Amanda Coyne: School of hard knocks, sucker punches, and Colorado cigarettes

Are advocates of changing our constitution to allow for vouchers getting a lesson in the school of hard knocks? "Kids not Cuts" signs are sprouting like weeds. Protests all across the state are being organized. Supporters are working the phones, hard.

But fear not: The education privateers have a plan, says a trusted source who overheard two of them discussing the issue at a Midtown sandwich shop. The plan involves using capital projects to land the vote of a certain rural Democratic lawmaker.

Vouchers might not be a bad thing, and no doubt for democratic reasons we should allow the vote and the conversation. But if the people who'd talk loudly in a Midtown sandwich shop are involved, I'd rather entrust the education of our youths to any number of tenured, burned-out, atheistic teachers.

Frankly, the kids seem plenty all right to me, at least if UAA's debate team is any kind of barometer. On Tuesday, the team took on the thorny gas line issue before Commonwealth North at the Hilton Anchorage, schooling about 100 community and business leaders on whether or not the state should invest in the line. Wiley Cason, the future governor of Alaska, and Matthieu Ostrander argued against investment. Amy Parrent and Jonathan Taylor argued for it.

Legislators have spent countless hours and millions of dollars with consultants trying to explain the pros and the cons of a state investment in the pipeline. Who knew that all they needed was the UAA debate team?

Judy Brady, Karen Hunt and Fran Ulmer were the judges. By a very slight margin, the no-investment team won. What probably cinched it was Cason's line that the state spending its saving trying to get into the gas business "fills me with dread," particularly given the state's history of trying to act like the private sector.

Well, now that you put it that way, you could hear the crowd thinking.

In other news: Uber ADN reporter Rich Mauer had some questions at a press conference about Rep. Mike Hawker's bill that would allow localities to publish legal ads online instead of in the paper. Mauer wondered whether Hawker's bill was in retaliation for a big story in the ADN about the expensive legislative building deal in Anchorage that Hawker had put together. For his part, Hawker, in a later interview, accused Mauer of smoking "Colorado cigarettes." It was a pretty good line, except that pot makes you mellow, an adjective never used to describe Mauer. It might have given some an idea, however. Coming soon? Brownies in the Capitol building press room? 

Mauer's impasse with Hawker, as Sen. Hollis French might call it, was really comparatively mild. One bigwig at the Juneau Empire actually wrote an email saying that the bill was a way to "sneak in a sucker punch to an industry that can be tough on some politicians." This from the same publication that fired political reporter Jenny Canfield because she reportedly refused to set up a meeting between the publisher and those politicians.

And now? The bill sits dying a sad, lonely death in House Rules.

The other big story of the week was the state campaign finance reports. Some surprises: In the race for governor, Democrat Byron Mallott raised more than expected but he spent tons. Independent Bill Walker has three times more cash left than Mallott, and Parnell has about 10 times as much. In the race for Democratic lite governor, relatively unknown Palmer teacher Bob Williams sort of out-raised Sen. Hollis French. On the GOP side, Alaska state Sen. Lesil McGuire out-raised Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan.

Mayor Dan must think that name recognition alone will land him this one, helped in no small part by millions that will pour into Alaska to promote the other Dan Sullivan. The mayor has at least twice skipped sharing the stage with McGuire. Most recently, he declined an offer to be with her at the Capitol City Republican women's Lincoln Day event, where she reportedly rocked it on stage with Mead Treadwell and the other Dan Sullivan.

A quick note from the loose lips in the halls of the Capitol building: Everybody was wondering what was behind the spat between Reps. Lora Reinbold and Tammy Wilson. Also, some more moralistic lips were pursed on Thursday when the Treadwell campaign was passing out invitations in those "hallowed" Capitol halls for a Juneau-based fundraising event that evening. And then there was the Sullivan for Senate staffer running around trying to capture the alleged unethical activity on his cellphone camera.

In the meantime, some in the state were trying to dissect the words of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who told reporters that if the residents of King Cove, frustrated with the federal government thwarting their ability to build a potentially life-saving road, wanted to engage in acts of civil disobedience, it would be "OK with me."

Some will remember how Gov. Wally Hickel, frustrated with environmentalists slowing down federal permitting, engaged in civil disobedience by ordering bulldozers to build an ice road to Prudhoe Bay. The Hickel Highway, it's commonly called.

In retrospect, some enviros wished they had listened and worked more closely with the state. The scar on the tundra still remains, and can fill those who catch a glimpse with no small amount of dread.

Independent journalist Amanda Coyne writes about Alaska politics on her blog amandacoyne.com. Contact her at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com

Amanda Coyne