A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about candidates making music videos for their campaigns. I said that as far as I knew, Forrest Dunbar, the Democrat running for Rep. Don Young’s seat, was the first candidate of this season to use a music video as a campaign tool. I was wrong. Alaska Constitution Party candidate J.R. Myers, a counselor from Haines, was the first, as he reminded me in a comment on the music video post. Neither Myers nor his party get a lot of media attention, as third party candidates tend not to. But he’s interesting, in a greeny, lefty, tea partesque, pro-development kind of way. He’s a pro-life Christian with a deep environmental streak, and aside from Gov. Sean Parnell, Myers is the only gubernatorial candidate that I know of who is against repealing the oil tax legislation. “Alaska needs to present a stable and disciplined fiscal environment,” he said recently. “We have had enough economic chaos and reckless spending. We need to stabilize the tax structure.” Go figure. And then there’s this video:
A poll paid for by independent gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker shows that Walker is just one point behind Gov. Sean Parnell, if the two were able to go head-to-head in the general election without a third candidate. However, throw Democratic candidate Byron Mallott into the mix, and Parnell beats Walker by about 14 percent and Mallott by 26 percent. When Mallott and Parnell are put together, Parnell wins by about 21 percent. (The questions and results are below.)
The take-away, according to Ivan Moore, who conducted the poll: Continue reading
Independent gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker is on the air, making him the first candidate in the governor’s race who has bought television time. The ads, four in all, three of which so far are on TV, highlight Walker as a man of action, a family man who isn’t afraid to take risks. The best one, I think, is the one below that’s running in Fairbanks. It isn’t the slickest commercial, but the question Walker asks in it is very good one. Watch here:
The answer for most residents is a resounding “No.” Fairbanks is not better off than it was six years ago. Home heating costs have skyrocketed in Fairbanks. The air is not cleaner. The quality of life is not better. It’s a stretch to say that Parnell is responsible for all that ails the Interior city. But that Fairbanks sits only a few hundred miles from the largest energy fields in North America, and yet some residents are being forced to choose between food and heating oil, is if nothing else, a stark display of lack of leadership, which appears to be exactly Walker’s point.
On Thursday, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Byron Mallott said that Gov. Sean Parnell was misleading the public about the state budget in a fundraising email that Parnell’s campaign sent out bragging about his fiscal record. “As Washington D.C. continues to overspend and overregulate, Governor Sean Parnell cut state general fund spending by $1.1 billion in the 2015 budget,” the fundraising email said.
Mallott, who isn’t known so far for his brass-knuckles responses, fired back: “Under Sean Parnell, Alaska has undergone an unprecedented fiscal collapse. Parnell took a $5 billion surplus and turned it into a $2 billion deficit,” Mallott wrote.
Indeed, Parnell is on tricky ground here. While he can technically say that he cut the budget, it’s only because his past budgets were so big. Too, the state took a whole category out of that budget. In previous years, the state’s contribution to the state’s retirement program had been in the operating budget. In fiscal year 2015, it’s not. In part, that’s because the state took an unprecedented $3 billion from the Constitutional Budget Reserve and put it towards the ballooning retirement program.
Many lauded Parnell for pushing, and for the Legislature passing, the one-time payment. But though it was likely wise fiscal policy, at least some portion of that should have been included in the budget in order to get an accurate comparison to previous years’ budgets. (See Brad Keithley’s blog post on that issue here.)
For his part, Mallott also appears to be doing some creative accounting. He leaves out the $3 billion when he refers to “liquidated budget surpluses.”
What is true is that under Parnell, the state is going into nearly $2 billion deficit spending. And at the same time, Parnell who signs the budget, as well as the Legislature which proposes it, have continually excoriated Washington D.C. for overspending. In April, Parnell signed a resolution passed by the Legislature calling for a federal balanced budget.
“Now it is time the federal government takes the necessary steps to address its out-of-control debt. America remains on an unsustainable spending path and we cannot rely on Congress or the president to fix this problem,” he said.
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Gov. Sean Parnell filed his disclosure with the Alaska Public Offices Commission on Wednesday morning, showing that he has raised $407,253 this election cycle, which ran from April 15, 2013 to Feb. 1 of this year. He spent $76,220, leaving him with a hefty amount to spend on the race.
Parnell’s campaign said in a press release that about 93 percent of that money came from 1,100 Alaskan donors, who are limited to $500 donations per year.
“I am both grateful and humbled by the incredible amount of support shown by Alaskans,” Parnell said in the release. “Our message of proven leadership and opportunity for all Alaskans is resonating.”
The reports aren’t officially due until Saturday. The other candidates, independent Bill Walker and Democrat Byron Mallott haven’t yet filed their reports. Neither was immediately available for comment.
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In an interview on Monday evening, businessman and Alaska Native leader Byron Mallott said that he’s “definitely” putting his hat in the race for governor against Gov. Sean Parnell, and that he will run as a Democrat.
Due to the restrictive primary system, Mallott, who is 70 years old and lives in Juneau, has been registered as a nonpartisan for 12 years and has worked and supported Republican, independent and Democratic candidates. However, he’s been a Democrat most of his life, he said.
Mallott declined to give specifics about his platform, but he did say that he was born and raised in Alaska, and feels passionately about the state and the place of Alaska in the union. “It’s literally another country in size and richness of resources, but in many ways it’s a small town. The way we deal with one another should reflect that uniqueness,” he said.
Democratic state Sen. Hollis French has filed papers to run for statewide office and has said that he was considering running for governor. It’s unclear if the news about Mallott will do anything to dissuade him from running. He couldn’t be reached for comment on Monday evening.
Mallott brings a unique understanding and perspective to both government service and the private sector, as well as to the rural/urban divide that plagues Alaska, and he’s got the resume to prove it. At 22, he was the mayor of Yakutat. He was commissioner of the Alaska Department of Community and Regional Affairs under Gov. Bill Egan. He served as mayor of Juneau before becoming the executive director of the Alaska Permanent Fund. He was the CEO of Sealaska Corp, president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, and has served on the board of many corporations, including Alaska Airlines and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
He’s clan leader of the KwaashKiKwaan clan of the Raven tribe of Yakutat. His wife Toni is a retired elementary school teacher. They have five children.
Polls show that Parnell is popular in the state, but they also show that his popularity is rather shallow. In other words, he’s likable enough, but it’s not clear that there’s real commitment behind his support. Mallott is expected to start his campaign with deep pockets of support in Southeast Alaska, the Alaska Native community, and in some business sectors. He’s known to be passionate, tough, and smart and because no Alaska Native has been governor, the race has the potential to be imbued with history-making excitement.
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Cutting government budgets is always difficult. There are always lots of needs, lots of government programs and services. And all of these needs, programs and services have constituencies. And all of these constituencies have a legislator or three who share their values and concerns. This is why government budgets are difficult to cut.
And it’s really hard to cut the budget when oil prices are sky high and revenues are gushing into our state coffers. In 2004, the state’s share of the operating and capital budget was about $2.3 billion. In 2011, it was about $5.4 billion. For fiscal year 2014, it’s expected to be more than $7 billion. Some of the explanation for the increase is the declining federal dollars that are coming into the state. Most of it, however, is simply out-of-control spending.
The budget has increased 55 percent since Gov. Sean Parnell took over.
Both parties bear the blame for this astronomical rise in state spending, but the Republicans bear the majority of it. They have mostly been in control of the Legislature and have held the governorship since 2002. And it’s worth noting that the governor in Alaska has the power of line item veto. Parnell could cut as much as he wants, if he chose to.
Until now, our fiscally conservative governor has chosen not to, mostly because he hasn’t had to. But due to the decline of oil production, coupled with the tax cut to oil companies, coffers are going to shrink in the coming years.
Spending is one of Parnell’s big vulnerabilities. And someone is bound to capitalize on it. Democrats, who are always complaining about budget cuts, aren’t in the position to do so. Independent candidate Bill Walker could be hammering away at this, but since announcing he’s been spending his time dealing in pipe dreams.
So Bradford Keithley, a former lawyer with Perkins Coie and now a consultant on oil and gas issues, looks to be diving into the wreck. On Monday, he told me that depending on how Parnell’s budget shapes out, he might run for governor, implying that he would do so as an independent.
Apparently, even mulling over the possibility is verboten to those fiscally conservative Republicans. Keithley has since been disinvited to speak about fiscal issues at the Republican Women’s Club meeting on Sept. 9, though his name is still on the agenda.
And that is likely just the start of what will be a slow but steady attempt at character assassination.
Nevertheless, Keithley or any other candidate, including Walker or Hollis French, could have considerable influence if they play their cards right and continually call attention to some specifics of what many would consider government gone wild with our money, paid for by big oil, thanks very much.
In 1975, U.S. Sen. William Proxmire from Wisconsin began to hand out what he called the “Golden Fleece Awards” calling out officials for specific examples of wasting public money. The Washington Post called the award “the most successful public relations device in politics,” and it is still being used by various groups today.
It seems that something like this could be put to good use in Alaska.
There are probably lots of areas where the budget could be cut. Here are a few examples, some of them very small, some not so small, of areas that have either raised eyebrows or will be subject to scrutiny in the next legislative session:
- The state paid $6.3 million for the movie “On Frozen Ground.” To recap: the state paid that much to help Hollywood make the film about Alaska’s baker serial killer. That might have been all well and good. Lots of Alaskans were hired and got brief roles in the film, and at least one lefty blogger got to have dinner with John Cusack. However, somehow $6.3 million doesn’t even buy you an opening in Anchorage. Worse yet, Anchorage is portrayed in the film as an “anteroom of hell.” As one reviewer put it, “The folk at the local tourist board will watch it through their fingers.”
- Alaska is one of four states that doesn’t require its state workers, including state legislators, to pay some portion for monthly health care premiums as part of their health care benefits package. The average that other state workers pay is 20 percent.
- The Alaska Railroad managed to get $14 million put in the last budget in the final hours of the legislative session, per Parnell’s request. And it will need more than $100 million in the next three to five years to comply with federal regulations to continue passenger service. Some members of the Legislature are frustrated with the railroad. First it has a reputation of arrogance, particularly when dealing with the 17,970 acres that it either leases out, or often refuses to lease out. Secondly, it opposes being subjected to the Executive Budget Act, which would give legislators a greater role in its budget.
- Grants to supposed nonprofits that haven’t gotten it together to become an official nonprofit in the eyes of the IRS could or should be in trouble. I’ve found at least three examples of this during a cursory search, including the Moose Federation, which has gotten more than $2 million dollars to, among other things, keep the boys who run the program driving big, brand new trucks. The Gulf of Alaska Keeper got $1 million for tsunami clean up. At last posting by the IRS, Paxson Community Affairs , which received about $48,000 last year, had its IRS tax exempt status revoked in 2011. Warning: just because they aren’t tax exempt organizations doesn’t mean that they aren’t doing good work. However, it might be telling that they claim to be nonprofits, but aren’t really. As I said, these are just a few examples and there are likely many others.
- The state gave the Alaska State Fair more than $718,000 in the 2013 fiscal year. The fair paid its lobbyist $110,000. That’s more than the Municipality of Anchorage pays their lobbying team, more than the Mat-Su Borough pays their two lobbyists combined, and more than any utility pays their lobbyist in the entire state.
- Perhaps it was for good reason, but that the Department of Natural Resources recently paid $20,000 to Bear Mountain Lodge in Southwest Alaska, and $54,000 to Perrins Rainy Pass Lodge in the Alaska Range. Both were categorized as travel expenses.
- The Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development (DCCED) is spending $700,000 to create a new “brand” for Alaska goods, which is all well and good, and might actually do some good. But the plan will focus on developing the state’s smaller marketing programs like minerals, forest products, agriculture, film, and other Alaska made goods, goods of which — aside from minerals — Alaska produces very little.
Once again, these are just a few examples of what could be construed as government waste. At least some of these programs, and others, will likely come under scrutiny at budget time. More examples to come. Stay tuned.
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