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NewsStoriesBannerProblem Solving Justice

It seems that March was ages ago, especially as we look forward to the end of the semester.  But, I want to bring us back to March, just for a moment.  March is women’s history month and we didn’t get the chance to talk about that.

Women’s History month started out as a day in 1911, then became a week in 1978, and finally was designated as a whole month in 1987.  Each year, Women’s History Month has a theme.  This year’s theme was “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives.”  College campuses across the country have their own way of celebrating Women’s History Month.  Here at UAA, we invite guest speakers as a part of our participation in the event.

This year, the Legacy Speaker here at UAA for Women’s History Month was Judge Pamela Scott Washington.  Judge Washington was the first female African-American District Court Judge to ever serve the State of Alaska.

She grew up in Alaska and returned to the state as an attorney after completing her education in Arizona.  In March, Judge Washington spoke to an assemblage of UAA students and faculty about her passion: the law, justice, and solving problems.

“I’m sure all of us made lots of decisions today to solve problems.  I think it’s just the nature of man to try to solve problems,” she says.

Problem solving justice, Judge Washington explains, is about looking at the way issues are addressed in the legal system and figuring out ways to address the root causes rather than just the symptoms of a problem.

Washington is a Mental Health Court Judge.  What is a mental health court?  It’s one of several courts designed to solve problems within the judicial system.  These problem solving courts include courts for parental custody disputes and substance abuse.

Judge Washington explains that to solve problems, we have to think differently.  If we use the same thinking that led to the problem in the first place, we aren’t going to be able to find a workable solution.

She says “problem solving justice is really new thinking about old things, and old ways, and old problems.  The justice system is the mechanism that upholds the rule of law…and our courts provide a forum to resolve disputes, and to test and enforce laws, in a fair and rational manner.”

Our traditional modern justice system, Washington explains, relies on an adversarial system.

“Problem-solving justice,” Washington says “required basically a transformation from this traditional way of thinking, this adversarial process that is so knee-deep in how the justice system has been created in our county.  And so basically it changed the prospective that we need more of a collaborative effort in order to solve some problems in the criminal justice system.”

Washington says that Problem Solving Courts help reduce recidivism, or a person’s relapse into criminal behavior and subsequent return to jail.  She says that under this transformed system, the court is more engaged in social sciences and understanding why people do what they do.  The judge, she says, acts as a coach:

“This new way of looking at things, we look forward and see how we can address these issues and stop people from coming into this revolving door process of our criminal justice system.  The old way, there are few participants and stake holders, but the new way of thinking about law and collaborative efforts, we have lots of stake holders.  Lots of people that are interesting in and invested in this process.”

Washington says that problem solving courts might trade a little efficiency for effectiveness, because under what she calls the old system, people are just pushed through the system and there are fewer steps in the process.  But, she says, it’s a fair trade.

According to Washington, the idea of problem solving courts actually originated in law enforcement.  Police recognized the importance of identifying the factors that influenced individuals to continually commit crimes and and they recognized the need to engage the community as an active partner in trying to find solutions.

Specialized drug courts, mental health courts, and child custody courts work with people to develop treatment and action plans, rather than focusing solely on punishment under the letter of the law.

Drug courts, for example, revolve around sobriety and accountability for accused parties.  The judge takes on the role of encourager and manager, and tries to keep participants engaged in treatment.  Washington explains the goal of drug courts for non-violent offenders:

“Basically,” she says, problem-solving justice is “trying to put offenders in a position that they can go back out and be law abiding citizens.”

Problem Solving courts, especially drug courts, began to gain a foot hold in the 1990s and had spread all across the country by 2000.

Public safety, Washington explains, is of course still of upmost importance.  The protection of victims makes implementing a problem solving approach difficult or impossible in some cases, like cases of domestic violence.  Restorative justice, Washington says, is still important.

In Alaska, Washington says, we have Veterans Courts, Family Courts, DUI Courts, Substance Abuse Courts, OWL (or Operating Without a License) Courts, and Mental Health Courts.  She says the courts have the power to build a treatment plan for an offender, from requiring them to attend drug treatment and mandated drug testing, to requiring the offender to pursue his or her education and become employed.  The court, Washington says, has the power to immediately send the offender to jail if he or she doesn’t comply, but the court can also issue rewards to those who do well within the program.

One example of a court unique to Alaska, Washington says, is our operating with out a license courts.

“Believe it or not,” Washington says, “there are a lot of people in Alaska driving around without a drivers license.  And so, that was a problem because when we looked at the numbers, you’ve got more than 5,000 cases of people that are just driving without a license.  Just everyday people.  They make have lost their license because they couldn’t afford insurance, they may not have paid child support.  Your license can be suspended for non-payment of child-support.  And so here this whole community of people are driving around…and we don’t have a mass transit system.  So people go for broke and they just drive and they get charged with crimes.  And so, because the first time, the mandatory minimum sentence that’s been imposed by the legislature, is 80 hours of community work service that automatically converts to jail to ten days in jail if you don’t do it.  For driving without a license.  I mean some of you probably drove here without a license.  Don’t say anything you have the right to remain silent.”

The OWL court partners with the DMV to make a plan to get offenders license’s reinstated.

Live Action Roll Playing Group More Than Costumes and Foam Swords

by Ammon Swenson

Amtgard is a foam sword fighting and medieval live action role playing society. It started in El Paso, Texas in 1983  and has chapters all over the U.S. and even some overseas.

There are four chapters in Alaska. The first one showed up in Fairbanks over a decade ago. Now there are groups in Kenai and Matsu, with the largest one in Anchorage.

When Nicole Vreeman’s brother and sister started going to Amtgard a few years ago, she thought:

“Thats weird. And about two weeks after they started going, I decided to tag along just to see what it was and that night I went home and made my first sword, because I’m like, ‘this is amazing, I want to do this.'”

Now, there’s more to Amtgard than just the fighting, but lets be honest. It’s the main draw.

The group meets on the weekends for battle games. In Anchorage, upwards of 60 to 70 people show up, guys and girls. Most of them dress in medieval clothing. They battle at parks or take it inside during the winter. Players can be as young as 14 while some are pushing middle age.

I watched them a few weeks ago in the Fairview Recreation Center.

A basketball court stoot in for a battle battlefield and little kids ran around the perimeter. People hung out and watched from the bleachers.

Over 50 people ran around the court with all kinds of weapons. Most carried some kind of sword, which is usually PVC pipe wrapped in foam pipe insulation. Others had padded spears. Some used shields to deflect foam tipped arrows shot by archers from across the gym.

“I love being able to go out there and people see me as a little girl…and I beat them. I whoop their asses,” Vreeman said.

They’re not bashing in skulls or anything. It’s all in good fun, but some people do get a decent smack now and then.

The battles can be all-out war or games with different objectives. With enough imagination and motivated people, the possibilities are endless.

It’s a group where you can be someone other than yourself and maybe even a hero, if only on weekends.

“I’ve had situations where I’ve been surrounded by four different people and still been able to fight my way through, kill all four of them, grab the objective…” said Amtgard player Jon Ibarra.

He said the fighting is great, but the community is what’s important. The game just ends up being a shared interest. Nicole and Jon both said that they’ve made life-long friends through Amtgard.

“I’ve met people who are my mentors, people who help me out in school, people who I can say ‘Hey, I just need to get out of the house for a while. Can I come over?'” Vreeman said.

“And that’s worth more than beating each other with foam sticks or how great you can make a tunic,” Ibarra said.

The players usually make their own costumes and some people go all out. There’s the simple tunic to full-blown authentic medieval garb.

Many players learned to sew or tool leather because of Amtgard. A few even started a leatherworking business.

Last month, the local chapters put on what they call their Academy Series. It was two weeks of classes and workshops, focusing on what they call the “Arts and Sciences.” It was a chance for players to learn how to make costumes, design battle games, and improve their tactics. Everyone knows a good warrior exercises their body AND mind.

Amtgard operates as a non-profit organization. It has its own officers who deal with the various logistics to keep it running. Nicole puts the leadership roles she’s had in the group on her resume.

“If I’m applying for any sort of position, I’ll be like, ‘Yeah, I was the second in command of a nonprofit organization.,'” Vreeman said. “Sometimes I explain what it is, sometimes I just leave it at that (laughs).”

Jon said that even though being in Amtgard takes up a lot of his time, it’s stress relieving.

I asked what he’d take away if the group ended.

“To never not give something a try because it sounds nerdy or out of the ordinary, unless it’s drugs kids. Don’t try drugs, but you know, honestly, if I hadn’t started Amtgard…being able to do this and having an outlet like this, I don’t know where I’d be without it.”


USUAA Pushes Back Against Budget Cuts with Postcard Campaign

by Ammon Swenson

Proposed cuts to the University of Alaska system are around 25 million dollars. With UAA already having to make its own cuts, the university’s   student government is pushing back.

USUAA organized a postcard campaign to help students connect to their legislators.

“The general consensus coming from a lot of the legislators was that students really don’t care and that this really isn’t important,” said USUAA president Stacey Lucason. “And I just didn’t believe that was true.”

She went to Juneau recently, along with a few other UAA students as part of an advocacy trip and met with state leaders.

USUAA decided to get  lawmakers’ attention by flooding them with postcards from UAA students. People could stop by their office in the Student Union and send cards with a pre-written message or write their own.

“I don’t think all the legislators really think about the university as an investment or think about all of the value that it adds to all the citizens in Alaska and so I think we need to do more to reach out,” Lucason said.

At one point cuts to the UA system were upwards of 35 million dollars, but were later reduced by 10 million.

“I think a lot of that is people reaching out and talking to their legislartors and letting them know, ‘This really is important. We need enough money to be functional. Please don’t cut our legs out from under us,” Lucason said.

Shen said that USUAA has sent off around 1,000 postcards. They’re not quite sure what the next step is, but they’re planning to continue lobbying state leaders.


Title IX with Lisa Murkowski

by Mariah Brashar

In the last year, sexual harassment, rape, and violence against women on college campuses across the country has drawn a national spot light.  After countless allegations against Universities for sweeping sexual assault and harassment complaints under the proverbial rug, the federal government launched a large scale Title IX investigation looking into Universities’ responses to reports and cases of sexual violence.  The University of Alaska, Anchorage is one of the Universities under investigation.
Title IX was a portion of the Education Amendments of 1972.  Also known as the Equal Opportunity in Education Act, Title IX states that no citizen can be excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.  Title IX issues range from the availability of sports for women at public schools and Universities, to environmental issues that put women and girls at a disadvantage for learning.

Courtesy of
Courtesy of

On Wednesday, April 2nd, US Senator Lisa Murkowski met with students at UAA to discuss issues of sexual assault, harassment, and domestic violence on campus.  The forum, which lasted nearly two hours, was an opportunity for students to address questions to the Senator and to relate their personal experiences here on campus.

Murkowski says it’s students themselves who will make the biggest difference

“My focus is making sure that we have legislation that is appropriate at the federal level.  The answers are really here, amongst the campus community.  In terms of how you can say, you know, not in our community, not on our campus is that allowed.  And working to make a difference, so that was encouraging.”

The legislation that Murkowski says she’s currently looking into is the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which is being sponsored by Senators Gillibrand and McCaskill.  The act’s goal is to protect students and boost accountability and transparency at Universities.   It would require new support services for students, ensure more comprehensive training for staff, create transparency requirements, require a uniform disciplinary process and coordination with law enforcement, and establish enforceable penalties for Title IX infractions.

Here at UAA, Murkowski says that she was impressed by the level of openness that students presented at the forum.  She said that, although she hopes that Universities take responsibility themselves for Title IX issue, if having a person with a title come speak to students makes a difference, she’ll consider speaking at UAS and UAF.  Murkowski says that this forum was testing the waters for how this sort of forum might go in the future

It went very well, according to Murkowski.

“Again, open communication on these issues is key.  Do we really want to talk about things that scare us?  Maybe we should, maybe we should.  And then we wouldn’t be afraid of them.”

You’ve been listening to Senator Lisa Murkowski speak about Title IX issues on campus.  I’m Mariah Brashar for KRUA.


USUAA Hosts Anchorage Mayoral Debate

by Ammon Swenson

Last week, UAA’s student government hosted a debate for a handful of Anchorage’s mayoral candidates— Amy Demboski, Andrew Halcro, Lance Ahern, Dan Coffey, Ethan Berkowitz, and Timothy Huit.

While the event was a bit more forum than debate, they answered questions on various topics like homelessness and renewable energy.

It started with a round were the candidates had to quickly answer the same question using signs that said yes or no. The rest of the time they took turns answering a question. It was moderated by representatives from the college democrats and college republicans.

“I believe that the questions were neutral enough to where it really allowed the candidates to not adapt to a party line as much as to honestly and genuinely answer the questions and they were put on the spot,” said student government senator David Diaz.

Students and audience members could submit questions through Twitter. The candidates had to take turns answering a question about improving public safety for a second time after an audience member asked that they repeat the question with concrete answers.

“More nuanced issues are always the ones that are very difficult for candidates to answer, but as, you know, we’re electing them to office, they need to be held to a standard with those tough questions,” said aerospace engineering major, Ben Edwards.

Although the candidates didn’t have much time to dig deep into any specific issues, he thinks it was a good introduction for people who aren’t immersed in politics like Human Services major, Stone Sibbett.

“I think this was good in processing like a good chunk of information in kind of a faster paced time period,” said Sibbett

With the election on Tuesday, candidates are getting ready for the final push. They’ll need 45 percent of the vote to win, but a recent poll indicates that there might be a runoff. It shows Democrat Berkowitz with a healthy lead, but probably not enough to secure the election, leaving his three main rivals, Republicans Coffey, Demboski, and Halcro fighting for a second chance.


The Political Pocket Dial

by Mariah Brashar
There’s nothing quite like a good old-fashioned political scandal.  Anchorage might be Alaska’s biggest city, but it’s still a small town.  Small: like you run into people you know at the grocery store.  Small: like you know someone who knows almost everyone new you meet.  In this small town, politicians might be advised to be careful what they say to one another; what goes around, comes around.

We’re all familiar with the case of someone accidentally leaving a mic on when a public figure makes a side-remark about how he or she really feels about an issue.  That remark is usually not as polished as the remarks that same public official would make in front of a crowd.  Something we’re a little less familiar with is the political pocket dial.

Oh, the pocket dial.  It can be funny, it can be awkward.  But can it be illegal?  Well, in the case of mayoral hopeful Dan Coffey, the answer to that question remains unclear.

Courtesy of the Anchorage Press
Courtesy of the Anchorage Press

In 2008, Dan Coffey, who was then the chairman of the Anchorage Assembly, and Bill Star, a fellow assemblyman, were speaking while riding in a car together.  Unbeknownst to the two men, Coffey pocket dialed another assemblyman, Alan Tesche, during the conversation.  Tesche wasn’t home, but his answering machine picked up and recorded the call.

Now, this all might not be such a big deal, if it weren’t for the unsavory contents of the call.  The recording, complete with off-color language, is wholly embarrassing for Coffey.  But, the seven-year-old recording isn’t something that blindsided the Coffey campaign.  In fact, a transcript of the recording has been made available on Coffey’s website,

Coffey has disclosed a list and information about five “mistakes” he’s made in his political career, and the recorded conversation in question is one of them.

Coffey most recently ruffled feathers when his lawyer sent out a letter to local news organizations threatening legal action if they broadcast the recording in the weeks leading up to the election.

Although Coffey claims not to have thoroughly read the letter and states that he has no intention to sue anyone, his lawyer’s letter has served to bring a new influx of attention to the recording.

On the subject of the letter written on behalf of Coffey by his attorney, Thomas Amodio, what kind of legal standing does the recording really have?  John McKay helps clear up that question.  McKay is an Anchorage lawyer who represents (among others) the Alaska Dispatch News and Channel 2.  He also teaches Media Law 413 here at UAA.

“Alaska law,” McKay says, “only requires the consent of one party to a conversation.  So that, for example, if you and I are talking on the phone, I could consent, I could record the conversation, and it would not be recorded without consent, because I am one of the parties to the conversation, I can consent to it.”

McKay says that the case also brings first amendment rights into question.  The right of the press to freely report things may be more fully protected than the rights of the people who were recorded.  He says that stations receiving the recording, since they were not involved in producing the recording themselves, would likely be safe from litigation.

McKay told me that this particular case raised some interesting questions, legally speaking.  Since no one purposefully made the recording, it could be difficult to show that any crime had been committed.  However, since neither parties in the recording has consented to being recorded, the legality of the recording itself could be called into question.

“Mr. Coffey, or his phone, or his phone working in concert with his rear end decided that they were going to communicate with Mr. Tesche,” McKay says.  He says that none of the parties involved had any criminal intent and to say that there was a crime committed in the making of the recording really doesn’t make sense.

McKay says that, while the case is an interesting one, most of these points essentially don’t matter.  He says that, by releasing the transcript on his own website, Coffey passively gave consent for the information to be out there and to be published by other organizations as well. McKay says that “Mr. Coffey can’t have it both ways.”


Getting to Know Paul Bauer, Candidate for Anchorage Mayor

Courtesy of Wikipedia "Anchorage on an April evening" by Frank K. from Anchorage, Alaska,
Courtesy of Wikipedia “Anchorage on an April evening” by Frank K. from Anchorage, Alaska,

by Mariah Brashar

Since the election is fast approaching, we’re going to introduce you to another mayoral candidate, Paul Bauer.

Bauer originally hails from New York and he’s lived in Anchorage for the last 25 years with his wife Deborah Amy and his two sons.  Bauer volunteered for the army after graduating from college.  He worked as paratrooper for the 82 Airborne division in Fort Bragg NC and spent 22 years, before retiring in 1995.

In 1990, Bauer was stationed at Fort Richardson.  When he retired, he worked at the Military Youth Academy.  After 9/11, he says he felt he had to do something to help out, so he began working in security.  He now manages the for Luftansa Service Group at Anchorage International Airport.

In public service, Bauer has worked on the community council and the Anchorage Assembly, where he served from 2005-2008.

Courtesy of Paul Bauer for Mayor Facebook
Courtesy of Paul Bauer for Mayor Facebook

“The mayors position is a manager/administrator.  He’s not a representative.  It’s a different function.  Some folks think, well, you’re going to be mayor you’re going to represent Anchorage and in a way you would.  But mostly you job is a manager.  You’re an administrator.  And that’s what I think I do best,” Bauer says.

Bauer says he’s been in charge of people for 40 years and he loves being a manager.  He says the city can do more and that things have been stagnant for many years now.  He says he wants to be an innovator for the city

“We need to focus on a new economy.  Not a new economy, enhance our current economy.  And that is, in my book, tourism.  Now everyone can go talk about oil and mineral resources and stuff, but Anchorage does not have oil rigs, we don’t have mines in the city.  The best thing we can capitalize is on our tourist ability.  Our tourism: our hub.”

Bauer says the city could add museums: especially military museums like one at the site summit Nike missile, to attract tourism.  He says that although now may not be a time when that’s immediately possible, the city should aim for that kind of development in the future.

“I’m really into getting into internal landscape development.  A lot of people will start, especially on my side of the fence: the conservatives, will say ‘what?  You’re gonna get into spending money on parks and stuff?’ No.  I am looking at an idea that might, where we can get private enterprise, private business to work into the parks, into developing people parks.  Useful parks.  And the other side of the fence, of course, you’ve got the folks who want to keep it the way it is, ‘cause it’s wildlife.  And it only caters to cross country skiers, maybe bicyclists, dog mushing, which I’m in to.  But, the park idea that I’m looking at is more of a Central Park New York idea.  Central Park is probably one of the best, useful, people parks in the country.  It’s got everything from a zoo, carousels, row-boating, snack stands, restaurants, monuments, Grant’s tomb.  There’s so much there to do and visit.  That’s a park for the people, and I would kinda like to see something like that here.”

Bauer says he doesn’t have an answer to the housing crisis in Anchorage.  The bottom line, he says, is that builders aren’t going to build unless they can make a profit.  He says that the only way it’s going to be worth it, under current tax structures, is construction companies in Anchorage to get federal or state subsidies.  Bauer says that the local government can provide tax incentives to construction companies.

I asked Bauer his position on the problem of chronic inebriates and homeless people living in Anchorage.  He says he doesn’t see dealing with this as a priority for the city, although he does think its important.

“I don’t see where we’re going to spend tax payers dollars just for a couple hundred folks,” he says.  “I think most of the folks that you see on the streets, the chronic inebriates, have already been ostracized or banished from the rural areas.  And, it is a legal term, a community can banish somebody for various behaviors that are not acceptable in their community.  And what do they do?  They come to Anchorage ‘cause Anchorage is the best place: you get all the free care, if you will.  I would like to, this is gonna be a little stretch here, but if a community banishes somebody, for certain behaviors, then they come to another community, what they’re doing is throwing their problem on to ours.  They didn’t take the time to fix their person, their issues; we’re picking up the tab.  Maybe we can go tell them to reimburse us for any kind of services we provide”

Bauer says he doesn’t think that the city can handle the costs of setting up housing and rehab facilities without the support of the state and federal government.

I asked Bauer for his take on the recent up-tick of violent crime, particularly gun crime, that the city has seen since January.  He says he thinks part of the issue is the dark, cold environment.  January, he says, seems to be the month with the most conflicts. He says he thinks Anchorage does have a gang issue and that the police department needs to reinstate specialized departments.

Bauer says the city needs to add more police but, he says, we can also get the community involved.  He says one way to do that is to improve police communication and relations within the community and neighborhoods.

Here’s what Bauer has to say on the subject of marijuana.

“I don’t smoke it and I didn’t vote for it….Well right now I think everything that’s being done is premature….we have a state legislature that’s gonna work on it.  I yield to them to come up with what they’re going to propose, first.”

He says it would be very simple to regulate marijuana in just the same way as alcohol.  The only difference that he sees is the problem of second hand smoke.  He says we shouldn’t complicate the issue.

Moving from the issue of pot in Anchorage to the issue of the Port of Anchorage, I asked Bauer for his take.  He says that the city has failed to overlook the contractor closely enough and that that mismanagement has resulted in a huge loss of money.

The Port, he says, is very important for the entire state.  Bauer says he liked the plans when he saw them and he thinks that if we can get the funding from the state or the federal government, the city should go ahead with construction.

“I wanna to lessen the impact coming from the property owners.  Our local tax base could never fund the magnitude of that operation,” he says.

Bauer says he thinks a port at Point Mackenzie would be a good idea and that a joint port authority could be set up to make sure the two ports work in concert with one another.

A bridge over the arm, however, Bauer doesn’t think should happen.  It’s just too expensive, he says.  He says he would rather take a third of the money required for the bridge and use it to enhance the Glen and Seward high ways to create a freeway through town.

Bauer says that, even though UAA has seen some recent tuition hikes, he thinks it’s still one of the more affordable universities in the nation.  He says he does recognize that students do have a higher cost of living here.  I asked Bauer how he would support the University as mayor.

He says “the question is, what are they going to do when they graduate?  And job development for this city is going to be one of the more important things to do for than anything.  That would be my priority.”

Bauer is a registered republican, although this is a non-partisan race.  He had this to say about his political platform:

“I am a conservative.  But I’m not a conservative that doesn’t have new ideas and is not willing to spend money to make money.  And that’s the investment into the city.  So I would say my theme for my race, and what really helped prompt me to do this, is called Anchorage First.  I am going to be a mayor, now or later, whenever, that is always going to put Anchorage first.  I have many, many years of live, work and play around the world.  A lot of places in the United States, from the East Coast to the West Coast.  I come with a lot of experience of seeing what other places have that we don’t have that we can develop here.  And so, I’m not going to be a mayor or politician that’s going to just come into office, do my two years and start lookin’ to the next office.”

Bauer says that it’s always going to be Anchorage First for him.

You’ve been listening to Paul Bauer, Anchorage mayoral candidate.  I’m Mariah Brashar for KRUA.


Getting to Know Ethan Berkowitz, Candidate for Anchorage Mayor

Courtesy of Wikipedia "Anchorage on an April evening" by Frank K. from Anchorage, Alaska,
Courtesy of Wikipedia “Anchorage on an April evening” by Frank K. from Anchorage, Alaska,

by Mariah Brashar

As all of you who have been listening the last few weeks know, the Anchorage Mayoral Race is underway.  In fact, the election is upon us: on April 7th, that’s Tuesday, the city of Anchorage will elect a new mayor, who will serve the city for the next two years, starting in July.

There are 11 candidates running for the city’s highest office, which gives you, the voter, a lot to choose from: which is good!  But, how do you know which candidate is right for Anchorage?

To help you solve this question for yourself, KRUA has set out to speak with all the mayoral candidates we could to give our listeners the chance to get to know what the candidates stand for and who they really are.

This week, on Getting to Know You, we’re going to hear from mayoral candidate Ethan Berkowitz.

Courtesy of
Courtesy of

Berkowitz is originally from California, but he’s called Alaska home for the last 25 years.  He lives in Anchorage with his wife, Mara Kimmel, and their two children.  Berkowitz received his education at Harvard, Cambridge, and Hastings School of Law before coming to Alaska.  He says he’s worked on renewable energy projects across Alaska, as commercial fisherman, as a prosecuting attorney in Anchorage, and even herded reindeer in the Aleutian Islands.  Berkowitz served in the Alaska House of Representatives from 1996 to 2007, where he also served as the Democratic Minority Party Leader.

More recently, Berkowitz spent about a year co-hosting a right-wing radio show “Bernadette and Berkowitz,” where he says he served as the voice of reason and moderation.  Here’s a clip form his final show with Bernadette.

I asked Berkowitz what inspired him to run for the city’s highest office.

“I’m runnin’ for mayor because I’m invested in this community: my kids are here and I see a future where if we make the right decisions we can position ourselves to be safe, secure, and strong moving ahead.”

Berkowitz says that one of the challenges facing Anchorage is community safety.  He says that the city needs to be proactive in its stratagies, rather than reacting to events that have already transpired.  Key to fostering a safe community is having enough officers on the streets, Berkowitz says.  He says that he’d like to see officer placement determined on a results-based system.  As a prosecutor, Berkowitz says that he saw what kind of tactics get results.

“I will say, and it’s true for the crime issue as well as any other, there’s a lot of studies that are sitting on shelves and frankly my style will be just to take those studies off the shelf, dust them down, and start implementing them.”

Another issue Berkowitz says he’d like to address is Anchorage’s economic security.  Moving forward, he says, as the state tries to balance its budget, the city will find itself in a new position.  Berkowitz says he sees this as an opportunity for Anchorage to become more independent from the state.

Along with shoring up economic security, Berkowitz thinks the city needs to focus on strengthening the community through quality education by encouraging connection between the University and businesses around the city, by providing universally available pre-K, and making sure elementary and high schools have the resources they need.

“The idea that you can do more with less, it’s a slogan, it’s not a way of teaching kids.  And I’ve got two kids in the schools right now and they’re getting a good quality education, and I want to see that enhanced, I don’t want to see that compromised.

I asked Berkowitz how he would handle the challenge of managing the city government’s finances at this time when state funding is expected to substantially decrease.

“We need to make sure there are more public-private partnerships, we need to make sure that the barriers that government sometimes puts up that prevents private money from flowing into public projects, we take those barriers down, and there’s some finacial instruments that are available.  We need to spend our money more wisely and there’s a classic example; you know, Anchorage has about 20,000 light poles.  And we put LED lights in 5,000 of those poles.  That saves 2 million dollars a year.  I don’t have to be a math guy to know that if we put LED lights in the other 15,000, we’d save another 6 million dollars.  And that’s just one example.”

Berkowitz says that, in the case of LED lights, not only are they more efficient, but they last longer, which frees up city workers to do other things.

“The whole changing light bulb thing, I’m sure there’s a joke in there, but I haven’t been able to come up with it yet.”

Berkowitz says that one of the many great things about Anchorage is that the problems the city faces are manageable.  Even the homeless problem, which has been a growing issue for the city, is a solvable one, he says.

“We know who these people are.  And if we keep our humanity in resolving the difficulties, we’ll be able to solve the problem.  I’m a believer in making sure that everyone has a roof over their head.”

Housing first initiatives not only are a humane way of working towards a solution, but they also make financial sense, according to Berkowitz.

Of course, housing issues in Anchorage stretch far beyond the homeless community.  Affordable housing for middle to low income people in Anchorage is scarce.  I asked Berkowitz how he thinks this could be addressed.

He said streamlining building codes and processes, re-zoning areas to allow more multifamily housing, and using common sense to reconsider tax structures for developers will go a long way to fix the issue.

“Anchorage is, after all, it’s the biggest city in the country.  I reject the idea that there’s not enough ground here.”

Moving from land to sea, I asked Berkowitz his stance on what’s happened over the last few years with the Port of Anchorage.  He says that the port is of crucial importance to Anchorage and to Alaska.  He says the project hasn’t been managed well and one that needs to have a more concrete plan.  As mayor he said, he would be more involved in managing the port, which he says will serve Alaska for the next 50-75 years.

A bridge across the Arm, Berkowitz says, is a terrible idea.  First of all, he says, we can’t afford it.  And second, plans for the bridge include destroying active businesses for a project that doesn’t even have a plan for completion.

I also asked Berkowitz his stance on marijuana legislation.  He said that he believed marijuana will be regulated much like alcohol.  He said that 100,000 Alaskans were already using marijuana in one form or another before the initiative passed.  When a law is that widely disregarded, Berkowitz says, it likely needs to be reconsidered.

“Smoking dope is like drinking.  And responsible adults should be allowed to make responsible decisions in the appropriate environment.  And I’m pretty libertarian with that: as long as what you’re doing doesn’t hurt anyone else, it’s okay.  But at the same time there’s public health and public safety components to legalization.”

Berkowitz says that he’s running to make Anchorage safe, secure, and strong.  He says that when people feel safe, they are free to be more bold and to live life on their own terms.  I asked Berkowitz what he thinks makes him the best candidate for Mayor.

“The vision I have for Anchorage is one that is more widely shared.  I believe in a community where everybody, all people, regardless of where they came from, how long they’ve been here, how they worship, what color they are, and any other differences: we all have opportunities.  And that’s just a core belief.  And I think Anchorage can be a place that’s a model for the rest of the world.  We have the single most ethnically diverse zip code in the country out in Mountain view.  Ninety-nine languages are spoken in our schools.  It’s, this is really a unique place to be at a great time in history.”

You’ve been listening to Ethan Berkowitz, candidate for Anchorage mayor.


Getting to Know Andrew Halcro, Candidate for Anchorage Mayor

Courtesy of Wikipedia "Anchorage on an April evening" by Frank K. from Anchorage, Alaska,
Courtesy of Wikipedia “Anchorage on an April evening” by Frank K. from Anchorage, Alaska,

by Mariah Brashar

Since the election is fast approaching, we’re going to introduce you to another mayoral candidate, Andrew Halcro.

Halcro grew up in Anchorage attended East High School, Willamette University and UAA and served two terms in the Alaska House of Representatives.  When Mark Begitch was elected Anchorage Mayor in 2003, Halcro served on Begitch’s transition team.  In 2006 he ran for Alaska Governor on the Independent ticket against Sarah Palin and Tony Knowles.  Halcro live in Anchorage with his wife Vickie, they have two grown daughters.  For the last two years, he has served as the President of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce.

I asked Halcro how he would describe himself, politically.  He said he is a fiscal conservative with a passion for private sector business.  He thinks the government has an important role to play for the public, but that the government should stay out of peoples private lives.

Courtesy of Alaska Dispatch
Courtesy of Alaska Dispatch

Halcro feels that his background in the private sector, in addition to his public service, has equipped him to be the mayor of Anchorage.  I asked Halcro his opinion on the development that’s gone into the Port of Anchorage.  He said that the city has wasted millions, but that waste is in the past.  He says that updating the port is of crucial importance to the city.  Although 380 million dollars is needed to modernize infrastructure, Halcro says it’s worth it.  He says the city can’t keep spending millions for bandaids.

[5:23.8 Here in Anchorage we have three days worth of food and the port is incredibly important and it has to be the number one priority, capital project priority, of the city. 5:32.9]

Halcro says the city will need to find creative ways to finance upgrades in light of decreased state funding, while mitigating the cost shifts to tax payers

[6:44.7 First off, Anchorage is in a fabulous position.  The unemployment rate is 5.1 percent, a very healthy economy fueled a lot by the huge growth in healthcare industries, oil and gas is booming, retail has picked up.  So they only sector out there that’s actually declining in jobs is government.  And I expect that to continue.  I mean, with 50-dollar-a-barrel oil and a billion dollar budget deficit, these folks are going to have to start cutting some jobs.  The biggest challenge for Anchorage moving forward monetarily is the cost shifts from the state government to the city government.  For instance last year the state gave the city 14 million dollars in municipal revenue sharing, that’s just simply a check that they send out: it’s like a dividend.  And with the state facing tough budget times, that’s one of the first things that will be looked at because you’re not talking about laying off employees or shutting down a program you’re just simply talking about not sending a check anymore 7:38.7]

Halcro says that the city can expect reductions in municipal revenue sharing, school debt reimbursement and money to fix roads and bridges.

He says that what the next mayor of Anchorage is going to need to look to the future, anticipate budget cuts from the state and manage the city around those cuts.  But at the same time, he says, its crucial to grow the economy to off set the changing budget.
The mayor, he says, provides the environment for business to thrive.

He says he would like to see Anchorage be the most public safety friendly, business friendly, and education friendly city in the country.

[8:54 And so, when you talk about growing the economy, I think there’s a couple of things we need to do.  We need to continue to focus on growing our tourism, cause tourism pays millions back to the city in taxes and fees.  We do need to get in…and there’s a great opportunity for us to broaden our tax base by actually redeveloping certain areas downtown: East downtown, Fairview, Mountain View.  Mountain View has had a considerable amount of investment over the last 10 years.  And I think reinvesting in these communities not only broadens the tax base cause it improves the value of these properties, but it also addresses a critical issue which is housing and affordable housing. 9:29.2]

Halcro says that embracing economic development groups like the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation will be crucial to the city’s future.  Their job, he says, is to look at ways to diversify the economy.  According to Halcro, we have to get back to letting the people who do the best job do their job.  We can use the intelligence and experience of private groups instead of letting the mayor and assembly make up economic policy on an ad-hoc basis.

[10:39.2  You have to build up.  And one of the things that we, I think sometimes its important to remember that when you’re a city like Anchorage and you’re a hundred years old, there comes a point in time when you have to look in the mirror and you have to identify areas that you can improve upon.  And, when I was a kid I started working in my family buisness, Avis Rent-a-Car, at 15, so it was 1979.  And my first job was washing cars downtown at our office on the corner of 5th and B Street, right downtown.  And if you look East today, towards the Sheraton, that area hasn’t changed at all.  It looks the same as when I was a kid washing cars down there.  And that doesn’t work for a community that needs land and needs room to grow.  11:21.2]

Halcro says that there is a large group of people who want to live downtown, who want to be near the restaurants and shops.  He says the city needs to be aggressive with tax credits and tax deferrals for developers, because Anchorage is an expensive place to build.

I asked Halcro is opinion on how the city should deal with our homeless problem.  He said that the cost of public safety for the roughly 200 chronic inebriates  amounts to a tax payer treadmill.  To fix this problem you have to take a long view, according to Halcro.

13:01.5  And we have to get serious.  Because the problem, the problem or the challenge in the past has been we’ve approached this like nibbling around the edges of a cookie.  And you can’t do that, because what happens is you take one step forward and two steps back.  And it used to be the chronic inebriate and homeless problem was really limited to downtown.  Now its as far south as the Diamond Center.  So now you have people in town that haven’t been affected by the chronic inebriate and homeless problem, that suddenly are and they’re suddenly saying ‘we need a solution.’  The solution is you have to take a long view.  You need to embrace more housing first projects like the Karluck Manor which has been incredibly successful and it’s lowered cost to tax payers.  The second thing is, you need to do more collaboration, you need to get the social services together, not only with the city, but the Alaska mental health trust authority.  You need to get all these group around a table and you need to figure out: what does a long term view look like, for solving this problem? 13:54.4

Halcro says solutions could range from a health campus that provides detox, rehab, and job training to wet housing facilities that keep people off the street.  There’s no silver bullet, Halcro says.

On the subject of public safety, Halcro says that the city is 50 police officers short.  He thinks rebuilding the police force is a crucial task, but it’s one that will take time.

I asked him what his opinions about marijuana legislation are.  He said we need to wait to see what the state hands down.

[17:03.1 You know, personally I voted “No” against the initiative to legalize marijuana.  I have always been very supportive of medicinal marijuana.  I think it has significant benefits and I think those have been proven consistently, and I think people should have access to that.  Why I voted no was my last two years as chairman of the 90% by 2020 education initiative.  We did a statewide survey about a year and a half ago, 1200 teachers state-wide, and the number one inhibitor that they listed as being an inhibitor to learning was drugs and alcohol, whether it was in the community or whether it was student use.  And I just couldn’t, even though my support for medicinal marijuana is very strong, I felt, okay maybe that can be, hopefully we can come back and address that next, but marijuana is legal.  The voters have spoken, we certainly have to honor that, we have to balance public safety and community development with the legalization of marijuana.  I do think the city has a key role to play in governing and enforcing the laws, you know, and regulations with regards to marijuana.  But it is going to be one of those balancing acts, because the public did say ‘yes, we want this.’  As an elected official you have to respect that, but you also have to do it in a way that balances public safety and community health. 18:24.9]

Halcro says that the mayor should be a strong advocate for the University.  He says he’s running on a platform of moving the city through financial challenges, protecting the health and safety of our community, reaching out to minorities, and growing the economy.

You’ve been listening to Andrew Halcro, candidate for Anchorage mayor.  I’m Mariah Brashar for KRUA.

Getting to Know Timothy Huit, Candidate for Anchorage Mayor

Courtesy of Wikipedia "Anchorage on an April evening" by Frank K. from Anchorage, Alaska,
Courtesy of Wikipedia “Anchorage on an April evening” by Frank K. from Anchorage, Alaska,

by Mariah Brashar

As all of you who have been tuning in over the last few weeks know, the Anchorage Mayoral Race is underway.  On April 7th, that’s just two weeks away, the city of Anchorage will elect a new mayor, who will serve the city, for better or for worse, for the next two years, starting in July.

There are 11 candidates running for the city’s highest office, which gives you, the voter, a lot of choices.  So, how do you know which candidate is right for Anchorage?

To help you solve this question for yourself, KRUA has set out to speak with all the mayoral candidates and to give our listeners the chance to get to know what the candidates stand for and who they really are.

This week, on Getting to Know You, we’re going to hear from mayoral candidate Timothy Huit.

Courtesy of YouTube
Courtesy of YouTube

Huit originally hails from Los Angeles California.  He moved to North Pole, Alaska in 1968.  He graduated from UAA and has lived in Anchorage since 1992.  Huit is a roofing contractor and works in the private transportation sector.  He says he has also worked as a social worker at the Brother Francis Shelter here in Anchorage.

I asked Huit what inspired him to run for mayor.

“What’s inspired me is to give back to my community.  And I feel with the education I got at UAA, I’m situated in a position right now to be an effective mayor because we have a public safely problem and I have a justice degree from UAA.  And we did a lot of work with community and proactive policing ideas and methods.  Also, we have a homeless problem and chronic inebriates and other things like that, and it all seems to be coming together that the education I got and my life experience would be effective at this time for Anchorage.”

Huit says he would like to address crime in Anchorage.  He says he would introduce an initiative to switch to community policing and proactive policing.  He say that increasing minority representation within the Anchorage Police department to reflect our diverse population is important.  Huit says that bar break, or the time when downtown bars close and patrons are required to leave is a concern for him.  Violent disputes often happen during the hours around bar break when several hundred, sometimes inebriated, bar-goers meet in the street.

Anchorage’s homeless and chronic public inebriates also weigh on Huit’s mind.  He says that the situation is a tiered situation, with housing first initiatives, housing vouchers, and sleep-off facilities.  However, responding to complaints of public inebriates can be a drain on the police force.

“First of all, people need to try to work for a living, that’s one of the problems today.  A lot of people are looking for hand-outs and don’t want to work.  But on the other hand, we have a lot of people with mental illnesses and substance abuse problems, which is a dual diagnosis problem, and socialization issues.  So I believe that we need a tiered approach, we need to continue the housing first, like Karluck Manor, when funding is available.  Give people that do drink a chance to have a roof over their heads so that they’re not dying on the streets, at least.  And then continue the voucher program and public housing, you know, as much as we can with financing.  You know, the shelters an effective place for temporary housing.  But I do believe there’s a class of homeless people that don’t want help, that live on the side of the street by Brother Francis, live out in the woods.  And some of them run as high as 40 to 50 percent alcohol in their blood.  And we probably need to design a criteria to detain them and detox them in a situation where we have to detain them because they’re a danger to the public and themselves now.  And so we’ll have to find funding for that.  It’s just taking those folks off the street.  They cost us 60, 70 thousand a year, would probably create enough money for the center, you know.  We’d have to do the numbers.”

Huit recognizes that housing is not just a problem for homeless in Anchorage.  In a city where housing prices are nearly fifty percent higher than the national average, low and middle income people also find affordable housing difficult to find.

Huit thinks the problem might be solved by providing incentives for private companies to build affordable housing, designating affordable housing zones, and building the Knik Arm Bridge to open up land across the arm for Anchorage residents.

The bridge, he says, is a controversial issue.

“Because it’s in the Mat-Su, would be the property tax issue: that they would collect it.  But I think with a memorandum of understanding that we share that property tax and that we work together as two communities.  That we could create some affordable housing over there.  You know it’s probably not going to get better here.  We’re going to have to go up instead of out.  We’re going to have to build complexes that are several stories high with the minimal land that we have left.  So I think that the future is really across the way, after the bridge is built.”

Politics between Anchorage and Wasilla can cause a problem, as Huit says they have with the MV Susitna ferry, which is another piece of equipment Huit says he would like to see Anchorage put to use.

I asked Huit his opinion about everything that has happened up to this point with the development of the Port of Anchorage.

Huit says that Anchorage has mismanaged the port and he’s not sure the situation can be corrected.  He thinks the port at Point McKenzie may be a better option.  He says its an idea that some people might not be interested in, since the city has so much invested in the current port.

“But I think we have to be sensible and look to the future.  We can’t just be selfish, you know.  We’re all one people in this area and as much as we may not get along with the Mat-Su, one of these days we’re all going to be together because if there’s going to be continued growth, it’s not going to be in Anchorage.  Because we’ve built this out, unless we’re going to build in our parks and green-lands, which I really don’t think that’s going to happen.  So we need to look to the future and realize, hey, we’re going to have to bridge this gap of politics and social ideas and work together for a better future for all of us.”

Huit says that protecting green space is important to him.  However, at this time, he says the city is having a hard time taking care of all of its parks.  Despite the city tightening it’s belt and possibly having to cut pack of services within city parks, Huit says that he personally believes that the ability to connect with nature within city limits is one of the things that makes Anchorage a great city and a great place to live.

On the subject of green space, I asked Huit his position on the legalization and regulation of marijuana in Alaska.

“I voted for the marijuana law.  I think it’s time to get that off the plate of the police and the judicial system so that they can concentrate on harder drugs and other crimes.  You know, the time’s come to move on.  Many of us know it’s not Reefer Madness like the 1950’s movie.  But at the same time, I think we have to be responsible citizens, you know, complete open marijuana at stores is gonna cause some problems just like alcohol.”

While the Anchorage Mayoral race is, by charter, a non-partisan one, partisan politics have a tendency to creep their way in.  I asked Huit how he would describe himself, politically.

Huit says that he’s a fiscally conservative, socially liberal centralist with libertarian leanings.

“I really think we need to work hard, you know.  I worked hard all my life and I think sometimes people forget that’s what built this country is hard work.  I’d like to trim budgets where we can and consolidate things and look for savings.  I’m not really in one political camp or the other, I’m in my own political camp, maybe.  You know?  I don’t think any of us fit into one platform or the other. I think common sense should play into your decisions.”

Huit says that he thinks that some people in government tend to ignore the will of the people and that while crafting legislation about marijuana, legislators should follow Ballot Measure Two closely.

Huit says he didn’t enter the race to win, but now he’s trying to win.  He says he doesn’t think that the other candidates have the kind of vision that he has in Anchorage.

“If anything, hopefully we can all work together when it’s all over.  And look for good people to solve the problems.”

You’ve been listening to Timothy Huit, candidate for Anchorage mayor.



Campus Construction: Worth the Cost?

Photo by Mariah Brashar
Photo by Mariah Brashar

By Mariah Brashar

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last few years and haven’t noticed, there’s been quite a bit of construction on University of Alaska Anchorage campus. The campus is growing, fast.  Right now, there are three large construction projects underway: a parking structure adjacent to the Engineering Building, a new state of the art Engineering Building, and a pedestrian sky-bridge connecting the New Engineering Building and the Health Sciences building.  The sky-bridge extends over Providence drive and provides a safe, heated, enclosed pathway for students wanting to cross the busy street.

I spoke to Kim Riggs about the building projects and what they mean to engineering students.  Riggs is the Facility Manager for the College of Engineering.

“Well,” Riggs says, “we’re gaining a lot of lab space.  One of the things we’re lacking in this building is lab space and space that was actually designated and built for lab space….It is tripling our space.  The new building is about twice the size of this building and once we finish the new building, we are going to move out of this building to renovate it completely.”

After the renovation, Riggs says, the old engineering building will be state of the art and will be moved back into.  The parking structure that is under construction is located just south of the old engineering building and it will provide parking for students trying to access buildings near UAA Drive.

Photo by Mariah Brashar
Photo by Mariah Brashar

I also spoke to some engineering students about the project.  Rilley Rongdale and Gabrielle Thomas gave me their thoughts on the new building.  The two explained that, since the old Engineering building lacks classroom and lab and space, their classes are scattered all over campus.  They also expressed frustration about the parking situation near UAA Drive.

Thomas says he might use the sky bridge to make parking easier, since the current parking lot near the old Engineering building is always full.  While the new parking structure will help alleviate this issue, the sky bridge will also provide access to parking lots on the side of campus dominated by Providence and the Alaska Native Medical Center.

Another student, accounting major Rebecca Constant-Porter, says she likes the idea.  She thinks that the new engineering building will help UAA become a stronger school.  She also says expanding the enclosed walkway system, or the Spine, is a good idea.

“The bridge going across, ” she says, “I think it’s beautiful, actually.”

The vaulted steel beams arcing across Providence Drive do paint an impressive picture.  Although the bridge is far from done, once completed it will be a heated, furnished walkway, sided entirely in glass.

Over spring break, Providence Drive briefly closed so that construction on the bridge could re-commence.  Over the weekend workers erected scaffolding that will allow them to continue work with out further road closures.

So, it’s lovely and students are excited about new classrooms and lab space.  Of course, we still have one question: how much is this costing us?  In light of recent tuition hikes and concerns about loss of funding from the state, some might worry that huge investments like this one, might not be responsible.  And yes, the projects are expensive, to put it mildly.  To hammer out the details of what costs what, I contacted John Hansen, the Senior Project Manager for the University.  He broke down the prices for me.  All told, the University is shelling out a whopping 123.2 million dollars for the projects.

Photo by Mariah Brashar
Photo by Mariah Brashar

The sky bridge alone is slated to cost about 6 million dollars.  Is it worth it?  As Riggs explained to me, one thing we have to consider is that the money was already budgeted for this project.  While it’s certainly an extremely expensive project, it isn’t taking the metaphorical food out of our mouths: it’s more money the University has already spent.  And the projects will, obviously, provide benefits for students and for the University.  The bridge, for one, won’t just be a nice hang-out area and a pretty piece of architecture, it will also provide a safe, warm means for students, faculty, and staff to cross Providence Drive.  At the same time, it will ease vehicular  traffic stoppage by re-routing pedestrian traffic in one of the most crowed parts of the campus.

All three projects should be completed by next fall, but until then, we’ll have to be content with good old-fashioned cross walks.

For KRUA, I’m Mariah Brashar


Getting to Know Dustin Darden, Candidate for Anchorage Mayor

Courtesy of Wikipedia "Anchorage on an April evening" by Frank K. from Anchorage, Alaska,
Courtesy of Wikipedia “Anchorage on an April evening” by Frank K. from Anchorage, Alaska,

By Mariah Brashar, Public Affairs Producer
The Anchorage Mayoral Race is underway.  On April 7th, just three weeks away, the city of Anchorage will elect a new mayor, who will serve the city, for better or for worse, for the next two years, starting in July.  

There are 11 candidates running for the city’s highest office, which gives you, the voter, a lot of choices.  So, how do you know which candidate is right for Anchorage?

To help you solve this question for yourself, KRUA has set out to speak with all the mayoral candidates and to give our listeners the chance to get to know what the candidates stand for and who they really are.

This week, on Getting to Know You, we’re going to hear from mayoral candidate Dustin Darden.

Courtesy of Dustin Darden
Courtesy of Dustin Darden

Darden was born and raised in Anchorage.  He attended East Anchorage High school and UAA and is a member of Heart of the City Church.  Darden works for the city in fleet services, which is the branch of the municipal government that takes care of the vehicles for fire, police, and public transport.   He is represented by the IBEW, or International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1547.

I asked Darden why he decided to run for mayor:

“There is like a burning fire, shot up in my bones, that wants everyone to win in life.  To have a tranquil, peaceful, dignified life.  And I love this city and all the people that call it home.  And I have a vision of this city being even better than it is right now.  Not that it’s not good, but I have a vision for it to be better.”

Darden says that he’d like to see more community involvement, from youth to the elderly and everyone in between.  He says he would like to see Anchorage’s citizens take full advantage of the liberties they are granted under the United States constitution.  Freedom, he says, should rein in Anchorage like it never has before.

Darden says that the biggest issue facing the city of Anchorage is misinformation of the public:
“The biggest challenge is the indoctrination of lies and half-truths that the public has been fed…by a large portion of the city.  That’s why I firmly believe education is so important.  Regardless of what facet of work you’re in, you’re constantly educating.  And going back to our fundamental structure of society, where we have the liberties of freedom of speech and press, freedom of religion, if we just took that and ran with it, we could take this nation back.”

Darden says that Alaska is strategically located.  Nestled between North America and Russia, Anchorage could serve as a gateway to the East and Darden believes that, in part because of our location, we can be, in his words, something great.

He says he doesn’t want to do things behind closed doors.  Rather, Darden says, he wants the people to be engaged.

“I’ve heard this before ‘vote for your paycheck, vote for what’s going to cause you to have an income, forget the other issues there.  What’s going to keep you employed?’  And I’ve heard this so long.  And I don’t agree with that.”

Darden says that if the voter disregards social issues and simply votes for his paycheck, than the voter is tacitly condoning actions that take place on those issues he disregarded.  One social issue that Darden is particularly concerned with is abortion.
Darden says, “I completely do not condone abortion.”

Another issue that Darden doesn’t support is gay marriage.  Although he says that he believes LGBT people deserve to be treated with dignity, he says he thinks the word marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman. 

What he does support, Darden says, is organized labor:
“I’m for the working person.  And when I say working person, I mean from conception all the way up to adulthood.  But that innocent life in the womb, that innocent life, I believe that there is one very special person that wants somebody to fight for them.  If I was in that womb, I’d want somebody in my corner, fighting for me, above everything else.  And, I’m hearing people say ‘Yeah, let go ahead and stand up for them.’  So, I’m reaching out, even in this process.
Am I hoping to win this election?  Yes.  Do I anticipate victory?  Yes.  Do I think that I could work along side, go rm in arm, hand in hand with the other people that are running and say ‘Hey, let’s agree on this thing.  Let’s hash this out: we were all born; why don’t we just go ahead and embrace that and say, there’s some other people that are wantin’ to be born, too.’  So, lets go ahead and just let ‘er rip.”

When I spoke with Darden, he was kicking off a forty-day For-Life campaign.  I headed down to Lake Otis and 40th to check it out, but the solitary man I met there wasn’t acquainted with Darden.

Darden says he believes in forgiveness for those who had abortions:
“If some one is listening to this and has had an abortion.  And you understand, it was wrong, that’s all good.  And there’s condemnation, but Jesus, about 2,015 years ago, came, bore all the sins of the world, and paid for those sins.  When you repent and say ‘God, I believe you died for my sins, I ask you into my heart.’ He will for give you.”

Although Darden says he realizes that abortion may not be generally considered a local issue, he thinks that as mayor, he would be able to bring about change by influencing public opinion.  

Darden also sees homelessness as a troubling social issue in Anchorage.

Darden says, “Anybody you see walking down 4th Avenue between the soup kitchen and the Brother Francis Shelter and Bean’s Cafe…and living on Karluck…they’re all created in the image of God.  And they all have the same opportunities as you and I.  And I am completely open to ideas, I don’t know one solution.  It’s going to take a community to address that issue.”

He says that just keeping people on the streets warm without taking money from tax payers is an important goal.

I also asked Darden about his stance on marijuana legalization.  He says that legal prescription drugs can be dangerous as well, and he thinks that’s something that should be addressed.  As for marijuana, he says like anything it can be abused, but it can also be used in a responsible way.  Marijuana, Darden says, also has multiple purposes, including hemp seeds, paper, and cloth.  Darden says smoke in a persons lungs, regardless of the origin of that smoke, isn’t good.
He says, “but as far as what I voted for, I voted Yes.  Because I’m a gardener, and I grow things, and I’m a healthy eater and I eat hemp seeds.  And I like ’em…I used to smoke weed, you know.  I don’t smoke weed any more.  Why?  Because it makes you stupid.”

Darden says, politically, he’s an Undecided.  He says he doesn’t like the idea of throwing himself in a basket of someone else’s ideas and saying that’s who he is.  He says his political platform is based on the right to life and standing up for organized labor.

“I’m, like, all for labor, and I’m on fire for babies to be alive,” Darden says.  “And I love Jesus, and I haven’t found that in a donkey or an elephant, so far.”

Photo by Ammon Swenson
Photo by Ammon Swenson

If you look around town, you might see his home-made campaign signs, complete with smiley-faces.
You’ve been listening to Dustin Darden, candidate for Anchorage mayor.  I’m Mariah Brashar for KRUA 88.1

 10th Annual Cabin Fever Debates


By Ammon Swenson, News Director

Photo by Ammon Swenson
Photo by Ammon Swenson

The 10th annual Cabin Fever Debates have wrapped up. The tournament gives UAA students who aren’t on the Seawolf debate team a chance to duke it out — verbally of course— and maybe win some cash prizes.

Brothers Anthony and Daniel Galarza are team Logos and made it into the final round. Anthony’s an engineering major and Daniel’s working on a business administration degree. They haven’t debated at UAA, but public speaking is right up their alley.

“I did about half a year of debate in community college in California and I did speech— I did a lot of speech and debate in high school, but not debate specifically,” said older brother Anthony, who Daniel calls the brains of the operation.

Anthony is hoping to get a spot on the UAA debate team.

Daniel doesn’t really have any aspirations to debate and is more interested in acting.

“I’ve never had any formal debate experience, however I did compete on the national circuit and state circuit in California for humorous interpretation…more acting focus events so I’ve been in public speaking, but this is my first time in debate,” Daniel said.

The final round took place in the arts building. The stage was set up with a podium flanked by two long tables. The final four teams took the stage, all looking professional. The women wearing skirts and cardigans and the men wearing collard shirts and ties.

As Professor Steve Johnson— the Seawolf debate coach— explained the rules of tournament, the pairs huddled together looking over their notes and having last minute discussions.

“It’s always a little nerve-racking when you first get on the stage, especially a stage as big as that,” Anthony said, “I think it’s a little easier for us, because we’ve got a bit of experience doing it, but you always have the nerves at first.”

Daniel said that he had the jitters, but he’s learned to deal with them.

“Just from experience and going in and being you know, happy and ready to go and have fun, that’s the best thing you can do that I use personally to quell that,” Daniel said.

The opening arguments began and the opposing sides took turns making their case, with the occasional interruption of a chair sliding back against the wooden stage.

A competitor would stand with their had raised, waiting for the speaker to give them a chance to interject and pick apart the argument. Most of the time, the speaker would wave them aside saying—

“Not at this time” or “not now” sometimes just “sit down.”

Every time the speaker made a solid argument, the crowd showed their support by banging their fists on armrests or tables, not shying away from making noise. No, it wasn’t that the crowd was getting out of control—  although that might have made things a bit more exciting—it’s tradition in the House of Commons and the debates follow British Parliamentary procedure.

“The most brief characterization of debating is that you’ve got one side arguing for and one side arguing against,” Johnson said. “The only difference is with this type of debate you’ve got two teams on the proposition and two teams on the opposition. They’re supposed to cooperate in so far as they’re advancing or opposing the motion, but they’re still competing independently to do it with the most creative arguments, the most well-supported arguments and the arguments that obviously appeal most to the judges.”

After the remarks wrapped up, people helped themselves to catered refreshments while the judges tallied up scores.

The semi-finalists and runners up were given their awards and Johnson presented the Quianna Clay Prize for Excellence in Debating. It’s given out to the top individual speaker in the tournament and is in honor Quianna Clay, who debated on the UAA team and passed away in 2003.

The award went to Anthony, but that’s not all. The Galarza brothers won.

While Daniel was happy to be half of the winning team, he was more excited for his brother, who has been working hard to get a spot on the UAA team.

“He just moved here and he’s been going to all the events, helping them, showing up to all the practices. So I think it’s really gratifying to get him as top speaker and winner of the tournament,” Daniel said.

The prize for first place is 1,000 dollars. Anthony said he might go for a computer upgrade and Daniel thinks he might take a trip back home to California.

Last night’s round was the 110th since the Cabin Fever Debates began. Professor Johnson said that it’s been getting better and better, with more participants every year and he’s already looking forward to next one.



Getting to Know Lance Ahern, Candidate for Anchorage Mayor

Courtesy of Wikipedia "Anchorage on an April evening" by Frank K. from Anchorage, Alaska,
Courtesy of Wikipedia “Anchorage on an April evening” by Frank K. from Anchorage, Alaska,

As all of you who tuned in to the show last week know, the Anchorage Mayoral Race is underway.  On April 7th, that’s just a month away, the city of Anchorage will elect a new mayor, who will serve the city, for better or for worse, for the next two years, starting in July.

There are 11 candidates running for the city’s highest office, which gives you, the voter, a lot to choose from: which is good!  But, how do you know which candidate is right for Anchorage?

To help you solve this question for yourself, KRUA has set out to speak with all the mayoral candidates and to give our listeners the chance to get to know what the candidates stand for and who they really are.

This week, on Getting to Know You, we’re going to hear from mayoral candidate Lance Ahern.

Courtesy of Lance Ahern
Courtesy of Lance Ahern

Ahern, who originally hails from New York, has lived in Alaska for the last 30 year.  He lives in Anchorage with his wife, Tammas, and their youngest child.  Ahern attended UAA and UAF and currently two of his children go to UAA.  Ahern has been employed by the city as the Chief Information Officer, or CIO, for the municipality, for the last four years.  Before that, he spent five years as the Information Technology Director for the Alaska Department of Public Safety, where he worked closely with the Alaska State Troopers.

Ahern says some of his goals as mayor would be to support economic growth, build stronger ties  between the city and the University, and to consolidate and streamline the city’s technological infrastructure.

To help support economic growth in the city, Ahern says we need to look away from traditional construction-oriented projects, and towards the technological future.

“I’m not trying to be negative when I say this, but often a lot of the discussion in Anchorage about economic development is about buildings and it’s about contracting and it’s about kinda big projects like that.  But in the world I come from, you know, what’s going on in Silicon Valley and other places, what we need here is more of a information industry.”

Ahern says that with a more information-centered industry, people who might otherwise leave the city after completing their education, might be more motivated to stay.

“People who go to UAA wanna come out and have a job,” Ahern says.

Helping to foster ties between the business community, the city, and the University will help everyone, Ahern says.  Anchorage and UAA have a lot in common, he explains, including many of the same goals and the same challenges.

“Basically one of my core beliefs is that Anchorage is the size of a…you know…it’s a city that has..kind…may have problems but it’s very fixable.  When you look at things at the national level, when you look at things at the state level, it’s it’s almost incomprehensible.  You know, how you get out of some of those situations.  But here in Anchorage, we have all the tools and skills we need to fix some of these problems.  And so, I’d like to be part of that.”

One of the problems Ahern thinks he can help fix is a problem of inefficiency.  He says it’s a problem a lot of people recognize and one that’s formed over a long period of time.

“I’ve seen a lot about how government works and doesn’t work, and I think a lot of people see that from the outside, but I

Courtesy of Lance Ahern
Courtesy of Lance Ahern

think everybody who sits in a chair in city hall understands exactly what I’m talking about…So, one example I always talk about with people is in the city we have 18 different systems that we use for what we call ‘asset management,’ so police cars, buses, you know furniture, buildings, whatever you want to call it.

“We have, that I know of, at least 18 different systems that do that.  And, you know, so there’s lots of low hanging fruit in terms of do we, maybe we don’t need one, we could probably get by with two or three.  And the other side of that is, you know there’s direct costs, but then there’s all the indirect costs, because with 18 different systems, you have 18 different procurements that you go through, you have 18 different maintenance contracts, so all of this supporting infrastructure, to keep all this stuff going, training people to run 18 different systems, 18 different sets of, uh, standard operating procedures.

“Whatever you want to look at, you know, we found a way to do it 18 times.  And, and that’s one thing.  You know there are all kinds of other systems that, you know, I’m aware about, just coming form the IT side where we have five or six or ten of these different things.”

Ahern says he thinks the city needs to be operated more cohesively and that a lot of choices that are now made at the departmental level should be made in a collaborative way instead.  He says that by streamlining things, the city can hugely reduce long term costs.

One area Ahern would like to see improved is Public Safety.  He says the Fire Department and Police Department need to be encouraged to work better together and that ideally, the two systems would share one dispatch.  He says that the city can expect some huge developments in the technological side of public safety over the next few years.  Right now, Ahern says, you can text police in Chicago.  Why can’t we do that in Anchorage?  According to Ahern, there’s no technical reason why we couldn’t and he’d like to see the city embrace the possibilities of this technological advancement.

“A lot of this makes a lot of sense to a lot of people, but it just doesn’t get talked about enough and maybe it doesn’t get talked about early enough in the process where it can actually influence a change.  That’s part of the reason I’m running is that there are a lot of major investments that we’re going to be making over the next few years that are really based around technology and that is a core strength I have.”

As far as party affiliations go, Ahern says he falls on both sides of the line.  He says that while he believes government plays an important role, he thinks that people should essentially be allowed to do their own thing.  I asked Ahern his stance on marijuana legalization and how Anchorage should regulate it within the municipality.

“To me it’s really simple: in our political process we kind of there are naturally a lot of barriers to change, right?  And the community has gone through a huge effort to get through some of those barriers, get a proposition out there, get it voted on.  I mean–it’s really simple, if that’s the will of what people want that’s what the law should reflect.  And as we go about and take the time to figure out you know what the regulations are gonna be and all that kind of stuff, it shouldn’t, the goal shouldn’t be to make it as difficult as possible for people to simply behave lawfully.”

Ahern says that being the Mayor of Anchorage is a job that he feels he’s uniquely qualified to do.

“No person does this one thing.  What you have to do is bring a team to the table that’s capable of working together, understanding the goal and executing a plan.  And I think that’s something I’ve done over and over and I think it’s something I’d like to try at the next level.”

You’ve been listening to Lance Ahern, candidate for Anchorage mayor.

A Right to Die: Alaska House Bill 99

By Mariah Brashar

That was a clip from “You Don’t know Jack,” the 2010 HBO movie about Jack Kevorkian, known to some as “Dr. Death.”  Kevorkian was one of the first right-to-die activists to really publicize the issue of doctor assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Currently, four states allow doctor assisted suicide in the case of terminal patients.  Those states are Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Vermont.

Last year, the right to die was back in the spot light.  In the summer and fall of 2014, a dramatic case for the “right to die” played out in the media.  The story of Californian Brittany Maynard, a beautiful 29 year old woman with an aggressive form of terminal brain cancer, astrocytoma, who chose to move to Oregon where she could legally obtain a doctor’s assistance in ending her life when she decided the time had come.  Maynard died by her own choice on November first last year.

This February, an Anchorage law maker introduced a bill to the Alaska legislature that aims to make Alaska the fifth state to allow its citizens the “right to die.”  House Bill 99, which is modeled after Oregon’s 20-year-old Death with Dignity law, proposes to legalize “the voluntary termination of life by terminally ill individuals,” with the assistance of medication proscribed by a doctor.

According to a recent Health Day/ Harris poll , 74 percent of American adults believe that terminally ill patients who are in great pain should have the right to end their lives and only 14 percent opposed the right.

The originator of the Alaska bill, democratic Representative Harriet Drummond, explains the legislation on her website.  She writes that the bill “would allow terminally ill patients to ease their suffering and hasten an inevitable and certain death. House Bill 99 preserves a person’s right to live, and die, on their own terms according to their own desires and beliefs… A lot of time has been spent making sure that it cannot be abused, and that individuals cannot be coerced in any way.”

The topic is a controversial one.  While opponents argue both against the morality of such a law and against the possibility of abuse, advocates offer up evidence for the humanity of being allowed to chose to terminate an unbearable existence.

To offer some insight on the issue, I spoke with a long time Anchorage  doctor, Steven Meniker.  Meniker, a recently retired general surgeon, practiced medicine in Anchorage for nearly forty years.  He told me he cared for thousands of people during the course of his practice, and hundreds of terminal patients suffering from cancer and other serious diseases.  I asked Meniker how he felt about the proposed legislation as a doctor.

Meniker said that being a doctor isn’t just about saving lives.

According to Meniker, medicine can make a dying person comfortable, even when he or she would other wise be in  pain.  The catch is that while that individual may not be feeling any pain, he or she won’t be conscious or functional, either.  For some people, Mekiker says, that is just not an acceptable way to live the last weeks or months of their lives.

But, he explains, those people are in the severe minority.

I asked Meniker if, as a doctor, he felt there was a conflict between the principle of “do no harm” and providing doctor assisted care in ending someone’s life.  He says he doesn’t think that there is.  According to Meniker, sometime a doctor is doing more harm by forcing someone to continue suffering.  He says that doctors of terminally ill patients need to have an honest discussion about the costs and benefits of their treatment options.  Some doctors won’t touch assisted suicide, he says, and that’s an individual choice.  Meniker also explained that not all situations are clear cut cases, but that he thinks safe guards will be in place to protect patients.

That was Doctor Steven Meniker speaking about the recently proposed Right to Die Bill in the Alaska legislature.

Getting to Know Dan Coffey, Candidate for Anchorage Mayor

Courtesy of Wikipedia "Anchorage on an April evening" by Frank K. from Anchorage, Alaska,
Courtesy of Wikipedia “Anchorage on an April evening” by Frank K. from Anchorage, Alaska,

By Mariah Brashar, Public Affairs Producer

As all of you should know, but some of you may not, the Anchorage Mayoral Race is underway.  On April 7th, the city of Anchorage will elect a new mayor, who will serve the city, for better or for worse, for the next two years.

This race is an especially interesting one.  We have a vast field of potential mayors, with 11 people running for the city’s highest office.  While 11 candidates gives us a nice variety of choices, it also leaves us feeling overwhelmed.  Which candidate is right for Anchorage?

To help you solve this question for yourself, KRUA has set out to speak with all the mayoral candidates and to give our listeners the chance to get to know what the candidates stand for and who they really are.

This week, on Getting to Know You, we’re going to hear from mayoral candidate Dan Coffey.

Coffey, who threw his hat in the ring before any of his opponents when he announced his candidacy in the fall of 2013,

Courtesy of
Courtesy of

currently serves on the Anchorage Rotary, the Mayor’s Homeless Leadership Task Force, the Community Advisory Committee, Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline, and he chairs the Mayor’s Energy Task Force.  In the past, he served six years on the Anchorage Assembly and served on the Board of Fish.  Coffey is a part owner of the Alaska Aces, a partial owner of express lube, a commercial property owner, and practices law in Anchorage.

I asked Coffey why he decided to run for mayor.  He responded that he wanted to run because he loves Anchorage: “the impetus is basically the fact that I’ve been here and I’ve had a very fine life…..I care about this place a lot.”

Coffey told me that politics isn’t a career for him, it’s service to the community.  He said: “when I look around the city and I see the nature of the challenges we face, I believe that I am uniquely positioned to address those from experience, knowledge and experience.”

Coffey told me that since he declared his intent to run in 2013, he has been speaking with people about the challenges that face the city and how those challenges might be met.  “I call it Coffey’s continuing education in things municipal,” he said.

What are the challenges that the city of Anchorage faces?  Well, finances, for one, according to Coffey.  He told me that about 61 percent of the city of Anchorages operating budget comes from property taxes, which he said puts a significant burden on home and business owners.  While a sales tax might alleviate some of this pressure, Coffey says that people don’t trust the government to keep the percentage of tax at a reasonable level.

Another challenge Coffey sees the city facing is a housing crisis.  He says that work-force housing, or housing for people who work for wages, is “crumby.”  Coffey explained that part of the problem is that there isn’t very much build-able land left within the Anchorage bowl.  A solution for this issue? Well, there’s some land available through the Heritage Land Bank, which the city has access to.  There is also State owned land that Anchorage could get, although not too much of it, according to Coffey, and Federal land, which Coffey doesn’t think the city could get very easily.  But, he said, that to the degree that those lands can be made available, the city can increase its tax base and at the same time provide more work-force housing.

Another way Coffey says that building costs might be reduced is through deregulation: “To the degree that there are regulations that are an impediment to development and provide little or no benefit to the community, we don’t need those kinds of things,” according to Coffey.

He also suggested that the city should provide tax incentives and deferrals for developers working in certain areas of the city.

On the social side of things, Coffey thinks a lot of changes can be made.  One big issue?  Chronic public inebriates.  Coffey says the issue has never really been addressed and that it is a serious detraction from the quality of life here in Anchorage.
Coffey said that once you’ve accepted that the issue needs to be addressed, the question becomes, how?  “Housing First works,” Coffey said.

One way to come up with needed resources, Coffey said, may be another tax on the liquor industry.

In light of the recent legalization of recreation marijuana in Alaska, I asked Coffey what he thought about the measure and how the city should handle it.

Courtesy of
Courtesy of

“I voted no,” Coffey said.  He said that he thinks the city will have a lot of options, but until the states hand down their legislation, local governments don’t have too much to work with.

On the subject of public safety, especially in the light of the recent spike in gun violence in the city, Coffey said that the solution to mitigating this issue is increasing the number of police officers on the street.  To fund more officers, Coffey told me that negotiations with the police department over fiscal issues are critical.
The Anchorage mayoral race is a non-partisan one.  If you’re like me, you’re a little confused about what that really means.  Essentially, the charter of the race says that candidates will not be listed under their various party-affiliations on the ballot.

Coffey said that although he is a fiscal conservative, he believes that how individuals chose to live their lives is their business.  “Who your partners are, who your friends are, I don’t have a problem,” Coffey said.  “That’s your business.”

Never Alone: an Education in Native


Courtesy of
Courtesy of

By Mariah Brashar, Public Affairs Producer

Last November, the world saw the release of a video game with unprecedented origins.  Never Alone, or Kisima Innitchuna, was produced in concert with the Cook Inlet Tribal Council and draws on traditional Alaska Native stories and legends.  It is the first video game to have been funded by and produced in collaboration with an American indigenous organization.

Last Thursday, I spoke with one of the game’s masterminds, Gloria O’Neil.  O’Neil is a member of the University of Alaska Board of Regents, a “proud graduate of UAA,” and the President and CEO of the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, or CITC.

The CITC is one of the most influential non-profit native groups in Alaska, and its mission is to work with Alaska Native and American Indian people and connect them to their potential, according to O’Neil.  She said that each year, the CITC helps ten to twelve thousand people.

The CITC isn’t just a hugely influential organization, though, it’s also a model for its members and the members of the community it serves.  As a non-profit group, the CITC doesn’t have much in the way of incoming cash and in the past has relied heavily on the state and federal government.  About seven years ago, the organization decided they wanted to change that model: so they started looking for an investment.

O’Neil said that the CITC board asked that she and her team find an an investment that would not only make money but would also make impact.  “So,” she said, “we came up with this idea of video games.”  At the time, there were no video games on the market that had been backed by an indigenous organization.  O’Neil said she knew she wanted to fill that space.

Courtesy of
Courtesy of

The game, which is narrated in Inupiat and has English subtitles, was developed by E-Line, a media company that the CITC partnered with.  Game developers spent time in Barrow, speaking with elders and filming educational segments which appear in the game.

Never Alone is a traditional Native tale of heroism, danger, and perseverance.  The story was received in the Native tradition from Minnie Grey, who had in turn received it from her father, who was a famous story teller.

The game follows the journey of Nuna, a young Inipiat girl, and her companion Fox, a little arctic fox.  A player can either select Nuna or Fox, or the game can be played by two players simultaneously.  Over the course of the game, which is about six hours long, Nuna and Fox encounter characters from traditional stories that O’Neil says she grew up hearing.

Since its November launch, O’Neil says that 100,000 copies of the game have been sold.  She anticipates that sales will reach the million copy mark by the end of this year.  So, thus far, the investment has been a financial success.  But that’s not all, according to O’Neil.

She says that Never Alone has inspired people to tell their own stories and that it has paved the way for a whole new genre of video games that she says are being called “World Games.”

The game is available for Mac, PC, XBox, and Playstation.


Searching for a New President

By Mariah Brashar, Public Affairs Producer

Courtesy of the University of Alaska
Courtesy of the University of Alaska

In December, University of Alaska President Pat Gamble announced that he will leave the University a year early, vacating his position by June 1st this year.  In the wake of this news, the University Board of Regents has formed a search committee, headed by Board of Regents member Mary K. Hughes.  The University is partnering with Academic Search, INC and will be reviewing applicants from all over the country.  I spoke with Hughes about the search on Thursday, during a break from a board meeting.

“Dr. Tom Fitch and ASI helped us in the former search, in which we got Pat Gamble,” Hughes said.  “And Pat has been

Courtesy of the University of Alaska
Courtesy of the University of Alaska

superior and awesome and wonderful, so we think this is the right company to use.”

Hughes said that the regents have put together a presidential profile and an advertisement which are both available online.  She said the position closes on March 31st.  Hughes explained that preliminary meetings about candidates will not be public because of the delicate nature of the matter.

“When you’re dealing with candidates,” she said, “you have to be very careful because some candidates might have a job somewhere else.”

Three to five candidates will be selected for review by the Board of Regents by April 8th.  The board anticipates selecting the next President by May 18th, ensuring a smooth transition before Gamble’s June 1st departure.

If a presidential candidate is not selected by June 1st, and interim president will be appointed to serve while the search continues.  Hughes told me she did not anticipate this happening.

Hughes thanked President Gamble for his service to the University and told me that the next President will have some big shoes to fill.

“A candidate is going to be different than President Gamble,” Hughes said. “This candidate is lucky because there is a game plan here.” She explained that President Gamble started from scratch and gave the University “Shaping Alaska’s Future,” which has been very beneficial in helping the University move forward.  Although finding a replacement for President Gamble will be challenging, Hughes said: “we’re thinking that we can do it.”


Vinyl Record Store is a Labor of Love

Obsession Records-Photo by Ammon Swenson
Obsession Records-Photo by Ammon Swenson

In the age of smart phones, instant downloads, and the cloud, you might think that vinyl records have gone the way of the 8-track, but recent music trends have indicated otherwise. Last year vinyl sales rose 52 percent from 2013, while paid album downloads decreased by nine percent. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not like vinyl sales are blowing other music sales out of the water — as they only accounted for about six percent of music sold last year, but regardless, people still love records.

Because of this, Steve Haynes and his wife recently opened up Obsession Records, a store in Anchorage focusing on vinyl.

“We’ve been talking about it since 2011—my wife and I— and we just have so many records and…we kind of started looking around for a place and it all just fell together. Part of the motivation of course is so I can get new vinyl— very selfish—and part of the motivation was that I wanted a record store to go to and I thought other people did too,” Haynes said.

Haynes and his wife opened up the store last November and so far, he said that it has exceeded his expectations. The initial inventory was from his personal collection, but they order new vinyl as well and this has brought in all sorts of customers.

“You have a lot of younger people that are starting their collection, you have older people that have gotten rid of a collection and are starting over, you have people that have a collection and are looking for certain things to add to it, so there’s all kinds of people,” Haynes said.

With music being so easy to come by— usually just a click away— I asked Haynes why he thinks that some people still gravitate towards vinyl.

“I have no Idea. I can give you some theories and one is, I think people want to have a physical format that they can hold and the other theory is that it sounds better, but that is really whoever is listening. Some people think CDs sounds better, some people think downloads sound better and so it’s across the board with sound,” Haynes said

Just because he’s got a passion for records, don’t think that Haynes is a sound snob. When he’s at home, he’ll listen to records or CDs and when he’s driving around he’s got mp3s loaded into his stereo. He’s not going to split hairs over the sound quality between the different ways to listen to music, because for him, what’s important is the music.

He doesn’t think he’s going to get rich selling vinyl and that’s not why he does it.

“Yeah, I have a full-time day job. Selling records is a labor of love, it’s not something you’re going to make a million dollars on and retire on. It’s something you do because you enjoy it and that’s why we do it,” Haynes said

He hopes that at some point the store will being doing well enough that he can quit his day job and eventually expand and possibly have a space that bands could play in.

If you live on campus and are looking to pick up some vinyl or even a record player, you’re in luck. Obsession records is located right on Lake Otis and Tudor, not far from UAA.


Prioritization: What is It and What Does it Mean for You

Over the last 18 months, two University prioritization task forces have combed through 313 academic programs and 178 support functions and have looked for the fatty tissue that they might trim off to save what has become in recent month a huge expected shortfall in funds.  Essentially, the University is looking through every program it offers and determining which programs are important and which programs aren’t.

In the University System, prioritization means essentially the same thing it means when a person applies it to her own life: what things should she put first and what things should she put off.  Everyone prioritizes the more important things and puts off the less important things.  Generally, people deal with a shortage of time so they have to chose to do somethings and not to do (or to do later) other things.  The same goes for UAA.  Except, with the University, the main restriction is funding rather than time.

During the prioritization process at UAA, the selected programs were separated into five quintiles, with Quintile One was rated as a priority investment and Quintile Four and Five were slated for possible further review, reduction in funding, or total phaseout.  Quintiles Two and Three were rated as either requiring some extra funding or more or less on track, implying that they did not require too much additional funding and were meeting the goals of the program.

The review placed 46 programs in Quintile One, indicating that they were a priority for funding.  These programs included the general education program (which is the default program for undeclared students), the art program (which, according to the report needs a new facility), and four foreign language programs.

In Quintile Two, which is to be considered for enhancement, the report also placed 46 programs, including nursing (which the report says is doing well but could benefit from increased funding), accounting (which needs a new faculty member), and computer science.

There are 73 programs in the third quintile, which will be slated for UAA to maintain.  Among these programs are Journalism and Communication, marketing, and health sciences.

In the fourth and fifth quintile, which may face transformations and further review, there are several programs including both the Teaching and Learning Elementary Education program and the Teaching and Learning Masters in Arts in Teaching or MAT program.

The full report can be viewed online at

Courtesy of
Courtesy of

Chancellor Tom Case explained in the report that over UAA’s history, it has grown and changed tremendously.  He said that the prioritization process will help bring the University back into alignment.  According Case’s initial prioritization report, the programs being cut, consolidated or reduced should save the University up to two-million dollars.

Case said in the report: “UAA has a remarkable array of programs and functions, and many outstanding people who teach and staff them. Regardless, some programs and functions need to evolve, consolidate, contract or partner for efficiency. Some need to go away.”  With cuts amounting to two-million, it’s reasonable to expect quite a bit to “go away.”

The chancellor explained that over the next months, the University will formulate a budget for 2016, the Deans will be working together to agree on desired outcomes, and the school will continue to focus on the goals and needs of students.  He said that over the next three to five years, the University expects a 25-30 million dollar reduction in funding, thus prioritization alone will not be enough.

It is likely that programs that were slated by the prioritization report to receive additional funding will not receive it in the near future

Never the less, Case said in his report that the University is pleased with the prioritization process. He says that he committed early on to avoiding across-the-board cuts and that he stands by that statement now.

UAA Ends Agreement With Tanaina Child Development Center

By: Ammon Swenson, News Reporter

Photo: Ammon Swenson
Photo: Ammon Swenson

Last week, the Tanaina Child Development Center was given notice that their decades-long agreement with UAA would be ending soon. A memo from Vice Chancellor for Administrative Services, Bill Spindle, said that Tanaina must be out of their current location no later than May 1st.

Tanaina was already planning on finding a temporary location while the Wells Fargo Sports Complex gets renovated in a few months, but the news caught them by surprise. While they have received an outpouring of support from parents and student government, it’s not likely they’ll be able to stay put.

“The biggest factor is we just don’t have the space we need. And really Tanaina needs to be in a better place—in a bigger place and we thought  since they had to leave in the summer anyway, it was just time to just break it off. Not that we don’t want to help them and not that we don’t think childcare is an important additional service, but not right there and not right on campus,” Spindle said.

In addition to the liability issues of having small children on campus, it also boils down to money. Spindle said that while student programs are increasing, the available funding is declining and Tanaina, which is not a part of the university, doesn’t pay UAA for the space. Spindle said that at one  point there were plans to move Tanaina into their own building, but the money’s just not there.

Despite parents being up in arms about the news, UAA engineering professor and president of the Tanaina board of directors, Scott Hamel, acknowledges that the current space is inadequate for their needs.

“I think it’s a huge opportunity for the center. It could ultimately work out to be a turning point and the center could be allowed to grow and exist in a much larger space and ultimately serve more students, which is really the mission statement and it’s been limited at doing so in the past because of the space constraints. So, I think it’s a great opportunity, I just think that the current timeline is unfeasible,” Hamel said.

Parents and Tanaina staff met this week to discuss the situation and formulate a common goal in order to lobby university administrators. Even parents whose grown children are alumni of Tanaina showed their support. Parents would like to see Tanaina stay on campus, as 90 percent of them are either faculty or students. They discussed the possibility of paying the university rent for space on campus, but the main concern at this point is to get more time to figure out what happens next.

Shelley Giraldo’s son has been enrolled in Tanaina since last fall. She’s a full-time student studying civil engineering and her husband is a professor at UAA. She says she and her husband share a car and they go to and from campus together. The fact that her son is so close by while she’s at school is comforting. She also likes that Providence hospital is right across the street. The best case scenario for her would be that Tanaina stays on campus and she thinks the university has a responsibility to assist their non-traditional students.

“You know, if they really do want to support their students the way that they say they want to, they have to take into account that family is important and our culture doesn’t necessarily always support family, but I think it would be a mistake to separate family from education,” Giraldo said.

Not only is early child care hard to come by in Anchorage, with wait list that can be six months or more, even applying to child care centers can be expensive for some students because applications cost money—and Tanaina isn’t just day care.

“All of my staff have degrees or are pursuing degrees in early childhood and each teacher does development milestones with the child. They’re called ASQ—ages and stages questionnaires— and they find out where the child is lacking or can be challenged a little bit more and create lesson plans that will provide activities that will encourage growth and development in those areas. So for instance, if they’re struggling with their fine motor skills they’ll do lacing activities, they’ll have stringing beads, they’ll sit with them and show them how to correctly hold a crayon or a pencil as they get closer to learning how to write. We work with the parents a lot and partner with them in whatever development milestone they need to go through,” said Stephanie O’Brien, executive director of Tanaina.

Despite the support the center has received, Hamel, says that he doesn’t want the positivity to overshadow the fact that Tanaina isn’t totally safe from shutting their doors permanently.

He’s still concerned that his two kids, who are enrolled at Tanaina, could lose access to child care and not only would that affect his family life—he and his wife are both working parents— it could also affect his professional life.

“Potentially, I will be staying home with my kids this summer because they wont have anywhere to go. There are two things that will happen if that occurs. Number one is I wont do any research and I bring money in to do research, I mean, that’s income for the university. And number two, last year I was the director for the UAA summer engineering academies, which is a series of week long sessions that we run for middle school and high school kids where they come and they do robotics or bridge building and they learn engineering. And so that’s not going to happen,” he said.

Even though the future is uncertain for Tanaina, Chancellor Spindle said that UAA is not going to abandon them and will assist them in finding a new location.


Vaccination: Measles in America

By: Mariah Brashar, Public Affairs Producer

Courtesy of the Washington Post:
Courtesy of the Washington Post:

In light of the recent measles outbreak at Disney Land in California, vaccines are a hot button issue for a lot people on both sides of the to-vaccinate or not-to-vaccinate debate.  Concern about the so called “anti-vax” movement and the affects the movement might have on the health of our society has had quite a bit of play in the media over the last few weeks.  Like everything from abalone to ziggurats, if a person looks online she can find a lot of information about vaccines, from both sides.  The trick is figuring out what information comes from a trust-worthy source and what information…well, doesn’t.

The first thing I realized was that I don’t even know what the measles really even is.  I’ve always imagined it as kind of like the chicken pox, but when you get right down to it, all I know about the chicken pox is that it’s itchy.  So, for all of you out there like me, here’s a quick run down of what the measles really looks like.
It starts with cold-like symptoms: watery eyes, a cough, and a fever, often a pretty high fever, around 104 degrees.  Then, whitish mouth sores, called Koplik spots form and a red rash begins on the face and neck and spreads to the rest of the body.  A child with the measles is totally miserable, but generally recovers in about ten days.

About eight percent of measles cases develop diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration.  About seven percent develop an ear infection, which can lead to deafness.  About six percent develop pneumonia, which is actually what generally kills a person with the measles.  In rare cases (about one in every 170), a person with measles can develop seizures.  In even more rare cases (about one in every thousand people) measles can cause swelling of the brain or acute encephalitis.  Out of people who develop encephalitis, about 15 percent die–in other words around one in 7,000 people who developed measles would likely die from encephalitis.  There also can be, in rare cases, complications that take place years after recovering from the measles.

The one of the most disturbing of these is a brain inflammation, which nearly invariably leads to death, that can manifest itself up to ten years after recovery.  In other words, measles can be pretty awful.

Before the measles vaccine, about four million people in the US got the measles each year, out of that four million, about 48,000 were hospitalized.  That’s a little less than one in eight people who got the measles had to stay in the hospital.  Out of those who were hospitalized, about 500 died.

In an interview with Huffington Post live, Melinda Gates, the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, explains why she think American parents question vaccination against measles.  She said that American parents have forgotten what death from the measles looks like.

That makes sense, actually.  When I consider the fact that, before this story, I really didn’t even know what the measles looked like, much less an actual fatal case of the disease.  After all, the measles vaccine has been distributed in the United States since the early sixties: before that, measles was a common childhood disease.

As discussed, in the pre-vaccine era, the vast majority of American children did not die from the measles, nor did the majority suffer from lasting side effects like deafness.  This, in fact, is one of the arguments that those who oppose vaccination make.  The website uses the statistical likelihood (which was about three deaths out of every 2,000 cases of measles)  to show that measles shouldn’t be feared today.  Seems reasonable enough, though three out of 2,000 isn’t exactly that great of odds.  After all, people still freak out about dying in a plane crash and the odds of that are about one in 11 million, according to a report in the International Business Times.

To explain why the medical community feels that vaccination is so vital, even given the fairly low chance of death,  I spoke to my friend Corrine Johnson.  Corrine has been a pediatric nurse in Anchorage for the last 13 years and worked in pediatrics as a medical assistant for the 20 years before that.  I asked her what her take was on the actually relatively low risk of death from measles.  She told me that looking only at death is really a narrow way to look at the affects of a disease.

As a student nurse, Corrine treated a five-month-old baby for pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough.  Children cannot be vaccinated against whooping cough until they reach 12 months.  As with most diseases, the younger a baby is, the more dangerous a disease can be for him or her.  This particular baby that Corrine treated spent two months in the hospital with two collapsed lungs.  The child’s family lost their home due to medical expenses.  Corrine said that they would never be able to pay for their children to go to college because they would be paying off the debt for the rest of their lives.  And, that doesn’t even mention the emotional cost of having a child so near death.

So, the cost, even aside from complications or death, can be pretty tremendous.  The price of medical care in this country is a whole other story, but suffice it to say for now that, if your child has to stay in the hospital for any extended period of time, your wallet is not going to be happy about it.

Now, lets slip over the fence for a minute.  There are a couple of pretty hard to ignore arguments from the Anti-Vaccine movement.  For one thing, there can be complications.    And, those complications can sometimes be severe–ranging from allergic reactions (which generally can be treated fairly easily) to permanent physical damage.  However, there are inherent, if very unlikely, risks with every single medical procedure.  Another nurse I spoke with made this analogy:

If you get in a car crash, it is possible that you could be killed by your seatbelt.  It happens, very very rarely, but it’s possible.  Not vaccinating because of the risk of complication is like not ever wearing your seatbelt because there’s a possibility it could hurt you.  In the vast, vast majority of cases, your seatbelt protects you, but there’s a chance it will do the opposite.

Corrine said that the risk of vaccine complication was minuscule compared to the risk of being infected with a preventable disease.  She explained that vaccines work best when almost all of the population is immunized, because there will be some people, albeit very few, who cannot be safely vaccinated.

Another understandable concern for parents is the way that vaccinations are given to tiny babies and the rate and frequency at which infants receive these shots.  Some are also concerned about the chemical contents included in vaccines.  The anti-vaccine documentary Silent Epidemic, the Untold Story of Vaccines discusses how many vaccines children are exposed to and how rapidly they are exposed.

It’s easy to sympathize with this side of the argument, but Corrine had some insight to offer about the schedule.  She said that immunization schedules were designed to provide maximum immunity with minimum risk to children.  Corrine asked, why would you wait?  A vaccine can save your child’s life and keep them safe.  Why would a parent procrastinate that, when it has been proven to be safe to be administered earlier?

Another concern some people have about vaccinating babies and young children stems from a belief that certain vaccines may cause autism.  In 1998, Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a research paper that linked the MMR (or measles mumps and rubella) vaccine to the onset of autism.  After more than a decade, and more than 2 dozen studies were done attempting and failing to replicate Wakefield’s results, his study was thoroughly discredited in 2011.  However, the fear of vaccine-induced autism persists.

In 2011, NPR’s DIANE REHM hosted a panel of experts on the subject.  One of her guests, Seth Mnookin, explained that in addition to the scientific communities’ inability to replicate Wakefield’s study results, Wakefield also had several financial conflicts of interest.

Another guest on the show, Alison Singer, explained it simply.  She said “The way science needs to be done is when a scientific question is put before us and there’s one study, that study needs to be replicated and several laboratories set out specifically to try to replicate Wakefield’s findings and none could. And we got to the point where we had study, after study, after study that looked at whether vaccines were associated with autism and none of the studies indicated that there was a cause or relationship between vaccines and autism.”

Here in Alaska, the vaccine debate it particularly pertinent.  According to the CDC in 2013, Alaska had the lowest rate for the combined childhood vaccine series, with only about 60 percent of children fully vaccinated.  Corrine attributed this low rate to a variety of factors, one of which she said was many Alaskan’s lower level of access to medical care sure to isolated communities and a high number of people living off the grid.


National Program and UA Votes Attempts to Fight Student Voter Apathy in the Mid-Term Elections

By Connor Keesecker, News, Sports, and Public Affairs Director

Image taken from
Image taken from

From minimum wage, to marijuana, and the battle royal of the senatorial candidates, Alaskans have the opportunity to weigh in on a wide variety of issues this November. With such momentous issues, it should not be hard to get students to polls right?

While some students may display interest in these issues, there are still some simple barriers keeping students from going to the ballot box. As the traditional student is between the ages of 18-25, many are are voting for the first time and even more are unregistered.

That is why there is UA votes.

The initiative, as Dana Sample with Student Commuter Services explains, works to promote student voter participation on campus. UA Votes focuses its efforts on giving students the opportunity to register for voting. For the large part, this is effective at getting students to the voting booth.

According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, of students who registered in the 2008 elections, over 87% voted. That turnout is huge in comparison with the larger registered population as a whole.

UA votes in the 2012 elections also attempted to build enthusiasm about the presidential elections by hosting the “Dogs and Debates” events in the Student Union.

“Its where we grilled hot dogs and had the presidential elections downstairs in the cafeteria on the big screen,” explains Sample. “And that got over 100 people or more to come to each one, including the vice presidential debates.”

While UA votes had success with the presidential elections, the midterm elections are not as sexy as the relatively simple choice of choosing a candidate. The statistics reflect this as well.

“In 2010, students that had voted in really high numbers in 2008 did not vote in the midterm elections,” explains Marcie Smith West Associated Director for the organization Campus Election Engagement Project.

CEEP as it is known, is partnering with UA votes in attempt to get more students voting in the mid-term elections. Marcie Smith-West got involved with CEEP after working with political campaigns and seeing how difficult it can be for political groups to engage students.

As Smith-West says about the student voter demographic, “Every time an election happens, you’re almost dealing with an entirely different population.”

While she does agree that registration is one of the most reliable methods for promoting student voter participation, for CEEP registration isn’t enough.

Marcie Smith-West elaborates, “We need to make sure they know what the next step is as well.”

So in order to boost political awareness and participation on the UAA Campus, CEEP and UA votes are hiring for a student intern to get more students to the polls. The student intern would attempt to coordinate activities and events that educate students on how to participate in elections.

CEEP and UAA are particularly focused on getting more students to the polls, because voting is highly addictive.

Marcie Smith-West has found that, “If a student, or anyone person votes in three elections they create a lifelong habit. If they do those three elections, the chances of them not voting are very, very slim.”

For CEEP and Dana Sample with Commuter Services, universities have a fundamental role in encouraging a civically active population.

For more information on CEEP visit

For more information on the internship contact Dana Sample at



Former Dean of the College of Engineering Suing the University. Claiming Coerced Resignation, Discrimination

By Connor Keesecker, News, Sports, and Public Affairs Director

Dr. Tien-Chien Jen- From UAA Green and Gold


The Former Dean of the College of Engineering is suing the University of Alaska Anchorage, claiming discrimination and his resignation was coerced.

A 17-page complaint filed in Anchorage Superior Court, reveals that Dr. Tien-Chien Jen is claiming that he was bullied into resigning by Provost Dr. Elisha Baker. The Court documents acquired by The Northern Light also claim that Dr. Jen was discriminated for his Taiwanese descent.

Dr. Jen claims that Dr. Baker threatened him into resigning in order to deny the Former Dean a tenured post within the Engineering Department. The complaint asserts that the dean’s contract guaranteed him this post after dismissal as dean of the College of Engineering and the denial of the position amounts to a breach of contract.

The University announced his abrupt resignation, citing personal reasons in May. However as the documents reveal, this surprise was shared by Dr. Jen. He asserts that he was summoned to a meeting with the Provost on May 8th, without any written or informal notice on what the meeting would be about.

The Provost, according to the documents, accused Dr. Jen of attempting to defraud the University after he “sought and obtained dual or redundant reimbursement for travel between Anchorage and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee,” where the dean had formerly been employed.

Allegedly the Provost gave Dr. Jen the options of voluntarily resigning or facing further legal investigation and charges. With these choices Dr. Jen decided to resign.

The documents state that Dr. Jen had fully reimbursed the UWM but gave no mention of the UAA.

The details on the Provost’s claims are uncertain as of now as Dr. Jen was unable to reached at this time and Provost Baker declined to comment on the case.

However the complaint alleges that the Provost asked Dr. Jen for his immediate resignation under a threatening atmosphere.

The document further claims that the punitive atmosphere was heightened by an armed campus police officer in the vicinity of the meeting room. After Dr. Jen resigned he was immediately escorted by the officer off campus.

The dean’s voluntary resignation forfeited his ability to remain with the University as a tenured College of Engineering faculty member. Dr. Jen claims that he was unaware that by signing the resignation, he would lose the tenured position. Allegedly he was unable to consult a legal representative or his family before signing the document.

The complaint asserts that under these conditions he was denied procedural due process guaranteed by the public university.

Additionally the Former Dean claims the University of Alaska Anchorage broke its promise of discretion within an email sent out to university faculty and staff announcing Dr. Jen’s resignation on May 13. The email stated that the decision was made after a conversation between Provost Baker and then Dean Jen over “some matters of concern.” The documents claims that this hurt his reputation and broke promises made by the university to not injure Dr. Jen’s public standing

The Complaint also asserts that two weeks prior to this meeting, The Dean of Engineering and the Provost had a disagreement over disciplinary action for a fellow Taiwanese faculty member.

The complaint states that the Professor was alleged to have made inappropriate comments to a senior within the Engineering program.

According to the court documents, the Provost advocated for removing the professor from his position while Dean Jen disagreed and claimed the professor was misunderstood.

The complaint levies this situation as a representation of the the quote “discriminatory employment practice favored by the Provost.”

For this Dr. Jen is seeking either one million dollars in lost income and damages or reinstatement as a tenured faculty member at the University.

How the University will respond to these charges remains to be seen. Provost Baker made a statement that a decision will be made the University by Friday August 8th. For now the case has been moved to the US District Court.




“Come Home to Alaska” Aims to Boost Enrollment and Transfers

Taken from



The University of Alaska last week announced a new program aimed to boost enrollment at University system campuses. The pilot program would lend non-residents the same tuition rate of residents if they have a parent or grandparent living within the state. The program will be in practice starting in the fall 2014 semester and reviewed after a two year trial period. While this may pave the way for new students from out state to join the University of Alaska system, it is geared towards students who have left the state and lost their residency. Mike Smith from the Admissions Office here at UAA, explains that the programs hopes to make it easier and cheaper for former residents to transfer into the Alaskan university system. The program not only benefits new students but current non-residents who qualify will be given the opportunity to apply for in-state tuition as well. You can hear more about the specifics of the program, the students it may effect, and how much busier it will make Mike Smith in the interview below.




From Brewpubs to Brew Caucus: The Growth of the Small Brew Industry

By News Director Connor Keesecker

Courtesy of Denali Brewing Co. Facebook Page
Courtesy of Denali Brewing Co. Facebook Page

Though Alaska may be small on people, it’s a state that’s big on beer. As beer columnist for the Press Dr. Fermento or James Roberts explains, if you go into any liquor store in Alaska and you will find one thing (or many things): diversity.

“When brewers from outside and people within the alcohol industry come up here and look at what’s on the selves, they are just blown away,” explains Roberts.

But where did all of this diversity come from? Well as with almost any question on beer, James Roberts had the answer.

Though he shies away from crediting them completely, he cites, “that it was Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Cheeko, California that said, we don’t have to be like every other brewery.”

Instead of keeping hops in the background, Sierra Nevada decided to feature hops as the definitive flavor in its beer.

The result forces Roberts to employ a catalog of adjectives like, “fresh, green, cascade, leafy, aromatic, juicy, tasty, hop-forward beer.”

After the deregulation of the beer market in 1979, the market exploded. With the success of Sierra Nevada, other breweries began popping up and exploring flavors both new and old. This wave finally crashed on Alaskan shores in late 1980s, bringing customers start ups like the Alaska Brewing Co.

Since then, beer shelves have been stocked with a diversity of craft brews to compete with the big industry mainstays of Budweiser, Coors, and Miller. Slowly sales for craft brews have gained on their big name rivals. As economist Michael Fried detailed in an report on the rise of craft brew in the state, between 2003 and 2013 craft sales almost tripled while sales for big industry brews sales declined at almost 50%.

As consumers begin to prefer craft selections over their “Bud-mil-oors” rivals, the shift fed a huge growth of the number of craft breweries in the state. As James Roberts observes, that while 22 breweries are currently in operation within the state, seven more are already in planning.

This has created an opportunity for people to evolve their home brewing hobbies into a business. One of those people is Sassan Mossanen, who became a founding partner of Denali Brewing Co. in Talkeetna.

Mossanen’s dream has grown steadily since the brewery opened its doors in 2009. As last year the brewery produced around 4,000, he expects they could double that number this year and potentially reach 12,000 by next year.

“First and foremost we love to make good beer. But the thing I am probably the most proud of after the fact that we try to make the best beer we can, is the fact that we are contributing significantly to the employment in Talkeetna,” explained Moussanan.

In the context of Talkeetna, this contribution truly is significant. In the past few years, the brewery has grown to become the largest year round employer in the city. However as Mossanen found, the road to this success is fought with difficulties and heavy capital investment.

“Myself and partners at the beginning took very big pay cuts,” Mossanen explains.

Mossanen says that he still works his construction business to make ends meet. As he has found, “the return on investment unlike many other businesses takes in our experiences a minimum of three to five years to turn a profit.”

However many aim to make it easier for brewery start-ups to rise through those early turbulent years. James Roberts is not only Dr. Fermento but the President of the Alaska Small Brewers Guild. This group advocates for breweries in the state government and to Alaska’s representatives in the US House and Senate.

Robert’s efforts have been aimed at promoting the economic benefit of this growing industry to policymakers, with the hope that they may implement new policies that make easier for a new brewery to find its feet.

This representation is not falling on deaf ears, as the Senate Small Breweries has caucus has grown in attempt to aid the small brewery industry. This group has collected of a diverse roster of legislators from both sides of the aisle including Alaska’s own Senator Lisa Murkowski.

The Guild maybe seeing the first fruits of their labor in the proposed bill known as the Small Brewer Reinvestment and Expanding Workforce Act or as it more aptly called, the Small BREW act. The act would reduce the per barrel tax more than half on breweries producing less than 6 million barrels a year.

Both Roberts and Mossanen explain the affect that this would have on small breweries would be huge. As the bill only qualifies for new or small businesses, the bill aims to help level the playing field between craft brew and their big name competition.

Mossanen elaborates, “Typically if you see someone succeeding at what they are doing by creating jobs and infrastructure and developing within their own communities. You should get out of their way and let them continue to do what they do best. ”

If the Small Brew Act passes, the US treasury would loose out on a source of funding. Whether the Senate and House both have a stomach for cutting a source of revenue remains to be see. As Small Brewers Guild boasts, the bill enjoys the support of both Alaska’s Senators and Representative Don Young in the House of Representatives.

The bill has been introduced and awaits the to be heard by the House Ways and Means Committee.


Be sure to tune into KRUA 88.1 FM to hear more updates on the future Small Brew Act and you can listen to our previous coverage in the links below.

And hear Communication Director for Senator Lisa Murkowski discuss the Small Brewers caucus and the Senator’s support for the Small BREW Act:


External Links:

A rundown and copy of the Small BREW act:


Listen to our coverage of the growth of beer in Alaska: