Et tu, Begich?

Weekly Clips May 16, through May 30, 2013

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-AK

Et tu, Begich?

The Tundra Drums: ’ve been accused of growing up somewhat sheltered in terms of Alaska politics – I was raised in a little leftist bubble, you might say, that encompassed Bootlegger’s Cove, Chugach “Optional” Elementary School, and, that hotbed of young liberalism, Steller Secondary School.

I remember when then-city assemblyman Mark Begich visited the Steller auditorium to explain (somewhat sheepishly, I thought at the time) why he supported a new teen curfew inAnchorage. Begich, you see, was one of our own – Steller class of 1981 – so we all felt a little betrayed. It wasn’t that all teens were bad, I remember him saying, it was just that a curfew would let police officers stop the bad teens from being out late doing nefarious, perhaps gang-related, things. That would make everyone safer. If good teens were punished in the process, if the scope of what they were allowed to do was limited, that was just the unfortunate byproduct – basically, our freedom was being curtailed for everyone’s safety.

It was my first realization that even a sympathetic politician – even one of your own – will sometimes sell you out if it’s expedient for a higher goal. I was reminded of this when the votes on the Manchin-Toomey amendment came out.

I know Alaskans love their guns. We love our Second Amendment rights. In addition to being a red state overall, we have a healthy share of hunters, survivalists and Libertarian-minded individuals. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where we’d ever give up the right to possess enough firepower to hold off an invading army.

But many of the most ardent gun advocates also seem to think that if the FBI won’t let a person buy a gun at a shop due to, say, killing innocent people previously with guns, they shouldn’t be able to hit up a gun show with a credit card and brash impunity. That’s just inconsistent. It’s apparently not just my liberal bubble denizens that think so. A recent poll conducted by Public Policy Polling seems to indicate that many Alaskans – 60 percent, according to the poll – support expanded background checks.

That Lisa Murkowski voted the amendment down was no surprise. But Begich?

Begich, of course, is up for re-election soon, and I imagine he is feeling a little nervous about looking too blue for Alaska’s Republican-leaning constituents (not our majority, but the largest bloc of voters registered with any political party). When he spoke of his stance against the expanded background checks he said “there are common-sense things we can do to keep our communities safe, but we must do them without undermining our Second Amendment rights… Unfortunately the bill on the Senate floor today would have done just that.”

Perhaps Begich doesn’t believe he should vote yes on anything with even a whiff of gun control about it. Perhaps the NRA has him in their pocket. Perhaps he really believes what he says. Perhaps he’s just making sure that felons and the mentally ill retain their Second Amendment rights. I don’t know.

But when I was in high school, Begich told me that safety would have to be at the cost of freedom. Today, apparently, freedom must not be curtailed by safety. Both times I wondered what end he was working toward. It’s just the opposite, and more of the same.

Victoria Barber is the editor of the Anchorage Press, former editor of The Tundra Drums and the Seward Journal.

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Tea Party’s Joe Miller: Off but running in Alaska

Juneau Empire: The controversial, ultraconservative Tea Party activist who upset Alaska’s Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the 2010 GOP primary, and then lost to Murkowski in the general election, has filed papers to run for the Senate in 2014.

Joe Miller has filed a Federal Election Commission form stating he intends to run against Democratic Sen. Mark Begich.  Given Miller’s low poll ratings, that’s potentially very good news for Begich.

 

Controversial Tea Party-backed Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller.

 

The form, disclosed in Politico, states that the Fairbanks-based Miller plans to run for the Senate as a Republican, and that Citizens for Joe Miller in his campaign committee.  A more conventional Republican, Lt. Governor Sean Parnell (“lite governor” to the Alaska Ear column of the Anchorage Daily News) is also exploring the race.

Alaska is a very red state.  Yet, its fractious Republicans have fought over control of the state party.  Wasilla, Alaska, Mayor Sarah Palin upset incumbent Gov. Frank Murkowski in the 2006 GOP primary.  In 2010, Palin supported Miller against Lisa Murkowski, who was appointed by her father to the U.S. Senate.

Miller imploded in 2010 when his controversial views became known.  He wanted to phase out Medicare, privatize Social Security, wondered whether unemployment insurance was constitutional, and said he would not fight to bring federal dollars to Alaska.  A reporter critical of Miller was detained against his will by the candidate’s “security” detail.

Miller is serving up the same old red meat.  In an April letter to potential supporters, the Fairbanks lawyer declared:

“With the reelection of Barack Obama, our very way of self-government is in peril.  Though I was labeled an ‘extremist’ by the likes of Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich for telling the truth, both of our sitting senators now routinely engage in such ‘extremist’ rhetoric with respect to federal overreach, government spending and entitlement reform.”

Murkowski staged a comeback in 2010, becoming the first U.S. Senate candidate in 54 years to win in a write-in campaign.  Miller contested the write-in count every step of the way.

At least one Tea Party group has urged Palin to make the Senate race, prompting a wicked putdown from Sen. Murkowski, who implied that the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate no longer lives in the state.

A Republican pollster, Harper Polling, found in a survey earlier this month that 49 percent of those polled had an unfavorable opinion of Miller, while just 34 percent had a favorable opinion.  Seventeen percent had no opinion or had not heard of Miller.

Begich upset longtime (1969-2008) Republican Sen. Ted Stevens in 2008 by a 3,700-vote margin.  Stevens had been convicted of federal charges, having to do with payment for a remodel on his Girdwood, Alaska, home.  But the conviction was later vacated due to misconduct by Justice Department prosecutors.  Stevens was later killed in a light plane crash near Bristol Bay.

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Zuckerberg’s Big Step Into Politics Is Pushing Tech Friends Away

San Francisco Gate: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s bipartisan political organization is losing friends.

The group backed by technology millionaires and billionaires, called FWD.us, began advocating in April for changes to U.S. immigration law. Within weeks, FWD.us surprised some of its members by setting up partisan offshoots and airing ads promoting Democratic Senator Mark Begich’s support for oil drilling and RepublicanSenator Lindsey Graham’s backing of the Keystone XL pipeline.

It’s a strategy intended to give political cover to some senators who may support an immigration bill by reminding uneasy voters of the lawmakers’ other policy priorities. Yet the tactic angered some pro-environment donors and sparked a social-media campaign against Zuckerberg.

“The right way to accomplish political objectives is to argue issues on the merits,” Elon Musk said in a telephone interview. The billionaire co-founder of PayPal and chairman of electric carmaker Tesla Motors Inc. stopped participating with FWD.us earlier this month. “We want a political system that is less cynical over time, not more,” Musk said.

Technology entrepreneur Anil Dash, who declined to join the group, was more blunt, writing on his blog, “If we’re finally moving past our innocent, naive and idealistic lack of engagement with the actual dirty dealings of legislation, then let’s try to figure out how to do it without losing our souls.”

With the Senate planning to begin debate on immigration the week of June 10, the feuding with FWD.us risks diluting the strength of and sapping energy from organizations seeking to promote the bill’s passage.

 

High Stakes

 

The stakes are high, as the technology industry for a decade has sought more temporary visas for skilled employees, saying there aren’t enough qualified Americans to do such jobs as software engineering. Labor unions dispute that, arguing that Silicon Valley companies want to deflate wages by importing cheaper workers.

Introducing FWD.us in an April 11 essay in the Washington Post, Zuckerberg wrote that FWD.us would focus on immigration and also help on issues such as improving science, technology, engineering and math teaching in schools and increasing funding for scientific research.

As a social-welfare group, FWD.us isn’t required to reveal its donors and is limited in the amount of political work it can do. FWD.us lists 36 founders and major contributors on its website, without disclosing how much money they’ve given or the group’s total budget.

 

Political Background

 

The backers are a who’s who of the digital age. Among them: Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill GatesLinkedIn Corp. executive chairman Reid HoffmanNetflix Inc. chief executive officer Reed HastingsYahoo! Inc. CEO Marissa Mayer andGoogle Inc. executive chairman Eric Schmidt.

Some of them are seasoned political contributors. Schmidt, for example, is a top donor to President Barack Obama and Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican and tech advocate.

Zuckerberg, 29, is newer to politics, having never written a check to Obama or any other federal candidate, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, based in Washington.

In April, the FWD.us offshoots spent more than $1 million on a trio of TV commercials which aired for about a week in home states of senators.

In one TV spot, Graham, a South Carolina Republican, says he wants to build the Keystone pipeline to transport tar-sands oil from Canada. In another, a narrator reminds viewers that Begich, an Alaska Democrat, wants to drill for oil in a wildlife refuge. Neither commercial mentions immigration.

 

Tested Strategy

 

The Graham ad reflects a time-tested political strategy, said Haley Barbour, an adviser to FWD.us’s Republican group and Mississippi’s former governor.

“It’s very appropriate to remind people of his judgment so that, as voters learn about immigration, they listen to him,” Barbour said in an interview. “It’s a proven concept, used in all kinds of advertising. And for good reason — it’s logical.”

Musk and another former FWD.us donor,David Sacks, who founded business networking site Yammer Inc., concluded otherwise and quit Zuckerberg’s group. Sacks declined to comment through Yammer spokeswoman Belinda Wong.

At the time those ads were airing, FWD.us’s Silicon Valley- based president Joe Green, was pitching other tech entrepreneurs for support. After having lunch with Green, Dash and Josh Miller, a founder of startup company Branch, both wrote online essays expressing their reservations.

 

Silicon Outrage

 

The group’s approach, “though pitched as ’pragmatic’ and ’smart’ by Beltway insiders, is typically only practiced by large pharmaceutical companies, gun manufacturers, and the like,” Miller wrote in an essay posted to the website Buzzfeed.com.

Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla has more sharply criticized Fwd.us, asking May 5 in a Twitter message why the the group was willing to “prostitute climate destruction & other values to get a few engineers hired & get immigration reform?”

Keith Rabois, a partner at Khosla Ventures, is a contributor to Fwd.us. The company didn’t respond to requests for comment.

In addition to the Graham and Begich ads, Zuckerberg’s group is running radio and TV spots that emphasize the “tough” aspects of the immigration plan.

 

Limbaugh Ads

 

A minute-long ad airing now on the national talk-radio shows of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity begins: “Our immigration system is a joke, and the whole world knows it.”

It goes on to say that Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, andRepresentative Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, “are working on plans to change that. It all starts with real border security, more fencing, more manpower and high- tech surveillance.”

Of those ads, Rob Jesmer, the FWD.us campaign manager, said, “There’s a lot of conversation about immigration happening on talk radio. We’d be foolish not to get our message out over that medium.”

Opponents of FWD.us’s tactics recently started using some of the same social-media sites that made the group’s backers wealthy.

Some environmental and Democratic-leaning groups, including the Sierra Club,League of Conservation Voters, CREDO and MoveOn.org have banded together to criticize FWD.us through a Facebook page and Twitter account.

 

Tumblr Dance

 

The coalition created a Tumblr last week to take aim at Mayer — whose company just purchased that micro-publishing outlet for $1.1 billion.

“We’d like this Yahoo! gif better, and do this dance, if Marissa Mayer dropped FWD.us,” the Tumblr concludes, showing a dancing animation.

“These are the people who should be helping us figure out how to have a better democracy, and yet they’re just using old, broken D.C. strategies,” said Becky Bond, political director of CREDO, a super-political action committee started by a mobile phone company. “They have built their careers on communities of millions of users. We just want to make sure those users know what they’re doing.”

 

–With assistance from Alan Ohnsman in Los Angeles. Editors: Jeanne Cummings, Robin Meszoly

 

To contact the reporter on this story: Julie Bykowicz in Washington at jbykowicz@bloomberg.net

 

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net

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Categories: Alaska politics Tags:

A Laundry List of reasons to oppose John Hickenlooper and Mark Udall

Weekly Clips for May 2, 2013 to May 16, 2013

Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO)

Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO)

Obama golfs with two GOP senators

Washington Times: May 6: President Obama hit the links Monday morning with two Republican senators who have said they are interested in striking a bipartisan, long-term budget deal.

Mr. Obama headed out to the golf course at Andrews Air Force Base with Republican Sens. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Bob Corker of Tennessee, as well as Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado.

The game wasn’t on the president’s schedule, but White House spokesman Jay Carney said it was part of an ongoing outreach effort to Republicans to help Mr. Obama break through partisan acrimony and try to build support for his second-term agenda, which includes tackling the nation’s fiscal woes, tightening the nation’s gun laws and overhauling the immigration system. Mr. Obama has already attended two private dinners with Republican lawmakers this spring.

Many lawmakers of both parties have criticized Mr. Obama in the past for aloof and failing appreciate their viewpoints.

“The president looks forward to discussing a range of topics,” Mr. Carney said. “This is in keeping with his engagement with lawmakers in both parties — in particular Republican senators — to see if he can find some common ground.”

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Mark Udall ‘Extremely Concerned’ About Warrantless Email Searches

Huffington Post: May 6: Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) said Thursday he was “extremely concerned” over revelations that the FBI continues to believe it can conduct warrantless email searches despite a federal appeals court’s ruling that they are unconstitutional.

Using a public records request, the American Civil Liberties Union received a set of FBI documents Wednesday. An internal June 2012 department guide included among the documents shows that the FBI believes it can obtain the contents of emails without a warrant if the email was sent or received through a third-party service.

In at least one case before that guide was written, however, a federal court disagreed: In the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals found that emailers using cloud services have a reasonable expectation of privacy and are protected by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution’s warrant requirement.

“I am extremely concerned that the Justice Department and FBI are justifying warrantless searches of Americans’ electronic communications based on a loophole in an outdated law that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled was unconstitutional,” Udall said in a statement.

Many email providers, including Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo have adopted the 6th Circuit’s reasoning, asking for a warrant every time the government wants access to emails. But others may be less stringent in their requirements, turning over email on the basis of administrative subpoenas that are not given serious judicial review. It’s not clear how often the FBI actually applies for full warrants in practice.

Udall is one of a number of senators who have sought to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, which governs how law enforcement agencies get access to emails, to always require a warrant. The Department of Justice has signaled its openness to the warrant requirement — but according to the latest documents, its apparent position is that until the law is updated, it can continue writing simple subpoenas.

The IRS’s Criminal Tax Division had previously taken a similar position to the FBI, but backed down after criticism from Udall. Neither the DOJ nor the FBI responded to requests for comment on Udall’s statement.

Udall said the ACLU’s disclosures about the FBI documents would “only harden my resolve that we must update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to protect Americans’ constitutional right to privacy.”

“Americans’ right to be free from ‘unreasonable searches and seizures’ applies regardless of whether it involves a letter stored in a desk or an email stored online.”

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Take care of U.S. citizens first

Coloradoan: May 12: I recently attended a roundtable meeting in Evans hosted by Sen. Mark Udall. The topic of discussion was illegal immigration. The invited guests (I was not one of them) consisted of approximately 10 to 15 members of the panel who are pro-illegal-immigration reform and two members speaking against the “Gang of Eight” immigration reform bill.

What drove me to attend and try to have my voice heard was an April 18 article in the Coloradoan titled, “Sen. Michael Bennet: Economic side of immigration bill helps Colorado.” When Sen. Bennet was questioned about the bill giving amnesty to illegal immigrants, he stated, “This is a citizenship that’s earned.” The phrase “earned citizenship” was repeated by Sen. Udall during this roundtable. I sat and listened to Sen. Udall’s response to table members’ questions, such as, “While we are in temporary status, will we qualify for student loans and grants?” and “Will our family members get moved further up in the line?” He promised the table members that he would definitely pursue those issues for them.

When I had my one minute for a question, I explained to Sen. Udall that when I retired from the Air Force after 20 years and my husband was still on active duty, we packed up our family and moved to Cheyenne, Wyo., where my husband was reassigned. Leaving our family behind was difficult, but the military, like many employers, doesn’t give you the option of saying no. Once the family was settled, I decided to pursue my graduate degree. I had two choices; drive over the pass to Laramie and pay in-state tuition or drive south to Fort Collins and pay out-of-state tuition. I drove south and attended CSU. I willingly paid out-of-state tuition because that was the law — I was not, at the time, a legal resident of Colorado. I shared my frustration that now you can live in this state, not be a U.S. citizen and pay less for your publically funded education than someone who is a citizen and served 20 years in the military. The senator was sympathetic and stated that he “wished the pot was bigger.”

The truth is, the pot of money is probably not going to get bigger. We need to get more involved in what our elected officials are doing and urge them to make sure that our tax dollars will be used to provide services to citizens of this country, not people who are not only not citizens but who broke our laws by coming into this country illegally.

Finally, I’d like to share my idea of “earned citizenship.” I saw it when I watched my 22-year-old Marine son, who served two tours in Afghanistan, plan his road trip back from Colorado to Camp Lejeune. With sadness in my heart, I watched him calling cemeteries to find out where his buddies are buried and then contact a Marine mom and dad who lost their only child, one of my son’s closest friends, during one of the deployments — that’s earned citizenship. Never forgotten — I hope our senators don’t forget us.

Chris Kelley is a Fort Collins resident.

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Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO)

Marijuana publications threaten lawsuit over Colorado’s new legal pot regs

Daily Caller: A Denver lawyer is threatening the first of what may be many lawsuits to come should Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper sign into law bills dealing with the historic legalization of recreational marijuana.

But it’s coming from an unexpected quarter, over a portion of the regulatory bill that has gotten almost zero attention compared to the rest of the issues it deals with — how retail stores treat pot magazines.

According to the bill awaiting Hickenlooper’s signature, publications like High Times that feature glossy pictures of cannabis plants are to be dealt with more strictly than pornography, kept behind the counter and away from the prying eyes of children.

This amounts to a First Amendment violation, according to attorney David Lane, who is representing two marijuana magazines, the Daily Doobie and Hemp Connoisseur.

Lane is known for representing controversial and colorful clients, including former University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill. What his clients have in common, in Lane’s estimation, is a valid claim that their freedom of speech is being violated.

In this case, Lane believes the violation is “blatant,” as he wrote in a letter to Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, warning him that if the governor signs the bill into law, as expected, “he can expect a First Amendment lawsuit filed promptly.”

Legal expert Dan Recht, quoted on Denver Channel 7, said the issue isn’t as tangential as it sounds.

The government can regulate publications that deal with illegal issues more strictly than those about legal topics, he said. Given pot’s weird limbo status as being legal in Colorado, but illegal under federal laws, it’s yet another unanticipated can of worms resulting from Colorado having legalized pot.

“[T]his is a new issue, given that marijuana is newly legal in Colorado,” Recht told the TV station, “and I suspect that because it’s legal that this section will be found unconstitutional.”

He added that adult magazines like Playboy and Penthouse aren’t restricted to behind-the-counter display, even though they can only be purchased by adults.

“So it seems to me the distinction is not a fair one and frankly not a constitutional one,” he said.

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Election fraud bill signed by Gov. Hickenlooper

The Washington Times: COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., May 12, 2013 — Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper Friday signed the highly controversial Colorado Voter Access & Modernized Elections Act, widely known as the Election Fraud Bill. Proponents claim the bill is about increasing voter turnout, but the devil is in the details. Perhaps more to the point: There are plenty of devils in the details.

Liberal media claim the measure is about enfranchising voters, but allowing same-day voter registration, eliminating residency requirements and the category of inactive voter are really about creating pathways to fraud.


SEE RELATED: Voter fraud bill introduced in Colorado


Last November, Colorado had almost 10,000 attempted fraudulent votes. Half of those were late registrants. Of the other 5,000 ineligible voters, 700 had attempted to vote twice, 2,600 were not residents of the state, and 50 were felons not eligible to vote.

Under the new law, those voters — and many more like them — could register to vote on election day with nothing more than a utility bill to prove their identity. Furthermore, they could vote in any jurisdiction they choose since residency requirements, currently 30 days, are erased.

There are no more provisional ballots — every ballot cast, fraudulent or not, counts.

The new law emphasizes mail-in ballots. The familiar neighborhood polling places are gone, replaced by a small number of regional centers. While about 70 percent of Coloradans vote by mail-in ballot, the remaining 30 percent are either forced to travel farther and wait in longer lines or are discouraged from voting altogether.


SEE RELATED: Recalls of Colorado anti-Second Amendment senators heat up


Again last November, almost 12,000 mail-in ballots were cast and rejected due to signature discrepancies. How many more made their way through the frequently lax signature verification process? How many were valid signatures were improperly rejected?

By eliminating the category of inactive voter, ballots are sent to every registered voter, no matter how long it has been since that voter actually cast a ballot. Proponents claim that it is simpler for voters who miss one election and then get inactive status: In fact, it takes multiple missed elections to be classified inactive.

Inactive voters are typically people who have moved away or died. The new law will flood the mails with ballots. One apartment dweller I spoke with said he got eight ballots at his address. The U.S. Post Office won’t verify that the person is still living at an address before delivering the ballot. An unscrupulous person can sign and return all the ballots.

“This bill challenges the very foundations of our republican form of government,” said Senator Greg Brophy (R-Wray). “Our democratic institutions will be severely damaged by giving citizens reasons to question the integrity of the elections that select our legislators, our governor, and our president.”


SEE RELATED: Citizen-led petitions saved in Colorado


All Republican legislators and Secretary of State Scott Gessler were deliberately excluded from helping draft the bill. No Republican legislator voted for the bill at any stage; Secretary Gessler testified against it.

Also opposed were five of the state’s elected county clerks from Weld, El Paso, Arapahoe, Elbert and Douglas counties, who represent over one-third of Colorado’s nearly three million eligible voters. They were opposed because of their concerns about the likelihood of increased fraudulent voting under same-day registration.

Sponsors of the bill claim it was bipartisan because they enlisted the cooperation of two Republican Clerks: Jefferson County Clerk Pamela Anderson and Mesa County Clerk Sheila Reiner. Also supporting the bill were the clerks of La Plata and Boulder counties. The complex bill was written behind closed doors. No amendments were allowed.

Testimony on the bill lasted just four hours: The complex 126-page bill really needed months of study by a variety of experts.

Election laws should not be partisan issues. They affect the very foundation of Colorado’s election system and are of concern to all citizens.

Citizens from across the state turned out to testify against the bill. The Chair of the Prowers County Democrats called HB-1303, “…too complex, too rushed and too high risk!” On the Western Slope, Harvey Branscomb wrote, “As an experienced Democratic Party activist, I find myself blowing the whistle on an undemocratic process — rushing passage of a bill containing too many defects.”

Josef Stalin is reported to have said “Those who vote decide nothing. Those who count the vote decide everything.” By increasing the pool of ballots, the law creates a superhighway to election fraud, but the law also goes to the heart of election integrity in another way.

It allows government to take control of what belongs to the people by pretending that elections are to be a government-run function, not a citizen-directed function.  Citizen watchers of the elections process, for example, are removed by this new law. Ballots are handled by the county clerks essentially behind closed doors.

Marilyn Marks of The Citizen Center, who testified against the bill, says that the bill is “…an attempt to pull Colorado back to the pre-1890’s voting methods that required decades of massive reform to curtail widespread corruption in American elections.”

Governor Hickenlooper has first-hand experience with the kind of elections system envisioned in this new law: Denver’s transition from paper poll books to a city-wide electronic poll book and its change from 210 neighborhood polling places to just 55 vote centers in 2006. The result led to an election that then-Mayor Hickenlooper called “catastrophic.”

Hickenlooper told The Denver Post that he vowed “to make sure this never, ever happens again.”

It looks like Colorado is going to have to learn those lessons all over again after all.

READ MORE from Al Maurer at Red Pill, Blue Pill

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Hickenlooper signs job-creation bills

Biz Journal: Ed Sealover: The theme of Monday’s bill signings might have been “The Day of Job Creation,” in a week that will be filled with such signings from the just-completed Colorado legislative session.

In the morning, Gov. John Hickenloopersigned two of the few bills extending state tax credits to come out of the 2013 General Assembly. In the afternoon, he signed the measure that expands eligibility for Medicaid — a change that one report said will create more than 22,000 new jobs in the state in the next 13 years.

First, the Democratic governor held a ceremony at Centennial Airport, in which he made law House Bills 1080 and 1287.

HB 1080 — sponsored by Reps. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, and Tracy Kraft-Tharp, D-Arvada — expands a $1,200 incentive tax credit for airplane manufacturers to any company that refurbishes or repairs aircraft as well.

HB 1287, sponsored by Reps. Dianne Primavera, D-Broomfield, and Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, extends by five years a job-growth income tax credit for employers that economic development professionals have called the most successful in state history.

“These are … bills that incentivize job creation,” Hickenlooper said at the morning ceremony.

Robert Olislagers, executive director of Centennial Airport, suggested HB 1080 as a way for smaller facilities such as his to be able to keep and attract companies that turn aircraft into medical helicopters or repair private aircraft. At first, observers believed it would have only a small effect, as the nonpartisan Legislative Council estimated it would help produce only eight new jobs that are eligible for the tax credit next year.

But as the bill gained momentum — only four of the 100 legislators voted against it — Denver International Airport officialsbrought it up as part of continuing negotiations with the City of Denver to eliminate its part tax on aircraft equipment. Frontier Airlines has said it hopes to move hundreds of heavy-maintenance jobs back to this state if it can get rid of some onerous tax conditions.

And Olislagers said Monday that even before it was signed into law, the new tax break was partly responsible for Sierra Nevada Corp. hiring 140 new people since January. Other companies have called him as well, looking to bring jobs to his facility, at least somewhat because of HB 1080.

“The runways behind us are not just big slabs of concrete that connect Arapahoe and Douglas counties,” Holbert said. “They really act as portals of commerce that connect us to the world.”

HB 1287, meanwhile, extends from 2018 to 2023 the end of a program, begun in 2009, that allows relocating or expanding companies that create at least 20 new jobs, which pay at least 110 percent of the average county wage, to take a tax credit equal to 3.8 percent of each of those new jobs created.

This credit has been used to attract 27 companies that have said they’ll create roughly 7,200 jobs. It played a big part in getting both DaVita HealthCare Systems Inc. and Arrow Electronics Inc. to move their headquarters to Colorado and contributed to the state attracting 12 new corporate headquarters in 2012 alone, said Tom Clark, executive director of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp.

“This piece of legislation is the first time in our history that we were able to compete with Texas on an equal footing,” Clark said.

In the afternoon, Hickenlooper signed Senate Bill 200, sponsored by Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, which expands Medicaid eligibility to all adults in Colorado that make 133 percent of the federal poverty level or less — $15,282 for an individual or $31,322 for a family of four.

While Aguilar’s goal was to help every Colorado resident get access to affordable health care, SB 200 may have other positive side effects for the economy as well.

After Colorado hospitals offered $1.7 billion in uncompensated care to uninsured and underinsured patients in 2011, the fact that they will be seeing a lot more people who have Medicaid insurance is important, saidSteven Summer, president/CEO of the Colorado Hospital Association. That will slow the cost shift by which private insurers are charged higher prices by hospitals to make up for the lack of money coming in from other patients, he noted.

Also, a Colorado Health Foundation studyreleased in February stated that the health care field will need more than 22,000 new jobs to take care of the newly insured patients. That could boost the economy by $4.4 billion in the next 13 years, it stated.

“This is supporting working Coloradans and improve economic security for working families and even for businesses,” Hickenlooper said.

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President Hickenlooper? No thanks, say Coloradans

Daily Caller: Colorado Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper has consistently denied any interest in a presidential bid, despite persistent rumors to the contrary.

Now, Hickenlooper can point to polling data to help make his case that he’s not interested, if only because Coloradans wouldn’t vote for him.

A new poll, conducted by Colorado-based Ciruli and Associates, found that only 30 percent of Democrats and 19 percent of unaffiliated voters think Hickenlooper should run for president.

The news comes amid a long backdrop of both local and national speculation that he would make a strong contender.

At the beginning of the legislative session, when Democrats vowed to tackle the sorts of tough gun control legislation sought by President Barack Obama on the federal level, Politico included Hickenlooper as among Democratic leaders “who [aspire] to a national leadership role.”

A variety of news outlets – from the Huffington Post and the New York Times to local publications like the Denver Post and 5280 Magazine – have run speculative articles in recent months and years, all despite Hickenlooper’s consistent efforts to quell the rumors.

Even his ex-wife helped fuel the conjecture, after Hickenlooper revealed that she offered to remain married to him if he decided to try for the Oval Office.

If the poll is accurate, it would have been for naught; not even voters in his own party believe he could win the Democratic nomination.

The poll does show some Republican support for a “Hickenlooper 2016″ campaign, with 13 percent of Colorado GOP voters in favor. But the reasons why aren’t especially flattering.

“Those thirteen percent are mostly a mixture of a few Republican fans and a few who believe their party will nominate someone even more unacceptable,” the poll states. “Finally, there are some who just want to get him out-of-state to reduce the damage and open the governorship up.”

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Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2013/05/15/president-hickenlooper-no-thanks-say-coloradans/#ixzz2VEPHnVuk

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Letters urge governor to deny clemency for Nathan Dunlap, sentenced to death for 4 murders

Denver Channel: May 10: Gov. John Hickenlooper is being asked to “show courage” by denying clemency for Nathan Dunlap, sentenced to death for killing four employees of an Aurora Chuck E. Cheese during a robbery in 1993.

Letters to the governor from the Arapahoe County District Attorney and his deputy district attorney, the jury foreman on the last Colorado death penalty case from State Representative Rhonda Fields and from a former co-worker were made public Friday.  All of them argued that Nathan Dunlap deserves the death penalty for his crime because he admitted killing all four employees to eliminate witnesses in the case.

The only other inmates on Colorado’s death row were also convicted of killing a witness in a criminal case, the son of Rep. Fields, who was scheduled to testify against them.

The jury foreman on the Robert Ray case, who did not want his name released, wrote Hickenlooper, telling him “Mr. Dunlap, as he stated himself, killed people because they would be witnesses. Freedom, peace and justice are all values worth more than any one of our individual lives.”

The foreman called the Chuck E. Cheese murders as “Aurora’s original mass shooting.” He also addressed augments that racism played a part in placing Dunlap on death row.

“You must trust that your citizens are not racists or ignorant fools,” the jury foreman wrote.  “Show the nation that Colorado does not tolerate cowardly acts of mass murder.”

Rep. Rhonda Fields wrote the governor about her personal experience in the death penalty trials of Robert Ray and Sir Mario Owens — the two men convicted of killing her son and his fiancé.

Fields also argued that racism did not play a part in any of the three death penalty verdicts — all rendered in Arapahoe County.

“It was not the fault of the DA back in 1993 or the DA in 2005 that Dunlap, Ray and Owens all chose to commit their murders in Arapahoe County.  It was the nature of the murders, not their locations, that cause the death penalty decisions.”

She called it “offensive” to suggest that race played a part in any of the cases.

Regarding the Ray and Owens death penalty verdicts, Fields wrote, “… the jurors believed that the killing of witnesses was the main factor that required the death penalty.”   She added, “I know that Dunlap, when asked why he killed his victims, answered that it was because they were witnesses to his crime.”

She concluded her letter to the governor by saying, “I think that granting clemency would send the wrong message to criminals and to witnesses.”

District Attorney George Brauchler and Chief Deputy District Attorney Matt Maillaro wrote a joint letter to to Hickenlooper, stating, “He (Dunlap) took the lives of four Colorado citizens and justice requires he now pays with his own.”

“We ask you to take the courageous stop of not granting his request for executive clemency,” the two also wrote.

“It’s not John Hickenlooper putting Nathan Dunlap to death, it’s the governor of the State of Colorado defending the process that has lead us here,” Brauchler told 7NEWS reporter Marc Stewart.

A former Chuck E. Cheese co-worker and high school acquaintance of Nathan Dunlap also wrote Gov. Hickenlooper, urging him to not grant clemency for the condemned murderer.

The woman, who did not want to publicly identified, told Hickenlooper, “(Dunlap) was always a vindictive, evil and mean dark person.”

She said Dunlap is a “bad person, he always has been and I believe he always will be … His actions did not just happen to occur on this one horrible night, it was from the monster that he always was.”

The woman relates personal interactions with Dunlap at school and at work where she said he used “intimidation and fear.”

The woman said she was scheduled to work the night of the murders but had changed her schedule in order to babysit. She said that decision saved her life.  She is now a nurse.

— DA’s response: http://ch7ne.ws/11Z9LxB

— Ray jury foreman and Rep. Fields responses: http://ch7ne.ws/16niHmb

— Letter from co-worker who was supposed to work the night of the shooting: http://ch7ne.ws/10odAtF

Dunlap has been sentenced to die by lethal injection during the week of Aug. 18.  The last person executed in Colorado was Gary Lee Davis in 1997.

Before that, the last person executed in Colorado was Luis Monge in 1967. Monge was executed in the gas chamber for murdering his wife and three children. Prior to his death, Colorado averaged one execution per year for the years the gas chamber replaced hanging in the state, which was 1934.

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Hickenlooper rolls out plan to make Colorado ‘healthiest state’

Denver iJournal: May 7: Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday announced “The State of Health: Colorado’s Commitment to Become the Healthiest State” — a plan designed to make Colorado the healthiest state.

The plan will create a comprehensive and person-centered statewide system to address a broad range of health needs, deliver the best care at the best value and help Coloradans achieve the best health possible.

“We will build on Colorado’s unique — including our strong health economy and infrastructure and our dedication to collaboration and innovation — to become the healthiest state,” Hickenlooper said.

The plan reflects input from stakeholders including healthcare providers, advocates, lawmakers, insurance companies and foundations. The plan focuses on these efforts:

Promote Prevention & Wellness: Five initiatives to help Coloradans stay healthy and become healthier, including efforts to prevent more than 150,000 Coloradans from becoming obese, support improved mental health and better oral health, reduce substance abuse, and encourage wellness among state employees.

Expand Coverage, Access & Capacity: Three initiatives to ensure Coloradans can access care at the right time and the right place, including efforts to reduce Colorado’s uninsured population by more than 520,000, strengthen Colorado’s health workforce and improve access to primary care.

Improve Health System Integration & Quality: Four initiatives that eliminate barriers to better care and improve our ability to work effectively to ensure person-centered care, including major expansions to patient-centered medical homes, facilitating better access to state information and services, integrating physical and behavioral health, and improved long-term services and supports for Colorado’s aging and disabled populations.

Enhance Value & Strengthening Sustainability: Three initiatives that promise to redesign financial incentives, refocusing them on value, not volume. These include $280 million in cost savings to Colorado Medicaid, payment reform across the private and public sectors, and investments in health information technology.

The full report is available by clicking here.

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Colorado volunteers to fill its skies with domestic drones

Daily Caller: May 10: Most of Colorado’s congressional delegation and Gov. John Hickenlooper have signed a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration asking the agency to turn the state into a testing ground for unmanned drones — even while acknowledging that the public remains uneasy about how they might be used by both the government and private individuals.

Democratic Sen. Mark Udall is leading the charge, touting the state’s varied terrain, its robust aerospace industry and an existing unmanned aircraft program at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

“Colorado has a unique mix of qualifications that makes it ideal for this designation and we urge the FAA to approve our state’s application,” the letter reads. The FAA is considering designating six areas in the United States for drone research.

In a speech at the National Press Club Wednesday, Udall was careful not to use the word “drone” too heavily, opting instead for the industry-preferred “unmanned aerial system,” or UAS.

“The public is well aware of the military applications of unmanned systems, for better or for worse,” he said. “But UASes have begun to demonstrate their potential in any number of other functions. They will certainly reshape the way we do things from search and rescue operations to natural disaster assessment to precision agricultural and resource management.”

“We need to integrate UASes into the American psyche in a way that isn’t threatening or scary,” he continued, noting that the word “drone” carries a stigma because most people associate them with “Hellfire missiles and the headline-grabbing work our government is doing overseas.”

They’re also associated with the concerns from civil liberties groups, including in Colorado, who see the potential for their misuse. The Mesa County Sheriff’s Office in Western Colorado has begun using drones for search and rescue.

In a recent National Geographic article highlighting Mesa County’s drone, Jay Stanley of the American Civil Liberties Union encapsulated many people’s concerns about the growing use of the technology.

He worried that it would begin with “mostly unobjectionable” uses, such as supporting police chases or raids, but then creep into spying on Americans under the justification that it’s necessary for national security.

The scenario becomes more worrisome when considering armed drones.

Last year, a Texas sheriff proposed arming one of his department’s drones with weapons that can fire tear gas and rubber bullets, but during a demonstration, the $300,000 drone crashed into the SWAT team’s armored car.

CU-Boulder is one of just 63 agencies and organizations already authorized by the FAA to test fly its own fleet of unmanned aircraft as part of a decade-old public-private partnership.

Although its aircraft are used by the university to study the weather, CU’s research is funded in part by arms manufacturers and defense contractors like Raytheon, SAIC and Lockheed, as well as by NASA, the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which commissions research on behalf of the Department of Defense.

One drone developed by CU researchers to chase storms has been used in U.S. Navy experiments to launch hard-to-track, sensor-carrying glider-drones the size of small birds that can land within 15 feet of their programmed target.

Applications like that tend to make the public nervous about how they will be used — whether by government agencies or private owners — especially as they get cheaper and easier to use.

“While recognizing the potential for unmanned flight systems that lower costs, reduce risk and allow access to environments that are currently inaccessible, we must also acknowledge the potential for misuse,” Udall said. “Our laws need to keep pace with this new technology.”

The right kind of laws protecting privacy and trespassing would help keep people from thinking about “a sky full of drones watching their every move,” he said.

In addition to Udall and Hickenlooper, Democrats Sen. Michael Bennett and Rep. Diana DeGette, along with Republican congressmen Doug Lamborn, Ed Perlmutter, Mike Coffman and Scott Tipton, signed the letter to the FAA.

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Uber CEO: Hickenlooper is all talk when it comes to supporting innovation

Denver Post: May 7: The CEO of Uber – a technology darling that essentially transformed town cars into taxis with a smartphone app – slammed Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper during a recent appearance with Google D.C. Talks, the search giant’s series of panel discussions covering tech policy issues.

Uber launched in Denver last year and is fighting to stay in the market as Colorado regulators decide how the startup and its e-hailing service fit into state transportation rules.

“The PUC of Colorado tried to put some regulations – really the governor of Colorado and his Public Utilities Commission put out regulations that are essentially trying to put us out of business,” Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said at the April 23 event.

The remark drew surprise from the event’s host, CNN anchor Jessica Yellin.

“Hickenlooper? He seems so technology friendly,” Yellin said.

Kalanick continued criticizing Hickenlooper, who launched the Colorado Innovation Network in 2011 to support the state’s innovation ecosystem.

“He’s an entrepreneur and he’s technology friendly and he embraces innovation every step of the way until he actually has to,” Kalanick said. “He talks the talk, but we have not seen him walk the walk. … He’s trying to push that taxi agenda. He’s talking about innovation on one side, but trying embrace the taxi side at the same time, but you can’t do both. You just can’t.”

Hickenlooper’s spokesman Eric Brown issued the following statement Tuesday:

“The PUC is an independent regulatory agency under Colorado law. The governor was not involved in the issues related to Uber. Anything suggested to the contrary isn’t based on our state’s laws, regulatory structure or how we operate.”

Hickenlooper’s office, though, has told Uber supporters that the company is not following state regulations by failing to disclose the exact cost of a fare before riders get into a vehicle. Uber’s app provides an estimated cost.

“In multiple meetings over the past several months, PUC staff has explained these requirements to Uber’s attorneys and lobbyists,” Hickenlooper’s office states. “Uber insists, however, that its luxury limousine providers can provide transportation service without telling their customers what it will cost when the ride is arranged. Failure to disclose the price is contrary to regulations and public interest.”

Administrative Law Judge Harris Adams has held two public hearings to review regulations that could impact Uber’s operations. He is expected toissue his recommendations to the PUC within the next month or so.

Taxi companies have complained to the PUC that Uber has an unfair advantage because it can offer a taxi-like service without facing taxi regulations.

Uber contracts with third-party limo companies that are licensed with Colorado. The tech upstart, which has faced similar battles in states across the country, argues that it is merely connecting riders with drivers via an innovative smartphone app.

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Hickenlooper orders oil, gas commission to review enforcement program

Denver iJournal: May 9: Gov. John Hickenlooper has signed an executive order that directs the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to undertake a review of its enforcement program, penalty structure and imposition of fines.

The review was ordered after HB13-1267 failed to pass the General Assembly. That bill would have taken a harder line on oil and gas spills.

“The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission should re-evaluate its enforcement philosophy and approach and strive to structure fines and penalties to ensure that operators comply with rules and respond promptly and effectively to any impacts from such violation,” the order says. “Appropriate penalties for violations of rules on those developing oil and gas constitute one tool available to the Commission. Penalties are designed to discourage violations and encourage prompt response in environmental or public health and safety concerns in the event that violations occur. For these reasons, Colorado requires strong and clear enforcement of the rules and assessment of fines and penalties accordingly.”

The order directs the COGCC to undertake a strategic review of its violation and penalty assessment program used to enforce its rules and state law. The COGCC is also directed to evaluate its rules, consistent with its statutory authority, regarding the adjustment of fines based on aggravating and mitigating factors so as to strongly deter violations and, equally strongly, encourage prompt and cooperative post-violation response and mitigation.

Not everyone is impressed.

“What the frack is the Governor doing?” Gary Wockner of Clean Water Action asked in an email. “Hypocritically, he killed this exact bill a few hours ago [Wednesday] in the legislature and now he’s trying to take credit for himself — and away from the people and their representatives — by saying he’s addressing this issue?  This Executive Order is an outrageous attempt to gain political cover and advantage for his failed policies to protect the public’s health from cancer-causing drilling and fracking chemicals.”

Per the governor, the COGCC must structure these adjustments so as to hold the oil and gas industry to the highest operating standards in the nation for protection of public health, safety, and welfare, including the environment and wildlife resources. In doing so, the order directs the COGCC is directed to:

Apply the statutory maximum as necessary to protect public health, safety, welfare, and environment;

Establish minimum fine amounts in the case of a violation that involves an especially egregious or aggravating factor;

Provide that certain violations or series of violations preclude the process for administrative orders on consent and must instead undergo the hearing process set forth in C.R.S. § 34-60-108;

Make clear the process for determining the date on which a violation occurs and thereby penalties begin to accrue; and

Post all violations and the basis for penalty assessment is made publicly available on the website.

“The Commission is directed to undertake any other necessary policy and rule changes consistent with this order and will detail its compliance with this order in a report to the Governor’s Office no later than December 10, 2013,” the order says.

In addition, the order says the commission is directed to report to the Governor’s Office each year by Dec. 10 on all violations, any and all penalties imposed regarding violations, and the rationale for the calculation of final penalty assessments, including fines.

Finally, the order directs the Commission to develop and adopt an “enforcement guidance” setting forth procedures for processing violations, including the issuance of notices of violations, calculating or adjusting penalties, and imposing and collecting fines.

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Categories: Colorado Politics Tags:

Tracking Mark Begich March 7 to 21

Weekly Clips from March 7, 2013 through March 21, 2013

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-AK

Photo: Begich watchers

Juneau Empire: April 5: Erin Shine, left, Yasmine Habash, center, and Debra Higgins, all staff to Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, watch as Alaska Sen. Mark Begich arrives for his annual speech to a Joint Session of the Legislature on Monday.

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Debate over Alaska Native voting may be a preview of 2014 Senate race

Alaska Daily News: March 10: The sparring over whether U.S. Sen. Mark Begich was correct in his assertions last week that the Parnell administration and some legislators seek to suppress Native voting may foreshadow a larger battle in the 2014 election.

That conflict would follow a story line of the 2012 presidential election: Did some Republican-governed states attempt to place roadblocks in front of traditional Democratic voters, such as the elderly and minorities, to tip the field in favor of Mitt Romney? That question ended up in several courts before the November election and was seized as an issue by President Barack Obama’s supporters.

And now the issue appears to be coming to Alaska.

In his annual address to the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, Begich said he and other Alaskans were concerned “about recent trends in our state making voting more difficult,” especially for Alaska Natives and the growing Hispanic communities. He criticized the administration of Gov. Sean Parnell for trying to get a section of the U.S. Voting Rights Act declared unconstitutional, as well as legislators who are backing a bill to impose new identification requirements for voters, such as a photo ID.

Begich’s speech was soon followed by a statement from the author of the voter ID bill, Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, that he was “shocked” that Begich could conclude his measure would make it harder to vote for rural residents, whom the state even allows to drive without picture identification.

Two days later, Alaska Elections Director Gail Fenumiai asked Begich to correct “two misconceptions” in his talk and denied that the state’s two-prong legal attack on the 1965 U.S. Voting Rights Act was an assault on minority voters.

“I strongly dispute your assertions that the division makes it more difficult to vote here or that the state has imposed any obstacles to voting,” Fenumiai wrote in a letter to Begich released by her staff.

Begich answered that he “stands firm” on the points in his speech and that rural Alaska Natives had come to depend on the Voting Rights Act “to protect themselves from barriers at the ballot box.”

An Alaska Democratic Party official followed up with examples backing Begich, citing attempts by the Elections Division to shut down village polling places and to fail to provide assistance to speakers of Yup’ik and other Native languages until ordered by a federal judge in Anchorage. That case, before U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess, a George W. Bush appointee, only concluded in 2012.

“This is really an issue of national importance,” said the official, Zack Fields, communications director for the state Democratic Party. When voting is less restrictive, he said, Democrats do better.

Republicans say that when voter identification rules are lax, ballot fraud becomes a problem.

 

JUSTICE DEPT. OVERSIGHT

The 2014 election holds big stakes in Alaska. Begich, a Democrat in a Republican-leaning state, is up for re-election, a race that could determine whether Democrats keep control of the U.S. Senate. While centrist Democrats like Begich have shown they can win a statewide election here, the contests are usually close.

Republican Gov. Parnell is also standing for re-election — unless he chooses to run against Begich. Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, the state’s top election official, has already announced that he is exploring a run against Begich.

The Alaska Redistricting Board, which remade the legislative map for the 2012 election, is under orders by the Alaska Supreme Court to redraw at least some districts by 2014. Under the 2012 map, Democrats ended up with small minorities in both houses of the Legislature, and two Native legislators and the sole African-American legislator were replaced by whites.

Most of the issues related to Native voting — the village poll closings, voter identification, preserving legislative districts where enough voters are Native that they would have strong influence on the outcome, election material made available in indigenous languages — are tied to protections under the Voting Rights Act. Alaska is one of nine states — most are in the South — that are subject to Justice Department supervision under Section 5 of the act. That means that any change to voting procedures must be cleared by the Justice Department before it can be implemented.

Native American Rights Fund Attorney Natalie Landreth, a specialist in the Voting Rights Act in Anchorage, cited the example of the small Prince William Sound village of Tatitlek, where in 2008 the Division of Elections proposed to shift its polling place 33 miles away to Cordova. No road connects the two communities.

Fenumiai, the election official, said the division proposed the Tatitlek consolidation and others were proposed because of the difficulty in finding poll workers.

“Every election cycle we struggle to find poll workers in those communities, even reaching out to the tribal council offices for names and not getting any success there,” she said. The division alerted the Justice Department to the change, and said it would accommodate the villagers with absentee ballots.

The Justice Department responded with a “MIR” letter — more information requested.

“It would’ve taken the division a very long time to answer that and we were butting up against the election, so we just made the choice to withdraw the request,” Fenumiai said.

To Landreth, that was one of many examples of how Section 5 helped villagers, assuring them of the same fundamental voting rights held by urban residents. To the state, it was an example of federal interference.

The Parnell administration is fighting the Voting Rights Act on two fronts. It has joined a challenge to Section 5’s constitutionality brought by Shelby County, Ala., next door to Birmingham, where the infamous Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor loosed police dogs and fire hoses on unarmed demonstrators in the 1960s — a direct cause of the civil rights legislation that followed. And it filed its own lawsuit in Washington, D.C., seeking an order removing the state from Section 5 oversight.

“Section 5’s preclearance requirement is onerous and time-consuming, creates uncertainty and delay, and places Alaska’s elections at the mercy of Department of Justice attorneys in Washington, D.C.,” the state said in its complaint. “Alaska cannot make the smallest change to its election procedures, even those that do not affect minority voting, without prior permission of the Department of Justice.”

The Voting Rights Act would likely prevent Rep. Lynn’s voter ID bill from ever becoming law in Alaska, as long as Section 5 remains intact, Landreth said.

 

PHOTO ID

Before the current legislative session began, Lynn, the chair of the House State Affairs Committee, had vowed to hear the bill as one of his committee’s first orders of business. Nearly two-thirds through the session now, that hasn’t happened. The Supreme Court will decide the Shelby challenge by the end of its term in June, so the legislature will know whether Section 5 still exists in its 2014 session, in time to pass the bill before the election.

Lynn’s bill would require a photo ID to vote — the first time Alaska has had such a requirement. The bill says a voter could also use two pieces of non-photographic evidence, such as an original or certified birth certificate or a government license. That replaces the current identification requirement, which allows for a single form of identification that could include a bank statement, utility bill or government or payroll check showing the name and address of the voter.

In his speech to the Legislature, Begich said that requirement would disenfranchise elderly village voters, including the grandparents of two of his staff members. They’ve never gotten an ID, he said. “I’m going to tell you right now, they’re not getting one. But they vote, and they participate in their villages.”

Begich also accused the Parnell administration of opposing Native language ballots.

Fenumiai responded that the division currently provides assistance to speakers of several Native languages as well as Tagalog for voters from the Philippines living in Kodiak, and Spanish.

But the division and the city of Bethel were sued by the Native American Rights Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union for failing to provide language assistance in the Bethel region. The Elections Division lost that case, first under a temporary restraining order issued by Judge Burgess in 2008, and then the final order in 2010.

Until the lawsuit, Fenumiai said, “The division never realized or was told that there were any problems or issues with the language assistance that was being offered.”

Landreth said there are still language access problems in rural Alaska that have yet to be resolved. \

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Begich to Bureau of Land Management: Stop Lollygagging on Legacy Wells

Alaska Native News: Sen. Mark Begich pressed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to step up their measures to plug legacy wells and requested that Bud Cribley, BLM Alaska state director, formally and personally reassure Alaskans that BLM has a workable plan for the wells.

“I trust you are well aware of the widespread desire in Alaska to see these legacy wells addressed as soon as possible,” stated Sen. Begich in his letter. “Given that pressure, what options are available to your agency to expedite the FHPA review for all the wells at one time? What resources are available to your office to move the review quickly and at the least cost to taxpayers?”

Sen. Begich pledged to assist BLM while making it clear that the agency was ultimately responsible for clean-up efforts. “While I stand ready to assist from my position on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, Alaskans expect better results on the legacy well issue than they have seen to date,” stated Begich.

The full text of the signed letter can be read here.

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Begich Takes VA to Task for Inefficiency, Failure to Deliver Benefits

Alaska Daily News: At a hearing today of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC) U.S. Sen. Mark Begich grilled officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on the backlog of disability claims preventing veterans everywhere from receiving critical benefits they earned for their service in the U.S. military.

During the hearing, Begich highlighted the outdated and ineffective system by explaining that the most common request his office receives from constituents is to assist a veteran in claiming their benefits.

“Today’s hearing confirmed what I hear from veterans in Alaska every day – the VA is mired in paperwork, they don’t have a process to deal with it, and our veterans are paying the price,” said Begich. “This is totally unacceptable and I will be staying on top of the VA to make sure we get this bureaucratic mess straightened out and that our veterans get the benefits they have earned and deserve.”

Begich also pressed the VA to report back on moving electronic records between DOD and VA to cut down on wait time for service men and women transitioning out of the military.

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Begich Calls Out National Democrats for Misguided Letter on Revenue Sharing, Arctic Development

Alaska Daily News: Senator Mark Begich took to the Senate floor on Wednesday to respond to a letter sent by eight senators to the Senate Energy Committee excluding Alaska from the oil and gas revenue sharing enjoyed by southern states along the Gulf of Mexico.

“I take exception to my colleagues—especially colleagues on my side of the aisle,” said Begich. “As this letter is laid out, it’s really just about opposing offshore development of any kind. These folks just don’t like oil and gas. That’s how I read it.”

Begich referenced the Alaska Adjacent Zone Safe Oil Transport and Revenue Sharing Act, the bill he introduced on January 31, 2013 to secure a share of federal revenues from offshore oil and gas development. These revenues would be directed to the State of Alaska and Alaska’s coastal communities in the same manner it is provided to Gulf Coast states from drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. It will provide support to state, local and tribal governments for public-sector infrastructure required to develop the resources, address the impacts in affected communities and, if necessary, respond in terms of emergency.

Additionally, Begich’s bill requires oil and gas from the Chukchi and Beaufort seas to be brought to shore through a pipeline. “The pipeline is safer than tanker transport and ensures future through-put for the Trans-Alaska pipeline that feeds this country.”

The measure breaks down stakeholder sharing by providing Alaska with 37.5% of the federal bonus bids and royalty share from any energy development, fossil or renewable. Of that 37.5%:

25% is directed to local governments;

25% is directed to Alaska Native village and regional corporations;

10% is directed tribal governments;

40% goes to the State of Alaska. The bill also dictates that:

15% of the federal share of royalties is directed to the Land and Water Conservation Fund

7.5% of the federal share is dedicated directly to deficit reduction.

The complete speech can be viewed in our video section.

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Does Alaska have a voter fraud problem?

Alaska Dispatch: March 14:  A voter ID bill that drew sharp criticism from U.S. Sen. Mark Begich on his recent visit to the Alaska Legislature is moving forward, with its sponsor denying the senator’s claims about the bill.

RELATED:

Alaska voter ID proposal under fire in Legislature

Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, said his House Bill 3 was the victim of “misinformation” spread by Begich, D-Alaska.

“Nothing whatsoever in House Bill 3 prevents anyone from voting if they are registered and motivated to vote,” he said Thursday, while chairing the House State Affairs Committee hearing his bill. Those who don’t have photo ID can present other forms of identification or cast questioned ballots, he said.

Compared to a poll tax

Stricter voter ID requirements was the focus of Begich’s remarks – and his criticisms were reinforced at a hearing Thursday by Jeffrey Mittman of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska and Joy Huntington of the Tanana Chiefs Conference.

Mittman likened the cost of getting an ID to an unconstitutional “poll tax” that would likely be overturned, if challenged, in court. Begich has stood by his comments as well.

Huntington said she didn’t get a photo ID until age 20 when she got her drivers’ license. Before that, she only drove four-wheelers around the village. Many Native elders don’t have photo IDs either, she noted. But Elfin Cove’s Travis Lewis supported the bill, and said it was needed –even in his small Chichagof Island community. It wouldn’t make legitimate voting more difficult, he contended.

“I can’t imagine anyone in this day and age who doesn’t have proper identification,” he said.

Despite numerous comments saying there was no voter fraud problem to address, Lewis said he’d seen what looked like it in Elfin Cove.

“We have people from other states with voter registration cards who are voting in our community,” he said. Those people may well be voting elsewhere as well, he said.

Aimed at fraud

Supporters of the bill, such as co-prime sponsor Lynn, call the proposed regulation necessary to protect elections against the possibility of voter fraud.

“Even one case of voter fraud is one case too many,” said Forrest Wolfe, a member of Lynn’s staff.

Other committee members expressed skepticism that the bill’s goal was worth the risk it could inhibit legal voting.

Rep. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, said she was uncomfortable with the bill, even if it only disenfranchised the few people who got by without photo ID.

“It’s a handful of people in the state, but I don’t care if it is only one person, their vote has value and they shouldn’t be disenfranchised,” she said.

Vice-chair Rep. Wes Keller, R-Mat-Su, the bill’s other prime sponsor, urged the committee to pass the bill on to the Judiciary Committee, so questions about its legality and constitutionality could be addressed. He assured them that allowing it to pass out of committee was not an indication of support, though he did note that he personally supported it.

While some committee members expressed skepticism, only Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, said he was opposed, calling the bill an attempt to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

“I feel it flies in the face of reality as far as there being an actual problem,” he said.

The move to Judiciary, the bill’s second and final committee in which it will be heard, may look much much like its first committee.

The bill’s two prime sponsors, Lynn and Keller, reverse their roles from House State Affairs when it goes to Judiciary. There, Keller is the chair and Lynn is the vice-chair.

Contact Pat Forgey at pat(at)alaskadispatch.com

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