Here is a sampling of Alaska editorials:
July 10, 2018
Ketchikan Daily News: Being here
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue visited Prince of Wales Island this past week, spending part of Thursday looking at old- and young-growth timber stands on Tongass National Forest land and talking with forest-product mill operators and other national forest stakeholders.
Perdue’s visit, which came at the invitation of Sen. Lisa Murkowski and was part of his multi-state, multi-trip “Back to Our Roots” tour of U.S. areas that are affected by U.S Department of Agriculture policy, should be appreciated by Alaskans who have interest in the Tongass National Forest.
Perdue’s official time on POW was short — just a few hours. But that’s enough to gain a fuller understanding of the place.
As Perdue said after his tour that day: “You can show me the maps and you can tell me all about it, but there’s nothing like being here.”
It’s important to all U.S. citizens and especially Southeast Alaskans that Perdue have some understanding about the region in general and the Tongass National Forest in particular. The agriculture secretary oversees the federal department that contains the U.S. Forest Service, which directly manages the 17-million acre Tongass. The national forest is a major factor in nearly every aspect of the Southeast Alaska economy. Forest managers need great understanding to produce policies that provide for sustainable multiple uses of Tongass land. Having a department secretary who has seen at least a portion of the Tongass, and talked with people who live and work here, can benefit that process.
So, we’re pleased that Perdue came up for a visit. He seemed actively engaged in the day’s events. We hope that what he saw and heard will help produce solid policies that enable economic growth and maintain the environmental health of the Tongass National Forest.
July 8, 2018
Anchorage Daily News: Supreme Court’s union decision will force innovation
Before announcing his retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy cast the tie-breaking vote in one final, consequential case. Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, known colloquially as the Janus case, debated the constitutionality of mandating public sector employees to pay union dues or “agency fees” for bargaining representation and political advocacy. On June 27, the court ruled in a 5-4 vote that such a mandate is unconstitutional.
The Janus decision is a major one, upending four decades of precedent on union law. Now, public sector employee participation in unions — whether paying full dues or “agency fees” meant to cover the cost of bargaining but not political advocacy — will be not only voluntary but opt-in. That is, employees will have to proactively opt to join the union if they wish to contribute to it. The decision is good law. Compulsory union membership, including the required financial contributions, violate basic principles of liberty and self-determination. Workers shouldn’t be forced to support political causes or belong to groups that they disagree with.
There’s no question that this decision is a blow to the power of public sector unions. Some percentage of public employees, whether because they feel poorly represented by the union, because they disagree with its political advocacy or simply because they don’t want the money deducted from their paychecks, will surely choose not to remain members. With less money and fewer members, unions’ ability to engage in advocacy will be curtailed.
Alaska will be one of the states most affected by the Janus decision. Our state has the second-most state and municipal employees per capita — 392 out of every 10,000 residents. Nearly half are teachers — almost 20,000 of the state’s 54,435 public sector employees as of 2014, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
But even for the unions themselves, there’s little point in bemoaning the decision. The makeup of the court is unlikely to shift in a way that would make its justices more amenable to a reversal; if anything, the court is likely to become more conservative upon the confirmation of Justice Kennedy’s replacement.
With that in mind, the more beneficial tack for unions to take in the wake of the decision is to convince their members that keeping their representation is worthwhile. It would be foolish to believe that every current public sector employee will remain a union member. Some aren’t apt to support the unions’ political advocacy; others may not be convinced of the value of union representation in negotiations. But people are rational when their own livelihoods are on the line; if unions demonstrate their value by negotiating well for their members, employees — a sizeable majority, at least — will reward that diligence and pay for that service. In effect, public sector employees will now be customers of unions, with a choice in whether or not to subscribe. Having to convince members of the organization’s worth will keep union leadership agile and responsive to member concerns, and it will discourage complacency.
Public sector union leaders across the state appear to understand this. “We as a union will be stronger because the members will realize how important we are and the union leadership will no longer take membership for granted,” said Abel Bult-Ito of United Academics, a union representing about 1,200 University of Alaska employees, in an interview with Juneau radio station KTOO. Gov. Bill Walker said he opposed the decision and said it created an obstacle for public-sector employees speaking with a unified voice. “But,” the governor said in a statement released after the decision, “I am confident that public employee unions will remain the backbone of our state for the foreseeable future.”
The Janus decision is an important, positive landmark in the push-pull of U.S. labor relations. It won’t mean the death of public sector unions. And that will be especially true if those unions can convince members of their value. If greater responsiveness to workers’ concerns is the legacy of the Janus decision, it’s hard to see that as a negative.
July 8, 2018
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Flawed opinion on lands withdrawn
A recent decision from the solicitor general’s office of the U.S. Department of the Interior to withdraw an Obama-era action regarding Alaska Natives placing lands into federal trust is a good step toward reaffirming Alaska sovereignty.
Allowing lands from federally recognized tribes — 229 are in Alaska — to be placed into federal trust raises too many concerns, chief among them that it basically establishing sovereign entities within, but not controlled by, the sovereign state of Alaska. When the federal government accepts land into trust, it holds the title to the property; the land becomes exempt from taxation, and the tribes make the decisions on how to govern it and develop it.
It was in the final week of the Obama administration that the Interior Department’s then-solicitor general, Hilary C. Tompkins, announced that a 1936 action by Congress to extend a provision of the Indian Reorganization Act to Alaska “provides specific authority for the secretary (of Interior) to take Alaska lands into trust.” Ms. Tompkins also determined that the authority was not limited by a U.S. Supreme Court decision on the subject and that neither the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 nor the Federal Land Policy and Management Act “expressly or impliedly repeal that authority.”
Now, however, President Donald Trump’s principal deputy solicitor general in the department, Daniel H. Jorjani, has withdrawn that opinion, stating he was doing so as part of the administration’s wider regulatory review process. But Mr. Jorjani also wrote in his June 29 opinion that the previous administration’s position “omits discussion of important statutory developments, resulting in an incomplete analysis of the secretary’s authority to acquire land in trust in Alaska.”
Mr. Jorjani, after citing numerous flaws in the previous administration’s position, concluded his five-page memorandum by stating that a failure to discuss possible implications of legislation approved after ANCSA’s adoption and a failure to address the lower court’s finding regarding the applicability of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 to Alaska Native lands rendered the previous analysis about the lands into trust issue for Alaska “incomplete and unbalanced.”
It’s highly encouraging to see that previous and faulty opinion withdrawn.
It is also a welcome response to Gov. Bill Walker’s disappointing decision not to appeal a federal appeals court decision upholding a 2013 lower court’s ruling that the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act does not prohibit land from being accepted into federal trust. The case, filed in 2006, was brought by the tribes of Akiachak, Chalkyitsik and Tuluksak and the Chilkoot Indian Association.
The state of Alaska had entered the case, at Gov. Walker’s direction, when the Department of Interior under the Obama administration chose to change its position on lands into trust, in compliance with the court ruling, rather than appeal. The state’s filing was strong, arguing, for example, these points:
“The state has no authority to tax trust land. Furthermore, the Secretary (of the Interior) has stated that trust land in Alaska would be considered Indian country, which means the state could also lose authority to impose on it land use restrictions, natural resource management requirements, and certain environmental regulations. Exercise of police powers and regulation of state resources are fundamental elements of state sovereignty.”
And this: “Trust land and Indian country could confuse Alaskans and nonresidents who could be subject to a patchwork quilt of legal and regulatory authorities, depending on where they are and whether they are a tribal member or nonmember.”
And yet the governor gave up, choosing not to fight the appellate court’s ruling against the state.
It appears it took the election of a receptive national administration to do the work that Alaska should have carried on.
So what happens now that the Obama-era position on lands into trust has been withdrawn?
The Trump administration will “prepare for consultation with the Indian and Alaska Native communities on an interim policy for off-reservation land-into-trust acquisitions within and outside of Alaska,” Mr. Jorjani’s memo concludes.
This move by the principal deputy solicitor to review a ghastly assault on Alaska’s authority as a state isn’t the end of the matter, however. Alaskans must now watch closely as a new policy is formulated.
The stakes remain high for Alaska and its sovereignty, which needs to be guarded vigorously regardless of who is in the White House.