The Wrath of Captain Zero
Well, somebody’s still mad. After he didn’t get his way during the legislative session, he broke his crayons and went home.
After Governor Sean Parnell’s embarrassingly botched special session that cost Alaskans upwards of $30,000 a day, in which his woefully underprepared administration tried in vain to get the Alaska Senate to green light his second $2 billion dollar a year, no-strings-attached, prezzie to the oil companies, he’s now got another plan. Revenge.
It didn’t register with the governor that Alaskans actually didn’t like his oil tax plan. They didn’t like the idea of moving $10 billion over the next five years from the “schools, roads, and bridges” column of the ledger to the “bonuses for multinational oil company CEOs” column. Or maybe he just didn’t care.
So instead of taking the hint, he’s decided what to do with those annoying legislators that agreed with Alaskans – he’s going to work to get rid of them. His predecessor in the governor’s mansion would be proud of the whole petty revenge thing, except that she actually worked to put the current oil tax system in place. That’s right, Sarah Palin was far more of a populist, and saw the oil companies’ shenanigans for what they were – greed at the expense of Alaska. She swept into office, ousting an incumbent Republican governor, and with no help from the oil companies. She also started out on the side of the Alaskan people, before she found herself in the klieg lights of the national party. But that’s another story.
Her Lt. Governor, Sean Parnell, had to smile and pretend to like oil tax reform at the time, but as soon as his boss quit, and the job landed in his lap, he got busy laying the groundwork to dismantle her signature oil tax legislation, and the crown jewel of her albeit brief administration. And he might have gotten away with it too… if it weren’t for those pesky kids.
The Alaska State Senate is a mighty thing – 10 Republicans, and 10 Democrats, the majority of whom agreed on the revolutionary concept that it would be best to work together to get things accomplished. And sometimes getting things accomplished came in the form of stopping bad things from happening. Like the massive hemorrhaging of cash.
In that spirit, six of the ten Republicans, and all of the Democrats created a bipartisan coalition, which is the Senate Majority. To be in the minority you basically had to tell everyone else you weren’t going to play ball, and would instead choose to put yourself in the minority, which involved a lot of pouting and whining, and standing on soapboxes talking to nobody. It means no committee chair assignments, exclusion from budget meetings, and not a whole lot of clout or bargaining power for your district. Yes, you’d have to prefer your own irrelevance to actually having to work with people on the other side of the aisle. I guess doing not much of anything is an easier job description.
What kind of ideological, immature, ill-mannered legislator would actually choose to do that? Four Repubicans – Cathy Giessel, Charlie Huggins, John Coghill, and Fred Dyson. They’re like some kind of Teabaggy Magnificent Four, and their only superpower is impotence. If their constituents were paying attention, I wonder if they’d be super proud of all the hard work their senators don’t do? A few years ago, Senator Fred Dyson noted about his minority caucus, “We could fit in a bathroom stall,” and “I’ve been going to the gym a lot.”
Friday, Governor Sean Parnell said he’s had enough of bipartisanship, and is going to work to get more obstinate, non-cooperative Republicans in the Senate. That way, he can get what he wants (and by “he” we mean the CEOs of BP, Conoco, and Exxon). Reason, cooperation, and the will of the people be damned.
As he tells it, the majority coalition with its Republican Senate President Gary Stevens, and its Republican Majority Leader Kevin Meyer, and its Republican co-chair of the Finance Committee Bert Stedman is bipartisan “in name only” and is really somehow secretly under the control of the Democrats. In reality, it’s not-so-secretly not in control of the governor. And that’s what he doesn’t like.
“I’m much more interested in having people who want to serve together on behalf of Alaskans and grow our economy through less spending, less taxes and kind of that liberty mentality,” Parnell said.
Spending and taxes? Bear in mind that Alaskans have the lowest tax burden in the nation, and the legislature has managed to stockpile a $12 billion surplus for when times get tough. With the governor’s oil tax plan, that would be gone in six years. As far as “kind of that liberty mentality” goes: Liberty = Giving away our oil, and our money.
Parnell has the exact same strategy regarding oil tax consultants. Instead of listening to the ones he’s already hired who said our current tax structure is just fine with a minor tweak or two, he’s going to go out and spend upwards of a million more dollars of Alaskans’ money to hire a different consultant, hoping to find someone who will take a giant wad of cash in exchange for being a sock puppet.
Parnell says that the work he’ll be doing to support like-minded candidates is not just about the oil. As we get closer to the election, I invite you to take note of the candidates he will be supporting, and see how they come down on his oil tax plan – pro-wealthy multinationals, or pro-Alaskans? I think we already know the answer.
“Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, said Parnell wants a ‘rubber-stamp Legislature,’ and attempts to break up the coalition go right back to oil taxes. ‘Don’t let anybody kid you,’ he said. ‘What else is it about? Where are the other major differences we’ve had?’”
So on we march to November. The governor has just declared war against members of his own party for being willing to work across the aisle. Alaskans are going to have to ask themselves, “What kind of government do we want?” So far, the answer to that one has been “moderate,” and that’s exactly what we’ve got right now.
There’s nothing new about Republican on Republican violence in Alaska. Internal rivalries based on personality, politics, and ideology have been going on for years. Tell most people from the Lower 48 that Sarah Palin was hated by Republicans, (even the senate president, another female Republican from Wasilla) and only by reaching out to Democrats was she able to be effective, and they’ll look at you like you have three heads.
Recently, the long time head of the Republican Party, Randy Ruedrich retired and was replaced by an unknown Ron Paul supporter named Russ Millette. The incoming chair was elected at a Republican convention that saw open booing of socially moderate Republican U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski. Millette, like Parnell, wants to challenge incumbent Republicans who don’t agree with his agenda. Kind of like that “liberty minded” thing the governor mentioned. While Parnell is looking for corporate backers, Millette is looking for hard-core social conservatives. Parnell and Millette may not have the same pet peeves, but the current moderate Republicans that Alaskans seem to like are in their cross-hairs.
Back in 2010, Joe Miller was the nominee of the Republican Party for the United States Senate. Tea Party folks were ecstatic. Establishment Republicans were horrified. The more extreme wing of the party had turned out voters in the primary in large enough numbers to claim victory. Or so they thought. Lisa Murkowski ran a now famous write-in campaign, and with the help of big bucks from Native Corporations, and the fear of moderate Republicans and Democrats did the impossible. She won.
It says as much for the fact that most Alaskans are not extreme, as it does for any particular love for Lisa Murkowski.
Key incumbent moderate Republicans will face challengers, mostly hitting them from the right. So, what if the governor gets his way? What if Alaskans are faced in November with a slew of uncooperative, oily candidates, or those who are extremely conservative on social issues? Will Alaska’s bipartisan majority in the Senate be ousted, and replaced by a mindless rubber stamp for the governor? Or for the likes of Russ Millette? Or will Alaskans, when faced with the choice, go the other way and elect moderate Democrats instead of the more extreme Republicans that pulled off a primary win?
When you try to tinker with things, and put candidates on the ballot that are out of step with the main stream, you take the chance you’ll lose.
And then, of course, there’s the new unlimited amounts of unidentified money that will come pouring into the coffers of candidates who agree to play ball with big donors instead of their constituents. It’s more important than ever that Alaskans pay attention to what’s going on, and support candidates that support them. Otherwise, we may not like what we get.