Editor’s note: This editorial has been updated to reflect Justin Parish’s leadership experience within the Juneau School District and Tongass Democrats.
We call this a presidential election year, but the candidates for U.S. House, Senate and statehouse will have much greater impact on our day-to-day lives than the name of the person who lives in the White House. This year, the Empire endorses Lisa Murkowski for U.S. Senate, Don Young for U.S. House, Sam Kito III for House District 33, Cathy Muñoz for House District 34, encourages the retention of many judges on the ballot, and urges the passage of both ballot measures. Our presidential election choice will run in Sunday’s issue.
U.S. Senate – Murkowski
In our view, the crowded field for U.S. Senate can be reduced to two candidates: Lisa Murkowski and Margaret Stock. Murkowski’s experience and seniority in the Senate give her the edge.
Libertarian Joe Miller espouses ideals and goals that would gravely harm Juneau’s economy and are anathema to the beliefs of a majority of Juneau residents. Democrat Ray Metcalfe lacks the support of his own party, which favors Stock.
Stock, an independent, is the de facto Democrat in this race, and for Alaskans seeking to send an outsider to the Capitol, she offers a powerful message. Her rise from foster care to college, the U.S. Army, a stellar legal career and the MacArthur “genius grant” is an inspirational story for all Americans, let alone all Alaskans.
Murkowski’s story is less inspiring. It is that of an insider following in the family business. Nevertheless, an insider is exactly what Alaska needs.
The coming six years will place tremendous demands on Alaska’s delegation to Congress. Climate change, Arctic drilling, land-into-trust issues, timber and mining – these issues all demand that Alaska have a strong voice in the Capitol. We say “having someone on the inside” means having a secret advantage, and for Alaska, Murkowski is that advantage.
She has proven herself a capable and skilled moderate, effective at advancing Alaska’s needs and desires. She isn’t Ted Stevens, but she is certainly a stateswoman of his class. We see no reason to endorse anyone else.
U.S. House – Young
Two years ago in this space, we called Don Young “Alaska’s wayward delegate.” We questioned his credibility and effectiveness, his professionalism and ability.
He was re-elected anyway.
Now, we find ourselves with changed minds. Two examples stand out. The first came at the end of last year, when the Washington Post published the latest “Legislative Effectiveness Scores” as analyzed by professors from Vanderbilt University and the University of Virginia. Those professors found that given his disadvantages (a state with only one House member), Don Young was the No. 5 most-effective Republican out of 240 in the 113th Congress.
That made us stop and think. Young’s actions in the 114th Congress have added up. Three of his bills have passed the House. He has cosponsored 11 bills that have become laws.
We can no longer contend that he is ineffective.
What about his attitude? He had far fewer “Don Young moments” during this last term. One one thing in particular stands out to us.
This fall, President Obama vetoed a bill that allows the families of fatal terrorist attack victims to sue foreign governments that supported groups carrying out the attack.
Congress overrode that veto by a large margin, but Young stood up for the president. He voted against the override, saying that in the long run it would open the United States to lawsuits from other nations.
It would have been easy for Young to stand against the president – there was no political cost to do so – but Young took the statesman’s approach. It was a small moment, but it was an important one. Young chose the needs of America over political gain.
Young’s principal opponent, Democrat Steve Lindbeck, has done his best to convince Alaskans to vote against Don Young. What he has not done is give Alaskans a reason to vote for Steve Lindbeck.
For this election, we’ll stick with Young.
House District 33 – Kito
It’s easy to endorse Sam Kito III for re-election to the Alaska House. After all, he’s the only candidate on the ballot. Kito is an intelligent and capable legislator who has been stymied by the Republican-led majority in the House. He has advanced rapidly in the House’s minority leadership – he’s now minority whip – and we sincerely hope this year’s election results in the creation of a truly bipartisan House majority (not simply a Republican-led one that includes Democrats). That bipartisan majority would unshackle Kito’s ability, and we’d finally get to see him liberated.
House District 34 – Muñoz
When the Empire published a series of stories this year revealing that Rep. Cathy Muñoz had written a pair of letters on behalf of a pair of people convicted of crimes related to the abuse of minors, this editorial board was disgusted.
“… her bizarre character endorsements and her reaction when questioned … have us doubting her judgement as a public official,” we wrote at the time.
After the Empire’s stories, Muñoz apologized, admitted her mistake and took steps to correct it. She has since met with other abuse victims and in interviews with the editorial board, has pledged to introduce legislation that will address child abuse and neglect in Alaska.
We believe Muñoz is sincere in her regret and apology.
In this year’s election, Muñoz has played up her experience and ability to get things done in the Alaska Legislature. She points to state-loan authorization for the Sweetheart Lake hydroelectric project, to sportfish legislation, to the resolution of access issues for Point Bridget State Park.
Her opponent, Justin Parish, points to her membership in a Republican-led House majority that failed to resolve the state’s budget crisis. He points to her swing votes that put more obstacles for sex-ed in public schools and failed to delete an oil-drilling subsidy that has cost Alaska hundreds of millions of dollars.
Parish has made an excellent case for why we should not endorse or support Muñoz. What he has not done is made the case for himself.
Parish seems to be an intelligent, capable person, but his lack of experience in elected office leaves us with little confidence in his ability to be successful as a legislator, though he does have leadership experience in the Juneau School District and with Tongass Democrats.
He could be one of the best legislators Alaska has ever seen, or he could be an unmitigated disaster. We just don’t know. One thing we’re sure of is that unless a bipartisan coalition forms in the House, Parish will give Juneau a third lawmaker serving in a minority, which will inhibit his ability to pass meaningful legislation for the good of Juneau or Alaska.
With Alaska facing a multibillion-dollar deficit, we need experience to resolve the issue. Muñoz has indicated that she would be willing to join a truly bipartisan majority this year. If this election provides an opportunity for such a majority, we expect her to do so. If not, we are confident that she will take a leadership role and put Juneau’s interests first.
Ballot Measure 1 – Yes
This editorial board previously stated its support for Ballot Measure 1, which would permit Alaskans to easily update their voter registration or register a new voter each time they register for the Permanent Fund Dividend. We believe the cost of this program is worth it. The more people who participate in our elections, the more inclusive and representative the outcome. That creates stability and justice for all.
Ballot Measure 2 – Yes
One of the most critical issues today for young Alaskans is the cost of higher education. Ballot Measure 2 allows the Alaska Student Loan Corporation to use the state’s name when borrowing money that it then disburses as student loans. If the corporation were ever to default, the state would pick up the tab. This extra level of security would allow the corporation to borrow money at a lower rate of interest. In turn, students would pay less interest. Their loans would be cheaper.
This vote sets up a second vote in two or four years.
We are concerned about the measure’s impact on the state’s debt limit, but because this is only one of two votes, we believe there is ample time to address our concerns.
Judges – Yes, and No
By the time you get to the bottom of the ballot on voting day, you’ll already had filled out circles for president, Congress, state representatives and two key ballot measures. Don’t get “finger fatigue,” as Elaine Andrews (a former judge and chairwoman of the Alaska Bar Association’s fair and impartial courts committee) puts it — vote whether or not to retain judges on ballot as well.
The Alaska Judicial Council recommended retaining all 33 judges eligible to appear on the ballot in 2016, seven of which are based in Southeast: two for the Supreme Court, one for the Court of Appeals, three for superior courts, and one for the Juneau District Court.
That recommendation came after the council, an impartial body, conducted an in-depth review of each of the judges, and evaluated them on legal ability, impartiality and fairness, integrity, temperament, diligence, and overall performance, including judgment and ethical conduct. The seven judges on the ballot are: Joel Bolger, Peter Maassen, Marjorie Allard, David George, Philip Pallenberg and Trevor Stephens, and Thomas Nave.
We recommend following the guidance of the Alaska Judicial Council by voting “yes” to retain our local judges. We believe these judges are serving Southeast well, and that they are competent, fair and well versed in the law.
Alaska Family Action, a Southcentral religious group, has launched a campaign against Maassen and Bolger, who joined a majority of justices in ruling against a voter initiative that required the parents of minors seeking an abortion to be notified before an abortion is performed. Bolger and Maassen ruled that the Alaska Constitution’s privacy-protection clause includes children as well as adults.
We are concerned that the precedent set by Bolger and Maassen could interfere with the ability of parents to raise their children. For this reason, we suggest a “no” vote on their retention.
It should be noted that each of the two Juneau judges on the ballot — Superior Court Judge Pallenberg and District Court Judge Thomas Nave — received high ratings from attorneys, law enforcement, court employees and jurors. Pallenberg, in particular, impressed us with an above-average rate of appeals affirmations; 90 percent of his reviewed cases since his last election were upheld on appeal.