Monthly Archives: January 2015

Something to Think About During a Committee Meeting

I used to enjoy tracking where the votes and money were represented when committees met on high-profile bills. It was fun to see how much money committee members got in contributions from industries showing interest in the subjects up for discussion.

I noticed a variation of that with the Marijuana bill (SB30) that was up Monday and will be back tomorrow (Wednesday) in a meeting of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.

Money would be hard to track here, but it’s interesting to see how the votes fell for the committee members. If people are truly listening to the voters, they will closely follow the structure of the initiative that passed in November.

Of the committee members, five of the seven House members were elected from districts where the proposition passed. Four of the five Senators are in the same position. To do anything negative on such a volatile and tight subject would risk the member’s future in the lawmaking business.

Here are the votes for Prop 2:

House      For    Against      Senate            For    Against

LeDoux      2225   1860            McGuire              7508    7397

Keller         3866   3737            Coghill                 8252     6406

Millett       3621     3626           Costello              8191       7686

Lynn         3661      4479            Micciche            7387       8339

Foster       3293      2490           Wielechowski    5769       4890

Gruenberg 3544   3030                                        37107   34618

Claman     4391   3699

24607 22921

This is no more than something to make watching a committee a little more interesting. Seeing people who are following the will of their voters by voting against their own preferences is good democracy. Of course, this presumes that no one would ever try to water down the proposition that voters passed.


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Free College Already Works

In his State of the Union address last week, President Obama introduced a plan that would provide two free years of education at Community Colleges. Using systems already working in Chicago and the State of Tennessee as examples of success, his plan proposes paying three-quarters of the cost of educating someone who maintains a 2.5 GPA and makes progress toward completing the program. Basically, colleges have to offer the programs, and be involved in arrangements for the other 25% of the cost.

In his speech the President said that forty percent of U.S. students choose community colleges.

“By the end of this decade two of three jobs will require some higher education. And yet we live in a country where too many bright, striving Americans are priced out of the education they need. It’s not fair to them, and it’s sure not smart for our future”

He described the plan as providing a debt-free way for someone to become ready for the new economy in fields such as coding, nursing and robotics.

The idea isn’t new. And we don’t have to wait for the federal or state governments to do anything to make it work.   Here’s a piece I saw more than a year ago on the effects that free higher education made on a city in Michigan. The Kalamazoo Promise offers 100% of the cost of education to 100% of the graduates of the school system there.

As the TV story says, the idea is spreading – it mentions Pittsburgh, which has made its own Pittsburgh Promise. It has also spread throughout Michigan to other colleges.

It works for the cities, the colleges,  the local businesses and the people.

The programs don’t pass along government grants, so there’s no need for politicians to get their fingers on it. There’s no political influence since all school graduates qualify.  Instead, it’s about money and workforce development – in most places, that’s a private sector duty. It’s about getting a workers who can go beyond the occupations available to those who have less education, smaller dreams, or fewer opportunities. It’s good for the town to be known as a place where people are ready for better lives. It’s good to be able to bring in new businesses looking for people to work for them. It’s good for the people who will actually have those newly available jobs .

The President’s approach has drawn criticism from the usual sources, of course. However, it’s worth asking those critics whether they would prefer to search for employees from a local, educated community or to import enough job-qualified people who can run their business. The answer would indicate the quality of the business as well as the position of that town on a colonial scale.

It would be interesting to see the results of just asking businesses if they would take part in such a program — outside of the government.


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Solid As the Earth Beneath Your Feet

— This is not meant to alarm anyone, but please keep this photo in mind. It was taken by the Washington National Guard last year and shows the mudslide that hit Oso, Washington, in March 2014. The earth simply collapsed over a width of one mile, and forty three people died that Saturday morning. For comparison, the slide was more than double the width of the Mendenhall Glacier.


Afterwards, a Washington state commission made several recommendations to increase public awareness and warnings of landslide risk, to discourage building in potential landslide zones, and to do more surveys to identify where those risks are located. Here’s a summary.

KUOW reported on the recommendations:

A KUOW/Earthfix investigation in September found that most Washington counties routinely allow homes to be built 50 feet or less from known landslide zones, although landslides often travel hundreds of feet. The extremely large Oso slide traveled more than 3,000 feet from the base of the well-known landslide slope along the North Fork Stillaguamish River.

With that in mind, consider the weather reports from just one day in Southeast Alaska. And especially notice the dates of the records that are falling.

…Record daily maximum temperatures on Thursday…

Location new record old record year set
Skagway Airport 49 tied 49 2014
Haines Airport 48 46 2014
Juneau Airport 48 47 2014
wfo Juneau 50 48 2014

…Record daily high minimum temperatures on Thursday…

Location new record old record year set
wso Yakutat 42 41 2014
Haines Airport 44 37 1985
Juneau Airport 44 38 2001
wfo Juneau 43 37 2001
Petersburg Airport 45 tied 45 2014
Klawock Airport 46 tied 46 2014
Ketchikan Airport 47 45 2014
wso Annette 47 44 1987

Rainfall records are breaking all over Southeast this month, too, so I won’t try to keep up with the numbers. Records in that category are just like the temperatures. This year, communities are breaking records from last year. And we don’t see an immediate break on the way.

Special Statement

Statement as of 3:33 PM AKST on January 23, 2015

The active weather pattern will continue through Saturday. The next storm system is projected to impact northern and central Panhandle with heavy rain and windy conditions. 2 to 3 inches are expected through Saturday night…with locally higher amounts. Wind gusts of 40 mph or higher are expected.

Impacts – expect small streams to rise and approach bank full Friday night. Windy conditions may interrupt power and uproot trees. Mudslides and landslides are likely.

Please stay tuned to your favorite weather information sources for updates on the progress of the heavy rain and wind.


One conclusion is that we are beginning to see a trend in Alaska. Temperatures and rainfall are increasing every year. From national statistics that trend has grown for more than a decade and by every outlook I have seen, it will continue. I have my ideas on what’s causing it, you have yours. I don’t care about passing the buck, I want solutions.

We, as a society, need to look at how we are dealing with it. How about local governments – or volunteers — doing some surveys to give a hint at where there are risks. I know of a small landslide some years back uphill from my house, another two closer to the Gastineau Channel. I bet there are others just in Juneau. I bought insurance that should protect the investment in my house. I sleep with my boots by the bed.

If I were a leader, I would encourage some organization to come up with preparing for a disaster. There are lessons from Oso, Washington, that we need to take the time to learn.


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