JUNEAU — Most of the time, public testimony on a bill is a predictable exercise in two- or three-minute eye-glazing bites.
That's the way it was mostly going at the House Resources Committee Monday during a public hearing on the big oil-tax-cut bill, Senate Bill 21.
Then Jack Roderick was introduced. He was at the Legislative office in Anchorage and testifying over the teleconference line.
"Mr. Roderick, before you get started, I have a question," said the committee's co-chairman, Rep. Eric Feige, R-Chickaloon, himself striking an unusual note because questions usually start after a witness' testimony.
"Yes, go ahead," said Roderick.
"Are you the same Jack Roderick who was the author of 'Crude Dreams?'" Feige asked.
"That's correct," said Roderick.
"It's a great book -- read it through about three times. Please go ahead."
"Well, thank you. My publisher would like that," Roderick said.
Feige jumped in again. "For those of you that don't know, 'Crude Dreams' is the history of the oil industry in Alaska and he goes all the way back to territorial days, all the little details about the land men. It's great insight. So please continue, Mr. Roderick."
Back in Anchorage, Roderick, his voice quaking slightly from age, corrected Feige. In doing so, Roderick brought his historical narrative to the current moment -- the Republican bill to cut oil taxes by billions of dollars in the belief that oil companies will increase their spending in Alaska.
"Actually, it's about oil and politics," Roderick said of his book. "I used to be a small businessman, a small oil explorer here in Alaska. And taxes was never a consideration. Companies come here -- anywhere -- to find oil, and taxes is not a big problem for them."
The hearing room was silent as Roderick went on, listing some of his public service -- Anchorage Borough mayor in the 1970s before city and borough were unified, deputy commissioner of Natural Resources a few years later, responsible for writing the law establishing oil and gas leasing. Feige didn't interrupt as Roderick cruised past his allotted three minutes, despite Roderick taking a position directly opposed to Feige's caucus and the state's Republican governor, Sean Parnell.
Where many speakers from Anchorage said the bill didn't give enough of a break to industry, Roderick said it should be put on hold.
"I think it's bad legislation," Roderick said. "It's complex, as you people know. Everybody's concerned about putting more oil in the pipeline, but giving a tax break is not the answer, particularly if you don't have a guarantee from the companies that they will spend the money you're giving them in Alaska -- or at least some of it in Alaska. You have to have some guarantee, and preferably in writing that that will happen.
"You're dealing with the largest and most powerful corporations in the world and you can't take it simply on a handshake. My recommendation is to put this aside. I'd wait for more information to come to you, particularly a guarantee from the companies that they will do what you want them to do."
Roderick then brought up the conflict of interest issue that had been raised by people who testified earlier -- the fact that the oil-tax bill only passed the Senate because two ConocoPhillips employees voted for it, Sens. Peter Micciche and Kevin Meyer. In the House, the wife of a member of the House Resources Committee, Mike Hawker, is an analyst for ConocoPhilips. Feige's wife is general manager for Linc Energy Alaska, which is exploring for oil leases on the North Slope and Cook Inlet.
"I don't want to be personal," Roderick said, "if this bill passes, in almost any form, I think the national media will get a hold of it and the result will be another chapter in the Bill Allen-Veco corruption tale in Alaska, and that, I will take personal offense at. I've been here 60 years involved in public affairs and the oil business and this is the most important decision you people will probably ever make, and you shouldn't make it this way."
Roderick wasn't the only witness to wake up the room. Another person in the Anchorage Legislative office, John Dickens, a Bethel resident, took the opposite position of Roderick in sharp testimony.
"We are on the verge of a financial catastrophe, an apocalypse, that nobody seems to really get their mind around," Dickens said. "You guys still haven't addressed the fundamental fact that the only place that's worse than Alaska to invest for oil companies is North Korea and Venezuela."
Dickens said his friends in the oil industry tell him "we can make better deals with the Colombian drug cartels or the Russian mafia than we can with the knuckleheads in Juneau. So I'm suggesting you guys flush out your head gear and pass this bill ricky-tick, but it's probably too late -- most of the rational oil companies are going to go to North Dakota or somewhere they can drive to their pads and not have to fight with polar bears."
And Dickens rejected the suggestion that Gov. Parnell, a former ConocoPhillips lobbyist, had a conflict of interest. "Using your argument that there's a conflict of interest, then everybody that's ever cashed a Permanent Fund dividend has a conflict of interest." Without taking a breath, Dickens added, "You got any questions for me?"
"How do you really feel?" cracked Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River.
Reach Richard Mauer at email@example.com or in Juneau at (907) 500-7388.