Mike Dingman: What happened to Alaska's leaders?

By MIKE DINGMANFebruary 18, 2014 

The Alaska state flag

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS GRAPHIC

Alaska is suffering a crisis of leadership.

We are proud here in the Last Frontier of our independent spirit. Many outsiders label us as a "red state" and for their purposes that description is mostly fair.

We havevote for the Republican candidate for President ever year except for 1964, Ted Stevens was in the Senate for 41 years and Frank Murkowski spent 21 years right beside him. Don Young has been Alaska's sole member of the U.S. House since 1973.

However, here at home the story has been a little bit different. Since statehood Alaska has had 12 governors, 7 of which have been Republican and 5 of which have been Democrat. We've gone back and forth between a Republican- and Democrat-controlled legislature -- and until the last election the Alaska Senate was controlled for several sessions by a bipartisan coalition.

Alaskan Democrats are famous for saying that they are different than the Democrats outside. They claim to be less liberal, and to some extent that is true. Alaskan Democrats are generally less in favor of gun regulation than their outside counterparts. They are also more in favor of civil liberties than most outside.

However, Alaska Republicans aren't generally like their outside counterparts either.

Alaska is a place that has embraced the "owner state" mentality. We celebrate the day that our Permanent Fund Dividend checks are deposited into our bank accounts like it's a national holiday.

Christmas has nothing on PFD day!

Alaska Republicans have been in favor of plans to build a natural gas pipeline that would use public money, some have been in favor of building a bridge from Anchorage to Point MacKenzie that would be at least partially publicly funded as well as many other projects that Republicans outside would consider government pork.

We don't care how they do it outside.

As Alaskans, we think for ourselves, we grew up without the advantages of the state in the Lower 48 who made it through their adolescence during the industrial revolution and have the advantage of proximity to other states, the railroad system and the interstate highway system.

They are interdependent. We are independent.

However, one of those ugly traits of the Lower 48 has hit Alaska hard - partisanship.

Alaskans have long been able to work together to move our state forward. We have had legislators and governors alike who were hard to distinguish in terms of party affiliation. We have a great legacy of hard working statesmen that cared more about improving the state than fighting partisan political battles.

Leaders such as Andrew Halcro, Ethan Berkowitz, Walter Hickel, Mary Nelson (whose only focus was improving her hometown - Bethel) Bill Egan, Jim Whitaker, Bill Sheffield, George Sullivan, Ted Stevens along with many others worked across party lines and focused on Alaska rather than their party or playing politics.

Today we have a leadership problem in Alaskaand it has infected our legislative process. Since redistricting, the Legislature has returned to Republican controland they flexed their muscles immediately.

The Republicans passed SB 21 - oil and gas production tax reform - the legislation that had been stalled and hotly debated during the last couple legislative sessions.

The Democrats have successfully led a move to repeal the new oil tax systemand it will be on the August ballot.

The destructive back and forth between the Republicans and Democrats has elevated to a new level in this legislative session.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski has introduced a bill to change the way the Legislature handles conflicts of interest.

Currently when the time comes to vote on a piece of legislation a legislator will signify their potential conflict and another legislator will shout out their objection and that member is required to vote. SB 172 would require a majority vote to force a legislator to vote on the issue.

Sen. Peter Micciche, who works for Conoco Phillips, said to the Anchorage Daily News "In my view, this is a very expensive waste of taxpayer time and money from someone who has a lot more time on their hands than I do."

The bill would have very little substantive impact, but would provide a new tool for political enemies to attack each other and attempt to embarrass their adversary. Sen. Micciche's response was similarly unhelpful and is an example of the partisan rhetoric Alaska needs to leave to the outsiders.

Something stinks in Alaska politics and the partisan rhetoric coming from both sides in the Alaska legislature needs to be replaced by a positive and cooperative working attitude.

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

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