Walker-Mallott transition teams talked away the weekend

walker transition picTransitions, before political realities take hold, are always time for optimism. It’s before lawmakers and the governor head to Juneau. Before budgets and bills are introduced. Before committee hearings begin and the presentations start. Before the oilies and the anti-oilies and everyone in between muscle their way into things. Before all of this—particularly with this new administration that has put an Obama-like value on such things–anything feels possible. Mostly, it feels like everyone can get along and talk to one another. Ask nearly any of the 250 Alaskans who gathered for the Walker-Mallott transition at the UAA campus this weekend, and most would likely tell you a version of how wonderful it was that so many different types of people from all across the state gathered to talk to each other. Or, as co-chair of the transition Rick Halford put it, “It put a little less cynicism and a lot more hope,” into the process.

Indeed, hope did seem to abound during most of the 17 work sessions at the conference, where the 250 Alaskans gathered in groups to talk about some of the state’s more contentious issues and to provide recommendations to the governor on how to begin to solve those issues. There was unanimity, I’m told, in the healthcare committee, where they decided that the state’s Department of Health and Social Services needs new leadership and Medicaid needs to be expanded. In the fiscal policy committee, they agreed that the budget needed to be cut and that projects, including the Susitina damn,  the Knik Arm Bridge,  Juneau and Ambler Roads, and the buillet line needed to go. They also talked about doing away with the Alaska Aerospace Corp. And they came up with some nice, lofty goals in the economic development committee.

That’s not to say all went smoothly. The oil and gas committee, where I spent most of my time on Saturday and Sunday, got contentious at moments, as it should have when dealing with an industry that pays for about 90 percent of the state’s general fund, say nothing of the fact that people from big oil and small oil and from government were involved. Throw in a handful of lawyers and you’ve got the makings for a powder keg.

But although there was tension–at one point, it was even suggested that an outside lawyer might have to be brought in because of possible accusations of monopolistic activity– I don’t think I’m overstating things when I say that oil and gas are issues that are going to make or break the Walker administration, and all of the 15 committee members seemed to understand that. A lawyer wasn’t brought in. They worked it out, as they did almost everything else. Some might trust Walker more than others, but everyone there has an interest in Walker’s success. As one member, JR Wilcox from Cook Inlet Energy put it, “If we can get oil and gas right, everything else kind of takes care of itself.”

Here were the members of the committee:

  • Bryan Clemenz, Ch2M Hill.
  • Lisa Parker, Apache Corp.
  • Dave Van Tuyl, BP
  • Lisa Wiessler, environmental lawyer.
  • Edward Itta, former mayor of the North Slope Borough, currently village corporation consultant.
  • Steve Wendt, Agrium.
  • Blain Gillman, Kenai lawyer.
  • JR Wilcox, Cook Inlet Energy.
  • Renee Broker, Fairbanks North Star Borough.
  • Kevin Banks, former director for DNR’s oil and gas division.
  • Kara Moriarty, Alaska Oil and Gas Association.
  • Marty Rutherford, former DNR deputy commissioner, currently with Linc Energy.
  • Kevin Darling, Petroleum Equipment Services.
  • Joe Paskvan, lawyer and former state senator.

Robin Brena was the chair. He’s a well-known lawyer who works for local governments and relatively small energy companies, including some at the table, against the big ones. He’s often successful. He took his duties seriously. He even brought in two members of his staff to help, one of whom could type 110 words a minute.

They focused on nine areas of priority, with particular emphasis on tax policy, government efficiencies, and lower cost energy.

The more contentious suggestions within these issues involved whether or not to encourage Gov.-elect Bill Walker to stick with the current progress that’s been made on the big LNG line, which many felt was too constricting for Walker, and whether the government should be involved in forcing the majors to open up their facilities to the independents, which most in the group favored. Expect much more of this in upcoming administrative decisions and legislative sessions.

A report is being prepared that will incorporate all the recommendations and a summary of the discussions. The other transition teams will also as be preparing reports.

No one knows how much Walker will or won’t use of this. But that might not actually be the point of this exercise or of the whole weekend. The point might be that all these different people, with many conflicting ideas and agendas, sat down and listened to each other’s concerns and were able to agree on more than they disagreed.

As Brena put it, “Solutions aren’t found in groups where everyone agrees. Solutions are found in talking to people who don’t agree with you.”

Contact Amanda Coyne at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com


19 thoughts on “Walker-Mallott transition teams talked away the weekend

  1. DB Cooper

    I will second and third that motion to shutdown the alaska aerospace dev corporation. I don’t know if you have ever seen the $300K plus and $200K plus salaries over there, but they need some serious curtailment. Some of those folks are in the top 10 and top 5 earners in state government. Just verify it in the report of those making over $150k put out by the state over the past few years. Lastly, we really need to seriously cut this AGIA support group at AKDOR. Seriously, how many master auditors do we really need? What kind of spending has been approved over there and on what by these folks mostly comprised of Palin leftovers.

  2. Kara Moriarty

    AKisGrowing: Thanks for your comments. As the professional trade association for the industry in Alaska, I represent the majority of the companies exploring, producing, transporting and refining oil and gas in Alaska. My membership includes Alyeska, Apache, BP, Chevron, eni, ExxonMobil, Hilcorp, PetroStar, Caelus, Repsol, Shell, Statoil, Tesoro and XTO…. so when I share industry perspective/thoughts… it is the consensus of this broad representation of all these companies – big and small.

  3. Andy Matoon Scott

    Look at it this way… we sell two of your rookie baseball cards and it should cover the meeting costs.
    These public input charades are just feckless fodder for the public, do you think they actually listen? Were there viable suggestions with follow up research?

    Unlike you , the government folks don’t have to produce a homerun at the plate. They sit in their private sky boxes, drink champagne and cut sweet deals. Just stay on the field and keep on swinging, after all, keeping the duped crowd happy is the main thing. The big boys may throw you a little cracker jacks if you’re lucky.

  4. Honus Wagner

    Apologies in advance for my advanced state of cynicism, however…

    It is not reasonable to believe that there will be any significant improvement in these issues based upon a $150,000 weekend brain storming session. Some good discussion, sure why not. But practical, thorough and attainable change? Not likely.

    During the campaign I saw a candidate who answered a lot of questions with something along the lines of, “I won’t know until I get there”. No real plan it seemed on many issues, particularly budget and natural resources. This makes it seem as though he is saying, “I’m the governor now, so please tell me what to do.” If that isn’t the case and he already has a plan, then this is nothing more than a feel good session to make everyone think he cares what they think and have to say.

    Not convinced. Either this is going to be taken seriously by the new governor, in which case he has no plan and never did. Or, this won’t be taken seriously and he just wanted a Kumbaya session with some key individuals, mostly on the left side of the aisle.

    Either way, it seems Walker is, as one radio host put it, the dog that finally caught the car.

  5. Crude is Rude - Gas is Groovy

    Walker-Mallott transition teams talked away the weekend…

    …yes, I agree; talked away the weekend…

    yakk yakk yakk yakk yakk ……..
    gobble gobble oink-oink
    yakk yakk yakk yakk yakk ……..

    ……….nevermind that 99% of Alaskans are still totally oblivious to the fact that for the past 40 years you have all been complicit in shipping the wrong product down TAPS.

    Are any of you brave enough to ask me how I felt when the Xxxon Valdez spilled all that horrid gassy messy illegal CHEAToil-dilbit into pristine Prince William Sound and watched it spread all the way to Kodiak ???

    ….C’mon, try me, I double-dog dare all you smarta$$ oily-lawyers to try to tell me that I’m crazy.
    [ now don’t cheat and just try to provoke me with canned stinkbombs, launch an articulate argument, I need more comedy in my life !! ]
    Your preponderance of majority-rules by traditional methods reminds me of the Hundred Years Wars in Medieval Europe, yahh some real progressive decades spent there, they accomplished a lot didn’t they !!

    I supported Walker/Mallott even though I knew they didn’t already have all the answers to the problems we face, but I knew they would provide the open-minded atmosphere we need to work on a bright future together.

    I quit working on TAPS construction in disgust before the project was finished…
    and I went on to wage a marginally successful campaign against stupid NukePower by stopping WPPSS, and getting the Trojan Nukeplant to go low-ball until the earliest possible shutdown without causing bankruptcy for that power utility.



    …the answer is a lot more complex than you think.
    and the TRUTH about Hydrogen & Carbon & all the other elements is a lot more wonderful than you can imagine.

    Alaska’s response to Fukushima is pretty anemic, I’m not impressed, you can do better !!

  6. AKisGrowing

    Amanda, thanks for spending time with the oil & gas committee as that is key to the economic success of Alaska. You mention that the group was made up of “people from big oil and small oil and from government” and “a handful of lawyers” yet I don’t see any individual big oil companies with significant production and development programs in Alaska present for the discussions. ConocoPhillips? ExxonMobil? BP? I’d even give you Hilcorp since they own 70% of Cook Inlet’s production and have made a small entrance on the slope. What about the 90% that deliver the 90%? If we’re talking about the LNG line, taxation, and making SB21 work, shouldn’t there be room for voices at the table that represent a material and unique perspective? If Walker and Brenna are serious about a broad coalition, they will need to include those from which each of them have made their personal fortunes litigating against.

  7. birchstick

    DB, can you provide some sources to these claims? I’m not saying you’re wrong, but I’ve heard the transportation issue brought up elsewhere and I’d like to know if that’s true or not and whether this money is going to provide medical services.
    Also, if this won’t serve 40,000 uninsured, how many will it affect? And lastly, what will be the total cost to the Fed govt (ie, the lower income folks as you say)? Before saying it’s going to be decades before this is paid off, I’d like to know the amount. This Alaska piece is probably a drop in the bucket of Federal debt.

  8. Northern Observer

    Amanda, I think you got it right. The weekend was more about bringing people together and showing that together with civility, we can and will effectively deal with the challenges and issues facing Alaska. The voters thru SB 21 set the framework in place for our future and it seems to be working. The lease sale last week, the numbers of workers on the North Slope and the increased revenue to the state are all solid proof and demonstrative that SB 21 works. With the precipitous fall in oil prices, without SB 21 our state coffers would be in even more trouble.
    Alaska needs to cut the budget strategically and carefully to provide real dollar savings, yet not throw the economy in a negative tailspin.
    Governor Walker needs to immediately shut down the Kodiak Aerospace Corporation – – not at the end of the fiscal year but now. Every state department doesn’t need special assistants, public information officers and legislative assistants. Also, state travel can and should be curtailed. Saving dollars starts by saving pennies. While the purpose and intent of this past weekend’s transition conference was laudable, the real question is could we afford it. The simplistic answer is “yes”. The responsible answer is “no”. I want to add my support and best wishes to Governor Walker.

  9. Lynn Willis

    I attended the Friday evening meeting and one of weekend transition group meetings as a spectator for most of that group effort. I could not help but appreciate the irony of how the dire status of our fiscal condition was delivered in the new UAA Sports Arena.
    Regarding the transition effort, what impressed me most was the effectiveness of a process that allows a civil exchange of ideas in an open forum which includes a diverse cross section of Alaskans. How threatening this must have felt to those who depend on the status quo method of decision making in far away (to most Alaskans) Juneau using the services of paid consultants coupled with the power of the closed door caucus and the ability of individual legislators to refuse to hold hearings on legislation.
    My immediate concern is that all the effort of this weekend will either not be expanded upon or neutralized by those who have access to power. I would very much like to see this process repeated in two years with as many of the same players as possible to evaluate the effectiveness of this effort.
    I don’t think the resource of gas and oil is going to get us through the impending storm as much as the resource of our people – and that was the lesson of this weekend. I can now only hope that the benefit of opening the governing process to the people was reinforced by this exercise and that the efforts of this weekend carry forward into the next four years.

  10. DB

    The reason the healthcare committee came to agreement on Medicaid expansion is that those special interests, ANTHC and ASHNA, were controlling the discussion. They got what they wanted regardless of the costs to the State and the Country. If Medicaid expansion happens, then those lower income young people will be paying for it for decades by paying off the federal debt. Along with their college debt, they just don’t understand that there is no free lunch. Who will pay for all of this? The Alaska Native community will get free transportation (not medical care) to Anchorage under Medicaid expansion. There are NOT 40,000 eligible for this. Mr Walker has been echoing the sound bit of the ANTHC and others who will get more federal dollars. It is very sad for the youth of this great nation.

  11. SnowDay

    Was there anyonepresent under 50? From the photo, it looks lilke an AARP convention. Why is it the old people are talking about my future all the time. Notice to Walker-Mallott: There are lots of bright, edicated and articulate young people that could be beneficial. No disrespect to Edward Itta, but why not Jeff Keemevak or Tara Sweeney? Let’s be inclusive, think outside the box and together build a better tomorrow – – for ALL of us. Don’t worry Bill and Byron, we’ll take care of you old guys.

  12. RTH

    You were right to focus your attention on the oil and gas transition task force for the same reasons articulated by Mr Wilcox in your story – -“if we get this right, everything else falls into place..” Let’s all hope that Governor Walker gets it right.

Comments are closed.