Opinions

The fights Gov. Dunleavy is picking are no coincidence

This commentary originally appeared in the podcast “With All Due Respect.”

This year’s state budget, which went into effect July 1, does not include funding for the Power Cost Equalization program. Power Cost Equalization, or PCE, lowers the cost of electricity in rural Alaska to make it comparable to more urban areas like Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau.

Now, I’m going to digress to explain my own experience with PCE funding. In 1999, I was 10 days into my freshman year as a Republican State House member when my comments questioning PCE funding caused an eruption on the house floor. It was a major eruption, a “Mr. Speaker, we need an at-ease now” eruption. My comments represented the worst of ignorance from a freshman who should have listened more and talked less. Thankfully, there were rural lawmakers, like the late Albert Kookesh, who helped me understand the importance of PCE funding. A year later, I was one of 34 house members who voted to capitalize the PCE endowment.

So prior to Gov. Mike Dunleavy being elected in 2019, the PCE endowment functioned without issue or controversy for decades.

Between 80,000 and 90,000 Alaskans depend on PCE to pay their utilities. They live in nearly 200 communities, some of which are the most economically disadvantaged and high-cost in the nation.

The PCE endowment pays out about $30 million a year from its endowment (it doesn’t require any general funds to support). Without PCE, rural Alaska could see their utility bills double or triple at month’s end with virtually no notice.

Another issue is that PCE actually helps subsidize basic municipal functions. For example, providing fresh water and sewer services. It’s incredibly energy intensive, and some communities will be unable to keep doing it without PCE to subsidize. Seriously: Gov. Dunleavy is literally putting both people and infrastructure at risk.

Now of course, Gov. Dunleavy is publicly saying that he’s a champion of PCE, while I’m saying publicly that with PCE champions like Dunleavy, who needs an enemy?

In 2019, he submitted legislation to dissolve PCE and take the funds for the first time in history. Then he had his former attorney general, Kevin Clarkson, write a memo arbitrarily re-designating the funds. Dunleavy has created a crisis where there was none.

And can we just admit right now that the disgraced former attorney general who penned that memo didn’t have the best legal mind? Seriously, during his brief stint as AG, the guy’s court record smacked of the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (zero wins, 14 losses — that’s the Buccaneers, not Clarkson, though it’s understandable to not be sure which is which). I mean, the guy couldn’t lawyer himself out of a wet paper sack, but here he is saying every attorney general before him was wrong on PCE.

But the truth is, Gov. Dunleavy could settle the case today. He could settle the case and agree to protect PCE, but instead he is suing, keeping PCE from being funded.

For Alaskans, the best analogy for PCE is this is rural Alaska’s Southeast hydro dam. It’s their subsidized Cook Inlet natural gas. PCE keeps energy affordable forever. Alaska has plowed billions into such projects for communities all over the state, including billions of dollars for drilling credits, to keep natural gas affordable from Cook Inlet. Seriously, if this were a hydro dam or solar farm, we wouldn’t threaten to tear it down every year.

This crisis is self-made, by a governor who is using rural Alaska as a pawn.

So the question is: Why? Why would a governor who professes to care about rural Alaska so much — and whose wife wrote an op/ed promising that rural Alaska would not be left behind — leave rural Alaska behind?

Because this is part of Dunleavy’s plan. This is all part of a grand plan to create chaos and confusion: While you are going about your life, there are forces at work breaking state government in order to tell you that state government is broken. That education funding is constitutionally broken. That the dividend is constitutionally broken. That PCE is constitutionally broken. That the judiciary is constitutionally broken.

But let me remind you, this state government was not broken until Mike Dunleavy was elected governor. Dunleavy’s strategy is to create a sense of uncertainty and anger about how Alaska funds education, how PCE is funded, how the dividend is funded, how the judiciary is chosen — all in an attempt to get public support for a constitutional convention. The strategy to get rural Alaskans on board for a constitutional convention is to say “Hey, unless we put PCE and the dividend in the constitution, you’ll continue to be at risk.”

Gov. Dunleavy is using rural Alaskans as pawns. His cynical take is that rural Alaska will believe that, in order to fix it for good, they need to crack open the constitution. Enter the dark clouds.

Several months ago it was reported in the ADN that Glenn Clary, chairman of the Alaska Republican Party, formally resigned to take a job at Liberty University in Virginia, home of Jerry Falwell, Jr. In a message to members of the Republican State Central Committee, Clary wrote that he will become vice president of strategic partnerships and alliances at Liberty. That role will entail lobbying federal and state legislators as part of a network of Christian organizations.

Now, how coincidental is it that Clary leaves to take on this position at the same time Dunleavy is trying to con Alaskans into thinking Alaska’s constitution is broken? Not coincidental at all. For the past several years, conservatives in Alaska politics have watched as Alaska has turned purple, and they are worried. Fearing they will be unable to stem the tide change, conservatives are looking to rewrite Alaska’s constitution to reflect their antiquated beliefs where women have no rights, Alaskans have no recourse in the court, religious schools get public funding and the likes of Dunleavy’s disgraced former attorney general get to decide what’s moral and what’s not. This is the goal. This has always been the goal.

So how to make it happen? Raise constitutional questions about everything, from how we fund education to how we fund PCE to how we pay the dividend. Then blast Alaskans with a massive amount of lobbying propaganda from Outside religious groups — maybe like the one Glenn Clary landed at — to convince us a constitutional convention is the only way to save Alaska.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the grand plan. This is why, after decades of virtually no constitutional questions about any of these programs, suddenly there are. This is a scam, a plan drawn up on the whiteboard by political religious zealots who want Alaska to become the next conservative wasteland, and PCE funding is leverage to get there.

Meanwhile, the first lady of Alaska, who promised in writing that the governor would never leave rural Alaska behind — well, I believe she owes rural Alaska an apology. Not only has her husband left rural Alaska behind, but he’s left rural Alaska behind, in the dark and without a dividend.

Andrew Halcro is a past executive director of the Anchorage Community Development Authority. He is a former state representative and past president of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce. This commentary is adapted from an episode of his podcast, “With All Due Respect.”

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