The session that dismantled Palin’s legacy

It took awhile to purge Gov. Sarah Palin. It took longer than people expected. After all, what could one governor do to a state in less than two years?  Ask those who are busy in Juneau dismantling her two big initiatives, ones that she ran on as a vice presidential candidate: oil taxes and her attempt to incentivizing the building of a large natural gas pipeline.

Palin, for better or for worse, was an active governor at a time when the public was ready for action. As most know, she swooped in on the heels of what appeared at the time to be an Alaska-sized corruption scandal. She swooped in on the heels of a split in the Republican Party between the more urban chamber of commerce Republicans and their more ideological brethren. She swooped in during record high oil prices. She swooped in as the first female governor. And swooped with the public firmly on her side.

That gave her a lot of leverage to do big things, for what at the time seemed to many like really good reasons. She pounded the oil industry with a huge tax increase, and she passed law to get a large diameter natural pipeline built by sidestepping the industry. Now Palin in the rear-view mirror, oil production on the decline, and a large diameter pipe dream once again sound asleep within the arms of the industry–those so-called good ideas don’t seem so great anymore.

None of the alternatives are perfect — any policy in reaction to another piece of policy won’t be — particularly ones that’s been leveraged on the state. More specifically, the oil tax revamp probably gives too much away to the big producers — ConocoPhillips, BP and Exxon. It will likely result in budget deficits before production increases, if production does indeed increase. And it has, once again, showed how weak the state has become by allowing itself to be nearly completely dependent on oil revenue. (It should be noted that if oil prices drop, which many predict, this bill gives the state more protection than current law.)

And then there’s House Bill 4 which will facilitate the development of a small diameter pipeline running from the North Slope to Southcentral Alaska. The bill provides funding to bring the project to open season, at which time the economics will dictate if it makes sense, or at least tell us what kind of state dollar infusion it will need. In other words, it’s not a done deal yet, but it’s a big statement that the big dream of a big pipeline is all but dead, as is Palin’s big pipeline plan, AGIA.

HB 4 too is less than perfect and it only passed in tandem with, SB 23, the LNG trucking bill, which has its own problems. The plan to truck LNG to Fairbanks is just a band aid. Everyone knows that, and an expensive one at that. There are likely cheaper, more efficient ways to help solve Fairbanks’ energy crisis. But state leadership is so weak, ideas have been put off for so long, it’s the only short-term, politically palatable solution left.

In any case, no matter the flaws in the bills, this legislative session put the last nail in the Palin-regime coffin. And she’ll never again be able to point to what she did in Alaska to further any political aspirations she has left.

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