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Mike Dingman: Our lawmakers play politics more than they craft policy

Mike Dingman

What on earth are they talking about?

That's all I could think as I watched "Gavel Alaska" -- the caption said the House Rules Committee was discussing Sen. Kevin Meyer's bill, which would save the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault from sunsetting in June; however, I was listening to people testify about approving the appointment of Richard Rabinow to the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation (AGDC).

As we move deeper into April the fools are unquestionably playing politics in Juneau.

House Speaker Mike Chenault tried to amend the bill to allow non-Alaskans to serve on the AGDC. Sen. Meyer was quoted in an April 3 Daily News article saying that Chenault had "hijacked" the bill. The same article also quoted council supporter Peggy Brown comparing the amendment to "tossing a bomb on a moving train."

These types of political shenanigans are fairly common in Juneau; however, to see it blow up in the face of the House Speaker during a committee meeting is rather rare. Usually this type of political maneuvering is more carefully coordinated so as to not cause any embarrassment.

This isn't the only tomfoolery happening in the capital city this week.

The Daily News reported on Tuesday that Senator Lesil McGuire is suggesting the money that was slated for indoor tennis courts in West Anchorage -- which were supported by Mayor Dan Sullivan -- should be used for renovations to the Loussac Library. These improvements were included on the municipal ballot in the form of a bond proposition, but as the city waits for thousands of absentee ballots to be counted, that measure is failing by a small margin.

Oh, by the way -- Mayor Sullivan and Sen. McGuire are both vying for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor in August.

Meanwhile, as we move towards the end of what Gov. Parnell dubbed the "education session" -- very little discussion of education is actually happening.

In Tuesday's Daily News, Richard Mauer reported that an amendment to HB 278 more than doubles the increase to the base student allocation that Mr. "Education Session" Gov. Parnell included in the operating budget. The amendment passed 27-13. Mauer explained that the amendment continues the BSA increase at $185 for 2015, but after a different budget bill removes one-time funding of $25 million, effectively dropping the BSA increase to $85.

All of these things make three things perfectly clear. There is less than a week left in the legislative session, it's an election year and everybody is scrambling to look as good as possible before they start their summer pitch for your votes.

Republicans are cutting money out of the budget, while pretending that they are presiding over the "education session" and pitching a $1.9 billion capital budget. Democrats are portraying Republicans as haters of public schools who want to gut government as much as possible.

Neither are really doing what they should be doing.

Elected officials are charged with the duty of creating public policy. This involves consulting with constituents, hearing from experts and researching the issues in order to create legislation that would better their community in some way.

In order to get this job, they have to use the art of politics to get elected. The art of politics is creating an image of a desirable public official, crafting a message that the public wants to hear, advertising them and hoping that you can bring out the people who support you on election day.

If there was a way to separate the business of creating public policy from the art of politics, I would completely support it. Unfortunately, both are important processes and help us to live in a democratic society. Our goal as informed and savvy citizens should be to make sure that our elected officials are spending more of their time crafting public policy for the good of the public rather than playing politics.

As Alaskans, we are failing in that respect.

Partly because the political stage is set so far from the population, partly because Alaskans don't pay a state income or sales tax and seemingly have no skin in the game, and partly because we seem content to collect our PFD checks in October and vote for familiar names in November, we allow our elected officials to run roughshod through the halls of the Capitol.

If you want an example of politicians playing politics, take a close look at Juneau and you'll see it at work. If you want an example of elected officials working hard at crafting quality public policy, then I don't know what to tell you.

Mike Dingman is a fifth generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. Email, michaeldingman@gmail.com.


Mike Dingman
commentBy MIKE DINGMAN