There will be a book signing with author Nick Jans at the Haines Public Library on Tuesday, July...
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Alaska and Yukon Headlines
There is an increasing effort in Alaska to engage youth in hands-on scientific activities. One group of teens is collecting data way up in Barrow. Alford Bankston, Kori Itta-Tomas, Kara Smith, and Esther Taalak are interns with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service where they explore relationships among lemmings and endangered species such as spectacled eiders.
Biologists have been studying threatened eiders on the North Slope for decades without directly involving the community of Barrow. The internship project, which started about 15 years ago, connects local students with field biologists. This allows a unique exchange of knowledge where students get an introduction to field research and biologists gain local environmental and traditional knowledge from the students.
In the field, Alford, Kori, Kara, and Esther hike the tundra to set up live traps and assist with daily trap checks. They are directly involved in data collection when a lemming is found in a trap. After the season is over the interns engage in community outreach presentations about their summer experiences, giving them an opportunity to tell their peers, parents and other community members of research projects occurring around their hometown.
Read more about this year’s amazing Spirit of Youth nominees at www.spiritofyouth.org.
WEIO is here! Running until Saturday evening at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks, the 53rd World Eskimo-Indian Olympics offers thrills, chills and plenty of dancing and arts and crafts.July 17, 2014
The minority leader of the State House has agreed to pay a major fine for mismanaging campaign funds.
Rep. Chris Tuck, an Anchorage Democrat, acknowledged that he mixed up his campaign contributions with his personal savings and failed to make accurate and timely disclosures.
The consent agreement signed by Tuck and the Alaska Public Offices Commission describes a rat’s nest of accounting problems. It starts with a 2012 fundraiser at the Firetap restaurant that Tuck didn’t report as a contribution. That kicked off a process where APOC found that Tuck managed his campaign money as a section of his personal banking account. Over the past two election cycles, more than $16,000 “flowed” through his personal account, and more than $11,000 in campaign money had been used for personal expenditures.
According to the report, there were “so many errors that it is beyond the expertise of APOC staff” to “untangle” them.
Paralegal Delight Mells told the commission as much at their Wednesday meeting.
“Given the complexity of the issues compounded by the banking errors that resulted in the use of at least three different bank accounts, and the extensive time that has already been dedicated, the parties believe that this consent agreement is the most efficient means to resolving the violations and moving forward,” said Mells.
While the maximum penalty for the violations exceeded $700,000, the Commission agreed to a fine of $14,000 in an effort to match the proportionate harm to the public. Tuck is also required to forfeit $6,000 of leftover campaign funds and to correct his old financial disclosure reports. The Commission also acknowledged that Tuck took “great efforts” to deal with the reporting problems once they were brought to light.
Tuck says the errors were unintentional – that they were the result of sloppy accounting and not anything deliberate. For example, he says campaign funds went toward personal expenditures because he mixed up his debit cards, and that he tried to repay that money immediately.
Tuck wishes he’d been more careful.
“There was some mistakes there that, yes, they did happen,” says Tuck. “And I regret that they happened. I understand what I did. I’m sorry for making those mistakes.”
But Tuck also thinks that a $14,000 fine is too high. He says he alerted APOC to some of the errors mentioned in the consent agreement, and that the public wouldn’t be aware of them if he hadn’t been cooperative. He’s concerned that a fine of this size might prevent candidates from self-reporting if they bungle their records, and that it could potentially discourage people from running for public office.
Tuck says he would have taken the case to court, if he had the time and money.
“This is one of the toughest things I have ever gone through,” says Tuck. “I’ve gone through divorce and a custody battle, and this is right up there with that.”
Tuck is running for a fourth term in the State Legislature, and his race is uncontested. He says from here on out, he’ll have an accountant manage his books.
Secretary of State John Kerry today named former Coast Guard commandant Robert J. Papp Jr. as special representative to the Arctic. Kerry created the new position to elevate Arctic issues in America’s foreign policy and national security strategy as the U.S. prepares to assume the chair of the Arctic Council.
Papp was head of the Coast Guard from 2010 until he retired in May. Both Alaska senators praised the appointment and said Papp has substantial experience in the region. Papp says he’s seen the changing Arctic first-hand. When he was new to the service, in July 1976, he was sent in a helicopter to look for a way to get a Coast Guard cutter from Nome to the North Slope.
“I was amazed that, first of all, we didn’t find any leads in the ice going through the Bering Strait,” he said in a 2012 address. “And as we landed in Kotzebue, as I looked out across the water, all I could see was ice. Ice as far as I could see.”
Fast-forward three decades. As commandant, he decided to go back to Kotzebue.
“As we were landing, I looked out as far as I could see, and I saw no ice,” Papp said. “Same time of the year, 34 years later, no ice.”
Kerry also announced the appointment of former Alaska Lt. Governor Fran Ulmer as Special Advisor on Arctic Science and Policy. Ulmer says it will be in addition to her current post, as chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission.
“But this role is a slight expansion of that in that it will focus on some of the broader Arctic Policy issues that are specific to the 2015-2017 Arctic Council chair rotation,” Ulmer says.
Ulmer says it’s important for Alaskans to have an opportunity to engage with the Arctic Council.
“If you look at what has been done recently (on the Council) in terms of search and rescue, and oil spill response and research in ocean acidification and the health of marine mammals, these things are important regionally, nationally, locally, globally,” she says.
Secretary Kerry says Papp plans to visit Alaska soon to consult with policymakers there.
A U.S. Senate bill requiring companies to cover birth control in employee healthcare plans failed a procedural vote today . Both Alaska senators voted for the bill, aimed at undoing the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case. Sen. Lisa Murkowski was one of only three Republicans to vote for the measure, dubbed the “Not My Boss’s Business Act.” It fell four votes short of the 60 needed to proceed.
The legislation would’ve restored a provision of the Affordable Care Act that requires companies to provide workers with coverage for all legal forms of contraception. In the Hobby Lobby decision, the court allowed closely held companies to refuse birth control coverage on religious grounds.
The case is seen as pitting a woman’s access to contraception against her bosses’ religious freedom. Murkowski chose the other side of the issue in 2012, when she voted for an amendment to allow any employer with moral objections to opt out of the requirement to cover birth control. A few days later, Murkowski told Anchorage Daily News columnist Julia O’Malley she regretted that vote and felt she’d let down people who’d believed in her.
Murkowski issued a written statement today saying her vote is consistent with her long-held belief that women should have access to affordable birth control. She says she’s still seeking to repeal the Affordable Care Act but doesn’t think access to healthcare services should be restricted in the meantime.
The bill never stood much chance of passing, but Democrats hope the issue will help rally their base to the polls in November.