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AK Beat: GOP addresses its pot problem

Alaska Beat

Republicans grappling with marijuana policy: At the Conservative Political Action Conference, underway in Maryland, some GOP conservatives are struggling to come to terms with a growing feeling in the party that marijuana prohibition just doesn't work, reports The Atlantic. At a panel discussion about states that have legalized pot, Morning in America radio show producer Christopher Beach found himself facing a room that, according to The Atlantic, didn't have much sympathy for the pro-prohibition side of the argument. "There used to be a strong conservative coalition opposed to drugs, but it's dissipated in the face of mounting public support for legalization," Beach told The Atlantic. "We're fighting against the tide on this." Alaska Republicans -- and Democrats, third-party voters, independents and nonpartisans -- have until August to decide where they stand on the issue; that's when Alaskans will vote on a ballot measure that would legalize marijuana on the Last Frontier.

Alaska Supreme Court opposes Judicial Council changes: In a rare political statement, the Alaska Supreme Court has come out against legislative efforts to change Alaska's judicial nomination process. Friday, that political role drew criticism, with one legislator saying he was "appalled" at the court's involvement in politics. Candidates for judicial appointments are now sent to the governor by the Alaska Judicial Council, a group made up of three lawyers appointed by the Alaska Bar and and three citizen members appointed by the governor, along with the state's chief justice. Resolutions in the Alaska Legislature seek to amend the Alaska Constitution to change that system have been introduced in the House and Senate. They aim to add additional gubernatorial appointees to the council, potentially changing its makeup and recommendations. The bills are being pushed by some of the legislature's most conservative members, including Rep. Wes Keller, R-Wasilla. At a Friday House Judiciary Committee hearing, House Joint Resolution 33 was opposed by Alaska Court System General Counsel Nancy Meade. "The resolution has the potential, as others have testified, to change the quality of judges on the bench," she said. The process has previously focused on merit and qualification, but could shift to politics, she said. The court system and its role in the opposition to the bill wasn't a huge surprise, as former Chief Justice Walter "Bud" Carpeneti had already publicly opposed the bill and testified against it Friday. But Judiciary Committee Chair Keller took issue with the court getting involved in politics. "I'm appalled and frustrated," he said. Keller's committee is sponsor of the bill, and the location of the Friday hearing. He said the court system was stepping outside is proper role. "The judiciary's role is to interpret and apply our laws that we write in the Legislature," he said. He questioned why the justices found the issue of adding more public member "so earth-shaking." The change, said Meade, would mean that six appointees of the governor would be submitting recommendations to the governor for his choice. The Supreme Court only gets involved in pending legislation when it has the potential to affect the administration of justice in Alaska, she said. 

Cyclists smash speed records in Iditarod Trail Invitational: Before the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Racers hit Nome, there is another Iditarod Trail feat worth noting. Englishmen Aidan Harding, riding a single-speed bicycle in the Iditarod Trial Invitational in the best spirit of the gold-run crazed miners of old, hit the City of the Golden Sands Thursday, 11 days, four hours and 15 minutes after leaving Knik. He was a little more than day behind Jeff Oatley from Fairbanks who set a cycling record by covering the 1,000-mile trial in just a little over 10 days. Oatley's time would have been fast enough to beat the dogs in every year up to 1995. That would have included the years the late Susan Butcher reigned supreme on the trail. Harding would have bested the dogs every year prior to 1989, which included three of Butcher's four victories and the glory days of one-time king of the Iditarod Rick Swenson, the only five-time winner of the Iditarod dog race. The cyclists this year did benefit from a lot of hard-packed snow and snowless frozen ground along the route north. But Oatley still had to battle a vicious, demoralizing head wind along the Bering Sea coast for almost 225 miles from Unalkaleet to Nome. Though travel by foot on the trails of Alaska was the main means of getting around during the Gold Rush days, miners did use bike then, too, and dog teams were, of course, the preferred means of winter travel for those with the financial resources.