Critical analysis: Will politicians have a spine?



I became something of a disciple of Carl von Clausewitz in my early days with State Labor Relations in the 1980s. Clausewitz’s book “On War” has guided much of military strategy since the mid-19th Century and is still taught in U.S. military academies today.   His analytical method was called “Critical Analysis.”

For me, it was a planning methodology.  Courage is a precious commodity in political management in government, so if you’re going to do something that might cause tumult and controversy, then plan it out in great detail. When your political principal freaks out, you point him/her to the place where you told them that was going to happen and show how you are prepared for it.

In the late 1980s, the walls of the Labor Relations conference room on the 10th floor of the Juneau State Office Building were covered with butcher paper that was covered with “if – then” statements.

We looked at the forthcoming year or two and worked out “if they do this, then this is what we do.”  What that really did was enable us to deal with our linguine-spined political principals by saying, “See, here is where we told you that was going to happen, and this is what we do next.”

Thus, we got through the mid-1980’s oil price crash without significant labor strife, although with a lot of litigation, most of which we won.  We had our moments; we got a temporary restraining order against implementing terms on the General Government Unit at about 4:15 pm on a Friday and it sent our political principals into a fit of apoplexy. But we were able to point to one of the sheets of paper on the wall and say, “see, we expected that and this is what we’ll do.”

We lived that way for the better part of a decade. Then the unions bought a governor and nobody in the Executive Branch gave much thought to labor relations policy beyond, “ask the unions what they want.”  We all went on to other things.

I came back to the Executive Branch to try to fix the mess in 1999, but I didn’t have anybody working with or for me that you could even discuss strategic planning with. I kept it all in my head until I became director under Gov. Frank Murkowski, and even then, planning was a commissioner’s office and Governor’s Office duty, not a staff exercise.

In the six years between my return to the Executive Branch and my retirement in 2006, I built a staff that knew how to do things, but I didn’t have the time to build one that knew what things to do. After I retired, the State just threw money at problems, so until the price of oil collapsed in 2014, you didn’t need to do a lot of that “thinking stuff.”

Now we’re back into a “thinking” situation.

Gov. Bill Walker gave the unions several million dollars worth of sweetheart deals on his way out of office. The Legislature took no action to disapprove the budget increments required to pay for those sweetheart deals, but it really didn’t put any extra money in for them.

Gov. Michael Dunleavy has made pretty dramatic line item vetoes in the Operating Budget. The smart money says the Democrats don’t have the votes to override most, maybe all, of the vetoes.  That would mean there would be program cuts and layoffs of State employees.  We’ll see; I remain to be convinced that anyone in the Legislature can give up 20 years of bad habits.   If I had to put my money down, I’d bet that they spend the money to avoid the upset and hope it becomes somebody else’s problem.

Art Chance

The University of Alaska deserves the cuts. They have more overhead than a coal mine and their 17 campuses are to make sure teachers don’t have to spend a single night away from home to take their continuing education classes that get them paid more. The university provides jobs to highly paid sinecures of failed, former Democrat elected and appointed officials and leftist professors.

My biological daughter is a University of Alaska graduate but I would have sent her to school Outside if I could have afforded it. I was a single parent at the time and even with a State range that starts with a “2,” you don’t have any money to spare when you’re living in Juneau.  She’s done well but in reality her success has been more as a result of the computer lab work she did for student financial aid than from the “education” she got there.

I don’t know what the mission of the University of Alaska should be. It hands out participation certificates in “communications” and “studies” to people who showed up sometimes, but in reality those only get you a government job or an affirmative action hire. It would be nice for Alaska to have a liberal arts school that was aimed at inculcating something about Alaska’s lifestyle and ethics, but the reality is that anybody who could afford to go to such a school would go Outside.

Alaska Pacific once fulfilled that role, but I don’t know what it does now other than ski programs. Really, sending your kid, especially your male child, to college these days is a form of child abuse unless they’re in the STEM areas and they should actually be there on merit.

The University of Alaska should have only one four-year and post-graduate campus and it should specialize in doing things relevant to Alaska, not in producing studies degrees for people who aren’t qualified to be on the grounds crew.

I don’t care about cuts to the K-12 Education racket; giving them money is just rewarding failure. Maybe dealing with some cuts will induce people to give up the pleasant fiction of local control in areas that make no contribution to education. Fifty something school districts with boards, superintendents, and administrative staff, is just spreading money around. Draw a line at, say, 25 percent local contribution. If the area doesn’t pony up at least that much, the board is advisory and volunteer and the schools are run by the State. I don’t have any illusions about the efficacy of State control, but it certainly won’t be any worse and will be cheaper.

I know State government well enough to know that a general decrement in DHSS will just result in eliminating delivery of service employees. That causes maximum upset for the constituency they serve and makes sure the palace eunuchs that run the department don’t miss a payday.

Alaska needs to have a conversation with itself about why being on welfare pays better than almost all the jobs an Alaskan can qualify for just out of high school. If you’re an entry/low-skill employee, only your pride and personal discipline makes you take the jobs you can get at that skill level; you’ll live a lot better on welfare and won’t have to pass a background check or pee in a bottle. We’re subsidizing a seemingly permanent underclass of perhaps 30 percent of the potential workforce that lives on welfare, under the table wages, drug-dealing, and other crime. And we wonder why we have a crime problem.

It was suggested that I game out the next few weeks; the kind of if-then scenarios I started this piece talking about.  I don’t think there is a lot of the “if – then” exercise going on.

The ultimate weapon, a government shutdown on July 1 was off the table with the passage of an Operating Budget.

We have a major ego issue over where the special session will take place. I don’t think there is any doubt that the governor can send the Troopers for them and herd them to Wasilla. If he does that, all they have to do is find that one more vote and they can just move the Session to Anchorage or Juneau.

And his doing it will just about guarantee that they’ll find the votes to move the special session.

I can’t dismiss the notion that they’re sandbagging the Capital Budget to try to restore some of the governor’s line item vetoes by amending the Capital Budget.

While the smart money says otherwise, I think the Legislature will override many of the governor’s vetoes; they just don’t have the stomach for taking on the powerful interests involved.

There really isn’t much downside to sacrificing the Permanent Fund dividend for them. It is a derivative of the “paradox of the commons.” The PFD belongs to everyone, so it belongs to no one. There are no powerful, well-organized and well-funded interest groups supporting fully funding the PFD; some of the most powerful interests in Alaska want their money for Medicaid, education funding, and avoiding layoffs of State employees.

The university is odd-man out because they don’t have a lot of friends these days, so my old co-worker Jim Johnsen may be the big loser here.

Art Chance is a retired Director of Labor Relations for the State of Alaska, formerly of Juneau and now living in Anchorage. He is the author of the book, “Red on Blue, Establishing a Republican Governance,” available at Amazon. He only writes for Must Read Alaska when he’s banned from posting on Facebook. Chance coined the phrase “hermaphrodite Administration” to describe a governor who is simultaneously a Republican and a Democrat. This was a grave insult to hermaphrodites, but he has not apologized.


  1. Art

    you see the BRICKWALL and also realize
    the insane are in Juneau unable to MANAGE..

    Keep up the fight

    we need more ENLIGHTENED voices

    bob williams

  2. Damn, there was not one story/article in the Wall Street Journal that is as enlightened and reads with truth, facts, and substance as Art Chance’s opinion piece. Thank you Suzanne for giving Art a forum; his knowledge is a welcome read for this July 1st. He is an Alaskan Treasure.

  3. Gov Dunleavy should have specified where the cuts would be to ensure they don’t cut the secretaries and teachers to cause pain. Like the Medicaid, for example. Why didn’t Dunleavy specify that the Medicaid cuts would be to the top administrative/overpaid commissioners and not the folks who actually do the work? Or the K12 cuts would specifically be all those administrators and push to consolidate the 51 school districts?

    • That isn’t the job of the executive, nor should it be. The executive should not have to micromanage every state institution to ensure it is being run in a fiscally responsible manner, the institutions should be doing that.

    • It is almost impossible to specifically target budget cuts. Even if you go in and specifically remove the funding for a particular position, the Executive Branch can just move money around to pay for the palace eunuchs.

      • Now that’s just dumb. If the administration is cutting the budgets of some programs, it surely must know what it is doing. Otherwise it is incompetent. Or vindictive. Or stupid.
        There’s the Ocean Rangers, a miniscule part of the government that costs the taxpayer (which, by the way, isn’t you, since there are no state taxes on Alaska residents) nothing. Why cut a program that costs nothing and may be doing good? To appease the cruise ship industry?
        Why cut the judiciary? Isn’t Dunleavy supposed to be tough on crime? Getting cases to court is one of the problems with the justice system in this state. They need more people, not fewer.
        I notice that the Gov.’s office is not suffering. Mr. Dunleavy gave his admistration a million dollar raise. Not enough eunuchs?

        • Sounds like you’re a regular budgetary genius that has put agency budgets together and dealt with appropriations bills: NOT. You might see if they still offer a refund on that reading comprehension course you blew off.

          The discussion was about the kinds of positions you could cut. The Executive Branch can cut specific positions and often does, usually for political reasons, see, e.g., closing the Girdwood Trooper post. The Executive can cut a whole program. Whether it can cut portions of a program depends on how the appropriation(s) is structured. Where the management usually falls apart is when the Legislature’s idea of cutting the budget is to impose a general decrement; simply reducing an appropriation by, say, 10%. The Legislature has almost no control over where those cuts are made and it is usually a sure bet that the Executive Branch will make those cuts in the places that will hurt the Legislature or opposition constituencies most.

          The State’s budgeting process has become increasingly sloppy over the last couple of decades. Few appropriations are really targeted; they make sweeping appropriations for large chunks of a department. The Executive Branch can move money within an appropriation pretty much at its discretion.

          Anyway, I tire of you; it’s pearls before swine. Next time don’t come to a gunfight with a stick.

  4. Medicaid for once needs to be investigated. Yes there are people that need it but there are many that don’t . Example: couples living together but not married have a baby paid by Medicare. Father of the baby makes a great salary but Mother claims single. Pregnancy covered 100%. I know many couples doing this. Denali kids care because the mom doesn’t make much but oh my the father does.

    Another free meals for kids- it’s not just the needy kids from well families eat also. Needs to be vetted and signed up for the program with proof of income. We are just throwing our dollars down the drain. No one knows who deserves it or not. This is just one area.

    We have to stop this free stuff. We are enabling people not to better themselves and go out and make a living.

Comments are closed.