Thursday, June 25, 2020

We Don't have to be Victims:

The Long View of Crime in Alaska



During the 1970s construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline we saw our state transformed by crime; as also happened in previous fur and gold rushes. It happened simultaneous to the influx of people flooding here to build that engineering marvel, while some others arrived for diabolical purposes. As a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News during this time I participated in an investigative project resulting in a self-congratulatory story headlined: The Mob Moves In.


Sensationalism sells newspapers.


We were young and imagined ourselves “investigative reporters” there at the baby pink colored shop on Post Road. As part of that project I talked to people I knew were involved in criminal enterprises and we conjured up a scenario of criminal networks taking over our community and state. We told our readers crime was everywhere because, as the underdog newspaper the Daily News was striving for recognition in a two newspaper town.


The result of all the concern about crime, with testimony from people who had been mugged and photos of chilled hookers—reportedly available on nearly every corner in Downtown/Spenard--was the Alaska Legislature passed crime laws that required criminals to be held accountable--even if we had to ship their sorry asses someplace else to serve prison time.


Later Howard Weaver and a different crew would win a Pulitzer Prize for the Daily News by pointing out that the real criminals were the Alaska Teamsters union. They needed somebody specific to blame, you know.


Crime Reform Brings Crime Wave


Over the decades of prosperity since those early days of blissful naiveté—resulting from that pipeline building boom turned into state government spending frenzy—a lot of people from other places where crime is a cost of doing business have showed up. Many of them live in Alaska’s armpit, the Muni of Anchorage, and love to tell and show us bumpkins educated in Alaska schools how things could be improved with THEIR ideas.


Have you driven around Anchorage much lately? There you can see for yourself the enlightened approach to how we should manage crime and coddle criminals. And the problem seems to be getting worse, but with modern technology our crime is documented well:1

Crime is everywhere in Anchorage!

We send our elected officials to Juneau to solve Alaska problems; our biggest state government problem is the oil bonanza seems to be declining. When the pipeline was being constructed we were told to expect the oil rush to last until the early 1990s. So, given our good fortunes these many years later, what did legislators do in collaboration with one-term fake Republican turned Independent governor, Bill Walker?


Answer: They overhauled the criminal code--to save money--beginning with a 2014 Alaska Criminal Justice Commission:2


Alaska Criminal Justice Commission


Seeking a comprehensive review of the state’s corrections and criminal justice systems, the 2014 Alaska Legislature passed Senate Bill 64, which established the bipartisan, inter-branch Alaska Criminal Justice Commission (“Commission”).


The Commission, comprised of 13 stakeholders including legislators, judges, law enforcement officials, the state’s Attorney General and Public Defender, the Corrections Commissioner, and members representing crime victims, Alaska Natives, and the Mental Health Trust Authority, was charged with conducting a comprehensive review of Alaska’s criminal justice system and providing recommendations for legislative and administrative action.


In April 2015, state leaders from all branches of government joined together to request technical assistance from the Public Safety Performance Project as part of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a collaboration between The Pew Charitable Trusts and the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance. Governor Bill Walker, former Chief Justice Dana Fabe, Senate President Kevin Meyer, House Speaker Mike Chenault, Attorney General Craig Richards, former Commissioner of the Alaska DOC Ron Taylor, and former Chair of the Commission Alexander O. Bryner tasked the Commission with “develop[ing] recommendations aimed at safely controlling prison and jail growth and recalibrating our correctional investments to ensure that we are achieving the best possible public safety return on our state dollars.”


Over 37 pages the commission report looked at how much crime costs, how much it is likely to continue to cost given Alaska’s investment in prison facilities and criminal justice infrastructure, and arrived at recommendations for saving money by diminishing penalties. Obviously, they concluded we have better things to spend money on than protecting law-abiding Alaskans from criminals.

 Also from the Commission Report:

Alaska’s prison population has grown by 27 percent in the last decade, almost three times faster than the resident population. This rapid growth spurred the opening of the state’s newest correctional facility – Goose Creek Correctional Center – in 2012, costing the state $240 million in construction funds. On July 1, 2014, Alaska’s correctional facilities housed 5,267 inmates, and the Department of Corrections (“DOC”) had a fiscal year operating budget of $327 million. 

Result of the report’s 21 recommendations was profound change of Alaska Law:3


29th Legislature(2015-2016)



SB 91





SPONSOR(S): SENATORS COGHILL, Ellis, McGuire, Costello, Bishop, Micciche, Egan

TITLE: "An Act relating to civil in rem forfeiture actions; relating to criminal law and procedure; relating to controlled substances; relating to victims of criminal offenses; relating to probation; relating to sentencing; relating to treatment program credit for time spent toward service of a sentence of imprisonment; relating to the Violent Crimes Compensation Board; establishing a pretrial services program with pretrial services officers in the Department of Corrections; relating to permanent fund dividends; relating to electronic monitoring; relating to penalties for violations of municipal ordinances; relating to parole; relating to correctional restitution centers; relating to community work service; relating to revocation, termination, suspension, cancellation, or restoration of a driver's license; relating to identification cards and driver's licenses for parolees; relating to the disqualification of persons convicted of certain felony drug offenses from participation in the food stamp and temporary assistance programs; relating to the duties of the commissioner of corrections; amending Rules 32, 32.1, 38, and 43, Alaska Rules of Criminal Procedure; and providing for an effective date."


This bill became law against the urging of many in the criminal justice system and a review of testimony received by our elected officials (provided at with the bill) will show many predicted what would happen.



Sleepy Eagle River Awakens

Alaskans who must live in proximity to Anchorage often choose to live in nearby suburbs like Eagle River, Chugiak, and Peters Creek--as I do myself--in homes built on larger than typical city lots. We have dogs and guns and neighbors who look out for each other, but the crime wave brought on by this legislation created a sense of vulnerability. In 2017 I wrote about one local resident, retired military man Cliff Cook, who stepped up to form the Eagle River Community Patrol.4


He did this because the situation was getting out of control.



So, what has happened since then?


A new governor, Michael Dunleavy fulfilled one of his primary campaign promises on July 8, 2019 when he signed into law SB 49, repealing and replacing the failed SB 91 disaster inflicted upon Alaskans by our elected officials in Juneau. In fact, on the day this bill was signed the Alaska Legislature was holding split special sessions 800 miles apart in Wasilla and Juneau, spinning their wheels.


“Alaska’s crime statistics have gone through the roof as verified by the FBI and members of our own administration. Our property crimes are higher than most places in the United States. Our sexual assault rates are unspeakable. We have one of the highest murder rates in the country. But that’s going to change with the advent of this bill being signed today,” said Dunleavy at the bill signing ceremony at the Department of Public Safety Lake Hood Hangar. “This isn’t going to fix it all, this is just the beginning. This is going to allow the thin blue line, Troopers, corrections, local police, all of law enforcement- it’s going to give them the tools to catch these criminals, hold these criminals, prosecute these criminals, and sentence these criminals.”5


But the good news from this debacle of the Walker Administration and the Legislative Majority is some Alaskans remembered we are inclined toward independence and self-sufficiency! While the Chugiak area has had community patrols for 13 years, Eagle River today also has a functioning community patrol run entirely by community volunteers.


“We have been going three years now,” explained Cook during an interview in mid-June. “We have eight members; we were standing up five but more people wanted to step up, so now we have eight active members. We were doing very well with that number until the Covid Pandemic. We have some older folks with underlying medical conditions so we followed the Coalition of Community Patrol’s recommendation that we back off a little bit. We had some conversations with the Anchorage Police Department (APD) and they didn’t see a problem with what we were doing. They encouraged us to go back out. They said “do what you want” and we re-assessed the risk. Those who didn’t want to go out, that’s fine, but the ones who did want to did go out.”


Citizens taking responsibility for their community. They collaborate with the police and they provide a deterrent to stupid people who end up dealing with the criminal justice system for being stupid.


“We are all volunteers. We operate completely by donations,” Cook continued. “A couple of members will not even take gas cards--they pay for themselves because they want to give back to Eagle River--100 percent out of their own pocket for their gas, their lights and their signs.”


There are some 15 Community Patrols in the Greater Anchorage Area; all run by volunteers who are trained in crime deterrence. They aren’t cops, or even wannabe cops. There are no paid positions; just good citizens who care about their neighborhoods.


“Our main objective is deterrence--as an extra set of eyes and ears for APD,” Cook explained. “How you measure deterrence is difficult. We have signs on our vehicles. We are overt; we let people know we are out there and there is no question who the community patrol people are. We let potential criminals know we are out there. If they are thinking about robbing a house or business and they see us drive through they might change their mind.”

Recent Eagle River Crime Profile.


Cook explained further: “We do drive through the parks; they close at 11 o’clock at night. We look for the indicators, and if somebody is slumped over the wheel with their engine going, we will call APD. I don’t know their situation and for their safety I will call APD. All of us have called APD about suspicious activity.”


The Eagle River Community Patrol is reaching its 3,000 hour milestone and 300,000 miles on personally owned vehicles.


Simple Message: “Take a Bite Out of Crime!”


A picture containing drawing

Description automatically generatedThe message is so simple we teach it to children: Responsible people don’t engage in criminal behavior.


Since 1980, McGruff the Crime Dog® has taught millions of people that the police can’t fight crime alone – crime prevention is everybody’s business and everyone can help, according to the National Crime Prevention Council. Through television commercials, comic books, live appearances, and more, McGruff has encouraged Americans to take common-sense steps to reduce crime.

Some of his favorite messages are:

  • Lock doors, leave the lights on when away from home, and let neighbors know when you go on vacation
  • Do things that build a sense of neighborhood and create communities that don’t produce crime and where people look out for each other and kids feel safe
  • Get involved, join Neighborhood Watch, and clean up streets and parks
  • Urge children and teens to protect themselves from substance abuse, bullies, and gang violence

It also means not rewarding criminal behavior by misfits among us, with minimum sentencing, to save a couple of bucks in an already bloated State Budget.




1Community Crime Map-Anchorage


2SB91 Alaska Criminal Justice Commission Report


3SB91 Chapter 36 SLA 16


4Cliff Cook, “Investing in our Community”


5New Sheriff in Town, Must Read Alaska


6Anchorage Coalition of Community Patrols

Friday, June 12, 2020

Sen. Shelley Hughes Speaks Out

Who does the Alaska Legislature Really Represent?



The Alaska Economy is staggering like a weakened 11th round boxer, from a half-year Coronavirus Pandemic bout, but the Alaska Legislature made no attempt in Juneau to stop the move of $4 Billion from the Permanent Fund Earning Reserve Account (ERA) to the untouchable principal of the fund at the end of this month. Alaskans won’t know if this was a smart move until the ref either raises our hands to the sky or we wake up on our back.


"Conversations were held last session, in 2019 in which Sen. Bert Stedman (Sitka) wanted to transfer $12 Billion from the ERA and put it into the principal,"  explained Sen. Shelley Hughes. "Some of us felt that was too much and pushed back, so the amount was reduced to $9 Million. Gov. Dunleavy then vetoed $5 Billion so the final number to be transferred and locked up in the principal was $4 Billion; that lock up is due to occur this June 30th."


These were the circumstances of this decision: "Upon having our very first briefing with Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Anne Zink, in early March, I realized we did not know how things would shake out, what was going to happen to the economy," explained Hughes.  "And, knowing oil prices are volatile and could fall (and they indeed did in April to --$2.68 at one point), I said to my fellow Majority Caucus members: 'I think we should look at reversing that transfer from the ERA.' I had gotten amendment language from our Leg Legal attorneys (Division of Legal and Research Services) so we could reverse the lock-up of the $4 billion." 

"I suggested to my fellow caucus members that we could add an economic trigger so when things stabilize and oil prices go up, the transfer could proceed. Holding those funds back during this time of unpredictability seemed the prudent thing to do. It would at least provide a fiscal slope instead of a cliff when the legislature returned next January to craft the next budget."


Sen. Shelley Hughes

"Some looked at me as if I was looney, out to lunch, and I said: “We don’t know, this could be like the Great Depression, a real hit on Alaska families,added Hughes. "Since then a number of legislators have come around, and many community leaders have agreed it would be the right thing to do. But they all came around too late—we would have to have a special session before June 30th to stop the lock-up of the $4 billion."


For background: The Alaska Permanent Fund is divided into two parts: Principal (nonspendable) and Earnings Reserve (spendable), both of which are invested using the same asset allocation. The Alaska Constitution articulates that the Principal shall only be used for income-producing investments. The Earnings Reserve account, established in Alaska Statutes, is available for appropriation.1

 The Math is Undeniable

As of April 30 the total Permanent Fund Value was $62,575,7000,000 with the Principal at $45.4 Billion and the ERA at $17.2 Billion. The annual PFD is supposed to be paid out of the ERA to every Alaskan according to a formula set in statute,2, 3 but the formula has not been followed since 2015. The Percent of Market Value (POMV) draw to provide for government services and the partial PFD in this year’s budget is $3.1 billion. Next year the estimated POMV draw is $3.0 billion. Those two POMV draws together with the locking up of $4 billion into the principle from the ERA equates to roughly $10 billion of the $17.2 billion obligated, leaving $7.2 billion.


Hughes continued, "Although the ERA will continue to grow, we never know for sure what the markets may do. Another POMV draw or two eats that ERA up. And what about PFDs which are part of our annual economic cycle in Alaska? This is the basis of my concern. This is why I thought it prudent to reverse the $4 billion transfer from the ERA to the principal. Once those funds are transferred, it’s hands-off. The principal is constitutionally protected."


How Sen. Hughes Views the Current Situation


"I believe this is a very critical juncture because oil prices have taken such a hit, what has happened to our economy due to Covid19, and the fact our savings are mostly gone. We are facing more than a $1 Billion gap in the budget. This means very serious decisions must be made," stated Hughes. "We don’t have time to kick the can down the road. We have to solve this gap; we don’t have spare change sitting around we can grab."


She believes the ability to interact in a variety of ways with elected members of Alaska’s legislature means more information about the people’s business conducted in Juneau can be known by voters, but how Alaskans influence their elected officials to do what is best for the state is critical. Hughes represents Mat-Su/Anchorage Senate District F in the legislature.


"Constituent work doubles as a Senator because you are representing an area which includes two house districts, Hughes explained during a recent Palmer coffee house interview. I am very committed to the concept of a Representative Republic, so I really do try to keep my ear to the ground and stay very connected to my constituents. And because I have an incredibly engaged district, I receive hundreds of contacts on a daily basis. With social media and Messenger, people have additional ways too of reaching out to me with concerns or insights, and trust me, they reach out!"


For more about the mechanics of how the Alaska Legislature works go to:


The primary concern of legislators at this time in Alaska’s history is the State budget. The legislature is the appropriating body. The issue is whether they are able to find a glide path to long-term government sustainability or risk further damaging a frail economy reeling from a pandemic by excessive spending. This day has been coming for several years but many seem to believe we can ultimately use the Permanent Fund to continue doing what we have been doing since oil started flowing down the Trans-Alaska Pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez in 1977. Others believe the Permanent Fund is a legacy to future generations of Alaskans from development of non-renewable fossil fuel and the ERA is all we have to pay for State government and PFD payouts.


Hughes continued: "I think one of my strengths is that I am good at building consensus without compromising my conservative values. I am good at listening to people who don’t agree with me; I look for points of agreement, and I am very often quite successful finding them."


"I think the people of my district want to see a very efficient and effective government. They don’t want to see waste, they don’t want to see bloat, because if we don’t control spending, government will be going after their wallets. This is the time more than ever to streamline government. That is the reason I have been adamant about seeking a thorough statewide audit," said Hughes. 

"I believe our process is flawed. We are talking about decisions being made on a multi-billion dollar budget in 90 days by a handful of people on the Finance Committee – who are also hearing many policy bills, who have constituent issues to manage, who have multiple meetings to attend in their offices with those who fly to Juneau. There are simply not enough hours in a day for the committee members to get into the weeds to fully understand what needs to be done. We have a legislative auditor but she’s not been equipped to do what I’m proposing."


Some might say the result of continuing to do things the way we have done then will be more of the same, but the Alaska Gold Rush ended in the early 1900s and our Alaska Oil Rush is also subsiding. We must determine our priorities and gear government to needs over wishes. One other state has developed what Hughes calls a “sunset commission” to take a hard look via in-depth audits at government division by division, and determine what are the required functions and what can be eliminated, what can be combined, what may need to be enhanced?


She explains: "I am taking some of the concept from a Texas initiative and changing it up so that we would have an independent commission, with people from the private sector who know how to deal with large budgets and operations—CEOs and people with CPAs, those with other financial experience—to establish a Sunset Commission. All departments and divisions would rotate through review on a regular cycle. A division would sunset unless the legislature gives its stamp of approval to continue. This would mean the audit could not sit on the shelf; the legislature would have to take it up and take action." 

"The commission would be tasked to examine the facts to determine whether the agency is meeting its statutory and constitutional obligations with the goal of remaining politically neutral. Are the staffing levels appropriate or could it meet its duties with fewer, or perhaps an office is understaffed and causing an inefficiency down the line? Are the dollars being well spent? Are Alaskans getting the bang for the buck? There could be some things that were put into place 30 years ago that no longer apply. Through this process we can determine if certain practices can be improved. We can help ensure our state government is a lean, mean machine – efficient and effective."


What about the Way our Legislature Operates?


Elected legislators determine for themselves the rules under which they will do the people’s business when assembled in Juneau, but this is the law about how it will happen:


Sec. 24.05.120. Rules.  At the beginning of the first regular session of each legislature, both houses shall adopt uniform rules of procedure for enacting bills into law and adopting resolutions. The rules in effect at the last regular session of the immediately preceding legislature serve as the temporary rules of the legislature until the adoption of permanent rules. These rules are available online for constituent review.4


No place in those rules is there a provision for a Binding Caucus. Lately the practice of having a Binding Caucus has been questioned as a corrupt way to deny a large portion of Alaskans their due representation by organizationally diminishing legislators sent to backwater Juneau.


"I believe the Binding Rule flies in the face of a Representative Republic," Hughes declared. "For example, it is illegal right now for me to take a campaign donation--between now and November--and promise to vote for something in return. However, after November I can promise to vote for something and get something of value for my vote; a committee chairmanship, or a seat on the Finance Committee." 

"The Binding Rule requires someone to promise in advance, over a two-year period, to vote for something two years out—that they have never laid eyes on—the capital and operating budgets, as well as promising to uphold rulings of the presiding officer, procedural votes. Some people think “Oh, procedural votes are just housekeeping,” but they are not. They are very powerful, and impact not just budgetary decisions but also directing policy."


Instructional note: Elected legislators go to Juneau and organize themselves into majority and minority caucuses. This occurs after the Lieutenant Governor swears everybody in and they vote for who will be the temporary and ultimately the presiding officer; Speaker in the House and President in the Senate. The party of the elected presiding officer determines who among the group will be in the Majority Caucus, which runs the show. The Minority Caucus is the loyal opposition.


The Binding Caucus is a creation of the Majority Caucus, designed to assure discipline, but more than that it has become a means for punishing black sheep who attempt to cut our ever-growing state budgets. This is also one technique for creating Majority Coalitions run by members of the minority who ran under a false flag and gain positions on the amalgamated Majority Coalition. This in turn disallows some legislators who do not adhere to absolute rule of the chair, denying meaningful participation in a process they were elected to engage in by tens of thousands of Alaskans in their districts.


"If you aren’t in the Majority, it is less likely your bills go through, you get less staffing, and your influence is reduced," continued Hughes. "It requires five people to form an officially recognized minority, so if just a few people choose to not be in the majority they may not even get a seat on any committee, technically. Leadership would have the flexibility to assign one if they wanted, but you are thwarted in terms of representing your district by being assigned fewer seats on committees and no committee chairmanship."


Hughes is not the only Senator who was recently punished by the Senate President for standing on principle.


Sen. Mike Showers, Sen. Mia Costello, Sen. Lora Reinbold and I are now essentially a minority within the Majority Caucus, Hughes continued. During the last two years Sen. David Wilson and Sen. Peter Micchiche were often grouped with us, and Senator Micchiche took some punishments along with the four of us. Communication has been poor. We would hear things through the media, for instance, instead of from our own senate leadership, or we would hear it from a Democrat. It was bizarre.


There are other consequences of not being intimidated by a bully and instead voting on behalf of the people a legislator represents: "Before January 21, I was allotted funding for four staff, and now I am down to two.  These two took the equivalent of a $20,000 annual pay cut recently because of another “punishment” decision by Senate President Cathy Giessel and the leadership. 

"To lessen the blow to my staff – I don’t believe they should be penalized for my votes and positions – I put in a request for a sharing arrangement of one of my staff with another Mat-Su representative. This would have helped restore most of the salaries of both of my staffers. This request was denied. I should note that other presiding officers in the past have signed off on such an agreement." 

"Recently too, I along with a few other colleagues were denied access to the four majority-wide staff experts as yet another punishment. I can no longer reach out to these fine staffers as a resource in the areas of 1) oil and gas, resource development; 2) judiciary, legal and court decisions; 3) polling, surveys, majority website assistance; and 4) communications and press releases."


"I want to say that it sounds like I’m whining. I’m not. I absolutely disagree with all the “punishments” that have been doled out. I believe they were wrong and should not have occurred. I am telling you now about them because it is important for Alaskans to understand how the Binding Caucus rule works so they can decide if it is a practice we should allow to continue."


Hughes continued: "I believe the Binding Caucus is un-American. Some think that is overly harsh. I do not. It is unethical at its core and denies the constituents we serve the representation afforded them in the constitution.  At minimum, it falls within the spirit of the law as far as the elements required to determine Bribery4," she said. 

"We live in such a wonderful state. I am incredibly honored to represent the people of my district, but every candidate running for the legislature during this election campaign needs to be asked if they support continuation of the Binding Caucus Rule. Every voter needs to know where the candidates stand on this pivotal issue before they walk into the voting booth. Do they want to send someone to Juneau who is okay with promising votes in advance on bills, budgets, and policies, sight unseen? I am quite confident that Alaskans do not."


"We can right the ship we’re on as Alaskans work together to eradicate this archaic rule so they are truly represented. I know we can get through the present stormy seas to solve Alaska’s fiscal problem, to settle the PFD issue, to address other challenges before us – I have great hope for the future!"




1 Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation


2 Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation Home Page


3 AS 43.23.025. Amount of dividend.

(a) By October 1 of each year, the commissioner shall determine the value of each permanent fund dividend for that year by

(1) determining the totalamount available fordividendpayments, which equals


(A) the amount of income of the Alaska permanent fund transferred to the dividend fund under AS 37.13.145(b) during the current year;

(B) plus the unexpended and unobligated balances of prior fiscal year appropriations that lapse into the dividend fund under AS 43.23.045(d);

(C) less the amount necessary to pay prior year dividends from the dividend fund in the current year under AS 43.23.005(h), AS 43.23.021, and AS 43.23.055(3) and (7);

(D) less the amount necessary to pay dividends from the dividend fund due to eligible applicants who, as determined by the department, filed for a previous year’s dividend by the filing deadline but who were not included in a previous year’s dividend computation;

(E) less appropriations from the dividend fund during the current year, including amounts to pay costs of administering the dividend program and the hold harmless provisions of AS 43.23.240;


(2) determining the number of individuals eligible to receive a dividend payment for the current year and the number of estates and successors eligible to receive a dividend payment for the current year under AS 43.23.005(h); and


(3) dividing the amount determined under (1) of this subsection by the amount determined under (2) of this subsection.


4 Uniform Rules of the Alaska Legislature


5 Findlaw Criminal Charges for Bribery


Elements of a Bribery Charge


At the most fundamental level, charges of bribery need only to prove that an agreement for the exchange of something of value (political influence, for example) for a sum of money or something else of value. While a written agreement isn't required, prosecutors must be able to prove that an agreement was actually made. For example, a taped phone call between a politician and the party offering the bribe may be sufficient evidence. Similarly, a police body cam video of a driver handing the officer cash before being let go would suffice.


The federal government, however, has very specific elements that it uses to prosecute cases of bribery against federal employees. These include the following:


1.        The individual being bribed is a "public official," which includes rank-and-file federal employees on up to elected officials;

2.        A "thing of value" has been offered, whether it's tangible (such as cash) or intangible (such as the promise of influence or official support);

3.        There's an "official act" that may be influenced by a bribe (such as pending legislation that may have a direct impact on the party offering the bribe);

4.        The public official has the authority or power to commit the official act (for instance, the official is a senator who is voting on a particular piece of legislation);

5.        There must be the establishment of intent on the part of the bribing party to get a desired result (the intent to sway the vote by handing over an envelope full of cash); and

6.        The prosecution must establish a causal connection between the payment and the act meaning there must be more than just a suspicious coincidence.


Thursday, June 4, 2020

How Can Alaska Gain Food Security?

Pandemic Reality: Meat is Essential 



Alaskans know when calamity strikes we can expect to see responding events happen fast. The November 2018 earthquake was such a wake up call--and now the pandemic of 2020 has further driven the fact home--we in Alaska are not food secure. 

Some individuals may be food secure--due to special efforts--but an estimated $3 Billion worth of beef, pork and chicken are shipped to Alaska for food consumption every year, according to Greg Giannulis, who has owned and operated Mike’s Quality Meats in Eagle River now 32 years.

 When I bought the business I couldn’t afford to change the sign so I kept it as Mike’s Meats, Giannulis joked from behind his desk at 12110 Business Park Blvd. in Eagle River.


I met with Giannulis for this interview the last Saturday in May while he was also running things between answering my questions. A brusk Greek Immigrant, Giannulis told me he started his Alaska adventure buying lambs and butchering them as specialty meats. He had worked in a slaughterhouse and was trained in the old country. Today he owns the original storefront retail meat store, with a warehouse nearby, Rocket Ranch in Palmer, and for more than three years the USDA certified Mt. McKinley Meats and Sausage (MMMS) plant in the industrial park near the Palmer Fairgrounds. This is the only USDA meat processing plant in Southcentral Alaska and Giannulis bought it out of necessity.

The child of an employee greeted us at the main office of
Mt. McKinley Meat and Sausage on a Saturday visit of the facility

Q: As a meat retailer you already used Mt McKinley Meats as your slaughterhouse?

A: Yes, they were my slaughterhouse. So, one day I called down there and told them I have two loads of beef, 80 beef I need processed. They replied: “No way in hell can we do it!” The following week I needed some pigs processed and they said “We cannot take five pigs for two or three weeks.”

Q: So you had to pay to maintain those animals over that time?

A: Yes, they were costing me money. So I got mad; I don’t need another business, I’ve got enough to do, but you play with my money and I will do something. They kept telling me they will prioritize my needs but it was all double-talk. Five valley farmers were trying to buy the plant but they cannot even raise a $10,000 deposit to make an offer between them!

Once awarded the bid, Giannulis paid for the plant with a cashier’s check for the full amount; $300,000. He says he has put two times that much into upgrading it to standards he has always maintained for his products. He credits his team of managers for being successful over the many years.

 And, MMMS has made a profit every year since the State of Alaska (SOA) was finally able to divest itself of this government-run money pit. Imagine that!

With the Earthquake (of November 2016) the shelves of local stores were empty for a week or two! Giannulis reflected. Now with the pandemic, meat is essential and nobody has enough. The supermarkets even limit how much you can buy, he continued. So, I am the only place you can buy as much meat as you want directly available; Mikes Meats, Valley Meats in Wasilla, Echo Lake Lockers in Kenai, Carr-Gottstein and Three Bears, because I have a processing plant--which is essential to Alaska Food Security.

He continued: When the pandemic was announced, suddenly nobody had meat. I closed because I didn’t want customers coming in and out, but I have meat for Alaskans.

In fact, Giannulis continues: Within 30 days after the pandemic hit I slaughtered every available animal in Alaska. They gathered them up and I got them all processed. I also pulled beef from Washington, I pulled from Canada; I received a truckload last Monday, beautiful beefs, and I have them processed already on Saturday, and the plant is totally clean and ready for next week. I have a few here now and another truckload coming next week—30 or 40 of them.


A child stands on the ramp inside of the huge trailer used to bring livestock to Mt. McKinley Meat and Sausage for processing. 40-45 live steers can be transported by this method.

This is Commercial Agriculture and it is what Alaska must pursue for food security. 

Meaningful Food Security

A former Alaska Division of Agriculture Asset Manager, Ray Nix witnessed the failed efforts of the SOA to make the slaughterhouse viable over his career. In retirement now, Nix continues to be a trusted advisor to Giannulis, and joined our discussion: Greg needed to control his own destiny, Nix clarified. Adding a slaughterhouse assured processing of animals for his retail business. When it was operated by the State he had no control over production levels. He couldn’t go after additional markets if they wouldn’t kill his animals. So, he got plans and was looking to build a slaughterhouse, when he was approached about the potential of buying this facility.

Nix: There were some negotiations between Greg and the State, and there was a lot of investment that had to be done to this facility, and Greg made a cash offer. It had to be done correctly for the State to transfer ownership, and ultimately Gov. Bill Walker said: “You need to privatize it. It isn’t going to be open, it isn’t going to be funded, you need to privatize it.”

 In December of 2016 the next offer by Greg was accepted. He took possession in May, 2017.

Nix continued: Keep in mind: that place had been offered so many times, when I was employed at the Division of Agriculture doing the offerings, it was obvious that for that facility to work it had to go to somebody with the background and capital to not just pay the utilities—because that was expense enough—but to pay for the operating expenses. Nobody would propose to do that—if you spent a lot of money to purchase the plant you would need to have the additional amounts available for operation to make it viable.

The primary purpose to privatize was to 1. Get the state out of the business because they weren’t running it effectively, and 2. Maintain the USDA stamp for Southcentral Alaska—that is the key to growth of agriculture in Alaska, according to Nix.

Another Likely SOA Boondoggle

We who have witnessed the State of Alaska go from being a broke new state on the federal teat, to rich beyond our imaginations from the single resource of oil, have also noted the many investment boondoggles endured. Most were agricultural pie-in-the-sky failures. So it isn’t too much of a reach to see that this one was headed to the same place from its similar origins as a good idea proposed by people with good intentions.

 A 2003 study by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Division of Agriculture, examined this state-owned slaughterhouse and what might save it.1

A Business Planning Team, led by John Torgerson, Acting Director for the Division of Agriculture, and including staff members Marian Romano-Development Specialist, Melanie Trost-Development Specialist, Ed Arobio-Natural Resource Manager, and Dennis Wheeler-Attorney, resulted in a final report produced by Romano and Trost. The Team used data currently available from staff and stakeholders and research previously completed. Some primary research was conducted. This Team analyzed all the available data and made recommendations to the Director for each issue addressed.  From that report:

Historical Perspective


The Mt McKinley Meat and Sausage Company (MMMS) was originally constructed as part of an ambitious plan to radically expand agriculture through state supported infrastructure development in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  It was financed with $2 million of Agricultural Revolving Loan Fund (ARLF) monies in 1983 and then further financed with private funds of $1.2 million, to support cashflow. 


A combination of factors, including an economic downturn predicated by reduced oil prices, a precipitous drop in grain prices, and a change of administration brought about the abandonment of the concept of agricultural infrastructure expansion by Gov. Steve Cowper. Many projects were abandoned, such as the grain elevator in Seward and the slaughterhouse facility in Fairbanks.  Dairy farms went into foreclosure, as did the MMMS. The ARLF, in second position to the private lender, purchased the asset in a foreclosure sale in 1985 at the end of the Administration of Gov. Bill Sheffield.


Once the SOA abandoned “agricultural infrastructure expansion” Alaska farmers were on their own with the Division of Agriculture doing a lot of hand-wringing. Further, this is how SOA bureaucrats envisioned in that report the future of an uneconomic MMMS subsidized by SOA:


The plant remained closed for several months, then was reopened in 1987 in conjunction with Department of Corrections (DOC), Alaska Correctional Industries (ACI) as a training and rehabilitation facility. The plant has operated under this scenario since then, with the original intention to transition it into private hands. Several attempts to lease the facility have been unsuccessful. 


Over time, in an effort to reach break-even status, the plant has regained its USDA inspection status, added custom cut and wrap services, counted on the settlement of Mental Health Trust lands to increase livestock production, began selling to institutions, purchased boxed meats to augment those sales, and intervened to prevent private sellers from selling products at distressed rates that undercut MMMS prices to institutions. Each of these action steps was intended to be the solution to the problem of operating losses; none were. 


The MMMS has traditionally not met its operating expenses, not including DOC and ACI staff, until FY 2003. In FY 2003 and 2004, as the result of budget cuts, the Commissioner of DOC asked the Director of Agriculture to reimburse the cost of ACI and DOC staff as well as operating shortfalls. As a result of these new costs to the shrinking ARLF, from which monies come to support both the Division of Agriculture and MMMS, the Director has decided to look at alternative operating options for the plant. 


As a result of this quest for other options, the following information has been gathered in order to have accurate, current data upon which to base future decisions. 


A look back at various public hearings and Board of Agriculture meetings finds a series of common solutions that come to the forefront at each meeting. Recurring and persistent recommendations for success of the MMMS plant have been: 

• Increased hog production

• A co-op to operate the facility

• A private person to operate the facility

• Diversification of the plant

These 2003 researchers found there was no record of MMMS production levels for five years:


Still the asset of the State continued to lose in excess of $100,000/year as documented in a white paper written by Nix2:


What Alaska must do for Food Security

At present, Giannulis is processing an estimated 100-150 animals per week. He brings them from anyplace he can get them, using his own truck and trailers. He buys from 97 sources Outside that supply him through Seattle. There are not enough cattle being raised in Alaska to keep him in business for more than one month.

Animals are guided single-file onto the "Kill Floor."

Each animal is humanly dispatched and attached to a hoist
which raises each carcass for transport to each station of the process. 

A variety of apparatus manage the carcasses toward their final
destination as boxes of meat.

The meat is  cut up around these tables.

Meat is smoked in these automated vaults.

Giannulis: We need more cattle to be raised in Alaska. A billion and a half per year is being spent outside just for beef.

 Nix: “That means more acres of land available. We need to have the Alaska Division of Natural Resources provide grazing lands with Ag Rights only. You cannot sell it, you cannot develop it, you can only graze domestic animals on it. From the Division of Ag we knew we have very limited Ag land available. There is a piece up north--about 125,000 acres--some out at Fish Creek and other scattered spots, but it’s not the best ag land and it isn’t being utilized. Bridges need to be built.  Ag land is a tremendously costly part, getting it ready for use—even grazing—is expensive. So for sustainability DNR needs to authorize land for agriculture purposes.

 Giannulis: What they offer now is 600-acre parcels. That doesn’t mean anything; you need 4-5 acres per animal, so how many animals can you raise on 600 acres? We need 20,000. 30,000, 50,000 acres for viability as Commercial Agriculture.

He has studied how the Canadian agriculture program works.

Mostly we need State policy that will allow us to feed ourselves, continued Giannulis. I have traveled to Canada five times and spent a week each time to see how their agriculture business works. The smallest farm is 10,000 acres. They have 30,000, 50,000, 100,000 acre farms raising animals for meat. They produce anything and they make a lot of money because they don’t have the BS that farmers suffer with from the government here. They raise a lot of animals and we bring some of them here for processing.

Alaskans are due to break our oil dependency problem sometime soon,  as with the Gold Rush of the early 1900s, this state will again be home for people living here for the long haul. Perhaps now is the time for Alaskans to return to the basics of living the Alaskan lifestyle with food security, as we once did3. Gov. Mike Dunleavy was Senator from the Mat-Su agriculture zone and understands this, but what are the chances of policy improvements for Alaska food security coming from legislators in the government town of Juneau?



     1.     Mt. McKinley Meats and Sausage Review and Recommendations Final Report 2003


2.     Division of Agriculture White Paper February 17, 2009


3   Alaska Farm Bureau RE: Mt McKinley Meats, October 9, 2015


We have Options

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