I need to thank alert reader Lee Indiana for pointing me to what is now, unfortunately, being called “Dairygate” in some circles and setting me off on a morning’s expedition with The Google. Even if you are already aware of the strange goings on between the Alaska state government and the long, winding tale of the Matanuska Maid dairy in Anchorage, (later referred to as “Mat Maid”) here is what I’ve found, laid out in a timeline with background information on all of the players.
In December of 2006, the historic Matanuska Maid dairy closes its doors after years of financial troubles. Operating since the 1930’s, it was taken over by the state to keep it solvent during the 80’s but remained a money sink for most of its operating life.
Spring of 2007. The government has moved again to use state funds to keep the struggling dairy afloat. More financial woes ensue, and in June of 2007 Sarah Palin swoops in to the rescue, declaring that the dairy situation is “a mess” and the she is “going to clean it up.”
August, 2007. The previously discussed Franci Havemeister is appointed to the position of Director of Agriculture at a salary of roughly $100K, considerably more than she made in her real estate business. (Remember the real estate connection for later.) Her appointment comes despite her previously noted “thin” credentials for the position. She is the daughter-in-law of local dairy farmer Bob Havemeister. (We’ll be getting back to Bob in a bit… keep reading.)
Nov. 19, 2007. Franci Havemeister issues a gag order, saying that nobody other than fellow political appointee Ray Nix, of the Dept. of Agriculture, is allowed to speak to the press about the situation with Mat Maid.
Dec. 20, 2007. Troubles continue at the dairy, and four local dairy farmers, including Bob Havemeister, are worried that they will have to begin dumping their milk on the ground, spurring concerns from environmentalists. An offer comes in from Kyle Beus (remember that name for later also. we’ll be getting back to him) to purchase some of the milk for a dairy coop he’s starting up to produce cheese and other creamery goods.
Dec. 24, 2007. Good news comes just in time for Christmas for the four previously mentioned dairy farmers. A $600,000 grant has been made available by the state government to cover costs related to Mat Maid and the farmers will be able to tap into that for cash payments of $40,000 each to “cover their losses.” State Senate President Lyda Green (R-Wasilla) initially objects to the cash payouts, saying the money was appropriated to cover the state’s debt, but later relents, saying, it was an appropriate use of the funds.
March 21, 2008. Reports surface that Kyle Beus (remember him?) has landed himself a sweetheart of a deal, gutting and leasing dairy equipment from the now effectively defunct Mat Maid facility for his new creamery coop. Both Beus and Ray Nix (see above) brush off the reports, saying that the discount prices are “nothing unusual” in these types of situations.
May 15, 2008. State auditors say that the government went against the law in handing out the $40K payments to the farmers, including Franci Havemeister’s father-in-law. State senate president Lyda Green (R-Wasilla) reiterates her feelings that the payments were made “with good intentions” and that she “didn’t view it quite as harshly” as the auditors.
May 31, 2008. Kyle Beus has a ribbon cutting ceremony, opening his new creamery. Reporters find him looking “deceptively at ease for a guy who is currently propping up the state’s dairy business.” And he probably should look that way. In addition to the discount equipment rentals, he’s recently received a $643,000 grant from the Alaska Dept. of Agriculture under the direction of… Franci Havemeister.
Kyle Beus turns out to be an exceptionally fortunate fellow in the dairy game. His background bio indicates that he moved to Alaska in 2000, and since then received $116,967 in dairy related government subsidy payments from the Dept. of Agriculture between 2002 and 2005. This is a very fortunate situation for somebody who has been under investigation by the state’s labor board for years over charges that he failed to provide workman’s compensation insurance to his employees, among other “oversights.”
Aug. 23, 2008. The former Mat Maid plant is unloaded off the state books. The state’s only other dairy interest looks into purchasing it, but somehow can’t get a bid qualified. The only qualified bid received comes from Franci Havemeister’s real estate colleague, Matt Bobbich, and the facility is sold for the minimum bid acceptable by the state, $1.5M. It’s termed a “break even” deal for Alaska.
Interesting enough, Matt Bobbich previously had delinquent tax charges against him dismissed when the plaintiff failed to appear at the appeal hearing. He was also a popular political donor on the local scene.
What does all of this add up to? We’ll have to leave it to sharper legal beagles than yours truly to sort it all out, but there certainly does seem to be a lot of money changing hands between a small group of related individuals. I’m not sure if we’ve struck fire yet, but there’s certainly plenty of smoke. Stay tuned for more of my baseless smears against Sarah Palin and her family as the campaign rolls on.