By SCOTT OGAN
What single thing can legislators do to make everything better for the citizens of Alaska? Practice statesmanship.
Webster defines a statesman as “One versed in the principles or art of government…a wise, skillful and respected political leader.” A true statesman places Alaska’s interests before his or her own political agenda and self-interest.
Alaska is at a fork in the road — and some think evenly split. The political pendulum swung right in the House and left in the Senate after the last election (in spite of a Republican majority being elected in both bodies for the last several election cycles). Politics today demands statesmanship, so where is it?
Steering the “ship of state” is like a super tanker in this respect: Changing destination requires time and distance. There is the ship’s trajectory to overcome and if you need a few degrees course correction, visible references are few and one can’t observe that much has changed, except that eventually you arrive at a very different place.
Doing the right thing: Ogan’s four policy recommendations
There are four “right fork” policy course corrections that will benefit Alaskans for generations. These will retain existing investment in Alaska, attract new investment and improve our quality of life.
1. Take the PFD fight off the table and to the people.
Amazingly, the Permanent Fund dividend is something that unites Alaskans, but divides politicians.
As PFD advocate Jon Faulkner points out, there is tremendous agreement among Alaskans on key principles, and yet a handful of powerful committee chairs always manage to thwart the will of people. How does this happen?
The answer is simple: Union opposition. No other power dynamic explains how something so popular with Alaskans gets buried every year in a black hole of finger pointing and political gamesmanship. Alaskans understand this and stand ready to fire politicians who think the PFD is a ceramic pig they can break open.
What’s needed: Statesmen bold enough to orchestrate an up or down vote on a PFD constitutional amendment — by a roll call vote. How can this not be in the interest of Alaskans?
Statesman to watch: Rep. Ben Carpenter, representing North Kenai, is clearly the point man on a fiscal plan. He has excellent staff and has written a number of bills that constitute a comprehensive fiscal plan.
2. Adopt a comprehensive statewide energy plan
Alaska has never adopted a visionary statewide energy plan. Efforts to do life support on Cook Inlet gas is a start, but only kicks the “limited supply” can down the road.
Dreams of a state-owned mega gas pipeline have eluded us because economic feasibility has never been proven. We must think outside the box when considering how our vast North Slope natural gas resources can be developed to benefit all Alaskans.
Some ideas include but are not limited to:
· A small line to Fairbanks, with a liquified natural gas shaving plant at the Yukon River to barge LNG downriver to southwest Alaska hubs.
· Build LNG-fired electrical plants in key rural hubs with a grid to outlying villages.
· Build gas-fired generators in Fairbanks and connect to the existing electrical grid.
· Build a bullet line to Anchorage.
· Harden the electrical grid against an electromagnetic pulse attack.
· Alternatively, explore micro nuclear plants for rural Alaska.
· Hilcorp has already inked a deal with Fairbanks to truck North Slope LNG. Explore synergies associated with this effort. Can we transfer LNG containers to barges to ship downriver?
Sadly, we have squandered most of our one-time oil wealth on building bigger government while simultaneously creating a dependent class of citizens demanding better government union jobs and/or more entitlements. Personally, I’d gladly accept a smaller PFD in exchange for a solid energy infrastructure that will benefit all Alaskans for generations.
We extract energy from rural Alaska, but no statesman has risen to pioneer a sustainable energy plan that benefits ALL Alaskans. Who among our Legislators is willing to take on the task? We’ve talked until we’re blue in the face–it’s time for action! Gov. Walter J. Hickel was the last real visionary.
Statesmen to watch: Gov. Mike Dunleavy is tackling Cook Inlet gas and geothermal resources. Rep.Tom McKay is addressing oil and gas administrative appeals, and Rep. Carpenter is addressing corporate income tax. It’s a start, but it’s mostly reactionary. We still need a comprehensive energy plan.
3. Election Integrity:
The public must have confidence in their vote being fairly counted.
Election data breaches have compromised our election system, leaving it vulnerable to fraud, and has undermined the public’s confidence as well. When hackers possess security identifiers that allow them to hack a non-voting citizen’s vote and the Division of Elections is in total denial, we have a problem.
Luckily, there is a comprehensive approach in the works. Rep. Sarah Vance, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, has several bills, as do others. Election reform is a priority in her committee. The danger is that any one of these bills can be hijacked by Senate Democrat operatives and amended to allow same day registration, no empirical evidence of residency, and no ID to vote. See this, watch out for that!
Statesmen to watch: Rep. Vance has a suite of positive election reform bills and chairs a powerful committee to leverage getting the job done. Sen. Mike Shower led the original election reform charge and will help keep the Senate in check.
4. Adopt a sustainable fiscal plan
Then House Reps. Lisa Murkowski, Andrew Halcro, and Bill Hudson tried to do it in the late 1990s, citing the “ISER Soft Landing Study” analysis. The timing was not ripe. Oil prices rebounded, end of discussion.
In the previous session, a bipartisan group of legislators comprised of seven Democrats and five Republicans exhibited some statesmanship and hammered out a sustainable budget plan. Both sides moved toward the middle to arrive at a compromise. This included a constitutional and statutory spending caps, constitutional PFD protection and fixing the PFD amount in statute, a broad-based tax and economic stimulation measures.
A sustainable fiscal plan is the one thing that will calm the nerves of the energy industry and keep Alaska as a critical player providing energy for Alaskans and the country at large, plus keep high paying government and private jobs for Alaskans. Luckily, there are a suite of bills that limit spending, settle the PFD battles, and encourage economic development.
The winning Statesman of the Year award goes to: Rep. Carpenter, utilizing his Legislative Budget and Audit chairmanship and majority position to leverage the fiscal plan discussion.
The losing Statesman of the Year award goes to Senate leadership that marginalized some of the Senate’s best and brightest by refusing to give them — and ultimately all their conservative constituents — a voice at the table.
Alaska is truly at a fork in the road. The “right fork” is not a necessarily conservative right-wing policy; it is a “pro-Alaskan” prescription for success. In subsequent articles, I will analyze each topic more comprehensively by breaking down individual bills. Clearly the Republican-led House is driving the not-so-common sense train.
I believe there are “statesmen” of all political persuasions. However, I witnessed it far more when I served 20 years ago. This Legislature has a choice. Partisans and power brokers can foist their agendas and keep driving the wedge over the PFD. Or, statesmen can rise above partisan dogma, and do the right thing, at the right time for the right reasons.
As Ronald Reagan said, “There is no limit to the amount of good you can do, if you don’t care who gets the credit.“
I welcome respectful comments Agree or disagree. These are my ideas, most of them old, some are new, meant to spur thought and discussion. Got a better idea? Share it. Think I am wrong? Enlighten us. There is wisdom in a multitude of good council.
Scott Ogan served in the Alaska House and Senate and writes for Must Read Alaska.