Something weird is happening inside the offices of representatives Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (D-Sitka) and Zack Fields (D-Anchorage), and no one, so far, has a good idea where it’s coming from.
On April 1, Gov. Mike Dunleavy tweeted, “Where is the AK House on the crime bills and constitutional amendments? Nothing more important to all Alaskans than the crime bills and the constitutional amendments. Why aren’t these key pieces of legislation moving ? The people are watching. Elections matter.”
Dunleavy was referencing a package of crime reform bills and three proposed constitutional amendments; the latter dealing with the Permanent Fund Dividend, a spending cap, and a requirement that any future changes in taxation be approved by a vote of the people.
The crime bills are currently awaiting action in Senate Finance.
The proposed amendments are winding their way through both chambers of the legislature. In the Senate, all three have joined the crime bills in Senate Finance after clearing both the Judiciary and State Affairs committees.
Their companion bills — House Joint Resolutions 5, 6, and 7 — are in the House State Affairs Committee.
Beginning at roughly the same time as the April 1 tweet, calls started coming in to Fields’s and Kreiss-Tomkins’s offices.
A staffer from Fields’s office, who spoke to AKLedger on condition of anonymity, said about 20 calls overall trickled in at a pace of one or two per hour over the next few days. The callers had been contacted by a woman identifying herself as an employee in the governor’s office who urged them to tell members of the House State Affairs committee to hold hearings on the constitutional amendments. They were then held on the line while she transferred the call — which she initiated — to the legislative offices.
“They would be called from someone who said they worked for the office of the governor, they got a quick sales pitch, and then they were transferred to our office line,” Fields’s staffer said. “And it was a lot of senior citizens. What was very notable was they weren’t supportive of the governor’s position on PFDs. They were confused. They weren’t necessarily people who supported the governor. A lot of them were in support of the House budget as long as it meant no severe budget cuts.”
About a third of the callers barely knew what the amendments were addressing or what they were supposed to talk about once someone in the legislators’ offices picked up.
“Whatever list they’ve been calling from is not targeted at all,” Fields’s staffer added. “They were being transferred directly.”
Matt Shuckerow, Dunleavy’s press secretary, did not respond to inquiry.
The calls petered out after a few days, but picked up again this week. This time, the referrals came from a named source: Americans for Prosperity-Alaska, the state chapter of the libertarian/conservative public advocacy group created and funded by the Koch brothers.
AFP is one of the most influential conservative groups in the United States – one of 15 groups that accounted for a full three-quarters of all anonymous money dumped into political campaigns since the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United (2010).
Dunleavy partnered with AFP in March when he traveled the state to promote his proposed budget. One of the requirements to gain entry to the “roadshow” events was registration with AFP.
The focus of the new round of calls has, again, centered around urging the House State Affairs Committee to hold hearings on Dunleavy’s proposed constitutional amendments. This time, none of the callers were transferred directly and appear to be responding to text messages.
One reader sent an example:
The number is a Dallas, Texas area code. When dialed Thursday evening, it was no longer a working number.
Its existence in the first place is an interesting juxtaposition with Dunleavy’s dismissal of protests outside of his roadshow events, where he dismissed the presence of thousands of people across the state as “folks that are associated with special interests, that that’s their job, they’re going to tell you what their group wants.”
“The text messages are new. Again, they’re very confused,” Fields’s staffer told AKLedger.“It’s not a phone bank, where you’d think you’d have five or six people on the other end. They’re literally just coming in ones and twos at most. We might get five an hour and then they’re done for the day. It doesn’t seem to be targeted or planned very well.”
In other words, the calls have been conspicuously sporadic and not congruous with public comment offered on controversial topics in previous years.
The House State Affairs Committee has also been inundated by over 300 voicemail-via-email messages this week; .mp3 files embedded in emails with attached partial transcriptions. Lawmakers are still trying to figure out how to incorporate those into the public record.
But AFP’s scattershot approach to data collecting has been a double-edged sword, just as the calls that claimed to be coming from within the governor’s office.
“I just started laughing, because we have had people call and say, ‘You know, I got this call and I told them I opposed these amendments and I will call Rep. Kreiss-Tomkins and tell him to keep up the good work,’” Fields’s staffer said. “So, they are calling people who are completely opposed to the governor’s agenda and urging them to call into us. We’ve had folks who aren’t even our constituents calling in and then asking us to oppose the amendments.”
“Most of these voicemails I’m getting are not from my district. If you all would like 150 voicemails from people from Washington and California, I’m sure there are Outside groups that can arrange that. So, I hope this message is taken back to the governor’s office,” Kreiss-Tomkins said before he closed out the House State Affairs hearing on HJR7. “You also might be interested to know a good portion of them – perhaps half of them – are asking for an income tax. So, whatever is at work is not very effective, so I hope that message is delivered.”