Opinions

Parnell's response to Guard scandal is reason to vote for Walker

We don't know how candidate for governor Bill Walker would have responded to the call for help in cleaning up the Alaska National Guard. We do know how Gov. Sean Parnell responded.

And on the merits of that response alone, Walker should become governor.

Parnell's defenders complain that criticism of his handling of the guard scandal is just politics. But good men and women put careers, friendships and reputations on the line to warn the state's chief executive and commander in chief of rape, harassment, intimidation, retaliation, fraud, drugs and gunrunning that ran to the top of the guard. They were not playing politics. They were not playing at all.

Career military officers, chaplains with no agenda but justice and the people in their care, along with others who paid for their courage and integrity, sounded the alarm. These were serious people with serious charges, jumping the normal chain of command because of what they knew -- and because they answered to a moral code that outranks military protocol.

Parnell's response? Trust in the very people implicated by the cries for help. He went to the fox for assurances that all was as it should be in the hen house. He should have gone to a special prosecutor or investigator with the gumption to show neither fear nor favor. It wasn't Parnell's job to trust. It was his job to find out.

Instead he took the word of the fox for years, as late as the spring of 2014. He failed to stand with the victims. He failed to stand with the people who were doing the right thing at great risk. He failed to take command and thus corruption flourished under his watch, and that deepened the despair of victims and those who were trying to help them.

Those trying to regain what one of the chaplains, Rick Cavens, called a just house went elsewhere for justice -- to Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich, to reporters and columnists. And the reports of wrongdoing kept coming.

After years of justice delayed and denied, when the weight of the scandal broke even Parnell's trust, he called for an investigation by an agency of the National Guard Bureau. Those investigators found much of what Parnell had been warned of years before -- and what he should have brought to light years before.

Is Parnell to blame for what some guard members have done? Of course not.

But Parnell is to blame for his failure to lead when his leadership mattered most, for taking only halting steps toward justice. His personal rectitude is no substitute for public leadership. "Choose Respect" was a worthy initiative, Parnell's best. For victims of the guard scandal, "Choose Respect" has become a bitter joke.

Victims and chaplains have written in these pages with a bitterness that measures the betrayal they suffered -- first by the guard and then by the governor. Their stories don't spin.

The chaplains likely will forgive the governor -- that spirit is in their job descriptions. But forgiveness doesn't require votes.

As he did in the guard scandal, Parnell has left the driving of Alaska's agenda to others. The cruise industry drove changes in tax and pollution laws. The heavyweights in the oil industry drove changes in the oil tax regime and oil and gas policy. Corporate interests drove support for House Bill 77 and opposition to a new coastal zone management law, both efforts to curtail public participation in land and development decisions.

It's one thing to lead quietly. But you can't call it quiet when you only lead where others point. And you can't call it leadership when you don't act until you have no choice.

While we can't know how Bill Walker would have responded to the guard scandal, his track record argues against Parnell's passive course -- and against the stubborn secrecy common to Parnell's administration.

The unity ticket of Bill Walker and Byron Mallott doesn't wear a halo. But the two men offer leadership with their experience, and their alliance is a call for Alaskans from different backgrounds and beliefs to pull together.That's more than we have now.

Frank Gerjevic is an opinion pages editor at Alaska Dispatch News.

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

Frank Gerjevic

Frank Gerjevic is the ADN opinion page editor.

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