Campaign Manager, Defend Alaska Elections – Vote No on 2 Shea Siegert, Campaign Manager, Alaskans for Better Elections – Vote Yes on 2Leighan Gonzales, Chair, Protect Our Elections – Vote No on 2Rachel Kallander, Consultant to the Campaign, Alaskans for Better Elections – Vote Yes on 2 PARTICIPATE: Call 550-8422 (Anchorage) or 1-800-478-8255 (statewide) during the live broadcast. Send an email to email@example.com (comments may be read on air). Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air). LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, Sept 29, 2020 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.LIVE Web stream: Click here to stream.
3 minutes | Sep 21, 2020
Eielson’s F-35 buildup on schedule despite COVID delays
These two F-35s, with an F-16 parked in the middle, were the first to arrive at Eielson back on April 21. There are now nine on base. (Sean Martin/354th Fighter Wing) The new commander of Eielson Air Force Base says the process of bringing in 54 new F-35 fighters is going smoothly, despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Col. David Berkland says in addition to overseeing that process, he’s also working to transform the culture at Eielson from one that prioritizes training to one on focuses on readiness to deploy units to combat on short notice. Col. David Berkland came to Eielson last month to assume command of the 354th Fighter Wing after serving a tour at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. And while he’s been getting settled in, he’s also been preparing the base for the thousands of people who will be coming into the Interior with the F-35s by the end of next year. “By the end of this, we’ll have 54 F-35s on the ramp, he said. “We’re expecting somewhere around 35-hundred personnel, and that includes family members – spouses, kids – as well as civilians and contractors.” RELATED: Uptick in Russian aircraft flying near Alaska shows ‘probing’ for weakness, Sullivan says Berkland said Thursday that nine F-35s have arrived at Eielson since the first two flew in back in April. He says there was a lot of concern back then about keeping the influx on schedule, because of Pentagon-imposed coronavirus precautions that halted movement of personnel or materiel, including the advanced stealth jet fighters being built at a factory in Texas by Lockheed Martin. “That has been lifted,” he said, “and we have resumed flowing-in people and equipment, to include the aircraft coming off the line at Fort Worth. So, we’re on track.” While he oversees that process, Berkland says he’s also begun emphasizing a change in the culture at Eielson that must come with a change in mission. In this case, that means refocusing the mindset of people who work and live on the base from one dedicated mainly to training to one mainly oriented toward deployment for combat. That’s the mission of the two F-35 squadrons. “Hey, we are no longer a garrison mentality,” he said. “We are no longer a training wing – we are a combat wing, with a warfighting mentality. And that’s what we message to the airmen.” RELATED: U.S. investigates ‘unprofessional interactions’ after Russian military confronts Bering Sea fishermen Berkland says training remains an essential mission at Eielson. He says the base conducted a logistics exercise earlier this month to determine its readiness to deploy the F-35s and their crews and equipment to hotspots around the Pacific Ocean or elsewhere on short notice. Berkland says bigger exercises like Red Flag will continue to be based out of Eielson – and the F-35s will give U.S. and allied pilots experience flying with or against the so-called fifth-generation jet fighters. “Integrating with fifth-generation airplanes is a rare opportunity for our joint teams here in the U.S., but as well as our partners across the Pacific, that get to come in and play in a Red Flag and work with fifth-gen F-35s.” Eielson’s F-35s got their first chance to participate in Red Flag last month. And Berkland says aircraft are already beginning to arrive for the next round of Red Flag coming up next month. Those include F-16s from Misawa Air Base in Japan and F-18s from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California.
59 minutes | Sep 18, 2020
LISTEN: U.S. Senate candidate Al Gross is here to answer your questions
Dr. Al Gross (Al Gross for US Senate) Making his first run for public office, Al Gross wants to win the race for Alaska’s U.S. Senate seat, currently held by incumbent Dan Sullivan. Gross is running as an Independent with support from state democrats. What does he want to accomplish for Alaska if voters decide to send him to Washington DC? Continuing our coverage of congressional candidates, Independent Al Gross joins us for the next Talk of Alaska. HOST: Lori TownsendGUESTS: Al Gross-I, candidate, U.S. Senate TRANSCRIPT: This transcript has been edited and shortened for clarity. Lori Townsend: Al Gross is a newcomer to Alaska’s political scene. And he is taking on incumbent US Senator Dan Sullivan. Gross is a doctor and a longtime commercial fisherman who is running as an independent with support from state Democrats. What does he think his experience will bring to the table? What are his goals? Should Alaskans send him to Washington? We’re continuing our coverage of the congressional races today on Talk of Alaska. Alright, independent candidate Al Gross is on the line. Hello. Al Gross: Well, good morning, Lori. And good morning to the state of Alaska and all the people listening in. I really appreciate the opportunity to be on your show. And it’s a beautiful day here in Anchorage, one of the first days of fall and I know a lot of people that moose hunt and caribou hunt and pick berries, and it’s one of my favorite times of year. So I really appreciate the opportunity to share the day with you. LT: Well, thank you for being on. And I’ve got a ton of questions. I know Alaskans are going to have a lot of questions as well. I see that there’s calls already coming in. So let’s start with the US Supreme Court. President Trump says he will name a woman on Saturday to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last Friday. Senate Republicans appear to have enough votes to move this forward. Should the confirmation proceed before the election? Should there at least be hearings? What are your thoughts about that? AG: Well, first of all I’m running for office right now. I’m not a U.S. Senator. I’m not there. And my focus is on winning this election, not the Supreme Court debate that’s about to ensue. But I don’t think there should be a vote until the election. And that’s the ultimate hypocrisy on the Republicans part. When they made this such a big deal four years ago against Justice Garland, and that was 10 months before an election. We’re about 45 days before an election. And I don’t think that that’s enough time to adequately vet new justice through the subcommittee and the full committee and then on the floor of the Senate. And I think it’s the ultimate hypocrisy and it’s dishonest on the republicans part. Because Senator Sullivan, Senator Graham, so many other republicans are on record saying that they should wait and let the voters decide four years ago now they’ve turned around and changed their tune. LT: Do you think Democrats would do the same if they had control of the Senate? AG: I don’t think the democrats would have stopped the confirmation process of Merrick Garland or Justice four years ago, if they’d been in the opposite shoes. LT: Let’s talk about the recent court decision on the general election ballot and how your name will now appear, you will be presented as the Democratic nominee with no other designation. What do you think about that? Are you concerned? AG: Well, I’m disappointed to see the division of elections present the ballot that way and they’re trying to present me as being a Democrat, and I’m certainly not a Democrat. And, you know, I mean, Dan Sullivan has gone out of his way to say that I’m a liberal Democrat, and that’s really just a bunch of crap. I was a deaf, I was a republican for five years, I was a registered Democrat for less than one year. And I’ve been a non partisan independent for all the rest of my life. And I don’t see myself as a partisan at all, I just see myself as an Alaskan sharing Alaskan values. And I’m very fiscally conservative, I believe in an enforceable and strong immigration policy. I think the government should stay out of our personal lives. And I’m a strong supporter of states rights. And I’m certainly not about to take away anybody’s guns or ban any weapons because I’m an Alaskan. And if that makes me a liberal, then I think you need to redefine the word liberal because I’m not a liberal Democrat. And so I’m disappointed to see the Division of Elections. Take that away. And I just hope Alaskans understand when they go to the ballot that I’m representing them as a non partisan independent. LT: Well, you reference some of this, The Anchorage Daily News reported last week that in 1980, registered as non-partisan, then sort of switched around between undeclared and independent in the 90s. He registered as a Republican for five years. And then most recently, you registered as a Democrat in 2017, changed about a year later to nonpartisan? What was that about test driving all these different parties? AG: Well, to be honest, I think I was confused when I went back between non-partisan and independent and I think that that classification in Alaska does confuse a lot of Alaskans, including myself, but I meant to just register as a non-partisan. Back in the 90s. I was a republican for five years and as I said, I have a lot of values that the Republican Party shares, and I briefly became a democrat after Donald Trump won, at a protest, because I was very concerned about what was going to happen to our country under his leadership. But after about 10 months, I went back to my nonpartisan registration, because that really is truly who I am. LT: So why run as the Democratic nominee, why not run completely independent to avoid that criticism from Alaskans who say, You’re really a democrat? AG: Well, I’m running in the Democratic primary. So I was able to clear the field of any democrats and end up in a two way general election, which is my best chance to beat Dan Sullivan, if I’d run as a third party candidate in the general election, there would certainly have been a democrat that ran against me, and I’m sure I would have ended up splitting some of the votes with that person. And my chances of beating Dan Sullivan would have been less. And of course, I’ll caucus with the Democrats. Primarily because the Republicans have failed miserably when it comes to health care. And the Affordable Care Act did not address the high cost of health care, it expanded access for health care to people both in the state and the country. But it did not address the cost issue. And that needs to be done. And I believe that Democrats are motivated to do that. And also, the democrats are much more aware of our changing environment. The Republican Party has been in denial of climate change, including Dan Sullivan and President Trump. And I would like to be in a leadership role to try and understand what’s happening to our changing climate. I also am a very, very strong believer that the government should stay out of our personal lives and our personal decisions, especially in health care. And as a doctor, I’ve seen how complicated some of these decisions that we have to make long as life goes by whether it’s the beginning of life or end of life decisions, or getting a cancer diagnosis in the middle of your life. These are always deeply, deeply personal and complicated decisions that I think the government has no role getting involved with. LT: We have an email question from Bud Couzenslee, I hope I’m pronouncing that correctly. But says you have touted your independence and chided Sullivan for voting 97% of the time with the Republicans if you are elected, how would you be effective if you did not vote with the democrats on a regular basis? What issues do you see yourself voting against the democratic party? AG: Well, I’d certainly not be beholden to the Democratic Party and I would absolutely break with them on issues like guns and immigration and fiscal policies. LT: Let’s go to the phones for a moment. Ernie is in Sitka, hi, Ernie. CALLER: Thank you. As a young troller in the mid 70s, I held a statewide troll gear card. And as fishermen at the time, we thought electing a governor, who was a fisherman was a good idea. And then we were restricted from fishing west of Cape suckling, after governor Hammond was elected, are you committed to represent all gear groups and management decisions? And would you support allowing the troll fishery to expand westward? Thank you. AG: That’s a great question. And as you probably know, I started him trolling in Southeast Alaska when I was 14, and then went on to power troll and ended up power trolling. Out on the Fairweather grounds in West of Sitka before I went on to pertaining and longlining and Gill netting, so I have a lot of experience in the troll industry. And you may know I’ve been a strong proponent of extending the Alaskan boundary from three miles out to 12 miles. And I think that would give the state much better control of its fisheries, it would reduce the amount of bycatch that we would see from the catcher processors from down south to Seattle base guys, and it would increase our revenue source.Texas and Florida are already have a Nine Mile law in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Both or all three of those who want a 12 mile, I think Alaska should have that too. And I would need to look into the issue that you’re discussing a little bit more closely before I made a commitment to that. But I’m a very strong supporter of trawlers and all your groups, all fishing gear groups are in Alaska. LT: Alright. Thanks for the question. Ernie. We are going to be bouncing around a lot because Alaskans will have various questions. And as well, I so it might seem a little random, but that’s what we’re going to do. The President has said that voting by mail invites fraud. Do you have concerns about vote by mail and what may be happening this fall? AG: I’m a strong supporter of voting by mail. I think it’s safe. I don’t think it’s fraudulent. And I think it’s something that Alaskans should do in the face of COVID-19. As you know, of course, President Trump and Dan Sullivan, alongside have been working hard to dismantle our Postal Service, you’re both in Alaska and across the country and privatized it. And that doesn’t work for rural Alaska, we’re so dependent on our post office bypass mail system, that I would be a very, very strong supporter of the post post office. I think people should vote by mail because especially in the face of COVID-19. It’s the safest way to go. LT: Alright, thanks for that. Tell us about your shift in thinking regarding healthcare policy. At one time you were supportive of a Medicare for all plan tweeting in 2018. “After the recent federal court decision in Texas, striking down the ACA, I can’t think of a more compelling reason to push forward for a single payer system and a Medicare for all type health care system. It’s the only way we can truly cover pre existing conditions”. You are now supportive of a public option explain what type of public option program you’d want to see in place and wife changed your mind about single payer? AG: Yeah, I, I never said that. As a Senator, I would support Medicare for All I don’t think that’s the best policy for America. And I am a strong proponent of incremental change in our healthcare system. It’s taken us eight years to get to where we are. We’re not going to snap our fingers and end up in a completely different system overnight. And I don’t think that we should in America is a country where people demand choices. And I think it should always remain that way. People may want more than the services that a government provided health care system might provide. And so I think that there should always be a role for private health insurance, and whatever type of system that we develop. And of course I know, health care from the inside out and many of the problems that the health care system has. And I really, truly believe that public option, allowing individuals and small businesses the right to buy Medicare directly from the government is a great first small step in the right direction of more comprehensive health coverage for Alaskans and Americans at a much more affordable cost. And so, you know, I wrote a lot about the single payer system several years ago, as a means of highlighting what the expensive health care system is doing to our economy here in Alaska and our country. But I’ve never said that I support Medicare for all as a policy for America. LT: Well, that was the tweet that you’d sent out was that I can’t think of a more compelling reason to push forward for a single payer system and a Medicare for all type health care system. AG: Well, fight the healthcare system, I guess, is the caveat there. And I stick with what I say. I think a public option is the best way to go. And I think it should be started small, allowing for individuals and small businesses to buy into it, and no one else’s expense. I don’t think that would grow government, there’s already a very good, low cost administration to pay for health insurance through our Medicare system, you know, the overhead is only about 4% administrative costs compared to the 25%, or more administrative costs through the private health insurance industry. And that’s led to prices getting higher and higher and higher in the country. And it’s really hurting Alaskans and Americans and really eroding into the middle class. LT: So why is this so hard to get done? health care costs, as you noted, are incredibly high insurance is just unattainable for many people who don’t have employer offered plans. You said Republicans have failed miserably at health care reform, and this would be a reason to caucus with Democrats. What What would you bring to that? Do you like the Affordable Care Act? And would want to improve on that? Or how do you see this taking shape going forward? AG: Well, I like certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act, the fact that it provides coverage for pre existing conditions, is really, really important. And as you may know, there’s a court case going on that may lead to the stripping of pre-existing conditions and the taking away of the Affordable Care Act. So it’s a really, really important issue. And I believe that the democrats are motivated to address the cost issue. There’s a lot of special interests involved with helping with health insurance. You know, you’ve got corporate america making a lot of money off of the current system. And I believe that that’s led to a lot of the resistance on the republicans part, but they had the House, the Senate and the presidency. And they couldn’t come up with anything to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, they just wanted to tear it back down to where it was, and where it was originally was not working. And that’s what led to the Affordable Care Act being passed in the first place, but it does need to be improved upon. And I really strongly believe there needs to be a public option in there as well. LT: So drilling down a bit on the as you were mentioning corporate influence corporate money in there. Pro publica recently highlighted a story about a doctor in Austin, who got an antibody test at one of the facilities where he works, he thought it’d probably be free, but he was charged $10,984 for a test that Medicare pays $42 for the doctor said he knew the materials for the test cost about $8. his insurance company paid it without question. He was so disgusted, he quit his job, who’s most at fault for this type of disparity in this wild range of prices? The ER clinic, the insurance company for not challenging it. How can this be fixed, if you still have the same players in the system? AG: I think we’re all responsible for this system that we have. We’ve let it develop into what we have. And it’s taken eight years to get there. And as I said, there are a lot of stakeholders who are making a lot of money off the current system at the expense of the consumer. And we need to change that. And now you’re right. It’s completely unacceptable to have charges like that. People do that because they can get away with it. And they can get away with it because of the inner intermediary of the private health insurance company, which is not transparent and that’s allowed prices to go higher and higher and higher. And of course providers and hospitals benefit from that with high reimbursements. Consumers suffer from that because their premiums are extraordinarily high. And here in Alaska, health care premiums are triple the national average. And we’re never going to be able to get new businesses to move to the state and diversify our economy. If we don’t rectify that situation. LT: We are going to stay with healthcare for just a moment and go back to the phones. Hans is in Anchorage, Hello. CALLER: Hi. Yes. Can you hear me? Okay? LT: Yes. CALLER: Okay. Yes, thank you. Mr. Gross. I first heard about you. In an article from Charles Wolf. Fourth, you’re both legacy, sons of politicians, sons of walks in Alaska history. One of the things you said in this article that he quote is, I think the fact that prices are extraordinary high in Alaska regarding health care costs, allowing hospitals and medical providers to make very high profits in the in the delivery of care, is one of the only reasons as to why health care costs to consumers in the form of premiums are so high. But although you have this expert knowledge in receiving lots of money in orthopedic care, and you probably know that in other specialties, there’s many other things that are involved. And so I’m wondering, have you changed your position on that Do you understand, from your master’s in public health that for the ordinary person in Alaska, and for the sum total of spending in Alaska on health care, it’s not about the specialties necessarily. It’s about just general care, getting health care. And that’s why it’s so important that we have Medicare for All. And so I just asked you with someone that with no stakes in the game right now, right, you’ve made your nut, you have millions of dollars. And you’re now trying to be a political legacy that, you know, the ordinary Alaskans that you’re trying to stand up for? really aren’t that motivated to vote for you if you’re arguing to stand up for their medical needs? And also, why are you so focused on the medical side? in Congress, nothing is going to be done, because nothing has been done for the last 12 years since Obama started and said he would do it. Why do you think you can get something done in Congress now? After 12 years of attempts and failures? Thank you. LT: All right. Well, thanks for the question. AG: Thank you for the question. And it’s a good question. And you know, I, I certainly didn’t create the health care system here in Alaska. I was born and raised in Juneau, and wanted nothing more than just to come back to my hometown and raise my kids there and be a doctor there. And I had really no knowledge whatsoever, the economic side of health care, when I finished my residency, that’s not something they teach you at all. And I had to start a practice from scratch when I got to Juneau, in order cabinets and carpets start a small business. And of course, I walked into one of the higher paying, or higher reimbursing healthcare systems in the entire country. And of course, I did well, I worked really hard throughout my career contrary to what Mr. Force article implied, but I’m a really hard working guy. And of course, he did well and ended up financially secure, but I saw what it was doing to my colleagues, many of whom are commercial fishermen and small business owners. And I saw what it was doing to the state of Alaska, consuming almost a third of the state budget, leading towards wage stagnation towards our teachers and our public safety officers, and seeing those people leaving the state. And I stepped up because I really care about the state and I wanted to get involved with trying to help fix the system. You’re right, Congress has been very ineffective at addressing this issue, and has become more and more partisan and splitting apart more and more. And I think keeping my independent affiliation really puts me into a situation where I can bring people together to mediate this problem. And healthcare is certainly not my only issue. My issue is Alaska and bringing jobs and a vibrant economy back to the state. That’s my number one, number two and number three priority when I get there, but bringing civility back to the United States Senate, restoring confidence in government, and solving some of these other really important issues, like addressing climate change, or other really big priorities of mine. LT: And we’re also going to get to a whole bunch of those other priorities in the second half of the show. I do have just a couple more questions that came in on health care, and then we’ll move on, one from Randall in Fairbanks. He says, “Do you think we need more doctors the pandemic has brought to light that the US has fewer hospitals and health care providers compared to places like South Korea. What would more doctors bring health care costs down and what would be the way to accomplish that?” AG: Well, first of all, more health care doesn’t necessarily mean that our health, health is a cost. concept that is built upon a lot of issues other than just health care. There are places in Alaska where people are underserved. And there are not enough physicians. But we’re fortunate that we have critical access hospitals here in Alaska, I believe we have 13 of them that are not at risk of closure as many of the small hospitals in the lower 48, some of these hospitals have chosen to employ physicians, such as in Petersburg. And I think that that’s a good solution to work towards filling that void. But we need to make sure we have adequate representation of medical providers all over the state. And, you know, as you know, in Rural Alaska, a lot of that is provided by our native health system, which is a tremendous asset to our state, and non participants of the native system are still allowed to participate in those more rural areas. And I’d be a strong supporter to keep promoting that. LT: All right, let’s move on to the Coronavirus. There have been more than 200,000 deaths in the US now from COVID-19. NPR reported this morning that we are 5% of the population worldwide but make up 20% of the deaths. What do you think has gone wrong in the response? AG: Well, the federal government has not led by example, in any good way. And I support the loans for the small businesses and the unemployment insurance that was provided. But you know, our president’s not wearing a mask. He’s not promoting good public health behavior. I really believe people should be wearing masks when they’re indoors, and we need to socially distance when we’re when we’re outdoors. And also, you know, of course, the federal government sat on the knowledge that this was a terrible virus for at least a couple of months before they got motivated to do anything about it. So we’re way behind on personal protective equipment, and coronavirus testing. When my daughter came back from overseas she was in the Peace Corps and had been in Zambia for 18 months. And when she came back to Alaska in March, she got COVID tested and it took 18 days to get the result from her test was completely unacceptable. And I know that the testing is much more rapid now. But our federal government’s response to this was way too little and way too late. LT: Do you think the federal government should have instituted a nationwide mandate on masks? AG: No, I don’t believe that the federal government should have mandated masks. But I think that if they lead by example, people would follow their leader if they if President Trump hadn’t spent so much time convincing people that what they see on the news is fake, and that they should distrust everything that they hear on the news or from the federal government, then I think people would be much more inclined to follow federal leadership and practice the public health policies. And I think, you know, as I said, I’m a strong supporter of states rights. And I think Alaska is very different than Ohio. And the way that we manage Coronavirus in Alaska should be different than other states. But the general principles or the public health principles should be the same. LT: Vaccines usually take years to develop and test before they’re widely available to the public. There may be one available sometime later this winter. Are you concerned that it’s being rushed? AG: Well, I’m very concerned that it’s being rushed because as a physician, I do understand that it takes a long time to develop a safe vaccine and I’m concerned that our profit driven healthcare industry is rushing to put a vaccine on the table that may not be well tested. LT: Once one is available, how long do you think it will be until we really get this virus under control, especially if a lot of Alaskans don’t trust vaccinations? AG: Well, a lot of vaccines don’t really work that well. You know, influenza vaccines is notorious for that and this is a Coronavirus and Coronavirus is going to mutate so they’ll build a vaccine for one it’ll mutate into another so I think we’re not going to get a handle on the Coronavirus for at least another year, and we’re going to see its economic fallout here in the state well past next summer. LT: Alright, we need to take a quick break and when we come back we will continue our conversation with independent US Senate candidate AG as Talk of Alaska continues statewide. LT: Welcome back to talk of Alaska. I’m LT. And my guest today is US Senate candidate independent AG. He’s on the line with us from Anchorage. I’m gonna ask one more question and then we’ll go back to the phones. Last week, US Attorney General bill Barr said his quote was, “You know, putting a national lockdown stay at home orders is like house arrest other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint. This is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history”. What’s your reaction to the Attorney General comparing slavery where human beings were bought, sold, raped and murdered? To the shutdowns? AG: Yeah, I don’t think that they’re comparable at all. And, you know, I think it’s completely wrong to compare one to the other. I do believe in personal rights and states rights. But we have a worldwide pandemic that’s threatening all of us. And it’s threatening our entire economy. And so we need to come together as a nation and practice good public health policy. before we’re going to get through this. LT: And do you think that the shut downs were a good idea in order to address that? AG: Well, I think we lost something like 30,000 people in New York City alone in a very short period of time, this was a huge threat to life in our country. And so like all the other countries in the world, we needed to address this abruptly and I think shut down initially was appropriate, while the federal government scrambled to get personal protection devices or equipment, and adequate testing. And so initially, yes, but I think it lasted too long. LT: Alright, let’s go back to the phones for a moment. Dennis is in Juneau, Hello. CALLER: Hello, I’m sure Dr. Gross, who did a great job on my ministers, can do as good a job in the Senate. And I have a question and it relates to this. I am one of those people who’s a small business person involved in the tourism industry. I have two single proprietor businesses, and I’m the only employee, one is a bed and breakfast. The other is a tour business. I don’t expect either one of them to be operating until 2022. Yesterday, Holland America may not halt America, Carnival Corporation laid off 7000 officers and crew. And they sold working ships in the last two months. And I read the travel industry trade press. I don’t think we’re going to have a recovery of the travel industry, especially the way the cruise industry behaves for another two years. So what can you do? And what can Congress do to help out people all over the country who are working in businesses that are not going to recover right away until we have travel available again. And, you know, this isn’t the only tourism destination in the country. They’re all over the country. And I can tell you from being on Airbnb, discussion forums, they’re hurting everybody all over the country. So what can he do? And what can Congress do to make sure that we get at least one more round of stimulus and that the economy keeps going? And how are you going to pay for it? And my answer, of course, is to tax those rich people that have made money since the tax cuts in 1980. But that’s my answer. I’d like to hear a doctor. LT: All right. Thank you, Dennis, for that question. I’m glad that he raised that because I did want to move to that. You have been critical in campaign ads, of CARES Act spending. Dennis’s asking what you would do is saying he thinks this is going to go on. And you as well just alluded moments ago that even when a vaccine is available, it’s going to be quite a long time before the economy comes back. Why were you critical of Kazakh spending? What’s your concern about that? And what do you think the answer is going to have to be going forward? AG: Well, thanks for your question, Dennis. And first of all, I’m glad your knees are doing really well, that makes me happy. You know, I’m a, I’m fiscally conservative. And I don’t think the federal government should just be printing money, it’s going to be terrible for our national debt. And I do believe that the federal government, small business loans were a very good idea. And the unemployment insurance initially was a good idea, too. But you know, keeping that high is an incentive for people to stay on, stay unemployed. And we need to have opportunities for people to go back to work. And of course, right now, that involves healthcare, because a lot of people are going to stay on public assistance, because they can obtain Medicaid health insurance by doing so rather than venture back into the workforce, and have to pay really, really expensive premiums for private health insurance. So I think health insurance is part of the solution to the problem. I believe that there are a lot of infrastructure projects here in Alaska, they could be funded, and people could go back to work to help make those projects happen. And if we can get insurance away from it being employer based, then we can foster things like innovation so that people aren’t stuck in jobs that they don’t want. And they have the opportunity to be innovative with new benefit businesses and create other economies here in the state. And, as you well know, everyone is working virtually now, because of COVID. And there are a lot of job opportunities that Alaska that could be that could be realized if people had adequate internet all over the state. LT: Well, let’s talk a little bit more about that. We’ve seen some economies, you know, try to reopen and then the case number spike, and they have to shut back down again. Some economists say now is not the time to worry about the deficit, if we want to get this virus under control, and really keep the economy from sliding into depression. The federal and state governments need to support people in businesses. One economist many months ago, Robert Reich said the federal government should give a livable amount of cash directly to people so they can stay home, pay health insurance for Americans for six months, do you think that could have worked kept people in their homes still spending money to keep the economy going and get the virus in check? AG: Well, of course, I grew up around the birth of the permanent fund dividend. And I was very literally on a duck hunting trip with my father and Jay Hammond when it was born. So I’m very invested in the idea of people getting a check to share the wealth of the state, and to do this in a situation like COVID-19 to help them get by the economic problems that people are seeing today. But if we keep adding to the national debt, we are certainly going to have runaway inflation at some point. And Dan Sullivan and President Trump’s tax cuts several years ago, doubled the national debt and you know, that needs to be fixed, the rich need to be paying more into the system. And yes, we are going to have to keep funding of people that are unable to go back to work. And so our debt will get larger, but I think we should work hard to minimize that and provide opportunities for people to get back to work. LT: Alright, let’s move on to resource development. You’re against the Pebble Mine. Is that correct? AG: That’s correct. LT: What about the donlin gold mine prospect? AG: You know, that’s very similar to the pebble in my mind and in that the people in the Y-K Delta still have not signed on to the donlin project. And I think that the donlin mind executives have worked very, very hard for the last 20 years to work out a partnership with the people in the Y-K area so that they’re satisfied with the environmental protections of the mine. I don’t think that their year there. I don’t think that they are there yet. But when they get there, I will be a supporter of it. But right now I’m not. LT: Yesterday, Alaska Public Media published a story about comments made by Pebble CEO Tom Collier telling environmentalists who were acting as potential investors that they didn’t need to worry about Alaska’s US senators because they would not act against the mind. Northern dynasty CEO Ron Thiessen also made comments about the mine’s production life being much longer than 20 years. Are you aware of the story and if so, What do you think about it? Do you think comments like this should affect the permitting process? Or is it just unseemly comments by CEOs trying to attract investors? AG: Well, Tom Collier has known all along, that the intent of double partnership is to turn the Alaska Peninsula into a mining district and to turn that mine into something 20 times larger than what they’ve proposed. And incorporating Donlin into it, basically talking about the whole West Coast and Alaska Peninsula. And Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski have been well aware of this, as you saw from the comments about Dan Sullivan, they’ve got him in the corner. He’s agreed not to talk about it. They’ve got him right where they want him on this issue. And that’s just wrong. That’s not standing up for Alaska. It’s not standing up for Alaskans, and Dan Sullivan, has known all along that this mine was supposed to be this enormous development, if he really was speaking up for Alaskan’s, he would have stood up against this a long time ago. And if he really believes that the mind should not proceed, and he should return the many, many thousands of dollars he’s received in campaign contributions from the Pebble Mine executives. And yes, I think that this should factor into whether the mind should be permitted or not, because they’ve laid their cards on the table and then let people know what their true intentions are. LT: Let’s stay on the subject of resource development for a moment. You’re supportive of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Anwar, to exploration and development, is that correct? AG: You know, I do support resource development up there. I know it can be done in a way that’s safe for the environment, and good for our state’s economy. And as Alaska Senator, I will do everything I can to make sure we protect our land while accessing the resources that we have. LT: The Chin and their supporters have fought this for decades because of concerns over caribou that they depend on. And they have for generations. How much say should the Athabaskan people who oppose drilling and Anwar have in this development? AG: Well, I think they should be at the table. I think that their concerns should be listened to, and worked around, you know, the porcupine caribou herd up there is really, really important to them. And they should be part of the discussion as to how to safely develop the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But I think it’s with the ability to space out the drilling rigs and horizontal drilling techniques. And having seen how well, companies have developed Prudhoe Bay in the areas around there, I really believe it can be done safely and protect the caribou at the same time. LT: Alright, let’s go back to the phones for a moment. James is in Anchorage. Hi, James. CALLER: Yeah. Hi, guys. Thanks for taking my question here. My name is James Stevens. I have I’m a cannabis entrepreneur. And my question for you is how are you going to protect like the grassroots brick and mortar companies, when federal legalization comes and takes away a lot of these tax paying jobs, as well as like tax revenue for the state? Um, it’s going to be pretty cumbersome when they come on board and kind of push around these little guys who have put lots and lots of money into these companies, just to get bullied out. I’d like to know how are you going to try and protect us on that, as well as if you have your finger on the heartbeat of when that might be coming? AG: You know, I don’t fully understand your question, because I’m not sure why you would be pushed out. But I am a strong supporter of federal legalization of cannabis and in solving the federal banking restrictions that I know that many of you are having to work around. And as a Senator, I do whatever I could to protect the small businesses here in the state, because I really, really respect that you’re one of the only industries here in the state that has had any growth. And I have great respect for small business owners who took the risk, took out loans, or borrowed money from brands because they couldn’t get it from the bank to start up these businesses. So please work with me when I get there. And I’ll do everything I can to help protect the small businesses here in the state. LT: All right, thanks, James for the call. Let’s go now to Patok in Eagle River. Hello. CALLER: Hi. Yes, this is Patok Martin from Eagle River. And I just want to say that you call the tears act, a bailout in advertisements. And when Chuck Schumer wants to attack, tar Sweeney, with bass, baseless accusations, I just want to know why you were silent. AG: I don’t know that I was silent about the CARES act. And I think that the CARES Act delivered a lot of badly needed funds to The Alaska Native corporations and the tribes. And I know some of that still in court as to how that’s going to be distributed. But the corporation’s are very much set up in a different way than the tribes. And I think both the tribes and the corporations can help make sure that the CARES Act funding gets to the people. LT: Let’s go back to the phones quickly here for another call from Juneau. Tom is on the line from Juneau Hello. CALLER: Hi, thank you. Thanks for the program. And thanks for being on the program Dr .Gross. Like most Alaskans, I like to shoot my own firearms and all of the shooters I know. For decades, see universal background check says gun registration. If you were elected, what would you do to prevent universal background checks from becoming federal law? Please? AG: Yeah, well, thanks. And you know, I was just in Juneau a couple days ago, it was great to be back in my hometown. I’m a responsible gun owner, I have been since I was a young kid, I’ve shot a lot of moose and deer and birds over the course of my life. And my kids have all hunted as well. And it’s a really big part of my life. And I like as I said before, I’m not about to ban any weapons, or but I do support military background checks for military assault weapons, I think that is more than reasonable. I do not background checks for all guns. I’ve walked into stores and bought a shotgun and walked out to go bird hunting. I mean, I think it’s something that we should be able to do. And I’m a strong supporter of states rights. If states want to curtail or Institute background checks on a more developed level than I’m in favor of letting them do that. You know, I think the largest cause of death from firearms, and of course, is suicide here in our country. And I’m also a supporter of funding public health for studying this problem, because that’s by far and away the biggest cause of death from firearms. LT: So, you would not be supportive of any sort of background checks for most firearms. AG: I don’t see a reason to. No, I do support background checks for military assault weapons. LT: What about a waiting period? If somebody you mentioned walking into the hardware store and buying a gun? Do you think that that should be the standard that folks should be able to just walk in, buy a gun on the spot and walk out? AG: If it’s not a military assault weapon? Yes. LT: Alright. Well, let’s move on. Again. The state is fighting the federal government in court right now over subsistence, the Federal subsistence board closed game management unit 13 to non subsistence users in July, and also issued a special hunt for the community of cake and se. The Federal restrictions could become more frequent in the future when you consider poor fish runs habitat challenges for moose and caribou. So what do you think the answer is here for these types of conflicts between state tribes and the federal government? AG: Well, I’m a strong supporter of indigenous rights for subsistence, you know, they’ve been here for many thousands of years. And we need to respect their culture. And so as a Senator, I will continue to do that as best I can. LT: And next year is the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. What are your thoughts about how this has worked out over the last five decades, both for Alaska Native people and the state and federal governments? AG: Well, I think it’s been great. I think it’s been a real opportunity for Alaska Natives. It’s empowered them to get involved on a business level. And many of these, the leaders of these corporations, of course, are very, very well educated with MBAs from institutions like Stanford, and they’re leading their people in No very, very positive manner and you know, with the legislation that gives Alaska Natives an opportunity for business development. And I support that. LT: Let’s go back to the phones for a moment. Rob is in Ketchikan. Hi, Rob. CALLER: Hey, Good morning Dr. Al, there’s a topic that’s coming up now, because of the Supreme Court vacancy, I think it’s going to get some attention. So let’s address the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, the majority justice at the time stated in essence, quote, unquote, if we knew when human life began, then this decision would fail. Now, during the ensuing 47 years, science and forensics have advanced to the point of establishing the factual answer to the question. Science says, at the moment of conception, a new human life is created with half of the DNA contributed by the mother and half of the Father. So my question is, do you support the pre-borns right to life? Or do you recognize any rights that the Father may have, or any of the four grandparents may have in the decision to either kill or not kill the preborn anti life? And the last part of the question, does the government have the responsibility to protect innocent human life at all stages of life? And I appreciate your comments. LT: Thanks for the question, Rob. AG: No, that’s a good question. And it’s obviously a very volatile question. And you know, my experience as a doctor, I’ve been around so many life and death decisions, I took care of 95 year old people with broken hips, who the last thing that they would want is to have the government come in and tell them whether or not they should live or die. And I’ve taken care of a lot of people with cancer with the same issue. And beginning of life issues are no different to me, they’re very, very complicated. They’re always personal. They, in my opinion, the government has no role to go in between the decision that a patient makes between or with their doctor on this issue there. It’s never, it’s never an easy issue. It’s not something that I can see myself telling someone else what to do with their body. And that’s really the bottom line. LT: Let’s move on to climate change. We only have a few moments left here. And I’d like to get a few more questions about other topics. Climate change is happening in Alaska at a much faster rate than other parts of the planet. Do you agree with scientists about why it’s happening? That human activity is the main driver? AG: Yes, I do believe that humans are contributing towards climate change, we’re emitting a lot of carbon into our atmosphere, which acts as a blanket and holding the heat in. So certainly we are contributing towards it. I also do believe in geological trends. So I think it’s probably a combination of both. But I think that the human element is something that we can control and should work towards, towards remedy. LT: Against that backdrop, what would you propose for US policy to address it? and under what kind of timeline? AG: Well, I certainly would not put an absolute timeline on our addressing yet. And that’s one of the reasons why I do not support the green New Deal. But I do support moving towards renewable, clean energy as a means of diversifying our energy plan and are both in our state and our country. And there’s so many opportunities to do that. And they create jobs. And so I think that would be a really good thing for Alaska. But as I’ve said many, many times, as long as there’s a world as long as there’s a worldwide demand for oil, and Alaska continues to have our oil reserves, we should continue to produce oil because it’s been good for our state to provide a jobs, it’s provided an economic basis for our for our state economy and one of the sole sources of revenue to the state. LT: You said that you don’t support the US House Resolution titled The green New Deal. What don’t you like about it? Have you read it? AG: I don’t like the carbon pricing. I don’t think we should put a price on carbon that’ll cost jobs in Alaska. And I don’t like the timetable, where there’s an absolute deadline. So I do like the idea of job creation through renewable energy. But the restrictions on it are two absolute, but I do think we should join back up with the Paris Climate accord. It’s non binding, but it puts us at the table alongside all the other countries that are very concerned about this, to discuss the issues and try to come up with solutions. LT: Let’s talk for a moment about immigration. You were quoted in a recent online article saying “With so many Americans out of work, we should focus on putting Americans back to work before allowing foreign people to come in unless there are jobs that aren’t fillable by people who live here.” So what do you mean by that only housekeepers and landscapers should be allowed to immigrate? AG: No, I think, you know, I think Americans should come first when it comes to employment. And if we are unable to find people to fill the jobs, then if there are people from out of this country that want to come here to fill those jobs, then I think there should be a mechanism to let them in. But right now with so many people unemployed, with COVID, and as our earlier caller mentioned, this is going to be extending for at least another year, we need to make sure that we get Americans back to work, rather than flooding the market with a lot of people who are looking for jobs in competition with Americans. LT: So what should immigration policy look like? What would you like to see? AG: Well, I’d like to see an enforceable policy. If you’re in this country illegally, you should be deported. I’d like to see a policy that admits people who want to come into our country to contribute to our country and give back and pay taxes and pay into Social Security. And, and then, of course, you know, through the h1 a visa program, there should be a mechanism to bring skilled professionals to this country to fill jobs that aren’t fillable through our local workforce, for example, many of the hospitals down south use medical providers from out of this country because they’re unable to staff, their hospitals with medical providers that are American. And so I’m a strong supporter of keeping that avenue open. And of course, the htb visa program brings in a lot of farmworkers and seafood processing workers. And we’re unable to fill those jobs with locals so we should be very much working to preserve those programs. LT: We have an email question from john W. Who says Do you have an opinion on the concept of rank choice voting? And do you believe that system would afford you the ability to run as a true independent measures? That’s not I AG: think, I think any initiative where the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are against it probably is a sign that it might be a good initiative. And it allows for the smaller party people or the smaller represented people to stand up and be heard. So I will be voting yes on that. PARTICIPATE: Call 550-8422 (Anchorage) or 1-800-478-8255 (statewide) during the live broadcast. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org (comments may be read on air). Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air). LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.LIVE Web stream: Click here to stream.
6 minutes | Sep 18, 2020
Neighbors in Hyder, Alaska and Stewart, B. C. ask Canada to ease border restrictions
There is no U.S. customs presence at the entrance to Hyder, Alaska as seen in this August 4, 2020 photo. (Photo by Jennifer Bunn/Hyder AK & Stewart BC COVID-19 Action Committee). At the southeastern tip of Alaska’s panhandle lies the curious town of Hyder. It’s grown naturally alongside its Canadian neighbor of Stewart, B.C. It has a 250 area code, electricity from B.C. Hydro and its only road access is through Canada’s highway system. It’s separated by 7,000-foot snow-capped peaks from the rest of the state. So its connection with the rest of Alaska is limited. “There’s about 65 of us here, the only way we get supplies is through a mail plane that comes in from Ketchikan twice a week …weather permitting,” said Wes Loe, president of the Hyder Community Association. Most residents buy groceries and fuel and other supplies in Stewart, B.C. which is just over the border. For more than a century that was a mere formality as Canadian border guards would often wave people through. RELATED: West Coast wildfires bring smoky haze to southern Southeast But then came COVID-19 and with it blanket restrictions on cross-border travel. “Since March, we can only go to Stewart once every seven days for three hours — to get whatever we need,” Loe said by telephone. About 400 people live in Stewart, B.C. and they largely consider Hyder’s Alaskans a part of their greater community. A cross-border committee has been working to ease travel restrictions. It’s written letters to Canadian officials asking to relax the rules because of Hyder’s unique situation. Jennifer Jean is Hyder’s co-chair of the Hyder, Alaska and Stewart B.C. COVID-19 Action Committee. “We have no amenities in Hyder,” she said. “We have no gas stations, no grocery stores. There’s no medical facilities.” RELATED: Border woes: When Canada says no There’s no school, either. Enrollment dropped below 10 students this year, leading the Southeast Island School District to shutter Hyder’s one-building schoolhouse. But there was a workaround: Hyder’s five school kids would be enrolled in Bear Valley School in Stewart. Hyder resident Nick Korpela works across the border on a Canadian work permit. But he says his daughters haven’t been able to cross to see their friends since March. “We promised them that they’re going to get to go to school and see their friends,” he said. “And two days before school started we got a call from the CBSA — Canadian customs — and they said that they were not going to allow the children through the border.” Hyders five school-aged children sit at desks at the Hyder/Stewart border on September 10, 2020 — the day school starts in Stewart, B.C. — which they can’t attend because of current border restrictions. Their banner appeals to Bill Blair, Canada’s minister for public safety who oversees the Canada Border Services Agency. (Photo by Carly Ackerman/Hyder AK & Stewart BC COVID-19 Action Committee). His daughters haven’t left Hyder since spring — except for a single afternoon on a float plane to Ketchikan. They’d been looking forward to a change in scenery. “I was kind of sad,” 10-year-old Hilma Korpela said. “I was like, ‘Oh great, one more thing to not be able to do.’” She’s starting the fifth grade. Now, her mother is preparing homeschool with her 8-year-old sister. But she says it’s not the same. “I like hanging out with my friends … Hyder gets a bit lonely,” she said. Jennifer Jean also has two school-aged children. “It’s really really hard on them,” she says, fighting back the emotion in her voice. “That was the light at the end of the tunnel for them was to be able to see their friends again. Have a little bit of normalcy in their lives.” The committee has redoubled its efforts to reopen the border with a recent rally on remote international frontier. “They were at desks at the border the morning that school should have started and our Stewart friends and family came to their support the following day,” she recalled. B.C.’s provincial officials are sympathetic but say their hands are tied as the border is controlled by the federal government in Ottawa. Dr. Bonnie Henry — the top official leading the province’s pandemic response — told reporters last month she thinks it’d be reasonable to loosen border restrictions for Alaskans living in Hyder. “My only concern, of course, is that we’ve started to see dramatic increases in cases in the last month in Alaska,” she said August 5. “And I know that that’s been a challenge for my counterpart, who I talk to regularly from Alaska.” U.S. and Canada COVID-19 numbers are starkly different. Canada has had almost 9,200 reported deaths. Compare that to the U.S. nearing the 200,000 mark. B.C. has about 1,000 more COVID-19 cases than Alaska. But the province has more than seven times Alaska’s population. There have been no reported cases of COVID-19 in either town. But with no medical clinic in Hyder, there hasn’t been any testing, either. “The larger border situation remains very worrisome for many Canadians,” said MP Taylor Bachrach Stewart’s elected representative in the Canadian parliament, “and there’s strong support for keeping the Canada-U.S. border closed as long as we need to, given the the stark difference in the situation on either side of the border.” He’s thrown his weight behind his constituents who want the border opened to their neighbors in Hyder. “I spoke with Bill Blair, the public safety minister for Canada, on the phone and communicated to him the urgency of the situation,” Bachrach said in an interview. Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has penned an August 27 letter appealing to Canada’s federal government in Ottawa. “Winter is coming and we know this pandemic will continue for a while,” Dunleavy wrote. “Allowing these communities to integrate will ease feelings of isolation among Hyder residents.” Dunleavy’s office declined to comment for this story. Bachrach says there’s been broad consensus from from elected officials in both Alaska and B.C. to work something out. “At this point, it feels like there’s pretty strong support for some sort of solution,” Bachrach said. “So I’m curious why it’s taking so long to put something in place.” But so far federal officials in Ottawa show no sign they’re willing to make exceptions. A spokesperson for Canada’s Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair told CoastAlaska that as of August 7, school kids living in the U.S. are prohibited from attending school in Canada as they are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine. “We brought forward significant restrictions at our borders to flatten the curve and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Canada,” the ministry spokesperson wrote on Thursday. “These decisions have not been taken lightly, but we know that they are necessary to keep Canadians safe.” It says the restrictions on school children crossing daily is in order to “prevent the importation of cases of COVID-19 to Canada and increased community transmission.” Residents in Hyder and Stewart haven’t given up.They’re advocating for what they’re calling the #BearBubble that would create a shared space for residents in both communities and exempt them from the quarantine rules. Residents from both communities rally at the Stewart/Hyder border on September 11, 2020 in support of the Hyder children crossing the border to attend school in Stewart. (Photo by Carly Ackerman/Hyder AK & Stewart BC COVID-19 Action Committee). “We’re doing everything we can to kind of create our bubble community,” said Wes Loe, Hyder’s unofficial mayor, He says winter is coming and people are getting worried about the impending darkness, deep snow and isolation that the border restrictions make much worse. “You can see the depression, the anxiety, especially the anxiety that’s building up in people,” he said. “And you see things that are taking place that normally don’t take place.” There have been bright spots. Stewart’s citizens recently donated truckloads of logs to Hyder as a goodwill gesture for their Alaska neighbors to cut up and use as firewood. Hyder’s residents haven’t been able to access a wood yard in Stewart, B.C. where they typically get their firewood to heat their homes.
4 minutes | Sep 17, 2020
More than a quarter of Alaska communities haven’t claimed state CARES Act grants
Metlakatla, Alaska is one of 63 communities that haven’t claimed their CARES Act grants from the state. Picutred here in 2019. (Joey Mendolia/Alaska Public Media) It has been nearly four months since Alaska communities started receiving money from the state’s share of federal COVID-19 relief. And even though the process is simple, more than one in four communities haven’t claimed the money yet. Reginald Atkinson is the mayor of Metlakatla, where local leaders are trying to figure out how to spend $531,000. That’s the amount the state government set aside for the community from the state’s $569 million CARES Act community grant program. “We have not yet arrived at that point,” he said, adding: “The plans are in the making.” Metlakatla is one of 63 Alaska communities that haven’t accepted their grants, out of 228 communities the state planned to give the money to. SEE ALSO: Alaska judge blocks ballot printing after candidate raises “clear” legal questions about design Metlakatla already received a federal grant from another category of CARES Act funding, for tribal governments. And fishing businesses in the community are going to receive money from yet another batch of CARES Act funds. But Atkinson said it’s been a challenge to determine which expenses are eligible to be covered by the grant. All Alaska communities had to do to receive the first round of state funding was to sign a grant agreement and pass a resolution accepting the grants. Metlakatla is going to consider the issue at its Oct. 6 council meeting. Sandra Moller oversees the grant program as the director of the state Division of Community and Regional Affairs. She said the state has encouraged communities to take those steps to claim their funds and answered questions from local leaders as they’ve come up. “We’ve reached out at least three times to each community,” she said. She said communities have different reasons for not accepting the grants. Some haven’t had COVID-19-related expenses that would be eligible to be covered by the funding. “Obviously, every community has expenses, and these are really trying times,” she said. “However, once they looked at the documents, and saw the eligibile requirements from the federal treasury, they chose not to apply.” Another reason is some of the communities are very small — and they don’t have the staff to handle the grant process. Others, like Metlakatla, are tribal governments that have received other federal CARES Act payments. And some of them have had their COVID-19 costs covered by those payments. While most of the communities the state planned to give grants have municipal governments — including 144 cities and 19 boroughs — most of those that haven’t accepted the money so far are unincorporated communities, which include both tribal governments and nonprofit community associations. And they have fewer staff to process grant applications. Two cities– Koyukuk and Platinum — aren’t receiving money because they didn’t apply for state community assistance last year. The state used that program as the basis for determining which communities received CARES Act grants. The state designed the program so that municipalities would receive their grants in three payments. Most of the money was scheduled to go out in the first payment, scheduled for May. And follow-up payments were scheduled for July 1 and Oct. 1. But to receive these follow-up payments, communities had to show that they had spent 80 percent of what they had received so far. As of Thursday morning, only 18 communities had done that, receiving $19.2 million of the $101.7 million budgeted for the second round of payments. Moller said she can’t guess why communities haven’t applied for the later payments. “A community was granted basically the entire amount allocated to them,” she said. “Whether they use that or not is not our decision. They have to meet their own minimum requirements that we set out.” To make things even more confusing, the federal government has repeatedly updated its guidance to states and communities about what expenses are eligible for the grants. And Congress could further expand what expenses are eligible if it can agree on another relief bill. This has left communities with a lot of uncertainty. Nils Andreassen, the executive director of the Alaska Municipal League, has been helping local leaders with the grants. He said the federal government has increased the amount of information communities must provide to receive the money. “So there’s a process involved. And every, even just little, step for a small community is a challenge,” he said. “And that’s what we’re doing right now, is for all of those that are on the list who haven’t requested those funds, we’re walking through, with each and every one of them, here’s how to do this. Here’s what to do. How can we help?” Andreassen expects many municipalities to seek their second payments in the next few weeks, followed by the third payments. Andreassen said most municipalities are devoting much of the grants to relief payments to local businesses and other organizations. Federal guidelines prevent communities from using the grants to make up for lost revenue. “I think we’ll come to the end of this process with communities that are still in dire straits, based on lost revenue,” he said. “And for as much as CARES Act funds will help them through this period, there’s going to be significant challenges ahead of us.” Any money that communities don’t spend by Dec. 30 must be returned to the federal government.
59 minutes | Sep 17, 2020
LISTEN: Alaska’s chief medical officer says we need to remain vigilant, ‘it’s darkest before dawn’
Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink stands on the Old Glenn Highway Footbridge over the Matanuska River on September 17, 2020. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media) We’ve been asking Alaska policy makers and experts what they’ve learned about the coronavirus in the time since it first hit Alaska. Among the most immersed in all things related to COVID-19 is Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer. Zink has been as much of a public face for the state’s response as the governor himself, while still occasionally doing some work as an emergency room physician. And Zink says that over the last six months, the people fighting the disease have gained a lot of knowledge about what’s happening to patients and how the disease spreads. LISTEN HERE: What we’ve learned so far: I think we have learned a lot about how it spreads. It does not appear to spread on objects as much as it spreads just by talking and singing and being in a space together. And so I think that that’s kind of been the biggest thing that we’ve learned, as well as the degree of asymptomatic, mildly symptomatic or pre symptomatic people and how they can be incredibly contagious early on in the disease process. The other thing that’s been really just striking to me about this disease is the way that it affects so many different organs. When we first thought about this disease, we were thinking of it much more like influenza or some of the other common colds that cause respiratory issues for the most part and lung damage, but because of the way it enters the cells, it appears to affect the gut, the kidney, the brain. RELATED: Anchorage schools superintendent talks challenges of educating since the pandemic began What she wishes the public understood better: One, the fact that infection and illness can be two different things. And so you can spread it to others without getting ill. The incubation period, the time it takes from exposure until symptoms start, is really long. It’s longer than a lot of the other diseases, and that’s 14 days. And people can start to show symptoms anywhere from day two to day 14, and there’s no test based strategy to get you out of quarantine or to say, you definitely don’t have it. Also, masks work, the data is just really clear on it now that they work not only to prevent you from spreading it to others, but they can also prevent you from getting it to the same degree. RELATED: How an Alaska hospital’s understanding of COVID-19 has evolved Her biggest concerns heading into fall and winter: This fall could be hard. People are over COVID, they’re fatigued. We still have a lot of virus circulating. You know, we’re still seeing fairly high numbers across the state. So bars and restaurants continue being the driving force of a lot of our biggest outbreaks right now in Alaska. We have so much more testing ability now than we used to, we are getting more antigen tests, we have more treatment options. We are getting close. But really what we do between now and the end of the year is going to determine how this pandemic plays out in this state. If we throw up our hands and give up it could be a really, really hard fall in many different ways. So I am concerned that it’s darkest before dawn and we are getting close but we really need Alaskans to hang in there this fall and get tested the moment they have symptoms, stay away from others if they’re sick at all, and do everything that they can to minimize this virus. RELATED: Anchorage mayor reflects on 6 months of coronavirus pandemic
4 minutes | Sep 16, 2020
In fraught political moment, Kanye 2020 signs bring a laugh in Anchorage
A Kanye 2020 sign on O’Malley and Old Seward Highway on a state construction lot. The lower sign was graffitied and shortly thereafter, another sign appeared on top of it. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media) Mysterious campaign signs have been popping up around Alaska for a well-known presidential candidate. But the candidate himself won’t be appearing on the ballot. “I’ma let you finish, but Kanye West is not on the ballot in Alaska,” is how the Alaska Division of Elections responded, on Twitter, to photos of the 4-by-8 signs that are spread around Anchorage. The tweet is a reference to the rapper and entrepreneur’s famous 2009 VMA line in which the rapper and entrepreneur interrupted singer Taylor Swift in the middle of her acceptance speech. Kanye announced he was running for president this July, but he’s already missed filing deadlines in many states, including in Alaska. And he has since contradicted himself about whether he is running, though that hasn’t stopped election officials in at least a handful of states from confirming he’ll be on the ballot, according to media reports. I'ma let you finish but Kanye West is not on the ballot in Alaska pic.twitter.com/6RUW74a8Lh— AK Division of Elections (@ak_elections) September 2, 2020 But, regardless, someone is spending a moderate amount of money on the signs, which cost anywhere from about $50 to a couple hundred dollars, depending on where they’re printed and on their design. “Whoever’s doing it has little spare cash laying around,” said political blogger Jeff Landfield. He first heard of the signs after a columnist for his blog, the Alaska Landmine, spotted them. Since then he’s been trying to figure out who is doing it, but so far, he’s been stumped since it’s hard to find any clues based on their production or location. Most of them are in the public right-of-way next to other political signs. “Maybe they just see the other signs there and that’s where they go. Who knows? But there doesn’t seem to be any real pattern,” he said. The signs and the bases, made from two-by-fours that appear painted in gold spray paint, do require time and a sense of humor. Some people have suggested it was Landfield himself, though he denies it. Shan Linde owns a coffee shack on a strip of land between A and C Streets near 36th, where one of the most visible sign stands. He says he appreciates the joke. A Kanye 2020 sign hanging on the Service High School foot bridge on Sept. 10, 2020 (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media) “I like Kanye. I watch Kardashians. I watch all that. [He’s a] good fashion designer, smart guy. You know, I like that. [He’s] motivated, mentally ill, but takes care of his business,” he said. But the sign — Linde doesn’t know where it came from. He came home one weekend to find it there. He said people use the lot like an easement though it’s private property, and sometimes people put up inappropriate signs — or just too many — and he’s forced to take them down. There’s speculation that Kanye’s presidential campaign, which was later canceled by Kanye himself, is actually an elaborate ruse designed to siphon votes from the Democratic nominee Joe Biden. That argument’s been bolstered by recent reports that high-level Trump officials have met with Kanye and other Trump supporters have pushed to get him listed on the ballot in certain swing states. But in Alaska with its three electoral votes? Landfield said that’s unlikely. “People don’t really campaign [here], we’re not really worth it. And we’re a solid red state,” he said. Recent polling puts Trump ahead in Alaska by about six percentage points. A more likely culprit:a prankster. Landfield said that the signs speak to the fraught political and social moment we’re living in, that sometimes calls for a joke. “You laugh or cry, maybe whoever did it chose to laugh,” he said.
59 minutes | Sep 14, 2020
LISTEN: U.S. House candidate Alyse Galvin answers listener questions
(Emily Russell/Alaska Public Media) Challenging Alaska’s lone and long-serving U.S. House representative for a second time, Alyse Galvin is running as an independent with support from state Democrats. What does she see as the biggest challenges facing the state and the nation and what would she prioritize if Alaskans send her to Washington DC? HOST: Lori TownsendGUESTS: Alyse Galvin-I, candidate, U.S. House of Representatives TRANSCRIPT: This transcript has been edited and shortened for clarity. Lori Townsend: I have a lot of questions, but start by telling us what your top priorities would be if Alaskans elected you. Alyse Galvin: Hmm, thank you. Well, first of all, I’m running to make sure that Alaskans can take care of their own. Every family needs to make sure that they can put food on the table, pay their rent, get to have good housing and health care, etc. So I’m running to fight fiercely for the good jobs and the quality education that leads to those good jobs. And of course, the healthcare system that we can navigate and afford. We need to have a champion in Washington that’s fighting for these values. And I look forward to doing that. LT: We’re, of course, in the middle of a pandemic. What do you think the federal government and Congress have gotten right in The response to this public health crisis and what needs improvement? AG: Well, it’s been a moving target. And I think that I’m especially appreciative of Dr. Fauci and his work in Alaska, Dr. Anne Zink, who has been coordinating with the physicians who have been doing a lot of work. I think that the state leaders have really done a good job incorporating the local input and Alaskan experts in their decision making in regards to the pandemic, and that’s made a difference. I especially appreciate Dr. Zink’s leadership, and making sure that our response to the pandemic is a non partisan issue. our businesses and our workforce have deeply suffered. I’m sure you’ve heard about this a lot from Alaskans. And I’m disappointed in the lack of leadership on the federal level, to deliver some of the resources to our small businesses. And with regard to what the caregivers have needed as you know, the PC ease and rapid testing and other things like that could have helped open some of our businesses earlier because giving more certainty would have been very helpful. LT: Well, along those lines of allowing businesses to be open, do you think there should be a national mandate for wearing masks? Or should that decision be made by individual state governors? What would you like to see for leadership on this issue? AG:Well, I think you know, we do have I don’t think that at this point that makes sense. Although we do have a national public health system that needs to be listened to, and each state is different with this particular pandemic. There are different parts in Alaska and America that haven’t seen a coronavirus yet. And my bigger concern right now is that we have a population that really doesn’t trust the government because of the difference messages we’re getting. It’s been complicated for the average American to listening to any one voice. And I think that’s been tough. And I think an over restrictive masked mandate would only make the situation worse at this point. I think it makes sense to be listening to, like I said Dr. Zink and Dr. Fauci. So far, in Alaska, they’ve been doing a good job of that. LT: Would you advocate for more clarity, though, from the federal side about the science, it’s become, unfortunately quite political, to decide to wear a mask or not wear a mask. It shouldn’t be political. It’s based on scientific evidence that the doctors have, you know, compiled over these months, and it is a political issue and of course, one state could have a mandate. The next bordering state does not, and how will we slow this down if there’s not more, you know, clear direction, What do you think should happen in that respect, if not a national mandate? What kind of national leadership or push Would you like to see happen? AG: First of all, I think it’s absolutely as critical that there be an alignment in the information that’s being delivered from the government. That’s caused a lot of problems not having that continuity. And you know, that this is brand new. It’s called the Coronavirus, the new Coronavirus. So we know it’s new. So some things came out throughout time to help better guide that or inform the scientists who then informed us government officials. So I think I can understand some of what happened in the history but to not acknowledge it as soon as it came across, to me, is a problem. It’s created lots of stories getting out about ‘when did we really know this or that?’ and ‘why is it that, this many people died here and not there?’ I think a lot of people are asking questions about that. And moreover, Alaskans themselves are suffering, just with the hand of mouth, lack of, you know, fix of this economy, which is really making people suffer. And it becomes more of a question about government transparency and honesty in the leadership. And I think that the federal government has to provide clear information so that the governors and others can make good decisions and unfortunately, that hasn’t been happening, not only clear information, but also provide a solid pipeline for the supplies that are needed in the different states and that also has been. And not having that continuity, I think is how we will be judging all of the way we’ve responded to this. LT: You held your first drive in rally on Saturday afternoon, a drive in rally. Tell us about what that is. AG: Yeah, actually, it was my second one. The first one was in Fairbanks and I tell you what, you know, campaigning isn’t what it used to be. We’re in a world pandemic. So we need to be mindful of that. And I have moved our campaign to a virtual campaign in March. But then we’ve made the decision based on, you know, the recommendations of Anne Zink and others, that we can make some good decisions with regard to activities as long as we are innovative and are safe and we decided that you know, what the heck, driving rallies will be fun and there an opportunity for families and Alaskans to come together and hear about issues and more importantly, ask questions that they may be wondering about. I’m, you know, going to be unseating a 48 year incumbent, that’s going to take developing some trust. So I’m getting out there. I think it’s important that other states see we can do things like this. I also went to a reverse parade in Fairbanks. and I never had heard of it, but why not? The floats were stationary, and for four and a half hours cars drove by us. And that’s kind of the idea that we could do something like this. I know it sounds funny, doesn’t it? But it was great. I’m telling you, it was four and a half hours because everybody and their uncle showed up. They were looking forward to an opportunity to feel safe, but also still feel connected. And that’s what this driving rally was, it’s a galvanizer, if you will. People came in, they tuned to their FM radio to do a certain frequency so they could hear and then when they had questions, they put their questions on little cards outside of their window. Someone came and picked them up. LT: All right, well, that does sound like this idea of a reverse parade. It’s pretty ingenious. So it’s good to know that people are coming up with creative ideas to get out there and still engage with each other. We’re going to go to the phones for just a moment. Carly is in Eagle River. Hi, Carly. CALLER: Hi, I have a question about the role of independent politics in the nation right now. We’re at a time where there’s an enormous amount of polarization and divide between the two major political parties. And I’m wondering to what degree you think independent voters and independent politics can play a role in healing that divide. And especially because Alaska has such a large number of independent non nonpartisan undeclared voters, what role Alaskans can play in healing the divide throughout the rest of the country, and why you’ve chosen to run as an independent. LT: Alright, Carly, thanks for the questions. AG: Thanks a lot, Carly. I appreciate that. So I think this is a huge opportunity for Alaska to show the nation again, how people can come together. We’ve done this in other roles. I know we’ve elected a governor this way. In fact, a couple of them. The reason I am running as an Independent is that’s what I am, as over 50% of Alaskans are. And so I’m grateful that I have this chance to run through the primary, get out there a little bit earlier, and show people that we’re done with hyper partisanship. We’re just done. It’s an important time, like I said, for us to prove that. This isn’t a matter of delivering party leaders or people who are bringing the national agenda. This is about delivering for Alaskans and really putting our next generation first partisanship fight to have what has really, is what brought our country to its knees. We now need to show that there’s a better way. And I think that we can believe in better by walking the talk. And that’s that’s what I’m doing. You’ll not hear me talk about one party or the other all the time. I just think that inflammatory language only brings us further apart. I served under Republican and Independent governors and led a nonpartisan grassroots movement to restore education funding and improve our schools. The most of our issues really are not about partisan issues. They’re really about people. And that needs to be brought to the forefront bringing republicans Democrats, independents all together to deliver results for Alaskan families. I’m going to do the same in Washington. LT: If you’re just joining us, our guest today is US House candidate independent AG. We’re taking calls and questions and he just mentioned education. And I wanted to get to the fact that you’ve been very involved in great Alaska schools, the group here. Was it through this work that you first decided to run for office? AG: It really was through that work. After about five years of this, of going down to Juneau and to DC as a, you know, I was a nonpartisan leader of this group, I thought, ‘Well, you know, we’re doing a lot of good here. We were managing to hold the line on over 100 million dollars in cuts in a bipartisan way.’ But what became clear to me is that if we want lasting change, to better reflect what we value and to make sure that Alaskans, our everyday Alaskans are getting the same chance to visit their leaders, particularly our representative, we need to change up who’s in office. And I think after 47 years, Alaska is ready for a new voice and a new listener. It was really clear to me in doing that work, and remember, I was a volunteer, leading this group that grew from 40 to over 4000. So there were a lot of us with this real need to make sure that our representatives were paying attention. And what I saw was lobbyists and special interests just walk in straight into that door during that advocacy, and really, the parents and community members and grandparents didn’t have that same access. And that’s not the way democracy should be. LT: You’re a big supporter of public schools. So what’s your response to those who say I want public funded vouchers to send my kids to a private school because public schools are failing kids AG: Um, yeah. So, the problem with that is that our public schools need to do better. There’s no question about that. And any kind of diverting public funds from public schools will only weaken our schools. There’s been no plan that I’ve seen whatsoever that would lead anyone to believe that that’s going to fix our public schools. And let’s remember, that’s where the greater in Alaska 90% or so of our kiddos are. And look, I’ve been a homeschool Mom, I very much appreciate how important that opportunity is. I’ve also been a public school mom and in the homeschool program, I was through that I went through the public school option. And I’ve been a longtime education advocate. I know our schools can do better and our and frankly, our children deserve better. So that’s really what I’m after, but we need to make sure that we’re not decimating the public schools that already struggle with low enrollment in these remote communities particularly. LT: We have a question through either Facebook or email from Cheryl that wants to know, how can Congress help improve public education? What do you think you could do if you’re sent to Washington in that regard? AG: Yeah, so there’s a lot to be said for having someone in there who is a champion for the cradle to career perspective. As somebody who spent 20 years as a mom, who’s homeschooled their kids, who’s worked for the state in education, and who’s worked as an advocate. I know the issues in our state. I know what we can do better. The lack of federal funding, particularly when it comes to special education, but also when it comes to early learning opportunities is really hurting Alaskans. We have the least amount of readiness in kindergarten when our kiddos walk in at five years old. We also have the least amount per capita of opportunities for early learning; that comes from federal funding. That is a problem for us. And you’re probably aware that there are kids who are dealing on a daily basis with that, [and it] will affect the federal level of our support. And in some ways, too much testing has been a problem. And that’s a result of federal mandates that we can work on to improve. There are issues that have historic bipartisan success, and I can’t wait to get working on those related to not only the pre K, but also what we can do in after school off opportunities that those are federal dollars, what we can do to make sure that our ESL and are so that second English as a second language, are reading many of the dollars that are kind of extra come in from the federal level vocational training, for example, and apprenticeship. All of that can be supported from federal resources. And that’s what I intend to be a champion in Washington about it. We’re long overdue. LT: All right, let’s go back to the phones for a moment. Susan is in Bethel. Hi, Susan. CALLER: Thanks for taking my call. I’m calling concerning the 2020 census. The cutoff date that was originally going to be end of October has been moved up to the end of September, for reasons unclear, and unjustifiable to me. So anyway, the cutoff is a month earlier. There’s a lot of promotion going on to get counted, but the reality is it looks like we’re going to be under-represented and underfunded. Airports roads, schools, health care, federal funding. So should you come on board, and I’m voting for you, should you come on board and be our new representative on this for Alaska, how will you deal with the fact that we’re probably being undercounted as far as figuring out federal funds? And I’ll hang up and listen for the answer. AG: Susan, thank you so much. This is a real big worry of mine, I’m worried that our people are not getting counted. These last minute changes will disproportionately affect our real communities. So what that will involve is somebody needing to be there articulating that we have been under counted that that’s happening and we need to then listen to the local leaders and get numbers from them and make sure that nobody’s left behind. It affects school funding or hospitals, or roads, many different things. And we need to be, you know, mindful that somebody needs to be shouting about this. It’s things like what we know that during the 2010 census, for example, American Indians and Alaskan Native people were under counted by, oh, around 5%. I think it’s 4.9 or something like that, which is the by far the highest undercount of any group, which means that, you know, we’re being disproportionately affected in Alaska; a fifth of our people are Alaska Natives. And we need to appreciate that and make sure that there’s somebody holding accountable the executive branch who’s making decisions rather quickly without input. This has been an obvious issue that, you know, negatively affects Alaska and yet I haven’t heard anything from Representative, I think Don Young has said nothing. And I will always be advocating for Alaska. I want to repeat again, I’m an independent. I’m in this republic service. I am not here to be a career politician here to stand up for any particular flag or party. For me, this is all about people and our next generation and many generations thereafter. And that means that I’ll be there with a clear voice. Talking about issues like census. LT: Alright, thank you for the question. Susan. Laurie is in Anchorage, Hello. CALLER: Hi, this is Laurie from Anchorage. And an issue that’s really important to me is campaign finance reform. And I know that’s a bipartisan issue and I’d like to know how Alyse stands on that. AG: Yeah, thanks, Laurie. campaign finance reform is, is really everything falls down from money. It starts there, and if we, we can’t know, you know, we need to make sure that what we have going on with money in politics is fully transparent. I often talk about a political industrial complex because that’s what it feels like. And it’s confusing to people. People don’t need this kind of chaos. There’s talk of dark money, how do we know where it came from? Can we really be sure that our representative is truly representing what we value if the money that got them there came from all of these places that are not even related to Alaska? In Congress, I will support legislation that will really return the power to the people. It’s as simple as that, including requiring my any outside political group to disclose their donors and spending to the public. And I’ll tell you what, Laurie, I’m walking the talk. I’m not taking a dime from any corporate tax. I think it’s really important that Alaskans know that it’s where they’re where their money is coming from, they should know that. I’ve actually done tutorials on Facebook, little videos helping people know how to look on the FTC and really see where my money’s coming from, where Don Young money’s coming from. It’s really important to me that we restore faith in government. And a key part of that is going to be knowing where money comes from, and where it’s going. I am going to be on this from day one, because we’re never going to clean up our politics unless we can clean up dark money and make sure that all of the people in Alaska know that money and party is not why people are running. I think Alaskans more than any that’s why we have so many independent they want to know that we’re looking after the people of Alaska. LT: We have a question from an email by Sharon in Palmer. She says as an RN of 40 years, I’d like to know if you have any plans for changes to our health care delivery. I’m especially concerned about the limited, limited and expensive options for our elderly populations. It seems there is a lot of room for improvement, especially if it’s a high priority. So what are your let’s start down that road of health care, and we’ll continue it after the break. But what are your thoughts about Sharon’s question here? AG: Sharon hits it right on, but that’s what I’m hearing from Alaskans more than anything else, is that the health care system is broken. It’s not covering enough it’s hard for Alaskans to find doctors, particularly our elders who she was referring to. I can’t express enough how frustrating it is. I had both a grandmother and a great uncle who I couldn’t find [a doctor who] would take a patient with Medicare, and the reason for that is that Medicare is reimbursing up in Alaska to cover the cost of care. So that’s the problem. It’s hard. It’s preventing our elders from really leading lives of dignity and respect. And know where our leaders are failing seniors, I believe more than in health care costs and access to care. Our state has the highest health care costs in the nation; I’m not sure if people are aware of that. But it’s true. And Alaskans, our seniors face ever-diminishing choices for their providers — as I’ve mentioned, my own experience — and really, as they are refusing Medicare patients, imagine what that’s like. Really, really tough for them to feel a sense of dignity. The Affordable Care Act really isn’t — I think that word affordable, it is a tough word. Because it’s not affordable for Alaskans. It did lay the bedrock for protecting Alaskans for pre-existing conditions. I appreciate that. I also appreciate our expansion of Medicaid. But really, this whole system is why I’m running. The health care costs are too high and they’re strangling small businesses. That’s a big problem. Because if we can’t fix it, we’re never going to see our economy grow. And you can’t just repeal it. I know that’s what my opponent voted to do many times and of course, that would bring extreme chaos and problems to our economy. I think we need to strengthen it and I have some ideas around that. LT: So let’s get back into a little bit of healthcare before we move on to the economy and climate change and other things that we’d like to we’ve got lots of questions in about you were talking about the high costs right before the break what needs to happen to lower health care costs within the system we currently have. Do you think it’s the arbitrary nature of charges that vary widely by hospital and medical service providers? Is that drug company prices? What’s the main issue from your perspective? and what’s the fix? AG: There are a few things that I think we could do immediately that would make our system more efficient and effective. Starting with the costs of prescription drugs, they’re skyrocketing. We all know that every single Alaskan is aware of this. And unfortunately, Congress has done nothing Washington has done nothing. And it’s not too hard to simply allow us to buy drugs from other countries where it’s safe like Canada is a good example. Oftentimes drugs are a 10th of the price and they come from the very same manufacturer. There’s no reason for that. Except unfortunately, I think too many of our representatives are getting money from pharmaceutical companies and you know, my opponent, especially as one of them. Another thing we could be doing in terms of pharmaceuticals is making sure that Medicare can negotiate for lower prices, like we do for Medicaid, like we do for Veterans pharmaceuticals. And we’re now paying in Medicare more than 70% more than those other two that I mentioned. And you could imagine the billions of dollars that we’d be saving not only as a country that has a pretty high deficit, but also to our own pockets. It is unconscionable that we have our elders right now, I’ve talked to them myself, cutting their pills in half. And this is one thing that we could do. Also, we should be able to expand health care exchanges as part of the Affordable Care Act across state lines that would grow our pool of applicants that would lower the cost overall. That’s another one. And then, to me, it’s important that we think about what we do well as well. So for example, here in Alaska, we have the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, which is doing good work for over 120,000 or so Alaskans at about half the price. And they’re winning international awards for their wellness outcomes. So I think it’s important as a representative of Alaska to take that example, back to Washington and put it on the table and say, Hey, you know, this is something that’s working well, let’s talk about how we might have options for something like this to buy into. LT: So does that mean that you would support some sort of either something based on the IHS model or a Medicare for all type national health program? Is that something you would support? AG: No. Absolutely not. I think Medicare for all, especially in Alaska is just it doesn’t cover enough it won’t work here. It’s we’ve already seen what Medicare is doing right now given that we’re not even reimbursing Medicare to the rate of care. And so that’s just not a good fit for Alaskans. Really important that we recognize that not every national program is a good fit for our state. LT: Would you advocate for something that looks more like the IHS system? Something based on that, that people could buy into or, you know, expand a pool such as that? AG: I’ve been looking at a lot of programs, and really, like I said, I think that Alaska should be paying attention to what’s working for us, what would bring a solution here. And I want to make sure that we take what is working well. And it’s really critical that we recognize that it’s not the other way around, that we don’t take a Washington program and drop it into our state. It’s very likely that that may not work well, for us. I think a public option in the right setting could be considered, where folks could buy in and it provides competition. You know, that it makes sense that it may work, but we need to sit down and talk to providers that talk to consumers of Alaska. And really, it’s a complicated conversation that needs to happen. And we need to give folks full choices that let the market work. LT: Alright, we’re gonna go back to the phones in a moment, but I wanted to get a question in first about the federal relief funds that have gone out to the country in the last day. Six months or more now of the pandemic, there has been one twelve-hundred dollar direct payment to Americans. Do you think Congress should send out more relief funds directly to citizens? What would you like to see? The recent effort at another relief package failed, we don’t know when it’ll come back. What do you think should happen now? AG: I think that our economy right now, and especially the small businesses need urgent support from the federal government. We need to get back to work. We have to get back to work and that’s going to take investment to help people from shutting down their entire business. And that’s going to cost us money, and I’m not real thrilled about that. But we’ve got to appreciate that. There’s going to be a return on investment if we don’t lose our economy from it from this pandemic. First of all, though, I want to make sure that we highlight that we need to conquer Coronavirus to grow more certainty in our economy. We need to keep our businesses open. Though the lifelines are necessary, direct payments to American consumers should be one of the options considered, because it’s keeping us in. And if we see everybody getting pushed out of their apartments or their homes, if they can’t, as we see the food lines growing longer and longer, we’re going to really be in trouble. And it here in Alaska, we’ve got experience with the PFD showing how valuable those direct payments can be to our economy. And we need to keep the businesses and give them a lifeline. We did like you said earlier, and as long as this public health emergency is still surrounding us, we may need to give another and that needs to be absolutely on the table. LT: Alright, Let’s go back to the phones for a moment. Sally’s in Petersburg. Hi, Sally. CALLER: My question is about term limits. I feel strongly that that is part of the problem with the partisanship in DC. They’ve gotten such strong ties to each other that they don’t think about the whole, and I just wondered how you feel about that. AG: Yeah, I absolutely support term limits. We need to make sure that our leaders are serving their constituents. They need to be serving Alaskans in this case. And that means that they’ve been here lately. You know, that’s part of this right. I’ve raised my four kids here in Alaska. They’ve gone through public education here in Alaska lately. I’ve been to the store buying a gallon of milk here. I’ve been in rural Alaska recently, all over the place and all of that matters. I think that it’s important that that person in Washington knows what it’s like to live in their district. And they’ve got experience of what it’s like to work a few jobs and make ends meet someone who’s been hunting here recently in Alaska. You know what I mean? All of those pieces, I think, show that the representative is ready to bring the voice from their district, in this case, Alaska to Washington. And I agree with you. I think after that many years of serving in this case, it’s been 48. There’s been some important work done especially when Ted Stevens was serving with our current representative, but you know, after a while, it must get pretty hard if you don’t really spend much time living and breathing the Alaskan life. So sign me up for a turn limit. I’m not ready to be a career politician. I want to get in there and do some good public service, and then I want to come back home. LT: Alright, thank you, Sally for the question. Tom is in Juneau. Hi, Tom. CALLER: Hi, thanks for your program very, very much. I don’t know how it is in Anchorage, but here in Juneau, and sporting goods stores, the shelves are empty because, we can call it hoarding if you like, fear of the upcoming election, so far as 22 long rifle ammunition primers, some other kinds of ammo. Congressman Young has been a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment as any Alaskan could hope for. And so I wanted to ask Mrs. Galvin about that, please, and I’ll take it. I’ll take the answer offline, please. AG: Thanks so much, Tom. You know, I think that’s a really important thing for us all to recognize that Alaska is a gun state. It’s funny how every election it seems like that all of a sudden everybody runs and buys ammo. And I think that, you know, we need to recognize that, you know, this is one place where Don Young and I agree. I’m an Alaskan, I’ve grown up in a family of responsible gun owners. I had a cousin who is a huge collector, and I’ve been taught how to hunt. I understand the importance of preserving our Second Amendment and protecting Alaskans way of life. LT: All right, so Second Amendment, yes. Let’s move on a little bit. We’re running out of time quickly and we got a lot of ground to cover here. We were talking earlier about federal relief as the pandemic continues and people are so greatly affected jobs and businesses. The deficit and the national debt are Sky High. It was terrible before the pandemic, the Congressional Budget Office reports that the deficit is projected to rise to 98% of the GDP by the end of 2020, the highest expense since 1945. It would exceed 100% in 2021. What’s the way out of this debt? What are your thoughts about that? AG: Well, I can tell you one thing, we’re not going to climb out of this debt by letting everybody fold up shop and, and get kicked out of their homes. That’s not gonna not gonna fix this. We’ve lost, here in Alaska, 39,000 jobs due to the pandemic. And we’ve got to get that under control. It’s going to require a robust economy. And that’s going to take some good decisions around how we’re going to get money stimulating again, how we’re going to get it moving through our system. And the old solutions for Alaska just aren’t working. The lack of that visionary leadership is missing. I think what we have to remind ourselves is that we have solutions. We have it all right here. We’ve got talent, we’ve got natural resources. We’ve got incredible research being done here in Alaska. We just need the leadership to connect the dots. We need someone in Washington DC telling our story, and getting out and getting the resources that we need. I’ll do that by, you know, promoting responsible development of our natural resources, protecting our social security, expanding educational/vocational training opportunities. By golly, we need Alaskans in those jobs. And lately we haven’t, 25% of our jobs have been held by people outside. That’s because we’re not investing in our education to make sure that we are connecting the dots and need to invest in innovative infrastructure and really help Alaska transition to the economy of the future. LT: And when you talk about responsible development, the federal government is pressing ahead with oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, hoping to hold a lease sale by the end of the year. What do you think about this? Is this appropriate? AG: Well, I think I’ve made it clear that I’m a supporter of responsible oil exploration. And 1002 is one area of the ANWR, that’s been an area that shows some promise. There’s some promise all over the North Slope and south of it. And this is one thing that we do well. I support exploration. I strive and I will continue to strive to maximize Alaska hire for any other work done in ANWR. I’ll tell you what, I was disappointed to see that the state is only going to get 50% of the ANWR revenue, rather than the 90% previously secured by Senator Stevens, I don’t know what happened in that deal. But somehow Don Young didn’t make sure that we got our full value. We were shortchanged. LT: So you think if the government were able to have a lease sale by the end of the year, you’d be okay with that. AG: I think that we need to still, yes, absolutely. We need to make sure to stick with what we have with our regulations. And you know, we’re set up for this. This is what we do. Well, Alaska has been it, you know, for over four decades, handled on onshore drilling well, and I think that we need to make sure to keep up with what we’re doing well, as we know that in the next decade or two, we need to be thinking about the next jobs. And that’s the kind of person I look forward to, you know, I am going to represent all of Alaska and the next generation. LT: The president’s son and other prominent conservatives came out against the Pebble Mine recently, and then the Army Corps of Engineers imposed mitigation requirements that may be tough to meet. What are your thoughts about the Pebble Mine proposal? Do you think the process has been fair? And do you think it should proceed? AG: Well, I’ve been listening to a lot of people in that area. And I have to say, I’m opposed to the Pebble Mine project. Maybe this is one area where I agree with the president’s son. It’s the wrong mine in the wrong location. And it represents too big of a risk to Bristol Bay, which is another important piece of our economy, the greatest salmon fishery in the world. Alaska is a natural resource state. And mining is a key part of our economy, however, you know, so are fisheries, and I am opposed to the Pebble Mine project because they have not demonstrated that current technology can overcome that threat to Bristol Bay. LT: Let’s look at climate change. We’ve got a number of questions from listeners about that. Diane and Wrangell wants to know, how will you address climate change through initiatives and opportunities your office can take part in to support our state, the US and the earth? AG: Hmm, thank you for that question. I was there last June, looking to see and visit with people in the Fish Camp. And unfortunately, it was a ghost town at that time. There’s a whole lot of erosion along the river. We’re not sure exactly what caused the lack of fish last season, but you know, a lot of our communities are really experiencing all kinds of issues around the climate crisis. Whether it’s Newtok or Shishmaref, right, we know that there are crises there. There’s a lot going on where we’re seeing the climate crisis at twice the rate of the rest of the country. But you know, with every crisis, there’s an opportunity as well. While we know that we’ve got acidification of our waters that — gosh, I think they’re now twice what the lower 48 is experiencing and it’s deeply affecting our fisheries. The cost of energy in rural Alaska is still not at all solved. whole communities are needing to be moved, like I mentioned Shishmaref. They’re sinking into the ground due to climate change. At the same time, when I mentioned opportunity, we have some of the best solutions in the country. In this state, you know, we’re already doing things. The most microgrids in the United States per capita, we’ve got natural gas on the North Slope and Kodiak and other places. We have great examples of wonderful energy that’s locally resourced, and we have the experts at UAS, who, you know, they know, more than anywhere else in the world on climate change study. And when I mentioned Kodiak, I should get back to that, because I think it’s such a great example. But we’re there at non hydro power. So it’s about 60/40. They’re doing great work. So we’ve got some good solutions here at home, but we need the leadership to deliver it. So I’m running a minute. I don’t know if you know, but my opponent, you know, he doesn’t believe that climate change is human gods. How are we living in 2020, with a representative who’s been in for 48 years, and he still says that climate change is not human costs. How is that going to work with us? How are we going to move us into the next generation of thinking if he doesn’t agree with that? LT: We’ll revisit that issue, no doubt in future reports on climate and as we have you on for debate for the state in October. Let’s go back to the phones now. Wasillie is back in Napaskiak. CALLER: Hello, Hi. One question, where do you stand on healthcare, also known as Obamacare? AG: On health care, I very much support making sure that every Alaskan can have low cost health care that they can afford that works and the Affordable Care Act. While it is doing a good job, unfortunately, it’s still not affordable, it’s still too expensive. So I think we need to find ways to lower that cost. I mentioned that one way is to allow us to be able to work with other states to increase the number of people buying it. That will lower the cost. Frankly, health care is one of the main reasons I’m running, sir. I want to make sure that we’re not strangling our small businesses or making our people live in a way where they don’t feel dignity. They’re, they’re embarrassed that they can’t have health care. We need to fix it and we can’t just simply repeal it. LT: Alright, let’s keep moving along here. We only have a couple minutes left and I’ve got a couple questions I’d really like to get to candidate Galvin. Do you believe there is systemic institutionalized racism in America’s legal employment and social support systems? Do you think that the protests that we’re seeing across the country are raising legitimate issues about the justice system and in equal treatment of people of color? AG: Yeah, Yes, I do. I think that we have much to learn from our own state history of systemic racism against indigenous people. You know, we can go all the way back to Elizabeth Peratrovich and her speech that she gave in Juneau. I don’t know if you recall, but pretty darn moving. Let me just say, she said, “Look, these signs that say no Natives allowed, no dogs allowed. At the same time. How can we say that racism does not exist in our state?” So this is really preventing us from moving toward a brighter future. I look to listening to the peaceful activists who are sharing their concerns, but then tying it to reform that makes sense. Reform that we know will systemically bring more parity to our education system, our healthcare system or housing system, right? There are many ways and we need to reform policing policies as well as practices within the criminal justice and prison systems that are disproportionately affecting indigenous and black people here in America. I would look at data driven decision making. I’ll be a champion for a strong reentry program from prison and drug treatment programs. People must have support they need in recovery, and find meaningful work, get back to school, reunite with their families, lead full lives in dignity. LT: Alright, thank you for that answer. We only have about a minute left and I just want to grab a couple quick questions here that have come in from email. One question was how many rural Alaskans are employed on your campaign? AG: Hmm, let’s see. I think we have two on our campaign presently. Great question. Let’s see, we also have one American Indian. So that’s three. I want to say that might make us about maybe close to 19%, roughly what we are in Alaska. So let me tell you that we’re still hiring. So anyone out there who has interest, please join us or join our team as a volunteer. We want to be fully representing our entire state. LT: All right. Here’s a question from David that says what corporate PACs has Miss Galvin refused to take money from. AG: Hmm, good question. I can tell you this, let me be clear that I’m not taking money from any corporate PAC, but I’m trying to remember who has asked me, and I cannot recall anyone asking, but I haven’t really made it clear that that door is open. I’m really trying to bring us back to Alaskans knowing who I’m running for and intend to serve. I have more Alaskan contributors than any House race in the history of Alaska, any U.S. House race, so I will tell you how grateful I am that this is becoming a very clear race of the people and happy to dig into the FTC. Like I said, I think it’s important that we have full transparency that everybody appreciates where money’s coming from, we need to get rid of all the special interests. PARTICIPATE: Call 550-8422 (Anchorage) or 1-800-478-8255 (statewide) during the live broadcast. Send an email to email@example.com (comments may be read on air). Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air). LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.LIVE Web stream: Click here to stream.
5 minutes | Sep 14, 2020
LISTEN: A flurry of lawsuits aim to stop drilling plans in Alaska’s Arctic. So what’s next?
Caribou graze on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, with the Brooks Range as a backdrop. (USFWS) Alaska Native groups, environmental groups and, most recently, a coalition of 15 states have filed a flurry of lawsuits over the past month that aim to derail drilling plans for Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve. These are separate lawsuits over separate pieces of land — a lot of land — and it’s a lot to keep track of. Alaska Public Media’s Tegan Hanlon and Casey Grove recently talked over the phone to try to sort through it all. LISTEN HERE: [GROVE]: Well, let’s just get right into it. Can you briefly summarize what triggered these lawsuits? [HANLON]: Yes. So there have been two big, recent developments when it comes to oil and gas drilling on Alaska’s North Slope. Number one: The Trump administration announced in August its official plan for opening up part of the Arctic Refuge to oil and gas development. It’s an area called the coastal plain, and it sits to the east of Prudhoe Bay. The coastal plain makes up about 8% of the whole refuge. But the whole refuge is massive, so 8% of it is about the size of the state of Delaware. It’s a place believed to hold billions of barrels of untapped oil, but it’s also an area where caribou migrate, polar bears den and migratory birds feed. And environmental groups have long fought to keep drilling rigs out. And so, this official plan for oil and gas development on the land comes out in August, and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt says that the federal government could auction off drilling rights in the coastal plain to oil and gas companies by the end of the year. (Once leases are issued, it will be harder for a future president to reverse course.) All of it is a very big deal. RELATED: Trump Administration finalizes plan for oil drilling in Arctic Refuge [GROVE]: OK. I got that part. So, what’s number two. Significant development number two: On the other side of Prudhoe Bay, to the west, sits Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve, also called the NPR-A. There’s already some oil and gas development going on in the NPR-A, but there’s also land that is off-limits to drilling under the current Obama-era plan for the reserve. But the Trump administration is working on a new management plan for the reserve, and it released its final environmental impact statement for that plan in June. The proposal would make about 80% of the NPR-A open to drilling instead of the current 50% or so. And that includes opening up the Teshekpuk Lake area — in the reserve’s northeastern corner — to drilling. RELATED: Trump administration wants to open millions of more acres to oil development on Alaska’s North Slope The next step is the government issuing what it calls a record of decision — or you might hear it referred to as a “ROD” — basically it’s just the final decision. Again, all of it is also a very big deal. And, like the Arctic Refuge, the NPR-A is also thought to hold billions of barrels of oil but it’s also an important habitat for birds and caribou and other wildlife. In both areas, there’s also concerns about impacts to subsistence, the climate and the land. [GROVE]: And then came the lawsuits, right? [HANLON]: Yes! And then came an avalanche of lawsuits. Actually, two of the lawsuits related to development in the Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain were filed Wednesday. One by a tribal government and two village councils and another by a coalition of 15 states including New Jersey and New York and Washington, but not including Alaska. Taken together, the lawsuits are hundreds of pages. At the most basic level the claims very broadly boil down to alleging that the federal government glossed over the impacts that oil and gas development could have on the land, wildlife, climate and subsistence. And, they say, the government failed to follow numerous environmental laws when developing the plans. RELATED: ‘We will give you one heck of a fight’: Lawsuits filed against oil drilling plan for Alaska’s Arctic Refuge Here’s how EarthJustice attorney Kate Glover summarized the claims in one of the Arctic Refuge lawsuits: “The problem is that BLM is pushing prioritizing oil and gas over all other purposes… all of the claims in the lawsuit are targeting their failure to take into account the impacts on Indigenous communities, wildlife, subsistence and recreational wilderness values of the refuge.” The Bureau of Land Management counters that its actions are lawful and based on the best available science. [GROVE]: So what’s the status of the lawsuits currently? Well, they’re all in U.S. District Court in Alaska, so federal court. We’ve got the two just filed. And there are at least four others that are still really early on in the process. Lawyers say the NPR-A lawsuits will likely start moving through the court process once the federal government issues its final decision on a management plan. And, lawyers who filed two other Arctic Refuge lawsuits say they’re now waiting on the federal government to answer the complaint. One lawyer I spoke with said a ruling from the judge may not come for a year or so. [GROVE]: Can the federal government move ahead with a lease sale with lawsuits ongoing? [HANLON]: The short answer is: Right now, yes. The Bureau of Land Management says “there is no legal prohibition” right now for it to move forward with a lease sale, in the case of the Arctic Refuge, or a final decision on a management plan, in the case of the NPR-A. Then if a judge rules in a way that makes the lease sale or the management plan invalid, well, that’s a whole other conversation for us to have. Also: I was curious if the filing of the lawsuits would have any impact on oil companies’ decisions on where to drill. Lawyers who filed the lawsuit are hopeful that’s the case. But Kara Moriarty who leads the Alaska Oil and Gas Association says she doubts it. She says the lawsuits aren’t surprising. “Lawsuits have just become a way of life. And it was not surprising to us. If the industry was concerned about lawsuits these days, they’d probably never invest in Alaska anymore in the oil and gas industry. Trying to use lawsuits to keep resources in the ground has become a tried and trued page out of a playbook by groups.” [GROVE]: Well, to close out: Any ETA at this point on a lease sale or official decision on the NPR-A management plan? [HANLON]: No, no set date announced publicly at this point. That’s the million-dollar question. Reach reporter Tegan Hanlon at firstname.lastname@example.org and Casey Grove at email@example.com.
59 minutes | Sep 11, 2020
U.S. House incumbent Don Young campaigns for his 25th term as Alaska’s congressman | Alaska Insight
Alaska Insight is kicking off four weeks of discussions with Alaska Congressional candidates with U.S. House incumbent Don Young. Congressman Young is seeking his 25th term in Alaska’s sole House seat. Lori Townsend speaks with Congressman Don Young about his priorities if he’s successfully re-elected, and his thoughts on what the federal government should — or shouldn’t — do when it comes to Alaska.
6 minutes | Sep 11, 2020
LISTEN: What can history tell us about which Alaskans face the greatest barriers to employment?
(Alaska Department of Labor) The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the economy, and caused widespread unemployment. While all racial and ethnic groups have been impacted by this trend, nationally, Black and Asian Americans are facing a much greater increase in the unemployment rate, compared to white Americans. The same is true for the Hispanic and Latino populations. This kind of data isn’t yet available for Alaska specifically, and it won’t be for several years. Still, Alaska Department of Labor economist Neal Fried says there is a lot we can learn from looking at history. Listen:
5 minutes | Sep 10, 2020
Ketchikan assembly asks state for LGBTQ protections after overriding mayor’s veto
Protesters gathered June 5 on Ketchikan’s Berth 3 promenade to demonstrate outside a flower shop that reportedly refused to take an order for a same-sex wedding. Ketchikan’s Borough Assembly overrode a mayoral veto and asked state lawmakers to protect LBGTQ people from discrimination on Tuesday. (Eric Stone/KRBD) Ketchikan’s Borough Assembly is calling on the state legislature to pass a law outlawing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. That’s following a 5-2 vote Monday overriding Mayor Rodney Dial’s veto of the measure, which passed last month. It’s impossible to talk about LGBTQ rights in Ketchikan without talking about a downtown flower shop that reportedly refused to take an order for a same-sex wedding. The move prompted a well-attended demonstration across the street from the Heavenly Creations flower shop the next day. And not long afterwards, Ketchikan’s City Council banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression within city limits. But as there’s no state law extending those protections and it’s not clear whether boroughs have the authority to offer them. That leaves Ketchikan’s outskirts unaffected by the city ordinance. So Ketchikan’s borough government weighed in last month to change that. “I think it’s sad that this day and age – actually, it’s not sad, it’s a travesty that this day and age we have to make laws like this,” said Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly Member Sven Westergard at the assembly’s August 17 meeting. He co-sponsored a resolution asking the state legislature to protect LGBTQ people’s rights across Alaska. “To not judge a person by their acts and what they do, if they’re a good or bad person, we judge them by how they look or who they love, it just boils my blood,” Westergard continued. That nonbinding resolution — which was also co-sponsored by Assembly Member A.J. Pierce — passed 6-1. But the borough mayor vetoed the resolution. Rodney Dial cited his faith and said he couldn’t support a law that he said would require Christian artists to create works that violate their religious beliefs protected by the Bill of Rights. He expanded on that reasoning with a 15-minute slideshow citing court cases from across the country challenging similar laws during a Borough Assembly meeting just after Labor Day. “This resolution was about moving discrimination around — transferring it from one group to another because government was making a moral decision that one group’s rights were more important than the other’s. Dial’s presentation culminated with a request to add two more groups to those protected from discrimination under state law. “You can obviously prove me wrong tonight. You can use this resolution to address the greatest discrimination that our country is facing at this moment, which is discrimination against law enforcement officers,” Dial said. The retired Alaska State Trooper said discrimination against police officers was in his eyes “by far a greater problem.” “Any guess what the second-most persecuted group in America currently is? It’s Christians and people of faith,” Dial said. He asked that the assembly amend the resolution to request anti-discrimination protections for law enforcement and Christians. “When I vetoed this resolution I hoped you would come back with a different document, respecting the rights of all citizens, a joint statement we could all get behind — that all rights matter,” Dial said. That’s a play on “All Lives Matter” — a phrase commonly seen as a rebuke of the racial justice slogan “Black Lives Matter.” But the borough clerk told KRBD that procedural issues prevented the assembly from taking up Dial’s amendment to fold in cops and Christians in the LGBTQ rights resolution. Public opinion on the anti-discrimination resolution was split — through two hours of public comment, nine spoke for supporting LGBTQ protections and five submitted letters; seven spoke out against the resolution. Assembly Member David Landis said he also consulted his Christian faith. “But ultimately, it comes down to a legal conclusion,” he said. “I was tempted to search the internet and cherry-pick things that looked good to me and build a case for whatever.” But instead Landis quoted from an email he said he received from the borough’s own legal counsel, Glenn Brown. “There’s nothing inherent unconstitutionally — inherently unconstitutional in the substance of the resolution, nor, in my opinion, adding the requested language to the Alaska Human Rights Law should the legislature ultimately act on the assembly’s request,” Landis said. Assembly Member Alan Bailey initially supported the resolution for LGBTQ protections. But he had an apparent change of heart and joined Assembly Member Sue Pickrell in opposing it. He said the incident at the flower shop had been blown out of proportion and the issue of discrimination against LGBTQ people in Ketchikan had unnecessarily divided the community. That left a five-vote majority, exactly the number needed to pass the request for state anti-discrimination protections over Dial’s veto. That may not be the end of the story, though. In a brief phone interview, Assembly Member Pickrell said she’s considering sponsoring a resolution to ask the legislature to outlaw discrimination against Christians and police — just as the borough mayor had suggested. Rebecca Tauber contributed reporting
3 minutes | Sep 4, 2020
UAA coaches, athletes fight to save skiing, hockey and gymnastics
University of Alaska Anchorage skiiers, coaches and community members gathered Thursday, Aug. 27, at the Hilltop Ski Area at a rally for the university’s ski team. They listened to alumni talk about the impact the sport has had on the community. (Tegan Hanlon/Alaska Public Media) Student athletes and coaches from the University of Alaska Anchorage are fighting back against a proposal to cut ice hockey, skiing and gymnastics at the state’s largest university. UAA leaders say they have to save money and the teams must go. But, athletes, coaches and other community members are pleading for more time. They say they can find a way to cut costs, raise revenue and save the sports. LISTEN TO THIS STORY: Allie McClure had just boarded her flight to Anchorage in mid-August when she got a message from the UAA gymnastics coach about an emergency Zoom meeting. “So we all hopped on really quick before we took off, and she broke the news to us,” said 18-year-old-McClure. The news: UAA leaders had just announced a proposal to eliminate gymnastics, skiing and ice hockey. McClure said she was shocked. She’s from Idaho, and had enrolled at UAA, in large part, because of its gymnastics program. Now, she found herself on her way to Alaska for her first time, with days to go until the start of her freshman year and with this new information that her team might not exist next year. “To have that news come as you’re making the move of a lifetime was pretty hard,” she said. “It brought so many questions and worries.” Fast-forward two weeks, and McClure is now in Anchorage and deeply involved in a fight to save the gymnastics team. She’s not alone. Dozens of people have called into recent meetings held by UAA leaders and University of Alaska regents and demanded they keep Anchorage’s gymnastics, hockey and ski programs. There have been rallies, petitions and social media posts. Many argue there are ways to fundraise and trim expenses to save the sports. Some called the decision to cut the teams short-sighted, and say UAA will lose high-achieving students who are role models for younger athletes and who often decide to stay in the state after graduation. “We went through the list and there’s hundreds of people who stayed in Alaska, working and raising their families after they skied at UAA,” said Joey Caterinichio, an alumna of the UAA ski team. In a statement Wednesday, UAA Chancellor Cathy Sandeen said she’s grateful for the feedback, but what it comes down to is money. The University of Alaska system has faced repeated state funding cuts, and it’s expecting another one next year. UAA’s enrollment has also declined, meaning fewer tuition dollars, and the coronavirus pandemic has brought additional expenses. Sandeen has said the university already cut academic programs and the budgets for facilities and administration — and it still needs to reduce expenses further. She said eliminating ice hockey, gymnastics and skiing would save UAA about $2.5 million a year. UAA leaders have looked at ways to make the teams more sustainable long-term, but did not find any realistic solutions, Sandeen said. RELATED: UAA proposes cutting hockey, gymnastics and skiing But Georgia Burgess, a UAA senior on the ski team, said it feels like the university is just looking at the sports as dollar amounts on a piece of paper, and not the larger impacts. Cutting the ski program in a city that embraces winter feels like an oxymoron, she said. “Alaska, skiing. It just makes sense,” Burgess said. UAA Hockey Coach Matt Curley said he feels the same way about ice hockey. It’s like cutting a football program in Texas, he said. “We’re mad,” said UAA hockey player Tanner Schachle, a college junior. “We were just starting to turn a new leaf with the program — winning games and getting people into the seats.” Schachle’s brother was supposed to play on the team as a freshman and, at the last minute, decided to withdraw from classes this fall when he heard about the proposal. Schachle said he imagines many of the student athletes on the ice hockey, skiing and gymnastics teams will also go elsewhere for college if the programs disappear. There are currently about 70 students between the teams. Schachle and Curley, the coach, said what they’re asking university leaders for now is more time. “Give us some time to re-rack and reevaluate where we’re at and what we have to do moving forward to sustain a program that’s been here for 40 years,” Curley said. A final decision on the proposal to cut hockey, gymnastics and skiing at UAA is likely coming soon. UA Regents are meeting on Sept. 10 and 11, and they’re expected to weigh-in on eliminating the teams.
4 minutes | Sep 3, 2020
With ‘cheerful honking’ Juneau celebrates Pride with outdoor drive-in drag show
Roman Wilde dances during the Glitz Drive-In Drag Show on Saturday, August 29, 2020 in Juneau, Alaska. The show capped off a week of digital events celebrating Pride in Juneau. (Photo courtesy Rashah McChesney) Juneau’s LGBTQ+ community celebrated Pride last week with a series of events focused on advocacy and support for each other. But the celebration wasn’t complete without the annual Glitz drag show. And this year, the show was held outdoors for the first time to maintain social distancing. Gigi Monroe (James Hoagland) talks to the crowd after a Drive-In Drag Show on Saturday, August 29, 2020 in Juneau, Alaska. Monroe said it has been six months since the last live show. (Photo courtesy Rashah McChesney) Juneau’s drag mother GiGi Monroe is getting ready for her first in-person show in about six months. Since the pandemic began, she’s been hosting digital drag shows with plenty of support from the community, but says it’s just not the same as getting on stage. “It’s really hard when you’re trying to imagine a room of 100 people when you’re performing and all that you see is your phone or your laptop and that’s definitely the biggest challenge,” said Monroe. Monroe, who goes by James Hoagland when not performing, and husband Jeff Rogers partner with Juneau-based LGBTQ+ social group SEAGLA to host the annual Glitz drag show to celebrate Pride. Now in its sixth year, the show was postponed until organizers found a way to host an outdoor show in person. It got so much community support, they added a second performance. “With this being our first time attempting an outdoor live show, there were so many variables in play,” Monroe said. “We didn’t want to take on something that was like way more than we could handle.” The stage for the show is set up in the parking lot of a dorm at The University of Alaska Southeast. At 10 minutes to showtime, Monroe is in a trailer wearing her Vegas showgirl opening number outfit — a rhinestone dress with a rainbow feathered headpiece and black opera length gloves. She’s also wearing a protective face shield. “It feels awesome,” Monroe said. “We’ve missed each other so much and just to be here, live with the other performers is really, really a treat.” Luna makes her drag debut during the Glitz Drive-In Drag Show on Saturday, August 29, 2020, in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Rashah McChesney) Ricky Tagaban, whose stage name is Lituya Hart, is one of the eight performers at this year’s Glitz. Tagaban says the fun in drag is the visual storytelling. “I really like feeling pretty, selfishly, that’s probably like, one of the biggest reasons,” said Tagaban. Tagaban dressed as Cyndi Lauper and performed a remix version of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” “I love her aesthetic,” Tagaban said. “I just think she’s very fun and very artistic and she seems very free. And I’ve always been really drawn to that sort of freedom.” A crowd gathered in their cars to watch the Glitz Drive-In Drag Show on Saturday, August 29, 2020 in Juneau, Alaska. The show capped off a week of Pride events that were primarily digital due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy Rashah McChesney) The Juneau drag scene is also known for having its fair share of drag kings. Brita J. Fagerstrom who’s known onstage as Roman Wilde is one of the kings who performed at Glitz. “Kings bring a lot of different energies to, you know, shows,” said Fagerstrom. “Not that it’s competitive, but you kind of feel the pressure to like, make yourself better and more exciting for every show. You know, that’s kind of the way the family feels.” Fagerstrom did two numbers: one as an 80s rocker performing ACDC’s “Highway to Hell” and the second as Waldo from the “Where’s Waldo” books, performing Matthew Wilder’s “Break My Stride.” And Fagerstrom says after several months without performing on a stage, the Glitz show was a “5 million dollar ticket.” “Especially something like drive-in drag, that’s like completely foreign to me even as like a bar king,” said Fagerstrom. “I normally perform at bars in front of people but the added caliber of like the cars and the lights, it was just phenomenal.” As for the audience — whose cars filled the lot of both shows — the cheerful honking said it all.
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