Mike Dingman: This year, let's not settle for empty words from our candidates

By MIKE DINGMANDecember 31, 2013 

New Year's Day is the ideal time for reflection.

People spend this day contemplating the past year, their successes and failures and how they will make the New Year, their best one yet.

Alaska has a lot of soul-searching to do as a state - and we have a lot of work to do as we move into 2014.

We are facing a $2 billion revenue decline - to which there is no relief in sight. The governor has proposed a budget that basically pays some of the required bills but forces the Legislature to make the tough budget decisions created by this fiscal gap.

He's done this to them right before most of them have to run for election again.

Oil decline is also a serious issue and while before it was a discussion about what we were going to do in the future, it has now become an immediate pressing issue that needs a solution.

After a prolonged court battle, and one election already, the redistricting board and the courts have decided on an acceptable redistricting map, which really isn't much different than the one that was used in 2012.

Redistricting in Alaska is a difficult process because the federal requirements and the state requirements conflict with one another.

In June the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that part of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional, eliminating the federal end of that clash and setting the stage for the map that was recently finalized.

Along with the redistricting redo election, junior Sen. Mark Begich will be running for reelection as well as Gov. Sean Parnell.

Begich will be facing tough competition from current Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and former Department of Natural Resources Commissioner and Alaska Attorney General Daniel S. Sullivan.

Gov. Parnell faces a familiar foe in Bill Walker, who is running as an independent. Walker lost his bid for the Republican nomination for governor in 2010 to Parnell.

The likely Democrat candidate is former Sealaska Corporation CEO Byron Mallott. He brings with him the advantage of mystery surrounding who he is, which should allow him to create a fresh public image -- something better known candidates often have trouble doing.

Regardless of how it all shapes up, Alaskans will have a big chance to define who we are as a people.

Alaskans can go to the polls and circle the bubbles around familiar names and ensure that not much changes in our state.

We could accept the status quo, not ask much from our candidates, watch the same commercials that candidates have run and hear the predictable bland answers that we are used to in debates.

Or we could demand better.

This could be the year that Alaskans tell the political elite that we deserve better out of our elected officials. It could be the time that we expect intelligent and deliberate dialogue on issues that are crucial to this state right now, rather than rhetoric about state spending, oil taxes and throughput.

Voters could demand long term plans, leaders with vision and fiscal certainty outside of just the current fiscal year.

We could go to debates, forums and other candidate events and ask tough questions about what Alaska will look like in ten, fifteen and twenty years from now.

Alaskans could care more about the contradiction between tennis court funding and extravagant offices for legislators versus the same rhetoric on "holding the line on state spending." I wonder how some lawmakers can keep a straight face while they say that.

We have been reminded with these two recent spending issues that it's not about party, it's about power.

Regardless of what party is in control, they are going to spend state money on the things they want to spend all while trying to convince you that they are the best guardians of the state budget.

Along with a brand new year, full of all its hopes and promises, a new day is dawning in Alaska and we have the opportunity to effect real change in our state - or we could continue along with the game of charades in which we have been engaged for decades.

Enjoy your New Year's festivities, but after the corks have been popped on the champagne bottles, the fireworks have fizzled out and baby new year has left the building, take some time and reflect on what it is you want Alaska to be in the coming years.

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

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