Thursday, December 31, 2020

Legislative Hopes for this Year

Hopes for the New Legislature


The Alaska Legislature in recent years has become a spectacle. We have voted for people who we thought understood what Alaskans want:
Safety and Security, Limited and efficient State Government, Protection of the Permanent Fund with use of the Earnings, Economic Expansion and Financial Accountability, and Liberty. During campaigns for office we frequently hear slogans and happytalk from candidates promising all of these things and more. But, once elected many head to Juneau to form coalitions accommodating special interests.

From some districts it appears some legislators forget all about whose votes sent them there.


Alaska voters have experienced a learning curve as former Gov. Bill Walker and legislative majority coalitions decided to ignore the more than 40 year tried and true formula for distribution of the Dividend to Alaskans from earnings of the Permanent Fund. This was done to accommodate the public sector unions and other special interests wanting to buy more government. Voters saw some of these lawless legislators refuse to meet in Wasilla at a Special Session called by Gov. Dunleavy--who is specifically charged with determining where the Special Session shall be held. Instead, the mongrel majority met in Juneau in defiance of the governor and the Alaska constitution. Voters have also learned over the last year about the organizing tool of a Binding Caucus as a means for a few legislators in positions of power to muscle the rest into ever increasing budgets that nobody is accountable for. So now that the 2020 elections are over let’s look at who is--and is not--going back to Juneau. At this time the House is having trouble organizing again as it did in the last session. So let’s consider what we might expect from the 32nd Alaska Legislature convening January 19, 2021.

Two of ten senators were replaced in the Primary Election and 11 of 40 house members lost their seats in either the Primary or the General Election (three didn’t run for re-election). Some others got wake-up calls. In the August 18, 2020 Primary Election eligible voters picked from candidates on either the Closed Republican ballot or the open Democrat ballot.1

Let’s do a body count district by district.

We all are familiar with what happened in the big races for US Senate (Dan Sullivan) and Representative (Don Young). After truly obscene amounts of money were spent against them, by the same outside interests that benefit from a North Seattle Alaska capital, results of General Election legislative races is intriguing.2

Election Districts were last updated in 2013.

Election Overview

 The Senate:


Only 10 senate seats are up for election every two years and a couple of big dogs went down in the Alaska Senate. In the postings here I will report the percentage by which winners won by if they had a challenger.

Most notably, District B saw John B. Coghill, Jr. defeated by Robert H. Meyers, Jr.

As the son of one of the signers of the Alaska Constitution, Coghill’s loss was big. Sen. Coghill had been in the Legislature first as a Representative since 1999, and it took a groundswell of opposition to extract him from a position he used to reduced protections for Alaskans as a cost-saving measure under SB91. The result of that change in law and public policy was expensive and degrading to our Alaskan way of life. Gov. Dunleavy finally overturned it through a tumultuous special session.


In District D in the Mat-Su Valley, incumbent, David Wilson, had five challengers in the Republican Primary ballot. They split the 5,123 votes cast. Wilson’s count was 1,736 (33.89%) and his closest competitor Stephen Wright polled 1,330 (25.96%). On the Democrat side Thomas Lamb got all 1,329 votes available. In the General Election Lamb was joined by another Democrat, Dan Mayfield and they split that vote nearly evenly 2,616 to 2,622. Wright ran a write-in smear campaign of no consequence against the Republican. Sen. Wilson received 12,631 votes to win (69.19%).

District F, again in the Valley saw incumbent Shelley Hughes gain all 4,759 Republican Primary votes while Undeclared/Democrat Stephany Jeffers gained 1,992. Lately the Democrats have run bait-and-switch placeholders in the primary and then put their big gun in at the general election. The strategy usually fails or allows somebody who could not have won in the primary to jump in and fool enough voters to get elected, as Gov. Bill Walker did to change the way our PFD is distributed under statute. Jim Cooper ran as a Democrat and gained 4,908 votes. Gavin Christiansen ran as a Libertarian and gained 999 votes. Hughes won the General Election with 14,775 votes (71.34%).

District H, Anchorage saw Republican Madeleine Gaiser gain 1,874 votes in the primary to incumbent union lawyer Bill Wielechowski’s 2,218 in the Democrat open. Gaiser’s numbers increased to 5,330 in the general. Wielechowski won with 7,304 votes (57.73%).

District J East Anchorage, saw incumbent Tom Begich cake walk to victory with no challenger in either the primary or in the general.

District L saw a spirited Republican challenge of Sen. Natasha Von Imhof (2,165) by Stephen Duplantis (1,884) in the primary election. Democrat Roselynn Cacy received 2,856 votes in the open primary. Von Imhoff received 10,410 (59.72%) in the general election to Roselynn’s 6,725 votes.

District M Incumbent Joshua Revak easily won the Republican primary. Two strawman candidates ran in the Democrat primary with Anita Thorne (2,732) over Willie Nicholas (389). In the general election former Anchorage Education Association President, and current ASD School Board Member, Andy Holleman completed the Democrat switch to lose in the general election 7,607 to Revak’s 10,410 (57.60%).

District N saw Alaska Senate President Cathy Giessel (2,055) primaried by Roger Holland (3,687) in the Republican Primary. This was a stunning defeat for status quo Republicans and RINOs. In the Democrat primary Lynette Moreno Hinz (1,907) to Carl Johnson (2,247). Holland won the general election 10,512 (49.66%) over Johnson’s 9,650. Retired ASD teacher Libertarian Carolyn Clift drew 965 votes.

Rural districts P, R and T affirmed the status quo with re-election of Gary Stevens, Bert Stedman, and Donald Olson respectfully.

In sum, two Senate seats changed: District B: Coghill to Meyers and District N: Giessel to Holland. Most of the rest won with strong numbers.

The House of Representatives:

HD1 Incumbent Rep. Bart Lebon received 1,037 votes in the primary against a combined total of 1,396 votes for two democrats. In the general Lebon won re-election by 3,769 (55.30%) to Christopher Quist’s 3,027.

HD2 Incumbent Steve Thompson (452) Republican challenger Dave Selle (413) in the primary. Thompson (3,632) went on to beat Democrat Jeremiah Youmans (1,565) in the General Election with 69.57%.

HD3 Incumbent Glenn Prax was unopposed in the primary or the general. He had been appointed by Gov. Dunleavy to fill the term of Tammy Wilson who took a state job at the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. She had served since December 3, 2009 after a short term on the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly.

HD4 Keith Kurber (1,434) in the Republican primary to Democrat Grier Hopkins (2,369). Hopkins won 5,478 (53.98%) to Kurber’s 4,649 in the General Election.


HD5 Incumbent Democrat Adam Wool (4,341) 52.79% beat Kevin McKinley (3,867) in the general election

HD6 Three candidates ran in the Republican primary with Mike Cronk (1,337) winning. Democrat Primary winner was Julia Hnilicka (1,189). Cronk went on to win the General Election with 4,861 (55.80%) to Hnilicka’s 2,626 votes, despite participation trophies from three other candidates who siphoned off 1,203 votes in also ran campaigns.

HD7 Republican Christopher Kirka (6,449) 73.77% won the General Election over Jamin Burton (2,252). The Republican Primary saw Valley farmer and previous legislator, Lynn Gattis (762) lose to Kurka (1,724).

HD8 Incumbent Mark Neuman (1,000) lost the Republican Primary to Kevin McCabe (1,807). The General Election resulted in McCabe (7,533) 81.44% to Democrat Alma Hartley (1,683).

HD9 Republican incumbent George Rauscher (7,496) 71.92% beat Democrat challenger Bill Johnson (2,870) in the General Election.

HD10 Incumbent David Eastman (1,589) beat Mat-Su Borough Assemblyman Jesse Sumner (1,420) in a primary race with more smoke than fire. Eastman (7,659) 73.70% won the General Election easily against Democrat challenger Monica Stein-Olson (2,693). There may be some hard feelings among some Republicans in this race but Eastman is a force to be contended with.

HD11 Incumbent Republican DeLena Johnson (7,383) 74.09% beat Democrat challenger Andrea Hackbarth (2,553).

HD12 Republican cumbent Cathy Tilton had no opponent and received 8,881 (95.63%) votes.

HD13 Incumbent Rep. Sharon Jackson had been appointed by Gov. Dunleavy to fill this position after he appointed newly elected Rep. Nancy Dahlstrom as Commissioner of Corrections. Jackson (573) lost this Eagle River/Chugiak seat to Ken McCarty (722) in the Republican Primary. McCarty (4,730) 67.57% beat Democrat James Canitz (2,250) in the General Election.

HD14 Eagle River Republican Incumbent Kelly Merrick (7,602) 71.77% easily beat General Election candidate Mike Risinger (2,960).

HD15 Incumbent Muldoon legislator Gabrielle LeDoux (305) lost in the Primary Election to David Nelson (628). Nelson (2,541) 50.82% went on the beat Democrat Lyn Franks (2,446) in the General Election.

HD16 Incumbent Ivy Spohnholz (4,014) 53.04% won re-election in the General Election, with a Looney Libertarian assist by Scott Kohihaas (474), against Republican Paul Bauer (3,069.

HD17, 18, 19, 20, 21 all saw incumbents win in this liberal Anchorage bastion; Andy Josephson, Harriet Drummond, Geran Tarr, Zack Fields, Matt Claman.

HD22 Republican incumbent Sara Rasmussen won re-election handily.

HD23 Incumbent Democrat Chris Tuck (3,463) 47.79% won his re-election over Republican challenger Kathy Henslee (3,122) with a lifesaving assist by AIP candidate Timothy Huit (650).

HD24 Incumbent Chuck Kopp (1,121) was primaried by Thomas McKay (1,737). McKay (5,617) 56.31% went on to win the seat over Democrat Sue Levi (4,329).

HD25 Incumbent Republican Mel Gillis (4,217) lost in the 2020 General Election to Democrat Calvin Schrage (4,595). Gillis had been appointed by Gov. Dunleavy and was unanimously confirmed and sworn in on December 2, 2019. This was the House seat previously held by Josh Revak. Gov. Dunleavy appointed Revak to fill the senate seat vacated by death of Chris Birch, who died suddenly on August 8, 2019.

 HD26 Incumbent Republican Laddie Shaw won re-election unopposed.

 HD27 Incumbent Republican since first elected in 2011, Lance Pruitt (4,562) lost to Liz Snyder (4,575). Pruitt was minority leader and had previously served as Republican Majority Leader. This was a surprise loss and Pruitt challenged it in court due to election irregularities.

 HD28 Incumbent Jennifer Johnston (1,242) lost in the Republican Primary to James Kaufman (2,444). Democrat straw man Adam Lees gained 2.211 votes. Again, in a desperate effort the Democrat bait-and-switch saw Anchorage Assemblywoman Suzanne LaFrance (5,698) substituted for Lees to lose in the General Election to Kaufman (6,160). This was a clear move to the right for this district whose Republican representative had joined a Democrat coalition for the last time.

HD29 Incumbent Republican Benjamin Carpenter (6,560) won easily over his General Election opponent Paul Dale (3,482).

 HD30 A recall effort was launched against incumbent Kenai Rep. Gary Knopp in May of 2019 requiring 1,000 names on the petition to gain opportunity to officially seek his removal from office. It was approved and would have required 3,000 signatures to cause a recall election. This was triggered by Knopp’s role in forming a majority coalition with Democrats when the people had elected a majority of Republicans to the House.3

 As described in Ballotpedia:


Recall supporters argued Knopp’s actions contributed to delays and disruption to the 2019 legislative session, which prevented the legislature from finishing all of its scheduled work. Prior to the legislative session, Knopp announced that he was leaving the Republican caucus and would help form a majority coalition with Democrats. He said, "A 21 member caucus cannot succeed. It’s doomed for failure and I’m not going to be on that train. I’m not joining the Democrats either. I’m doing this to try and force a true coalition."4 Over 30 days in January and February, Knopp helped to form a coalition of 15 Democrats, eight Republicans, and two members unaffiliated with either party. That coalition elected Bryce Edgmon (undeclared) as House speaker on February 14, 2019. This resulted in the parties having split control of key leadership positions in a power-sharing agreement.


Due to the delays at the beginning of its session, the legislature was unable to finish all of its work. In response, Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) called the legislature into a 30-day special session on May 15, 2019. That special session was tasked with passing legislation related to criminal reform, the operating budget, the mental health budget, the capital budget, and education funding.5 A second special session was held from July 8 to August 6 to address the state's capital budget and Permanent Fund dividend.6


Knopp was also censured by the Alaska Republican Party in May 2019 for his role in the disruptions to the start of the 2019 legislative session. Because of the censure, the state Republican Party stated that it would no longer support Knopp.


God recalled Rep Knopp in a mid-air plane collision when his piper PA-12 hit a DHC-2 Beaver carrying six.7 According to a story in the Anchorage Daily News: “National Weather Service reports from the Soldotna airport for Friday morning showed clear visibility, with broken clouds at 10,000 and 4,500 feet.”8

That was distinctly different weather than Knopp had caused in the Alaska Legislature with his duplicitous maneuvers. Knopp still received 463 votes as a dead man in the Primary Election to Ron Gillham’s 1,611 62.38% votes. A third Republican, Kelly Wolf received 658 primary votes. Nobody bothered to run in the Democrat open primary in this strong Republican district. Gillham (5,750) went on to win the General Election against johnny-come-lately James Baisden (3,328).

HD31 Incumbent Sara Vance had no opposition in the primary election but Kelly Cooper ran against her in the general. Vance 6,479 54.24% to Cooper (5,443).

HD32 Democrat in Republican clothing incumbent Rep. Louise Stutes won re-election in the Kodiak district. She may be the Republican in the coming legislature who again gives the majority coalition to the Democrats. No surprise.

HD33 Juneau Democrat Sara Hannan won election with no opposition.

HD34 Knowledgeable non-declared economist candidate Edward King (3,806) lost to incumbent Democrat Andi Story (6,284) 61.98% in this second Juneau district.

HD35 Incumbent from Sitka, Democrat Rep.  Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (5,682) 58.67% beat Hoonah challenger Kenny Skaflestad (3,972).

HD36 Nondeclared (Democrat) incumbent Dan Ortiz (5,409) 60.29% didn’t run in the Primary Election but beat Republican Primary winner Leslie Becker (3,516).

HD37 Democrat-turned-Nondeclared Incumbent Bryce Edgmon had no opponents in his run for re-election. He has been House Speaker in the mongrel coalition.

HD38 Vetran’s Party Candidate, Willy Keppel (1,919) ran against Incumbent Democrat, Tiffany Zulkoski (3,170) 61.94% in this race.

HD39 Democrat incumbent, Neal Foster was easily re-elected (3,623) 64.03% against challenger Republican Dan Holmes (1,044).

HD40 Democrat Elizabeth Ferguson won the Open Primary, to be swamped in the General Election by undeclared (Democrat) Josiah Patkotak (2,292) 52.14% to her 2,086 votes.

It has almost become a cliché that everything has changed with the China Virus, but even now after some 10 months of cautious public health policy, we have a vaccine. Public pressure has caused the Alaska Legislature to realize that voters are watching and we don’t care anymore about excuses. Our economy is in freefall, state spending is still out of control, public employees have not missed a paycheck while our unemployment rate skyrockets. It is time to invest in the people who live here, open our schools, and help businesses that serve our needs.  Legislators will be challenged to convene a session in Juneau soon under imposed health constraints, but it is time to deliver economic relief to the Alaskan people instead of another series of episodes featuring childish political maneuvering.

If not, the next election is only two years away.


1Primary Election Results

 2General Election Results

3Peninsula Clarion

4The Political storm Rep. Kopp faced

5 KTUU, "Dunleavy to call Legislature into special session over budget, PFD, crime, education, more," May 15, 2019

6 Alaska Public Media, "Dunleavy calls for round two in Wasilla after Alaska Legislature adjourns first special session," June 13, 2019




Monday, December 21, 2020

Food for Thought for Alaskans

Alaska’s Food Security Options



Alaskans have come to take a lot of things for granted because of innovation and initiative for food security in this state. We may live in the Arctic Climate Zone but our ability to create local food sources and access food from other places has evolved. By understanding the requirements of food security and economics related to delivering food to Alaskans we may better assure food security into the future.

Let’s start by looking at what we know about Alaska food systems.

A September, 2012 study by the University of Alaska Institute on Social and Economic Research (ISER) took a comprehensive look at Alaska food systems. In the study a food system was defined as having five components: 1) production, 2) distribution, 3) food preparation and preservation or processing, 4) food use and consumption, and 5) the recycling and disposal of food wastes.

To read the details of this state report you may go to the link in the References.

I personally think this report is overly complicated, resulting in an 85-page study that the State of Alaska paid for. We writers are usually paid by the word, you know.

ISER was hired to do this study because the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, Section of Chronic Disease and Heath Promotion wanted to know what was known and not known about Alaska’s Food System. The researcher’s task was to locate, compile, and describe indicators for each component and to note potential concerns with any indicators. The final report provides an overview of the food system model, a demographic overview of Alaska’s residents, examination of identified components of the food system, a chapter on data, and a final index of the indicators and source information.1

We may be seeing the result of this effort in television commercials featuring Alaskans who social workers at the H&SS want to encourage to live more healthy lifestyles by eating and drinking less sugar, smoking less, drinking less alcohol, and engaging in healthy pre-natal practices. This “Social Engineering” is necessary because our public education systems are derelict.

Our neighbors to the west, in the former Soviet Union, addressed similar efforts through Five-Year Plans:

Five-Year Plans, were a method of planning economic growth over limited periods, through the use of quotas, used first in the Soviet Union and later in other socialist states. In the Soviet Union, the first Five-Year Plan (1928–32), implemented by Joseph Stalin, concentrated on developing heavy industry and collectivizing agriculture, at the cost of a drastic fall in consumer goods. The second plan (1933–37) continued the objectives of the first. Collectivization led to terrible famines, especially in the Ukraine, that caused the deaths of millions. The third (1938–42) emphasized the production of armaments. The fourth (1946–53) again stressed heavy industry and military buildup, angering the Western powers. In China, the first Five-Year Plan (1953–57) stressed rapid industrial development, with Soviet assistance; it proved highly successful. Shortly after the second plan began in 1958, the Great Leap Forward was announced; its goals conflicted with the five-year plan, leading to failure and the withdrawal of Soviet aid in 1960.2

From an Alaskan’s point of view, we should not want to repeat the mistakes of our neighbor but rather engage the power of our capitalist economic system to assure high production of food in Alaska. So, the part of this report that is relevant to Food Security is about Production.

Farm Characteristics

For a young state Alaska has been in the business of agriculture for a long time. The 1959 Census of Agriculture included information for 1900, when it documented 159 acres of land in farms. But that acreage increased rapidly in the next four decades and in the Census of 1939 was 1,775,752.9 In Table 3.1, we present data from the Census of Agriculture for 1997, 2002, and 2007. In 2007, Alaska had 881,585 acres, or two-tenths of a percent of the state’s total land area, as farmland. Fifty-nine percent of Alaska farms have less than 100 acres of farmland, with 23 percent of Alaska farms between 100 and 499 acres. This means that 82 percent of all Alaska farms are on less than 500 acres. 

Over the time period from 1997 to 2007, the amount of farmlands in Alaska has increased by one-tenth of one percent. The size of farms has decreased overall, with farms less than 100 acres increasing by more than 30 percent. With the exception of farms 500 to 999 acres (-8%), other categories of farm size decreased by more than 25 percent. The trend is showing a shift toward smaller farms, with most farms less than 100 acres in size in 2007.3

The trend was going in the wrong direction in 2007 with smaller farms struggling to produce whatever they can eek out in small plots, as might be expected in a Soviet style system.

From the report:

Farm financial indicators

The farm financial indicators of crop-production employment earnings and net income both increased slightly. Farm employment and wages increased by the end of the five-year period from 2006 to 2010, but in the intervening years there were fluctuations. (See Table 3.3). 


We have a stagnant Agriculture sector. The state has used oil revenues to dabble in agriculture with poor results, and it will be up to policymakers to change how Ag Land is provided if we are to increase production, according to Greg Giannulis, owner of Mike’s Quality Meats and Mt. McKinley Meats and Sausage:  “Northern Canada has the same weather as Alaska and they raise many cattle there, on 10- 20- 50-thousand acre plots,” Giannulis explained. “Alaska government provides only 640-acre parcels for Ag Land and that keeps the price of meat higher. It is not commercially viable to raise meat here at this level.”

Giannulis continued: “Second of all, locals say it costs more to raise meat here. No, if Canada can send beef here at $1.10-$1.20 per pound to the slaughter houses, and ship live animals to the lower 48, then why can’t we do that here? We need livestock to be raised in Alaska for the same amount as they pay in Seattle, maybe 10-20 cents higher.”


Production levels seem to bear this out the fact we do not have efficiencies of scale:

4See Reference

This is a pittance of what Alaska requires to feed our population, documented a decade ago:

From the report:

5See Reference

Producing more meat in Alaska will drive the price down for all consumers.

We all must eat. Whatever else is going on with the economy, the price and availability of food will determine health of all who live here. The promise of statehood was that we would determine our own destiny as part of the United States of America but today we are still dependent upon Seattle for most of our food--shipped to the Southeast Alaska ports and to the Port of Anchorage. Quality and price are controlled from out of state.

In response to my questions, Giannulis goes to his constantly busy calculator, tap-tap-tap-tap: “We sell our beef for an average price of $4.59,” he explains in real time numbers. “That's $3.49 per pound plus slaughter/processing costs. I have been able to get the average cost of beef down to $3.00 per pound.”

 Food Security is an Economic Proposition.

“As soon as I started the Rocket Ranch I lowered the price--before I bought the Mt McKinley slaughter house, when I lowered the price even more,” he explained. “Since the day I bought Mt McKinley Meats & Sausage (MMMS) from the State of Alaska (2017) we have lowered the price of beef and pork to all Alaskans.”

Mt McKinley Meats and Sausage in Palmer, Alaska

That’s how the economic principal of Supply and Demand works. More supply lowers the cost, more demand increases the cost.

Here is how that has worked for Alaskan consumers: “Over three years I probably lowered the price four times,” Giannulis continued. “The rate was $5-$6-$7-per pound then. They used to sell pigs for $6 to $7 per pound—now pigs from Delta are selling for $4.70 per pound. Our price of $3 per pound is $1.70 lower; that’s a lot of savings! A 200 pound hog, times $1.70, represents a savings of $330 per hog.”

In his brash manner, Giannulis further explains: “I am setting the price for everybody and some may hate my guts for it. The big picture is we must drive the price down to compete. If they pay $2 per pound for a steak in Seattle we can charge $2.10-2.20 here, to be at the same level as Seattle pricing."

Giannulis begs the question:  “Why would Alaskans buy meat from Seattle if they can get it for the same price here? Utility and labor costs are the same as Seattle. We have no fight from Seattle now for the amount we are able to produce in-state, but if we started having commercial farms of 10,000+ acres, Seattle will fight us. They want the majority of the state dependent on them for our food. If we can lower the price by higher levels of food produced in Alaska there is nothing they can do.”

As a colony of the United States, we do not have enough livestock in Alaska now. Giannulis is doing all he can to gain access to animals from Montana in addition to those he raises in Palmer and at Delta.

“We can bring them from Canada but we choose to buy from the USA,” Giannulis continued. “So Montana is one of the hubs we bring livestock from. We will have 50 animals arriving Jan. 5
th. They load the animals in Montana and haul them by truck to Edmonton, Alberta. There they stay one day to water and feed, before loading them up for the 32 hours to Alaska. The price is the same for beef in Canada but why give them our money if we can keep it in the US? We send our own trucks down to Edmonton to pick up the animals and bring them here. We try to cut out all the middlemen and deliver the product at best price for Alaskans. It has taken a few years to get this set up.”

Giannulis estimates he has invested $2.5 million in his operation including the farm, storefront and processing plant, without taking out any loans. “When I came to Eagle River 40 years ago I had a pair of pants and a jacket with a hole in it,” he proclaimed.

Mike's Quality Meats in Eagle River

When the State of Alaska owned the slaughterhouse very few animals were processed while three managers made executive salaries and prisoners from the Alaska Department of Corrections did the work.

“I have 12-15 people at the slaughter house who process the cattle and hogs,” said Gainnulis. “The animals are gathered and slaughtered and a day later processed into meat boxes mostly. We ship to anybody according to what they want. They call it in; some may require custom cut steaks, or other variations, and we give them what they want. By having the complete system from USDA Certified slaughterhouse to customer we are able to assure meat for Alaska at the best price available.”

Giannulis looks at Food Security through the prism of a businessman: “We need Alaska Ag Land for food security. Right now we have good business practices to deliver meat for Alaskans but we need land to grow hay, for barley, for hops, infrastructure: Stables, barns, for the people who work there bunkhouses, representing millions of dollars.

If the land is available the infrastructure will be built by innovative farmer/businessmen.

“If we have ag land the rest is on us” continued Giannulis. “The current 600 acre allotments are not enough to do anything. We need five acres per cow on average. Some land will support a cow on 3 acres some will require 10 acres per cow--600 acres will support 120 cattle. We need to kill that many every day!

That’s the big picture and with the recent pandemic we learned what is really important for Alaska Food Security:

”In April, when meat was not available in the entire United States, I had as much meat as anybody in Alaska wanted to buy,” Giannulis said. “Limits were placed on meat—one steak or two stakes at some stores—but we provided for Alaskans. That will be how we always operate.”




1ISER Publication - Food System Assessment, Khristy Parker, Irina Ikatova, Rosyland Frazier, Virgene Hanna, Report 92pp, 09-01-12, Prepared for Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, Obesity Prevention and Control Program, Pg 1, Background.


2 Encyclopaedia Britannica online:


3ISER Publication – Food System Assessment, Pg 15.


4ISER Publication – Food System Assessment, Pg .19


5ISER Publication – Food System Assessment, Pg 5.


Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Swim little fish!

 Where Is Public Education Going Now?



As a graduate of East Anchorage High School in 1969, I felt like one of the tiny fish raised in Alaska hatcheries and pumped through a four-inch hose into any of a number of Alaska lakes, to grow large enough to become opportunities for anglers to catch with reel and rod, after a good fight. Parting words from my teachers were “swim, little fish!”

Because my dad had come to Alaska as a telephone worker, he was a proud member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW 1547). As his son I would likely have qualified to enter the Electrical Training School and ultimately joined the union cartel that assured members of great salary, benefits and retirement for the rest of their lives. As a high-paid tradesman, I might look down my nose at those posy-sniffing university elitists who took classes over a number of years and graduated into an ocean of unspecified opportunities.


But the summer after graduation I was adrift. The old man had kicked me out of the family home in Midtown Anchorage before I graduated, and I had built a camper on the back of a beat-up 1962 Chevy truck, where I lived to finish high school. I liked working with tools but I didn’t want to go into the trades for a career. I worked that summer in construction--mostly cleaning up job sites--and found myself in the employ of legislator Nick Begich, taking care of four kids while he and another high school teacher, Ivan Harrison, built apartments in East Anchorage. In the evenings--while Sen. Begich answered constituent mail--we talked about the future of Alaska.

 This was a linchpin of my education.

 With the Trans-Alaska Pipeline coming, it was all pie-in-the-sky. What would Alaskans do with all that money? As a teacher, Nick saw bigtime education opportunities for future generations. As an eager learner myself, he encouraged me to seek higher education at the newly established Anchorage Community College (ACC) at Providence Drive and Lake Otis Parkway. The University of Alaska was in Fairbanks but this community college was finally in its own digs after years of holding night classes at West Anchorage High School. This was also the camel’s nose under the tent, to re-direct UA resources from a specialty university for Arctic living in Fairbanks to a something-for-everybody railbelt community college. Five concrete monoliths had been planted in a big mudhole across the street from Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API) for the benefit of Alaskans, like me. As far as I can tell UAA is still today mostly a glorified community college.

 I wanted to swim in that pond.

 Later, in the mid-1970s as a student and reporter for the Anchorage Daily News I became friends with the Superintendent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Roy Peratrovich, who told me an amusing story reflecting the sentiment of many toward higher education:


A certain eager high school graduate from rural Alaska flew to Anchorage ready to start school. The taxi dropped him off at ACC. Because it seemed so unfinished the student ended up across the street at API walking around the grounds and wondering how to get in. Finally, a groundskeeper approaches the young man and asks if he can help him.


“I am new here and ready to get started on my education,” the young man said enthusiastically. “Is this Anchorage Community College?”


“Oh no,” replied the groundskeeper, “you have made a very serious mistake—this is Alaska Psychiatric Institution where they put crazy people!”


The young man, trying to make light of the situation, replied: “There isn’t really that much difference between the two, is there?”


“Yes, there is a lot of difference,” the solemn groundskeeper replied: “To get out of API you must show improvement!”


Roy issued a big belly-laugh with that story.


What about Alaska Higher Education?


Long story short, I took Begich’s advice and got a loan from the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education (ACPE) and began taking classes while working jobs to support myself. I didn’t follow in my father’s footsteps to become a blue collar soldier for the union and the Democratic Party. I had never trusted my teachers to be anything but poseurs, either, so I became a difficult student who always asked questions that couldn’t be answered, and took the path least traveled.


 With so many opportunities all around, as the Trans-Alaska Pipeline was being built, I still resisted big money working construction while also giving up on ACC. I wanted more in my college experience, and Alaska Methodist University (AMU) was the underdog private college facing direct threat from the state’s revitalized UA system in Anchorage. ACPE offered financing for attendance at the private school because the big fish entered a Consortium Agreement with AMU in exchange for its considerable library, so young Alaskans like me could get state loans to attend a noble but challenged private university.

 I took classes not taught by State workers, and learned the value of looking at the origins of our language and the history of our nation, through an objective Alaskan academic lens. At the Daily News I even wrote stories about local churches for publication--and independent study Religion credit. Both AMU and the Daily News benefited as I encountered learning on my terms. By the time I got my Bachelor Degree in 1974 I was a full reporter making monthly payments to ACPE for what I had borrowed.

This was a uniquely Alaskan education and I savored it. The true value of my training happened as I started my own business and made myself available to whatever career path God steered me onto. I am eternally grateful for this.


 The Future of Higher Education is in School Today

 Living on a sailboat in Juneau during the late 1980s, one day I had an epiphany about what I might pursue in my career at that time. Having generally a low opinion of the Alaska public education experience I had survived, I wondered: What if I tried to become the rare kind of inspiring teacher I had experienced on few occasions? Nick had disappeared on an airplane traveling to Juneau from Anchorage October 16, 1972, but perhaps he was still nudging me at some level I could not know. So, I returned to the University of Alaska Southeast (UAS) to pursue teaching.

 There I ultimately earned a Master’s Degree in Education in 1989.

This focused my life. Other Career events meant it took until age 52 to become a newly minted teacher. That’s when I discovered the University of Alaska program was producing relatively few of the thousands of teachers hired in 50+ Alaska School Districts. District administrators were mostly looking for young, cheap, easily fired teachers from Outside. I attended a Teacher Job Fair in Anchorage, with school board members and administrators from all over the state. It was like a speed-dating event. They obviously didn’t want experience; they wanted compliance of newbie idealists who could regurgitate the meanings of certain educational buzzwords for treats.

I wasn’t a trained seal, but I found my way into Alaska’s Public Education Casino--with the few chips I had obtained at UAS--and played my luck upon gaining my Alaska teaching certificate in 2003, including one year teaching 6th Grade in Haines, Alaska, and later being nominated by my ABE students and selected in 2013 as a BP Teacher of Excellence.


Fast-forward to 2020: My experiences over 15 years as a working teacher bookmark the nearly 15 previous years of working for public sector teacher and state employee unions in Juneau. These are contrasting experiences. I always knew higher education was the key to getting into my kind of career pattern, and have given many students the advice Nick Begich gave me back in 1969: Borrow from ACPE for great rates to gain the education Alaska needs and you deserve.

Today I find myself in a new relationship to higher education as a commissioner on the ACPE, appointed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy in early 2020. I am one of 14 commissioners determining policy for providing loans to Alaskans seeking higher education or vocational training.

I had gotten to know Sen. Dunleavy when serving as an ABE instructor in his Wasilla Senate District.1

I aspired to elevate people who had failed in public education into meaningful careers so their own children would value education. I previously wrote two stories for publication about The State of Higher Education, which are now also on my blog.2

Additionally, Gov. Dunleavy also appointed me to the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE); another high honor. This commission includes three representatives appointed by each of the governors of 16 western states. I join two distinguished colleagues to pursue best opportunities for Alaskans seeking meaningful careers through interstate cooperation. The State of Alaska pays to be in this organization.3

Unfortunately when Alaskans take advantage of the opportunity to attend school at another institute for Alaska tuition rates, through the WICHE Interstate Agreement, they often do not return permanently.

 WICHE Report: Knocking at the College Door, 20204


 Every four years, WICHE publishes Knocking at the College Door, with detailed data and projections more than 15 years forward on high school graduate populations for all 50 states. With data disaggregated by state, gender, and ethnicity, WICHE’s national research on this topic is often considered, as the Boston Globe has termed it, “the industry gold standard.”

This is one of a number of research efforts performed by WICHE.

From this report:

High School Graduate Trends—A Glimpse of the Future before COVID-19 Intervened

Understanding the pipeline of high school graduates is crucial for a range of policymaking, economic development, and higher education planning needs across the county. WICHE’s 10th edition of Knocking at the College Door projects the numbers of high school graduates disaggregated by public and private schools and race and ethnicity out to 2037. The new projections show – generally speaking and with caveats about state and regional variation – slightly increased numbers compared to previous projections (now hitting a peak of just under four million graduates in 2025 compared to projections in the previous edition of just under 3.6 million).

Our anticipated glidepath.

State by state this report reflects on efforts by higher education institutions to provide the little fish out of our public education factories with information needed to survive in the lake, or even in the ocean. Alaska has one of the greatest high school dropout rates in the nation and many students from our high schools require remedial courses at UA before they can take 100-level coursework there.

In 2019 Alaska graduated 7835 high school students, according to the Alaska Department of Education, while losing 1730 early leavers. In 1996 we had graduated 6301 in Alaska with 2199 high school dropouts. 1996 was coincidentally also the year the Alaska Legislature gave teachers the right to strike.5

From the national WICHE report: “While the projections show a slightly improving picture for the number of high school graduates – due in great part to increases in high school graduation rates – they come with an enormous asterisk. Due to data availability, the numbers presented here represent actual enrollments and graduates from public schools through the Class of 2019, and from private schools through the Class of 2017, with the years from 2020 and forward being fully projected. Therefore, due to the timing and lack of available data, these projections do not capture any of the impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, which is likely to have substantial long-term impacts on the education pipeline.”

Figure 1 shows U.S. total annual high school graduates from the early 1990s through the Class of 2019 nationally, then continuing with this 10th edition projections through the Class of 2037. (This is the year through which WICHE can produce projections based on available data about recent U.S. births).  According to the data WICHE collected from states, the U.S. produced 3.8 million high school graduates by the Class of 2019.* U.S. high school graduates are projected to peak in number at nearly 4 million (3.9 million) with the Class of 2025, potentially achieving 4 percent increase from current numbers.


*The U.S. total includes the 50 states and District of Columbia and covers the overwhelming majority of graduates from public high schools and the almost 10 percent of youth who attend private schools (nationally). Home-schooled or other pockets of youth are not explicitly covered by the available data. WICHE provides an estimate of the number of graduates from Bureau of Indian Education schools at the national level in this edition, but it is not included here, because it is not available for all years. Projections for Puerto Rico are also available in the detailed data, but not included here.

These are projections of what might have been expected.

Alaska Education Projections


 WICHE Research has established we are experiencing higher graduation rates since institution of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) and subsequent federal programs since then. I question the caliber of that education in this state. The Alaska High School Graduation Qualifying Exams (HSGQE) required under NCLB were normed at 9th-10th grade and were given every year of high school in Alaska districts. Any student who could not pass this basic test was given a Certificate of Completion and opportunity to take the test on the two annual offerings available until they passed it to gain a district diploma. I personally provided instruction to help many students pass that test.


Alaska teachers hated that test because obviously it also tested the teachers who passed students through the system without showing any of the expected improvement my friend, BIA Superintendent Peratrovich, had referenced in his story. The Alaska Legislature in 2016 passed a bill removing the requirement for a test of 9th-10th grade proficiency for Alaska students. Those who could not pass it were given their unearned diplomas  retroactively.

 This is part of Alaska’s Bigotry of Low Expectations legacy.

This table shows the WICHE research for Alaska students who might qualify to go to university or trade school in or out of Alaska

Anyone having youth anticipating college can use another WICHE reference to determine how much individual colleges cost in the west: 2020 Tuition and Fees.


The more I learn about the nature of Alaska's public education the more I am in wonder at it's expanse. WICHE links our system to a network of other profound state systems in other western states. Today we do not now know what the China Pandemic will do to change these projected outcomes, but we do know all students must be encouraged to “Swim, little fish!”


References: 1Frontiersman: Basic education services expand for Valley adults


2The State of Higher Education


3Alaska WICHE Profile

4 Main Report

Executive Summary

Technical Appendix

Dashboards This page links to interactive data tables where you can see state-specific information.

5AKDEED Data Center


6National Center for Education Statistics, Common Core of Data, “Dropouts, Completers and Graduation Rate Reports,” accessed on December 3, 2020 at  National Center for Education Statistics, “Digest of Education Statistics,” accessed on December 3, 2020 at

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