OPINION: Overpromising Alaska politicians are their own worst enemies

Elected officials, ballot initiative supporters and opponents, campaign managers and anyone else who writes, texts or tweets outlandish claims and promises should be required to stay after the election and write 100 times on the blackboard (remember those): “I will not make stuff up.”

After they have a chance to rest their arm, they need to go back to the board — OK, a whiteboard and a Sharpie works, too — and write 100 more times: “I am sorry for promising too much.”

It’s gotten too easy for anyone trying to win over the public to promise way more than they can deliver. They latch on to a short slogan and repeat it over and over, so much so that more and more people believe it and fewer and fewer people question its reality.

There have been some whoppers in recent years, particularly from Donald Trump, who wholeheartedly and dishonestly claimed that Mexico was going to pay to build a wall on the U.S. southern border. Trump won the 2016 presidential election, Mexico did not pay for a wall, and immigration is still an unresolved issue today.

President Joe Biden in 2021 told Americans that his infrastructure plan would create 19 million jobs. Not even close, but there were no consequences for overpromoting and overselling the political pitch.

In Alaska, one of the more outlandish political claims of the past decade was when then-Gov. Sean Parnell campaigned in support of lower state taxes on the oil industry, which he achieved with a legislative victory in 2013. The governor repeatedly told Alaskans that lower taxes would lead to more exploration and production, more jobs and more money — with the emphasis on more money for the state treasury to pay for services so that Alaskans could continue living tax-free.

Parnell told Alaskans that with lower taxes, North Slope oil production could almost double to 1 million barrels a day.


Production was 600,000 barrels a day when he first raised the ante to 1 million. It was at about 485,000 barrels a day last month.

There are a lot of reasons why oil production went down, not up, even after Alaska reduced its taxes. The years 2015-2020 were generally a bad time for oil prices, pushing companies to scale back investments. Opposition to North Slope permits continued to slow down development plans. Companies make investment decisions in the interest of their shareholders, not to cover a governor’s excessive campaign pledge.

But it’s just those sort of silly claims — 1 million barrels a day — that come back and bite. Such as early in May, when the Alaska State Senate Finance Committee was considering legislation to substantially raise what oil producers pay in taxes.

As an industry official was testifying against the tax increase, saying it could deter investment, a senator with a good memory scolded: What about that pledge of 1 million barrels a day by now?

The oil company exec said, essentially, it wasn’t me. Someone else later said it wasn’t a promise, merely an “aspirational goal” with a lot of assumptions about new exploration and production.

Call it an aspirational goal if it makes anyone feel better, but it was nothing but a simplistic campaign slogan lacking in reality and used to build support for lower oil taxes.

Rather than deny it really wasn’t a promise, everyone who repeated the million-barrel line should apologize. Then maybe the Legislature can decide on important oil tax legislation on the merits, not to settle a score because someone made up an impossible number a decade ago.

Larry Persily is a longtime Alaska journalist, with breaks for federal, state and municipal service in oil and gas, taxes and fiscal policy work. He currently is publisher of the Wrangell Sentinel weekly newspaper.

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Larry Persily

Larry Persily is a longtime Alaska journalist, with breaks for federal, state and municipal service in oil and gas, taxes and fiscal policy work. He currently is publisher of the Wrangell Sentinel weekly newspaper.