Opinions

Unfair to blame National Guard abuse failures on Parnell

Hindsight is 20-20. As we apply it in our own lives, it often creates personal regret: "If only I knew then what I know now, I sure would have done things differently." But, when it is misused in politics, well, hindsight is merciless and very unfair.

The blame that is being directed at Gov. Sean Parnell regarding the conduct of a few -- and, I emphasize, a few -- bad actors in the Alaska National Guard has gotten me pretty steamed. Was there in the past a cancer-like problem of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct within the guard? Apparently yes. Was there an attitude within some part of the guard's officer corps that allowed the cancer to remain and grow? Apparently yes. Did the guard's top officer fail to deal with the issue and mislead the governor about how it was being dealt with? Apparently yes.

Should all of that, now after that the facts have been fully revealed, be dealt with strongly? Yes. Did Parnell knowingly fail to address the situation? Not that I can see. Is Parnell now making sure that these matters are addressed appropriately? Yes.

I consider myself to be a friend of both Sean Parnell and Bill Walker. I have known them both over several years. I worked with Parnell on issues when he was in the Legislature, and I have met with him regarding current matters. Our children went to school together. Likewise, I have worked with Bill Walker over the years, and our sons played soccer together. Both of these fine men wrote to me with their condolences when my bride Noru passed away. Before this election, I had given money to both of their political campaigns.

But I have to say that I am feeling a little disappointed right now. Anyone who has spent any amount of time getting to know our governor cannot help but be aware of the fact that without a doubt he is a good and decent man -- and the same can be said of Bill Walker. Anyone who knows Parnell knows that he meant what he said when he made "Choose Respect" a priority for his administration. Anyone who knows him knows that he was sincere when he pledged that Alaska would take every step necessary to stop the epidemic of domestic violence, sexual assault and child sexual abuse in our state.

The idea that Parnell would have knowingly allowed any of the bad, or even criminal, conduct in the guard to continue after he knew about it is off base. The notion that he would not have acted further if he had known that the multiple assurances he was given by the adjutant general were false is without foundation.

Someone should acknowledge what Parnell did do. In 2010, the governor's office contacted the FBI about the allegations of sexual misconduct in the guard. The FBI conducted a six-week investigation at that time. Parnell's office reported every allegation to law enforcement that came to it. He met with the adjutant general 41 times between 2010 and 2014 to inquire about these affairs. He asked for the Office of Complex Investigations to intervene as soon as he became aware that the guard's chain of command had failed him.

Bill Walker should start any discussion of the guard issue with an acknowledgment of at least those facts. Go ahead and disagree, if you insist, with the governor's alertness to the functioning of the guard's chain of command. But standing by silently while those who support you malign the governor by alleging a failure to act -- well, that is disappointing. Saying, "If it had been me, I would have done things differently and better," is nothing more than opportunistic hindsight. We'd all do things differently if we knew then what we know now.

Kevin Clarkson is a partner at the Anchorage law firm Brena, Bell and Clarkson.

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.

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