The Rise and Fall of the Alaskan Republican Vanguard
The Good Old Boys
What do you get in a state with the largest land mass, greatest number of untapped natural resources and a very low population? Unlimited corruption. Alaska has waded through the campaigns of special interest lobbyists since its inception into statehood in 1959. There was no question statehood would be voted in by the Constituents. The population was so low at the time, all it took was filling up the military bases and civil service posts with transfers from the Continental US that would be sure to vote for statehood. And the deal was made too sweet for President Eisenhower to resist. Sixty-six percent of the land mass was turned over to the federal government and an agreement was drafted that in the case of an invasion, the US Federal Government would not be obligated to protect the handful of towns and villages, only territorial holdings.
Enlisted voters were the norm for a great many years and continues to be a successful strategy. When the proposal for a pipeline extending from Prudhoe Bay through the heart of Alaska, emptying out in Valdez was presented to the environmentally conscious Alaskan voters, it was turned down several times. No problem. The size of the military increased. Companies in favor of the pipeline hired their technical assistants, their clerks and their office managers from a resume of faithful oil industry employees. Zoning laws were manipulated to break the solid blocs of opponents into weaker segments and attaching them to pipeline proponents. By 1970, there was an offer on the table so dazzling few Alaskans could resist it. High paying jobs for everyone, energetic growth, and a cut in the oil revenue profits. The pipeline was official.
In that same breathless moment, Alaska became the official home of the carpet bagging industry. It stumbled through mud-slinging campaigns, numbed itself against first time mayors, representatives and assembly seats that promised the world on a silver platter, than when elected, milked the oil rich government funds for all they were worth. It settled down to a reliance on a good old boy platform whose members sprang from the first wave of oil revenue pocket liners.
The good old boys. Funny how we used to berate them, scream about their political choices, accuse them of wasteful spending, yet now it seems almost like it would be a blessing to have them back. If we disagreed with them, if we felt they sometimes used legislative policy to buy into opportunities in real estate and mineral resources before the general public had a chance, we could usually rely on them to look out for our well-being.
Alaskans didn’t have it so bad back then. There was more of a share the wealth than trickle down policy in effect. Even though with the pipeline, the Homestead Act was withdrawn, there was still plenty of cheap land available for aspiring home owners. The percentage received by the State was invested in stocks, with the proceeds placed in a general fund that dispersed dividends each year to all Alaskan residents as listed stock holders. The Native Alaskans used the monies they received for lease sales of their lands to oil companies for forming stock holding corporations that helped improve their life styles. Modern schools were built, integrating all the newest technology, some of them complete with science labs, expensive audio/video equipment and indoor swimming pools, even among the elementary grade school levels. Beautiful public parks were created with ball fields, play grounds, disc golf courses and well marked walking trails. For the most part, people were compliant and voted for the same good old boys again and again.
By the year 2006, the Federal Government of the United States had changed all this. An investigation into the alleged corrupt bastard’s club, a consortium of eleven Alaskan legislators, of which one was Democrat, revealed their club was well named. Oil company executive Tim Allen was charged with bribery and on his testimony, State Speaker of the House, Pete Kott, and Representative, Vic Kohring, were placed behind bars. Shaken from the lion’s den, Senator Frank Murkowski and Congressman Don Young fled state. Even the king of Alaskan politics, Senator Ted Stevens, was under investigation. Alaska was literally left without a voter supported legislative body. It was the perfect time for self-motivated achievers like Sarah Palin to step in.
Palin won the 2006 election for governor by a landslide; an eighty percent vote. She campaigned on a platform of transparency, an end to political corruption. Within her two years of office, twenty-one ethics complaints were filed against her, including the firing of a state trooper for personal reasons and consequent firing of Public Safety Commissioner, Walt Monegan, for protesting her actions, appointing friends to official capacity, including the Anchorage Chief of Police, taking a public position on a mining ballot days before it came for public vote, charging the State for a $150,000 designer wardrobe and bringing her children with her while she campaigned for Vice-Presidency. She further complicated the ethics violations investigation by improperly using the Alaska Trust Fund to help pay off more than $500,000 in legal debts stemming from ethics complaints. Sarah resigned from her governorship, stating her hands were tied and she could more liberally assist the American people as a civilian.
She abandoned Alaska, for a short time. Of course, when you live in a wealthy state with a low population, there is no rest from the entrepreneurs. With state wide general elections coming up, all eyes turned once again to the lucrative business of becoming an Alaskan legislator. Sarah Palin once again geared up her campaign to become Alaska’s sweetheart, attending a book signing that was curiously staged only on a military base, Fort Richardson, with a special assortment of invited guests from Anchorage, and tagging along with tea party favorite, Glen Beck to the Alaskan Republican Convention to support their favorite candidate, an unknown who suddenly popped out of the bush, Joe Miller.
The Barracuda and the Swordfish
Palin’s purpose, in her own words, was “to take down Senator Lisa Murkowski”. It was no secret that Palin and Murkowski did not get along. During her short tenure as governor, Sarah’s circumference to Lisa, a fellow Republican, was like a brawl between the captain of the girl’s soccer team and the president of the debate club. It was also no secret that Lisa Murkowski was vulnerable. Beside the fact that she didn’t qualify as a home coming queen and beauty contest winner, Lisa was the daughter of the now infamous and reclusive ex-Senator, Frank Murkowski, who awarded her his seat when he bowed out of Alaskan politics.
This historic move did not make Alaskans happy. Declaring that Lisa had been appointed through nepotism, there was quite a bit of grumbling for awhile and the mood toward the law making body in general, augmented by the on-going corruption investigation, became increasingly hostile. However, when the next general election occurred in 2008, Lisa Murkowski retained her seat by a majority vote. The public had forgiven her the transgressions of her father.
Possibly, part of what helped Lisa Murkowski to retain her position was that no ethics complaints had been filed against. Part of it was that she performed her duties quite admirably. Although her platform struck some disagreement; she supported the financial bail-out and the Afghanistan War, it was all considered legislative business as usual, and the decisions were met with broad yawns instead of active indignation.
She voted for a popular children’s health care program that allowed states to expand coverage to children from families earning up to 300 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. The re-authorization extends coverage for over 6 million children currently enrolled in the program and expands the program to include an additional 3.5 million eligible low-income children and children of the working poor. She voted yes on a piece of legislation that would establish supplies for biofuels to obtain energy security and transportation. It would also promote energy efficiency, cost effective and environmentally friendly public buildings, and establish provisions for energy diplomacy and security. She was voted in as top ranking Republican of the Senate Energy Commission.
Senator Murkowski developed a reputation for standing up to the little guy. While Sarah Palin created an unnatural disaster for the Alaskan fishing industry by pulling the funds for new fisheries, upgraded hatcheries, and village fishermen relief during her governorship, Senator Murkowski supported a bill to give five million dollars in disaster aid to Yukon River king salmon fishermen hammered by years of poor runs and fishing restrictions, in May of 2010. She was one of five Republican leaders who voted with Democrats for the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. She even saved Santa Claus.
When a scandal arose in 2009 over the possibility of pedophiles or sex offenders in the letter exchange Santa Claus program, the United Postal Service decided to pull their support of the fifty-five year old program whereby children write letters to Santa Claus at the Alaska community of North Pole and receive responses written by volunteers. Senator Murkowski immediately placed a plea with the postal service, reaching a compromise that the traditional Santa Claus House would not be shut down, only met with greater restrictions and supervision.
It must rile Sarah Palin at least a little bit that while she was voted in with the highest margin of popular votes in the history of Alaska, she left her governorship in complete disgrace, while Lisa Murkowski, portrayed as a pampered princess, appointed to a seat, became one of Alaska’s most agreeable Senators. Remaining true to her barracuda reputation of destroying anyone who stood in her path, Palin was determined to take Lisa down.
The incumbent usually receives the support of the sponsored party during the primaries for election. Sarah Palin knew that if Senator Murkowski won the primary ticket in Alaska’s Republican dominated Senate, Murkowski would win the general election. She was determined this wasn’t going to happen.
Backed by funds from the Tea Party, Palin energized an active campaign to introduce a favored friend to the candidacy. Thousands of dollars were spent on advertisements and negative publicity for Senator Murkowski’s legislative history. Glen Beck arose from his spotlight throne to fly to Alaska and rally for the candidate best suited to his own particular brand of fundamentalist, Republican politics. While the refugee population of New Alaskans, as they are so fond of calling themselves, who rushed to Alaska over the last five years to escape the real estate collapse and growing joblessness, were completely enamored with the Hollywood media glitz, the local Alaskans were not.
Several hundred unmentioned by the media citizens stood outside the Republican Rally held November 11, 2010 to protest the presence of the Tea Party in Alaska. Among them were spokes people for the Alaskan Natives who accused the Tea Party of inciting racism and said the new Republican platform would generate discriminatory job hiring practices. An Alaskan blog, called Mudflats, covers the experience of attending the somewhat infamous convention with a photographic display of the protest and a few blurbs concerning the requisites for entering the convention center. According to the author, “We are immediately greeted by someone in a vest who “wands” us and asks to see inside my bag. I pass the quick peek test, and proceed into the lobby and make my way directly to the bar. I’m wondering what would happen if they actually found a gun. Alaska prides itself on its concealed carry laws, and the Second Amendment Task Force was actually planning an open carry day at the public library to protest the “No Handguns” sign on the library doors. What would happen if someone was thrown out of a Glenn Beck/Sarah Palin event for carrying a gun, I muse?”
A lot of Alaskans are asking the same question. They aren’t very happy that an established government figure whose politics managed to keep a lot of the people happy most of the time, was muscled out by a virtual unknown, solely on the basis of a celebrity who had never before spent even one day in Alaska and could not possibly know a thing about Alaskan issues.
In fact, they are very doubtful that the new Republican elective, Joe Miller, knows much about Alaska, either. The most they can gather is that he hails from an early farm life in Kansas, attended Yale and claims to be in love with Alaska; or at least, Alaskan resources. Many agree they would just like to see him go home.
His record to date, has not set very well with the local constituents. Sen. Lisa Murkowski wants conservative Joe Miller to repay the federal government $13,677 for farm subsidies he received for land in Kansas in the 1990s plus interest. The Alaska Dispatch reported that Miller received $7,235 in federal farm subsidies from 1991 to ’97.
At a town hall meeting, Joe Miller announced he wanted an end to the seventeenth amendment. The Fairbanks News Miner reported that Miller stated the idea of a living, changing Constitution was “bullcrap,” and said he would support an amendment for term limits as well as an amendment repealing the 17th Amendment, which allows for the direct election of senators by the public rather than by state legislatures.
During his campaign against her, Joe Miller claimed that Senator Murkowski had investments in CitiGroup, JP Morgan, and Goldman Sachs. “Each year Senator Murkowski discloses her financial assets for public scrutiny. Her form shows that like many hard working Alaskans Senator Murkowski has saved for her children’s education and retirement through investments in mutual funds and savings accounts. Joe, unfortunately, has failed to file his public disclosure form on time. In fact it is over five months late. To make accusations while hiding your own assets from public scrutiny is the epitome of hypocrisy. Of course it is possible that Joe is simply hiding something. As an Alaskan I ask, what are you hiding Joe?” answered Lisa’s Campaign Manager Kevin Sweeney.
Joe Miller says he wants to limit the amount of federal influence in Alaskan politics. More to the point, he wants to whittle federal funds from Alaskan social programs. According to a September 25th. Article in the Anchorage Daily News, written by Sean Cockerham, Joe Miller said on a candidate survey before the Republican primary election in August that he wants to eliminate federal funding for education and opposes federal student loans. He’s called federal unemployment benefits unconstitutional, although apparently he didn’t raise much of a protest when his wife was collecting unemployment.
In the meantime, Lisa Murkowski has been waging her own war with the federal government. On September 16, federal park rangers arrested 70 year old Jim Wilde, fifty miles upstream from Circle (Central Alaska) on the Yukon River. The rangers’ boat approached Wilde’s, demanding to conduct a boat safety check. “There ain’t a cop anywhere in the world that would expect you to pull over in the middle of a highway,” said Wilde, “same as a river.”
Because of the ongoing case against him, Wilde, who was on a hunting trip, did not want to go into specifics about the arrest. But according to Wilde’s attorney’s account related in an Associated Press story, the two rangers trained shotguns on Wilde, his wife Hannelore, 72, and their friend 65-year-old Fred Schenk, as Wilde was headed to shore. Just after he set anchor, the rangers threw the 70-year-old to the ground and “roughed him up,” attorney Bill Satterberg told the AP.
Governor Parnell announced the actions of the federal government at a press conference, stating that the administration’s battles with federal agencies over resource development were nothing new, but by targeting an individual citizen the federal government is taking it to “another level.”
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski had earlier written to National Park Service director Jonathon Jarvis asking for a full review of the incident. In a news release, Murkowski called the arrest “questionable” and the behavior of the Park Service officers “provocative.”
In a surprising move, the Senate Energy Commission decided to allow Murkowski to keep her seat even though she had been defeated in the primaries. This must have been a very painful reminder for Sarah Palin, whose most enlightened energy decision was to prevent a hydro-electric dam from being built in her very own Matanuska Valley because it might disturb the mosquito beds.
Even more surprising was that if Murkowski had followed the precedent set by Sarah Palin, she would have been out there campaigning to keep her Senate seat instead of doing her job. Murkowski intends to run, even though she doesn’t have a party platform to stand on. Initially, because of her defeat, she considered the Libertarian ticket, but her support for an active defense program created a conflict of interest. Even though she was defeated at the Republican Convention, she still has an approval rating among 37% of the voters.
The Tea Party might be cackling over the upset of Sarah Palin’s adversary, but Lisa Murkowski will probably still go down in history as one of Alaska’s most enigmatic personalities. There are many Alaskan residents who feel the presence of Continental US celebrities at their Republican Convention is meddling in State affairs over which they should have no jurisdiction. They are angry at the Tea Party that came to Anchorage, propping itself with spotlight glazed cheerleaders and generous funds for their designated golden boy. They want to send Dorothy back to Kansas.
Whether Lisa Murkowski wins the November election or not, she will receive the highest percentage of write-in’s ever seen in an Alaskan election. Whether she wins or not, both Democrats and Republicans will be supporting her. If she wins, Alaska will breathe a sigh of relief that its last remaining “good old boy” is still in a Senate seat, legislating with her sometimes popular, sometimes unpopular remedies to our issues and crisis. If she loses, the rift between liberal and fundamentalist Alaska will become greater, more traumatic. If she loses, she could easily be the spark that lights the powder keg of Alaska’s explosive politics.
Karla Fetrow: Sarah Palin has vowed to bring Lisa Murkowski down, and it seems she succeeded at the Republican Convention, but for Lisa and many Alaskans, the fight isn’t finished.