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Paul Jenkins: Race for Alaska governor a snoozefest by design

Paul Jenkins

While the brawl for Mark Begich's purloined Senate seat offers a shopping cart full of red meat for political junkies who revel in politics as blood sport, the race for Alaska's top state job is a snoozefest.

Imagine yourself sprawled comfortably in an overstuffed chair on a warm summer afternoon, watching baseball, listening to the announcer's drone -- and fighting to stay awake. The race featuring Republican Gov. Sean Parnell, Democrat Byron Mallott, Independent Bill Walker and a handful of lesser luminaries is every bit of that, and less.

Whatever happened to knock-down, drag-out Alaska elections, smackdowns complete with hollerin' and finger-pointing and the occasional poke in the eye? Where are the hurt feelings? The accusations? Where, for crying out loud, is the hate? What we have now is tedium. Sunday prayer meetings offer more fireworks.

Remember Sarah Palin tangling with Frank Murkowski and John Binkley in the 2006 GOP primary? Remember the media hammering at Murkowski and shielding Sarah from meanies like me? Then she took on Andrew Halcro and Tony Knowles in the general? Remember Halcro's utter befuddlement at Palin's often tenuous grasp on reality? Now that was an elections "E Ticket."

There have been others of note in Alaska's history. Jay Hammond squeaking past Wally Hickel in the 1978 GOP primary by a mere 98 votes. Or then-Gov. Bill Sheffield getting thumped by Steve Cowper in the 1986 Democratic primary after an effort to impeach Sheffield fizzled. Or John Lindauer's bizarre 1998 election meltdown. Then there is Lisa Murkowski's miraculous write-in redemption in 2010.

We've had elections settled by coin tosses, missing ballots surfacing in filing cabinets and even last-second party shopping, but nowadays the only excitement, at least in the governor's race, is whining that Parnell never debates. So what's new?

Parnell, dubbed "Captain Zero" by Congressman Don Young, who humbled him in their 2008 U.S. House contest, in many ways has been a ghost since stepping out from Palin's shadow after she set sail for greener pastures and the national stage in 2009 with 18 months left in her term.

When in 2010 Parnell ran for the governor's job Palin dropped in his lap, he morphed into the Muhammad Ali of the campaign rope-a-dope -- sidestepping, covering up, showing up only occasionally. Republican primary election opponents Bill Walker and former state House Majority Leader Ralph Samuels were left to helplessly flail at each other. Their lament: Parnell would not debate. His absences even spawned a bumper sticker, "Where the Hell's Parnell?"

In the end, neither Walker nor Samuels laid a glove on Parnell, who sailed into office unscathed after creaming Democrat Ethan Berkowitz.

Parnell, too milquetoasty for many, in a pleasant, Bible-thumping sort of way, too often plays it safe and eschews confrontations.

Instead, he fires off nastygrams to anybody he has a beef with -- Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and University of Alaska President Pat Gamble immediately come to mind -- and he makes sure they get into the newspapers. It spills over into elections. You cannot hit what you cannot see. Most of us will see solar eclipses more often than we see Parnell.

So here we are, in 2014, with Parnell's opponents still complaining he never shows up.

The latest frustrated squawks came as Mallott and Walker -- he really should get it by now -- attended a candidate forum in Anchorage. Walker went off about Parnell's continued absences, APRN reports, and Mallott said, "Bill and I have spent many months on the campaign trail thus far, and it's almost like we're the only two candidates."

They indeed are the only two candidates for the time being if history is any teacher. Cue the rope-a-dope.

Unfortunately, neither Mallott nor Walker are campaign fireballs, and Parnell may be onto something with his strategy of boring people to death and then not showing up for the funeral. But he is not alone in his blahness. Political observers will tell you the loneliest guy in the world must be the schnook holding the fort at Mallott's campaign headquarters, and Walker is like the Energizer Bunny, pounding away on the same drum day after day. Gas line. Gas line. Gas line.

A cynic might think Parnell has it right; that Mallott and Walker will pound each other to goo, as if anybody cared, and voters again will reward his bad behavior.

It is enough to make you want a nap.

Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDailyPlanet.com.


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