Alaska News Nightly: November 22, 2010

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‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ to be Addressed During Lame Duck Session
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington DC
Senator Lisa Murkowski is in the center of the debate over the military’s policy banning openly gay service-members, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”  Comments she made last week to an Anchorage TV station suggest she’s one of only a handful of Republicans saying they’d vote to repeal the law.

MSNBC Anchor Rachel Maddow jumped on the story Thursday:

But Murkowski’s spokesman says the Senator is not guaranteeing she’ll vote to repeal the ban on gays in the military.  Instead, she’s waiting to see the results of a Pentagon report coming out next Tuesday, and wants to see how Democrats in the Senate introduce the repeal legislation.

The Pentagon report will weigh-in on the impact of throwing out “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and includes surveys with service-members.  Initial leaks show the report indicates that allowing gays in the military will not cause major disruptions.

Murkowski told KTVA Anchor Matthew Felling that she’s concerned about three areas:  troop support, morale and recruitment.

But even as the national media pointed to Murkowski’s comments on KTVA and pegged her as one of only three Republicans willing so far to side with Democrats, her staff put out more cautious statements. The language changing “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” is in the Defense Authorization bill, and Murkowski says Democrats should not rush its passage.  She’s calling for deliberations and discussions on the Senate floor – something Democratic leader Harry Reid may not want to take much time for, since he’d like to see the bill passed next month during the brief Lame Duck session.  Murkowski told KTVA’s Matthew Felling on Thursday that Republicans must be allowed to introduce amendments to win her approval.

One of the other hot items being pushed by both Senate Democrats and the White House right now is the new Strategic Arms Reduction or START Treaty which is the nuclear arms pact with Russia. Treaties need the support of 67 Senators for passage, and President Obama wants to see it passed before Democrats lose seats in January. Murkowski’s spokesman says the Senator has not yet made a decision on whether or not she’ll support it during the Lame Duck session.

In the past Murkowski has said that other treaties, including the Law of the Sea Treaty, which she supports and believes will help Alaskan interests as well as better position the U.S. as an Arctic nation, can’t move forward until START is dealt with.

Senate Race Certification Put On Hold
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
The outcome of Alaska’s U.S. Senate race is in question again. Republican candidate Joe Miller filed a lawsuit in state court Monday, alleging that elections officials broke state law in the way in which they counted write-in ballots.

The latest legal challenge comes as a result of a federal court judge’s order.  Judge Ralph Beistline refused to hear Miller’s complaint against Alaska Lieutenant Governor Craig Campbell and the state division of elections in federal court last week.  Beistline said it was a state matter, but did order the certification of Alaska’s Senate race halted if Miller were to file a lawsuit in state court by today.

Beistline said the results of the race should not be certified until the legal issues raised have been fully resolved.

Miller’s suit claims the state divisions of elections has not correctly interpreted state election law by accepting write in ballots that had misspelled candidates names on them

But, Lt. Governor Campbell says voter intent drives ballot acceptance.  Elections officials accepted ballots with misspellings of write in candidate’s Lisa Murkowski’s name.

Judge Beistline has issued a temporary injunction against certification until the dispute is settled in court.   The division of elections wants to certify the Senate election by Nov. 29.

Beistline says Miller raises serious issues about state election law, because Alaska law says a write-in candidate’s  name must appear on the ballot as it is spelled on the declaration of candidacy.

Lisa Murkowski has claimed victory in the election. The Republican Party of Alaska has urged Miller to concede

Memorial Service Held for F-22 Pilot
Associated Press
Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson officials said Friday that Air Force fighter pilot Captain Jeffrey Haney died when his F-22 crashed north of Anchorage last week.  Searchers located the wreckage of the plane about 100 miles from the city, south of the Denali Highway.  Officials say Capt. Haney was apparently killed in the crash, although his remains were not found.  They say they found evidence indicating that he could not have survived.   A memorial service was held Monday at the base.  At the request of the family, it was open only to family members and base personnel.

Freezing Rain Sweeps Through Much of Alaska
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Icy roads have made travel treacherous and resulted in a slew of accidents on Alaska roads, as warm air and rain push across the region. Alaska State Trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters says the ice has made for busy day for public safety officers.

Peters says no fatalities had been reported as of noontime. State Department of Transportation spokeswoman Meadow Bailey says maintenance crews are out trying to increase traction by hitting roads with a mixture of sand and salt.

National Weather Service lead forecast in Fairbanks Rick Thoman says roads retain cold and quickly ice up as rain hits them, but that air temperatures hovering at or above freezing should prevent trees and power lines from picking up heavy ice.   Typical wintertime warm ups are dry in the interior, as moisture is pulled from warm air as it rises over the Alaska Range, but Thoman says the current system is very unusual, setting up the region for a rare winter soaking.

Thoman says the system is affecting almost the entire state, except for along the Yukon Territory border, and the southeast panhandle, where it’s cooler and drier. He says the deep southerly air flow hitting the rest of Alaska is not typical of the current La Nina pattern.

Freezing rain advisories are posted from the Kenai Peninsula to the North Slope. Gov. Sean Parnell’s office directed state employees to stay home if they were not already at work.

State Revenue Sharing, Education, Local Involvement Top Priorities for AML
Casey Kelly, KTOO – Juneau
State revenue sharing, education and local involvement in regulatory and development decisions are among the Alaska Municipal League’s top priorities for 2011.

The AML Board of Directors held its annual meeting Friday in Juneau as part of the group’s Local Government Conference.

President Hal Smalley says AML will ask the legislature for a one-time increase in revenue sharing. The program divvies up state oil tax money for communities. But for the last couple years funding has been flat.

Smalley is a member of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly. He says many municipalities rely on revenue sharing to balance their budgets.

The board also passed nearly 20 resolutions taking positions on state and federal issues, mostly aligned with AML’s priorities. One resolution called for changes to the Alaska Coastal Management Program. Former Governor Frank Murkowski did away with the program’s Coastal Policy Board, which gave citizens a voice in development decisions on Alaska’s coastline. North Slope Borough Assemblywoman Adeline Hopson says that hurt local communities.

AML wants the legislature to re-establish the board. Two bills introduced last session would’ve done that, but failed to get much traction. The Parnell administration is content to go without the board as well.

The municipal league represents more than 140 Alaska communities, covering about 97 percent of state residents.

Rocket Lifts Off From Kodiak Launch Complex
Jacob Resneck, KMXT – Kodiak
A streak in the sky that could be seen from Kodiak to Homer at dusk Friday was a multi-stage Minotaur IV rocket. The joint NASA/Air Force research mission successfully lifted off from the Kodiak Launch Complex on Narrow Cape and comes at a crucial time for the Alaska Aerospace Corporation.

Diabetes Prevention Program Called a National Success
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
Federal health officials say a diabetes-education program targeting Native Americans is a success. The five-year demonstration project, funded by the Indian Health Service, inspired patients to get more exercise and eat healthier food. That lowered risk factors for tribal members, who have the nation’s highest diabetes rates. A Southeast Alaska health organization is part of the program.

Conference Emphasizes New Technology for Learning Inupiaq Language
Jake Neher, KBRW – Barrow
Hundreds of people from across the North Slope gathered at the Inupiat Heritage Center in Barrow for the annual Elders and Youth Conference last week. The emphasis this year was on new technologies to promote learning the Inupiaq language. A trial version of the upcoming Rosetta Stone software for Inupiaq was used for the first time at the conference.

Reflections on Heritage
Ed Ronco, KCAW – Sitka
November is Native American Heritage Month, and the occasion was marked by a parade through downtown Sitka on Saturday afternoon.  KCAW’s Ed Ronco walked down Lincoln Street as onlookers gathered before the start of the parade, and asked them to reflect on the meaning of heritage.

Reflections on the meaning of heritage before the start of Saturday’s Native American Heritage Month parade, which was organized by the Sitka Tribe of Alaska.