Your vote doesn't count; Big Oil's does

Elise Patkotak

Alaska does democracy and governance a little differently than the rest of the country. It's like everything else in Alaska. Our attitude is simply that we don't care how they do it in the Lower 48. So when people are disenfranchised by the bumbling way our last election was conducted, our mayor's response is to smile and say that he would have just won by more votes if more people could have voted.

Well good for him. I mean how nice is he that he lets us vote even though he apparently knows how some are going to vote ahead of time, so why bother letting them? Perhaps in the Lower 48 there is some silly liberal belief that everyone who is qualified to vote and actually takes the trouble to go to a polling place should be afforded the opportunity to do so.

Here in Alaska, we're a bit more cavalier about the whole thing. Didn't get to vote? Don't worry. Your vote isn't important. Just ask the newly elected mayor.

But botched elections are not the only fun political moment in Alaska right now. If I go back through my columns over the past decade or so, I find a depressing pattern occurring around this time every year. No, it's not that due to my diabetes I have to lock the door against the Easter Bunny and his basket full of sugar.

And it's not that this time of year is the most depressingly ugly time in Alaska (breakup is not for the faint of heart or artistic of vision). My depression stems from the fact that every year at this time I find myself writing a column about how our Legislature in Juneau is consistently surprised by the end-of-session deadline, as evidenced by the fact that they have not accomplished the most basic of tasks for which they were elected.

And so after three months of trips to D.C. and other parts of the world, our legislators are once again scrambling to approve an operating and capital budget in the waning minutes of the session.

People rush madly about claiming they are being asked to vote on a document they barely have time to read. Legislators swear that there is nothing they can do about the chaos, because they need time to hear from their constituents about these issues before they create the budget or vote on it -- you knew it was somehow going to be your fault, right?

If that doesn't sell as the reason they are once again scrambling at the last minute to do their constitutionally required duty, they'll find some other. It was the governor's fault. Or it was the oil companies' fault. Or it was the Supreme Court's fault. Or the dog ate the budget document. Pick a reason. Any reason. All are equally valid. This year, in fact, we can even blame it on those nefarious Girl Scouts who are clearly trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the legislature in getting some commendation out of them that is clearly not deserved.

I don't know what's sadder. That the Girl Scouts think a commendation from this Legislature is a badge of honor or that Wes Keller was actually elected to office.

To top off all this fun, we've already been promised (threatened?) that there will be an extra session to discuss the oil tax issue. Well, I should hope so. The oil companies made it clear that they did not like the bill passed by the senate. And if the oil companies don't like a bill, why in the heck is the senate even be considering it?

In fact, if we combine the laissez faire attitude that the municipality of Anchorage takes toward your voting rights with the fact that this state does little that doesn't have the approval of the oil companies, we could simply eliminate the bother of citizens voting and hand the votes to the oil companies to cast. It would cut out that expensive middle step of printing up enough ballots.

Yep, welcome to spring. The season of ugly breakup in most of Alaska and even uglier breakdown in Juneau. I wonder if any of us will live long enough to see a day when the Legislature will finish its business on time?

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