Scott Ogan: A statesman means doing the right thing, at the right time, for the right reasons

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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 systemleaving it vulnerable to fraudand 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: RepCarpenter, 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. 

In Conclusion 

Alaska is truly at a fork in the road. The “right fork” is not a necessarily conservative right-wing policyit 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.

30 COMMENTS

  1. Leaders walking down that road of evil. They agree with the writer. Except what they think is right is warped, misguided, and corrupted by sin. There is a lot of Alaska leaders today who think they are upright, fair, honest, and a good guy. They don’t realize the road they are paving is marked out for suffering for the people following behind them. God’s Word is the sure way that leads the people to life and peace.

  2. My mother’s last words to me (after nearly a century of life) were “you always did the right thing.” I tried all my life when faced with difficult decisions, and often hated it. Quite often, faced with a decision I could see the easy way, as opposed to the right way. It caused me much pain, grief and hardship through life, but looking back at seven decades I am proud of what I did, how I helped people, and what I accomplished. It is hard, but in our hearts when we know the right thing it is best that we follow.

    Bill miller long ago inspired me with his tale ‘Many Trails’, best told by himself on Youtube.

    A boy heard the voice of the whippoorwill one night and went out to find where he was singing. He had to walk quite a ways through a big field, because the song of the whippoorwill carried so well in the wind he sound much closer then he really was. And on the way the boy found a well worn trail, so he stayed on it for a while. And sitting in the middle of the trail was coyote, and coyote was singing too. He turned and saw the boy and he said “Why are you follow me?” The boy was frightened and said “Well the trail you made happened to be a short and easy way through this field. Then coyote asked “Well if your not following me then why are you here?” “Well I heard the beautiful song of the whippoorwill and wanted to watch him sing.” “Well do you not think my songs are beautiful?”, said coyote. “Oh”, said the boy, “there good but I hear you all the time. I much prefer the songs of the whippoorwill” This made coyote furious and he was jealous of the whippoorwill’s song. He said “Listen to my night song you might like this one” And he pulled back his head and yodeled out a tune. The boy covered his ears and politely said, “Thank you for the song, but I must be going now.” “Well”, coyote said, “I can show you a short cut to the whippoorwill boy, and where he sings is just over there.” Pointing his claw, smiling out of the side of his mouth. The boy paused, looked around, he knew the night was passing fast so he agreed to follow coyote. But coyote’s trail was rough and rocky. And the boy fell in quite a few gopher holes along the way. Coyote turned around and laughed and he yelled to the boy. “Were almost there, hurry up.” Coyote was at a full trot but the boy had just fallen again and hurt his knee. And by the time he got to the place where the whippoorwill had been singing all night, it was morning. Whippoorwill was gone. And so was coyote, in fact he could hear coyote’s songs in another field. So the boy turned and headed for home, covered with burrs, mosquito bites and a skinned up knee. And it was many summers later when the boy became a wiser man. And he realized, there are no shortcuts to find something you really love. But there are many trails in this life. So you must stay true to your path, and always keep and eye out for coyote

    • Hahahahahaha. That sounds like Coyote didn’t know where he was going! Hahahaha

      And Coyote saw the pitfalls first so he prepared himself. His follower was too busy watching coyote and the boy was looking down. That’s how it is following an evil leader.

  3. It’s a wonderful idea, right up there with peace on Earth, goodwill towards men.

    Problem is, it’s totally out of sync with modern reality. Our politicians serve their donors, not their voters.
    It is not in any politician’s interest to support any of this.

  4. First move legislative sessions. Juneau is convenient for L48. Bethel or Kotzebue would make it easier to focus on Alaska, but Southcentral would be fine.

    Second order of business should be to eliminate the PFD. Free money. What could go wrong?

    • Many years ago I suggested putting the legislative session on the ferry Kennicott. Each legislator could share a cabin with one aide. Start January in Ketchikan, then progressively move up the coast to end in Kotzebue, with scheduled stops in every coastal community between. That maximizes public access.

      • That is an interesting idea, and limits lobbyist access – but it also severely curtails public access.

  5. We will be at the head of the line supporting and voting for Ben Carpenter for the State Senate. He has served us with his Voice of Reason.

  6. “…….Take the PFD fight off the table and to the people…….”
    This won’t happen without a fight because people will never vote free money away. That’s why it was created in the first place. Then, even if the PFD and a distribution formula is amended into the constitution, there will forever be repeated attempts to repeal it. You simply can’t have public money sitting out there wafting its aroma without packs of wolves constantly fighting to devour it, whether it’s government types or street bums.
    “……explore micro nuclear plants for rural Alaska…….”
    Please. Please. This us the richest energy location on Earth, bar none. We have limitless options here, if we can only carve away the eco freaks and control freaks. All we need is one screwup, and we’re poisoned forever. Nuclear is completely unnecessary. It’s simply too dangerous. Build it, and eventually, somebody is going to screw it up.

  7. Oh yes, we have those who try to do the right thing for our state. The three senators who were shoved out of the caucus, District 34-Q Representative Frank Tomaszewski, District 32-P Representative Will Stapp (don’t know what he would think about the PFD, though). For those, I am grateful, and there are others. I would hope that they would be given credit by you, the people. I am waiting.

  8. “Or, statesmen can rise above partisan dogma, and do the right thing, at the right time for the right reasons. ”

    But according to wiki, “He was hired as a consultant at $40,000 per year for Evergreen Resources, Inc, of Denver, Colorado. This was perceived by voters to be a conflict of interest while in the Alaska Legislature and recall efforts were launched. One day before recall, he resigned in August 2004.”

    • Paula,

      When my one of my constituents, named (you know who you are) came to me and challenged me with my conflict, I took his perspective to heart, did the right thing, at the right time, and resigned from my position at Evergreen. I took an oath to serve my constituents, not the company I worked for.

      Imagine my shock, when many months after I resigned from my job, he helped spearhead a recall campaign, then had the nerve to come into my office in Juneau, and offered me a bribe. He said they would drop the recall if I would just do a lease buy back bill and get it passed. I said no, (or I would have committed a crime.) He offered me something of value in exchange for me taking action on legislation. BTW-My staff was in the room and witness it.

      I almost wore a wire to get him prosecuted, but I’m glad I decided not to, it got me a much better life. Revenge is living well, they say.

      By the way, it’s once again ground hog day, we’re back to the same problem I tried to solve. Statesmen Alert! No one knows where the gas that heats and lights our homes is coming from in a few years. Hilcorp says they can’t guarantee gas contracts after the current one expires. Thank you for bringing that up. Been wanting to tell the rest of the story for a long time. I don’t think anyone will ever read that on wiki.

      • “It got me a much better life”. You must mean that sweet job Murkowski got for you at DNR. Got to keep getting those state benefits and retirement. Maybe you could enlighten us what you did there that helped solve the problem of heating and lighting our homes.

        • Leo,

          I founded DNR’s PAAD (Public Access Assertion and Defense) unit, we litigated and won quiet title actions against the feds over who owns the navigable waters in Alaska. We also litigated RS 2477 Rights of Ways. I had two AAG’s assigned to my unit and we won a major precedent setting case against the BLM on the Mosquito Fork of the 40 mile. We won 15-16 cases in federal admin court too. Mostly over federal denial of access to the citizens of Alaska. We never lost a case in my ten years as head of that unit.

          I originated the call from Sturgeon on the Nation River, ran it up the flag pole to the AG, then we supported Sturgeon in his case. He won in SCOTUS.

          I stayed away from oil and gas at DNR.

          BTW it was a competitive hire, not a political appointment. I WAS NOT an exempt employee. (Political hires are) I applied like everyone else and I met minimum qualifications by my years of senior policy experience in resources as Chair of both House and Senate Resources, and service on both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. Political jobs are exempt class.

          My unit was awarded runner up slot with the Denali Award twice in a row. The state Denali award is given to the top performing unit in the state. It’s a matter of public record, check it out

          The truth, my friend, is trouble you can’t outrun!

  9. The US Constitution is also a good guide when doing temporary service as a public servant. Mason’s Manual of Legislative procedure which serves aspiring statesmen says in its Introduction ” …Every legislative body is bound to comply with all constitutional mandates…whether adopted or not and they apply whenever decisions are being made. Failure to confirm to them may invalidate any action taken or decision made.”

  10. Chapter 3 Sec. 10 Right to Adopt Rules says: …The power of each house of a state legislature is to make it’s own rules is subordinate to the rules contained in the constitution”.

  11. If one does not have absolutes of truth guiding their life I do not see how they would be compelled to do the right thing. A statesman would be guided by principles greater than themselves resulting in altruism, humility, and serving others and then partnered with wisdom, common sense and work ethic. There are a few of our elected that I would say do possess these attributes but they are a minority. I completely agree with the four essentials that should be done as put forth by Mr. Ogan, but how, when you have a majority that are blind, prideful, self serving and even dishonest. Too many do indeed serve ‘something’ greater than themselves but it is has nothing to do with what is best for our state or citizens.

  12. Also Sec.517. Action Must Be Within Power or Vote is Ineffective
    See also Sec 42…Par. 1.

    1. No motion or proposal…that conflicts…the US Constitution…even by unanimous vote, it is null and void.

    Hullo City corporat Tists!!!

  13. PS You aren’t “saved” by Roberts, rulers, either though the policy enforcers may look for a moment the other way…cheers!

  14. Scott, thanks for the great article. But I must disagree with the linking of a “statesman” to “politicians”. I believe a statesman is a “leader” not a politician. The problem is that most legislators are politicians and are the most concerned with getting reelected. And they will do what it takes to get reelected.

    I would add to your article: “Do away with lobbyists”. Because of the remote legislature, lobbyists have a huge impact on legislation which the average Alaskan does not.

    Government unions, crony capitalists (those who are at the govt trough), nonprofits that feed at the govt trough, and a socialist AK Constitution all destroy what statesmen we do have.

    • I think the best way to mitigate lobbyists influence is to move where the legislature meets away from isolated Juneau. If legislators had to face their constituents in the grocery store, and at their churches or in bars, there would be a different outcome.

      Try splitting it between Juneau and Anchorage every other year, like AFN does with their convention.

  15. I take it no one reviewing these comments owns the current edition of Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure. I do. if you are wandering through Juneau any legislature will happy hand their copy to confirm these cites if that’s why you are not approving these comments. The word “confirm” above is actually “conform”. Par 1 is Par 1 of Sec 517 as it purports to be. This review of my comments is not “hard”. The Alaska legislative efforts ARE subordinate to the US Constitution.

  16. Dear friend Scott, your assay on statesmanship put incontext with the Great State rings hollow on several fronts!
    I) Ben Carpenter is a narcissist with evil in his heart I have proof,he is disingenuous to other legislators with his ambition held with a sharp sword to cut them apart! David Eastman is, for one his nemesis. Calling him a “Blue Falcon”. Ben voted against many of David’s budget amendments. Why, if he is a true Conservative ?
    2) Ben’s plan or really the work of a group of deprived union stooges rubbing the hands for more benefits / feather bedding on public money ” our money ” from theft of OUR PFD.
    3)If Ben had any backbone he wouldn’t aline himself with such scroundles but think of a way to get investments of the PF directed into our state to provide jobs and access to our resources at the same time furthering potential of their development. 2 Billion to start with , his peabrain is wrapped around the old school thought that TAXES is a duty of government not thinking out side that conibear trap.
    4)What is needed is not putting a hand out to citizens through TAXES but leveraging what we citizens owns the investment of the PF, to benefit “we the people “of Alaska . That means working to convincing the PF board to do that very thing so as you state Scott ” there are “statesmen” of all political persuasions” & ” can rise above partisan dogma, and do the right thing, at the right time for the right reasons. ”
    5)Scott all your other short story analysis is spot on. Rapping it up with the Last Great Visionary Wally H. Even he got disgusted, having himself buried stand up facing east to the DC swamp, where our money is invested doing us not much good, here in Alaska.
    Thank you Scott.

  17. Ed, Ben is not afraid to try to make a difference. Most would not have the courage to take on the challenge. I give him the high marks for being willing to open the discussion and try to find the solution. I’m not 100% agreeing with his approach, just giving him credit for his leadership approach to problem solving. Mike Shower is also a pragmatic problem solver. As are others!
    Best

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