Alaska politics roundup: Health care, ethics initiatives advance

Welcome to the second edition of Alaska Dispatch News' political roundup — a weekly feature designed to catch you up on news from the week in state government and politics.

Initiatives galore: health care, ethics proposals approved

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott has approved a pair of proposed citizens initiatives that aim to take major pieces of the federal Affordable Care Act and enshrine them in state law.

One of the measures would create a state law that mirrors popular requirements in the federal health law, like mandates that insurers cover pre-existing conditions and dependent children up to 26 years old.

[New Alaska ballot propositions would put Obamacare insurance requirements in state law]

The other would bolster the Medicaid health care program for the poor and disabled by boosting payments to doctors and hospitals, as well as by guaranteeing that the state would continue coverage for the "expanded" Medicaid population, about 35,000 Alaskans, that was newly covered under the Affordable Care Act.

Republican proposals in Congress have aimed to rein in that expanded Medicaid coverage, and to loosen provisions like the one that requires coverage of pre-existing conditions.


Mallott approved both health care proposals Monday, ruling that they didn't run afoul of constitutional limits on initiatives, like those that bar dedication of revenues or appropriation of state assets.

The initiatives are sponsored by Alaska doctors, with support from the Fairness Project, a Washington, D.C., group with ties to organized labor.

The sponsors now must collect more than 30,000 signatures in support of each initiative before they can go before voters. They've already reported more than $300,000 in expenses and debts related to signature gathering.

A pair of analyses by Gov. Bill Walker's administration, meanwhile, say the health care initiatives could generate annual costs to the state of up to $675 million if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.

If the federal legislation stays in place, costs will be about $25 million, mostly to boost Medicaid providers' payments. But if it's repealed, the state could face hundreds of millions of dollars in new costs to make up for lost federal Medicaid money, and to replace federal tax credits that subsidize Alaskans who buy insurance on the individual marketplace.

A spokeswoman for the initiatives, Jordyn Grant, said in an email that the state's estimate is politically unrealistic, since the repeal plans under debate in Congress have included concessions for Alaska.

Mallott also on Friday approved a proposed ethics initiative sponsored by Anchorage independent Rep. Jason Grenn, Sitka Democratic Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins and Anchorage Republican activist Bonnie Jack.

It proposes new limits on state lawmakers' travel, daily expense payments and lobbyist-paid meals.

Meanwhile, a conservation group's appeal of Mallott's rejection of a separate initiative, designed to boost salmon habitat protections, inched forward this week, with a hearing on the case in Anchorage Superior Court.

Last week, a group representing big mines, the Council of Alaska Producers, asked to intervene in the case. The group opposes the initiative, which would make it harder to develop big projects like the Pebble mine.

[Pebble unveils long-awaited smaller mine plan]

Judge Mark Rindner, however, rejected the group's request in an order dated Monday.

Legislative aide rents lobbyist's Hawaii condo

Bruce Tangeman, an aide to Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, skipped Airbnb and rented a Hawaii condo for a week from lobbyist Mark Hickey, according to Hickey's most recent public lobbying disclosure, filed Wednesday.

Tangeman paid Hickey $1,234 to cover the weeklong rental, taxes and a cleaning fee, the report said.

Tangeman, in an email, said that was "fair market value," adding that the condo isn't on the waterfront.

Hickey has more than a dozen lobbying contracts, including with the National Education Association — a teachers union — the Kodiak Island Borough and Tyler Rental. He said in an email that he only rents to friends and acquaintances, adding that Tangeman's rate was the "same others have paid, including a retired Anchorage judge."


Campaign news: Grunwald loans campaign $5,000, while Rasmussen files for legislative seat

Edie Grunwald, mother of murdered Palmer teen David Grunwald, is running for lieutenant governor and kick-started her campaign with a $5,000 personal loan, she disclosed in a report filed last week.

Grunwald is running as a Republican, and she's running on a tough-on-crime platform, according to a report by KTVA.

Meanwhile, Sara Rasmussen, an Anchorage Republican, has filed paperwork with state regulators that allows her to start raising cash for a state legislative campaign. Rasmussen, who briefly ran for a city Assembly seat earlier this year before dropping out, said in a text message that she's running for the southwest Anchorage House seat currently held by Grenn, the independent.

Rasmussen is a granddaughter of Don Smith, the former state legislator and Anchorage School Board member.

Also on Friday, Anchorage Republican Sen. Kevin Meyer held a fundraiser for his lieutenant governor campaign hosted by Bob Penney, the real estate developer and sport fishing advocate, at Penney's home on the shore of the Kenai River.

Co-hosts included former judge and fish board member Karl Johnstone and oil-field service executive Jim Udelhoven.

Gas line hearing this month


The Alaska House and Senate resources committees have scheduled a hearing later this month on the massive, state-sponsored natural gas pipeline project that would run from the North Slope to Cook Inlet.

The hearing is scheduled for Oct. 16 at the Legislature's Anchorage office building. It comes as the proposed project, which could cost $40 billion, faces challenges amid low oil and gas prices. Walker said last month that he doubts he'll ask state lawmakers for more cash for the project once its existing budget runs out.

We plan to publish the roundup at the end of each week, and we'll also email it to recipients of our politics newsletter on Monday mornings. Sign up for the newsletter at tinyletter.com/herzadn and we'll get it to you this week.

Send tips and feedback to reporter Nathaniel Herz at nherz@alaskadispatch.com, or call or text him at 907-793-0312.

Nathaniel Herz

Anchorage-based independent journalist Nathaniel Herz has been a reporter in Alaska for nearly a decade, with stints at the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Public Media. Read his newsletter, Northern Journal, at natherz.substack.com