The Alaska Public Offices Commission has never seen anything like it.
Neither has Jerry McBeath, who literally wrote the book on politics in Alaska.
In late July, former Bernie Sanders campaigner Paul Oliva registered a pair of political organizations for the sole purpose of trolling and satirizing Anchorage’s spring municipal election.
“There is a so-called bathroom bill on the ballot in Anchorage. We plan to sort of satirize that bathroom bill, the fact that it is in our opinion a distraction from the real issues,” Oliva said by phone.
While plenty of people have satirized Alaska politics from the outside, and plenty of fringe or kooky candidates have run for office, no one has organized a political group or party with the expressed intent of disrupting the system from the inside.
His statement to the Empire was quite a bit more serious than his APOC applications, which allow him to raise and spend money for his organizations, which are respectively called “Everybody Poops and We Can Prove It!” and “Alaska Tea Party Watch.”
Oliva’s title on the Tea Party Watch application is “Captain Paul and Troller in Chief.”
Both applications are liberally laced with emoji, the pictograms that garnish smartphone conversations.
Oliva said APOC didn’t even know its online application system could handle emoji until he tried — and succeeded — using them on the official form.
“It’s not something we anticipated, obviously,” said Heather Hebdon, APOC’s executive director.
Asked whether she considers Oliva’s efforts weird, she said, “I probably wouldn’t use weird. Unique would probably be better.”
McBeath, a University of Alaska professor emeritus who has studied Alaska politics for four decades, can’t think of anything like it. Neither can former Anchorage Daily News Managing Editor Howard Weaver, who founded an alt-press publication in the 1970s and grew up in Anchorage.
The closest parallel may be the Rhinoceros Party of Canada, which for 30 years ran absurdist candidates that promoted ideas like building schools taller to promote higher education.
The stated goal of Alaska Tea Party Watch, according to its form, is to “pay protesters and internet trolls to annoy important people and make others laugh at them. Basically we elevate the dialogue, man.”
By phone, Oliva said when he grew up in the 1990s, Facebook involved a Sharpie and the bathroom wall.
His goal is to poke fun at an Anchorage ballot initiative that would restrict who may use which public bathrooms.
According to the text of the initiative, a person would be allowed to use only the bathroom that matches the gender on the person’s birth certificate. Opponents of the initiative say that would be harmful to transgender Alaskans.
“When I was in middle school, the bathroom was a place where a kid could just go. No one asked to see my birth certificate. It was just a little boy and his Sharpie,” Oliva said.
Oliva supported Sanders in 2016 but didn’t work on the Vermont senator’s campaign as a staffer. He previously was president of the University of Alaska Anchorage College Democrats.
He said he’s received pushback from people who fear his new organization will raise money to disclose the personal information of initiative backers, but that’s not his goal.
“We’re just going to make them seem silly. We’re not vicious politicians. We’re a bunch of people in our 20s and our 30s that are kind of sick of this issue coming up,” he said.
Kim Minnery, the initiative sponsor, said she finds “it troubling that its sole purpose is to troll proponents of a ballot initiative.”
She said initiative proponents have already been harassed while gathering signatures to put the initiative on the ballot.
Judy Eledge, one of the initiative’s supporters, said the initiative is about privacy rights.
“We just think we need to protect the privacy, safety and dignity of all Alaskans,” she said. “To us, this is just commonsense protection for all Alaskans.”
She said that even if Oliva is nice about his ribbing, others might not be as polite. Similar organizations could be a cover for bullying, she said.
“We all need to be civil,” she said.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that Oliva was a campaigner but not a paid staffer for Sanders.
• Contact reporter James Brooks at email@example.com or call 523-2258.