Opinions

5 reasons Democrats and independents need to vote for Bill Walker

Should independents and Democrats vote for Bill Walker and Byron Mallot in November? The answer is yes. Both candidates are life-long Alaskans. They are willing to put partisanship aside to lead our state by gathering evidence, looking at the facts and making decisions that are the in public interest. Walker may have conservative views on some social issues but he is not an ideological extremist. We need leaders who are not puppets for powerful special interests. Here are five specific reasons why we all need to get out and vote for Walker:

Partnership, not giveaways

The difference between Walker and Gov. Sean Parnell is perhaps best illustrated by their approach to managing our state's most valuable resource: oil. Parnell, the former lobbyist for ConocoPhillips and other oil and gas interests, has replaced the ACES tax structure -- the one that provided Alaska with budget surpluses -- with the "Great Oil Giveaway." Now, instead of funding critical public programs like public safety and education, billions of oil dollars will be diverted to the richest corporations this planet has ever known.

Walker is pro-business and pro-competition. Along with Gov. Wally Hickel, Walker joined in a battle to ensure that ConocoPhillips, rather than BP, could purchase ARCO so Alaska would have more companies competing on the North Slope. He supports the oil industry, but not as supplicant hoping for handouts. He is an expert on natural gas issues. He is committed to developing our public resources in the public interest.

Permanent Fund is at risk

Already, the promises made by Big Oil of increases in investments and oil production are revealing themselves false. Just weeks after an investment of over $15 million dollars bought Big Oil a defeat of Ballot Measure 1, ExxonMobil told state regulators not to expect an increase in oil production on the North Slope, arguing it is a "reasonable approach" to conclude that a long-term decline is continuing. Oil is a finite resource. If we give it away with tax rates that force our state's budgets into enormous deficits, we will soon run through our Constitutional Budget Reserve and our state government will have to turn to other sources of cash to keep providing essential services -- sources like the Permanent Fund. Walker is committed to keeping Alaska solvent, strong and growing by creating a fiscal framework that balances adequate revenue with responsible spending for the long-term.

State employee pensions are at risk

When the city of Detroit declared bankruptcy, one of the first financial obligations it asked to be freed of was municipal employee pensions. Detroit retirees just recently accepted cuts in their pensions as part of that bankruptcy. During the last legislative session, Parnell touted a bill that transferred $3 billion from the Constitutional Budget Reserve to pay down an astounding $12 billion of unfunded liability in Alaska's state employee pension fund. But the bill also reduced the yearly payments in the short-term, shifting much of the cost 20 to 30 years down the road to a time when the state will have far less money due to declining oil revenues. The $3 billion infusion was possible because of the budget surpluses generated by ACES. With those budget surpluses now going to Big Oil, the state may not be able to meet those balloon payments 20 years down the line. Current state employees who are planning to retire in 10 to 15 years may find themselves begging on the steps of the BP building.

Compassion over politics

Parnell let partisan politics prevail over basic compassion when he declined the Medicare expansion available under the Affordable Care Act, leaving 40,000 low-income Alaskans uninsured. Walker cares about what is best for Alaskans, not whatever ideological mandates are coming out of the gridlock in Washington. Choosing compassion over politics, Walker will accept the Medicaid expansion.

Competence, not cronyism

Parnell's political appointments reveal that he surrounds himself with people who won't challenge him – even at the expense of Alaska's best interests. He blatantly stacked the "Oil and Gas Competitiveness Review Board" with oil industry insiders. He imported out-of-state oil insiders – despite a statutory mandate to appoint Alaskans – for appointment to the board of the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. And he fired a competent, expert assessor and replaced him with an oil insider on the State Assessment Review Board. Walker is independent and not beholden to special interest executives or lobbyists. A former mayor of Valdez and experienced municipal counsel, Walker knows that good government depends upon good people. Walker will appoint Alaskans who put Alaska first.

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Alaskans, at heart, are independents. We distrust extremist ideology. We look for leaders with strong values and good judgment. This November we need to unite and vote for change in Juneau. We do not have to tolerate special interest domination of our state politics and government. It may seem that the voices of the reasonable majority lie at the bottom of a sea of special interest campaign money. Yet there are many Democrats and independents who still believe that democracy matters and that our constitutional ideals mean something. Our duty is to take action by voting, come November, for Walker and Mallott.

Scott A. Sterling is a past chair of the Democratic Party. He has practiced law in Alaska since 1987.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

Scott Sterling

Scott A. Sterling is a past chair of the Alaska Democratic Party. He has practiced law in Alaska since 1987.

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