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Lawmakers rewrite meaning of 'deadline'

Elise Patkotak

OK all you school kids out there, here's the lesson the Alaska Legislature is trying very hard to teach you. You CAN procrastinate on that spring break term paper on William Faulkner's short story "The Bear" until the night before it's due. You CAN then ask your parents to get your teacher to give you more time to complete your assignment because you just couldn't get around to that darn book while taking advantage of the last good weeks of skiing at Alyeska. Your teacher WILL completely understand the dilemma you were in and happily give you another month to finish your work.

Yes, boys and girls, in that La La Land known as the Alaska Legislature all things are possible, including legislators thumbing their collective noses at the people who elected them to office and required them to get their work done in 90 days. They don't have to listen to us because they are just that important.

I look at our Legislature and all I can think of is the phrase "self-fulfilling prophecy." These people went into session announcing it was clearly not long enough to fulfill their constitutional obligations to this state and then ... surprise ... it turned out to be true. They did have time to name a state gun. That's important because when that new law goes into effect that says you can shoot first and ask questions later if you ever feel threatened in any way, it will be nice to say you used the official Alaska state gun to uphold your official Alaska right to shoot anyone who looks at you funny because you were afraid they might follow that look by pulling a semi-automatic out of their pocket and blasting you first.

Yep, I'd say that the Alaska Legislature clearly understood that its constitutional duty was not to pass an operating budget or capital plan but to provide Alaskans with an official state weapon to stand proudly next to its official state mineral.

Even more edifying for our youth is the lovely image of our legislators all pointing the finger at each other and saying it's the other guy's fault. Faced with a mess of their own making, our legislators revert to pre-kindergarten level and insist it all happened when they weren't even in the room so they can't possibly be at fault. In fact, had they been in the room, they would have stopped the debacle. What a great way to show the kids how adults accept responsibility for their actions.

So once again our Legislature comes to the end of the time allotted by the voters only to notice that, oops, what with traveling en masse to Washington and dithering over cellphones in cars and oil tax rates, they apparently plumb forgot to enact the two most basic pieces of legislation that is their business. So now they have to stay longer, while collecting per diem and salary from the state, as a kind of perverse reward for their procrastination.

I'm sure we will hear from individual legislators about how they wish they were home taking care of the business that keeps them going from year to year. Seems to me if they really meant that, they would have found a way to complete the people's business in the amount of time the people asked them to complete it. Given that they make more for their part-time job, even before per diem is counted, than I make in a year, bewailing their financial state because they can't get back to their jobs simply holds no water with me.

I know why teenagers act surprised when tomorrow comes and their term paper isn't done. Their brain cells have, for the most part, been replaced with hormones that have nothing to do with Faulkner's short stories. I don't know why our Legislature always seems so shocked and surprised when their 90 days is up and they don't have a budget passed. It's as though they just looked at their Legislator's Handbook for Idiots and realized they had a deadline.

Yes, boys and girls, forget what your parents and teachers are telling you about deadlines and meeting your responsibilities. Because those qualities will mess up any hope you can ever have of growing up to be an Alaskan legislator.

Elise Patkotak is an Alaska writer and author of "Parallel Logic," a memoir of her 28 years in Barrow. Web site, www.elisepatkotak.com.


Elise Patkotak
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