Mike Dingman: At the top, GOP battle is less about ideology, more about money and power

By MIKE DINGMANSeptember 17, 2013 

National political web site Politico recently referred to the upcoming Alaska Senate race as the Alaska Republican Party's "civil war."

They have a rudimentary idea about what is going on in the Republican Party, but they really don't know the backstory that explains this "civil war" much more clearly.

In 2010 a newcomer to the process, Joe Miller, beat Lisa Murkowski in the most historic election in recent memory, then Murkowski turned around and beat Miller in a write-in campaign in the most historic election since the Joe Miller turned out to be what many aspire to, but what few become - not only a politician, but also a name that defines an ideology.

His name became synonymous with the Tea Party, and more specifically became an outlet for Alaskans that were tired of runaway spending in both state and federal government. This concept inspired voters who wanted something different than the Republican Party status quo.

Miller proved to be the wrong messenger with the right message. His primary victory sent a message to the Alaska Republican Party however; those of us that want to rein in spending are left with few candidates to support - in any of the upcoming races.

There is a civil war in Alaska, but the fiscal conservatives - or tea partiers - have failed to find a viable candidate. They are stuck with Joe Miller, again.

Now that you've had a minute to digest all of that, let's discuss how we got here. The late Sen. Ted Stevens was so well loved by Alaskans because with his seniority and his position on the Senate Appropriations Committee, he was able to bring in millions of federal tax dollars into the state. He was so well loved by Alaskans that we dubbed him "Uncle Ted".

To a lesser degree, we did the same thing with Senator Frank "the bank" Murkowski. He similarly was loved for his ability to bring home the bacon to Alaskan residents. (His drop in popularity came after he was governor and lost the ability to send millions of dollars to Alaskan coffers)

In Juneau, we have Sean Parnell, a Republican Governor who has raised the budget every year he has been in office with the support of the House Republicans and many in the Senate as well.

House Speaker Mike Chenault along with the likes of Reps. Craig Johnson, Bill Stoltze, and others seem to be cut from the same cloth as the "old guard" in Alaska politics. They value their power and generally stay in line with what Parnell desires, even defending rising budgets in past years.

In the days of the old guard in the Alaska Republican Party - which really wasn't long ago - decisions were made by the leadership, were passed on to the membership in closed caucus meetings. If these directives weren't followed punishments were quickly levied including loss of committee chairmanships, committee assignments and favored office spaces.

The leadership pretended to draw a hard line on spending, but the truth is, that they knew where to spend the money in order to ensure their powerful positions in the Legislature and governor's office were kept intact while slowing growth in other areas. This is the same manner in which Parnell and his "old guard" legislative leaders have run our government.

While keeping the oil industry happy by passing historic tax reform, they have kept operating budgets relatively low, yet still raised them every year, while passing large capital budgets, which make voters happy because it means improvements and new construction in their area. They have even created an interactive state website where you can click on your area of the state and see what money is being spent there.

The days of the old guard are mostly over - though the attitude still exists with many in this legislature. However, there are some dynamic thinkers that are now begrudgingly allowed to speak freely and vote their conscience.

The real civil war isn't between the fiscal conservatives and more moderate Republicans as the national media thinks - it is the old guard trying to hold onto power as the new more dynamic thinkers in the Legislature slowly make their way into power.

The power of the old guard is dwindling, but this war is far from over. The leaders who value process over power have a long road ahead of them.

Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former student body president at UAA and has studied, worked and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late 90s. Email, michaeldingman@gmail.com.

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