Resignation shakes up Alaska’s governor’s race
By BECKY BOHRER
Wednesday, October 17
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — In a stunning October surprise, Alaska’s lieutenant governor resigned for making unspecified inappropriate comments, imperiling the re-election hopes of Gov. Bill Walker, a man with whom he shared a brother-like bond.
Locked in a tough re-election fight with Democrat Mark Begich and Republican Mike Dunleavy, Walker had already been in talks with Begich centered on a “path forward for Alaska” when Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott resigned Tuesday, Walker campaign manager John-Henry Heckendorn said.
The talks stemmed from concerns about Dunleavy and the dynamics of a three-way race, Heckendorn said. Begich’s campaign manager did not immediately return a message.
Walker described the comments by Mallott as an “inappropriate overture to a woman,” Walker spokesman Austin Baird said.
Mallott’s sudden departure is a shocking blow to a ticket that began of political necessity in 2014 but grew into a partnership born of respect and trust.
Both were running for governor in 2014 and decided their best shot at defeating Republican Gov. Sean Parnell was to join forces.
As part of that arrangement, backed by state Democrats, Walker changed his party affiliation from Republican to undeclared, and Mallott, an Alaska Native leader and Democrat, ran as Walker’s lieutenant governor. They won.
Neither felt he was making a huge sacrifice: Walker, who had skipped the Republican primary for an outsider bid, said he had felt marginalized by the GOP. Mallott, who had developed an easy rapport with Walker while they were rivals, said he trusted him.
The seeds of their relationship had been sown months earlier, which the two spoke about in recent interviews.
Mallott, impressed that Walker had not flitted in and out of the Alaska Federation of Natives conference as he said candidates sometimes did, brought him onstage. That struck Walker, who called Mallott the “Elvis of AFN.”
At a debate in Nome — “our first official date,” Walker joked — they agreed on so much that people afterward suggested they should get together. Before another event, Mallott told Walker, “I never would have run against you if I had known you.”
“Who says that on the way to a debate?” Walker said.
While the two disagree on some social issues, they shared a mutual respect — greeting each other with hugs, seeking each other’s advice — and were guided, they have said, by doing what they think is right for Alaska.
Mallott said the men agreed early on that if there was a decision to be made on an issue they disagreed on because of faith or core moral values, such as abortion, that Walker would speak with him before making a final decision. But Mallott said he never forgot who was governor.
This year, their desire to run together helped seal what some have seen as an uphill battle for Walker, a three-way fight between him, Begich and Dunleavy.
After the state Democratic Party changed its rules to let independents run in its primaries, Walker flirted with going that route. But he backed out when it appeared that Begich would run. Walker instead gathered signatures to get on the Nov. 6 ballot, a move that assured he could run with Mallott. Libertarian Billy Toien also is running.
Some Democrats and independents have worried that Walker and Begich would split the vote, giving the race to Dunleavy. Libertarian Billy Toien also is running.
Dunleavy, in a statement, said his campaign has been about the people of Alaska, not politicians. While awaiting details surrounding Mallott’s resignation, he said his campaign “remains focused on restoring trust in state government.”
Mallott did not return a phone message Tuesday. Walker took no questions during a news conference with Valerie Davidson, who was sworn in as lieutenant governor Tuesday.
Mallott, in a resignation letter, apologized for “inappropriate comments I made that placed a person whom I respect and revere in a position of vulnerability.”
Baird said the incident that led to Mallott’s resignation happened Sunday. Walker learned of the comments Monday, from his chief of staff, Baird said.
He said Walker’s office is trying to be careful in what details it releases because the woman involved does not want to be publicly identified.
Heckendorn said the talks with Begich’s campaign are separate from Tuesday’s resignation of Mallott. The talks so far have been inconclusive but will continue, he said.
Mallott’s resignation was announced shortly after an at-times testy debate in Anchorage featuring Walker, Begich and Dunleavy, the perceived front-runner.
In a statement, Walker said it’s too late for Mallott’s name to be removed from the ballot, but he said Mallott would not accept the post of lieutenant governor if elected. Davidson will assume the role of his running mate, he said.
Victoria Campbell, who was attending the Alaska Federation of Natives conference in Anchorage as word of Mallott’s resignation began to spread Tuesday, was stunned by the news.
The Democrat from Gambell, located on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea between Russia and the United States, said she didn’t know enough to comment on the resignation but did say it wouldn’t affect her vote for Walker.
This story has been corrected to fix wording in Mallott quote.
Analysis: Last Year’s New England Winter Was Brutal on the Energy Grid; Get Ready for Worse
By Michael Graham
New England began 2018 with a brutal winter-weather bang. The New Year’s Eve high in New Hampshire was just 5 degrees. The low? Minus 2. It was part of a two-week cold snap that drove residents indoors — and energy bills through the roof. And it wasn’t just energy ratepayers who paid the price. The environment took a hit, too.
“During the two weeks of Arctic cold, New England generators burned through about 2 million barrels of oil,” noted ISO New England CEO Gordon van Welie in an after-action report. “That’s about 84 million gallons, more than twice as much as all the oil used by New England power plants during the entire year of 2016.”
High heating bills and increased greenhouse gas emissions from oil and coal are not the outcomes New Englanders want. Not politicians, environmental groups or ratepayers. But that’s exactly what they got last winter. The question now is: Will it happen again?
“When natural gas supplies are tighter due to insufficient pipeline capacity to meet demand when it’s cold, the grid has to rely on less efficient oil-fired generation,” said Marc Brown, president of the New England Ratepayers Association. “The grid itself will probably be OK. But that being said, if we get a serious cold snap and have a few contingencies on the grid, it wouldn’t shock me if we got a rolling blackout or two. That’s how stressed our energy infrastructure is right now.”
So will the winter of 2018-19 be as bad as last year? The cold weather appears ready for a return engagement:
“I think a longer than normal, colder than normal, and stormier than normal winter is on the way,” said Joe Bastardi of Weatherbell.com. “In particular in southern New England. I’m not sure it will get as cold for a week as it did last year, but overall, November through March will be colder than last year as a whole.”
More cold weather means more energy consumption, and spending more money.
From the U.S. Energy Information Administration: “Most U.S. households can expect higher heating expenditures this winter (October through March) compared with last winter. Higher expected winter heating expenditures are mainly the result of higher prices for heating fuels, as temperatures are expected to be similar to last winter in much of the country.”
New England will be the hardest hit — right in the wallet — due to the region’s disproportionate reliance on home heating oil. The EIA anticipates that propane prices will remain flat, electricity costs will rise 3 percent and natural gas will go up 5 percent. But the price of heating oil is forecast to jump by 20 percent — a huge spike in costs for a heating source that is already far higher than any other.
“Heating oil is just very expensive,” said Dan Kish of the Institute for Energy Research. “And as the mandate for new, low-sulfur diesel expands to maritime shipping and other industries, New England homeowners will face more and more competition for their heating oil, which will put even more upward pressure on prices.”
In other words, look for heating oil prices to continue to climb, even as the cost of other fuels flattens or falls.
Kish notes that New England is uniquely reliant on heating oil — “about 40 percent of your homes in New Hampshire use heating oil, for example” — and he’s right. According to the EIA, about 20 percent of New England households rely on heating oil, which is 80 percent of the U.S. total.
Why is New England so dependent on heating oil? Part of it is an accident of history, but more recently it’s a result of activists opposing the expansion of energy infrastructure into the region.
“Heating oil is very expensive,” Kish said. “Natural gas, on the other hand, is so inexpensive that the price of oil would have to drop to $18 a barrel to match the price and energy output of natural gas.”
“Meanwhile, you’ve got activists trying to block any new pipelines in New England, you’re stopping electricity from Canadian hydro power from coming down through New Hampshire — this problem is almost entirely self-inflicted,” Kish said.
Said Sheetal Nasta, an analyst with RBN Energy, “From a natural gas perspective, the biggest potential issue this winter is that storage levels are the lowest they’ve been in more than a decade, particularly in the East Region (which includes New England).”
“That means that for the gas market, they’ll be relying somewhat less on storage gas and more on daily production to meet demand. Northeast production is running higher than the winter 2017-18 average, but lower storage levels may mean reduced flexibility on a day-to-day basis, which could create localized constraints and volatility in some areas of New England on especially cold days.”
The ISO’s von Welie made a similar point talking about last winter’s cold snap: “Constrained pipeline capacity resulted in substantially higher natural gas and wholesale electricity prices, leading to less expensive oil and coal power plants operating instead of the usually competitive natural-gas-fired generation. With oil-fired generation running hard, oil supplies at plants around the region began to rapidly deplete over the two-week period, making system operations extremely challenging and significantly increasing the reliability risk to the system.”
Welie adds this ominous warning: “In the coming years as more oil, coal and nuclear leave the system, keeping the lights on in New England will become an even more tenuous proposition.”
ABOUT THE WRITER
Michael Graham is political editor of NH Journal. He is also a CBS News contributor. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Police applicants asked to disclose if sex assault victims
Sunday, October 21
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Oakland, California, police department asks officer applicants to disclose whether they have been sexually assaulted, which appears to be a rare and potentially problematic inquiry, a newspaper reported Sunday.
The San Francisco Chronicle queried police in the state’s 10 most populous cities and could not find another instance of screening for sexual assault victims.
Legal experts told the newspaper the inquiry is odd and potentially problematic, but there is disagreement over whether it’s illegal.
Oakland police officials said a candidate would not be denied a position for being a sexual assault victim. Officials said they want the information so they can review police reports in which applicants may appear.
The disclosure request is on a release form that has been in use since at least 2011, well before the #MeToo movement that started a year ago with accusations against film producer Harvey Weinstein.
The question comes up when recruits sign and get notarized a form that allows the Police Department to conduct a background check on them to determine suitability. The form authorizes, for example, the release of educational transcripts, credit history and local criminal history information, “including if I have been a victim of sexual assault.”
Oakland Police Officer Marco Marquez said the department’s background investigators are “interested in every police report that an applicant might appear in,” including whether the person was a suspect, witness or victim.
But questions about an applicant being a witness or suspect are not asked, the newspaper said.
The Oakland application practice is inexcusable, said retired Portland, Oregon, Police Chief Penny Harrington, the first woman to lead a major city police force.
“There’s absolutely no reason to be doing that,” said Harrington, who founded the National Center for Women and Policing. “I can’t imagine why they would need to know that information, except as a way to wash out women.”
Professor Joan Williams, an expert on employment law and sex discrimination at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, called the disclosure requirement “clearly illegal.”
“The stereotype is that women who have been sexually assaulted turn into raging ids and tear machines and could never be objective again,” she said.
Deborah Rhode, a Stanford Law School professor who studies equal protection and sex discrimination, disagrees that the question is illegal, saying it’s posed to men and women.
But she too finds the disclosure request puzzling. “I don’t know if the assumption is that someone who’s been a victim can’t be objective,” she said.
The newspaper reported that representatives of police departments in San Francisco, San Jose, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Anaheim and Santa Ana said they do not ask applicants to disclose whether they are sexual assault victims.
Representatives for Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and the Oakland Police Department did not respond to the Associated Press’ request for comment on Sunday.
Information from: San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com
Florida’s culture clash pits Gillum against Trump voters
By STEVE PEOPLES
Monday, October 22
THE VILLAGES, Fla. (AP) — President Donald Trump’s loyalists here at Florida’s premier retirement community fear Andrew Gillum.
It has nothing to do with his race, they insist, when asked about the 39-year-old Democrat who could become the state’s first African-American governor. Instead, The Villages’ deeply conservative residents are convinced a Gillum victory would trigger an era of high crime, higher taxes and moral failing.
“He’ll kill everything that’s good about Florida,” says Talmadge Strickland, a 66-year-old retired firefighter wearing a “Trump 2020” baseball cap at a rally for Gillum’s opponent. “He will hurt us; he will physically hurt us with his socialist mentality.”
In an era defined by deep political partisanship, there’s perhaps no state where the divide runs deeper than Florida, which is in the grip of a fierce culture clash over guns, race, climate change and the president. Gillum sits at the center of the melee, his campaign a proxy for the larger fight between Democrats and President Donald Trump’s GOP.
Gillum’s fate is inexorably linked to fellow Democrats whose success could determine control of Congress. That’s especially true for three-term Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who could benefit from Gillum’s appeal among young voters and minorities.
As early voting begins in Florida this week, that link is tenuous.
“New voters and infrequent voters are everything to us winning,” Gillum told The Associated Press when asked about his impact on Nelson’s race. “I think they will vote for both of us, and that will be to his benefit.”
Young people and minorities are traditionally among the least reliable voters, particularly in midterm elections. Meanwhile, white voters in place like The Villages are lining up behind his opponent, former Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis.
The electorate in Florida this year is especially unpredictable due to an unusual collision of events: a massive hurricane, the nation’s deadliest high school shooting and Gillum’s historic candidacy.
DeSantis has benefited from Trump’s occasional backing on social media, including after the debate. And Gillum is scheduled to campaign this week alongside former Vice President Joe Biden and 2016 presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. In the interview, he noted he’s been in touch with former President Barack Obama, who may campaign on his behalf.
Gillum acknowledged some Florida voters might oppose him because of his race, but insisted “that voter is not the majority of the people in our state.”
During Sunday night’s CNN debate, he accused his Republican opponent of fanning racial animus ever since DeSantis first warned Florida voters not to “monkey this up” by electing Gillum.
“The ‘monkey up’ comment said it all,” Gillum charged. “He has only continued in the course of his campaign to draw all the attention he can to the color of my skin. The truth is, you know what, I’m black. I’ve been black all my life. So far as I know, I will die black.”
Meanwhile, a small, but significant portion of the state’s Republican base remains consumed by recovery efforts almost two weeks after Hurricane Michael devastated the Panhandle. The secretary of state extended early voting hours, but both sides expect a drop in turnout across the heavily-Republican region as residents struggle without electricity and lodging in many cases.
Nelson’s challenger, Gov. Rick Scott, has yet to resume any campaign activities since the storm made landfall.
The state’s other trauma — a school shooting earlier this year that left 17 students and staff dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland — looms over the races. Backed by the fortune of Democratic billionaires Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg, Florida’s young people are fighting to be heard.
Those rallying behind Gillum in recent days include 16-year-old Sari Kaufman, a Parkland survivor who spent Sunday canvassing for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate.
In an interview, Kaufman suggested young people are more excited about Gillum than Nelson, particularly because of Gillum’s status as a younger candidate running statewide for the first time.
“If he is successful and other candidates are successful, it will mean that my fellow classmates didn’t die in vain,” Kaufman said.
African-American leaders are also working to reverse their community’s typical drop-off in midterm elections. NAACP President Derrick Johnson said his organization is “microfocused” on boosting black turnout this fall. A statewide canvassing effort is underway across Florida, where organizers hope to bump black turnout by at least 5 percent from four years ago.
It was easy to find evidence of Gillum’s influence among so-called low-propensity voters in recent days, as activists from more than a half dozen competing groups scoured the state to ensure they cast ballots.
Anne Fazio, a 19-year-old Jacksonville student, was among thousands of people contacted at home over the weekend by the Koch-backed Americans For Prosperity’s massive door-knocking push. Standing at her front door, she didn’t hesitate when a conservative volunteer asked whether she was going to vote.
“I’m voting for Andrew Gillum,” Fazio said, praising his support for gun control and expanding Medicaid coverage for hundreds of thousands of low-income residents.
Asked by the AP whether she would support Nelson, she said: “I think I’ll probably vote for him — he’s a Democrat, right?”
The Republican DeSantis is making little effort to expand his coalition as he embraces Trump and his policies in a state the president carried by 1 point.
DeSantis vowed during Sunday’s debate to work closely with the Trump administration, while noting that Gillum has called for Trump’s impeachment. “You’ve got to be able to work with the administration,” DeSantis declared.
He also dismissed Parkland students’ calls for stronger efforts to reduce gun violence when asked about his opposition to modest gun control measures passed by Florida’s Republican-led legislature in the wake of the Parkland shooting.
DeSantis said local law enforcement and school officials “let them down” by not acting sooner to detain the shooter and address his mental health issues sooner.
Meanwhile, a flood of money is shaping the Florida elections.
Since the beginning of September alone, each side has dumped more than $44 million into television advertising for the governor’s race. While that may be the most in the country, it’s a fraction of the spending in Florida’s Senate contest, according to political operatives tracking media spending.
Paced by the Scott campaign’s $50 million, the Republican side has invested nearly $79 million in television spending since April compared to Democrats’ $49 million behind Nelson.
Back at The Villages, the attack ads against Gillum appeared to be resonating with retirees gathered for a Saturday DeSantis appearance that drew about 400.
“He scares me, I’m sorry,” 75-year-old retiree Suzanne Zimmerman, a member of Villagers for Trump, said of Gillum.
His race has nothing to do with her fear, she said.
“Although Gillum does say that there are too many white men in government,” Zimmerman added. “So that’s unfortunate that he is actually a racist.”