AK-Sen: HuffPost, “A Secret Recording Of Mining Executives Is Shaking Up The Alaska Senate Race”

First, from The Washington Post:

Mining executive Tom Collier, who boasted in secretly taped conversations that he had leveraged his ties to Republican officials to advance a controversial project in Alaska, resigned Wednesday.
Collier, CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership, offered his resignation a day after the group Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) released recordings of Zoom calls in which he talked of currying favor with the White House and Alaska lawmakers to win federal approval for a massive gold and copper mine.
Collier and Ronald Thiessen, CEO of the Canadian parent company, Northern Dynasty Minerals, were recorded separately suggesting that GOP politicians would not block Pebble Mine even though some had raised concerns about its environmental impact.

Second, from The New York Times:

The comments were “offensive” to “political, business and community leaders in the state and for this, Northern Dynasty unreservedly apologizes to all Alaskans,” the company said.

The Pebble project, a major copper and gold mine that would be built in a remote part of Southwest Alaska, has been the subject of a long fight, with economic development forces on one side and, on the other, environmentalists and Native groups who are concerned about the damage to the region’s wild salmon fishery.

After an environmental review that found that the project would not cause long-term harm to fish populations, the United States Army Corps of Engineers is nearing a decision to grant a permit under the federal Clean Water Act, which would allow construction of the mine to proceed.

Next, Alaska Public Media:

The Aug. 24 call took place the same day Murkowski and Dan Sullivan put out their most definitive statement to date against the mine. The senators said they agreed with federal regulators that Pebble should not get its federal permit. But in another call, on Sept. 17, Collier told the “investors” the senators had misread the regulators and are now too embarrassed to admit they thought the permit was being denied, so they’re not saying anything.

Collier said Sen. Dan Sullivan, who will be on the November ballot, is hoping to “ride out the election” and remain silent on Pebble.

“He’s off in a corner being quiet,” Collier said. “So I think that’s our plan to work with him is: leave him alone and let him be quiet.”

And now onto The Huffington Post:

Dr. Al Gross, a Democratic-aligned independent running to unseat Sullivan, had been, even before the recording, blasting Sullivan for failing to explicitly oppose the mine’s construction. Sullivan opposed the Obama administration’s preemptive veto of the proposed mine and supported allowing it to go through the federal permitting process.

“These tapes make clear that Dan Sullivan does not care about Alaskans ― all he cares about is winning his next election,” Gross, a commercial fisherman and retired orthopedic surgeon, said in a statement. “He should be ashamed of himself.”
Gross also began airing a 30-second TV ad on Wednesday that features a key excerpt from the Environmental Investigation Agency’s video to argue that Sullivan is secretly a supporter of the mine. “Dan Sullivan hides his support for Pebble Mine,” the ad’s narrator says.
In addition, the Gross campaign is calling on Sullivan to return the donations he received from Collier. Collier, who resigned Wednesday from Pebble Partners amid the fallout from the leaked recording, has contributed $6,400 to Sullivan’s campaigns since 2017.

And of course he’s now against it:

Alaska Republican U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan cemented his opposition to the Pebble mine on Thursday after secret recordings were released of the project’s now-former CEO and another executive describing their relationship with Sullivan and other Alaska politicians.
“Given the lies of Pebble’s leadership, the record needs to be set straight,” Sullivan said in a three-part Twitter post on Thursday afternoon.
The recordings were quickly used by Sullivan’s Senate challenger, Al Gross, in an ad accusing Sullivan of hiding his support for the mine from the public. Gross called for Sullivan to return campaign contributions from Pebble executives.

It’s clear that the Alaska GOP is getting nervous about Sullivan’s chances because they pulled this stunt:

Alaska Democrats are sounding the alarm around a last minute change to the state’s 2020 general election ballot that will no longer differentiate independent candidates, calling the quiet move a biased decision that was tacked on just days before ballots are to be mailed to overseas voters.

The change means that candidates will no longer have their party registrations listed on the ballot. Instead the contenders are listed as nominees of a particular party or as having entered a race through the petition process.

The change was made on Monday by Alaska Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai and showed up on sample ballots posted on the Alaska Division of Elections website, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Here’s some more info:

The change was made unilaterally on Monday by Alaska Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai, she said Monday. Fenumiai would not explain the change to the ballot Monday afternoon but said she would provide a written explanation Tuesday.
“I am dismayed and disgusted at the lack of transparency regarding election administration from the Division of the Elections,” said Lindsay Kavanaugh, executive director of the Alaska Democratic Party.
In the August 2020 primary, such candidates did have a “N” next to their name, for “nonpartisan.”

“The lieutenant governor should tell Alaskans why he arbitrarily changed the ballot from its 2018 format,” said Gross' campaign spokeswoman, Julia Savel. Savel said the campaign prefers the 2018 format, but does not intend to challenge the change. It’s up to state government to decide, she said.

Here’s why that’s a big deal:

After initially granting a temporary restraining order, stopping the elections division from printing any more ballots, Superior Court Judge Jennifer Henderson ruled Friday morning that she wouldn't order the state to reprint the 800,000 ballots in question.

For a candidate like Galvin, who has been a registered independent since 2006, only being reflected on the ballot as tied to the Democratic Party could be a campaign killer.

Republicans hold the governorship, lieutenant governorship and all seats in Congress, but the states' voters are markedly independent. While Democrats make up 13% and Republicans make up 24% of registered voters statewide, nearly 6 in 10 voters are registered as either nonpartisan or undeclared.

Henderson, speaking from the bench, said that even though she did believe not having her party affiliation on the ballot would cause harm to Galvin's candidacy, forcing the state to reprint the ballots would cause more harm, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

Also:

With most voters in Alaska unaffiliated with either party and state residents famously embracing rugged individualism, the independent label can be powerful and has bolstered candidates for governor in the past. In 2016, Democrats began allowing independents to run in the party’s primaries, opening the door to candidacies like those of Ms. Galvin and Dr. Gross, who both easily won the Democratic contests in August.

The congressional battle in Alaska is being waged against a backdrop of a suffering state. Alaska’s economy was in recession and hurting before the onset of the pandemic, at times recording the highest unemployment rate in the nation. Now, the virus and its consequences have devastated three pillars of the state’s economy: the oil industry, commercial fisheries and tourism.

It was a lost summer for the state, which typically draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to experience its sweeping vistas and abundant wildlife — many via cruise ship. The shutdown of the tourism industry was painfully visible over Labor Day weekend as downtown Anchorage was virtually empty, devoid of the usual throngs of people browsing at souvenir shops and enjoying fresh seafood at craft breweries and restaurants.

And Gross is a very strong candidate with Alaska bona fides:

Unseating Sullivan in a conservative-leaning state famous for sending politicians to Washington for decades at a time would be an uphill fight under any circumstances.
Gross’ shot at victory hangs on his argument that he, born and bred in the state, would more faithfully represent Alaska’s independent political tradition than Sullivan, a Marine veteran and attorney who moved to the state as an adult.
If Gross succeeds, he could swing the Senate for Democrats and chart a new path for moderate politicians trying to win in rural, red states. A victory would also attest to the enduring political price Republicans like Sullivan have suffered for voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“It’s a perfect storm for Al Gross,” said Jim Lottsfeldt, a lobbyist and political consultant who has advised moderate Alaskan politicians from both parties. “There’s been no better time for him to say, ‘It’s time to send a doctor to Washington.’”

We have a real shot at flipping Alaska and we have to keep up the momentum. Click below to donate and get involved with Gross, Galvin, and Biden’s campaigns:

Al Gross

Alyse Galvin

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