August 21, 2020
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
With the primary election behind us, I am happy to be able to share updates with you again (ethics rules limit legislative communications 30 day prior to an election and this is why you haven’t heard from me in a while).
As our days begin to grow shorter, I hope that you have been able to enjoy the Alaskan summer as safely as possible. For obvious reasons, the one big story this year has been the Covid-19 virus’ impact on our city, state, nation, and world. COVID-19 has dominated much of our lives this year and has overshadowed otherwise critically important news stories. In this e-newsletter, I’ll be touching on one such issue, as well as providing an update on the state’s COVID-19 plans as well as your options for voting in November.
When Governor Dunleavy came into office, he spoke of enacting a budget with about $1.3 billion in cuts. The legislature roundly rejected this proposal as untenable and not in the best interest of Alaska nor Alaskans.
If you were here last summer, you remember the outrage which his veto of $420 million prompted. Dunleavy’s 182 vetoes demonstrated a callous disregard for the ties that bind Alaskans together.
These cuts forced the University of Alaska into financial exigency. They reduced the money low-income seniors rely on to pay their bills, while simultaneously jacking up the rates for Alaska’s Pioneer Homes. He cut Medicaid broadly, as well as specific funding for adult dental procedures. The cuts to education, transportation and communications infrastructure, healthcare, and more reflected a fundamental lack of care for the people of Alaska. His veto of funding for the Alaska Court system was not only unwise – it was also illegal.
In a special session, the legislature reinstated much of the vetoed funding, daring Governor Dunleavy to repeat his mistakes anew – and in large part, he did. It looked like he’d vetoed $271 million… except he hadn’t. Because the Dunleavy administration failed to follow federal laws regarding Medicaid, the state was on the hook for tens of millions of ‘vetoed’ dollars. By the time the dust settled, the actual veto last year was a mere $135 million, or 10% of Dunleavy’s initial budget proposal.
This spring, Governor Dunleavy vetoed twice as much! His vetoes of April 7, 2020 were $264 million, and nothing has been done about it. This story deserves more attention, and I hope that those of us in the legislature will be able to mitigate the devastating impact of these cuts sooner rather than later.
Last week, the Anchorage Daily News published an Op-Ed that I wrote on this subject. If you want a more in-depth analysis of the issue, I encourage you to read it.
Statewide COVID-19 (In)action Plan
In response to spiking case counts in Anchorage, Mayor Berkowitz enacted a mask mandate several weeks ago, limited gathering sizes and barred patrons from congregating inside restaurants and bars (places known to be spreading hotspots). Thankfully, new cases have been trending downward in Anchorage since then, indicating that the measures have been successful thus far. I truly hope that the downward trend continues, but we all must do our part to make this a reality.
Unfortunately, while Anchorage has taken proactive steps to combat the virus, the state has not.
Many medical experts have told legislators that we must be more hands-on statewide, lest we overwhelm our medical capacity. Earlier this month, I signed on to a letter to the Administration drafted by Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky (Bethel, House Health and Social Services Committee Chair). In the letter, many of these medical concerns are addressed. In addition to the lack of a statewide mandate on gathering size, physical distancing, and facial coverings, the state appears to be relying on metrics such as how many hospital beds and ventilators are available, with little public data on medical staffing capacity and ability. As we say in the letter, “hospitals without adequate staffing… would be akin to having airplanes full of important cargo without pilots to fly them.”
Workers’ safety protections and effective enforcement of statewide mandates have also been missing pieces in the state’s response to the pandemic. I have been particularly concerned by the large outbreaks we have seen in the fish processing industry. There are a lot of parallels between the conditions in this industry and what we have seen in meat processing facilities in the lower- 48. Alarmingly, over half of non-resident cases in Alaska have been in the seafood processing industry. We are relying on industry self-regulation and already struggling fisheries businesses are being asked to do the job of enforcing health mandates that should be the responsibility of the state. Over a month ago, I drafted a letter voicing my concerns on this subject, which many of my colleagues joined me in sending to Governor Dunleavy and Commissioner Crum. Sadly, the Administration has made no effort to respond to the public health concerns we have raised as legislators.
Far too much, both the Governor and the President have presented a false choice between public and economic health. Both are critically important, and we cannot have one without the other. A vibrant economy relies on everyone feeling safe enough to go out in public without worrying that doing so will run a high risk of exposure to a potentially devastating virus. The best way to make that happen is to ensure that everyone follows commonsense medical advice. Given the willful disregard and disrespect some have shown for personal responsibility, I will continue to advocate for effective statewide health mandates and enforcement mechanisms.
Making Plans to Vote in November- Where? When? How?
Voting is the single most important piece of the democratic process. Celebrating the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage a few days ago reminds us all that voting is a right that has not always been so universally enjoyed. Not so long ago more than half of our population was disenfranchised.
That said, there is a fair amount of anxiety surrounding the safety of voting during this time. The Division of Elections has responded to these concerns and has implemented precautions and adjusted systems accordingly. There are three options for making your voice heard in the upcoming general election this November:
Alaska has a “no excuse” rule for absentee voting, meaning that anyone can apply for an absentee ballot. In the primary election over 60,000 Alaskans opted to receive an absentee ballot, a record number.
This is an especially good option for individuals who are in the “high risk” category for COVID-19 or who are in isolation due to the pandemic. For this reason, the Division of Elections has mailed absentee ballot applications to Alaskans 65 and older.
Many voters ordered their primary and general election ballots at the same time, but if you missed the application deadline before the primary or your situation has changed, you can print and mail a form or apply online at absenteeballotapplication.alaska.gov. The new 100% online application to have an absentee ballot mailed to your home takes only a few minutes and uses your driver’s license number to verify your identity. There is also an option for receiving a ballot electronically.
If you are voting by mail be sure to send in your ballot early or you can drop it in a ballot collection box (there are a few around town). Once you mail or drop-off your ballot, you can track your ballot at myvoterinformation.alaska.gov.
Alaskans have the option to vote early, which is a great way to avoid crowds and get your civic duty out of the way early on.
Early voting for the November election starts on Monday, October 19th, two weeks before the general election.
Anchorage locations to vote early are the Midtown Mall and City Hall.
Going to the Polls on Election Day- Tuesday, November 3rd:
I personally always choose to vote in person at my neighborhood polling place. There is something about participating in the voting process on election day that resonates deeply with me on a personal level.
In the recent primary, to avoid crowds I got to my polling place at 7:00 AM, right when they opened. The process was smooth, and I was gratified to see the election workers being diligent about safe distancing, masking and sanitation procedures. I believe safety precautions for the general election will be equally successful. I also want to thank the election workers who selflessly ensure that we can vote, even amid a pandemic.
Some polling places have been changed to allow for distancing measures. If you are unsure where you are supposed to vote, contact the Division of Elections (or check out the map below).
No matter what voting method you decide is right for you, be sure to vote and actively participate in our governmental process.
Please continue to exercise caution and care in your interactions with others. It is up to all of us to stop the spread. I know we are all tired of this virus but we must continue to be diligent.
We are all in this together.
Alaskans who need help or connection to information about services, including those related to COVID-19 impacts, can dial 2-1-1 from their phones. You can also reach out via email to Alaska211@ak.org or dial 1-800-478-2221.
Representative Andy Josephson
Alaska House of Representatives, District 17
Serving Midtown, University and East Anchorage Neighborhoods