Politics: The Revenge of Bill Allen

(Author’s Note: This is an excerpt from an unedited transcript that contains typos, grammatical errors and an occasional bad word. This the fourth in a series published every Friday.)

Introduction
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The march towards the November 2000 general election was dominated by the state’s dire fiscal outlook. Lawmakers who strongly supported finding fiscal solutions would face attacks from primary and general election opponents alike and still win re-election. But there would be an underside to the election that few in the public would see. Accusations would be levied, threats would be made, and Bill Allen would have his day.

As the deadline for candidate registration arrived, a primary challenger for my Sand Lake house seat emerged.  Over the next two months of candidate forums, debates and door to door, it would come to pass that I would never meet my primary opponent face to face. But although Michael Murphy was absent from the campaign trail, his presence was still felt.

Politicians are a nervous breed. Even facing an opponent with a lack of name recognition and resources, there is always cause to borrow concern. With my no name opponent, the concern began immediately.

The first thing I began to hear in political circles was my opponent was recruited by a few of my colleagues to run against me. There was anger about my collaboration with Democrats on a fiscal plan, there was anger towards my refusal to follow the party line on certain issues, but more importantly when I crossed Ramona Barnes, I crossed the donors she influenced.

Shortly thereafter it became clear that donors were being told to avoid supporting me. This became very evident during one of my very few fundraisers during the campaign, a co-event held with Speaker Brian Porter. The event which took place in the CIRI board room was well attended, however when the room cleared, a point had been made.

Traditionally when you have a dozen people attend a lunch time fundraiser hosted by one of the biggest names in politics, you get a dozen checks. I received far fewer. It was the political equivalent of the Sicilian message referred to in the Godfather. In follow up conversations it was clear that Barnes had leveraged her relationship with key donors to try and hamper my fundraising  ability.

One of the biggest donors Ramona controlled was Bill Allen, arguably the most powerful Republican fundraiser in Alaska. It wasn’t just the checks that Allen and his employees would write; it was his ability to shake donations loose from his customers and clients that carried so much weight. Allen, who became the most damaging influence in Alaska’s political history, had relied on Barnes to carry his water for almost a decade.

Allen and I got off to a very bad start.

On November 5, 1998 just two days after I first won election to the state house, the Republican Majority was scheduled to meet that evening at the Associated General Contractors office to organize. I was in my office around noon when the phone rang, it was Bill Allen.

“Andrew, this is Bill Allen,” said the booming voice from the other end of the phone. During my campaign Allen had donated to me, however I hadn’t yet met him in person. “Who are you going to support for speaker,” he asked. I felt uncomfortable immediately, and caught completely off guard. During organizing meetings, the leadership is always elected with secret ballots, but here was Allen demanding to know who I was supporting.

By all accounts there were only two Republicans vying to be speaker, Brian Porter and Pete Kott. I met with Porter briefly during my campaign, and was impressed with his experience and his reputation as being a strong leader with integrity. I also met with Pete Kott during the campaign, but came away with unsettling feeling.

During my time in the legislature, there were only a few lawmakers whom I thought were just plain dirty. The kind of lawmaker who would skirt rules, play political games and let lobbyist dictate their votes. The kind of lawmaker you’d count your fingers after you shook their hand. Pete Kott was one of those lawmakers, and Jerry Ward was the other.

Kott was quite a piece of work. Aside from being the favored chew toy of lobbyist including Allen and his VECO associate Rick Smith, he lacked any shred of morals or basic decency. At one time during my tenure, Kott showed up to vote on the education budget while intoxicated.

“Brian Porter,” I finally answered, after getting over the initial surprise. “I like Pete Kott,” Allen replied. He went on to say he felt the house majority was fractured and that Kott was the only one who could bring everyone together. His advocacy of Kott was due in part by Barnes, as the both of them were closely aligned, and there was no question she preferred him over Porter. When I pushed back and reiterated that I was supporting Porter, he became irritated.

I raised a lot of money for you, Allen said in a voice that sounded like a man who expected a return on his investment. He went on to claim that he had saved the Alaska GOP from certain electoral doom by writing a personal check for $60,000 to the national Republican Party, which was then funneled back to the state party. If I hadn’t written that check, the party would have been broke this election cycle, he added.

When Allen began steering into quid pro quo territory, that’s when I realized the call had to end immediately. I thanked him for his support, and hung up the phone. Porter would go on to become the speaker, and I’d go on to find out that I wasn’t the only lawmaker that Allen tried to strong arm into supporting Kott for speaker.

On August 22, 2000 despite the attempts by Barnes and others, I won the primary with 66% of the vote, and faced no general election opponent. Normally that would mean a free ride, with no drama, but I was still angry over Barnes attempt to sandbag me in the primary.

One of the many things that always irritated me during my time in Juneau was the amount of legislative travel and per diem that lawmakers claimed during tough fiscal times. Ironically, it was usually the lawmakers who complained the loudest about state spending who claimed the most expenses, and some of the biggest hypocrites came from the Mat-Valley.

One of the most infamous critics of state spending was Vic Kohring. The Valley lawmaker was constantly in the media claiming lawmakers weren’t truly interested in reducing spending, and then attempted to polish his credentials as a frugal conservative by sleeping on the couch in his office. He even penned an op-ed in the Anchorage Daily News saying that Alaska’s government had begun to resemble socialist Russia.

However, when the annual legislative expense reports for 1999 were released, a year that saw the price of oil drop to $15 per barrel and the state face a one billion dollar budget hole, Kohring was the most expensive lawmaker in Juneau. Not only was Kohring the most costly out of 60 lawmakers, he broke a record by claiming per diem for every single day he was out of session including Christmas Day. For a lawmaker who preached that state government was too expensive, and his constituents didn’t need it, he defended his record breaking per diem expense as necessary because he was helping his constituents with state government issues.

But Barnes was no better. She along with her senate soul mate Jerry Ward continued to spend thousands on legislative travel during a time we were cutting every agency in state government and talking about using permanent fund earnings to fill the budget gap. After the previous two years of taking the slings and arrows from fellow lawmakers and the public for trying to find new revenue sources, and then eventually having to fend off Barnes attempt to defeat me in the primary, I wasn’t going to let that pass.

Meanwhile, both Barnes and Ward were facing serious opposition from Democratic candidates during the 2000 general election. Barnes was facing Harry Crawford, a hard working Democrat who came within 72 votes of defeating her  just two years earlier. Ward was facing Mike Szymanski, a former Alaska State Senator who served in the 1980’s.

With money in my campaign account, no opponent, and a grudge on my shoulder I decided to give Barnes and Ward a payback. Three weeks before to the November election, I launched ads pointing out their hypocrisy. “While Andrew Halcro was the least costly lawmaker in Juneau, both Ramona Barnes and Jerry Ward were spending thousands of taxpayer dollars on excessive travel,” the ad read. As soon as it hit the airwaves, the shit hit the fan.

Within hours of the ads making their debut, my voice mail began exploding. The next day I was invited to lunch, and I use the word “invited” very generously, with Speaker Brian Porter and Finance Co-Chair Eldon Mulder. During lunch at the Glacier Brewhouse, Mulder pulled no punches when warning my actions would carry dire consequences. “You know you’re not going to be able to accomplish much as vice chair of the community and regional affairs committee,” Mulder said. Is that a threat, I asked. That’s a fact, Mulder replied.

Both Porter and Mulder tried to minimize the damage. They pleaded with the news media not to make a big deal about the ads. He placed the ads, he should explain them, John Tracy, the news director at KTUU had reportedly told Mulder.

The travel expense story was the lead on the evening news, as they played a clip of my radio spot and commented on the rift between Republicans. The story only helped bring attention to the issue and on Election Day, Democratic challenger Crawford soundly defeated Barnes, while Ward hung on to beat Szymanski.

Two days after the 2000 November election, House Republicans meet to organize leadership and select committee chairs.

During my first term I had been the Co-Chair of two committees and then eventually became the Chair of the Transportation committee. But I could see right away that it was going to be a long evening and one that I would have to go quietly into the night when it was over. By the end of the evening my leadership positions were gone and I came away with a seat on only two minor committees. This was penance for Barnes and Ward. This was Bill Allen’s reach.

Sitting around the large conference room table at the offices of the Alaska Associated General Contractors, one by one, committees were filled. What was most disappointing was even lawmakers that had privately applauded my actions, offered no defense. When I glanced around the room, very few if any made eye contact.

Before the meeting adjourned, I leaned over to pick up my coat and make the long walk. My Fairbanks colleague Jim Whitaker, who was sitting near the door, tried to offer moral support. “This is bullshitI” I said as I brushed by Whitaker and out the door past two dozen blank stares. The same two dozen blank stares I’d see 18 months later, when they suddenly needed me.

As it turned out I wasn’t the only lawmaker who paid the price. Fellow Representative Lisa Murkowski came away with just a slightly better standing in the majority leadership. Mike Bradner who published the  Alaska Legislative Digest, penned that along with the punishment I received, Murkowski emerged with only the chairmanship of the Labor & Commerce Committee, which he described as a “backwater” committee.

The next morning, my first call was from fellow lawmaker Ethan Berkowitz, the house minority leader. He was calling from the hospital as his wife Mara had just given birth to their first child. “Who are the committee chairs,” he asked. After I was done narrating the list, Berkowitz paused a few seconds for dramatic effect, and then said in a very staid voice, “I’m sorry; I didn’t hear the name Andrew Halcro.” That was the funniest damn thing I’d hear for a while.

Later that day, I received a voice mail message from Steve McDonald with KTUU. “I would like to talk to you about the house leadership organization list that was just released.” I replayed the voice message, thought long and hard about returning his call, but decided against it. It was painfully obvious I had already said enough.

The following morning, the Associated Press nailed it with, “perhaps the biggest loser in the organization was second term Rep. Andrew Halcro of Anchorage, the only member of the majority without at least a co-chairmanship.” The story included a quote from Speaker Brian Porter about the profound loss of Barnes. The AP story closed with, “Halcro did not immediately return calls from the Associated Press on Friday.”

 

 

 

 

 

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