Like all politicians, and indeed like all of us, Gov. Sean Parnell has made his share of unfortunate comments. Mostly he’s been given a pass for his slip ups. However, one of them caught up with him on Friday, when it came out that he gave Ketchikan reporters a little lecture on realpolitik and appeared to be warning of retribution for a lawsuit that the city is involved in regarding school funding.
“I do want to address this issue of how the lawsuit is viewed by legislators and by me because it does shade or color the reaction to Ketchikan requests,” he told reporters. “When Ketchikan asks for money, but yet the state may be on the hook in the lawsuit for more money, there’s kind of a reluctance, or reticence, to step forward for other projects.”
It wasn’t the wisest thing to say, and it didn’t help that it was a slow news day on Friday, and that it’s an election year. Bill Walker, an independent candidate, jumped.
“Parnell has chosen the wrong time, the wrong issue, and the wrong people to show himself as a bulldog,” Walker said. “We need a governor who knows when to go to battle and who he should be fighting for. The governor’s comments yesterday are a blatant, public attack on local government.”
On Saturday afternoon, Democratic challenger Byron Mallott, who doesn’t appear to have a rapid response team, also put out a release.
“The merits of the Ketchikan School funding lawsuit, education funding statewide and capital spending deserve careful and informed discussion and debate not threat or intimidation,” he said.
This likely wasn’t Parnell’s intent, but if nothing else comes out of it, it was a gift for Ketchikan. It’ll be awfully difficult now for Parnell to veto funds for the city.
Parnell might be uncurious and sheltered. He’s overly cautious and captive to his right flank. But despite Walker’s characterization, Parnell’s far from a “bulldog.” And he shouldn’t try to be one, if that’s what he was trying to do, which I doubt.
If he was truly trying to intimidate, he wouldn’t be doing so through the media. Those are the kinds of things that happen in back rooms, through a legislative liaison maybe, or a chief of staff. If he were trying to intimidate, he would be doing so at arm’s length. Think New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and his bridge. Or, closer to home, Sarah Palin’s jejune hit squad, and the kind of fist thumping that characterized all of Frank Murkowski’s administration.
It seems to me that Parnell was trying to be honest, and for that, he’s paying a price, which is too bad. Rightly or wrongly, lawmakers will look askance at Ketchikan’s request for funds as the city sues for potentially hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s going to be a tough year, and everybody’s looking for excuses to withhold money. That’s just the way it is.
And given his historic abhorrence at budget cutting, this fact likely pains Parnell as much as anyone.
Not withstanding some of his policies—namely denying insurance to tens of thousands of poor Alaskans—Parnell, at his best, is a nice, Christian man who runs as squeaky clean of an administration as such a system allows. Sometimes, he’ll even forget the political ramifications and he’ll open up and be brutally honest. Sometimes we should let him.
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