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A POWERFUL COMBINATION OF POSITIVE RESULTS AND PROVEN EXPERTISE IN ALASKA SINCE 1994
Capitol Updates #74
January 15, 2016
Republicans Plot Against Trump, Cruz Preparing for a Brokered Convention
In the backrooms of the most recent Republican presidential debate the Republican National Committee began preparations for a contested national convention.
Increased chatter about a contested convention comes as establishment Republicans search for a way to deny front-runners Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) the GOP nomination. Some in the party fear neither man is electable in a general election if they are chosen as the party’s standard-bearer.
A brokered convention is extremely rare but Republicans will have to confront that possibility if none of the dozen remaining GOP candidates captures a majority of the 2,470 delegates by July.
The centrist wing of the party has yet to coalesce around an alternative to Trump or Cruz. Those fighting for that role include Florida Senator Marco Rubio, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Ohio Governor John Kasich.
The last time a Republican convention opened without such a clear nominee was 1976, when Gerald Ford led in delegates but lacked a majority coming into the convention. There was plenty of drama as Ford beat back a challenge from Ronald Reagan and eked out the nomination on the first vote.
The last time there was a truly brokered convention, at which delegates turned to someone who didn't run in the primaries, was in 1952. That year, Democrats drafted Adlai Stevenson, who won the party's nomination on the third ballot.
While party leaders caution they don't believe a clear nominee will fail to emerge from the glut of candidates, they argue it would be malpractice not to prepare for the prospect.
Freight and TIGER Funding On A Fast Track This Year
Capitol Strategies has learned that the USDOT has decided to put the funding cycles this year for the new competitive freight grant program and the TIGER grant program on a very fast track. They expect to release a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) for the freight grant program within a few weeks and a NOFA for the TIGER program around the same time.
There are several reasons for the rush: the Obama Administration wants to announce the grant awards before the election, they are prohibited from announcing any grant awards within about 6 weeks of the election, and the FAST Act requires USDOT to give Congress 60 days advance notice of the freight grant awards to give Congress time to reject the awards en bloc by a joint resolution (subject to veto) if they so choose.
Working backwards from Election Day, that means that USDOT must submit their proposed freight grant list to Congress by mid-July. That in turn requires a grant application deadline around March or April. (The TIGER program doesn’t have a 60-day Congressional notification requirement, so their deadlines can slip a couple months.)
In case you haven’t been following this issue, the recently-enacted FAST Act creates two new federal freight funding programs: one, The Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects program (Section 1105) provides $4.5 billion over five years ($800 million in FY 2016) through competitive grants for freight projects that cost at least $100 million, a second, The National Highway Freight Program (Section 1116) provides $6.3 billion over five years ($1.15 billion in FY 2016) to state DOTs through a formula for freight projects, especially those on the National Highway Freight Network.
In addition, the FY 2016 omnibus appropriations bill provided $500 million for a new round of TIGER grants.
The FAST Act requires USDOT to run the competitive freight grant program out of the new Innovative Finance Bureau (IFB), which will also administer the TIFIA and RRIF loan programs. It will take a while to stand up the IFB, however, so USDOT intends to use the TIGER staff team to administer the FY 2016 competitive grant program. They expect some applicants to apply for funding from both programs.
The big difference between the two programs will be project size. Competitive freight grant projects must cost at least $100 million (except that 10% of the funds are set-aside for smaller projects). TIGER grants have been averaging around $20 million and this year, the minimum urban grant has been reduced from $10 million to $5 million.
One big challenge for applicants to the competitive grant program is that sponsors must break ground on a project within 18 months of receiving a grant. Only projects that are fairly well advanced will be able to meet this requirement.
The FAST Act allows the state formula freight program to go ahead in FY 2016, but states will need to pass freight plans in order to receive their formula freight funds in future years.
Take a minute and “imagine” Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) President of the United States. While still a dark horse, the idea became more real this week. Channeling his inner John Lennon, Senator Cruz officially became a candidate for President of the United States of America in what many have called his imagine speech at Liberty University in Virginia, where he repeatedly asked the audience to “imagine” a more conservative America. However more real than illusory, the entry of Senator Cruz starts the so-called “race for the right” between himself and other likely contenders Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), and potentially, former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR). Other more “establishment” potential candidates, including former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL), will gladly seed the extreme constituency to these other contenders in their own path to the White House. Senator Cruz’s entry also marks the beginning of the 20- month race to replace President Obama, who has yet issue an executive order that will make it legal for him to run for a third term in office. Since helping to orchestrate the Government shutdown in the fall of 2013, Senator Cruz has been a controversial figure within the Republican party. While some conservatives have credited his positions as forcing the party back to their core principles, many other Republicans, both mainstream and conservative, blame him for ultimately seeding ground to the President and Democrats. One things is certain, love him or hate him, Senator Cruz’s entry ensures a wild ride for the Republican nomination.
BREAKING NEWS: SENATE MINORITY LEADER HARRY REID (D-NV) WILL NOT SEEK REELECTION In a developing news story that broke Friday morning, longtime former Majority Leader, and current Minority Leader Harry Reid will not be seeking reelection in 2016. In a statement he put out this morning, Reid stated “I have done my best. I haven’t been perfect, but I’ve really tried to my hardest to represent the people of the state of Nevada.” The Minority Leader will remain in office for another 22 months, but come 2016 his stepping down opens up a possibly critical swing seat for the control of the Senate. The Minority Leader suffered a horrible injury (as previously reported) in early January, and since then has had a long road to recovery. Many on the Hill hoped Friday would be a relaxed day—after finishing budget votes at 3am—but it is turning out to be an eventful one already.
To read these articles and more, check out Unlocking Washington #43 by clicking HERE.
Unlocking Washington #43
Administration Offers Revised Surface Transportation Spending Plan For FY2016 - To Read All of Capital Update #37, Click HERE!
February 6, 2015
The Obama Administration presented the outline of its revised, long-tem spending plan for surface transportation, the GROW AMERICA Act, as part of the FY16 budget submission for the Department of Transportation. The details will be fleshed out in legislative language later this year.
The Administration offered a 4-year, $302 billion version of GROW AMERICA last year. This year, the proposal has grown to a 6-year, $478 billion spending plan.
The biggest difference between the two versions is the new funding source. The Administration proposes to raise $268 billion over 6 years by imposing a 14% tax on untaxed foreign earnings of US Companies. This mandatory tax idea is very different from Congressional proposals to induce US companies to “repatriate” their foreign earnings by offering them a one-time lower tax rate.
When combined with revenues from current gas, diesel and excise taxes, this new funding enables the Administration to propose a 76% increase in transit spending, a 242% increase in rail spending, and a 29% increase in highway spending.
The current surface transportation authorization, MAP-21, expires on May 31.
BREAKING NEWS OUT OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
A Groundhogs Day in the United States House of Representatives
The House of Representatives took a bold step this week in voting on legislation that will roll back the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ie Obamacare) and passed the legislation 239-186. This shocking turn of events came back around, for what has begun to feel like the millionth time.
On groundhogs day, the House took this surprising vote yet again, bringing up a feeling reminiscent to the classic Bill Murray film, “Groundhogs Day”. This was the 67th time the House has voted to either repeal, defund, or change provisions in the health care law since it was enacted.
While the legislation has absolutely zero chance of being signed into law, the vote did allow freshmen members the opportunity to officially go on record and vote against the bill. Many of these new members campaigned on repealing Obamacare.
From our colleagues at Capital Strategies (for the original article, click this link: 12.15.14.pdf): Washington D.C. - Going in to the weekend, the Senate was left in an uncertain position. At about 5pm EST on Friday night, it seemed as though the Senate was going to adjourn, and take up the remaining votes on Monday morning. However, due to pressure from both sides, the Senate was forced to remain on the Hill Saturday, and complete a marathon of votes.
Friday evening resulted in an onslaught of votes to take place on Saturday. A deal had been struck for convene the Senate Friday until Monday, however the deal was objected by Senators Lee and Cruz. Objections were raised in regards to the President’s immigration plan, among other grievances the Senators held against the CROmnibus.
With the objections, the Senate was forced to be in session on Saturday, and in a clear retribution to the objections, Senator Harry Reid decided to use the time constructively, and to pass a myriad of nominations.
Harry Reid stated, “We shouldn’t waste time.” Votes were held on Presidential nominations that the Republicans had been blocking up until that point.
After hours of procedural votes, the Senate was able to come to an agreement to pass the nominations by voice vote, speeding up the process considerably.
After 9 hours of votes, Senators were turning to alternative means of entertainment. Reports were that Republican Senators were enjoying Chick-fil-A in their Cloakroom, while a small group of Democratic Senators took to singing Christmas carols to pass the time.
The $1.1 Trillion dollar bill, which funds the government through the end of the fiscal year in September, was passed at 9:50pm on Saturday night. The vote tally ended up as 56 yeas and 40 nays, with 4 Senators not voting.
Although the CROmnibus funds a majority of the government through the end of the fiscal year, it only allows for funding of the Department of Homeland Security through the end of February, at which point the President will need to face off against the Republicans yet again on immigration.
Although the CROmnibus has been passed, Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell, must still come together and work of scheduling votes on the Tax-Extenders bill, TRIA, and a couple of remaining nominations, including for the Surgeon General.
Many in DC are saying that this lame-duck session has not been favorable to Senator McConnell who is presumed to be the Majority leader in the upcoming Congress.
State prosecutors dismiss more than 10 counts in case against guide Jim West.
August 20, 2014
Glennallen, Alaska - On the eve of trial, the State of Alaska agreed to dismiss more than 10 counts against hunting guide Jim West in what was being called the "courtroom drama of the year" by some (both Mr. West and the Alaska State Troopers have their own reality TV show on national television). In exchange for the dismissals, Mr. West, who has been guiding in Alaska for more than 20 years, pled guilty to four charges amounting to nothing more than paperwork errors and littering. After a 10-month paper war that created a court file more than 3 inches deep in the office of the clerk of court in rural Glennallen, Mr. West was sentenced by a judge to approximately $8,000 in fines. Alaska State Troopers, however, were ordered to immediately return property seized in their investigation of Mr. West including a Cessna 185. Additionally, the Judge refused to agree to any suspension of Mr. West's guide license as argued for by State prosecutors.
Amongst the highlights, prosecutors, on the eve of trial, sought the trial court’s assistance in, among other things, keeping the press from being in the court room at Mr. West’s trial. Prosecutors specifically sought to keep the television company "Animal Planet" out of courtroom. In a motion filed with the court June 4, 2014, prosecutors wrote that “it has come to [their] attention that the defendant’s television show may wish to film the trial.” The State argued that the Animal Planet network is not news media and asks that the court prevent the network from filming the trial. It is hard to recall prosecutors ever asking in a preemptory filing to preclude a news agency from covering a criminal trial. Certainly, the request touched on freedom of press issues and it would have been interesting to see how the court handled the unusual request.
Additionally, prosecutors sought to prohibit Mr. West’s lawyers from arguing that Mr. West is the victim of selective prosecution, concluding that if the “defense [was] allowed to argue these claims in front of the jury, there is no realistic way for the prosecution to fairly respond…” This is in spite of the fact that Mr. West's lawyers discovered photographs produced by the Troopers in preparation of trial had been altered. Additionally, Mr. West was being prosecuted for trespassing on private property after the State refused to charge one of its town troopers who admitted trespassing on private land to engage in trapping earlier last year.
Finally, the State prosecutors asked the Court to preclude Mr. West’s attorneys from introducing testimony or argument related to the State’s failure to provide full and free disclosure of evidence in the case. Mr. West moved to compel a number of documents including communications between Ahtna Corporation officials and the Alaska State Troopers which the trial court granted.
In the end, Mr. West admitted and pled guilty to charges related to a bear hunt where he took a bear in defense of life and property. On the sealing certificate, Mr. West checked the "Incidental Take" box rather than the "Defense of Life and Property" box. Another charge related to a clerical error made on reporting forms from a 2009 moose hunt. Finally, Mr. West was convicted of two counts of failing to remove bait stations from the Copper River in 2010 and 2011 despite the Judge commenting that the barrels were in "immaculate" condition.
Governor Parnell Names Brent Cole as Special Counsel in EPA Investigation.
October 20, 2013
October 10, 2013, Anchorage, Alaska – Anchorage attorney Brent Cole has been named special counsel in the matter of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) field investigation of mining claims in the Fortymile District. Governor Sean Parnell called for the special counsel after learning seven enforcement officers from the EPA and Bureau of Land Management (BLM), along with a DEC employee, forcefully investigated placer miners in the Fortymile area near Chicken.“Alaskans deserve to know all of the facts in this case,” Governor Parnell said. “While these facts are being gathered, I will continue to be vigilant in defense of Alaskans’ liberty and personal property.”The special counsel will focus on the workings of the Interagency Task Force on Environmental Crimes, individual state and federal agencies, and actions taken by the individuals involved. The special counsel will identify areas of concern to the public and to agency management regarding how the Fortymile investigation was developed and implemented, ascertain if any laws were violated, and determine whether different actions could have been taken.A report summarizing the facts and recommendations is due within 90 days.
Investigator finds little evidence to support federal criminal investigation in Fortymile mining investigation.
March 13, 2014
March 13, 2014, Juneau, Alaska – From the Office of the Governor: Governor Sean Parnell today released the special counsel report on the federal criminal compliance investigation of placer mining operations in the Fortymile mining district last August. The governor called for the special counsel report after learning of the unprecedented investigation.
Notably, the report cites the lack of cooperation from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials to provide witnesses and documents pertinent to the investigation. The special counsel specifically found the EPA-led criminal investigation unnecessarily placed Alaskan mining families in harm’s way. The EPA went forward with the raid, even though the Alaska Department of Public Safety had investigated concerns of criminal activity a year earlier and they were “found to be without merit.” Additionally, the special counsel found that state involvement in the EPA-led investigation was limited, and communication by the federal agency was lacking.
“The notion of armed federal agents showing up unannounced to ‘investigate’ hard-working Alaska mining families disturbs me,” Governor Parnell said. “The question remains, why was a criminal investigation called for in the first place? Further, I am disappointed, but not surprised that the special counsel was met with resistance in attempting to access documents and witnesses pertinent to his review.”
Governor Parnell has issued directives to the commissioners of Natural Resources, Public Safety, Environmental Conservation, and the attorney general to implement and improve procedures for reviewing future requests by a federal agency to have the state participate in an environmental crimes investigation. The governor will also ask the House Natural Resources Committee and House Resources Subcommittee to request EPA documents and hold a hearing where EPA witnesses, unavailable to the special counsel, can be questioned.
Jury acquits hunting guide on unsworn falsification charges related to license renewal application.
April 28, 2014
Juneua, Alaska - A Juneau jury acquitted an assistant hunting guide, Max Keele Johnson, on a charge of Unsworn Falsification related to his assistant guide license renewal application in 2011. The jury rejected arguments, that the 63-year old Keele Johnson, a Utah resident, knowingly made false statements in attempts to mislead state officials to issues his assistant guide license. Mr. Johnson has been an assistant hunting guide in the State of Alaska since approximately 2005. Mr. Johnson’s defense, led by Anchorage Attorney Brent R. Cole, argued that Mr. Johnson was being targeted by law enforcement for his unwillingness to cooperate in another investigation against a local Master Guide. It wasn’t until after investigators learned that Mr. Johnson was unwilling to provide testimony against the Master Guide that criminal charges were forwarded for prosecution. Mr. Johnson argued all along this was more properly a matter for the Big Game Commercial Services Board and not for criminal prosecution. Deliberations took less than 4 hours.