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1/13/15 - Gov. Bill Walker fires Transportation department head over mega-projects

Governor Bill Walker, Commissioner Pat Kemp at odds on Knik Arm Bridge, Juneau Access Road

The head of the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, Commissioner Pat Kemp, stepped down yesterday. Governor Bill Walker’s spokesperson Grace Jang says Walker accepted Kemp’s resignation because in a memo to the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Kemp expressed views contrary to the Governor’s philosophy and decisions.

“Commissioner Kemp stated in his memo,” said Jang, “that he essentially is taking a different stance than the Governor. And like I said, all commissioners serve at the pleasure of the Governor.”

As the price of oil plummeted, and estimates of the state deficit grew into the billions of dollars, on December 24th, Walker sent out an administrative order directing agencies to halt discretionary spending on six mega-projects, and to submit funding status reports on the projects. Jang says Kemp’s position on the Knik Arm Bridge and the Juneau Access Road were at odds with the Governor’s.

“The Commissioner Kemp’s resignation is one that Gov. Walker had planned to accept,” said Jang. “And he was in an acting capacity until today [Jan. 12] and the reason for the termination today is because of the memo he sent to OMB about the transportation project.”

For his part, Kemp says he didn’t resign, he retired. He says he had already emptied his desk back in November when the new administration asked him to stay on as Acting Commissioner, then told him yesterday it was time to go. He says he thought his memo was a status report.

“I'm surprised at that,” said Kemp. “I sent the memo to the Governor and OMB Director and just gave the facts on the two projects, on federal payback and things like that. I had no idea I was not in line with the Governor's ideas.”

In his memo, Kemp said halting or delaying the projects likely will result in penalties from federal funding agencies. And, he said, they’d been authorized by repeated Legislative appropriations.

“I think they were both good projects,” said Kemp. “I think they were legacy projects that would move the state forward but my personal opinion is there's a new administration and they want to do something different, so more power to 'em.”

Pat Binder, head of the department’s aviation division, takes over as acting commissioner of the department of transportation and public facilities.

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Western Alaska villages get faster Internet service

By Charles Enoch, KYUK

GCI has extended its broadband telecommunications connections out of the Bethel hub now.  Vice President David Morris says Tuluksak, Kwethluk, Akiak, Akiachak, Kasigluk, Nunapitchuk, Atmauthluk, Napakiak, Napaskiak, and Oscarville now have the faster and more reliable cell phone service, and faster computer connections. 

"There are some enhancements on the voice side but most notable improvements will be on the data side,” said Morris. “Users will be able to immediately experience difference of a faster download speed and upload speeds, it’s quite dramatic."

Morris says 3G was launched in these villages over the past two months. GCI expected to launch 3G services in the villages by November 2014, Morris says, but there were some delays.

“Part of it is just being ambitious, and deploying advanced communications in some of the most remote areas of America,” said Morris.”You're always going to come across some issue and one of the reasons it took longer was simply to optimize the system so it would work correctly.”

Morris says the upgrade was funded by a Tribal Mobility Fund, a component of the Federal Communications Commission that supports the expansion of newer wireless services to places that are behind in the technology.

Morris says GCI is in the planning stages of deploying newer technology to 48 communities throughout Alaska over the next two years.

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Two political scientists say Alaska's representative to Congress is one of the best in the U.S. House

Rep. Don Young of Alaska is one of the 20 most effective lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives according to a new book by two political science professor. Craig Volden, of the University of Virginia, and co-author Alan Wiseman of Vanderbilt University looked at House bills introduced from 1973 through 2012. They measured how well the bills progressed and the strategies sponsors used. In their book Legislative Effectiveness in the U.S. House the authors said Young scored highly year after year. He was 11th in his freshman term, and, according to their formula, Young was the No. 1 most effective Republican eight times. Young says one of his strategies is to appear to be “not very bright,” to throw people off.

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