Here’s the story Joe Miller likes to tell about healthcare, that he told at his campaign launch in April: When he was in first grade, he injured his lip in a bad fall.Download Audio“And (I) hit my face flat on the floor. And we didn’t have health care, so of course I didn’t go to the doctor,” he said.It healed badly. He lived with the disfigurement for six years, but he saved his money to pay for surgery.“I got a bus ticket, made an appointment, found a doctor, paid I think $200 or $300 and had them cut the scar tissue,” he said.It’s a story of self-reliance and free enterprise, well suited to a Tea-Party candidate who rails against “Obamacare,” who says we must slash federal spending and entitlements to avoid national bankruptcy.There’s another healthcare story he doesn’t talk about: After Miller moved to Alaska and had kids of his own, his family signed up for Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor. Asked repeatedly how he feels about that period in his family’s history, he turned the question into one of federal mandates. He says each state should decide whether to provide assistance.“It’s a decision that the people of the state should make. Not one that the federal government should make,” he said. “I think it’s an upside down world when we think the ruling classes in Washington, D.C. should be making all these calls and decisions for us.”This is as close as he would come to discussing his own experience on Medicaid: “My family’s been in situations where we have been in need, and as a consequence of it our objective is not to leave other people in need. The objective is to make sure we don’t end up hitched up to a federal government that completely tubes the entire country.”The Medicaid episode is just one of a string of unflattering revelations that came out of the 2010 contest. His campaign website lists some of them under the label “myths.” The 2008 incident where he used his co-workers’ computers at the Fairbanks North Star Borough to skew an online political poll? The campaign says he had a “lapse in judgment” and was briefly dishonest before coming clean. The time during the last campaign that his bodyguards handcuffed a reporter? The guards weren’t paid campaign staff, Miller’s website explains, and anyway one of them turned out to be an FBI informant working for the other side.As for the farm subsidies he accepted in the ‘90s, Miller says it was only about $100 a month. He says he’s not sure he could have refused them since they were in place when he acquired the Kansas farmland.“I think that that provides me with a better position probably than many other people to comment on why those programs are bad,” he said. “You’ve got a government that is basically directing a farmer to grow a certain crop, or else they’re penalized. Wouldn’t it be better for the farmers to determine, based upon the market, what’s best for them to grow?”Miller beat Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the 2010 primary, only to lose to her in the general when she mounted a write-in campaign. He is clearly bitter toward Republicans who helped Murkowski win.He says he was done in by the Republican establishment and a multi-million dollar smear campaign against him. Miller says his worst mistake of 2010 was letting establishment-wing Republicans work on his campaign after the primary.“One of the biggest lessons was to keep the loyal folk around you, and to recognize that when you’re an anti-establishment reform candidate, you’re going to have enemies from all sorts of unexpected places,” he said.Miller points out he’s the only non-millionaire in the race. He grew up in Kansas, the son of an independent church pastor and says his family got by despite limited means.“My mom, for example — how many of you remember Toughskins, from Sears?” he asked the crowd at his campaign launch in Wasilla. “You know why as a kid you bought Toughskins? Because if you wore out the knee Sears would give you a new pair.”He’s a West Point grad who was awarded a bronze star for commanding a tank platoon in the first Gulf War. He earned a Yale law degree and, in addition to working as an attorney for the Fairbanks North Star Borough, also served as a magistrate, both state and federal. After Yale, he got a master’s degree in Economics from UAF. He and his wife Kathleen have eight children and a grandchild.While 2010 left him with big negatives, he also emerged with a good chunk of campaign cash, more than $800,000 at the end of that year. After spending about half to wind down expenses, he transferred the remainder to the current campaign.Another benefit that grew from his 2010 race is a cadre of loyalists. His campaign launch in Wasilla was crowded with eager supporters. Christopher Kurka, executive director of Alaska Right to Life, was there with his family. Alaska Right to Life later endorsed Miller, even though his Republican opponents say they, too, oppose abortion. Kurka says his group considered a double endorsement but concluded that Miller’s commitment was more reliable because he has never supported candidates on the other side of the issue.“Joe’s pro-life rhetoric is rooted in the core of who he is,” Kurka says.Anchorage Political blogger Amanda Coyne says Miller appears more confident and fluent than he did in 2010. She ticks off his assets as a candidate.“He has command of the issues, no. 1. He’s got a clear vision, no. 2. He’s incredibly articulate and his message appeals to the Tea party base in the state,” she said, “and the Tea Party base is very devoted and very committed to their candidates.”But Coyne says there’s not much he can do to convince Alaskans to disregard what they learned about him four years ago.“To try to get over the 2010 negatives would demand almost a personality transplant and he’s not going to do that, he has no intention of doing that — from what I’ve seen at least — and I don’t think he can do that,” Coyne said.Polls suggest Miller is trailing Republicans Dan Sullivan and Mead Treadwell. If he loses on Aug. 19, would he run as a third-party candidate? Miller won’t say.“Because to (answer) would be making basically a vicarious promise to both of my opponents who have already demonstrated a lack of trust in that area,” he said. “They both, of course supported Murkowski in 2010, against the Republican nominee.”As Miller sees it, Sullivan and Treadwell didn’t respect his win in that primary, so they don’t deserve his pledge to concede if he loses in this primary.
Huslia marks the halfway point along this year’s Iditarod Trail. Many mushers are looking forward to leaving the Yukon River and heading for the tiny Interior village.For most of the first 385 miles of the race, teams travelled long stretches of flat, frozen river. Musher Paige Drobny says the easy-going trail has been good for her.“I don’t really mind it,” she said. “I’ve gotten more sleep than I ever have before, because of being able to sit on my sled and being able to sleep while the dogs are running.”But Drobny says the monotony is getting to her dogs.Wade Marrs at the 2015 Iditarod ceremonial start. (Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage)“The dogs are bored. On the way here, my leader Wiseman was trying to take every random snow machine off of the trail that he could, because he was getting bored, and it was very clear they weren’t dog trails,” Drobny said. “He would take a 90 degree turn onto the snow machine trail. He was like ‘get me somewhere more interesting and maybe I’ll do my job right.’”Wade Marrs says his dog team is also ready for a change of scenery.“Every time the trail turns and heads toward the bank, they get really excited and take off wide open like ‘oh, we’re going somewhere new!’ So, yeah it will be really cool t get off the river and the dogs will be really happy about that,” Marrs said.For rookie Jason Campeau, it’s not the trail that’s the most challenging part.“You know you have to be tough mentally to get through these.,” Campeau said. “There’s times that you’re out there and it’s beautiful and you’re with your dogs and you’re loving it and then there’s other times when it’s freezing and every single person in here will tell you it’s tough when that happens, so it’s a matter of staying tough mentally and staying focused.”Huslia is the next stop along the Iditarod trail. It’s the home of George Attla, one of Alaska’s most famous sprint mushers. Also known as the Huslia Husler, Attla passed away last month. Many of the mushers taking part in this year’s race say they are looking forward to paying their respects to Attla and visiting a village that hasn’t seen an Iditarod since the last time the trail was rerouted in 2003.
Thousands of Alaskans will have to find a new insurer after a shake-up in the state’s health insurance market.Aetna and State Farm plan to stop offering individual plans in Alaska and Assurant Health plans to leave the health insurance market altogether. Division of Insurance Director Lori Wing-Heier says the companies covered fewer than 6,000 policyholders at the end of 2014. Two major insurers remain for individual policies.Wing-Heier says the division is trying to contact another company licensed to write individual policies in Alaska to gauge its interest but that company hasn’t written that kind of policy in several years.Aetna said it looked at factors including whether it could provide affordable plans in making its decision. Assurant is looking for a buyer for its health insurance business nationwide.
Fairbnaks Four protesters at the Capitol, Oct. 24, 2015. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)On the first day legislators were due back in Juneau for a special session, 20 protesters and one lawmaker brought the Fairbanks Four case to the Capitol.It’s a sunny Saturday morning, and about 20 people are staggered along the steps leading into the state Capitol building. With their hands raised and four fingers pointed up, the protesters turn to face each pedestrian and car that passes in front of them.Franklin Harvey James Jr. has a sign with a message: It’s not too late to exonerate.“None of us believe that the case was handled right up there,” he said. “There’s too much left open. And it was handled too quickly … to appease the public, I would say.”The Fairbanks Four were young men when they were arrested and charged with the shocking and apparently random murder of a 15-year-old boy named John Hartman. He was found severely beaten in the streets of Fairbanks in October 1997, and later died from his injuries.Franklin Harvey James Jr. shows off his protest sign in support of the Fairbanks Four, Oct. 24, 2015. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)According to a 2008 investigative reporting series by the University of Alaska Fairbanks and The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, the police investigators’ murder theory formed around a drunk teenager’s arrest on a different call that night. Over the course of about 11 hours in custody, Fairbanks police used coercive but legal interrogation methods on Eugene Vent, then 17. He confessed to the beating and identified three friends who also participated, George Frese, Kevin Pease and Marvin Roberts. Later, Vent recanted.In three trials, three separate juries in Anchorage convicted the Fairbanks Four in 1999, despite lacking motive, eyewitnesses to the actual beating and physical evidence connecting the suspects and the victim. Three of the men are Athabascan and Kevin Pease is Crow Indian; the victim was white. The swift arrests and questionable case has fueled belief that racial prejudice was a factor.“Well, it’s just an example of inequality. It’s not right,” said Capitol protest organizer David Russell-Jensen. “And I think a lot of people are joining the movement, Free the Fairbanks Four.”Russell-Jensen is a liberal arts student with an emphasis in Native studies at the University of Alaska Southeast.“Alaska Natives make up 15 percent of the population but are 36 percent of the prisoners in the state. And it’s just unfortunate. It’s completely harmed their lives,” he said.Rep. David Guttenberg, a Democrat from Fairbanks, didn’t know about the protest, but addressed the Fairbanks Four on the floor of the House of Representatives.“I don’t know whether they’re guilty or innocent, but I know everybody in this state wants to see justice done. Not only justice for those four people and their family, but also justice for the family of Mr. Hartman, the young man that died that night,” Guttenberg said.His colleagues on the floor didn’t have an overt reaction to the speech. Afterward, Guttenberg elaborated on his position.Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, flashes the symbol of support for the Fairbanks Four. (Photo courtesy Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition)“There was always something wrong about it with me,” he said. “I thought the issue needed to be elevated a little bit higher into the state. And the opening day of this special session, to say something about it, I thought was appropriate. It was an important social issue and criminal justice issue.”The Alaska Innocence Project is representing two members of the Fairbanks Four, seeking their exoneration based in part on new evidence. Eugene Vent is represented by the Office of Public Advocacy. George Frese is represented by Anchorage attorney Bob Bundy. The state maintains its prosecutors’ case against the Fairbanks Four.
Map of previous Chukchi Sea leases. (Image: BOEM)President Trump may soon issue an executive order intended to lift restrictions on oil development in Arctic waters. That’s according to a Bloomberg news story. It cites three unnamed sources who say Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spoke of it at an industry conference that was closed to reporters.Listen nowThe order would aim to reverse a decision by former President Obama to indefinitely close most U.S. Arctic waters to leasing. Obama used a legal mechanism known as a “12a withdrawal.” Environmentalists argue it can’t be revoked, so a court challenge is likely.Bloomberg says the White House directive would also press the Interior Department to add Arctic areas to the department’s five-year offshore leasing plan.Alaska’s U.S. senators are also working to re-open Arctic waters to leasing. Thursday, they jointly introduced a bill to repeal Obama’s Arctic withdrawals and require new lease sales.
Recruits warm up for their fight on human-shaped punching bags. The exercise is a lesson in determining what is a reasonable amount of force. (Photo by Emily Russell, KCAW – Sitka)Twice a year the Trooper Academy in Sitka gets a new class of recruits. Over a 15-week period they go through everything from spelling tests to target practice. They also get close combat training. KCAW’s Emily Russell visited the Trooper Academy to get a glimpse of how officers are trained to respond to physical violence.Listen nowAUDIO TRANSCRIPT:Inside a room with red padded floors and blue padded walls music blasts through the speakers.Enter a young guy in grey t-shirt, blue pants and sneakers. A black padded helmet covers most of his face.“So he’s getting ready to start,” Lt. Chad Goeden said. “They video tape the whole thing. He introduces himself to the camera.”Recruits watch UFC fights while waiting for their own turn at a fight (Photo by Emily Russell, KCAW – Sitka)Goeden is the Commander here at the Department of Public Safety Training Academy, known as the Trooper Academy.The guy in grey – he’s one of the academy’s 35 recruits. And he’s here for a fight. The recruit is wrestled to the ground by one of the instructors, who wraps his legs around him.Finally, the recruit pulls himself away and gets up on his feet. Today’s fight is a test. Goeden and the other instructors are trying to see how recruits respond to a potential attacker.KCAW: “When he got away from the attacker, he pulled out his gun. That’s what you’re [supposed to do]?”GOEDEN: “Well, what we don’t know is what was the attacker saying to him?”Lt. Chad Goeden is the Commander at the Department of Public Safety Training Academy. (Photo by Emily Russell, KCAW – Sitka)From the sidelines, there’s no way to know what the attacker said or did right before the fight. That makes it hard to assess whether the reaction was warranted or not. Goeden says the same is true with the police videos recorded by the public.“The public only sees what is on the video, for example and the problem with that is something unique must have happened before that in order for the person to take out their camera and start videoing in the first place and we don’t ever see that,” Goeden said. “We only see what happens after record is pressed.”To be clear, Goeden said it’s the public’s right to press record. He even says it’s the officer’s duty to protect that right.What this training does do is it gives recruits options for how to respond.“My favorite maneuver that I’ve learned is shrimping, where you basically just inch your way out,” Niki Hines said. Hines is a recruit from Fairbanks. “Your hips are a great tool, just pop those hips and try to inch your way out.”Recruit Nikki Hines is from Fairbanks. After she graduates from the Academy in June, she’ll start work with the Fairbanks Police Department. (Photo by Emily Russell, KCAW – Sitka)Hines said she was nervous before going into today’s fight.Hines: “Going into it I was a little worried, especially being one of the smaller people, but it’s been really fun, so I’ve enjoyed it.”KCAW: “How tall are you?”Hines: “I’m 5’2”.”Hines is happy here, but she knows she’s getting into a dangerous line of work. Back in October Sgt. Allen Brandt with the Fairbanks Police Department was shot on duty. He died a few days later due to complications.“After I found out about Sgt. Brandt I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to continue to pursue this and I’m just going to believe in God’s will,’” Hines said.Hines was hired by the Fairbanks Police Department. After she graduates in June she’ll move back there and start work.Others on that path to becoming officers and troopers are here, in one of the academy’s common areas. They’re sitting around on couches watching UFC fighting. They’re getting pumped up for their own turn at a fight.Recruit Timothy Howell is training to be a Court Service Officer in Anchorage, where he’s from. (Photo by Emily Russell, KCAW – Sitka)Timothy Howell is a recruit from Anchorage. He’s training to be a Court Service Officer. He has some bruises on him. He said the fighting is a physical experience.“Yes ma’am it is. It’s an excellent one,” Howell said. “In my eyes the court is the house of justice and that is extremely noble. There’s something about the pursuit of justice and the application of the law that I like to see.”Howell smiled when asked what it’s been like at the Trooper Academy.“It has been phenomenal,” It’s been absolutely excellent. I’m really glad you asked, actually.”You hear this a lot at the Trooper Academy. The recruits– they want to be here. That’s despite how the public’s perception of the police has changed over the years with the rise in violent police videos.Howell and the other recruits– they know there are risks involved, and those risks begin in Sitka, in a padded training room where officers learn the physical side of law enforcement.Recruits at the Trooper Academy practice maneuvers getting away from an attacker. (Photo by Emily Russell, KCAW – Sitka)Today’s exercise– it’s about judging what a reasonable amount of force is. That’s the lesson Lt. Chad Goeden wants the recruits to learn and the public to understand.“There’s no such thing as the least amount of force,” Goeden said. “What is less: if I tase you, or I pepper spray you, or I hit you with a baton, or I punch you? Which one of those is least? But they’re all reasonable if circumstances make it so.”And the recruits here– they’re trying to plan for any and all circumstances, for the real world. After all, that’s their duty.
University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute physics student John Elliott at the ceremonial South Pole. (Photo courtesy Social Window: Antarctica Missions – Student Field Work at the South Pole Facebook page)Science can sometimes take Alaska-based researchers on adventures to distant lands. And a project bringing together data from the Arctic and Antarctic recently sent two University of Alaska space physics students all the way from Fairbanks to the South Pole.Kylee Branning and John Elliott made the trek to service an all-sky viewing interferometer, an instrument that measures the “optical Doppler shift of airglow emissions.” Elliott and Branning say that is essentially a way to look at the “winds” of space.And while space weather is interesting on its own, the first part of their conversation with Alaska Public Media’s Casey Grove was, of course, the regular weather 11,000 miles away from home at the South Pole.Elliott: Looks good right now. Yeah, it’s, we had a large storm yesterday, but it’s cleared up now.Branning: Nice blue skies.Elliott: More reasonable temperature, I think like -4 F. We came within about 1 degree of setting the all-time highest ever recorded temperature yesterday. We made it up to 9 F. Yeah.Grove: Well tell me what did it take to get there? You guys are based in Fairbanks, right?Branning: Yeah, so from Fairbanks we have to fly to Seattle, which is four hours, and to San Francisco, which is three hours, I think. And then from there we go to Auckland, New Zealand, which is 13 hours and then off to we go to Christchurch, which is an hour and a half about. Then from Christchurch and it takes about eight hours to get to McMurdo. Then the next day you’ll get on another plane. It’s about three hours to get this South Pole. However for us the Christchurch to McMurdo part took about 29 hours?Grove: 29 hours?!Elliott: Yep, the last two legs she described are on a C-130 military cargo plane. The plane only has enough fuel to go one direction, so…Branning: And it’s extremely hard to predict the weather eight hours before your landing because McMurdo weather is Antarctic weather, which changes a lot.Elliott: And what ended up happening was we went as far as we could go, we made it right up to 10 minutes before we had to turn around or he would not have enough fuel, and two times they made the call that it was not safe to continue to go to McMurdo. So we turned around and it ended up taking us 29 hours of flying in a C-130 Herc to get to Murdo. Overall to get to the South Pole, we’ve flown a little over 50 hours in the air.Grove: So we could talk about penguins for a while, I’m sure, but what are you guys actually doing down there and what sort of research are you supporting?Elliott: So the work that we’re doing is for Professor Mark Conde, and we work both in polar regions, but obviously the work we’re doing down here is in support of just the Antarctic region. We have two instruments that are looking up at the sky. And we’re measuring the wind speed really high in the air. Something called space weather. We’re measuring the winds for this weather, about 25 times higher than an airplane flies, and that that instrument is a very precise optical instrument and we put it in one of the most inhospitable places on Earth. And so what ends up happening is the instrument will come out of alignment. It will come out of tune. Simple things like motors that need to move will start to break down and we don’t have enough of an internet connection to send our data back. So we actually have to physically come down and grab our data.Grove: What’s the most interesting thing or the wildest thing that you’ve seen either on the journey or just being there at the South Pole?Elliott: Snow beast, probably.Grove: Snow beast?Branning: John really likes the giant snowblower they have here at the South Pole.Elliott: It blows snow about 80 feet in the air. Yeah, it’s it’s remarkable.Branning: And they have to do that because there’s actually the snow is crushing the old station. It’s actually caving in.Elliott: Some of the South Pole station is underground.Branning: Yeah, and then also underground they have a tunnel system with shrines, which are interesting to see. So, one of them’s the last bucket of ice cream 2012.Elliott: You know for me, it’s just the sheer magnitude of it, you know.Branning: Just everything.Elliott: Yeah, we’re in a place that is so inhospitable to life, not just human, to life, and yet here we are. You know, all we have to do is take a few planes, you know, wear a little cold weather gear and the (National Science Foundation) has just got this massive instrument that just, it’s just like an unstoppable force to do do nothing, but science.Branning: And also something so new because the first and Antarctic travel was like what, a hundred years ago?Elliott: Yeah. The pole just … over a hundred years ago.Branning: It was the first first visit to the pole. So it’s really a new experience for humans.Elliott: You know, it’s really humbling experience that, it just it impresses on you so much when you first get off that plane, you’re getting off this cargo netting kind of seat, you walk out of the plane, the propellers are running, you look over and there it, you know, the South Pole station, you’re standing on top of two miles of ice. You’re in the most extreme part of Earth that can exist, and you’re their only to do science.Branning: It’s great.Elliott: It’s a great feeling. It’s really cool.
Survival Skills workshop (Photo courtesy of Else Fullerton)The Haines Borough Public Library and the Haines Sheldon Museum are teaming up to offer a week of survival skills classes for kids.Jolanta Ryan is the Education and Cultural Coordinator for the library. She says the idea is an extension of the Fun Science program she runs. The program gets kids outdoors while they learn practical outdoor skills, like building a snow shelter.“If you’re out in the wilderness and you don’t have a shelter and you want to spend the night,” Ryan said. “You can build a snow cave and it keeps you warmer so you can survive the night.”Shelters like this one keep snow out and heat in. This week the focus is outdoor winter survival skills: not just shelter building, but knot tying, basic navigation, and fire starting. The mood out in the snow is lighthearted, but the skills these six- to almost nine-year-olds learn today are potentially life-saving.“I just came here ’cause I need to practice making snow forts,” said second grader Sophia Hedden. “My dad thinks its important cause he works on the river. If something happened to him, you could build a snow fort and spend the night in there… Unless it’s sunny, then it’s just gonna melt.”A snow fort is more than a hole in the snow. The students know to keep the walls 18 inches thick for insulation and structural integrity. There are other tricks, too.“Try making a big pile and then making a hole,” Hedden said. “It may take longer, but it makes a better and more stable snow fort.”It’s possible to get stuck or lost outdoors even in known terrain. More people go missing in Alaska each year than in any other state. Haines Volunteer Fire Department Chief Al Giddings says risk comes with the territory.“For most of it it’s self explanatory, just given the location and where we are and the life that we live here,” Giddings said.According to Giddings, Haines volunteer fire department deployed searches about nine times this year. The department even has a local search and rescue group under development to respond to increased demand. Knowing basic survival skills can make all the difference while waiting for help to arrive.“Especially for our young people, just geographically for where we live and also the activities a lot of kids are involved in,” Giddings said. “Lot of outdoor sports in the wintertime.”This is the first year the library and museum have partnered to offer a winter break survival skills course. It’s Elsie Fullerton’s first month as the education coordinator for the Sheldon Museum. She says the partnership is a natural fit.“We’re both trying to cater to Haines locals and to provide a service to the community. So especially in this time when parents are working and kids are out of school, it seemed like a natural thing to work together and support each other on,” Fullerton sid.This week, Survival Skills will transition to Detective Skills. The group will learn sleuthing tactics and solve a mystery with some help from the Haines Police Department.