Political News

Alaska editorials

Posted October 17

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

Oct. 15, 2016

Ketchikan Daily News: True measure

Like voters, judges make multiple decisions.

The Nov. 8 election will give Alaska's voters the opportunity to endorse its judiciary — at least those listed on the ballot.

This is an important and necessary part of the judicial system. For most judges, it is routine. For others, it can be tense.

Crafters of the Alaska Constitution did a wonderful job in designing the judicial branch of government. Other states, when examining and considering changes to their systems, often look to Alaska as an outstanding example.

Many of those other states hold elections for judges similar to filling local, legislative, congressional and presidential offices. Just imagine if Alaska's judges had to raise money to run a campaign in order to become a judge. At an election's end, judges would be beholden to donors.

That's not the case in Alaska. Here, attorneys interested in becoming judges apply through the Alaska Judicial Council, which is chaired by the Alaska Supreme Court chief justice and made up of three lawyers selected by the Alaska Bar Association and three non-attorney members chosen by the governor. These members evaluate applications and interview the candidates, recommending the most qualified to the governor, who makes the final selection.

The names of those selected for various judicial openings appear on the ballot in the state's most immediate election, giving the public a second opportunity to support or oppose them. Their first opportunity is during the interview process. And, again, the judges' names appear on the ballot for public response periodically throughout their careers.

It's about the most apolitical system available. It also holds judges accountable to the public, and prevents the public from unduly influencing judicial rulings.

Ketchikan-area voters will see the names of seven judicial candidates on the ballot — Supreme Court justices Joel Bolger and Peter Maassen, Court of Appeals Judge Marjorie Allard, First Judicial District Superior Court judges David George of Sitka, Philip Pallenberg of Juneau and Trevor Stephens of Ketchikan, and First Judicial District Court Judge Tom Nave of Juneau.

The Judicial Council, as directed by the state Constitution, evaluated all of the justices and judges on Ketchikan's ballot, as well as those on ballots throughout the state. The council recommended that all be retained, determining they possess the qualities believed to be necessary for judicial duties — integrity, diligence, impartiality, fairness, temperament and legal ability. Plus, they manage their caseloads and do well in performing their duties both in and out of the courtroom, according to the council.

That's the hoped-for conclusion. After all, even before taking the bench, the judges undergo a thorough vetting.

By the time they reach the Supreme Court, if that's their destiny, they've been through numerous reviews.

It's the justices who deal with some of the state's most publicly divisive issues, such as abortion and parental consent.

This is a hot topic for Alaska Family Action, which in 2010 supported a ballot measure endorsed by 90,000 Alaska voters to give parents the right to be involved in abortion decisions for their under-age daughters. The Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional.

As a result, Family Action is lobbying against retention of the Supreme Court's justices on this year's statewide ballot — Bolger and Maassen.

Whether voters agree, as thousands did, with the result of the ballot measure, or with the justices' ruling, the point in voting to retain judges shouldn't be about a single issue of a special interest group.

First, voters might lose a justice who would agree with them on 99 percent of other issues or who might only agree with them on the issue in question.

Second, by the time judges becomes justices, they are Alaska's leading legal experts. That's needed for all cases rising to the highest court in the state.

In conclusion, Alaska's justices and judges on the ballot are the best the state has to offer Alaskans. Not liking one of their decisions is not akin to a poor judicial performance.

When voters look at how they carry out their duties, judgment should be of the whole package. That's the true measure of a justice or judge.


Oct. 15, 2016

Peninsula Clarion: Putting principles into policy

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly this week passed a resolution that puts into policy guidelines for how members of the public may be selected to give invocations before assembly meetings.

At first blush, the policy appears to be flirting with government approval of religion. However, upon closer reading, the process established in the policy upholds the stated intention to "acknowledge and express the assembly's respect for the diversity of religious denominations and faiths represented and practiced among the residents of the borough."

For borough residents who would like to see the invocation removed from the agenda altogether, this measure obviously falls short.

However, there are some important points included in the policy to address those concerns — most significantly, a directive that "No member or employee of the assembly will direct the public to stand, bow, or in any way participate in the prayers." It also stipulates that the assembly agenda include a disclaimer that "Any invocation that may be offered at the beginning of the assembly meeting shall be a voluntary offering of a private person to and for the benefit of the assembly. No member of the community is required to attend or participate in the invocation."

As for concerns to the guidelines for who can give an invocation — a member of a religious association with an "established presence in the Kenai Peninsula Borough" — we think the intent of the policy is to interpret that in the broadest sense possible. If a borough resident regularly follows the tenets of a particular religious association, wouldn't that religion then have an established presence — regardless of whether those tenets are practiced in a traditional church?

Likewise, the use of Internal Revenue Service 501(c)(3) eligibility criteria to determine the authenticity of a religious association should a question arise is also very broad. The IRS, for constitutional reasons, has a deliberately vague definition of religion; the assembly policy is meant to prevent what are referred to as action organizations — such as political action committees — from giving an invocation. In other words, the message is intended to be spiritual, not political.

According to the policy, those who disagree with decisions on who is deemed eligible are able to bring their complaint in front of the assembly for a public hearing.

Perhaps the most important point, the policy prevents the assembly from putting any limitations on the content of an invocation, other than a request "that no invocation shall proselytize or advance any faith, or disparage the religious faith or non-religious views of others."

Members of the assembly and clerk's office staff also are prevented from engaging in prior review of the content of an invocation.

That part of the policy effectively prevents assembly members from insisting that an invocation be given — or not given — by members of a certain faith.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the practice of an opening prayer for legislative bodies to be constitutional. In one of the cases cited in the assembly's resolution, Town of Greece v. Galloway, the court found that "legislative prayer lends gravity to the public business, reminds lawmakers to transcend petty differences in pursuit of a higher purpose, and express a common aspiration to a just and peaceful society."

We agree with that sentiment. We think the measure enacted by the assembly does a good job of putting those principles into policy, and we hope the assembly will do its part to ensure the policy is applied according to its stated intention, "in a way that is all-inclusive of every diverse religious association serving residents of the Kenai Peninsula Borough."


Oct. 14, 2016

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: School name change a charged topic: Despite outcry, renaming appropriate for Badger Road School

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner editorial Oct 14, 2016 (16

A public meeting this week on the proposed renaming of Badger Road School brought attention to the fact that not everyone agrees the school's current name is improper. Many who attended the Oct. 10 meeting at the school spoke disparagingly of school board member Michael O'Brien's move to change the name so that it doesn't indirectly honor a man convicted of raping a 10-year-old girl in Fairbanks' early days. While the resistance to the name change isn't without merit, in the end, this is an argument about a school bearing the name of man who molested a child who was of an age to attend school there. The name should be changed.

The facts of the school's name and its namesake are fairly clear: Harry Badger, a prominent strawberry farmer in Fairbanks a century ago, voluntarily admitted to raping a 10-year-old girl. His extremely lenient sentence — six months in prison — caused substantial outrage, but over time, memories faded enough that he not only regained prominent stature in the community but also was invited to schools to talk about life in the community shortly after its founding. Decades later, a new school off Bradway Road was named after Badger Road, avoiding an explicit connection with the man himself but resulting in an elementary school bearing his name.

The principle argument made by opponents of the school's renaming is that regardless of its name, Badger Road School has little connection to Harry Badger. Its name is representative of the Badger Road community, they said at the meeting. What's more, they have said, changing the name at this point would be an attempt to change history. Some said the name shouldn't be changed if residents in the area are OK with it, and that Mr. O'Brien was presumptuous to advocate for changing the name of a school far from his own neighborhood.

It's true that the school isn't named explicitly to honor Harry Badger. It's also true that over time, people's life experiences can make an argument about changing a place's name somehow about more than just the name itself.

It's not surprising that Badger Road area residents feel like they're having the rug pulled out from under them, or that the move to change the school's moniker feels somehow like an attack on a school many of them attended, worked at or whose children were students there. It's natural to be defensive about moves to alter things we love or about which we have fond memories, the events of the distant past notwithstanding.

But in the end, none of this overrides a central truth: Badger Road School is named, indirectly, after a man who raped a child. There can be no realistic comparison to E.T. Barnette, who was a corrupt banker, or Austin E. "Cap" Lathrop, who was a business mogul with sharp elbows who dropped out of school. When it comes to a school's name, none of this compares to Badger's crime. Removing his name from the school isn't a rebuke to the community or an attempt to whitewash history. It's a statement that no one who has committed such acts should be associated, even indirectly, with an elementary school. Mr. O'Brien, as an elected member of the school board, is well within his rights to point this out.

With that said, the school's community should be respected as much as possible with regard to choosing a new name. Dermot Cole, a former News-Miner columnist, has put forth the name of Jo Anne Wold, a local journalist, author and historian who was paralyzed by polio but still had a successful and inspiring career writing in Fairbanks. Ms. Wold would be a suitable candidate, and there are surely also others who would be suitable under the school district's criteria for naming schools. Whatever the choice, the wishes of area residents should be a strong consideration.

The debate over Badger Road School's renaming shouldn't stray from the fact that sending elementary students to a school bearing the name of a pedophile is wrong. We can and should address it.


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