Parnell Chickens Out – Again
If you squint really hard, and clear your mind, you’ll be able to see a new sign in front of the Governor’s Mansion in Juneau.
The author of the legislative fisheries newsletter Laws for the Sea, Bob Tkacz, is one of my favorite reporters in our state’s capital right now. He and several others attended the Governor’s press availability in the Capitol last week. He, like many Alaskans, had watched in dismay as the Governor’s Cruise Ship dumping bill as it sailed through the legislature, despite massive amounts of misinformation.
One particular example Tkacz cited in his question for the Governor was the fact that the Advisory Panel was told that their report was simply preliminary, and would not be used to craft legislation. Well, the panel got “Lucy with the Football-ed” and their report was indeed used for the very thing they were told it wouldn’t be used for – creating really awful legislation that nevertheless sped on through the legislature, currently filled with Parnellian Sock Puppets.
Now, Senate Democrats are pointing out inaccuracies in the Governor’s oil tax bill and information surrounding it. Tkacz wanted to know what the Governor had to say for himself about these past proven inaccuracies, and how the public was supposed to know what was true and what wasn’t. Good question, right?
Tkacz begins by pointing out that the Governor has made a statement about the fact that his oil tax bill has had a lot of hearings already. He points out that the Governor is misrepresenting what has happened, and it’s not like one committee has had 26 hearings in 45 days about the same bill, with new information being discussed, and new questions answered each time. So, the public shouldn’t be duped into thinking that this bill has had an extraordinary amount of scrutiny and discourse. It should have that, considering how much the state stands to lose, but it has not had that yet. Of course, it behooves the Governor to make people think that it’s been under the microscope in an unprecedented and historic way – but it hasn’t.
Parnell, during his interaction with Tkacz, proceeded to play every trick in the book to blame, deflect, deny, avoid, project, and distort. It was a cornucopia of Freudian defense mechanisms, and transparent debate techniques that was both popcorn-worthy, and maddening at the same time.
Thankfully, we had someone who called out the Governor with tough, substantiated questions. Kudos to Tkacz, and to Lisa Demer of the Anchorage Daily News for following up.
Tkacz: Governor, on your numbers, you said 26 hearings is a lot. The Senate has had three committees that have had hearings on oil taxes – the TAPS throughput Committee, the In-state Energy Committee, and the Resources Committee. And I think Finance has had at least one hearing. The House has had a number of hearings in House Resources. I’m not sure if the House Energy Committee has had it. But that’s at least four committees into 26 hearings in 45 days. That’s not a remarkable amount of hearings on one bill. It’s a lot of people going over what is very often the same material presented by your administration. And your administration…
Parnell: So, you’re saying there’s too much public process right now, is that what you’re saying? 
Parnell: Right. (laughs) 
Tkacz: I’m saying that you are over inflating the amount of attention given to it, given the fact that a lot of hearings are repetitive, and there are a lot of people. It’s not as if a committee is doing a lot of hearing on one bill. Your Department of Environmental Conservation’s hearings were proven to be pretty inaccurate on the Cruise Ship Bill that were told to the advisory committee that claimed you would not use their preliminary report for legislation – your transmission letter says that.
Parnell: Do you have a question, Bob? 
Tkacz: Yes. You’re about to reject my proposition, so I’m laying the foundation.
Tkacz: On Tuesday, the Senate Democrats presented what Sen. Wielechowski said was a lot of misinformation from your people on the oil tax bill. There seems to be a continual record of your agencies giving inaccurate information on different bills. How do you react to those charges?
Parnell: I think they are false allegations. And if you would, you know… We could do line and verse, but I’m not going to do it right here. But I just, I reject the premise, so… 
Tkacz: Well, when would you do that? You don’t want to talk to Sen. Wielechowski. He has asked to debate you any number of times. How does the public…
Parnell: He hasn’t even asked for a meeting to talk with me, so… I mean, what the heck? 
Tkacz: Well, would you debate him?
Parnell: No, it’s not about a debate, it’s about doing the people’s work here in this building.  (pointing finger at Tkacz) And when you minimize the work of legislators by saying that these 26 hearings are pointless, and they’re ridiculous… 
Tkacz: I didn’t minimize the work of legislators, Governor.
Parnell: You did! You said 26 hearings are really nothing, because you’re going over the same information over and over, you are minimizing Republicans and Democrats. I love this institution of the legislature. It was created by the people, and we will keep it that way. 
Tkacz: I’m saying that you are claiming there were a lot of hearings in a short amount of time. It wasn’t a short amount of time and there were a lot of people working on it. And it seems to be another one of the ways that you are misrepresenting numbers.
Parnell: Why don’t you go… Bob…
Tkacz: And now all you’re saying is we’ll talk about it later. When do we get an accounting of the misrepresentations which have been documented?
Parnell: Just like the Democrats – you’re making bald allegations with no specific statements. 
Tkacz: I gave you a bunch of specific ones. That’s exactly what I was doing when you tried to cut me off before.
Parnell: Okay… Lisa? (Pointing to Lisa Demer of the Anchorage Daily News) 
Tkacz: The director of the DEC…
Governor’s staffer: Bob, we’re going to move on.
Demer: I’d like to follow up quickly on that, and then go to another topic. Just very quickly, he had asked and I didn’t hear the answer. Would you debate Sen. Wielechowski, and if not, why not? On oil taxes. It’s probably your top priority this session. Why not have a debate?
Parnell: The debates are happening in the halls of this legislature. His job as a legislator is to debate those topics in the halls of this legislature or with the people who represent me on this topic. He is one of 60 legislators, and those debates need to happen within the halls of this building with 59 other legislators.
Demer: Don’t you think that going head to head with someone on the other side, so the public can hear you directly articulate the point…
Parnell: I think the public is hearing me directly. I think they’re hearing him directly. In fact, they’ve heard probably more of him through your newspaper, then me.  But in these halls here, the point is that the debates occur through the committee process. That’s the nature of things. That’s what’s happening. 
 Strawman – Distorting your opponent’s position and then fighting against a position they don’t hold.
 Derision – Mocking another’s statement, regardless of its accuracy, to make yourself appear right.
 Deflection and feigned exasperation at another’s attempt to get to the unflattering point.
 Denial – Refusal to accept external reality because it is too threatening; arguing against an anxiety-provoking stimulus by stating it doesn’t exist.
 Blaming others for not asking you for something you clearly wouldn’t have done anyway.
 Delegitimizing criticism – It’s not about what you asked me, it’s about something completely different.
 Distortion – A gross reshaping of external reality to support your own claims.
 Emotional claims of patriotism! I love the legislature, therefore you do not.
 Extreme Projection – The blatant denial of one’s own moral or psychological deficiency, which is then attributed as a deficiency in another individual or group.
 Avoidance/Flight – When you’re losing, run away!
 Passive aggression – Aggression towards others expressed indirectly or passively.
 Because I’m the Governor, that’s why.
Now, there are some of you who are thinking to yourselves, “Of course the governor isn’t going to debate Bill Wielechowski. It doesn’t make political sense. First of all, he’s the governor and he doesn’t have to do it. Second, he’d get his butt kicked.”
Why? Because Senator Wielechowski uses another debate technique with which the Governor is unfamiliar. It’s called “Telling the Truth.” This method is highly effective as long as you know the subject matter well. You must learn and remember lots of facts and figures and be able to keep them straight. And, most important, the truth has to be what you really want your audience to hear, and believe.
So, naturally, when you’re trying to make your audience believe the interest of the oil companies over the people of Alaska; when you are trying to get constituents to subscribe to policies that run counter to their best interests; when you are trying to give away billions of dollars to the most profitable corporations on earth with no strings attached; of course you don’t want to debate someone with the opposite position.
But when billions of our dollars and the future of our state are at stake – and we know that the governor would get creamed in a debate, and be unable to effectively advocate for his one big issue – then isn’t that the point?