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Southeast Alaska News

City eyes budget cuts to pay for health insurance

Thu, 2014-07-03 10:20

At the request of the Ketchikan City Council, City Manager Karl Amylon has proposed a series of budget cuts to offset increased health insurance costs for non-union city employees.

The manager had suggested at the last Council meeting that city reserves could be used, but Council members balked at that idea and asked him to look for ways to trim the budget.

The city needs to find about $90,000 to pay those premium increases for the remainder of this year.

In a memo to the Council, Amylon identified more than enough cuts to pay for that program, allowing the Council to choose. The potential cuts include grant funding for the Small Business Development Center, the city’s contract with Victor Four Labor Relations, a Finance Department accounting technician job, one police officer position and one central office technician job at Ketchikan Public Utilities Telecommunications Division.

Amylon lists other budget reductions that are possible because some items have cost less than anticipated, such as Harbor Department salaries, which are lower because of employee turnover.

In his memo to the Council, Amylon also suggests that members consider freezing community nonprofit grants at the current level, rather than continue tying it to sales taxes. The city raised its sales tax rate this year, and he writes that the increased rate would mean about $30,000 more earmarked for grants next year.

The Council meets Thursday at 7 p.m. in City Council chambers. Public comment will be heard at the start of the meeting.

New Sealaska leaders promise growth, changes

Thu, 2014-07-03 09:10

Sealaska CEO Anthony Mallott addresses shareholders at the Sealaska annual meeting June 28th near the SeaTac Airport. (Photo courtesy Sealaska)

Sealaska’s new board chairman and CEO say the regional Native corporation is gearing up for growth.

They’re following a direction set by their predecessors. But they promise some changes.

http://www.kcaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/02Change-L.mp3

Sealaska has been losing money.

The corporation’s businesses lost a total of $57 million last year. Investments, profitable ventures and resource earnings from other Native corporations shrunk that to $35 million.

Officials say the losses should be over.

“Overall, it’s going to be operational profit,” says Anthony Mallott, Sealaska’s new president and CEO.

He’s the one overseeing all business operations and responding to direction from the corporation’s board. The former Sealaska treasurer and chief investment officer replaces Chris McNeil Jr., who just retired.

Mallott says the first half of this year is looking good.

“Of course, it’s purely a forecast. We still have significant financial investment assets, so a significant market fall could take us off that forecast. But right now the forecast is for profits,” Mallott says.

He says that will boost dividends. But Sealaska’s about 21,600 shareholders won’t see the increase until next year.

The Juneau-headquartered corporation still has debts. And Mallott says it’s a significant amount.

Sealaska Board Chairman Joe Nelson poses at corporate headquarters in Juneau. Nelson was chosen as the new chairman following Sealaska’s annual meeting June 28 near Seattle. ( Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

“We have $18 million in long-term debt outstanding, indicated as short-term because the maturity on that is this year. But all indications are that we’re going to renew that,” Mallott says.

That means the debt will be paid off later. But if it came due now, Mallott says the corporation could handle it.

Sealaska’s other new leader is Board Chairman Joe Nelson, who takes over the post from Albert Kookesh. Nelson has been on the panel since 2003 and has chaired its finance committee.

He wants the corporation to share more information.

“The priority on transparency for me is within our own ranks as employees. Because to be moving in the same direction, we all need to know which direction we’re pointed towards,” Nelson says.

Critics, including independent candidates in the recent board election, say shareholders have been denied basic information about business decisions, successes and losses.

The current practice is to release an annual report several months into the next fiscal year. That document groups operations by categories, such as natural resources, instead of showing how specific companies are faring.

Nelson says not all information will be released. But he expects some improvement.

“Maybe a better word is more frequent communications, just about where we’re at and not having to wait for the annual report to learn the news. Because by the time the annual report comes out, those financials are six months old,” he says.

One of Sealaska’s recovery plan priorities is to buy a new business. It’s sold off its profitable plastics partnership and a smaller company last year to help fund the acquisition.

Nelson says the corporation continues to look for something closer to home.

“We need to invest in areas that we care about. We need to invest in areas that we need to be passionate about and we want to be the best in,” he says.

“We’ve looked at the sustainable food industry. We’ve looked pretty in-depth into the fisheries landscape to see where we could fit,” adds CEO Mallott.

He says Sealaska could have up to $50 million to invest.

“We’ve looked into Southeast-based businesses that tie into any of the current natural resource-based business we have. And we’ve also looked into government contracting,” he says.

Some shareholders have tried to make Sealaska drop, or at least limit, the use of discretionary voting.

It’s a system that gives the board more power at election time. Opponents say it prevents change at the top. And they’ve put resolutions on the corporate ballot to force the issue.

Board chairman Nelson expects discretionary voting to continue.

“I’ve got no doubt that we’re going to look at it. But the shareholders have spoken, over and over again. And changes in the policy, what the shareholders are saying is … the current system is working,” he says.

Nelson and Mallott say they’ll continue pursing federal legislation opening up more Tongass National Forest land to logging. What’s been called the Sealaska Lands Bill has been stalled for years.

They’ll also continue Haa Aaní, a subsidiary investing in Southeast Alaska economic development. Some critics called for it to shut down until the corporation resumes profitable operations.

Porsche vs. pickup: Man accused of ramming

Thu, 2014-07-03 00:16

FAIRBANKS — An Alaska man faces felony charges after authorities say he launched his sports car into the side of a three-quarter-ton pickup truck during a fit of road rage in Fairbanks.

Police allege Luis Mesias Jara, 28, left tire marks on blacktop as he intentionally accelerated and backed into the pickup on the Steese Highway near the entrance to Fort Wainwright Army Post.

Jara was charged Monday with felony criminal mischief and reckless driving, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

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Lacking sea ice, seal pups bask on Nome beaches

Thu, 2014-07-03 00:16

NOME — An early disappearance of sea ice after a warm winter off Nome and other western Alaska communities has prompted an uptick in seal pups coming ashore.

More than 20 pups have been spotted on Nome beaches this year, KNOM-radio reported Tuesday. Other molting pups have been seen at Wales, Teller and Shaktoolik.

Residents expected more seals with the early departure of ice, and there’s been a “little flurry” with a few more pups than normal, said Gay Sheffield, marine advisory program agent in Nome for the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

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Local attends White House summit

Thu, 2014-07-03 00:15

Steven SueWing was scanning through his emails on June 10 like he normally does when one message stood out.

It read: “Congratulations, you’ve been invited to this summit for working families at the White House.”

With a contentious U.S. Senate race slated for the fall and Alaskans already being inundated with political emails, SueWing was skeptical.

“Like any person who receives a large amount of emails from political organizations, I thought, ‘Yeah, surely this is some kind of deal to get me to donate to whatever it is,’” he recalled.

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Ranger plucks dog from cliff in Kenai Fjords Nat'l Park

Thu, 2014-07-03 00:15

JUNEAU — A ranger at Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska plucked a dog off a cliff ledge near Exit Glacier.

Sadie was brought down in the backpack of ranger John Anderson on Monday.

“I could tell when he had lassoed the dog because the crowd kind of, yay, applauded,” chief ranger Mark Thompson, who helped in the rescue, said Tuesday.

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Concerns raised on direction of alcohol board

Thu, 2014-07-03 00:14

JUNEAU — A former director of the agency that regulates Alaska’s liquor industry said interference by the state commerce commissioner’s office limited her ability to effectively do her job.

read more

Parnell: Pipeline agreement signed

Wed, 2014-07-02 16:10

JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell said an agreement has been signed that allows for the next stage in pursuing a major liquefied natural gas project.

Parnell said environmental field work and pipeline engineering have begun as part of a phase in which the parties are expected to spend hundreds of millions of dollars.

There's still no guarantee the mega-project will be built, but Parnell called the agreement and work underway a mark of significant progress.

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Concern raised with direction of regulatory board

Wed, 2014-07-02 14:12

JUNEAU — A former director of the agency that regulates Alaska's liquor industry says interference by the state Commerce commissioner's office limited her ability to effectively do her job.

Shirley Cote raised concerns with the direction of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board in an opinion piece published in the Anchorage Daily News.

The board for years fell under the Department of Public Safety. In 2012, lawmakers moved it under the Commerce department, along with other industry regulatory boards. The intent was not to change the board's enforcement responsibilities.

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Lacking sea ice, seal pups bask on Nome beaches

Wed, 2014-07-02 14:05

NOME — An early disappearance of sea ice after a warm winter off Nome and other western Alaska communities has prompted an uptick in seal pups coming ashore.

More than 20 pups have been spotted on Nome beaches this year, KNOM-radio reported Tuesday. Other molting pups have been seen at Wales, Teller and Shaktoolik.

Residents expected more seals with the early departure of ice, and there's been a "little flurry" with a few more pups than normal, said Gay Sheffield, marine advisory program agent in Nome for the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

read more

Alaska man accused of ramming Porsche into pickup

Wed, 2014-07-02 14:04

FAIRBANKS — An Alaska man faces felony charges after authorities say he launched his sports car into the side of a three-quarter-ton pickup truck during a fit of road rage in Fairbanks.

Police allege Luis Mesias Jara, 28, left tire marks on blacktop as he intentionally accelerated and backed into the pickup on the Steese Highway near the entrance to Fort Wainwright Army Post.

Jara was charged Monday with felony criminal mischief and reckless driving, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

read more

Native speakers focus of voting rights trial

Wed, 2014-07-02 14:03

ANCHORAGE — Two Alaska election officials testifying in a Native voting rights trial say they work hard to help Native language speakers, and describe their primary tools as bilingual poll and outreach workers who know the people in their villages.

Becka Baker, election supervisor for the Nome region, testified Tuesday in Anchorage that election personnel do their best in recruiting bilingual outreach workers.

"We sometimes call everybody in a village trying to recruit election workers," she said.

read more

Fuel tank falls and spills oil under home

Wed, 2014-07-02 14:03

Approximately 150 gallons of heating oil spilled under a house in Petersburg after the tank stand fell over yesterday. The spill happened at about 11 a.m. two miles “out the road” at 124 King’s Row.

Volunteer fire fighters responded after the owner of the home called 911.

“She had heard a crash outside the house,” said Assistant Fire Chief, Dave Berg. “Turns out her oil tank foundation that it was set on had collapsed and it broke the valve off of the oil tank and it was spurting oil out onto the ground and flowing underneath her house.”

Berg says a fire officer was able to arrive on scene in just one minute. He stopped the spill by capping the opening on the tank with his hand. When other volunteers arrived they corked the hole and, along with the help of Petro Marine workers, placed absorbent material underneath the house.

The house is located near a creek so they also put material downstream of the home to prevent any drainage into the creek.

After the spill, there was about 35 gallons of heating fuel left in the 250 gallon tank. Responders don’t know exactly how much spilled but are guessing it was about 150 gallons.

The Alaska Department of Conservation will be monitoring the cleanup efforts. Cheyenne Sanchez, a program specialist with the D.E.C. says their first priority was the safety of the residents in the home because most of the fuel went under the house. Vapors from the spilled fuel could be hazardous to the residents’ health so Sanchez advised them to ventilate the home.

D.E. C. is also concerned about drainage into the nearby creek. Sanchez says spill cleanup near muskeg areas can be tricky because of the wet terrain. He has advised the home owners to dig a few intercept trenches downstream so that any remaining oil will collect there. He says a contractor will be doing the work. The cleanup efforts will probably take weeks but could take months.

City takes preliminary look at water filtration systems

Wed, 2014-07-02 13:58

The City of Ketchikan is seen from the water on a cloudy day.

It’s still preliminary, but the City of Ketchikan is looking into filtration as an option for treating its water. Filtration would solve some of the city’s recent water woes, but it wouldn’t necessarily mean the end to chemical disinfection.

http://www.krbd.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/02Filtration.mp3

Ketchikan’s city government has tried for many years – and still is trying – to avoid building an expensive filtration plant. But it’s getting harder, as federal regulations related to disinfection byproducts get more stringent.

In addition, the city’s raw source water – Ketchikan Lakes – has been testing above allowed levels for the bacteria coliform.

Coliform is destroyed by the city’s treatment process, but the Environmental Protection Agency still requires untreated water to test below a certain level in unfiltered systems. If the city can’t figure out how to get the levels down, it’s going to have to filter.

So, the City Council recently asked for a report on options for filtration systems. Water Division Manager John Kleinegger’s response has two options. One is a conventional filtration plant, which could cost an estimated $35 million. Then there is a relatively new technology – membrane microfiltration.

“Basically, from my standpoint, it’s a possibility and we would certainly want to study it,” Kleinegger said in a Wednesday interview.

Membrane microfiltration is not cheap, by any means. But, the basic equipment for such a system is not too bad – especially compared to the conventional filtration plant. Hard numbers aren’t yet available, but here’s rough idea:

“The cost just for the microfiltration equipment themselves is about a dollar per gallon, and we need to have the capability of providing at our peak season, about nine and a half million gallons per day,” Kleinegger said.

So, $9.5 million.

That doesn’t include the yet-unknown cost of a building to house the equipment, pumps to run it, or the potential cost related to all the stuff that the membrane takes out of the water.

Testing will be needed to figure that out.

“We would probably take raw water and run it through a membrane filtration cell, and see how much particulate matter we would create, and from that you could make an estimate that the particulate matter that you capture – could it be returned it to the sewer, or will we have to dispose of it in some other manner, which adds greatly to the cost,” Kleinegger said.

Incineration would be the likely manner of disposal, if the filtered matter can’t be added to the sewer system.

Another bonus to membrane microfiltration rather than conventional filtration is that it would take up less space – it could be built on property the city already owns, right next to the new chloramination water treatment facility.

Speaking of chloramination – which has been controversial – Kleinegger said that filtration won’t necessarily mean an end to that kind of disinfection.

“The water that we’re passing through the membrane filtration – is it going to remove the dissolved organics? The answer is probably not,” he said. “We have to use chlorine for the elimination of viruses. And if we have dissolved organics, and you add chlorine, well you’re going to make haloacetic acids.”

The city’s water has tested above allowed levels for EPA-regulated byproducts such as haloacetic acids for many years, which is why the city opted to build its new chloramine disinfection system. Chloramine is a mixture of chlorine and ammonia. That kind of system requires less chlorine, and chlorine is what creates the regulated byproducts when it comes in contact with organic material.

Kleinegger said there are additional chemicals involved in filtration systems. Coagulants, for example.

“They’re charged particles. You create them with a mixture of polymers and alum, and then that way you’re able to capture, hopefully, the things like dissolved organics,” he said.

And while some people are worried about the health effects of chloramine in the water, Kleinegger said the chemicals related to filtration have their own set of concerns.

“Alum contains aluminum. Aluminum is a suspect chemical in Alzheimer’s,” he said.

Kleinegger’s report is part of the Ketchikan City Council’s meeting packet for Thursday night. Also on the agenda is a motion to hire consultants CH2M-Hill to design an adjustment to the city’s new water disinfection system. While the city’s new system has reduced byproducts to below allowed levels, they are still too close to the threshold. And warmer weather means those levels likely will rise.

The proposed adjustment would add less chlorine at the start of the system. After the water has gone through the ultra-violet disinfection, the rest of the chlorine would be added, along with ammonia.

New Sealaska leaders promise growth, changes

Wed, 2014-07-02 13:12

New Sealaska CEO Anthony Mallott addresses shareholders June 28 at the regional Native corporation’s annual meeting near the SeaTac Airport. (Photo Courtesy Sealaska)

Sealaska’s new board chairman and CEO say the regional Native corporation is gearing up for growth.

They’re following a direction set by their predecessors. But they promise some changes.

http://www.krbd.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/02Change-L.mp3

Sealaska has been losing money.

The corporation’s businesses lost a total of $57 million last year. Investments, profitable ventures and resource earnings from other Native corporations shrunk that to $35 million.

Officials say the losses should be over.

“Overall, it’s going to be operational profit,” says Anthony Mallott, Sealaska’s new president and CEO.

He’s the one overseeing all business operations and responding to direction from the corporation’s board. The former Sealaska treasurer and chief investment officer replaces Chris McNeil Jr., who just retired.

Mallott says the first half of this year is looking good.

“Of course, it’s purely a forecast. We still have significant financial investment assets, so a significant market fall could take us off that forecast. But right now the forecast is for profits,” Mallott says.

He says that will boost dividends. But Sealaska’s about 21,600 shareholders won’t see the increase until next year.

The Juneau-headquartered corporation still has debts. And Mallott says it’s a significant amount.

Sealaska Board Chairman Joe Nelson poses at corporation headquarters in Juneau. Nelson was chosen as the new chairman following the corporation’s annual meeting June 28 near Seattle. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska)

“We have $18 million in long-term debt outstanding, indicated as short-term because the maturity on that is this year. But all indications are that we’re going to renew that,” Mallott says.

That means the debt will be paid off later. But if it came due now, Mallott says the corporation could handle it.

Sealaska’s other new leader is Board Chairman Joe Nelson, who takes over the post from Albert Kookesh. Nelson has been on the panel since 2003 and has chaired its Finance Committee.

He wants the corporation to share more information.

“The priority on transparency for me is within our own ranks as employees. Because to be moving in the same direction, we all need to know which direction we’re pointed towards,” Nelson says.

Critics, including independent candidates in the recent board election, say shareholders have been denied basic information about business decisions, successes and losses.

The current practice is to release an annual report several months into the next fiscal year. That document groups operations by categories, such as natural resources, instead of showing how specific companies are faring.

Nelson says not all information will be released. But he expects some improvement.

“Maybe a better word is more frequent communications, just about where we’re at and not having to wait for the annual report to learn the news. Because by the time the annual report comes out, those financials are six months old,” he says.

One of Sealaska’s recovery plan priorities is to buy a new business. It’s sold off its profitable plastics partnership and a smaller company last year to help fund the acquisition.

Nelson says the corporation continues to look for something closer to home.

“We need to invest in areas that we care about. We need to invest in areas that we need to be passionate about and we want to be the best in,” he says.

“We’ve looked at the sustainable food industry. We’ve looked pretty in-depth into the fisheries landscape to see where we could fit,” adds CEO Mallott.

He says Sealaska could have up to $50 million to invest.

“We’ve looked into Southeast-based businesses that tie into any of the current natural resource based business we have. And we’ve also looked into government contracting,” he says.

Some shareholders have tried to make Sealaska drop, or at least limit, the use of discretionary voting.

It’s a system that gives the board more power at election time. Opponents say it prevents change at the top. And they’ve put resolutions on the corporate ballot to force the issue.

Board chairman Nelson expects discretionary voting to continue.

“I’ve got no doubt that we’re going to look at it. But the shareholders have spoken, over and over again. And changes in the policy, what the shareholders are saying is … the current system is working,” he says.

Nelson and Mallott say they’ll continue pursing federal legislation opening up more Tongass National Forest land to logging. What’s been called the Sealaska Lands Bill has been stalled for years.

They’ll also continue Haa Aaní, a subsidiary investing in Southeast Alaska economic development. Some critics called for it to shut down until the corporation resumes profitable operations.

Culture camp teaches Native traditions

Wed, 2014-07-02 12:09

Avery Herrman-Sakamoto is 14 years old and, like most teenagers, loves music. But she says she isn’t listening to Kesha or Justin Bieber. “I listen to Joan Jett and all kinds of 80s music. I also listen to ACDC. That’s what my dad raised me on besides Tlingit music,” Herrman-Sakamoto said. She’s participating in PIA culture camp, a week-long workshop where kids make traditional native handcrafts.

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Today about a half-dozen kids are making headdresses. Herrman-Sakamoto sews buttons onto a red strip of felt. “I want to take my time with this. I want to be able to bring it to Celebration and show it off.” Celebration is an event that happens every 2 years in Juneau, showcasing Southeast Alaskan Native culture. Herrman-Sakamoto says she wants to learn everything she can about her Tlingit roots. “We have a back story and it’s kinda nice to learn it. And the stories are great life lessons because I’ve learned a lot from them. It just stuck with me and I’m still interested in it.”

Avery Herrman-Sakamoto (right) and Ronelle Beardslee (left) assist with making headdresses

But she says her classmates haven’t always shared her enthusiasm for learning about Native culture, like when she tried to teach them a few words in Tlingit. They would tease her, pronounce the words incorrectly. “It really bothered me, and that’s why I haven’t brought it up to them since. But yeah, even if it seems like a little thing, a joke it can still hurt someone. Actions and words hurt. Both.”

She says as the kids in her grade are maturing, it’s starting to turn around. They’re becoming more interested in cultural identity. “Every year they’re actually realizing this is really important to me. I wanna show it off. This is what I can make. This is what my heritage has made.”

Dara Karo helped organize the event. She isn’t of Tlingit, Haida, or Tsimshian ancestry so she she finds Native people to teach the workshops. She says the class is about instilling a respect for Native traditions. “And also kind of experiencing the fun of making something hands on. And working together, helping each other, and creating something,” Karo said.

PIA culture camp is funded through a Johnson O’Malley grant which goes toward tutoring native kids and cultural enrichment projects. It’s open to both Native and non-Native youth. For Herrman-Sakamoto, the camp is an opportunity to learn, make, and share. “It teaches you a lot about sewing, history, your heritage gets mentioned a lot. It inspires you as well. You carry on that information with you through life. It’s kind of life changing even though it seems small.”

The week-long camp is finished for the summer, but PIA hopes to plan more cultural enrichment projects throughout the year.

Free lunch and learn for better parenting

Wed, 2014-07-02 10:51

Sitkans Against Family Violence’s Julia Smith and Dr. Matt Hirschfeld, via phone from Anchorage, talk about an upcoming free lunch and learn event on July 8 at Harrigan Centennial Hall. From 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., SAFV and The All Alaska Pediatrics Partnership offer presentation as part of a series of community seminars. Lunch will be provided.

According to the Partnership, “Matt Hirschfeld, M.D., PH.D., Medical Director of Maternal Child Health at Alaska Native Medical Center, will speak about and lead a discussion on implementing Triple P in Sitka. The Triple P – Positive Parenting Program is one of the most effective evidence-based parenting programs in the world, backed up by more than 30 years of ongoing research. Triple P gives parents simple and practical strategies to help them confidently manage their children’s behavior, prevent problems developing and build strong, healthy relationships. Triple P is currently used in 25 countries and has been shown to work across cultures, socio-economic groups and in all kinds of family structures.”

http://www.kcaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/160702_interview.mp3

Suspected arson fire on Twin Creek Road

Wed, 2014-07-02 09:19

A suspected arson fire destroyed an SUV and a container with logging materials Monday night. The Petersburg Volunteer Fire Department received a call from a passerby who reported smoke near Twin Creek Road. David Berg, the assistant fire chief, said they arrived on the scene around 11pm.

“We set to work extinguishing the fire on the container with the water that we had. We sent the work truck up to look at the car. The car was almost out at that point. The tires were burned off at the rims and there was still a little rubber burning underneath the vehicle,” Berg said.

No one was in the SUV when the fire department arrived, leading investigators to suspect foul play. “The vehicle appears to have to been, perhaps, stolen from somewhere on the island. And then moved to this location and started a fire. The container, there was nothing in it that would have started a fire, so we’re looking at arson in both instances,” Berg said.

The circumstances surrounding the fire are still under police investigation.

Wellness Coalition

Wed, 2014-07-02 09:15

Diane Gubatayao and Rick Pickrell of the Ketchikan Wellness Coalition speak about an upcoming community cafe discussion on domestic violence in Ketchikan, which will focus on finding solutions for the community. The event is Wednesday, July 16 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Ketchikan Public Library.

http://www.krbd.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Wellness0702.mp3

Crossroads books $20M in ads for 6 Senate races

Wed, 2014-07-02 00:07

WASHINGTON — High-dollar donors’ favorite political machine on Tuesday began booking another $20 million in television air time for an autumn advertising blitz aimed at tipping six Senate seats into Republican hands.

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