SOME UNUSUAL SUSPECTS
Three former allies of Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, at least two of whom were vocal backers of his campaign in 2014, have joined in a lawsuit against him.
The lawsuit is over the governor’s veto of the funding for more than half of what Alaskans would have received in their Permanent Fund dividends.
Former State Senate Presidents Clem Tillion and Rick Halford joined current Senator Bill Wielechowski in the lawsuit, which says the governor does not have the authority to take the PFD, as Alaskans fondly refer to it.
The cast of characters make for bipartisan bedfellows:
Serving on the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation board is former state Sen. Rick Halford. He was appointed to the AGDC seat by Gov. Walker last year. His term expired on Sept. 13.
Halford assumes he would not be reappointed and told ADN reporter Nat Herz he will not seek reappointment. It matters not to him, as he told Herz, because the gasline is dead for now anyway.
Halford, of Dillingham and Eagle River, served 24 years in the Alaska Legislature, retiring as Senate President in 2003.
Although he is a Republican, Halford was a force behind the election of Walker, endorsing him every step of the way. In 2014, Halford wrote: “He is smart enough to listen and tough enough to lead.”
Clem Tillion, 91, was a senator back in the days when the Permanent Fund was being created. A fisherman from Halibut Cove, Tillion served seven terms in the Alaska House and two terms in the Senate. He was a close ally and friend of Gov. Jay Hammond and is credited with helping Hammond and others design the Alaska Permanent Fund.
Another Republican, Tillion’s son-in-law, Sam Cotten, is in the Walker Cabinet as commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game. Cotten is a Democrat and former legislator himself.
Wielechowski is a labor lawyer in Anchorage who has served in the Alaska Senate since 2007, as part of the Democratic minority. He is a reliable vote against every bill sponsored by a Republican.
In fact, this lawsuit may be the only bipartisan thing Wielechowski has ever done. As he faces re-election, he has chosen the careful timing of a lawyer-candidate, when rolling out the lawsuit against the governor, whom he supported in the 2014 election.
This gets him votes, as there’s little doubt the PFD will be the public discussion leading up to the election.
THE GOVERNOR BITES BACK
Within a couple of hours of the lawsuit being filed before the courts closed at noon, Gov. Bill Walker had struck back:
“As most Alaskans realize, and as stated by the legislature’s own financial advisor, our state is in the midst of the gravest financial crisis in our history,” he said, before blaming his own failure to veto spending on the Alaska Legislature.
“It is truly unfortunate that our legislature failed to pass a sustainable fiscal plan, like the one we submitted this past year, to protect and grow the permanent fund dividend program. Instead, this continued lack of action will result in the elimination of the PFD program in just a few years,” his press release stated.
He then went on to explain how it was he chose to take $1,100 from every man, woman, and child in Alaska:
“This year’s PFD is close to the historical average paid to every eligible Alaskan since 1982. It was set at a level that could be sustained as part of a larger fiscal solution—to ensure a PFD program continues for generations to come. ”
Walker then piled on the criticism on Wielechowski:
“I’m disappointed that an incumbent legislator who failed to work towards a solution to our fiscal crisis—a solution that would protect the long-term viability of the PFD—has decided instead to pursue this lawsuit eight weeks prior to his re-election bid. [emphasis ours]. This suit detracts from the real issue: solving Alaska’s fiscal crisis so we can then begin to grow Alaska.”
He then went on to criticize elder statesman Tillion for penning an opinion piece in the Alaska Dispatch News, even though Tillion had written the same thing back in December, 2015.
Walker’s statement said:
“Today, a former legislator compared our current situation to that in the 1990s. That’s misleading. In the 1990s, we had approximately 2 million barrels of oil a day going through the Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS). Today, the TAPS throughput is about a half-million barrels a day. That’s a huge difference in the potential for an economic rebound. In the 1990s, we were not facing a $3.2 billion deficit and drawing down on our savings at a rate of $12 million a day. Relying on a 1990s-type rebound is very, very risky.”
Walker was silent on the matter of Halford, who had brought him to the dance in the first place.
Those who know Halford as a senator recall his ability to see an outcome long before anyone else does. As he was able to predict that Walker would win in 2014, he likely knows how this lawsuit will end. And so does Governor Walker.