Radio Free Palmer, also known as Big Cabbage Radio, as shown in Parts One and Two of this series, was founded by and is run by (with rare exceptions) people who have strong ties to liberal and progressive politics and causes.
There is a dearth of conservative voices and viewpoints heard on the station. Almost all of the national shows it broadcasts are “progressive” in nature with anti-conservative biases. Most of the local on-air hosts and panelists are also decidedly liberal. How can they objectively analyze and report on Alaska and Mat-Su Valley current events, politics, and local meetings?
Big Cabbage Radio is all tangled up with left-leaning elected officials, political candidates and campaigns, progressive causes, “woke” protests and marches. The MatSuMuckraker attempts to untangle everything.
Here are some examples of Big Cabbage Radio weighing in on State Issues:
State Ballot Measure 2:
This is the ballot measure calling for ranked choice voting. Big Cabbage Radio prominently featured the Yes on Ballot Measure 2 folks on the Morning Show on September 22nd. Generally (with exceptions), this proposition is supported by Democrats and liberals and opposed by Republican and conservatives. The Yes on 2 campaign is funded by millions of outside $$$ – primarily from leftist activist Katherine Murdoch.
Did the station also devote a Facebook post or a radio show segment (or any air time at all) to the opponents of this controversial Ballot Measure? If so, the MatsuMuckraker can’t find it. Also note: Big Cabbage Radio describing Lesil McGuire as a former Republican State Senator doesn’t make this one-sided radio show fair and balanced.
Judicial Retention Voting:
Big Cabbage Radio featured Susanne DiPietro of the Alaska Judicial Council and retired Alaska Judge Elaine Andrews on Valley Edition on October 15th to discuss Alaska’s judicial selection and retention process. They joined Mike Chmielewski and Emily Forstner for a lengthy discussion of this topic.
While this discussion may appear to be “neutral” to uninformed listeners, it is actually NOT neutral at all.
Ms. DiPietro and retired Judge Andrews support Alaska’s judicial selection process and obviously believe that all of the current judges should be retained. They say they want to keep politics out of the judiciary. They urged listeners to go to the Judicial Council and/or to read through the 2020 Official Election Pamphlet to find out more information about the judges. These sources present biographies of the judges along with numeric survey ratings.
What they do not want voters to do is to look up how Judges or Justices decided specific cases. They also do not want voters to get information from the “political” campaigns which are urging voters to vote against the retention of certain members of the judiciary. Here is an example of one of those campaigns which obviously is spearheaded by a conservative group:
Big Cabbage Radio’s advocacy on the issue of Judicial selection and retention – which they would term “educating”- was clearly aimed at swaying voters to vote YES to retain all the judges/justices on the ballot this fall. If Big Cabbage Radio was truly interested in being fair and balanced, they would have given the same amount of air time to the Vote No judicial retention campaign groups which are generally conservative leaning.
Alaska Supreme Court Justice Susan Carney on her “Vote Yes- Retain Justice Susan Carney” Facebook page promoted (and used as a Facebook ad) this Big Cabbage Radio program which is very telling.
The Big Radio Cabbages have a very knotty relationship with the Palmer City Council:
Big Cabbage Radio/Radio Free Palmer has a paid contract to record and livestream all of the Palmer City Council meetings. The station also broadcasts these meetings on its YouTube channel. These services are beneficial to the public.
Mike Chmielewski is the main person who records the City Council Meetings for the station. He is very familiar with the Palmer City Council as he used to be a council member himself. He served on the Palmer City Council from 2007 – 2010; he ran for Palmer Mayor in 2010 but lost; and he ran again for the City Council in 2011 but also lost.
Mike is not shy about testifying during public comment time at the Palmer City Council meetings about various local issues. (Hat Tip to Local Watchdog Eugene Haberman who pointed this out to the MatSuMuckraker.) Since Mike is right there at Palmer City Hall livestreaming/recording the meetings anyhow, it is very easy for him to mosey on over to the podium and tell the Council (and the public) what he thinks about various items and then make his way back over to his recording station.
Now Mike is also the main on-air personality on Big Cabbage Radio. He hosts the Morning Show, Valley Edition and Citizen Lobbyist etc. The Palmer City Council and local Palmer issues are discussed on all of these shows. If Mike is also advocating/testifying about various issues in front of the City Council, this seems to be a conflict of interest. (The Anchorage Daily News, Frontiersman, and KTUU/KTVA reporters never testify at local government meetings!)
Here are some examples of Mike giving his views on all manner of topics at Palmer City Council meetings:
On September 18, 2018, Mike testified twice. Apparently he is a member of the emergency preparedness committee (another conflict of interest?) and asked the City Council to review the Emergency Preparedness Plan. He also testified about a proposed short term rental (a/k/a the Air B & B ) ordinance and gave the City some advice.
On August 14, 2018, Mike spoke about the voting process and invasive weeds.
On December 19, 2019, Mike talked about the benefits of downtown WiFi and expressed faith in the Palmer City Clerk.
On May 26, 2020, Mike talked about Memorial Day celebrations (in the time of Covid) and the new bike paths in town:
On March 24, 2020, when the council was deciding who to hire as their new City Manager (they ultimately ended up hiring the MSB’s manager John Moosey), Mike felt compelled to talk to the Council about the manager hiring process and share his experience with it.
On October 8, 2019, Mike chose to complain about the “lack of lighting in community neighborhoods” and discuss the navigation of the City’s website (not sure if he was praising or criticizing the new website.)
On June 23, 2020, Mike was one of dozens of community members who testified about the Palmer Police Chief. This past summer, local liberals tried to get the Palmer Chief of Police fired for some recently discovered non-PC comments he posted on his personal Facebook page a couple of years before he was promoted from patrol officer to chief. This police chief/free speech issue was discussed quite a bit on all of the Alaskan media outlets including Big Cabbage Radio. Mike was moderating discussions on the radio about this topic and yet, at this city council meeting, he had no qualms about also giving his opinion on the topic during audience participation. Mike did not advocate specifically for or against terminating the Police Chief. His comments were more along the lines of a professorial lecture, but he did call this moment in time “an inflection point.”
Two days later, Mike and Terry Snyder discussed the Palmer City Council meeting in depth on The Citizen Lobbyist. They used words like “powerful” and “moving” to describe the people who testified against the Chief. Listening to Mike and Terry’s analysis, you would have no idea that there were an almost equal number of people who supported the Police Chief. According the the Frontiersman, 24 people spoke against against the Chief either in person or in written comments, while 21 spoke up for the Chief either in person or in written comments.
A year earlier, there was another interesting topic Mike spoke up about at a Palmer City Council meeting. At the June 11, 2019, Palmer City Council meeting, an ordinance amending the municipal code to establish designated (i.e. geographical) council seats was up for public hearing. Mike asked for clarification on this ordinance. Why was Mike so interested in this particular ordinance? (Perhaps because a family member was about to announce her candidacy for Palmer City Council?)
A Big Cabbage Candidacy
Yes. The next month, Mike’s wife, Lee Henrikson, announced her candidacy. She filed to run for a seat on the Palmer City Council in the 2019 fall election. As explained in the previous post, she has been President of the Board of Directors at Radio Free Palmer for many years. She is also a frequent on air host and panelist. She also seems to run the station’s Facebook page.
Didn’t she and Mike think that her candidacy was a conflict of interest as they are so heavily involved in the radio station which both livestreams and covers the Palmer City Council meetings? Apparently not.
Lee ran with Jill Valerius and David Fuller. Clearly they are all friends and/or political allies – sort of a Cabbage Club. (Note: Dr. Valerius had never run for public office before but David Fuller was previously on the City Council. Fuller ran in 2015 but lost. He ran again in 2016 and won. Thus, he was up for re-election in 2019.)
Note: These screenshots are from Lee’s personal Facebook page. Using screenshots from someone’s personal Facebook page is a bit tacky and the Muckraker apologies for the tackiness, but they are public posts and involve local politics and political campaigns and thus are used here under the “Fair Use” doctrine.
Jim Cooper was also part of the Cabbage Club. He was running for Mayor of Palmer.
Richard Best is NOT a member of the Cabbage Club.
There was also a temporary vacancy on the Palmer City Council in the summer of 2019 due to Pete LaFrance’s resignation. (LaFrance, who was a Cabbage favorite, moved to Europe. Fun Fact: Pete ran for State House in 2014. Guess who was his Campaign Treasurer? Carolyn Covington of course!)
So, the Palmer City Council solicited applicants to fill the (very short term) vacancy until the fall election. Several people applied, including Richard Best, Jill Valerius, and Jim Cooper. Richard Best had previously served on the Palmer City Council but lost his seat in the fall election of 2018. Like Jill and Jim (and Lee), Best was also running in the fall 2019 election. At a dramatic city council meeting, the more liberal council members (Sabrena Combs, Julie Berberich, and Dave Fuller) voted for Jill to fill the vacancy while the more conservative members (Steve Carrington, Linda Combs & Mayor Edna DeVries) voted for Best, causing repeated tie votes. The council finally settled on compromise candidate Imran Chaudry who was not running for office.
During this special meeting, Lee Henrikson testified against Richard Best for the vacancy. She stated that Best had lost in the fall 2018 election, so if the Council chose him, they would be going against the voters’ wishes.
Prominent Big Cabbage Radio on-air personality Emily Forstner endorsed the Cabbage Club slate of candidates. She submitted a letter to the Frontiersman:
Jill Valerius: Thank you Emily!
Big Cabbage Radio on-air personality, Terry Snyder, i.e., the Citizen Lobbyist, piped in on Jill Valerius’ campaign page when Jill posted about participating in the 2019 Candidate Forum.
(The Facebook page Jill Valerius Palmer City Councilwoman used to be titled Jill Valerius for Palmer City Council.)
Fall 2019 Election Results: Dr. Jill Valerius and Richard Best won seats in the election. Jim Cooper, Lee Henrikson and Dave Fuller did not win.
Thus, the Palmer City Council, after the Fall 2019 election was certified, was made up of the following people. There were three liberal members, three conservative members, and the conservative Mayor.
NOTE: The local elections are supposed to be non-partisan and none of the candidates run as a “Democrat” or “Republican” or “Green Party member” etc. And supposedly, left/right politics should not matter at the local level, but they do. People have political viewpoints that effect their decisions. The Police Chief situation is one example. If the liberals had their way, he would have been terminated.
If liberals have their way, Governor Mike Dunleavy, US Congressman Don Young, and US Senator Dan Sullivan will also all be terminated.
Lee Henrikson was involved in the Recall Dunleavy campaign. Here she is collecting signatures at 203 Kombucha (more on the Big Cabbage – 203 Kombucha connection later in this post.)
Lee is involved in Alyse Galvin’s campaign to unseat US Congressman Don Young.
Lee advertised some sort of shindig over at Sabrina’s (sic) house which may have been a meet and greet or fundraiser for Senator Dan Sullivan’s opponent. Apparently Dan Sullivan “does not care” about Alaska!
In November, 2019, Lee complained about never being appointed to any of the City Boards she has applied to with the City of Palmer.
Richard Best seriously will never, ever be part of The Cabbage Club:
During the winter of 2020, there was a brewhaha over Richard Best. Apparently he called the Palmer Police late one night to ask them if they could go over to his house and play some music for his wife a la the movie “Say Anything.” Best also missed a council meeting to go to Disneyland.
David Fuller was very vocal in his criticism of Richard Best in social media posts and at a few City Council meetings. Lee Henrikson also criticized Richard Best over the “Say Anything” escapade at a meeting.
Best’s actions led to a recall effort which was ultimately rejected by the City Clerk after consulting with legal counsel. The MatsuMuckraker can guess who was behind the recall effort.
Fast forward to the Fall of 2020.
Brian Daniels joins the Cabbage Club.
Lee Henrikson again got very involved in the Palmer City Council campaigns. This time, she helped run Brian Daniels‘ campaign for a city council seat. She was his official treasurer. Brian seemed to run “with” Sabrena Combs, a longtime Cabbage Club member, who was up for re-election. They did lots of sign waving together.
The Citizen Lobbyist urged everyone to vote for Brian and Sabrena. “So important this year.” (Um, how can the Citizen Lobbyist report on/analyze the Palmer City Council meetings every week on Big Cabbage Radio…while also endorsing certain city council candidates????)
Lee Henrikson: “I have Brian’s yard signs. Please message me if you want me to drop one off at your house. (Lee Henrikson).”
Jill Valerius (who by this time was not only a Palmer City Council member but also an on-air personality on Big Cabbage Radio) campaigned for Brian.
Kenni Linden, a Radio Free Palmer board member, took some of the Brian signs too.
Thus, Kenni was campaigning for Brian Daniels….but at the same time, in her capacity as a Big Cabbage Radio on air volunteer, Kenni conducted the official candidate interviews for all of the candidates running for Palmer City Council in 2020 – Brian Daniels, Sabrena Combs, and Linda Combs. Even if the candidates were answering the same set of questions, Kenni’s dual roles seem conflicted.
Kenni herself ran for Palmer City Council in 2015 and 2017 – more on her campaigns in a bit.
Linda Combs and Edna DeVries are definitely NOT part of the Cabbage Club.
There were two Palmer City Council seats up for grabs in the fall of 2020 and three candidates were running. The Sabrena/Brian duo and Linda Combs.
Linda Combs had served on the city council previously for six years, then lost her seat, then was appointed to fill a vacancy in the summer of 2018 when Brad Hanson resigned to take the Palmer Community Development position. Note: Linda is related to Sabrena Combs via marriage. Linda’s husband John Combs, a former Mayor of Palmer, is the uncle of Sabrena Combs’ husband David Combs.
On October 5th, 2020, Linda Combs posted this item on her “Linda Combs for Palmer City Council” page.
Lee Henrikson admonished Linda for her post and also dissed Palmer Mayor Edna DeVries at the same time. “Linda, I am disappointed that you posted this or allowed it to be posted to your page. I am not surprised that Edna shared it 18 times.” Ouch.
Jill Valerius a few weeks earlier had admonished “the people in Palmer” who were advising folks to vote for only one person in the election. “You need to vote for two people.” (Well, no, actually the public was not required to vote for two. Voting for one conservative candidate – instead of one conservative and one of the two liberal candidates – would be helpful for the conservative candidate mathematically.)
Election Day was about a week later. Lee and Mike went over to Brian’s workplace 203 Kombucha to hang out and wait for the election results.
2020 Palmer Election Results: Sabrena and Brian won. Linda Combs did not win, but it was close.
Lee announcing Brian’s win on his campaign page:
Lee (or some other Cabbage but likely Lee) announcing Sabrena’s re-election and Brian’s win on the Big Cabbage Radio Facebook page:
Terry Snyder commenting on Brian’s campaign page that she is happy that Brian won. “Palmer is so lucky to have your reasoned approach and willingness to listen.” Terry believes his election will “move the city forward and better.”
There were Four Propositions on the Palmer Ballot too and all four passed. Two of them – the Marijuana Prohibition lift and the one imposing term limits – were spearheaded by David Fuller. When these propositions were discussed by Mike and Terry Snyder on the Citizen Lobbyist, Terry called the term limits one “reasonable.” And she pointed out that Brad Hanson and Richard Best had both served on the city council for years. Apparently too long. “Take a break. Take a breath.”
But I digress. Getting back to Brian Daniels.
Brian Daniels was a favorite of Big Cabbage Radio even before Big Cabbage Board President Lee Henrikson helped with his campaign. His business – 203 Kombucha – and his music were promoted on Big Cabbage Radio throughout 2020.
Mike Chiemelewski and Lee Henrikson conducted a lengthy interview with Brian and his business partner on Jan 26, 2020, on the occasion of the first anniversary of 203 Kombucha. (How many local businesses get this sort of treatment on Big Cabbage Radio?)
March 5, 2020:
In late August, 2020, prior to the city election, Brian via his official campaign page, thanked Big Cabbage Radio for their support of his music production company.
Brian’s campaign linked to the the candidate interviews that Big Cabbage Radio hosted on September 23, 2020 and thanked the station for “all the work they do to give a platform to our community and for helping us stay connected and informed.”
Post-Election – Brian Daniels’ music company is performing at the Big Cabbage Radio fundraising concert which takes place next month:
Now – getting back to another Big Cabbage Radio favorite – Dr. Jill Valerius:
Dr. Valerius was elected to the Palmer City Council in the Fall of 2019 and now she has a health show on Big Cabbage Radio. Yes, this show benefits the public…but it also benefits her medical practice and it benefits her political career because this show gives her a platform for the public to get to know her.
The Dr. Jill show started out as interviews by Lee Henrikson on the Morning Show during the pandemic and now it has expanded to a regular show.
Big Cabbage Radio has also promoted The Cobb Street Market a bit on its Facebook page. Cobb Street Market is owned by Cabbage Club member Dave Fuller and his wife Andrea.
Finally, circling back to Kenni Linden. She ran for Palmer City Council in 2015 and 2017 – while she was a member of the Big Cabbage Radio Board of Directors. She did not win either election.
It is sort of confusing when a Big Cabbage Radio board member who also is an on-air personality RUNs for political office.
Some years, Kenni conducts candidate interviews for the station while in other years, she gets interviewed AS a candidate.
One of her big issues was TERM LIMITS – an issue that other members of the Cabbage Club favored too. The Cabbage Club did not like certain Palmer City Council peeps serving for so many years on the council.
Dave Fuller spearheaded the Palmer Ballot Initiative on Term Limits in 2020:
FYI – Kenni is the person who organized the RBG candlelight vigil last month. Here Dave Fuller thanks her for this:
Well, there is still more to unravel re: Big Cabbage Radio and Liberal Politics…thus stay tuned for Part Four.