The Americans For Prosperity presentation series on Alaska’s state budget came to Fairbanks last night. The small-government advocacy organization has been hosting Governor Mike Dunleavy and his economic advisers in several towns in Alaska. The Fairbanks event was both big, with a large protest, and small, with a lower turnout for the presentation. 400 protestors filled the sidewalks nearby, and a few disrupted the presentation, which the governor acknowledged.
Ryan McKee put together the panelists, locations, flights, and support for the series in a very short time. “I reached out to the governor’s office, Mary Ann Pruitt, about a month and a half ago.”
He’s the state director for Americans For Prosperity – Alaska, and thought Alaskans should have a chance to directly question the governor’s staff.
“In a more intimate setting with the people who actually created the budget. Not people who have opinions about it, but people that actually crafted it -- had a vision.”
In the afternoon, McKee said registration for the event showed a full-capacity crowd at the Westmark Hotel in Fairbanks, and was checking the wait list.
Outside the hotel, a crowd eventually swelled to 400 people – the largest so far of protests at the Roadshows.
Signs showing support for the University and Pioneer Homes, and warning about the costs of climate change, were about one to one with signs supporting union jobs. Mindy O’Neall with Laborers Local 942 says the “Save Our State” organization sprung up this month in response to the governor’s AFP-sponsored tour.
“Yeah, it was pretty fast, but I think one of the motivating factors is this is a “public” and I’m using quotations, a public event that is paid for by private money. And that’s not right. When the governor comes to our community, he needs to talk to us in a public place. That’s what a governor does.”
High School Juniors Ben Kahoe, Kate Baring and Thomas Buehler came to the protest because they worry about cuts to K-12 education and the University system.
Kahoe “I plan to attend college in Alaska, and with the budget cut, I won’t be able to do that. Most Alaskans would be OK with the PFD being cut. This is a college town.”
Baring “Just looking at the treatment of the citizens, as a youth, I think its important that we stand up for the rights we want to see in the future, and I don’t think this administration is doing that.”
Buehler “The one good thing Dunleavy did, is he made us discuss ways to fund the State of Alaska. Two ways, I believe are the PFD and an income tax.”
Some protesters also had registered to attend the panel discussion. By the time the presentation began, there were many empty seats, with only 140 people inside. John Rich with Americans for Prosperity, said it could be, Fairbanksans had already seen the Roadshow videos his organization has posted on its Facebook page, and felt they already knew the AFP message about smaller government, and Dunleavy’s message about capping state spending.
“We don’t have the money to do what we’ve been doing, but it also gives us an opportunity to do things a little bit different, a little better. Next slide.”
On a screen above the panel, charts were projected showing different scenarios of future state budgets with and without the prescriptive changes the governor wants. A big part of the AFP plan are three constitutional amendments to change spending and the PFD calculation. While the governor was explaining, protesters interrupted.
“You talk about root causes, and the root causes are climate change, and how can we talk about…(crowd boos) There are hundreds of people you should be talking to. Talk to them! Talk to them!”
The four protestors from “Defend the Sacred” were escorted out by four security men and two Alaska State Troopers there to watch the governor. The presentation continued with a question and answer session about measuring outcomes in the K-12 schools, whether Alaskans are entitled to a dividend, and eventual future taxes. Then the governor thanked people for coming.
“This is more of a chance to explain to you what we are doing and why we are trying to do it. But I thank you for the dialogue. Folks outside have a right to do what they are doing. It’s America, and it’s the First Amendment, and I agree 100% with what they’re doing. It’s just that it’s easier to have a dialogue like this.”