Bright, shiny objects: Hiring freezes and other cold things


NEW CAMPAIGN STAFF IN GOVERNOR’S OFFICE? Gov. Bill Walker last year put in place a hiring freeze, but this year he carved out a special position for Jim Whitaker, who had to leave his post as chief of staff for reasons unexplained. Pundits believe it’s because Republicans in the House and Senate don’t trust Whitaker and won’t allow him to darken their doors.

The governor then brought in campaign expert Scott Kendall, who is liked by many for his candor and confidential disposition. Kendall is the new chief of staff and is making the rounds in Republican circles — places where Walker  and Whitaker have not been able to comfortably go, since they are so closely aligned with Democrats.

Kendall most recently was a consultant to the Lisa Murkowski for Senate campaign. He has relatively decent street-cred in Republican circles, but is also very close to hardcore Democrats, such as Fairbanks former mayor Luke Hopkins, who is Kendall’s father-in-law.


Not done with hiring campaign experts, Walker has also hired Ship Creek Group founder and principal John-Henry Heckendorn, who has engineered many wins for Democrats and false independents since he arrived in the state five years ago.

These two new aides — one from the moderate right and one from the hard left — give Alaska politicos a sense that Walker is gearing up to defend himself in 2018. But will it be as an independent or as a Republican? Or will he be a Democrat?

Heckendorn, in addition to having his own company, is part of the stable of campaign advisers at Lottsfeldt Strategies, which is closely aligned with unions and Super Lobbyist Mark Begich.

Heckendorn is also still featured on campaign strategist Jim Lottsfeldt’s web site as one of talents. Lottsfeldt owns the website that first broke the news about Heckendorn’s controversial move to the Governor’s Office.

This dynamic duo gives Walker two experienced election experts in his inner circle.

Now, it’s a given that a governor needs a chief of staff. But usually aides who are brought into the Governor’s Office are there for a specific reason or because of specific expertise, such as corrections, education, oil and gas, or health care.

What is Heckendorn’s expertise? The 26-year-old runs campaigns in Alaska. It’s all he has ever done.

Bottom line: This has all the appearance of the governor hiring campaign advisers, putting them on the payroll, and making the public pay for their services.

OBAMA TALKED, WE LISTENED: In an podcast with David Axelrod, President Barack Obama talked about the “Obama Coalition,” which is made up of Democrats and “progressives.”

Obama explained that it’s a winning combination for campaigning, and his method could win the presidency over and over. “But you can’t govern,” he said, because it leads to gridlock in Congress.

Or perhaps it is lost on Obama that in order to govern, you actually have to have negotiating skills and a willingness to forge compromise, neither of which were in Obama’s rather limited practical skill set.

After his presidency, he continued in the podcast, Obama said he’ll use his presidential center for developing the next generation of leaders: “Organizers, journalists, and politicians,” to be precise. He’s going to train 20- to 30-year-olds to give them the tools to bring about progressive change. It’s Episode 108 of the Axe Files on iTunes, if you’d like to hear what’s next for the Obama agenda.

If Mark Begich does not become governor in 2018, look for him to plug into Obama’s training and recruiting program. Could Begich be Alaska coordinator, training new John-Henry Heckendorns?

THE DUNLEAVY PLAN RELEASED: Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Mat-Su & Copper River valleys) released a plan for Alaska to achieve a sustainable budget inside of four years. The proposal would reduce the budget another $1.1 billion over four years and requires no new taxes.

Using  general fund savings and drawing modestly on the Permanent Fund’s Earnings Reserve Account, Dunleavy’s plan has Permanent Fund dividends paid in full to qualifying Alaskans.

“This fiscal situation we find ourselves in needs to be solved this year,” Sen. Dunleavy said. “We are running out of time and resources to make it happen. In doing so, all Alaskans need to pull together and make sacrifices to get us through this difficult transition. Taxing Alaskans, and/or taking the PFD to cover the large fiscal gap is not necessary. Substantial reductions, however, are needed so existing resources currently at our disposal can be deployed to get us on a path to a sustainable budget.”

“Our economy is in recession and we have the highest unemployment rate in the nation,” Sen. Dunleavy said. “Now is not the time to ask the private sector to give more to government when Alaskans are out of work and businesses are on the ropes.”

The plan would require a constitutional limit on appropriations — a spending cap — to curb government growth. If passed by the Legislature, it would be voted on by Alaskans in the next general election.

“I look forward to the input of my colleagues and other stakeholders,” Sen. Dunleavy said. “Hopefully other approaches will also come forth, allowing us to work collaboratively on a solution for all of Alaska.”

UP IN ALASKA’S NOSEBLEED SECTION: If you’re talking to folks in Fairbanks over the next week or so, be gentle. They might be a bit cranky, what with the temperature dropping to -35 at night.

That’s quite a bit colder than the average low of -13 for January. Over at, the cheerful curmudgeon-in-residence breaks down more of weather, climate, and the jet stream news.

If you’re in the rest of Alaska, brace yourself: Some tooth-cracking temperatures are heading our way, too.