Dermot Cole

Twelve presidents have visited Alaska while serving in office, going back to Warren G. Harding in 1923, who made the journey to drive the golden spike for the Alaska Railroad, the first major federal public works project in the territory. While President Barack Obama's plans to visit Alaska next week are founded on the science, geography and politics of climate change, past presidential visits have been mere pit stops, with the exception of the 1971 meeting of President Richard M. Nixon and Emperor Hirohito of Japan in Anchorage and the 1984 meeting of President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II in Fairbanks. But there once was a plan for a rendezvous of world leaders in Alaska that went far beyond a rest stop or a half-hour meeting. While it never came to pass, President Franklin...Dermot Cole
Since the dawn of the jet age, Alaska has been a prime place for presidential stopovers, usually at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, and usually when the No. 1 passenger on Air Force One is headed to or from Asia. Nearly every president since statehood has landed in Alaska for carefully scripted visits, though there are often surprises, as President Ronald Reagan discovered in 1984. About 10,000 people turned out on a blustery 35-degree morning in May that year when the travel plans of Reagan and Pope John Paul II intersected at Fairbanks International Airport. Reagan was returning from China and the pope was bound for South Korea. The pope was on the ground for about three hours, while Reagan stayed overnight. Reagan wrote in his diary that he had left China at 10:35 a.m. Tuesday...Dermot Cole
An ominous statement from Standard & Poor's and the stubborn slide in oil prices should leave no doubt in anyone's mind that the state needs to be looking at new revenue sources now, instead of waiting until the easily accessible financial reserves are gone. Legislators who are predicting that only spending cuts will happen in 2016 -- and that significant actions are unlikely because it is an election year -- should realize that continued inaction accelerates the arrival of a real crisis. I take it as a positive and encouraging sign that the House Finance Committee meets Monday at 10:30 a.m. in Anchorage to hear reports from the Walker administration and the Institute of Social and Economic Research to update lawmakers on presentations that have been made across the state. If oil...Dermot Cole
U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan should reverse his stand on the Law of the Sea treaty. For guidance, he need look no further than the reasonable positions taken during the second Bush administration by a guy named Dan Sullivan. Sullivan has used his first half-year in the Senate to explain why the U.S. needs to show leadership in the Arctic, build icebreakers, respond to the Russians and take an active role in deciding the future of the region. All well and good, but Sullivan's opposition to the Law of the Sea Convention hardly counts as leadership on Arctic policy. The treaty would bolster U.S. jurisdiction to an area twice the size of California and has enjoyed strong support from Alaskans for many years. So far, 166 nations and the European Union have signed off on the treaty, which sets...Dermot Cole
On an October night in 1997, a 15-year-old boy was knocked to the ground near downtown Fairbanks and repeatedly kicked in the head. He was left for dead on a quiet street, not far from the city center. The four young men, ages 17 to 21, later arrested and convicted of the killing of John Hartman have now spent half of their lives in prison, but questions about whether justice was served in the case continue to haunt Fairbanks. Marvin Roberts, George Frese, Kevin Pease and Eugene Vent are now in their mid- to late-30s, with varying amounts of time yet to serve. Earlier this summer Roberts gained a measure of freedom with his release to a Fairbanks halfway house. The “Fairbanks Four,” as they have come to be called, are at the center of a contentious dispute with no parallel in the...Dermot Cole
Oil prices tumbled this week as China devalued its currency, continuing a trend on world markets that exacerbates the financial challenge facing Alaska. With oil below $50 a barrel, Alaskans will worry a bit more about the $3 billion budget gap, but savings stashed away before the oil-price collapse will continue to insulate most people from the stark new reality of state finances. This has yet to sink in, but the largest revenue source supporting education and state government operations in Alaska is no longer oil, but a rapidly dwindling bank account. Something has to give and fast. Our legislative leaders must start telling Alaskans the unpleasant truth -- simply cutting government spending is not enough to solve the state budget problem, preserve the Alaska economy and maintain...Dermot Cole
On the day after Veteran's Day in 2009, Gov. Sean Parnell declined the opportunity to travel to Elmendorf Air Force Base and attend a 15-minute speech by President Barack Obama. Parnell was in Anchorage that day, but he said he skipped the ceremonies because he wasn’t granted a tete-a-tete with Obama during the president's two-hour refueling stop. Parnell should have attended the speech and represented Alaskans. But he said that since he couldn't meet with Obama he would stick to his prearranged appearance at the annual conference of the Associated General Contractors. “My choice was keep my commitment to the contractors or sit and fill a seat for the president’s events. We were not permitted any civilian interaction. We were told there would be no greeting of the president nor talking...Dermot Cole
For many political and business leaders in Alaska, it’s not a love-hate relationship they’ve enjoyed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. It’s a hate relationship, one that springs from disclosure and enforcement actions that occasionally create uncomfortable moments for those at the intersection of politics and power. In the 40 years since the Watergate scandal prompted laws to identify conflicts of interest and reveal the sources of political cash , we’ve had more than a few governors and legislators who would have been happy to sign a death certificate for APOC. Today, this essential state agency is in critical condition. Thanks to a 40 percent budget cut and a staff that has been cut nearly in half, those who consider the commission an unnecessary nuisance are closer than ever...Dermot Cole
It takes a little effort to become a registered voter in Alaska. A new initiative would reverse the system so it would take a little effort to become ineligible to vote. We would replace our “opt-in” system with an “opt-out” approach, potentially adding tens of thousands of names to the voter rolls. Given the state’s financial plight, I think there are far more pressing questions to debate in the next year, but the executive director of an organization of Native regional corporation leaders and other sponsors hope to collect enough signature to put the question to voters. The idea is to make the application for a Permanent Fund Dividend do double duty as a voter registration form. Just about everybody finds the motivation to apply for a state check, even those who aren’t interested in...Dermot Cole
In January, the state Senate Finance Committee approved a contract with a former Alaska health and social services commissioner to provide expert advice on Medicaid expansion. Among other tasks, the $45,000 contract called for Bill Streur to produce a “written report for committee use that presents strategies and options for Medicaid expansion” by the end of April. He was also to provide information on potential savings from Medicaid expansion and identify ways to change state operations to save money in one of the biggest programs in state government. He never wrote the report, according to a staff member for Sen. Pete Kelly, co-chairman of the committee, because Streur spent all of his time talking to legislators, answering questions and examining budget information. “Many legislators...Dermot Cole