Phoebe Rohrbacher, Pat Race and Aaron Suring prepare for an interview with Rep. Jonathan "The Beast from Southeast" Kreiss-Tomkins. Kreiss-Tomkins sure has grown up since last session, as evidenced by his giant beard and Rohrbacher's on-air reaction to it.
Pat Race interviews "Bjorn Snorsgardsen, Head Thane of the Mighty Thor e-Learning School of Business Management and Vocational Tech." The school advocates the use of vouchers in order to teach its core four "R"s of reading, writing, arithmetic and Ragnaršk.
Story last updated at 3/19/2014 - 1:36 pm
Pat Race, Aaron Suring and Lou Logan have been making fun of Alaska's politics for years.
There was a video they made asking the state's residents to "buy back Alaska."
In Juneau, there's the "Downtown vs. The Valley" video, which satirizes the differences between the two areas.
Now, through Alaska Robotics News, they're making fun of Alaska politics on a regular basis. There's a serious angle - they want to increase civic discourse and overall political awareness throughout the legislative session.
"It's something that should have been obvious to us sooner, but wasn't," Race said. "It's funny that doing something like this just occurred to us."
"This format, with satire and comedy, introduces stuff to people who wouldn't normally be paying attention - like me," Logan said.
Imagine "The Daily Show" for Alaska.
Within the regular newscast, which ranges from 10 to 15 minutes, there's "rural beat" with Jack Dalton, "Sean's Awesome Journal," in which "Gov. Sean Parnell" writes journal entries, the Moderator M9000, an machine that takes politicians from opposite sides of the political spectrum and creates "a shiny new moderate" (with a funny-looking face), among other segments. There's also, of course, interviews and discussion of the news at hand.
As the anchor, Race points out the illogical nature, for example, of a 111-page task force report on drones and a two-page task force report on education (which is "merely the sum of all human experience, skill and knowledge.")
They point out the frequency of the words "Alaska" and "strong" used together in Parnell's State of the State address, and now they're selling rubber bracelets with the slogan "Alaska Strong." The "oil industry" takes over an interview with Rep. Les Gara in order to convince Race, and the public, to trust them.
"We don't really have a specific agenda. It's a balance between what's funny, what's interesting to us, and where do those two things meet," Race said.
Rural beat is what Race said he finds the most challenging. It's also his favorite part of the project.
"We're trying to bring up a lot of Alaska's history that we ignore," he said. "It's hard for me, because I'm in a position of privilege. Jack Dalton is great, incredibly talented, a great writing partner - it's definitely hard for me, because it is a sensitive line to walk. Humor with dark tragedy."
(Dalton, from a segment honoring Elizabeth Peratrovich: "It was here (Petersburg) that the Tlingit people maintained a summer fish camp for over 2,000 years, before their land was stolen from them in a fraudulent real estate transaction ... A good rule of thumb: if someone is selling you an entire nation for pennies on the acre, it's a good bet they don't own it.")
Suring said one of his favorite parts of the project has been the writing meetings, in which the three meet with friends also interested in satirizing Alaskan politics.
"We talk about what we're reading about, learning about, and then try and find a way to make it funny," he said.
Legislators are willing collaborators.
Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, nicknamed "The Beast from Southeast," was a recent interview. Race interviewed Sen. Mark Begich on the National Security Agency. House Speaker Mike Chenault, Rep. Geran Tarr, Sen. Fred "The Refrigerator" Dyson, Sen. Kevin "Cannonball" Meyer, Rep. David "The Goot" Guttenberg and Rep. Mike "The Hawkman" Hawker, among others, have been interviewed or mentioned on the show.
Race, Logan and Suring take inspiration from "The Daily Show."
As far as they know, they're the only people doing something like this at a state level.
"That's one thing I'm really excited about," Race said. "We're doing this on a state level and we have such a high level of access. ... it's really such a small world here in Alaska that we've been able to step into it and be a part of it. ... It's a pretty unique thing."
They hand-delivered invitations to appear on the show to each representative and senator. They also request appearances for specific issues.
An added challenge is that they were denied press passes to the Capitol, as they're not "a legitimate news organization." They said they understand the decision but disagree.
"I can understand, because people don't want us to do close-ups of them picking their nose, but it's frustrating," Race said.
"I feel like we are part of the civic discourse," Suring said.
"Boring Talk," longer interviews with state politicians, has helped the three learn about the legislative process, Suring said.
"How do you work with your constituents? What's it like to be up on the hill? These are things we don't have experience with," Suring said.
In future episodes, Race said he'd love to interview U.S. Rep. Don Young. They'd also like to do something, perhaps a voter drive, to collaborate with other organizations - the Alaska Republican Party, the Alaska Democratic Party, the League of Women Voters.
"I'd like to do something a little more tangible. ... I know a lot of people that don't vote, and that's frustrating to me. Some of them have pretty good reasons for not voting, or at least think they do. That kind of practiced apathy is difficult for me to observe," Race said.
Next session, they might do something more like a variety show.
"It depends on how funding works, and what is happening in the political scene," Suring said. "I think it's going to be hard to resist ... with how involved we've been in following the politics."
One thing they've learned in the experience so far is the influence of legislative staff.
"There are some really great people working up there, and that gives me a lot of hope," Race said.
Watch Alaska Robotics News at http://alaskarobotics.com.