No need for pretext — Walker should cut his ties with lobbyist Hackney

In 2013, veteran political operative Art Hackney hired workers to try to obstruct the signature drive for a public vote on the repeal of the oil tax law, MAPA (also known as Senate Bill 21).

Hackney even started an "I Made A Mistake" website purporting to offer people who signed the petition a chance to recant and withdraw support for putting it on the ballot, an election contest that the oil industry and its allies didn't want.

Almost no one fell for his gimmick and the website is now defunct. All that remains is a dopey YouTube video in which a woman in the shadows acts heartbroken and confesses her regret about signing the petition.

"They told me it was good for Alaska," she says, bordering on tears.

"Now I know better. Every signature tells oil companies to go away. 'We don't want your investment. We don't want your jobs.'

"I made a mistake," she says, folding her hands in pretend anguish. "I do want those jobs."

In 2014, the voters decided not to repeal MAPA, an election that followed the signature drive Hackney claimed was deceptive.


This episode came to mind Saturday while reading about Hackney's "phantom meetings" as a newly minted state lobbyist. It struck me that he could put an "I Made A Mistake" website to good use right about now.

So could Gov. Bill Walker, who made a mistake in hiring Hackney at $200 an hour, plus expenses.

There is no reason for the state to pay Hackney to talk on the phone or meet with fellow lobbyist Ashley Reed 15 times. Or for the state to pay Hackney to meet with one of his frequent customers, Bob Gillam, or Alaska Dispatch News publisher Alice Rogoff. I was surprised that Hackney didn't bill the state for the last time he met with his barber.

As to Walker's statement that Hackney provides access to a different network of people, the governor doesn't need Hackney as a go-between.

It's true that Hackney has run dozens of campaigns over the decades and is popular within the Republican establishment. But it's not as if Hackney is showing Walker the secret handshake for the powers that be.

This being politics, Hackney might well end up working behind the scenes against a reasonable state fiscal plan, depending upon the course of the legislative campaign season and who pays the bill.

The state contract with Hackney is to "provide consulting services and assist the state with advancing a fiscal plan that business communities, local officials, legislators, and the general public will support."

There are better ways to build public support for a fiscal plan than paying Hackney to meet people he was going to meet with anyway and talk about things that may or may not have some bearing on a state fiscal plan.

The personal relationships of a political consultant are not the same as those of a lobbyist, as Hackney himself once said.

''How would you still have a friendship with somebody if you were coming on somebody else's nickel to say, 'I think you should do this or that'?" Hackney told an Anchorage Daily News reporter in 2002, explaining why he didn't want to become a lobbyist.

Asked this week about comments from people on his itemized list who said they did not meet with him on the dates he said or that they talked about topics other than a state fiscal plan, Hackney told Alaska Dispatch News, "You meet with them on one pretext and then you bring up what they've heard, what they understand and then you try to correct misperceptions."

Webster's defines pretext as "an appearance assumed to cloak the real intention or state of affairs." No need for pretext, official or otherwise. Get these conversations out in the open.

Walker should cut his ties with Hackney if he has not done so already, saving the unspent portion of this $50,000 mistake.

Dermot Cole, a Fairbanks-based reporter for 40 years, is the father of Aileen Cole, who works as the deputy press secretary for Gov. Bill Walker. 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.

Dermot Cole

Former ADN columnist Dermot Cole is a longtime reporter, editor and author.