Opinions

Alaska's 'Lemming Caucus' needs to veer away from the cliff

This has been a difficult week for many Alaskans. So much uncertainty as 10,000 pink slips go to our friends and neighbors working for the state.

Fairbanks Sen. Pete Kelly argues they aren't pink slips, because there's an "if" in them, as in "You're not laid off if a handful of senators get their poop together." Of course, we know there's no chance Pete and his collaborators will get their poop together. Instead of pink slips, people online are calling them "Pete slips."

Our current legislative crisis is the handiwork of a small cabal of senators who refuse to compromise their misguided ideology. The Fumbling Five are True Believers, so convinced of their own righteousness they are willing to destroy our state to save it. These budget jihadis are Kelly, Charlie Huggins, Cathy Geissel, Mike Dunleavy and Anna MacKinnon. The rest of the Senate's majority? Well, call them the Lemming Caucus.

Why the Lemmings haven't bailed, I do not know. They have options.

Remember the days of the Senate's "Bipartisan Working Group"? You only have to think back two years, to the time before the oil industry bought itself a much more partisan Legislature. The industry had only one concern, and it wanted a Legislature with only one guiding principle: sacrifice any and every state service, spend every penny of non-Permanent Fund savings, even jeopardize the dividends, all before raising a single dollar from the industry. That's what the oil industry wanted, and that's what it got.

The "Bipartisan Working Group" racked up a long list of accomplishments by abandoning partisan politics and embracing compromise to do what was best for every Alaskan, not just the campaign contributors of one party. For starters, they put a fair oil tax structure in place. The oil tax bill was contentious, but legislators worked together to do something that nowadays seems unimaginable: They honored the will of the people, bucked the special interests, and found a middle ground.

They also, as Sen. Johnny Ellis likes to say, went on a "savings spree," setting aside $18 billion.

They invested in education -- funding and forward-funding K-12. They focused on renewable energy across the state. They used the capital budget to upgrade and maintain roads, parks, fire stations, libraries and the like.

One of my political heroines is Lyda Green, former president of the Alaska Senate and a Republican. Ideologically, we don't line up on much, but we do agree on how a democracy should function. For example, when ACES, the earlier oil tax legislation, was being hashed out in the Senate, Lyda didn't like it. She made that known loud and clear. As Senate president, she could have stopped the bill from a floor vote, where she knew it would pass. Instead, she let democracy run its course and the bill became law.

And lucky for us she did.

As the Fumbling Five destroy the last vestiges of that bipartisanship, I note that if it weren't for the Bipartisan Working Group's oil tax bill, we'd be in even more desperate straits now than we are.

The Five are even prepared to risk the Permanent Fund Dividend in order to protect the oil industry from sharing any of the pain. Could that have personal consequences for every Alaskan? Here's what Senate President and ConocoPhillips employee Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, said this week when asked if emptying the fund's "earnings reserve" could put the annual dividend at risk:

Nobody can predict. No one has a crystal ball on what the stock market is going to do. And yes, (no dividend) is a risk that we would run. If we had 2-3 years of a down market then we may not have the money to pay the dividends, but then again, if we have that many years of a down market, should people expect to get a dividend?

Instead of the statesman we need running the Senate, we have small-minded ideologues, the kind of people who confuse bumper stickers with thoughtful public policies. As a result, education funding, 10,000-plus jobs, the protection of children and access to affordable health care for 40,000 Alaskans are all being sacrificed to ensure that $609 million in incentives for oil companies investment go untouched.

Bottom line? The Fumbling Five are steering the Senate, and the rest of us, straight at the precipice. They need to be fired.

And for God's sake, Lemming Caucus, wake up and remember you're in the Legislature to serve the long-term interests of the entire state. Better to be banished to the minority, than to continue to enable the radicals behind the wheel.

Shannyn Moore is a radio broadcaster.

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.

Shannyn Moore

Shannyn Moore is a radio broadcaster. You can hear her show, "The Last Word," Monday through Friday 4-6 p.m. on KOAN 95.5 FM and 1080 AM and 1480 We Act Radio in Washington, D.C., and on Netroots Radio.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, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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