Explosive question


The controversial post from the Facebook page of Rep. Geran Tarr

When well-meaning Alaska lawmaker Geran Tarr decided to join the collective of state legislators around the country considering increases in the minimum-wage, she turned to her official Facebook page to open a conversation on the topic.

What could possibly go wrong in these partisan and divisive times? How about everything?

Not long after the Russian Jack Democrat posted notice of a hearing to raise the minimum to $15, she says the trolls attacked. And not long after that, she posted this:

“We are finding that some of the hostile comments are from fake profiles of people who do not exist. I’ll be removing comments from the fake profiles.”

Tarr subsequently began doing so only to face a pretty quick accusation of censorship.

“Be careful,” Fairbanks’ John Henry warned in a comment, “the courts have already said that elected officials blocking people from social media accounts is a 1st amendment violation… Even if you don’t like what they have to say…”

Tarr subsequently backtracked on her earlier plan to enforce standards on her Facebook page and announced that she was closing comments on upcoming hearings on the proposal to raise the state’s minimum wage.

“Unfortunately a few bad apples ruin it for the whole bunch,” she wrote. “Many of the hostile comments are from fake profiles of people who are not registered to vote in Alaska and do not receive a PFD. I’ve deleted the comments from fake profiles. It’s really sad that this is a thing, but it is. So, comments closed for now. Please tune in. Please send an email for or against this measure to Facebook comments are not entered into the legislative record so if you want legislators to know how you feel please send an email.”

In response to a personal message on Facebook, Tarr said she didn’t know exactly how many comments came from “fake” Facebook users.

“I can ask my staff because I don’t have a count,” she wrote, “but I had spent about five hours Tuesday night and Wednesday morning to reply to comments only to find some were fake, and we just don’t have the capacity right now to monitor that.

“It’s a big deal because these fake profiles write a bunch of nasty things and misinformation and get an entire thread started based on misinformation. It’s pretty disappointing,  and I don’t know if you or people you know do this kind of thing, but it’s just a disappointment as a legislator because I really want to engage with people and I will take the time to reply to each person, but this is just nonsense.”

She did not explain how her staff determined which Facebook accounts were real and which were fake. The two are not always easy to tell apart. The Facebook page was today reporting 183 comments had been posted. There were 24 still showing on the page, 10 of those being responses from Tarr.

The law

Legal standards on what public officials can and cannot do on social media are not yet fully established, but the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in January extended First Amendment protection to people commenting on the Facebook pages of public officials as Henry noted.

The ruling came in the wake of a decision by a local Virginia politician to block the comments of a constituent “because of his allegation of governmental corruption constitutes black-letter viewpoint discrimination,” the Richmond, Va.-based court ruled.

The Court noted that although Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall was using her page for both public and private communications – “such as her affection for the German language or pride in becoming an organ donor” – the page was primarily devoted to government functions.

As such, it constituted a “public forum,” the court concluded, “and the Supreme Court recently analogized social media sites, like the Chair’s Facebook Page, to ‘traditional’ public forums, characterizing the internet as ‘the most important place (in a spacial sense) for the exchange of views.’ An ‘exchange of views’ is precisely what Randall sought—and what in fact transpired—when she expressly invited ‘ANY Loudoun citizen’ to visit the page and comment ‘on ANY issues,’ and received numerous such posts and comments.”

Once that door is opened, the court ruled, a government official can’t close it to try to keep out the people from whom she doesn’t want to hear.

The Virginia case is not the only one trying to deal with the thorny issues of social media in these partisan times, but it is, according to the Knight First Amendment Institute, “the first court of appeals ruling on whether the First Amendment applies to government-run social media sites. 

“In May 2018, a federal trial court in New York held in a case brought by the Knight Institute that President Trump’s blocking of critics from his Twitter account violated the First Amendment. The Trump administration has appealed that decision, and the case is currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.”

Alaska law

No lawsuits have been filed in Alaska in efforts to control how politicians and government officials use social media as public forums although many are deep into social media.

Lawsuits are costly. The Virginia case was supported by the Knight Insitute with help from chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union in Virginia, New York, Maryland, South Carolina, North Carolina and West Virginia.

The Alaska ACLU has been active on what might, in some ways, be considered the opposite side of this issue. It is involved in a lawsuit against newly elected Republic Gov. Mike Dunleavy that contends an “assistant attorney general was terminated for blogging about her own personal political views, which differed from the new administration’s.”

As the Alaska ACLU notes, the Supreme Court has several times held that the First Amendment offers protection for public employees wishing to comment on matters of public interest, but social media is playing havoc with all the old rules by shifting the platform on which American democracy was built.

It is one thing to hold views and another to build a stage from which to spread those views far and wide. Costs historically limited almost everyone, including public employees, from building the infrastructure to push their political views, but the internet changed everything.

Enter former Alaska Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth “Libby” Bakalar, a talented political provocateur writing at the profanity-laced, blog “One Hot Mess.”

Her lawsuit against the state hinges on how much protection the First Amendment affords employees who serve at the will of the governor.  The governor needs no cause to fire policymakers. He can send them packing if he simply dislikes the way they dress, but there is a debate as to whether assistant AGs are policymakers.

On the left, Matt Buxton at the Midnight Sun argues, that if Dunleavy had “taken the time to understand Bakalar’s work (as I have from time to time during stories) instead of obsess over her Twitter account, they’d know she’s a hard-as-nails attorney who doesn’t let a single ounce of her personal political beliefs seep into her filings. She’s gone to bat plenty of times for the (former Gov. Sean) Parnell administration and undertook the effort to knock the salmon habitat initiative off the ballot, successfully getting its most egregious parts struck from the version that appeared on the ballot.”

On the right, Suzanne Downing at MustReadAlaska contends, that Bakalar was a big part of the reason the initiative intended to block almost all mining Alaska got on the ballot in the first place. After deeming the petition unconstitutional,  Downing writes, “Bakalar and her boss, former Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth, allowed the group a ‘do over’ and even coached them in rewriting the language so the petition could be deemed constitutional.”

The initiative failed at the ballot box.

Politically, there is little doubt, that Bakalar was more closely aligned with the liberal philosophies of Walker than the conservative philosophies of Dunleavy, but the real issue doesn’t seem to be as much with her political beliefs as her ability to spread them.

Her blog, Downing wrote, is “widely read throughout the Juneau liberal intelligentsia and government establishment,” and on that she and Buxton are in agreement. The issue with Bakalar appears to come down not to what she believes but to how far she spreads those beliefs.

In some ways, the issue echoes the difference between yelling fire in your living room or in a crowded theatre, the latter being the point at which the U.S. Supreme Court once held free speech ended.

It later moved the bar. The court in 1969 held that yelling fire in a theater is legally protected free speech unless the government can show it is “likely to incite or produce” a panic.

But Constitutional scholars agree there remain limits to free speech both on the part of the public and on the part of government employees, who have less latitude than John Q. Public. Bakalar and Tarr to some extent frame the debate.

The Bakalar case involves the right of public employees to incite. The Tarr incident involves the authority of public officials to control.

Who decides

Tarr said she firmly believes people have the right to express their opinions, but she took issue with their wasting her time.

“…I think we have to be (as) accessible as possible,” she messaged. “Nastiness bums me out, but people have a right to not like what I’m doing so…it’s just a time issue.”

In this case, she said, “I spent the whole evening responding (only) to find out some (comments) were fake. It was just like, ‘OK, well, we are so in crunch time now. I just don’t have the time.”

She planned, she added “to go back and respond to everyone. I think it’s especially important to show respect and kindness, even in response to nastiness, because sometimes people have bad info and once they know otherwise they are nice or sometimes they just need to vent and they haven’t had an experience where a politician listened to them and I want them to know I’m listening.”

But everyone loses, she argued, if lawmakers are wasting time responding to internet trolls instead of their constituents. And there is no argument a lot of time can be wasted responding to internet trolls. It is a problem in many public forums and at many media websites.

Fake Facebook users might be part of the problem, but a lot of the Facebook posters stirring things up are very real. There is also a lot of misinformation, but a study published in January at Science Advances concluded that even the hotbed of “fake news” might not get that hot.

“…Sharing fake news was quite rare during the 2016 U.S. election campaign,” the Princeton and New York University authors reported. “This is important context given the prominence of fake news in post-election narratives about the role of social media disinformation campaigns.”

The public perception, however, is decidedly different, and Tarr pointed to a need to try to clean up some of the Facebook discussion. She specifically identified efforts to launch a civic engagement website called “Arizona Voices” to help lawmakers in the Southwest state stay in touch with the views of registered voters.

When it launched in 2014, Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett told a news conference that the website was “going to allow people 24/7 to weigh in on how public policy is being developed here in the state, here at the Legislature,” Phoenix’s KTAR-TV reported.

Republican Sen. Bob Worsley, the founder of Skymall Magazine, was the fundraiser for the idea, said KTAR, which reported his observations “that there needed to be improvements in how constituents reach their legislators. For example, his assistant took some 200 phone calls Wednesday in support or opposition of different bills.”

“I did have legislation my first term to push a platform like this one from Arizona,” Tarr said. “I’m thinking of trying again because now that these fake profiles are an issue we may need a new system. What’s great about this (platform) is it’s like Facebook, but you have to be a registered voter to weigh in and then it sends legislators comments from their constituents. It would be awesome!”

Or not.

Arizona Voices appears to now be dead. The website address – – no longer works. The KTAR story said, “the site was developed by Mind Mixer, an Omaha, Neb.-based firm that works to promote civic engagement online.”

An old link to azvoices/ redirects to Google and a link that says “Arizona Voices is the first statewide civic engagement platform of its kind, where you can rate pending legislation and discuss issues that impact Arizona.”

A click on that link leads to a website saying “this project does not exist.” The page then redirects to the Mind Mizer website with a pitch for a “community engagement platform (that) has helped more than 1,300 organizations start local conversations with people who care about the places they live.”

What happened to Arizona Voices is unclear, but in February 2015 the Arizona Independent News Network headlined “ is not what it appeared to be.”

In an editorial about AZVoices, the news organization questioned how it ended up with a “.gov” URL.

“….Despite the .gov domain name, AZVoices.Gov is not a government entity. It is controlled by the Arizona Voices Institute, which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and ‘non-partisan organization dedicated to increasing public participation in the legislative process. AZVoices.Gov was created by the Institute as a way to directly empower and collectively encourage citizens to propose solutions for the challenges faced by Arizona,’ according to the website,” the news organization reported.

“According to the General Services Administration, ‘in order to maintain domain name integrity, eligibility for .gov domains is limited to qualified government organizations and programs. Having a managed domain name such as .gov assures your customers that they are accessing an official US Government Site.’ It is unclear how a private, non-profit organization qualified for a .gov domain.”

AZVoices appears to have disappeared shortly thereafter to be replaced by azvoices/ The Arizona News Network suggested the entire effort looked a lot like an attempt at public manipulation.

“Worsley, who made his millions selling things to people they didn’t need, was behind the fundraising effort to bring the site to Arizona voters,” the editorial said.

“After it was up and running, Worsley claimed that he was already using data from the site to make decisions. The data gathered from users of the site developed by Mind Mixer, an Omaha, Neb.-based firm, includes users age, gender and legislative district.

“Many are asking why does it matter if a voter is young or old or female or male? How does that help a representative?

“The information is useful only in that it helps them sell their bad ideas. The demographics, used by any good marketer, will shape the narrative a lawmaker puts forth to sell voters on everything from higher taxes to loss of personal freedoms.

“Lo and behold, Karl Gentles, President of Arizona Voices – the group behind the site, is also the owner of Karl Gentles Public Relations (KGPR). According to KGPR’s website, they provide ‘strategic communications to corporate and nonprofit organizations, banking and financial institutions, healthcare, and others…. To produce deliberate outcomes, we draw upon our extensive experience in marketing, public affairs, brand strategy, event development, advertising, and execution and other marketing and public relations disciplines.'”

Argue among yourselves

Anchorage resident John Lime III, an opponent of raising the minimum wage, admitted similar concerns about Tarr’s motives made him suspicious of her decision to solicit comments about the minimum wage on Facebook. Lime believes a higher minimum would hurt young people looking for summer work and small businesses.

“I think she was butthurt when I made comment about the town hall meetings cutting people off,” he said in a Facebook message. “Or my comment about telling everyone I know to vote every one of them leeches out of Juneau (and the ones out of DC).”

Lime said he noticed that among the comments that disappeared was one claiming “the content she shares there was only part of the reasoning for the national minimum wage being set. I forget the specifics, but it basically called her out for sharing only half the information. That post is gone.”

He wasn’t sure what else disappeared, adding that  “I would like to know how she figured out they were fake profiles if that’s what they were.”

The blow-up sort of defines where politics are in the country today. Lime doesn’t trust Tarr. Tarr doesn’t trust some of the people posting on Facebook. And too many discussions of public policy have a bad habit of abandoning the legitimate questions of costs and benefits in favor of name-calling.

In this case, the reality is there are legitimate arguments for raising the minimum wage, and there are equally legitimate arguments for leaving it alone. As reporter Kimberly Amedeo notes at The Balance, a higher minimum wage can be a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing.

“Wages cannot be so high that they reduce a company’s ability to keep labor costs low during a recession,” she wrote. “In setting a minimum wage, the government has to find the sweet spot between protecting workers and giving businesses the flexibility they need to remain competitive.

Alaska’s sweet spot? Nobody has tried to identify it, and even if they tried, it might not mean much.

“…The research evidence of what actual minimum wage requirements do to job numbers goes both ways; many studies find that minimum wage laws reduce employment, and many other studies on the exact same laws find they have little or no effect on jobs,” reports the UCLA Anderson Review. “Some 60 years and hundreds of research papers from prestigious universities, government agencies and private organizations have created little consensus on the subject, academic or otherwise.”

Where to set the minimum wage in Alaska, or in most other states, is a question with no definitive answer surrounded by people sure they know the answer. If you have it, email Tarr.


23 replies »

  1. Tarr deletes “fake” Facebook accounts because they “are not registered Alaskan voters and didn’t receive a PFD”. What clueless and ignorant logic. Many Alaskans use fake accounts on social media. Why? So they aren’t hasstled for posting their thoughts. Many fake accounts are real Alaskans protecting themselves from the divisive world we now live in. I’ve always consider Tarr a stupid woman. This is more proof.

  2. First off…
    A big thanks to Rep. Geran Tarr for starting this important debate in Alaska and working to move HB 28 forward…good luck!
    Yes, Geran the “Right Wing Anonymous Troll Army” will attack any suggestion that takes away profit from the wealthy and let’s face it…it is wealthy business owners that will fight this living wage in AK “tooth and nail”.
    I have even tried to get my borough rep to take this up at the borough level but she would not…even though she claimed “I do not even make $15 an hour “.
    Firefighters in the Mat Su borough start at $11.20 an hour (after training).
    Mat Valley FCU pays tellers around $12.00 an hour to start.
    Three Bears stores throughout the Valley also start workers at $12.00 an hour.
    As a former small business owner, I always paid those who worked with me $15 to $25 an hour for their time.
    Higher wages attract better help and assure that these workers will be there for you and take pride in their job and company.
    There are many studies showing that increasing the wage to a “living wage” of $15/hr would also decrease crime and help society in many ways (more money into local economies)…less stress for working families and more time raising children instead of getting a second job to “make ends meet”.
    “The research on this is really clear and really consistent; it cuts across party lines.”

    • Steve, I wonder how Biden and his son (insert Chinese here), Bernie, Pelosi, or the Clinton’s would feel about taking profits away from the wealthy?

      • Steve, “I do not even make $15 an hour “. Maybe you should get a job and spend less time on this web site. just a thought.

      • Al,
        Maybe you should stick to what you know best (trapping animals)…
        My comment was in regards to what my borough assembly member stated (not my income)….
        What I said was:
        I have even tried to get my borough rep to take this up at the borough level but she would not…even though she claimed “I do not even make $15 an hour “

      • Sorry Steve, i apologize for my comment. I should have read it more carefully and i don’t blame my outcomes based education. It is my fault for not learning to read, not the education system.

    • Steve,

      You somehow managed to pay your workers in excess of the minimum when you were a small business owner? Look at that, the free market at work. You didn’t even need to government to tell you that a higher wage attracts better help and assures that the worker will be more reliable and take pride in the job they are doing.

      Why do you need government to tell you something you already know to be true?

      • Steve O…
        Passing a livable wage in AK is not for those small business owners who already knew that paying higher wages would attract better workers, but for all the corporations who only look to cutting costs and higher profits for their shareholders.
        As I listed above, even the “government” themselves are not paying workers in the Valley a livable wage as firefighters in Willow start at $11.20 an hour.
        As you can imagine we cannot retain firefighters as anyone who receives their training cannot pay bills on $11.20 an hour rate and we are left with a revolving door of new faces and inexperienced personnel.
        Many places like stores and banks routinely start workers at 12.00 an hour or less.
        With so many Alaskans looking to food stamps and Medicaid to make up the shortfall in low wages, you would think that there would be more bipartisan support on this issue to help low income workers become more self sufficient?

      • Steve,

        If by livable wage you mean a wage more than welfare then I suppose you have a point, maybe we shouldn’t be providing a livable wage to able bodied people who do not contribute and subsist only on government handouts. The “government” where I live pays A LOT more than $11.20 per hour to firefighters of course one of the biggest line items on my property tax is for my fire service area. My guess is that you are talking about seasonal firefighters with no experience who make most of their money in overtime…or you are leaving out a big part of the actual picture.

      • Steve O…
        Look at the Mat Su borough website for firefighters…
        11.20 is the starting rate across the board.
        On top of shitty wages, these responders get NO health insurance and EMT’s in Willow cannot work more than 29 hours a week due to Obamacare laws…
        Some days the only EMT available in town is told she cannot respond to emergencies because of the hours worked that week.
        No this is not a seasonal thing, but more due to the fact that over 85 percent of our property taxes in the mat su goes to one entity…the school district.

      • “MAT-SU Borough Department of Emergency Services primarily operates an on-call paid responder system. Responder pay starts at $11.22 per hour for trainees and increases as the level of training increases. On-call responders are able to work up to 29.9 hours per week.”

  3. Representative Tarr was all for using anonymous sources when it was politically expedient and served her purposes a few weeks ago when Representative Sponholz used them to derail the Johnstone appointment. Guess it all depends on which way the wind blows.

    • The most disconcerting part, and probably the part that will get the least amount of attention in all of this is how even the fake news news story is fake, as Craig mentioned and linked here
      “…Sharing fake news was quite rare during the 2016 U.S. election campaign,” the Princeton and New York University authors reported. “This is important context given the prominence of fake news in post-election narratives about the role of social media disinformation campaigns.”

      Now we have Representative Tarr claiming fake news as an excuse to violate the 1st Amendment Rights of individuals, and she is doing so without any proof of any fake news. Meanwhile Representative Sponholz is violating due process using, what up to this point can only be described as, fake news to discredit individual private citizens.

      These people will do and say anything to further their cause. They use fake news to their advantage when it is suitable to stiffle dissenting points of view and they use when it will let them prevail.

  4. As a business owner, I can’t think of the last time that I paid someone less than $15/hr for unskilled labor… Not that I’m for having the gub’ment telling me how to run my business. My business operates in a small market that competes with other businesses for a limited labor resource and everything works itself out. Those companies that choose to pay their employees $12/hr get the crappy candidates and companies that are smart enough to pay above that point (where ever ‘that point’ is) get to choose their employees instead of the other way around. It’s really not that difficult of a concept.
    It is obvious that the market dictates wages when you see that places like Walmart, fast food ‘restaurants’ and childcare business have signs at their business locations for $11 – $12/hr starting wages which is significantly higher than the AK ‘minimum’ wage of $9.89/hr (yes, I did have to look that up – thanks, Google!).

    • The entire “living wage” nonsense ignores that entry-level, unskilled, high-turnover jobs are designed for people just entering the workforce, who need to develop the skills to get better paying jobs, and those who have already had a career and are seeking to supplement their retirement income, or just have a place and purpose to go, rather than sit home.

      No one is supposer to try to live on what those jobs pay, as you note, if the job was worth more than entry-level wages, the job would pay more.

      • the minimum wage is a wonderful idea plagued with problems. it is a lot like “price controls,” another idea that looked to be wonderful until instituted. a lot of Alaska businesses as Jack Smothers noted here are already paying above the minimum wage to attract competent employees.

        among the few businesses i can think of largely at or near the minimum is the fish processing industry. i’d say a jump from $10/hr to $15/hr there would pretty much ensure they move to more automation in Alaska and more shipment of headed and gutted fish to China for further processing.

        though the loss of jobs might not have that big of a direct effect – about 75 percent of the work force is non-resident – the lack of trickle down to the local economy from having robots in the plants instead of bodies could be significant.

        fish processing workers don’t spend much in Alaska (Wells Fargo bank actually makes it easy for the foreign workers in Cordova to send their pay directly home.), the money the industry needs to spend to keep workers fed and housed is significant in some communities.

      • Matthew, you are spot on. Many entry level positions are just that; they are a steppingstone to a “living wage.” If you don’t like the minimum wage, go to college, trade school, or start your own business. That’s a sure fire way of having a career with better pay.

      • Mathew, you hit nail on the head. Entry level workers are more like apprenticeship. On the job training. It costs money – time to employ a worker with little skill. Thus their low wage . Messing with a minimum wage makes hard to get people trained. Youth labor laws need loosened up so kids can get on the job training as well as get life knowledge. The real problem is much deeper than minimum wage issues . It’s the devaluation of money by fed reserve . We pay interest on every dollar printed . Let the market take care of itself and reform banking and fed reserve. Problem solved . Gold standard? Perhaps a minimum wage for folks having a certain number of years on that specific job . ? .

  5. Isn’t FB and Twitter currently censoring conservative voices those leftists Democrats disagree with? So typical of Democrat Stalinists, they don’t hear what they want to hear or claim something “hostile”, they then declare “fake account” trolls and start deleting. Ya right! In typical Democrat fashion they never consider down stream – the consumer. Just the “give me more free chit” crowd. Democrats profit and pander to the worst traits of mankind. Hope this didn’t offend Tarr and her cohorts.

    • My point, more devious intentions. Of course the Dems plan is to collapse the healthcare, Judicial, Educational, etc.. Typical Saul tactic.

      “Scott Flanders, the CEO of eHealth, said recently that Medicare for All would “collapse” Medicare and the overall healthcare system.”

      • The shamful pattern continues:
        “The very public scene of hundreds of Colorado students and their parents walking out of a vigil that was turned into political theater by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence was so embarrassing that the gun control group actually issued an apology.

        Before leaving the Wednesday night event, students shouted, in front of journalists who the Brady Campaign invited: “this is not for us,” “political stunt” and “we are people, not a statement.”

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