Downing: Pork barrel trip for Jill Biden, Deb Haaland, was rescue mission for Mary Peltola

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By SUZANNE DOWNING

All went smoothly for First Lady Jill Biden and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland as they traveled from Washington, D.C. to Bethel, a town with a population of 6,200, for a brief rally in a gymnasium filled with school children and their parents.

Bethel is the hometown of Rep. Mary Peltola, and the love was expected to flow, despite the chilly weather in mid-May, with temperatures in the mid-30s.

Their purpose for the trip was purely political, aimed at rescuing Peltola in 2024, but it came at a high cost for American taxpayers who foot the bill for such presidential junkets. 

The jet carrying the First Lady consumes at least 70,000 gallons of fuel for a 20-hour round trip from the center of American politics to the frontier.

However, the focus of Wednesday’s trip was not on climate change or the carbon footprint of the First Lady. The media overlooked the irony of the Biden Administration burning through fossil fuels to travel to a place where Biden has been attempting to shut down the oil industry.

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, who didn’t attend the event, recognized the irony. In a statement, he reminded Alaskans of the “48 executive orders and actions singularly targeting Alaska under the Biden administration, many of which were implemented without any consultation with Alaskans.”

The Biden-Haaland trip was ostensibly to showcase the federal investment in broadband infrastructure in rural Alaska.

Let’s examine that claim.

The infrastructure bill aims to bring broadband to a small number of households and businesses scattered across a vast wilderness. However, it will take many years before fiber can be laid over the rivers and through the woods to reach the remote outposts on the list.

The reality is that Elon Musk’s Starlink network, as well as One Web, and Pacific Dataport’s Aurora satellite networks have already made significant progress in bridging the connectivity gap in rural Alaska. These projects, driven by the free market, have succeeded despite the subsidies received by their fiber-based competitors, who rely on taxpayer funding.

The Aurora GEO satellite, specifically designed for rural Alaska, was launched last month from Cape Canaveral and is currently in beta testing. It will be operational within 60 days.

The fiber optic initiative has other drawbacks. In addition to a severe shortage of fiber optic cable, the United States also lacks a sufficient number of qualified technicians to meet the current demand in the Lower 48 states. 

When the $42.5 billion federal investment in broadband is implemented, the cost of materials and labor will skyrocket due to increased competition and limited supply. Finding crews willing to travel to remote Alaska villages to install networks will become a challenge when lucrative opportunities are available closer to home.

As an example of the sketchy return on investment, last year the Department of Agriculture gave a grant to Alaska Telephone Co. for $33 million to expand fiber to about 90 households between Klukwan, Haines, and Skagway. That means taxpayers of America spent over $358,000 per household for this project that serves 211 people and five businesses. 

But wait, there’s even more: Last year, the Tanana Chiefs Conference was awarded $30.3 million to serve fiber to 75 households in four tiny villages: Alatna, population 30; Allakaket, population 181; Hughes, population 85; and Huslia, population 306. The total cost per household is estimated to be $404,000.

There are dozens of these grants made in Alaska by USDA, and they total in the hundreds of millions.

In this latest grant, the Bethel Native Corporation will get $100 million from the infrastructure package, “because you know what your communities need,” Jill Biden told the auditorium, apparently oblivious to the long wait time that is all-but guaranteed for completion and the current satellite service.

Not lost on us was that there was a giveaway of iPhones, iPads, and iPods every 15 minutes during the warmup for the rally. That, too, was from federal funds.

Dr. Biden was using a pork project to campaign for congressional incumbent, Rep. Peltola in Peltola’s own hometown, where she will get nearly every vote in 2024. What a waste of money.

Peltola has been identified as one of the top “saves” for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic National Committee. 

Alaska’s first-term congresswoman is also listed as a top target of the National Republican Congressional Committee, as she is out of step with much of Alaska. After all, even with all his flaws, Donald Trump still won the state by over 10% in 2020, and Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy handily won reelection in 2022. Biden will not win Alaska in 2024. He has more to worry about than the state’s three electoral votes.

Peltola, who rushed to endorse Joe Biden, has now played the Biden card and there’s no more squeeze out of that lemon. The question for the Democrats is: How much more will it cost them to save Peltola in 2024?

Suzanne Downing is publisher of Must Read Alaska.

40 COMMENTS

    • Ken D, I disagree, spend a couple of years out in Western Alaska and you see the real cost to those who live in the region.
      Young Men are on line 12 hours a day watching Rap videos and are mimicking the Gangster Culture in their clothing and bad boy Attitudes. This well not end well.

      This thing is beyond the old Rat-Net system that brought Starsky and Hutch programs to the Bush. This is a devolution of culture.

  1. Game plan:
    .
    Send Sarah Palin and her rich boyfriend(s) to Iceland or Greenland (or Florida) for a year. Palin is the root cause for Alaskans being stuck with Biden robot Mary Peltola. Invite Nick Begich III back into action. Peltola can’t win against one Republican. We all know that. But we have to extract Palin out of the picture. Palin is the real problem, not Peltola.

    • Nick Begich III was just as much of the problem. Anybody knows dividing the ticket never works and Sarah had more votes in the Primary. It was up to him to drop out. Ego and Markie wouldn’t let him…

      Sarah Palin 43,577 votes 27.0%

      Nick Begich 30,851 votes 19.1%

      • Your logic is flawed, because NB3 was in the race before Sarah.
        She really is the divider who gave the election to Peltola.

      • Marlin, I think it’s great that you love numbers. Here’s another number for you.

        -25%

        That was Sarah Palin’s overall negative rating in Alaska before she jumped in the race. It went downhill from there. She could never have won.

      • NB3 was also endorsed by the AK Republican Party and he was in the race campaigning months before. At the very last minute, literally the deadline to put in to run for office, Palin drops her name in the hat; she hardly even campaigned. How soon people forget about the trooper gate scandal or the “bridge to nowhere” or the ethic violation. If we didn’t have rank choice voting, I believe the outcome would be quite different.

      • NB3 would have kicked Peltola’s *ss.
        And every Democrat knows it. Sarah Palin effed us AGAIN!

  2. Great analysis, Suzanne. Spot on! So how much will Peltola’s husband extract from the government money being spent to provide more broadband into the wilderness?

    • Peltola’s husband Gene is snuggling up to Governor Dunleavy for favored company status on the sale of Carbon Credits.

      You need to look at CEO Anna Hoffman, Senator Lyman Hoffman, Bethel Native Corporation and GCI for the pocket fluff coming from Rural Broadband on the YK Delta.

  3. No better example of how to exhibit hypocrisy and waste taxpayer money in spectacular fashion than the Biden administration. Cut off American energy, beg hostile countries for oil, make it harder to build infrastructure, but let’s jet across the country to Bethel to buy votes with free Ipads. Oh the climate crisis conundrum that wealthy liberals exacerbate. Good grief, Biden says we may have to rely on fossil fuels another ten years, folks. What a jackwagon.

  4. If you are a federal grantee or contractor there is a magic phrase that is dear to you: indirect cost rate. Indirect cost rates are the source of the legendary $600 toilet seats and $300 hammers in defense contracts.

    If you have a federal grant or contract the actual costs of doing the work, say, digging trenches and stringing fiber optic cable, are called direct costs and can be charged directly to the grant or contract. But since you have to have a business, usually a non-profit with a 6-figure staff, to support the work, you negotiate an indirect cost rate with your funding source(s) that supports all your administrative, managerial, and infrastructure costs. Typically indirect rates are 20% – 30% of the grant or contract award; sometimes more, rarely less. So, Bethel Native Corporation, one of Peltola’s family businesses, gets $100 Million in federal funding. With the typical indirect rate, 20% – 30% of that money goes directly to the coffers of BNC for their operating expenses and personnel costs. So, Peltola “gifted” $20-$30 million directly to a business with which she has close ties; that’s what you get yourself elected to Congress for.

    • You forgot the necessity of purchasing one of Rembrandt hunter’s crayon art works in order to get the grant….

  5. Star-Link can effectively and efficiently provide broadband connectivity at a fraction of the cost. But, when your wildly printing money you have to spend it on something!
    It also helps to maximize the crisis, fabricating the solution, at any cost. Makes for great photo’s and Champaign donation opportunities (money laundering). And, can provide excellent job and contracting opportunities for friends and relatives.

  6. Why are taxpayers subsidizing such a ‘goat rope’ trip formulated for one segment of the Alaskan populous? Will Bethel, to the center of the Western Delta welfare state, now become the capital of Alaska founded on the malarkey of progressive antics? Did the three stooges visit a genuine Alaskan village, i.e. Hooper Bay?
    Look closely citizens, beware the claok.

  7. I thought buying votes was frowned upon. That broadband bill is beyond the pale. That money could have located all of the population of those communities to locations that already had that infrastructure, schools, jobs and all the other modern necessities for the lives they obviously would like to have. Each family could have been presented with a HOUSE for that money. This is just ridiculous.

  8. Where is my free PELTOLA iPhone, iPad, iPod? Oh, it isn’t free, the U.S. citizens are paying for it. We cheat the OTHER guy and pass the SAVINGS onto you policy is in effect. Wait, I am the OTHER GUY!

  9. Nicely done, Madam Editor,
    .
    Ms. Peltola’s re-election seems almost assured for the simple reason that Alaska’s election process is no less vulnerable to corruption, no more transparent than it has been during any other election cycle.
    .
    The only challenge may be working out a winning margin for Ms. Peltola which the public will accept, albeit grudgingly, a margin which won’t trigger recounts or unwanted scrutiny of Alaska’s election process.
    .
    What if free government Bush broadband turned out to be self-cancelling?
    .
    Imagine what’ll happen when locals start shooting up cables and infrastructure, vandalizing gear, stealing and selling equipment for drugs and booze, just like they do with FAA’s navigation aids, radios, and airport lights.
    .
    If the local scene’s so bad that State Troopers won’t live or work in some of these places, much less visit them without arms and reinforcements, who expects an unarmed cable technician to visit the same places, fix what’s shot up, replace what’s stolen, and leave more or less in the same condition in which he arrived?
    .
    And the permits… Apparently King Covians are dropping like flies because Mr. Biden won’t give them a road permit, so what’ll happen when obtaining cable right-of-way permits turns out to be just as problematic?
    .
    Best guess is, as you indicated Madam Editor, the royal visit was for display purposes only. Ms. Peltola, an obedience-trained Democrat lawmaker, is the very definition of a great investment, well worth the cost at any price since it should be clear by now that somebody else will foot the bill.

  10. And I live in the Valley, between Palmer and Wasilla and cant get fiber, for 10 years, every year I ask. But Nope!
    Funny, Not Funny!
    Maybe time to drop the ASDL from MTA, and go Starlink….

    • I met a lady last week who lives out near Pt MacKenzie, and she is using Elon’s Starlink, and she says it works just fine for her.

    • Roger that Carl. Been here over 20 years and best service I can get from MTA is 20 down and 3 up on a rare good day. Of course the other big difference is that I actually have to PAY for service no matter how poor the service is. MTA didn’t put a million dollars into a senate race though so no pay no play.

  11. Just another ad for the Democratic Party at the expense of the American taxpayers.
    Don Young spoke at our scout meeting years ago and said :
    “I’m always running for office, as soon as I get elected I start on my next campaign, which is only 2 years away”

  12. Infrastructure and development has always been subsidized by the government, SB-21 is a prime example, still waiting for the 1,000,000 barrels per day promised by Captain Zero

  13. While paddling a section of the Yukon River last August I witnessed miles of fiber optic cable hanging from the ever eroding river bank waiting to be claimed by the river. I have a photo of this. If the feds would cut back on wasteful spending they wouldn’t need to raise the debt ceiling.

  14. If you don’t want another round of crazy mary, here’s what you do: STOP ARGUING ABOUT THE LAST ELECTION!!!!!!!!!!!! Do you not understand that it is OVER? Both side are butt hurt over it! I’m butt hurt over it! But it’s over, understand? Done. Stick a fork in it. Sarah didn’t win. Nick didn’t win. A brain dead liberal won, right? She’s in office right now, correct? So we need to defeat her on the next election (next year, in fact). So, lets go find a candidate and run them against her and win.

    In the long run we need to get rid of RCV. THAT seems to be something we can agree on, ok? Lawsuit, ballot initiative, law change, don’t care how, just get rid of this abomination. In the mean time, we need to pressure the republican party to officially back whichever candidate wins the most votes in the primary. And not just lip service, signs, ads, social media, etc.

  15. So it is not wasteful spending spending for the State coffers to pour Federal and State monies into the fastest growing in population and wealth section of Alaska, the MatSu Borough, but infrastructure funding in Bethel is a tragedy ? Ted Stevens and Don Young poured tons of money into this state. A main reason why we do not pay a State Income Tax. Grow up and smell the coffee. It is and has been how government functions in Alaska. Open your eyes the main driver of our economy happens to be the Native Corporations. Guess what, they too have lots of Federal dollars funneled their way.

  16. Great article. This should be headline national news. Government paying hundreds of thousands to welfare people so they can view Tiktok and porn faster. Meanwhile Musk and others have brought cheap satellite to remote Alaska without the help of Peltola and Biden pork.

  17. I can only imagine the sanitized version of a tour of Bethel that Biden got, particularly just as the winter season leftovers are becoming fully exposed. How much did it cost the U.S. taxpayers to airmail Biden from D.C. to Bethel and back. I wonder what percentage of YK Delta students are performing at grade level? I am sure, as Josh pointed out that faster Tik Tok and porn will remedy that. Thank you Dr. Jill, who is no more a doctor than Dr. Pepper, for your efforts to keep this loser Peltola in office.

  18. While the internet can bring good, the amount of disconnection to others since the iPhone debuted in 2007 is startling. Porn use skyrocketed then; will it skyrocket as well in rural Alaska? There is already enough sexual misuse and disconnection out there. We don’t need to feed it. Please consider this Dr. Jill before celebrating the highway that can flood the delta with it.

    • That’s speaking like a progressive. Something has a bad side so nobody should have it.

      You have articulated the pro gun control argument, substituting porn fir gun control.

      Let people have access to the tools and hold the ones who abuse them responsible.

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