Last week was not a good one for public faith in elected officials. We saw the true danger and influence of the Koch brothers-funded group, Americans for Prosperity. Typically, AFP is thought of being highly active in federal elections. This is mainly because we've all heard their plans to spend close to a billion dollars in 2016. However, AFP doesn't just exist in Washington, D.C., anymore. Look closely and you can see that AFP's gaze has shifted to our state Capitol.
Last week, Rep. David Talerico introduced legislation to reduce regulation on emissions and directly benefit the coal mine he worked for prior to joining the Legislature. The owners and employees of Usibelli Coal were major campaign donors of Talerico's. Talerico went a little further, attempting to convince reporters that he hadn't met with Koch brothers-funded interest group Americans for Prosperity prior to introducing his bill. Even Talerico knew deep down that championing an AFP bill is troublesome. Unfortunately for Talerico, that same day, AFP took public credit for providing the language of the bill and took to Twitter to thank the representative for working with them to get the legislation rolling.
I'm not here to argue that this legislator is a bad person. But, his decision-making absolutely reflects Americans for Prosperity's influence in our state Capitol. AFP brought the legislation to Talerico, and they were able to get him to introduce this bill on the behalf of the Koch brothers, not the Alaskan people.
Do not let AFP's rhetoric fool you; this is just another federal "one-size-fits-all" solution. This is not an Alaskan idea. It was passed down from the Koch brothers to Sen. Mitch McConnell, and then through the Koch brothers' think tank (if you can call it that), the American Legislative Exchange Council. AFP then brought this legislation down to Juneau, where Talerico introduced it.
This is not the only tool in AFP's pocket. Earlier last week, Margo Thorning of the Koch-funded American Council of Capital Formation released an op-ed in the Juneau Empire about AK-LNG, and under the guise of educational messaging; AFP ran attack ads against Ethan Berkowitz's Anchorage mayoral campaign. This type of national organization is hard to combat for the average citizen. A single Alaskan is now competing against national interests that have bottomless pockets.
And last but not least, another outside organization based in Florida, the Foundation for Government Accountability, traveled to Alaska to make presentations in Wasilla and Juneau for the purpose of opposing Medicaid expansion. The presenter, Christie Herrera, was formerly a director of the Health and Human Services Task Force for the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is opposed to any expansion of Medicaid.
Nearly 42,000 of our family members, friends and neighbors have the opportunity to gain affordable health care coverage under expansion. With expansion the state would save $6.1 million in fiscal year 2016 by using federal funds to pay for health services that are currently paid with general funds and create some 4,000 new jobs. Medicaid expansion can also serve as a catalyst for meaningful Medicaid reform. We do not need stand-alone reform, especially not the proposed Health Savings Accounts (HSA) legislation presented by Sen. Pete Kelly. HSAs have a few disadvantages, including high deductibles, unexpected health care costs, pressure to not go to the ER, taxes and penalties, increased recordkeeping and added fees. These are added burdens to the already laden. It's not in the nature of Alaskans to punish those who need our help.
We may be down, but we're not out. We have the tool to win Alaska back; we just have to use it. What I am about to suggest is not revolutionary or controversial. It's simple, and most over the age of 18 can do it. Vote! Alaska had the third-highest turnout in the nation in 2014. This is a huge jumping-off point and something our state can be proud of. Voting is easy, and more of us can join the party. When we vote, that's a personal stake in our representation. That vote is what gives us the right to question our legislators, to publicly critique them and, most importantly, hold them accountable.
Many other benefits come along with voting, but by far one of the biggest effects of higher-turnout elections is the decreased power of outside groups. With more people voting, our voice is louder. Regardless of which side of the political spectrum you might belong to, the voice heard will be Alaska's, not that of Americans for Prosperity and the Koch brothers. We have to work together to take back our state. We can do it; all we have to do is vote.
Kevin McGee is first vice president and chairman of the political action committee of the NAACP in Anchorage.