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Alaska needs to plan for after Nov. 4

John Havelock

It looks all but certain now that our next president will be Barack Obama -- Gov. Palin is coming home. The governor's homecoming will be complicated, and the state's federal relationship cries out for curative attention.

Alaskans have much at stake in Sarah Palin's transition. As is common in presidential campaigns, the vice-presidential nominee has been employed as an attack dog on the other party's presidential nominee. The spotlight on her personal life and gubernatorial style, exposing flaws from the notable to the trivial, have eroded some of her local popularity though she remains generally popular, partly out of our pride in her national recognition.

Prior to the election, Gov. Palin had relationships with some Republicans and many Democrats that created a working coalition. In 2009, the number of Democrats in the state Legislature is likely to increase, making the split very nearly even. Alaska will be gridlocked without reestablishing that collaboration.

Nationally, the Democrats will enjoy a true mandate and will carry out major changes. Alaska interests -- particularly in energy and resource development -- will have no voice in policy development if Alaska does not send Democrats to this Congress.

If retained, both Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young will remain damaged, even toxic, goods. Sen. Stevens, despite seniority, will wield little influence on national policies dominated by new Democratic majorities in both Senate and House. The earmarks which have endeared our delegation to Alaskans will be in short supply, spotlighted for the notoriety of their sponsors, particularly with Sen. McCain returned to the Senate.

Gov. Palin has generated her own liabilities on the broader national stage. Despite a clamor from the righ-wing base of the Republican Party, she would best serve Alaska by stepping back from the limelight and, working closely with the Alaska delegation, promoting the Alaska piece of the national agenda, particularly in energy and in forging a gas pipeline coalition.

Several initiatives are needed to make all this work. McCain campaign staffers around our governor ran amok and were resented. Presumably, they will be gone. Gov. Palin needs to shed any visible signs of national ambition. If she is to have a national political future, it will be because she demonstrates in the next two years that she can work at home in a bipartisan environment to achieve significant goals.

Gov. Palin needs to undertake a new type of campaigning, meeting individually in November, December and beyond, usually in private, with a spectrum of legislators and key state leaders, mostly listening. A week-long retreat hammering out a joint state agenda might be appropriate.

A staff shake-up is in order. Todd needs to disappear as an arm of government. Before the new year, as a joint act of grace, Sen. Stevens should resign his remaining term and Gov. Palin should appoint Begich to serve out the last few days. All Alaska would benefit from the seniority those few days would give Begich over other new senators, and Gov. Palin will be hailed locally for her bipartisanship.

Alaska Democrats should reciprocate. Each is entitled to his or her own conclusions, but "Troopergate" issues are better left behind us. Bury resentment over statements made in the heat of the campaign. Humble pie, served all around, is good for the soul.

There is work to be done. Beneath the din of national politics, the Alaska Energy Authority has been quietly working to develop a state energy policy, more than ever pertinent. No more all-inclusive handouts; expenditures must go to diversified energy self-sufficiency, particularly for Alaska's villages.

Some tasks ahead are more difficult. If there are leftovers from the federal corruption investigation, the state must finish any cleanup.

A new generation of national leadership will set the framework for public health and education, but Alaska will have special requirements calling for state action and investment.

Renewed investments in higher education are required to energize this economic engine. Sarah Palin could audition as the "education, economy and energy" governor.

Letting bygones be bygones is tough but, after Nov. 4, Alaska's needs require its leadership to get on with it.

John Havelock served as a White House Fellow in the Johnson administration. He lives in Anchorage.