Alaska could use a brain scan machine to search for political courage

This is being written from San Diego, where I’m attending the American Association of Political Consultants annual meeting and awards ceremony. Let me say up front that I have no intention of ever becoming a political consultant. And though I knew they were around, and I’ve even met a few, including Art Hackney, who’s the president of the association, I didn’t know they existed in quite this number and that their jobs were so, well, complicated.

One academic here is even working on brain-scanning models to predict political behavior. If that doesn’t work, there’s always gerrymandering.

Even the most jaded consultants at the gathering may have been impressed with Mayor Dan Sullivan’s spin on why conservative darling Assemblyman Adam Trombley appears to have lost to union darling Pete Petersen.

According to Sullivan, Trombley lost because he wasn’t hard enough on the unions. Tell that to others who have tried being hard on them.

But it’s not over till it’s over. We’ll know next week when write-in votes are counted. Supposedly, Randy Ruedrich, the once and always chairman of the Republican Party, remains optimistic about the absentees. After all, the Republican National Committee actually sent the elusive operative Michael Shirley to Alaska to help get out the vote in East Anchorage. Or that’s what they say. Supposedly he’s been here since October.

But I’ve never laid eyes on him, nor do I know anybody who has.

It’s kind of like that mysterious group of diverse kids supposedly representing “family values,” who the other Dan Sullivan, the former DNR commissioner running for the U.S. Senate, is using on his website. Jeannie Devon from the blog Mudflats has written extensively about this.

We don’t know where the kids are from, but the photographer is from Thailand. That nice group of diverse-looking medical professionals? Alaskans? Nope.

Doesn’t Sullivan already have a political problem in Alaska with authenticity? It might seem like a small thing, but had he ever run for anything before, ever, he might know that it’s the little things that get you, as any political consultant at the conference would attest. One of the recipients of an award at the gathering, Joe Slade White, is credited for helping get the first white mayor of Detroit elected in more than 40 years over a parking space.

(Interesting factoid: White won the first-ever AAPC award in 1983 for an ad he made for former Gov. Bill Sheffield fishing with Sen. Mark Begich’s nephew.)

If GOP challenger Mead Treadwell doesn’t nail him for it, then Joe Miller, who’s rumored to be officially announcing his campaign this month, will.

Back to Mayor Dan and the little things: The issue of the tennis courts is not going away if Sen. Lesil McGuire has anything to say about it. McGuire, who’s running against Sullivan in the lite gov race, shaping up to be the liveliest of the political season, is asking the Senate Finance Committee to reappropriate money slated for the courts to Loussac Library. Considering that the money was meant for buildings built in the 1980s, that’s probably where it belongs. So says me and a legislative lawyer.

It would be up to one of the Anchorage senators on the Finance Committee to make it happen. Don’t hold your breath. Our current crop of lawmakers isn’t setting records for profiles in courage.

If there was a brain scan to predict cowardice among politicians in Juneau, Judy Eledge, queen of the Anchorage Republican Women’s Club, would have the results. Eledge, who’s never been accused of anything resembling cowardice (or holding her breath, for that matter), was spotted in Juneau last week pacing the halls, muttering about education, legislators and baseball bats.

And speaking of cowardice, to say nothing of stupid political moves: Which member of, or staff to, the “majority” phoned in an anonymous tip to the Alaska Public Offices Commission about Anchorage resident Alison Arians not registering as a “lobbyist.”

Arians, a mother and a small-businesswoman, has been spending time in Juneau trying to get more money for schools. She and a group of other mothers are paying for it out of their own pockets, pooling Alaska Airline miles and double-bunking in rented rooms. She shut down her bakery. She’s a private citizen petitioning her government, and that government responded by trying to discourage her from exercising that right.

The call from APOC “freaked me out,” she said, but now she’s even more committed to the cause.

Gov. Sean Parnell might even use the word “immoral” to describe it, as he did when he talked to AP reporter Becky Bohrer about what House Finance is doing to the teacher pension plan.

That was strong brew coming from Parnell. Or, as Hollis French might say, c’est incroyable! Finally, he’s going to fight for something other than giving money away to corporations and to pet projects! Maybe he’s even hired a consultant!

But then I heard that he visited the House Majority Caucus, apologized and took it back.

Finally: Political cowardice is not partisan and can come in all forms, including risking hurting the state for political gain, as many Dems appear to be doing with the nomination of Richard Rabinow to the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. The rub with the Dems, even though he’s the most qualified member of the board, is that he’s not an Alaskan.

Notice they’re not questioning the nomination of former Alaska state Sen. Drue Pearce to the board. She might be an Alaskan, but she’s also an energy lobbyist for D.C. firm Crowell & Moring. Clients including a whole slate of oil and gas companies, Exxon and BP, among them.

No brain scan required to figure out why she, who was once a member of the club, gets a pass.


This piece was originally published in the Anchorage Daily News.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


5 thoughts on “Alaska could use a brain scan machine to search for political courage

  1. Lynn Willis

    Mr. Mayor, while I support you in your fiscal management and attention to the energy crisis facing us, I believe that you and several other elected officials indeed “wiggled around the rules” by hiding an appropriation and/or using money appropriated for maintenance to build new construction. The appropriation was for “Project 80s critical and deferred maintenance”. If you wanted tennis courts you should have been open and honest about that.
    I attended an Army budgeting course where they stressed using budgeted funds for the stated purpose. We were invited to go see the Fort Lee, Virginia model airplane club facility, described as perhaps the finest such facility in the world. What this huge expanse of concrete represented was an appropriation for “sidewalks and patios” to Ft. Lee.
    A Lt. Colonel in facilities decided to lay these sidewalks and patios side-by-side and end-on-end to construct a heliport for the Commanding General. The instructor told us that the Lt. Colonel was still in prison and the General was retired after the Army found out how the money was used. The cement wasn’t strong enough for aircraft hence the use by the model airplane club. The point is that misappropriation of budgeted funds is a serious federal offense. Shouldn’t it also be in State and Municipal government?
    I recommend the Alaska Dispatch article by Cole dated October 10, 2013 regarding the funding for the tennis courts.

  2. Mayor Dan

    Please explain how I “wiggled around the rules” regarding the tennis courts. The tennis courts were a grant request from the Alaska Tennis Association, with support from community councils, the Assembly members from the district and numerous other groups and individuals. The Municipality partners with non-profits on similar projects, as with the new soccer fields in Kincaid, Boys and Girls club grants etc. The legislature decided to grant the money specifically for this project in a broad municipal grant. That was their decision. Again, how did I “wiggle around the rules”? As for Trombley, he alienated his base by reversing his principled stand on. Labor reform and his park antics. Neither action helped get conservative voters to the polls, or to help wave signs or make calls – his campaign consultant confirmed this in the ADN article.

  3. Catherine H.

    All the grumbling about the SARBS board and now about board members on the Alaska Gas Development Corporation seems like an immature game of “gotcha”. Yes, it is important to follow the rules, it is also important not to get so wrapped up in the little things that the big picture escapes us. I alsp find it offensive that the public officials that are always the ones playing “gotcha” are the ones that seem to offer little in terms of substantive measures. Sometimes politiical courage means doing something more than playing “gotcha”.

  4. Kathleen

    Right before the election Trombley, in promoting the Muldoon park, decided to sidestep the rules. Mayor Dan, with the tennis courts, wiggled around the rules. Look at Lynn’s comment. Again, the rules. Stop acting like imperial overlords and follow the written requirements. Now McGuire proposes the tennis court money be used as it was intended. Great! However, we just voted to not upgrade the library. (Or so the count goes as of now.) Did the voters say no because of reluctance to support a bond or because of the faults in the library building itself? McGuire should find out.

    Another complaint about Trombley was his vote to end discussion during the union pension changes. He voted to silence constituents? It’s so simple. Follow the rules, respect your voters and listen. Trombley went down because he acted like a prince; Mayor Dan is in danger of the same fate.

  5. Lynn Willis

    Last week two Alaska Senators demonstrated exactly how political courage has been destroyed in Alaska while political cowardice is subsidized . Both are committee chairs who announced that they will hold bills in their respective committees until the end of the session effectively vetoing both these bills so that their (dare I say cowardly peers) will not have to further debate these ideas nor openly vote on them. These bills have been effectively vetoed by two legislators who do not represent most Alaskans.
    This defacto veto power by individual legislators is a totally assumed power. Only the Governor is granted legislative veto power in the State Constitution and the Constitution mandates an explanation. Legislators can hold bills to death with no explanation required.
    This abuse by committee chairs is a common practice. The subject of the legislation is not important. If these legislators do not want to debate and vote on bills, then quit introducing them or have the sponsor withdraw them. Alaskans are disenfranchised when a legislator who they cannot vote into or out of office is granted veto power.
    Like them or not Bills are to be acted upon. Joint Legislative Uniform Rules demand this. No mention of power to hold bills to death is granted by these Rules.

    Alaska Joint Uniform Legislative Rule 24.(Committee Referral and Action.) (a) A committee acts on all bills referred to it and reports its actions and recommendations to the house as soon as practicable. Committee reports must be in writing and the report must be signed by a majority of the members of the committee. The report will note the recommendation of each member signing the report

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