This week, the Legislature returned to Juneau from a recess to work on distributing COVID-19 relief funds in the state. Because they were coming from all over the state to gather in a single building before going back home to their communities, legislators were required to wear masks and be temperature checked as they headed into the building. Once they were checked, they would receive a sticker noting that they were clear of symptoms.
The stickers turned out to be a source of controversy. In an email posted to social media, Rep. Ben Carpenter of Nikiski compared the stickers to the badges with a yellow Star of David on them, which Jews in Nazi Germany were forced to wear as identification prior to being segregated and later shipped to concentration camps.
Chaos quickly followed. Comments were polarized on both sides, with critics saying it was offensive to compare a health screening to genocide, and supporters saying his comments were misunderstood and taken out of context.
Carpenter apologized for the analogy and said he was trying to make a point about loss of liberties and government overreach amid the pandemic response. He also noted concerns about the Legislature requiring the general public to wear similar stickers in the future, noting their medical status.
“And it all starts with fear of what might happen with those people and that’s the message that I was trying to get is if we’re going start labeling people in the Legislature, you get a sticker if you’re healthy and you get a sticker if you’re not, or vice versa or whatever. Then it’s not that far of a leap for us to say, you know, if it’s good for us, then why don’t we label our people?” Carpenter said.
The process of getting into the building was fine but Carpenter says he still hasn’t gotten clarification on how the legislative leadership can block legislators from voting. Alaska doesn’t allow representatives to vote unless they are physically present on the House floor.
Given another chance, he says he could have chosen a different analogy to make his point and didn’t mean to offend anyone. He says he appreciates the people in his district who have defended his character amid the statewide and national attention.
“Stories that have been done in the national media and, really, the words that were attributed to me were taken out of context of the conversation that I was having and didn’t really explain what the point was that I was trying to make but painted me to be someone I’m not,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter is a first-term Republican representative from District 29, which includes Nikiski, Hope, Cooper Landing and Seward. Paul Dale, of Nikiski, is running against Carpenter as a nonpartisan. Dale says he found Carpenter’s comments unnecessary and off-topic.
“I think, like most Alaskans, I find them over the top and hardly on topic and unfortunate, but it happened and we are where we are," Dale said. "The discussion about the appropriate safe measures for meeting at the capital and preventing COVID-19 spread can occur on their merits.”
The House ratified Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s billion-dollar economic aid plan Tuesday. The Senate is scheduled to vote Wednesday.