TIME 2014 midterm elections

Alaska Voters Get Ready for the Polar Primary

Alaska Senate Republicans
From left, U.S. Senate Republican candidates Joe Miller, Dan Sullivan and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell take part in a debate in Eagle River, Alaska on Aug. 4, 2014. Mark Thiessen—AP

Alaskans vote to pick which Republican will take on Democratic Sen. Mark Begich

Alaskans go to the polls Tuesday to decide the match up for the last big Senate race of the 2014 cycle. Voters there will pick which Republican will challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, a former Anchorage mayor seeking a second Senate term.

The GOP primary has already been messy. Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell entered the race as the establishment favorite and 11 points up in at least one poll a year ago. However, Treadwell faltered on fundraising and organization, giving a window to Dan Sullivan, the former Natural Resources commissioner under once-governor Sarah Palin. Sullivan quickly cemented himself as the frontrunner, garnering the support of the likes of Karl Rove, and has lead in polls since.

That said, don’t discount the 49th state’s ability to surprise politically. The third candidate on the ballot is a living example of that: Joe Miller, a Tea Partier who beat Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the Republican primary in 2010 but lost the general election to Murkowski, who waged a rare write-in campaign. Sullivan generally garners 30-40% in polls, with Treadwell pulling 20-25% and Miller coming in with 15%-20%. Polls, though, are notoriously unreliable in this state.

The nasty primary, replete with one Miller mailer depicting illegal aliens as gang thugs, has been expensive for Republicans, with Sullivan spending more than $3 million of the $4 million he raised by the end of July. Treadwell spent more than $1 million and Miller nearly $600,000. Begich enters the general election with more than $2 million cash on hand, having spent a whopping $5.2 million in ads promoting himself or attacking his would-be rivals, mostly focusing his fire on Sullivan.

And what Alaska primary would be complete without a bit of confusion? There’s also a Dan Sullivan running for lieutenant governor, which could addle some voters unsure of which Sullivan to vote for in which race.

Begich, who has carefully tended to Alaska’s needs anticipating a tough reelection, enters the general election slightly ahead of Treadwell and Sullivan in hypothetical head-to-head match ups and with a commanding lead over Miller. He will also likely benefit from a spate of third party candidates already on the ballot, including two Libertarians likely to draw votes from the GOP candidate.

The national winds run against Begich these midterms. Six in ten Alaskan voters disapprove of President Barack Obama, to whom Republicans are tying Begich. “Mark Begich has been a champion for [Obama’s] agenda in the Senate, voting with him a staggering 97% of the time leaving even Vermont Socialist Bernie Sanders—94% of the time—in the dust,” says Brad Dayspring, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which works to elect Republicans to the Senate. “Think about that, Mark Begich votes with President Obama more than socialist Bernie Sanders no matter the issue—costly energy taxes, spending increases, and of course, Obamacare.”

Every race is local, though, and given GOP infighting and Begich’s surprising polling resilience, most independent observers rate this seat as lean Democratic.

TIME animals

This Guy Went to Alaska and Caught a 482-Pound Halibut

An old man and the sea

After a 40-minute struggle, 76-year-old Californian Jack McGuire recently caught the world’s largest halibut, the Associated Press reports.

McGuire’s monster fish weighed a whopping 482 pounds and was 95 inches long, smashing the previous record set in 1996 (a very respectable 459lbs). Unfortunately his catch will go unrecognized by the International Game Fish Association, because McGuire’s boat captain shot the fish before it was brought onboard to keep it from flopping about and hurting someone.

According to the AP, McGuire “applauded the decision” to kill the fish despite his disqualification from record-holder status.

TIME States

Alaska to Put Free Pregnancy Tests in Bar Restrooms

The program will help combat the state's high rate of fetal alcohol syndrome

The University of Alaska is leading a state-funded program to put free pregnancy tests in the bathrooms of 20 bars and restaurants across the state starting this December.

The two-year, $400,000 program is designed to combat Alaska’s rate of fetal alcohol syndrome, which is the highest of any state in the country, the Anchorage Daily News reports. Women of child-bearing age in Alaska are 20 percent more likely to binge drink in comparison to the national average.

“This is not a strategy for the chronic alcoholic who is drinking regardless of whatever message they see,” said Jody Allen Crowe, who founded a Minnesota organization that leads a similar program and is helping with the project. “This is really focused on the 50 percent of unexpected pregnancies, to find out they are pregnant as early as possible.”

Republican Senator Pete Kelly, who has said before that birth control is for women who “who don’t want to act responsibly,” first proposed the program.

[Anchorage Daily News]

TIME Polar Bear

Watch Rare Footage of Alaska From a Polar Bear’s Perspective

Biologists put cameras on four female polar bears in Alaska to observe their behavior


It’s not everyday that you can see up close what polars bears do in the wild.

Biologists with the United States Geological Survey equipped four female polar bears with collar cams in Alaska, in an attempt to learn more about how the animals’s behavior is impacted by sea ice conditions. Researchers said this is the first point-of-view video ever recorded from free-ranging polar bears.

The bears wore cameras for about 10 days, which captured everything the animals were doing, from eating habits to mating rituals.

Scientists also hope that the footage will help them understand the potential effects of climate change.


TIME nature

Alaska Woman Walks a Mile After Being Mauled in Bear Attack

Brown Bears Fishing In Alaska
A brown Bear is pictured at sunrise catching a salmon at Mount Kukak on August 28, 2011 in Katmai National Park, Alaska. Jon Cornforth—Barcroft Media/Getty Images

A jogger on an Alaskan Air Force base narrowly survived the mauling with wounds to her arms, legs, neck and torso, but still managed to walk most of the way home

A woman in Alaska walked one mile with claw marks across her arms, legs, neck and torso, after she escaped a terrifying encounter with a brown bear on Sunday.

CNN reports that the woman—who did not wish to reveal her name—was jogging with her husband along a well-trodden path at an Alaskan Air Force base. The husband ran ahead, and she alone turned a corner, coming face to face with a mother bear and her two cubs.

The bear took a defensive stance, according to an Air Force spokeswoman, and then attacked the woman. She escaped and walked one mile toward the base before a passerby spotted her on the path.

She was taken to Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage for treatment and is reportedly in stable condition.

Air Force spokeswoman Angela Webb said it was the first bear encounter on the base since 2010, adding that attacks are extremely rare. “In this particular case, the runner turned the corner at the wrong time and wrong place,” she said. [CNN]


Alaska’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban Challenged

The United For Marriage Rally drew over 100 people outside the Federal Building in Anchorage, Alaska, Wednesday, June 26, 2013 Anchorage Daily News/Getty Images

Five same-sex couples have filed a lawsuit to overturn the state's 1998 constitutional amendment that defined marriage as being between a man and a woman, but also aim to force the state to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries

Five same-sex couples filed a lawsuit Monday that challenges Alaska’s ban on gay marriage as unconstitutional.

The Alaskan lawsuit, filed on behalf of four couples married outside of the state and one unmarried couple, not only wants to overturn Alaska’s 1998 constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, but also to force the state to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries.

Although most states across the country have seen similar legal challenges, attorney Caitlin Shortell, one of three lawyers on the Hamby v. Parnell lawsuit, says this is the first legal challenge in Alaska to legalize gay marriage. Shortell said that the lawsuit is both “necessary and important.”

After a South Dakota lawsuit that was announced last week is filed, Montana and North Dakota will be the only two states in the union yet to challenge prohibitions on gay marriage.

Last month, the Alaskan Supreme Court ruled to increase rights of same sex couples, including official entitlement to same property tax exemptions. In February, state senator Hollis French proposed measures to strip away the state’s gay marriage ban, which he declared a “blot on our state constitution,” although it didn’t gain traction.

Lawyers say that they expect the Republican-controlled state legislature to defend the ban.

[Anchorage Daily News]

TIME Environment

Take a Tour of Alaska’s Stunning, Eerie Ice Caves With This Video Shot Using a Drone

So happy we're watching this while we're inside where there's heat


One of the great things about drones is they can explore remote, inaccessible locations, like the gorgeous ice caves in Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier. This video, “Bigger Than Life,” bills itself as the “first documented drone flight through ice caves” and captures stunning views using a GoPro camera and a quadcopter drone. See? Drones are good for so much more than just delivering your Amazon purchases.

TIME weather

Winter Storm Shutters Washington D.C.

But Alaska was unseasonably warm

A winter storm shut down Washington D.C. on Monday as this year’s cold, snowy winter continued to batter the weather-weary country.

The federal government was shuttered Monday, and the House and Senate canceled votes scheduled in the evening, reports Politico, due to the snowstorm set to bring over 5 inches of snow into the nation’s capital. The House was scheduled to vote on a series of resolutions, including one that calls for an end to violence in Venezuela. Washington’s closing also comes as Congress mulls a response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

President Barack Obama, however, defied the poor weather by going ahead with his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House. The Supreme Court was also expected to hear oral arguments.

The mid-Atlantic region was hit by five inches of snow across West Virginia, Virginia, Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey, according to Accuweather. Sleet was reported from Texas to Tennessee, and over 2,000 flights were canceled.

While the weather in the Mid-Atlantic continues to be cold and dreary, conditions in Alaska are unseasonably warm. Competitors and dog sled teams in the annual winter 1,000-mile Iditarod race faced weather uncomfortably warm for dogs as temperatures hit the high teens over the weekend, reports the Daily Mail.

The topsy-turvy weather in the United States may be the result of a changing jet stream pattern, scientists say, which causes northern latitudes to be unusually warm and southern latitudes to be cooler.


TIME Drug Policy

Alaska Takes Step to Becoming Next State to Legalize Marijuana

Regulating medical marijuana
Anthony Souffle / Chicago Tribune / MCT / Getty Images

Legalization could be on the ballot in August

Advocates for legalizing marijuana say that Colorado and Washington were just the beginning, and it’s looking like Alaska may be next. On Wednesday, legalization supporters submitted 45,000 signatures to the state’s Lieutenant Governor, about 15,000 more than they need to get the measure on the August 2014 primary ballot.

“Voters around the country are fed up with our failed prohibition policies,” Mason Tvert of the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project said in a statement. “Alaska is poised to be the next state to regulate marijuana like alcohol, and it won’t be long before more states follow.”

The initiative would make possession of limited amounts of marijuana legal for adults ages 21 and older, much like the law that took effect in Colorado Jan. 1. The state has allowed medical marijuana since 1998. And advocates are using the same political angle that was successful in 2012: that marijuana is safer than alcohol, and it makes little sense to regulate one while driving the other into an underground market. Alaska’s Campaign to Regulate Marijuana is also making the case that law enforcement has better things to do than arrest people for possessing pot and that regulating the substance would bring new revenue into the state’s coffers.

Why is Alaska potentially the third state to clear the way for legal weed? The reasons and are practical and political. While activists like Tvert are waiting until 2016 to push initiatives in more populous states like Arizona and California, when higher turnout for a presidential election may boost their effort, Alaska requires that ballot initiatives be dealt with during primary elections, so there was little advantage to waiting. They’re are also hoping that the state’s rich libertarian tradition will help their cause.

“It’s safe to say that Alaska has traditionally had a significant amount of interest in maintaining privacy rights,” says Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “The libertarian streak certainly benefits the effort.”

The Division of Elections will now review the signatures, and if enough are deemed to qualify, voters up north could soon find themselves in the marijuana debate.

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