31 October 2006

News bias

I've already explained why I won't be voting in favour of a measure to limit the legislative session to 90 days so it's no surprise that I find myself agreeing with the ADN's editorial in opposition:

Proponents of Ballot Measure 1 say a 90-day session limit is the answer.

Trouble is, it won't work.

We won't get any better legislation with a 90-day limit than we do with a 121-day limit. Lawmakers can always extend the session. Lawmakers and the governor both have the authority to call special sessions. Difficult and complex legislation may require time that doesn't fit neatly into a prescribed limit.

The proponents of measure 1 have identified a problem - wasted time in the legislature - but they've picked the wrong solution. A shorter session doesn't help lawmakers waste less time, it just gives them less time to waste. If we really want good legislation that is soundly considered, we need new lawmakers who are committed to governing.

To be totally fair, however, I think both the ADN and I need to point out that we have an inescapable bias here. When the legislature is in session, it's relatively easy to generate news (some urban lawmaker is always trying to screw the bush), which isn't always the case at other times of the year. One could perhaps argue that our principled opposition the measure 1 is nothing more than the base expression of a bias in favour of filling our pages and air time.


Don Young says he has his priorities in order for the next term:

Young, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, ticked off appropriations for the U.S. Coast Guard and reauthorization of Magnuson-Stevens Act on fisheries management as two priorities for next year. Otherwise, he said, it is hard to set a long-term agenda as a congressman who runs for office every other year.
Funny thing is, when I interviewed him when he was in Nome during Iditarod he mentioned those same two pieces of legislation as priorities for the upcoming months. I guess even when you're a senior member of the majority party it's still tough to get legislation passed, particularly when your party is using its majority to rally its base and not govern the country and has to call a lame-duck session just to pass necessary appropriation bills just to keep the country running.

The headline-grabbing part of the story is Young's prediction for the elections:
"I'm predicting we're not going to lose any seats," Young said. "My prediction is as good as anybody else's. The day after the election, we'll see who was right."
Actually, no, Don, you're prediction is not as good as anybody else's. I tend to listen to people who study the individual races, analyze television advertisements, track campaign spending, and then reach a reasoned conclusion. Spouting off the first thing that comes to mind is not a legitimate alternative.

If there was ever a more compelling reason for term limits...

Leaving the Gloves On

Andrew Halcro and Tony Knowles apparently went easy on each other before BP employees yesterday:

When all three candidates are in front of a big audience, they tend to knock one another around. Monday, without Palin in the mix, Knowles and Halcro mostly kept their gloves on, so much so that at one point a woman in the audience asked just what the difference was between the two.

In response, Halcro talked about the state needing a governor with fire in his belly, his voice rising. Afterward, Knowles cracked a joke:

"Look what you've done. We were getting along just fine," said the former two-term governor, who talked about his record and argued that he's primed to tackle a gas pipeline project.

This follows Sunday night's KTUU debate when I thought Halcro and Knowles pulled their punches on each other a few times. Knowles, in particular, was quite complimentary of Halcro at one point and that surprised me.

I'm probably reading the dynamics of this race wrong... but presuming I'm not, I think there are two explanations for this.

The first is that Halcro and Knowles rightly see Palin as the biggest threat and are training all their fire on here.

The second is that Knowles wants to offer Halcro a job (great bipartisan, consensus-building move) and Halcro knows he's lost and wants a job, any job. The ADN has already recommended that Halcro get a job in the next administration and I doubt Sarah Palin, who apparently has a history of what might be called cronyism from her days in Wasilla, would be the one to do that. But I think Knowles could rise to the level of recognizing talent offering a job to defeated - but superior - rival.

What cabinet post would Halcro best fill?


I was busy all day yesterday reporting on the shutdown of the Nome airport. What continues to surprise, so long after September 11, even after this has been a recognized issue for so long, is the amount of bureaucratic infighting that takes place during "incidents" like these. Here's a partial tale of the tape:

At 8:12am, Nome police were informed of a situation at the airport. By 9:15 I was at the airport. Firemen, State Troopers, and NPD were on scene.

But when I returned to the station and started making calls, no one seemed to know what was going on. By noon, the FBI confirmed there was an investigation ongoing into some threats but wouldn't specify the nature of the threat. The Transportation Security Administration wouldn't say anything.

At this point, the local emergency responders who have been doing the heavy-lifting of manning blockades all day are getting frustrated that they're not getting any outside support.

Around 2:15, when I called State Troopers in Anchorage, they had no knowledge of the incident and said they did not know who the "agency of record was." At 2:20, the state Department of Transportation in Fairbanks said the Troopers were in charge. At 2:30, just for kicks, I called the governor's office. This was the first they had heard of it and they recommended I talk to the DoT. Finally, at 3:30, State Troopers call back to say they've assumed control of the situation and provided a brief update.

That, of course, was 7 hours after the airport had been shutdown (the AP story KTUU and the ADN used incorrectly says the airport was shutdown at 11am) and a bomb-sniffing dog had only just left Anchorage.

Local responders in Nome did an excellent job in this situation but there are many things we can't do for ourselves - like clear an airport of bombs - and need help. But when state and federal agencies hardly know what's going on with our literal lifeline to the outside, it just kind of makes you wonder.

29 October 2006

KTUU Debate

I just finished watching the KTUU Gubernatorial Debate and not that I care much for John Tracy's shtick but I did enjoy and thought it was well-produced, as far as these "you have one minute to explain your fiscal plan" type events go.

  • Sarah Palin's "Anchorage Daily Knowles, News" was my favorite line of the night. Was it scripted?
  • I like Andrew Halcro and I like that he says the unpopular things but I do think he could be a bit friendlier. It's fine to say he quit politics because he got tired of "working with people who couldn't tell him what day of the week it was" but I found it unnecessary when he repeated his question for Sarah Palin and said he'd "do it slower since you didn't answer it the first time."
  • Andrew's question for Sarah was what percentage of state government is taken up by the constitutional obligations she routinely points to and how much room is left to cut. When she didn't answer the question, how come he didn't have the answer ready to show her there is no room to cut?
  • I particularly liked Halcro's line that Sarah is making a big deal of wrapping herself in the constitution but she only talks about the parts she likes.
  • Tony Knowles almost won me over when asked about mistakes he's made and pointed to the crab rationalization program. He even had some genuine emotion when he spoke. I didn't understand the context of Halcro's answer and Palin's answer about her Valley bias line, while politically astute, had no depth or meaning.
  • It must have been a given beforehand that the debate would be prime time to place political advertisements. Given all the "no on 2" ads, couldn't Eric Croft et al. have scraped together a little something to put on air just this once? Also, why is a political consultant (Art Hackney) appearing in a campaign ad? Couldn't he have hired somebody to do that?
  • I found Andrew Halcro's new ad - though desperate - the funniest of his efforts so far.
9 days and counting.

27 October 2006

Quack, quack!

Governor Murkowski and Lieutenant Governor Leman are quacking all the way to December 4th:

Gov. Frank Murkowski will call state lawmakers back to Juneau for a special session Nov. 13 to pass legislation that would enable the state to provide gay-partner employment benefits.
As I understand the argument, Loren Leman told Scott Nordstrand that Leman would not implement the regulations establishing the benefits because he did not think he had the authority to do so. (Quick question - has Leman ever raised this objection on any other set of regulations or does he only do so when the regulations contravene his social beliefs?) Nordstrand said he'd continue to pursue the regulations but also recommended the legislature be brought into the discussion.

The question for me is if this is all not just an elaborate political ploy to get the legislature back in Juneau and have them either a) consider the gas pipeline contract or b) be the fall guy for an administration that doesn't want to implement same-sex benefits.

I talked to Michael MacCleod-Ball, the ACLU-Alaska's director, briefly this afternoon and he thinks there's no need to go to special session:
During the session earlier this year, there was no attempt made by the administration to advance some sort of statutory relief. The state has said on its own the regulatory process is the way do this. And now at the final moment, the state says, "No no, I think we really need to go back to the legislature despite the fact that we've been representing to court and to the plantiffs that the regulatory process would be adequate all along."
He also said Loren Leman overstepped his bounds:
I think the lieutenant governor's role in this legally is ministerial in nature and I don't think there's any independent decision-making authority to decide whether a regulation is going to be adopted or not. If that were the case then, in effect, the lieutenant governor would have veto authority over the governor's executive department.
(This, incidentally, is how constitutional crises start: a government official starts using his legal obligations in the way they're not normally used. The argument is then between tradition and common practice on the one hand and what's written on paper on the other hand.)

It does strike me as odd that while pursuing a regulatory process, not a single person in the administration (beyond Loren Leman!) could have the wherewithal to say, "Hey, wait a sec. We might be overstepping our bounds here. Perhaps we should call in the legislature." I asked Governor Murkowski's spokesman, John Manly, that and he said it's a question of process:
The lieutenant governor is kind of at the end of the process and he's the guy who gets the regulation after they've gone through the entire process and is the person who signs and files them. And in his review of it, he concluded that the thing didn't have the right foundation under it.
Loren Leman - the constitutional and legal saviour of the state of Alaska. Who'd have thunk it?

And what happens when the legislature gets this hot potato? They're obligated by the courts to implement the benefits and Nordstrand has said he's going ahead with the regulations just in case. The outcome is foreordained regardless of what the legislature does.

Systemic Subsistence Issues

I won't pretend to know much about subsistence issues in this state. As a Caucasian, I don't think I'll ever truly be able to understand just what the lifestyle means to the Alaska natives, though I deeply respect the lifestyle and try on some small level to replicate it in my own life.

That being said, I'm still interested in the political ramifications of the issue. I was surprised when we had Sarah Palin live on air how many of our callers asked her about her position on subsistence issues. Tony Knowles is making the issue the centrepiece of his attacks on Palin.

It shouldn't be any surprise that so many Alaska natives were emotional and irate about the issue at a meeting in Anchorage this week:

More than 200 Natives revived the battle for rural Alaskans' subsistence rights Wednesday, with some blasting what they called a hostile state program and a federal system that increasingly ignores Native voices.
("Revived"? Where has the ADN been this campaign season?)

I don't know enough to comment on most of the issues raised but one that caught my attention is the claim that the regional subsistence advisory boards are not working. I think the question is not that the boards are not working now because of some recent changes but the very structure of the boards makes it difficult for Alaska natives to make their voices heard.

I've written before that Robert's Rules make meetings in this region difficult because they're such an intimidating set of rules that it's easy to do nothing beyond assent to what's put before you. If all the board members are given an opportunity to do is say "yay" or "nay" to what non-native game managers put in front of them, it makes sense that Alaska natives would argue they're being excluded.

But how do you make the system include them if the very system is what is excluding them?

The issue with subsistence management is not the particular nature of the current management system but the system itself.


I asked a few days back for some issues-based coverage of this election, asking particularly if Sarah Palin's repeated claim that the state can balance its budget on $33/barrel an oil for the next five years is accurate.

Well, I got my answer:

Had she done the math, she would have learned that:

• Assuming the state budget stays flat from this year's level;

• Assuming the state picks up next year's retirement system increase, but nothing additional in the years ahead; and

• Assuming $33 per barrel oil -- her number, not ours;

• Then the state would empty its budget reserve fund in less than a year and a half. And that counts the higher oil revenues from the production tax overhaul approved by lawmakers in August.

Five years of cushion at $33 oil? That's a dream.

Unfortunately, it comes from a rather suspect source, the ADN's editorial page. While I don't doubt their numbers or their argument, given their previous anti-Palin diatribes I'm disappointed such an important conclusion (Palin's blowing smoke) couldn't have come from their news department.

Plus, they link it with their editorial on Don Young's campaign donations to some sketchy folks. I don't mind reporting in the editorial page but this seems to take it a little too far, as if the ADN is just looking for something - anything - they can throw against Don Young in the waning days of a campaign. The timing is odd, too: why didn't the ADN in some capacity report on this or editorialize on these donations when they happened, rather than when Don Young's Democratic opponent and the Democratic party start making political hay of the matter?

The ADN took a great opportunity to criticize Sarah Palin and Don Young and made themselves look like partisan hacks. At least I got an answer.

The Purpose of AFN?

KNOM broadcasts live coverage of the Alaska Federation of Natives convention all day long and as I've been listening I've been questioning the importance of events like these, where people come together to talk about the problems we all know exist, urge each other to do better, and then return home to do... exactly what? Aside from being a show of Alaska native strength, a good networking opportunity, and a chance to go see the doctor and do your shopping, what comes from AFN?

One benefit I see that is perhaps often overlooked is the way in which it brings rural issues to the fore of the media spotlight for a few days. Every reporter wants to make his job as easy as possible for himself so when a whole bunch of Alaska natives show up and start talking about the problems they face on a daily basis, it's really easy for the ADN, KTUU, and other major news organizations to report on these issues.

Case in point: the ADN's article on life as a VPSO. Sure, Alex deMarban could have traveled to the villages and done a story like this but that's a lot harder. Instead, the story lands in his lap and Alaskans who read the ADN are better off for it.

Similarly, I hope Mike Dunham's article on Mary Ann Sundown's dancing gives urban Alaskans some small sense of what dancing means in rural villages around this state. Dancing is a central social event in villages I've visited, whether as informal evening entertainment or days-long dance festivals.

Perhaps, if the major media organizations in this state made their coverage of rural Alaskan life a bit more consistent, urban Alaskans would stop seeing rural Alaskans as those people who show up to shop and go to the doctor every once in a while and instead as important stakeholders in this state who have a unique set of challenges and opportunities.

But I wouldn't count on it.

26 October 2006

Libertarian campaign strategy

The Libertarian party appears to be doing all it can to NOT win the votes of Alaskans this fall.

There's the candidate for U.S. House, Alexander Crawford:

"If you are upset with how things are, if you are upset about the war in Iraq, if you don't think the United States is on the right course towards freedom and avoiding the Third World War, which none of us young folks want to fight or want our children to fight, I'm asking you to vote for Diane Benson," Crawford said.
Perhaps it's a sort of reverse psychology sort of thing.

There's also Lieutenant Governor candidate Robert Mirabal. In his official statement in the state of Alaska election information pamphlet, he says:
"I am a newcomer to the political process and the libertarian philosophies. With this campaign I hope to improve myself and increase my understanding of the operation of state and local government."
I imagine the main reason most people vote libertarian is ideological - they agree fundamentally with the ideals embodied by the libertarian philosophy. To say that you're a newcomer to the sole factor that might motivate people to vote for you strikes me as a somewhat less than ideal approach to politics.

Mirabel says as Lieutenant Governor, he will "focus on the duties and responsibilities of Lieutenant Governor" including such important tasks as "commissioning and oversight of Alaska's Notaries Public," "oversight of the use of the State of Alaska Seal," and "chairman of the Alaska Historical Commission."

It strikes me that saying if you're elected you'll do what the constitution mandates - particularly when what the constitution mandates is so mundane - isn't the best approach to running for office.

(Of course, it's what Sarah Palin is doing.)

25 October 2006

Shaking your head

As I've indicated before, I find Lisa Murkowski a generally agreeable and likeable person. I've interviewed her on a few occasions and traveled with her to villages in this region. She thinks for herself and actually listens to others, which aren't qualities I find in every politician I meet. Given the overwhelming Republican lean of this state, I think Alaska could be doing a lot worse in the junior senator department.

You've got to wonder, though, why she's stumping for Rick Santorum.

  • First, he's clearly going to lose so it might just be a waste of energy. Why not go help out a few other Republicans who have a change of winning, like Jim Talent in Missouri or Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island? If you want to find a conservative, go help out George Allen in Virgina.
  • Second, it's not clear to me what the benefits are. I doubt a campaign swing by a few Republican senators makes more than a blip on the media radar screen in the greater Philly area, particularly in the closing weeks of a campaign. But it turns up on the media screen in Alaska and threatens (at least in my case) some of my respect for Murkowski because she's associating herself with someone whose positions I find odious.
  • Third, her own party's gubernatorial candidate in her own state is locked in an apparently neck-and-neck race to the finish. Can't she help Sarah out?
Murkowski, as I've noted before, was pals with Andrew Halcro in the state legislature. Indeed, when I interviewed him in April he was dropping her name (and Jim Whitaker's) left and right. And she stayed out of her own father's re-election effort over the summer, though she insisted she supported him. Though she says she supports Palin, it makes you wonder how strong that support really is. Is she a closet Halcro supporter?

One could argue, of course, that staying out of the race makes sense so that she can work with whoever wins and doesn't create any ill will. But then she goes and slams Tony Knowles when Kyle Hopkins asks her about him.

I don't like to read too deeply into anyone's psyche, particularly someone of the opposite sex, but is it possible that another high-profile female leader in the state could threaten Lisa's position? Sarah and Lisa have a lot in common (children, quiet husbands, strong wills). A political system often only has room for one politician of each type (as maverick Halcro is finding out as he challenges maverick Palin). What happens when Alaska's political system has two strong women?

Additionally but separately, as RedState notes, why isn't Don Young sharing some of his huge war chest? The Palin campaign could sure use some, as could numerous House and Senate Republicans around the country. Young is never going to have a serious challenger for the remainder of his career? What gives?

Reserves Tax Debate

The debate on the natural gas reserves tax has heated up in the last few days, particularly given the Scott Goldsmith ISER report criticizing the measure as "a risky proposition for an uncertain outcome." The News-Miner latched on to that to again urge its readers to vote "no."

Of course, there's the counter-argument from Gregg Erickson the ADN printed last week and gadfly Tribal Fires prints a response from him to ISER's Goldsmith and then casts aspersions on ISER's funding and past work.

All of this is liable to leave one's head spinning, particularly mine, which continues to be uncertain about how to vote on this measure. But I did have one thought, amidst the claims and counter-claims and that is this:

Perhaps all this just points to the weakness of ballot-box policy-making. The virtue of representative democracy is that we hire specific people to take a look at the big picture, research potential outcomes, weigh positives and negatives, amend and change proposed legislation, and then reach a reasonable and considered decision about what to do.

But when legislation is reduced to a simple "yes" or "no" vote by all people - educated, informed, or not - something important about that process is lost. We saw the outcome of that in Fairbanks earlier this month. So perhaps the natural gas reserves tax issue should have been settled in the legislature and never made it to the people.

But I'm sure if you told that to Eric Croft et al., they'd tell you they've tried several times and come away empty-handed. One might say that's an indication of relative merits of the measure. But one might also add that in the Alaska legislature oil money talks and it strikes me there might be a group of lawmakers who won't even give the measure the consideration it deserves because they're convinced any "anti-oil" measures are, ipso facto, a bad idea.

If that's the case, they're failing in their job that requires them to give a fair hearing to all proposed legislation. That's an argument for new lawmakers and a new look at the role of money in our political system, not one to take the gas reserves tax out of the legislature and give it to the people.

24 October 2006

Issues? What issues?

I noted yesterday the ADN columns about the importance of paying attention to the issues at play in this governor's race and taking an interest, generally, in politics. Too bad no one in the media paid any attention.

  • The ADN goes and gives us two softball pieces of Sarah Palin's life (complete with a photo gallery - let's not objectify our good-looking female candidates or anything!). They promise more on Tony Knowles and Andrew Halcro.
  • The Associated Press joins in with an issue-centric but still insubstantial piece on Tony Knowles.
  • The best we can get from the ADN's election coverage is coverage of a "dandelion tax" proposal, the latest on which talk radio host says what, and passing mention of the most pressing (and least-talked-about) issue in the state right now: the freefall of the price of oil.
  • APRN joins the fun with a completely inconsequential story "profiling" the candidates for lieutenant governor. "Here's the next lieutenant governor: we gave them each 15 seconds to state their piece."
Particularly given the Knowles' campaigns plethora of new program promises and Halcro's repeated attempts to call attention to the need for a fiscal plan, I'd really like to see some coverage of the effect on the state budget of the declining price of oil, rather than a thin dotted line across the daily oil graph in the ADN.

And could someone explain Sarah Palin's claim that the budget can be balanced at $33/barrel oil for the next five years? Wouldn't that entail erasing the savings account? Or massive program cuts?

Would somebody hold these candidates accountable?

23 October 2006

Sarah-Speak IV

I've been re-listening to my Sarah Palin interview as I produce it for air and just wanted to share one nugget that I thought too precious to keep to myself.

When I asked her about rural energy costs and what could be done to lower the cost of living in Bush Alaska, she reached for her notes and started talking about fully funding Power Cost Equalization. The problem, of course, is that the interview was on Friday and on Thursday Governor Murkowski made the 183-million dollar deposit into PCE that the legislature appropriated during the session, fully funding, we were told, the program for the first time ever.

Now you can quibble with what "fully funding" means and, of course, say that there should be more funding. But I was struck by her outdated notes. What happens when she's governor and her notes get outdated?

Re-listening to the interview though was moderately reassuring. Her campaign is clearly not about policy but about change. Policy will come later and I guess we'll all find out what she thinks when she does it. But if she even lives up to part of what she says about cleaning up government, opening the process, and serving the people (and I am skeptical that any person can do that), I'm willing to trade a lack of specifics about policy for some major changes to the political process.

Our ignorance is their power

Some idealistic and important words in back-to-back ADN columns about paying attention to politics.

Stephen Haycox writes about my least favourite aspect of politics - television ads:

The campaign ad surely is the most postmodern device ever imagined. Judging by their work in myriad examples, its authors seem fully to embrace the postmodern notion that truth does not exist and does not matter. Either that, or they conceive of the voting, viewing public as utter uninformed nincompoops.

The conversation about postmodernism will continue. In the meantime, voters tired of being treated like dumb sheep by mocking politicians will search for the truth and act accordingly.
John Havelock urges folks to look at issues:
Where does one get this information? Ignore television ads, radio sound bites and vacuous doorknob hangers. Signs are for name recognition. Study the voters' pamphlet. Ask each campaign office to send you issue papers. Go to a debate where you actually see the candidates, and be sure also to catch the TV debates. Read the papers. Let's get the best governor available.
I agree with all this, of course, and am in the enviable position of having had the opportunity to speak extensively with the major candidates about topics of my choice, though even that isn't necessarily a great approach as a good candidate just turns any question into what he or she wants to talk about and not what I asked about.

I do agree with this comment from today's New York Times:
“Everyone knows about football, but more people need to know about Congress,” Mr. Lee said. “If as many people knew about Congress as knew about football, baseball and basketball, we’d all be more educated.”
We'd also have a lot better leaders.

Remember, our ignorance is their power.

22 October 2006

Sarah in Studio C

Almost immediately after hanging up on Tony Knowles on Friday, Sarah Palin strolled through KNOM's door and into Studio C for an interview. I won't bore you with the details of how difficult it was to set up, though it ended up being yet one more cause for grey hairs.

In any event, she comes off much better in person than she does either on TV or her coverage in the newspaper. By "comes off better," I mean that she is obviously a charismatic person who can charm her way through life. Like many others, I am sure, I was almost immediately captivated.

That changed once we started talking into a microphone. She read some of her answers from her notes (which I didn't realize was happening until mid-way through - she kind of kept them on her lap so it was tough for me to see given the setup of the studio) and for many of the rest she stared into the middle distance and it was as if I could see the wheels turning in her head as she tried to remember what she was supposed to say about a particular topic.

Later she spoke to the Chamber of Commerce and read a soporific 20-minute prepared speech. It was the first time I had ever seen any out-of-town guest read a prepared speech to the Chamber. Most of the time, people just start talking and taking questions. When she stopped talking, she immediately called on what must have been a plant. She introduced a gentleman who "came all the way from Wasilla" and asked him if he had anything to say. He threw her several softball questions, thus taking up most of the rest of the time, allowing time for only a couple of questions from the Nomeites in attendance. Not very impressive.

If I hadn't already, I finally realized her campaign is really just about change. Even though I continued to try to get her to admit that governing is about making decisions and some Alaskans are going to disagree with everyone decision she makes and so her pledge to "unite all Alaskans" is clearly one of the most vacuous things I've ever heard, she stuck to her talking points about bringing "positive change" and a "new generation of leadership" to Alaskans. Policy, for her campaign, I sense matters less than her maverick-this-is-not-politics-as-usual attitude.

Nothing she said made me want to vote for her. I want a candidate who can answer a question without looking at notes (if you've been campaigning for a year, you should be able to do better - plus, what happens when she's confronted with an issue for which there are no notes?) and who demonstrates a grasp of the issues. I don't want a polished and packaged candidate who's for change for change's sake.

That being said, she did come off better than I thought. It's hard for me to see how she is going to lose this campaign. In an anti-incumbent year, running against a former two-term governor, the charismatic, charming, and completely without depth candidate will win.

What's a Palin administration going to look like?

Tony on Touchstone

Tony Knowles completed KNOM's series of live call-in shows with the gubernatorial candidates on Friday. Before I get to some general reflections, let me tell a short story:

This show has been in the works for at least six weeks and I had received several "definite" commitments from staff members and the candidate himself that our time and date would work. Forty-five minutes before air, however, Patty Ginsberg calls and says she's very sorry but Tony can only give us 20 minutes. I was none too pleased and let her know but she couldn't do anything. So when I called Tony, I told him that I was not going to mention the 20-minute limit on air, our show would last an hour, and anytime he felt he had to go he could tell Western Alaska and hang up. He said that sounded fair and we went on air.

The calls came quickly and from all over the region. They were good questions too, about teen suicide, coastal resource management areas, alcohol and drug availability, and so on and so forth. I just kept putting callers on the air and Tony never said he had to go so we ended up going for the whole hour.

Oddly, the whole experience makes me respect him less. Not only did he send his hatchet-woman to do a last-second cancellation but then he didn't even have the courage of his convictions to tell Western Alaska he had to go. I would have respected him a lot more had he been able to say, "I'm awfully sorry but I've got something I can't miss. Would you please excuse me?" Instead, his behaviour was that of a typical politician, who'll do anything for votes, and lacks a moral centre.

Other than that, my reflections are relatively few:

  • He had a better grasp of the issues than Sarah Palin did but that's to be expected. Compared to Halcro, I think Halcro came out on top but that may just be because Halcro sounded a lot more excited to be on the air.
  • Tony sounded tired and bored throughout the entire show. I actually didn't realize it until several people mentioned it to me afterwards and I realized they were right.
  • He gave what I thought was an insufficient answer to the question I really want answered about him: "You've already had 8 years. Why do you need 4 more?" He invoked Bill Egan and then trumpeted the accomplishments of his previous terms and promised more of the same. But the "only in politics can you have 8 years to build a world-class education system and then come back 4 years later and say I really mean it" is a strong one and I wish he had taken it head on. Instead, I felt he dodged it.
  • Rather than answer some questions substantively, he seemed to prefer to talk about people he knew in the villages. Like when we got a call from Emmonak or Savoonga, for instance, he would talk about the people there and then give a cliched answer to the question posed by the person from Emmonak. I have so little respect for that. Don't butter up our callers' one opportunity to talk to the man who might be the next governor. Give them the courtest of an honest answer. I realize he must be doing quite a few of these radio interviews but I think part of the secret of being a compelling politician is making each one sound like it's special.
Nothing he said made me think he was the right man for the job. I still can't get past the fact that he's "been there and done that" and doesn't need to do it again. There's a candidate out there who appears to have an equal or better grasp of the issues (and confronts them, arguably, more honestly). And I'm not convinced that two previous terms in office is the necessary experience. And given the fiasco surrounding the length of the show, I'm really not inclined to reward him with my vote.

20 October 2006

Thumbing my nose

As I've indicated on numerous previous occasions, I'm not sure how I'll vote on ballot measure two, the natural gas reserves tax proposition. But I'm leaning towards saying "yes" for a reason the ADN aptly summarizes this morning:

The big-money effort to defeat the natural gas reserves tax initiative is setting a lousy example for how to run an honest campaign.

It is too bad. Voters should defeat the misguided tax on the Nov. 7 ballot, but a few more of the offensive anti-tax ads and some Alaskans may just decide to vote yes as a protest over the nasty campaign.

Reading stories about oil companies forming front organizations to defeat the measure is bad enough but when they try to subvert the ballot measure process, it just kind of makes me want to thumb my nose at them with the only tool I have - my vote.

I like to make each of my votes a positive, affirmative statement of what I believe (which is probably why I often find myself using the write-in line) and my rationale so far seems petty. But it might be all I've got on an issue I still have trouble understanding.

On another note, perhaps my previous advice to Eric Croft to sit back and let the ad campaign shoot itself in the foot, should be withdrawn.

19 October 2006

Buying your campaign

For a long time, one of my pet issues has been how campaigns are funded. I believe in free and equal speech and I sometimes worry - when I consider the state of our democracy - that money is being used to make campaign speech unequal.

There's a lot of different ways in which this is manifest but one issue of particular concern is self-funded candidacies. We saw this in senatorial primaries in Connecticut and New York this summer. Ned Lamont was able to throw several million of his own dollars into his campaign that ultimately defeated Joe Lieberman. Jonathan Tasini, Hillary Clinton's Democratic opponent in the New York primary, didn't have that kind of personal wealth and even the Tasini and Lamont campaigns were based on a similar premise (the war in Iraq is no good), Tasini went nowhere. Their speech (i.e. their campaign messages) were unequal in large part because of the funding difference, a difference due in large part to Lamont's own wealth.

And now we learn the same thing happens in Alaska:

Candidates in several Anchorage-area state House and Senate races cracked six figures in campaign contributions a month before the Nov. 7 general election, and at least a couple of them have mostly themselves to thank.

Republicans Tom Moffatt and Earl Mayo have pitched tens of thousands of dollars into their bids for a state House seat in the Jewel Lake/Sand Lake area and a Senate seat in Muldoon and East Anchorage, respectively.

Let's not forget, of course, the Independent candidacy of Andrew Halcro. I don't have the exact figures at hand but I believe the vast majority of his funding is coming from his own pocketbook. (Hasn't his campaign been called a "rich boy's ego trip"?) As I've indicated before, I like what he brings to this campaign but if what he's bringing is so valuable shouldn't the people of Alaska be helping him do it?

What I want is to ensure that not only does everyone have an equal right to vote but that everyone has an equal chance to run for office (both are basic preconditions of a democracy after all). And if one's chance to mount a viable campaign for office is dependent not on the quality of one's ideas but on the size of one's wallet, I think that weakens our democracy.

18 October 2006

Education Plan(t)

I checked my e-mail this morning to find a release from the Knowles campaign criticizing Sarah Palin for an inadequate education plan. Apparently, the Palin campaign handed out a tribute to Sarah's dad while the Knowles campaign wanted to talk policy. (AlaskanAbroad has a link to the document.)

The debate so far has been about whether or not the document actually comes from the campaign. Let's take a different approach here and consider it as an actual statement of education policy.

Sarah - apparently - is talking about the advice she got from her father, a former teacher, how he taught her at the dinner table and told her to "Turn off the TV! Read! Get outdoors!" Given that the role of parents in education is currently at issue in state Superior Court, I'd say the Palin campaign has given us the most up-to-date and relevant education statement. More seriously, I'd say that the role of parents in education is often minimized and the advice "Turn off the TV! Read! Get outdoors!" is tremendously valuable. If I was confident there was a successful way to codify that advice in state law and that Sarah Palin would do it, I'd vote for her on those grounds alone.

On the question of whether the document actually comes from the Palin camp, on the face of it, it strikes me as so hopelessly out of sync with the rest of the campaign that it can't possibly be a real document. But what do I know? I wasn't there when they were handed out and I won't say much, other than that most Palin material I've seen so far has always said, "Frugally paid for by Palin Parnell 2006" and this one says "Paid for." It's not much to go on but it leaped out at me immediately because the frugal line has also seemed so self-righteous to me. On the other hand, there is a lot of specificity about Palin's life and family. That's tough to fake.

17 October 2006

Candidates Forums

One of my frustrations with this fall's gubernatorial campaign has been how thoroughly it has been dominated by events in Southcentral Alaska. This is not surprising, really, given that region's dominance of the state as a whole. But if you look at the candidates' schedules, it seems they're spending part of every day at some Southcentral organization's candidate forum.

I'm all for candidates forums and I think it's great that they take the time to answer the same questions over and again for different audiences. But it takes up the candidates' time and it means they're less able to spend time campaigning off the road system. Andrew Halcro was supposed to come to Nome today but he ditched us (somewhat understandably) for the Wasilla Chamber of Commerce forum (or something). Rural Alaska, as is so often the case, just gets squeezed in among urban Alaska's needs.

As is noted in the ADN today, these forums have little upside and a huge downside. They don't get regular press coverage by the major media organizations in the state since they're so frequent. The only way they get covered is if some candidate makes some massive blunder.

Presidential campaigns have a Presidential Debates Commission. It perhaps makes sense to have something similar in Alaska and thus limit the number of similiar-style events and free up candidates to travel more widely across the state. Fewer forums/debates would raise the stakes of each one and if they were televised (which would be more likely since a more rare event would be more newsworthy) the whole state could participate, rather than the handful or so (relatively speaking) of people who manage to take the time to show up in person.

Still, I suppose there's some good from at least one of these events. As I've indicated before, I think Sarah Palin has the good looks and vacuous answers to win this fall's election. But at least one candidates forum allowed a little poking at her cliche-ridden romp to the governor's mansion:

Halcro, who has fired pointed criticism at both his opponents throughout the race, looked to hammer Palin on her answers at the UAA health care debate. There, he asked Palin what her long-term plan is for paying for state-funded health care services when oil prices drop.

As governor, Palin responded, "I will make sure that we are fulfilling our constitutional, mandated provisions there, that are laid out for us. Again, (those are) education, basic solid infrastructure, public safety -- in public safety is health care -- so it's a matter of priorities."

Halcro told the crowd: "Well, again, I mean, this is political gibberish. ... To hear candidates talk about, 'Well, we're going to prioritize,' that's like saying, 'Oh, we're going to embrace efficiencies.' I mean, it means absolutely nothing ..."

The remark drew applause.

Halcro said Monday that Palin appears to read her comments from notes at the almost daily debates and forums the candidates attend. Halcro, in comparison, often tells the crowd that he never relies on notes.

"Good for Andrew," said Smith, the Palin spokesman. "And if he thinks he's always the smartest person in the room, maybe he should make that his campaign slogan."

Halcro's campaign slogan is "Think."

Now imagine if the whole state could have seen that exchange at a higher-profile televised event.

16 October 2006

Still attacking

Tony Knowles' negative attacks began on Friday (fulfilling, for me, every reporter's dream of having his work be the basis for an attack) and continued on Saturday with an attack on Palin's support of the National Guard:

During a campaign debate Thursday evening before the Retired Public Employees of Alaska and the Alaska Public Employees Association, Knowles detailed as much of his specific plan as time permitted. The former governor has released a specific plan to assist National Guardsmen and women and Veterans.

Republican Sarah Palin said “deployment exercises” should be attended or “just shaking these fellow’s hands, and these women’s hands, in the airport when you see them and thank them – we should do that."
(That comes from a press release from the Knowles campaign. Like the previous press releases I can't find these online.)

I don't particularly find this line of argument to be that compelling, since it's obvious to the most reasonable person that Sarah Palin believes in more than shaking hands. And... shaking hands (or other expressions of support) strikes me as a good way for "regular" Alaskans to support a bunch of men and women who are doing something the vast majority of us do not.

Plus, if the Knowles campaign's strategy was to get some press coverage, it appears to have failed thus far. And... their unauthorized (though apparently legal) use of our material just angered us at KNOM.

Gas Tax (again!)

I continue to be unsure of how to vote on the natural gas reserves tax on November 7 and I raise the issue again only because I do think it is a massive public policy decision (and thus worthy of serious consideration), I've finally become aware of some of the advertisements being run in opposition to the measure, and it's earning a couple of lame-ducks way more publicity than they deserve.

Billy Muldoon says he can't see how Alaskans "could lose" from the measure and directs readers to one of the few ADN articles I've seen in favour of the measure:

This is not a new idea. Adam Smith, the founding father of economics, grasped the essence of it in the 18th century, and economist Henry George developed it in the 19th. Capital and labor are what power economic development. Tax them too heavily and they flee. Land and known natural resources are different. They can't migrate to a place where taxes are lower. A rational plan to encourage economic development would raise taxes on the value of such resources, and reduce taxes on labor income and improvements -- the houses, pipelines, stores, refineries and everything else made by the hand of man.
I'm glad to see an economic analysis that supports the measure but then I read the News-Miner's editorial and am told to vote "no":

One obviously visible flaw in that message is the contention that the companies haven’t been doing much to advance the pipeline project. Anyone who has been paying even the smallest bit of attention knows that the companies long ago submitted a formal proposal to Gov. Frank Murkowski, who, with his gas team, had been negotiating with the companies even prior to that.

A not-so-visibile flaw in Measure 2’s message is that some Alaskans might be thinking that the state would be able to spend the $1 billion it would supposedly receive from the oil companies collectively each year until the pipeline is built.

So here's what I've got: economic analyses on both sides of the issue (though predominantly in opposition); a general desire to support the measure to spite the oil companies for secretly spending money to oppose the project; general intuitive agreement with both the general "stick" argument for supporting the project and the general "don't tax income before it's earned" argument for opposing it. I'm still looking for something to tip it one way or the other.

Here's a thought: why are all the gubernatorial candidates opposed to the measure even though a plurality of Alaskans appear to suppor the measure? Wouldn't it make sense to at least moderate their positions?

Getting it right

As I noted when Sarah Palin was a guest on our call-in show, the Republican candidate for governor in this state sure does like the constitution. It makes sense, I guess, to ground a campaign in a document that is difficult to change and which all candidates equally have to contend because it's non-controversial. But it's also a recipe for vacuousness, as the ADN points out today:

"Are you offended by the phrase 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance?" asked the Eagle Forum.

"Not on your life," answered Ms. Palin. "If it was good enough for the Founding Fathers, it's good enough for me, and I'll fight in defense of our Pledge of Allegiance."

But pull out the history books and you'll learn that the Founding Fathers of colonial days had nothing to do with the pledge. They were long dead when a Baptist minister wrote it in 1892. Even then, the phrase "under God" was not part of the original. That took an act of Congress, with President Dwight Eisenhower signing the bill to add the words in 1954.

So nothing against President Eisenhower, but please, Ms. Palin, set an example for schoolchildren and get the facts right. Wrap yourself in the flag and the pledge if you want, but don't credit the Founding Fathers as the tailors.

It reminds me a bit of the congressman who said - at a hearing on bi-lingual education - "If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it's good enough for me."

And yet we keep electing people like this!

13 October 2006

Andrew on Touchstone

Andrew Halcro was the live guest on KNOM's Touchstone program this morning. I was actually somewhat shocked at the response we got, as numerous people called or e-mailed in questions that demonstrated the usual insight and knowledge I've come to expect from our listeners. I just didn't expect so many callers for the third-party candidate.

Some thoughts:

  • Halcro is a talker - I couldn't get him to give short, easy answers to questions I was hoping we could move through quickly. Then again, perhaps the problems facing the state doesn't deserve short, easy answers.
  • He backed away - somewhat - from his plan to take minors' PFDs and put them in savings accounts. He kind of soft-pedaled the idea as part of the importance of taking a new look at the PFD. But to his credit, he didn't shy away from it even to a rural Alaskan audience that dearly prizes its PFDs. He even mentioned my blog post about this idea, which shows he at least has good reading taste.
  • He was asked the important question about the viability of his candidacy from a self-described "pragmatic voter." Basically, why should I vote for you when you're so far back in the polls? And he gave a good answer, I thought, noting that the two-party system has failed the state ("we had eight years of a Democratic governor and four of a Republican governor and we're still talking about lowering rural energy prices") and it's time for a candidate who'll speak honestly about the issues. I think that sort of rhetoric (stressing his independence) might be more successful than what I feel I've heard so far from him, which has basically been that "I'm a Republican and would have been slaughtered in the primary so I opted to run as an Independent."
  • While I admire his candour on many important issues, he could do a better job of getting to the point and clearly communicating his message. When we asked him about his running mate and how that situation changed, it took him at least 30 seconds to mention his current running mate's name and in an answer that was at least two minutes long, he never referred to her as anything other than "Faye". How about her last name? Had I been him the first three words out my mouth would have been "Fayevon Gemmingen."
  • He has a good grasp of the issues. When he was giving answers on complicated topics, like coastal management zones, I felt like he knew what he was talking about. I definitely did not feel that way with Sarah Palin last week.
It's hard to see how he can win this election, given his comparative lack of resources and support. (Though he did say he's gone from 3 per cent to 8.8 per cent in three weeks. Great, how many weeks will it be until you've caught up?) But I was surprised at the number and type of people around town who said after the show they liked what he had to say. Can he break into double digits?

Going Negative

The Knowles campaign - as was expected - has started "going negative." Two press releases this afternoon make that clear.

The first from the Knowles campaign itself points out Sarah Palin's position on subsistence:

“I know that a huge majority of Alaskans support a rural priority and they deserve the chance to express their will. Sarah Palin doesn’t believe in it.”
(I can't find the press release online. You'll have to trust me.)

When I read the press release, I thought to myself, "Gee, that's not news to me. Sarah told us that on Touchstone last week." Then I read the Knowles' campaign second e-mail, providing numerous Palin quotations, and realized a huge number of those quotations came from the very call-in show I hosted with Sarah Palin. For instance,
"I'm pro-subsistence for all Alaskans... And we don't need to amend our constitution to allow for that. We don't have to amend ANILCA, either."
(That is an accurate quotation from the show and not taken out of context either.)

I don't know who fed the Knowles campaign the Sarah quotations because it certainly wasn't us and we didn't share our tape with anyone.

The second prong of the negative attack came from the Alaska Democratic Party, arguing Palin was bad for Southeast because she wants to move the capital, which she really doesn't. The press releases quotes her as saying she's for "keeping the star on the map" but "it's up to the Legislature where the Legislature meets."

I say this is "going negative" because it can be argued that there's nothing negative about pointing out what the other candidates say or do and then contrasting that with one's own position. In fact, isn't that what campaigning is all about?

One question I have is the timing. Why Friday afternoon (and this is clearly a co-ordinated attack) when people are heading out for the weekend? Perhaps to give reporters enough time to do their research and roll out an article for the Sunday papers?

Also, why pick subsistence? Isn't that an issue that will play mostly to rural Alaskans? And aren't rural Alaskans already heavily Democratic? Does the Knowles campaign sense weakness in its base?

The most interesting question is why the Knowles campaign is rolling this out now. Clearly, there's some frustration, I'd imagine, with their inability to point out Sarah Palin's lack of knowledge on some important issues and "get anything to stick" while she continues her merry way around the state promising "positive change" that will "unite Alaskans" but not providing many specifics.

They say that no one likes going negative but that it works. Will it work here?

Voting for PFDs

I'm in the ADN again today:

Your editorial Oct. 5 celebrating 25 years of Permanent Fund payouts and reminding Alaskans of our constitutional obligations was well-timed ("25 years, 25 grand"). The first direct deposits of dividends this year came the day after municipal elections around the state.

A citizen's most basic obligation is to shape the course of society by voting for the senators, representatives, councilmen and board members who guide life in Alaska. In Nome, just one in three voters bothered to vote Oct. 3, despite protracted public debates this past year about city and school budget proposals, the sales tax and a proposed mine just north of town. Statewide, in August's primary election, 35 percent of voters cast ballots despite a hotly contested Republican primary and a couple ballot propositions.

So how about this? You only get a Permanent Fund dividend if you voted in the most recent state election. If you can take five minutes every two years, the state will give you a several-hundred- (or thousand-) dollar gift. If you can't take the time, sorry, no PFD.

We'd have to refine the proposal to account for those who are ineligible to vote either because of age or criminal background. But on the whole, I agree with your editorial board: Let's connect the rights of citizens more closely to our obligations.

---- Jesse Zink


Not a new idea, if you've been here before.

12 October 2006

Sarah-Speak III

This from Sarah Palin about rising crime in Anchorage:

“I certainly hope we're talking about civil liberties for the good guys, because those who are the gangsters, the thugs, the perps who are causing the problems, their civil liberties? Uh-uh!” said Palin (left).

Palin says stronger measures are required.

“I think there's a sense in society that you get a good enough attorney and you're going to get off. That's not right. I think we need a tougher judiciary. We do need tougher laws,” Palin said.

God forbid the equal protection under the law clause should apply to everyone rather than just our friends. If she can't extend equal protection under the law to folks in urban Alaska, what hope is there that she will do so for rural Alaskans who do not receive the same protection other Alaskans do? If we start giving the governor the power to decide to whom constitutional rights apply, where will it end?

11 October 2006

Ballot Measure Two

In the face of continued revelations about the organization Alaska's Future, which is running ads opposing the gas reserves tax initiative, I am reminded of my previous advice to Eric Croft that the ads won't do any good. Now there's proof:

So far, however, the $1-million-plus ad campaign has not yet won over voters. A poll taken last weekend shows 46.6 percent of the electorate in favor of the initiative, while 39.4 percent oppose it and 13.9 percent are still unsure.
(Of course, KTUU doesn't give any information about who conducted the poll, how it was conducted, or what questions were asked so the results are of questionable use.)

Perhaps, as in the primary election, Alaskans will ignore the campaigns and make decisions based on the merits of the proposals. I am still not sure how I will vote.

On the whole though, these stories about Alaska's Future (and other similar groups) just make me wish for stricter and better campaign finance regulation.

In agreement with Con Bunde

It's not often I find myself in agreement with Con Bunde. But apparently I am:

For that reason, I am supporting the ballot initiative that if passed will shorten the legislative session to 90 days.

My opponent, Sen. Con Bunde, is opposed to the ballot initiative, saying he needs more time to conduct our state's business.

Consistently, people are asking for change -- statesmanship, open government and bi-partisanship, just like the old days.

Elect me as your senator and I pledge to work well with others and I will finish my work in 90 days or less.

I'll stand by my previous post, even if it does put me in league with Mr. Anti-Rural himself.

10 October 2006

Lisa Murkowski

Lisa Murkowski, as is her wont, spoke with several western Alaskan radio reporters this morning. I enjoy these conversations, particularly because I find that Lisa gives involved answers to complicated questions, when the tendency among others in her position might be to gloss over the issue with some nice sound bites.

Some highlights:

  • She explicitly said she won't begrudge any Alaska native community that takes fuel from Citgo and even said that the program should force Alaskans to ask questions about how we use our oil wealth. When there's $34 billion dollars in the Permanent Fund, she noted, why should people be forced to accept fuel from Venezuela?
  • Her analysis of Chavez again showed some slippage, though she didn't explicitly say he was an "evil" man.
  • She commented frequently that energy policy in Alaska and the country is "broke." She said that the Energy Policy Act of a few years back was a fine start but there hasn't been any appropriations lately to back up the ideas there. She said there needs to be lots more time and money invested in alternative energy sources.
  • She was really worked up about the whole energy topic as her answer to this question was longer than any of the others.
  • She said there's no doubt in her mind Alaska needs all the federal money it gets but agreed the fight to get that money is getting more difficult since so much of it comes through earmarks while the rewards are getting smaller.
  • It's curious to me that she's still in Washington when there's a campaign going on at home. We didn't ask her about the gubernatorial race but I wonder how seriously she's into Sarah Palin... might she cast a vote for her old pal Andrew Halcro?
An entertaining diversion on a slow Tuesday.

09 October 2006

Sarah on Touchstone

Sarah Palin was on KNOM's call-in show "Touchstone" last Friday. She took questions from callers throughout Western Alaska and even answered a few of our own.

Some thoughts:

  • I continue to be shocked at how disorganized her campaign is. The cell phone number I was given didn't work, we had to delay the show by at least ten minutes as a result, and I only got her on when I told her staff member I had been corresponding with that we were about to start the show with or without her. That got him focused. The cell phone connection cut out in the middle of the show (right in the middle of a question about subsistence) and it took far too long to get her back on the show.
  • She is a very friendly person who has smooth answers to the questions she is asked. Her cliches and soundbites flow as well as any other candidate and she is clearly a practiced campaigner.
  • Without much difficulty, I think people are drawn to like her. She answered one caller from Emmonak by noting how she had just meet a person from Emmonak and then proceeded to give the actual question somewhat short shrift.
  • She focuses so much on the Alaska constitution. Repeatedly, she rooted her political views in the constitution, which I didn't really get since I assume the constitution is relatively uncontroversial since every candidate will have to live by it. What benefit is there to saying something to the effect of, "We need to provide high-quality education to all Alaskans because that's what the constitution demands" without providing any specifics of an education plan? And yet when I asked her about abortion she said she had "nothing to hide" about her views and didn't really address the constitutional aspect of my question.
  • She shied away from controversy and dissension more than other candidates do. Several times, she noted she didn't want to "divide Alaskans" and instead wanted to unite "all Alaskans." That's great but isn't governing all about making decisions and living with the consequences? One consequence is that not everyone is going to agree with you. I was shocked when she took a question on subsistence and explicitly stated she disagreed with the caller.
  • Her answers on subsistence questions and coastal management questions (they came from callers) were very weak and betrayed a general lack of knowledge about the topic. (She's given similarly weak answers in other places.)
  • When I asked her about the ADN editorial that said she tried to be all things to all people, she quickly retorted with the ad hominem, "well the ADN editorial board isn't a bunch of folks that wants me to be governor" (a paraphrase, not a direct quotation) and went for some more mish-mash about "uniting all Alaskans.
In sum, I think she has what it takes to win the election - a winning personality, clear (if vacuous) answers to questions, and an outsider/maverick label in an anti-incumbent year. The question is - is that enough to successfully govern the state? I don't know.

Money and Education

One of the issues at stake in the ongoing Moore v. Alaska case is the effect of money on education. The state is trying to make one point over and over again:

“I'm one that just absolutely does not believe that more money is going to help kids achieve at higher levels. I believe it's many, many factors other than that. I think if we just look at where dollars are expended, high amounts of dollars are not equating to higher achieving kids,” said Roger Sampson (left), commissioner of education.
If money does not influence educational achievement, why has the Murkowski administration's chief education proposal this year been financial rewards for teachers and administrators who work at schools that perform well on standardized tests? And why has it continually allowed the education debate in the legislature to revolve around how much money the state gives to school districts?

Sure, I'll believe that educational reform isn't dependent solely on money, so long as the Murkowski administration starts acting like it as well.

06 October 2006

Don Young 06

It is, perhaps, a sign of the Republican Party's national weakness that 17-term incumbent Don Young is actually campaigning to retain his seat.

Sure, his campaign is a bit slow off the mark - just launching its web site today, for instance - and I don't imagine he'll be doing too much beyond issuing a few press releases addressing Diane Benson's key themes and showing up at a few feel-good events.

Still, the fact that Young felt forced to run an ad in which he even mentions his "opponent," is a sign, I think, that Young at least takes this threat with a degree of serious that 17-term incumbents generally don't.

Generally, though, I think some left-leaning and disaffected Alaskans are just looking for something to hold onto in a hopeful national atmosphere.

Anna Godduhn, a coordinator for the Fairbanks Coalition for Peace and Justice, said she was supporting Benson as a candidate and not as a member of one party or another.

“I’ve never seen a viable alternative to Don Young,” she said, “and I’m just very, very excited.”

"Viable" is relative.


Some good thoughts on the Citgo fuel program:

Where does that leave villages and Alaska households that choose to heat with Citgo's charity? Unpatriotic? No way. The Chavez test is a false one, chaff for talk radio.

Bush and Native Alaskans already have passed the real test of patriotism by dint of sweat and drill at Camp Shelby in Mississippi. That's where 600 troops of the 3rd Battalion, 297th Infantry of the Alaska Army National Guard have been training for a year's deployment to Iraq and Kuwait. Six hundred troops from about 80 Alaska communities -- Chevak, Kodiak, Bethel, Barrow, Togiak and Kongiganak, to name a few, along with Juneau, Anchorage and Fairbanks.

Hugo's oil? Alaskans can take it or leave it. Patriotism? Six hundred troops comprising a cross-section of Alaska's cultures and homes, urban and remote, Native and non-Native, have answered the call. End of debate.

Some less good thoughts:

Dear Editor,

Support Chavez—Support Terrorist

It's good to see some of our villages know what honor is by refusing the corrupt Argentina's Prez. bribery offer of oil for support. I'm glad to see someone stand for what's right, what we learned from our (Alaska's) past and what our elders teaches us about honor, not to leave out what makes the USA the greatest country in the world, bar none.

Semper FI
Russell Atwood
P.O. Box 85318
Fairbanks, AK 99708
Some in between comments:

It’s hard to watch villagers pay $7 a gallon for oil in a state that produces so much of the stuff and collects so much tax money from it, said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

“The state is benefiting because of the high price, but there are many individually who don’t benefit,” she told Alaska reporters last week.

Sen. Murkowski said Chavez’s motivation is clearly not sympathy for the poor, since the discounted oil for the United States comes “at the expense of his own people.”

She said Chavez’s offer presents Alaskans with an odd situation.

“It hits me so wrong that, in a state like Alaska, where we are so blessed with our own natural resources … in a state where we have a $34 billion Permanent Fund, that our people in 151 villages would feel the need to take an offer from just an evil person,” she said. “I believe he is an evil person.”

Three additional notes.

First, Hugo Chavez is president of Venezuela. Nestor Kirchner is president of Argentina. But that's alright. All those South American countries are so hard to tell apart anyway and they're clearing all terrorist havens.

Second, the ADN says the Aleutian villages will be "shivering" this winter for rejecting the fuel. I don't think "shivering" does justice to rural Alaskan winters. Is it going too far to say that not enough heating fuel is literally a matter of life or death to folks living in the villages?

Third, I don't think anyone doubts Chavez's intentions here - personal aggrandizement and self-promotion. But I don't think he's an evil person. He's just a canny politician pursuing different ends than the good senator from Alaska would prefer.

05 October 2006

David Chambers

As I indicated, the CitizenAlliance brought David Chambers of the Center for Science and Public Participation to Nome and he held a public forum last night.

I reported on the event but wanted to make two notes here, of a more editorial nature.

The first is that I was pleased with how the event turned out. I had anticipated that it could easily turn into a complaining session in an echo chamber but Chambers was a very good question-answerer. He told people what he thought, pointed out where they might have misperceptions, and clearly defined the debate in terms people could understand. The importance of that can not be underestimated.

Second, I am simultaneously deeply impressed and moderately disappointed with the CitizenAlliance. On the one hand, they have taken an issue that was a fait accompli a few months ago and succeeded in raising some very real obstacles to it. (Yes, it can easily be argued these obstacles could - and would more effectively - have been raised some months ago.) Many of them are well-spoken, come across as deeply genuine, and are passionate advocates for their cause. That is hard not to respect.

My disappointment is that the CitizenAlliance has missed at least one obvious step to trumpet their cause. The recent municipal elections in Nome were a comparatively weak affair compared to what I had expected they would be in early September. I was convinced that we would have what I called a "cyanide election." I was excited to cover races for common council that would turn on the great issue of the day in Nome. And yet not a single candidate could be found from the CitizenAlliance (despite their passion, genuineness, and well-spokenness) to stand for office, though these same people had - rightly - pointed out a few weeks earlier at a common council meeting that the current crop of council members had failed to stay informed on the issue and really didn't know what was going on. And even though a candidate did express an anti-cyanide position, no one rallied around him and he finished a woeful third place.

From a news angle, I am looking forward to continuing to cover this issue because it is interesting and generates a lot of news. But from a personal angle, my respect and concern is tempered by a tinge of disappointment at what might have been.

No Vote, No Cash

I found myself taken with the ADN's editorial this morning:

Have we lost some of our sense of the commonwealth? In announcing the 1999 dividend, then-Revenue Commissioner Wilson Condon reminded Alaskans of Section 1 of the Alaska Constitution:

"This constitution is dedicated to the principles that all persons have a natural right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the enjoyment of the rewards of their own industry; that all persons are equal and entitled to equal rights, opportunities, and protection under the law; and that all persons have corresponding obligations to the people and to the State."

It's a wonderful concept, obligation, and one we do not talk about nearly enough. We have a bill of rights, but not a bill of obligations. Why not? A just society demands work and attention. People need to take an interest in what goes on, stay educated about the issues, ask questions, and so on and so forth. It's not a simple task to be a democratic citizen.

A citizen's easiest obligation is to cast a ballot on election day. But voter turnout is depressingly low. Despite public debates over the school budget and the city budget, squabbles over the sales tax, and a controversial mine north of town, only 1 in 3 Nomeites could be bothered to take five minutes to vote in Tuesday's municipal election.

So here's a simple idea, riffing off the ADN's theme of obligation and the PFD. How about tying every Alaskan's right to (one of) every Alaskan's duty. You only get a PFD if you vote.

We'd have to tweak the idea for folks not eligible to vote or folks eligible to vote but not for the PFD and determine which election counts (primary, municipal, general?) but might it not be a start towards making the PFD less of an entitlement?


04 October 2006

Ballot Box Legislation

When I was in Fairbanks in August, I commented to one check-out clerk that one of the great things about the Golden Heart city is that it doesn't have a sales tax. No more, I suppose:

Fairbanks voters slashed the city’s rate of property tax and simultaneously grabbed the ability to approve a sales tax, leaving the city facing an estimated $13 million budget gap just weeks before the review of next year’s budget is set to begin.

By passing propsotions 3 and 4, voters have also sent the city scrambling to find a new source of revenue big enough to cover almost half its annual budget, said city Mayor Steve Thompson.

I noted this issue earlier but the reason I raise it again to point out that one of the reasons we live in a representative - and not, say, Athenian - democracy is so that our representatives can look at the big picture, weigh a policy proposal in the context of its effect on other policies, and then come to a conclusion. The citizens of Fairbanks clearly did not do that last night.

(One question, though - doesn't state law mandate the the city levy at least a 4 mil property tax to pay for education? How can they get away with capping it at 0.5 mil? Or does the borough pay for education?)

I think there's some legitimacy to the arugment that the tax burden shouldn't be wholly on the property owners. But sales taxes are regressive and hit poorer people harder. Shifting some of the burden away from property owners (and landowners) to the whole citizenry makes some sense but this is clearly a case of going to extremes.

Media Coverage

A word on media coverage, the industry in which I currently find employment, prompted both by a conversation with one of the folks opposed to some aspects of the Rock Creek mine this morning and the ADN's first in-house article on the opposition.

The media can be a powerful springboard for causes, issues, and events. At KNOM, we are glad to lend that springboard to most anyone who wants it (provided you have some threshold degree of legitimacy). But we have lots of issues to cover and lots of work to do and we are most likely to lend you our platform if you make our job as easy as possible for us.

Let us know what you are doing and schedule time with us. We would love to make time for you but we don't always have time to go chasing every person who comes to town. The phone call this morning was to make sure we got some time with Dave Chambers of the Center for Science and Public Participation. We got the time with him but wouldn't have had we not been called. The people who find themselves (or their issues) on air on a recurring basis are folks who are really good at keeping us in their loop and convincing us their issue is newsworthy. (With Rock Creek, we are plenty convinced this is newsworthy.)

Plan events. Events are the easiest way to cover an issue because we can do so without showing partiality or compromising our objectivity. On the cyanide issue, our best coverage of the opposition has been their protest at Governor Murkowski's appearance in Nome and their comments to the common council. The ADN didn't get into this issue until the CitizenAlliance scheduled a fairly high-profile event, namely this evening's presentation by Dave Chambers. If we've been giving NovaGold air time, it's been because they've been holding public meetings and events that are easy for us to cover.

Yes, there is some burden on the news media to report what is important even if it's not easy. But a local radio station doesn't have the resources to support a Woodward and Bernstein and the easier our job is, the more likely you're going to get access to our springboard.

So go ahead. Schedule press conferences (even small ones work), address the Common Council, start a letter writing campaign, do whatever. But do something. We'd love to cover it.

03 October 2006

A Continuing Backlash

Those patriotic Aleuts are going to get some free fuel after all:

Businesses and people around the country are digging into their pockets to help four Alaska villages whose tribal leaders rejected a heating-fuel gift from the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, a critic of President George Bush.

Donations, including a huge one from several fishing companies, have been so numerous there might be enough to replace the gift -- and then some.

Let's be clear here. What no one has explicitly begun to discuss is that the cost of living is spirally quickly upwards in rural Alaska. The fact that many rural Alaskans are eagerly accepting the gift and some people dissented from the decision to reject the Venezuelan fuel shows that this is a major issue of concern for a lot of people.

Let's look at the energy policies of three actors:
  • The state legislature cut state funding for fuel subsidy programs and failed to pass any measures this past session dealing with the promotion of alternative energy research (despite a couple of decent proposals from lawmakers of both parties). It spent all its time on a natural gas pipeline and oil tax, whose benefits are questionable and certainly won't be seen this winter.
  • The federal government is completely ignoring energy as an issue altogether, with the exception of an additional 1.5 million for LIHEAP.
  • Venezuela is giving 100 gallons of heating fuel to each home.
Given that context, it's hard to see how the Venezuelan gift should be rejected. Survival trumps patriotism every time.

This would be an ideal opportunity to be begin/continue a discussion on energy in rural Alaska and the viability of alternative sources of energy. Wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, etc. all have significant practical obstacles but that doesn't mean any of them should not be considered at all. And yet everyone - Venezuelan and American alike - prefers to demagogue on the issue instead. Maybe we could talk about solving a problem here, rather than using it as another opportunity to confirm the validity of our position.

UPDATE: But two leaders in the Bering Strait region aren't so concerned.