Crunching the Numbers in Alaska.

6 11 2008

OK…

I’m not generally a conspiracy theorist. I say “generally”, because sometimes conspiracies happen. And sometimes it would be foolish to ignore them. The only thing worse than being labeled a conspiracy theorist, is being labeled a gullible idiot when it all comes to light. So I invite you to hop on board the Conspiracy Theory Express with me for a moment, because it’s pulling out of the station here in Alaska, ready to take you on a five minute tour.

As the final numbers roll in from state and national elections, I and others have noticed some results that are interesting at best, and highly suspect at worst. Either way, they deserve some scrutiny.

Let’s look at the national numbers first. Keep in mind that Alaska’s very own Governor, and the new GOP golden girl, Sarah Palin, was on the ticket. And Barack Obama has excited progressive Alaskans like no candidate before. He had five field offices, great ground organization, and inspired the biggest candidate rally in Alaska history. Voter turnout here was expected to be through the roof and breaking all records.

In 2004, 66% of registered voters turned out to vote in the presidential election between George Bush and John Kerry.

In 2008, including the votes still outstanding, only 54% of registered voters turned out.

And the strangest part of all? Voter turnout in the primaries, before Palin was even on the ticket, was up 12% from 2004. We also had more than 20,000 new registered voters.

Curious.

As these strange numbers rolled in at Election Central, I was there watching. Here’s how it fell out over time.

With 36% of the precincts reporting:
61.76% for McCain
35.64% for Obama

With 81.3% reporting
61.54% for McCain
35.69% for Obama

With 96.1% reporting
61.29% for McCain
35.96% for Obama

Alaska, like many states, has blue areas and red areas. The Mat-Su Valley, home of Sarah Palin is very very red. Anchorage? Blue. The Kenai Peninsula? Red. Juneau? Blue. You get the idea. When I, and my fellow progressive celebrants watched the first numbers come in, we thought, “That must be the Valley”, because the latest polls actually had the presidential race neck and neck with Obama only 2.7 points behind. We kept waiting for the progressive areas of the state to kick in, but they never did. No fluctuations one way or the other more than .3%. And George Bush won the 2004 election her by a margin of…..61-35.

Strange.

Then, we’ve got the two Congressional races.

Ted Stevens vs. Mark Begich. The convicted felon is currently ahead by about 3300 votes, with about 60,000 absentee and early votes left to count. It’s a squeaker, and Begich may pull this one off. By why is it a squeaker when the last poll had Begich 22 points ahead? He’d been running at a dead heat in the polling before Ted’s conviction, but after the seven felony convictions came in, Begich’s lead widened considerably. Pretty stunning turnaround for Stevens.

Remarkable.

How about Ethan Berkowitz vs. Don Young for the Congressional seat?

Berkowitz consistently led Young in every single poll since May by 5-14 points. Contrary to this comfortable and consistent lead, Don Young managed to pull off a stunning upset by trouncing Berkowitz by more than 7 points.

Amazing.

And since history is always our best teacher, let’s look back at the 2004 elections in Alaska. The majority of precincts had voter turnout of over 100%. In some cases, voter turnout was over 200%. Either Alaskans are enthusiastic about their vote to the point of breaking the law and voting twice, or there’s something very very wrong.

(From Shannyn Moore) There are 40 districts in Alaska. The Anchorage area districts run from District 17 to District 32. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and pick any district from 17-32. Pay particular attention to the 3rd column labeled % turnout. Hit the back arrow and select another district. There are more precincts with voter turnout over 100% than under 100%. In other words, many more people voted in Anchorage area precincts than there were registered voters. Clearly, this is not possible. In 2006, the Democrats filed a lawsuit against the Alaska Division of Elections to release public records needed to verify the 2004 election results. The Democrats ALSO sought to have the Alaska Division of Elections release the raw election data for the 2006 election.

It’s been more than 24 hours since the polls closed in Alaska, and the red flags are already waving.

OK, the Conspiracy Theory Express bus 5-minute tour is over, and you may now hop off. This was just a test drive. Keep your eyes on how the final numbers turn out. Democracy requires vigilance, and hopefully our state candidates will not be afraid to stand their ground. The Obama campaign had a team of lawyers at the ready in case election fraud was detected. It’s a wise precaution, and an obligation to the electorate whose fundamental rights hang in the balance. If I were Ethan Berkowitz or Mark Begich or Barack Obama, I’d make sure I took the process to the end, and took advantage of the media spotlight which still shines on our state, before it vanishes, and we are left to sort out our election questions in the dark. Sunshine is the best disinfectant.

UPDATE – Here’s some new coverage on this topic from The Washington Post and from 538.com.

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Alaska Senate and House Races Bring Surprises.

5 11 2008

It’s been an amazing day in American politics. President Elect Obama has heard the voice of America, and it is demanding change. The future seems full of promise and possibility for the first time in a long time.

But back on the Last Frontier, we know it just wouldn’t be Alaska if things went smoothly, or predictably. Any day now, I expect new Alaskan license plates to be released saying “Alaska” on the top, and “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up” across the bottom.

Despite polling numbers that indicated comfortable leads for Senate candidate Mark Begich, and House candidate Ethan Berkowitz, both races are too close to call until the final absentee and early votes are counted. Yes, it seems that we now have a “Stevens Effect”, people who say they wouldn’t vote for a convicted felon to pollsters, but when they get behind the curtain, they just can’t seem to resist the temptation.

Mark Begich (D) vs. Ted Stevens (R-I)

At last count with 99% of precincts reporting Begich trailed Stevens by only 4000 votes, 46.5% to 48%. But don’t write off Begich just yet. There are tens of thousands of votes yet to be counted – almost 50,000 in all. Absentee ballots have yet to be tallied, and more are arriving daily. In addition, any early votes that happened between last Thursday and Election Eve, are still to be counted. What does all this mean? We won’t know the outcome of this race for two weeks.

If Stevens is elected, he will face expulsion by the Senate, Alaskans will have the dubious honor of being the only state to ever elect a convicted felon, and Stevens will face expulsion. It will require a 2/3 vote to remove him. Sarah Palin, who asked Stevens to step down so Alaskans could have a “real” choice would NOT be able to appoint anyone to fill the seat. I heard pundits last night speculating that Palin would appoint herself to the seat. That will not happen. The Alaska Supreme Court has already decided this issue and removed the right of a governor to appoint anyone to a senate seat. Period. That said, there is nothing to prevent Palin from entering herself as a candidate in the special election to fill that seat.

So, what happened?

There are as many theories and opinions as people. Here are a few.

  • Stevens is more like family than a mere politician. If he says he’s innocent, then he’s innocent. He was railroaded. He continues to have the support of Alaska’s other Senator Lisa Murkowski, and Congressman Don Young. The feds were just out to get him.
  • Some Alaskans, despite being presented with the facts, will never ever vote Democratic. Ever.
  • Stevens gained votes from the inflated Republican turnout that came out to vote for Palin.
  • If Stevens gets in and gets expelled by the senate, there’s another opportunity to get a different Republican in that seat and not create a potential Democratic dynasty. This was openly promoted by right wing talk radio before the election.
  • Some Alaska voters have voted for Stevens every election of their lives. They’re happy with what he’s done, so why stop now?
  • Alaskans are terrified of giving up seniority in the Senate. We’re ignored a lot, and we worry that if Ted isn’t there with his experience, his connections, and his doggedness, we’ll be up a creek.
  • Nobody “outside” (aka the Federal Government, the FBI and the IRS) is going to tell me who to vote for. (sticking out chin, crossing arms and feeling like and Alaskan “maverick”)

Ethan Berkowitz (D) vs. Don Young (R-I)

This race is not as tight as the Senate race. In a stunning outcome that flies in the face of all recent polls, Don Young looks like he will pull it off. The bombastic, bloviating incumbent has a comfortable lead over the favored newcomer, and is up by more than 17,000 votes. The same 50,000 ballots have yet to be counted for these candidates, but that’s a pretty big margin to make up for Berkowitz. So, as excruciating as it is, and despite the fact that Berkowitz has not conceded, we may be sending Don Young back for his 19th term as Alaska’s one and only member of the House of Representatives. I would like to extend my humble apologies to the United States Congress. Forgive us, for we know not what we do.

So what happened?

Look back up at the “So what happened?” section above and insert the name Don Young, every time you see the name Ted Stevens, and add the following:

  • Just because he’s spent $1.2 million in legal fees, doesn’t mean he’s done anything wrong. He hasn’t even been indicted yet!

Asked if he was surprised at the way the numbers were running, Young said, “Not me. … The pollsters were wrong and they’ve always been wrong. … They don’t understand Alaska.”

The Anchorage Daily News has some good coverage of the Stevens-Begich race and the Young-Berkowitz race.

There are many chapters yet to be written.

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Senatorial and House Debate in Anchorage

9 10 2008

It’s been a busy news week in Alaska, and I’ve yet to have time to write about this week’s Senatorial and House debates!

As we know, Ted Stevens is…otherwise occupied this week, so his debate with Mark Begich had to be filmed and shown to the crowd assembled at the University of Alaska, on screen.  The moderator was John Tracy.

I arrived a bit late, and missed the very beginning of the Begich/Stevens debate.  As I walked in the door, Ted Stevens was speaking.  I came in, walked down the aisle, looked around, found a seat, took off my coat, got out my camera, found my notepad, then had to hunt for a pen, opened the notepad, uncapped the pen, and he was still speaking….the same sentence.  All I could write on the pad was “longest run-on sentence ever uttered.”  Taking notes was to prove almost impossible.  Ted Stevens has a similar affliction as Sarah Palin.  Charlie Gibson has finally given it a name.  It’s the “Blizzard of Words” phenomenon.

All I can say is this, which I’ve plucked out of Ted’s blizzard of words.  According to Stevens: our country has absolutely no hope for the future without drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  We also need to drill offshore on the Continental Shelf.  And we need to find a way to decrease fuel costs.  We can create 20,000 jobs for every million barrels of oil we drill.  “You can’t get there (energy independence) without ANWR!” 

What is our biggest problem?  “Extreme environmentalists”  “Jimmy Carter”  and don’t forget “They opposed cutting timber too!” (uttered with horror).  His dreams for the future?  Keep kids in school. Give them hope. Drill everywhere, and “open the forests”.

When given the opportunity to ask a question of his opponent, Mark Begich, he wanted to know how he would convince those “New York California” politicians to drill drill drill!  Begich who is in favor of drilling (all Alaska politicians are), said he’d bring them up here to show them how it could be done in an environmentally conscious way. 

Begich, for his part, did very well.  He spoke in complete English sentences which could by understood by the audience.  He discussed his issues clearly and concisely.  He mentioned his website.  He did have on a little too much blush, but that wasn’t his fault.  He even held it together well when Ted Stevens told him he was “just as crazy as the devil.”

Begich got several rounds of applause during the debate.  Stevens did too, but they were more tentative…almost like the audience didn’t quite understand what he said, but they were trying to be kind.

Then we were on to 18 term Republican incumbend Don Young vs. Democratic challenger Ethan Berkowitz.

The questions started with the economy.  Don Young said he opposed the bail-out and had received 3800 phone calls about it.  3500 opposing, and 300 for.  He voted against.  The bail-out, he said, was a “slippery slope to socialism.”

Ethan Berkowitz said he would have been a “reluctant supporter” and stated concerns about the credit crunch affecting businesses.

Here’s the World According to Young:   All our financial woes started with Bill Clinton.  Alexander Hamilton put down the Whiskey Rebellion, and [Young] doesn’t know why he did…hahaha.  (???)  He wants to privatize social security to “let the young people invest.”  He shushed applause for Berkowitz.  He reprimanded the red warning light.  He doesn’t like Hillary Clinton.  Something else is Bill Clinton’s fault.  Most of the problems in the house are the fault of Nancy Paloosi (yes, that’s how he pronounces it).  The housing crisis was set off by energy issues because we’re not drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. “Nancy Paloosi has a huge hammer and doesn’t want to burn fossil fuels because she wants to (eye roll) save the planet.”

He thinks Sarah Palin is a great candidate and it doesn’t bother him that she hasn’t endorsed him.  He doesn’t need anybody’s endorsement.  He’s “not going to do cartwheels” to get anyone’s endorsement.

He “look[s] forward to sending his first batch of earmarks to John McCain, and I dare him to veto it.”  Young loves earmarks and thinks that any member of congress who isn’t out to get lots of earmarks isn’t doing his/her job.

His question to Ethan Berkowitz?  How would you face up to Nancy Paloosi [sic] regarding energy issues and drilling?   Berkowitz responded that energy issues shouldn’t be partisan and that he would be an Alaskan congressman and represent the issues of Alaska.  Don didn’t like that answer.  “That’s just words!  You would have voted with her!”  Then looking at the audience, “He will do what she says to do!”

Hoooo.  Don Young has some major hangups with “Paloosi”.

Berkowitz was good the rest of the time.  He spoke up about alternative energy, no child left behind, hope and optimism.  When asked if he supported Palin, he responded he was supporting “Barack Obama and Tina Fey” which left out some of the AARP crowd who was hosting the debate.  He did get sporadic applause, but there was a noticeable lack of any kind of applause for Don Young.

Whichever political leanings the audience had, nobody was unsure of where the candidates stood, and no one left wondering which way to vote.





Alaska Lt. Governor Sean Parnell Concedes!

18 09 2008

Alaska Democratic Congressional Candidate Ethan Berkowitz

Lt. Governor Sean Parnell will not seek a recount in the Republican primary for Alaska’s lone seat in the House of Representatives. He conceded to 18-term incumbent Don Young, who is currently under investigation and has spent more than $1 million in legal fees, before he has even been indicted. Young squeaked out a narrow victory with a final vote tally of only 304 more votes than Parnell.

Parnell, who had indicated he would seek a recount, has apparently had a change of heart. He may be banking on a McCain-Palin victory, which would put him snugly in the governor’s chair with a direct line to the White House. At this point, it’s not a bet I would take, but I’m not him.

The concession still strikes me as odd, since the margin of victory was slim enough that the state of Alaska would have picked up the costs of a recount. Maybe he worried that a recount and second loss would sully his image. Palin and Parnell are all about image.

Democrats will sleep a little easier tonight knowing that Democratic challenger Ethan Berkowitz will be the one to face Don Young in November. Parnell would have been a tougher competitor. I can practically hear the champagne corks popping at Berkowitz headquarters.

Despite the much larger Republican turnout at the primaries, many of Parnell’s votes were “anyone but Don Young” votes from Republicans, Independents, and Non-Partisans. Many will either not vote at all, or vote for Berkowitz, simply because the 18-term corrupt, bombastic, blowhard that is Don Young is no longer tolerable.

There were also many Republican ballots selected by Independents, and Non-Partisans who lean Democratic, but voted for Young in a strategic move to keep him in the race so Berkowitz can bring him down like a bag of dirt. In Alaska, Independents and Non-Partisans can choose either the Republican or Democratic ballot. That’s why there are so many of them. Ahhhh…strategery.

Frankly, it’s also going to be a lot more fun to cover a Young-Berkowitz matchup for local media and bloggers.

So join me in a toast (or a donation) to Ethan Berkowitz! >tink< It’s not going to be a cake walk, but he stands a chance of ending an era of corruption in Alaska’s congressional delegation. I’ll bet there are plenty in Washington D.C. popping their own corks right about now.





Operation Chaos a Success! Don Young Wins by a Nose!

17 09 2008
Lt. Governor Sean 'Caribou Ken' Parnell
Lt. Gov. Sean “Caribou Ken” Parnell (left) and Don Young with his favorite objet d’art….Don Young.

Operation Chaos, it seems, may have been a diabolical success.  You’ll all recall when Rush Limbaugh urged all his supporters to vote for Hillary Clinton in states with open primaries.  The theory was that she’d be easier to defeat than Barack Obama.  It’s debatable whether his tactic had any effect locally, but it obviously didn’t work on a national level.

In Alaska, on the other hand, things may have turned out differently.  It was no secret in the polling, that Democratic candidate Ethan Berkowitz was much more likely to defeat long-term but desperately corrupt incumbent Don Young, than Republican newcomer (and some would say Palin-bot) rival Lt. Governor Sean Parnell.

So, devious Independants and Non-partisans (who make up well over 50% of the voters in Alaska), chose the Republican ballot and voted for Young in a desperate attempt to swing the general election in favor of a viable Democratic candidate.  How do I know this?  Because, just in general chit-chatty conversation, I personally came across FIVE people who did it.  I didn’t ask. It was almost like people needed to make this guilty, yet gleeful confession.  Did one of my earliest posts help plant the idea?  Probably not. Not many people read it.  But the idea obviously sprang up indepentently in the minds of those hungry to get the old-guard corrupt politicians out of office.

Weeks after Alaska’s primary, the absentee ballots now counted, Don Young can claim victory by the razor-thin margin of 304 votes.  I know five of the voters by name, and I’m guessing that Alaskans like them have put him over the top.  Alaska politics makes strange bedfellows.

Parnell  will probably call for a recount, so keep those champagne bottles corked for now.  The recount could take another 10 days.  But, things may be looking up in one branch of Alaska politics.





And Now for Something Completely Different.

6 09 2008

Yes, there is life beyond Palin. It may seem hard to believe, especially here in Alaska, where the media is swarming on the small town of Wasilla like ravens on a dumpster full of french fries. (Trust me, it’s a good metaphor)

As everyone in the Lower 48 + Hawaii is finding out, the cast of characters in Alaskan politics is full of…well…characters:

Walt Monegan, the noble Police commissioner who said, “I’d gladly die for the governor, but I would never lie for the governor”

Chuck Kopp his non-vetted replacement who famously proclaimed, “I am not a sex harasser!”

Mike Wooten, the trooper in Troopergate who has a list of offensive deeds, but was axed by whom Palin wanted to axe for what many feel is personal revenge.

Stephen Branchflower, the rock solid non-partisan investigator, and Thomas Van Flein, his nemesis and the private attorney now representing Palin. Palin’s new private attorney.

And the whole supporting cast of children, children’s boyfriends, extended family, ex-coworkers, the almost fired librarian saved by the outraged masses at the last minute*, the fired police chief, and of course, Palin herself – the lip-sticked pit bull moose-skinning gun-toting mother of 5 (or 4 say some), who either rose like a star, or flimflammed her way to the top…depending who you ask.

But, yes, there is a whole political landscape outside the governor’s little world. There is big news developing with two of those characters who haven’t been discussed much lately – Don Young, and Sean Parnell.

Don Young. That’s him up there standing in front of the giant portrait of himself, wearing an Alaska state flag bolo tie. When people who don’t know about Don Young ask about Don Young, they are met with one of three reactions: the eye roll, the head shake/chuckle combination, or an expletive. It never fails. He is absolutely indescribable, but I’ll try. He is a cocky, loud mouthed, angst-ridden, bloviating, jaw-dropping bully. He looooves pork, and people that love pork, love him. He’s a porketarian of the highest order. His annual fundraiser is even a pig roast and he’s proud of it. The grill at the event is usually a $30,000 barbeque donated for the event by Veco corp, the now defunct oil services company whose president and vp have plead guilty to felony counts of bribery and agreed to dish the dirt on what feels like half the Republican politicians in Alaska…and one Democrat just for the heck of it. Many are either on their way, or already in prison.

Don Young himself is currently under investigation by the FBI, and has spent more than a million dollars from his campaign fund on lawyers and hasn’t even been indicted yet. All of this does not keep Alaskans from voting for him. He’s been holding Alaska’s lone seat in the House of Representatives since 1973, and most Alaskans just look upon him as an inevitability, like snow. He just keeps coming back, no matter what you do. And besides, we’ll overlook a lot, as long as we get our pork.

The last time Don Young was up for reelection, the Democratic challenger (a woman, and Alaska native) Diane Benson got 40% of the vote. While this may not sound like much in other elections, 40% against Don Young with a progressive female candidate on the ballot was huge. This proved that Young was vulnerable. Smelling blood in the water, hoards of lower level politicians began circling the wounded bloviator.

This time around, he may go down. State legislator Ethan Berkowitz, a rising Democratic star, stand a very good chance of unseating him in the upcoming election. Progressive Alaskans are doing the happy dance all over the state. For them, it is a dream come true. But…there’s one more hurdle to overcome. The hurdle is named Sean Parnell. Sean Parnell is what many like to call a ‘Palin-bot’. He shares Palin’s idealogy, and is “supportive” of her administration. Translated, this means whatever she says goes, and he doesn’t argue. Critics say he’s an empty suit and an empty head. He also doesn’t like to show up at debates, or give interviews…too uncomfortable (sound familiar?). BUT, he has Sarah Palin’s ‘full support’, which is enough for many in the state.

Berkowitz doesn’t fare as well against Parnell in the polling, and it might be a tight race if that was the match-up in November. Parnell might very well swoop into office exactly like Palin, by getting the anyone-but-the-incumbent-as-long-as-I-can-still-vote-Republican vote. That’s a big slice of the pie up here.

I went down to Convention Central at the Egan Center in Anchorage on primary night, just to watch the returns. And, as many predicted, the race of the night turned out to be Young vs. Parnell. We all bit our nails, drank $8 beers at the bar in the corner, chomped peanuts and watched the big board. At times there were only four votes separating the two candidates. Progressives stopped doing the happy dance and started worrying. Many Democrats and independents I know voted for Young, simply to assure that he would stay in the race long enough to be taken down by Berkowitz. (The Alaskan version of Rush Limbaugh’s operation Chaos, urging Republicans to cross over and vote for Hillary). They will be happy they did. At the end of the night, only about 150 votes separated the two candidates, with Young holding a razor thin lead over Parnell, and hanging on by his fingernails.

Then the absentee voting began. There were 25,000 votes to be counted. The result? After more nail-biting ups and downs and the Division of Elections working into the night, Young maintains his lead by a scant 239 votes. With still more absentee ballots to be counted from overseas, this is about as close as it gets. The last of the absentee ballots will be rounded up by Wednesday, and it’s anyone’s guess. There will likely be a recount.

Oh, and did I forget to mention that the Division of Elections is under the purvue of none other than…the Lt. Governor, Sean Parnell? Oh, it’s true. Who said life beyond Palin would be boring?

Now that you’ve welcomed a new Alaskan eccentric into your political world, please sit back and enjoy this little homage to Don Young from TPM Muckraker who refers to Young as a “one man mud wrestling match”. Enjoy.

*correction from previous post





Alaska Primary Gallery

28 08 2008

Here are some more pictures from last night’s Alaska Primary.  Still no winner in the Don Young/Sean Parnell fight to the death, and there won’t be for another couple weeks.  The absentee ballots will figure heavily into this epic contest, where the two are only slightly more than 150 votes apart.  Don Young is hanging on by his fingernails.  I came across another non-partisan who took the Republican ballot to vote for Young hoping he’d get taken out in the general election by Ethan Berkowitz.  If I came across four in the last 24 hours without even trying, there must be many many more out there.  And if Don holds on, it’ll be the progressives that let him live to fight another day.  That, plus a final surge of cash from the Democratic Party bashing Parnell.  Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows.

And, of course, Sean Parnell being the Lt. Governor is in charge of the Division of Elections which will be counting the votes…. Just when you think the knot couldn’t get any more tangled.