Parnell plays with blunt honesty. Will we let him?

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.

Contact Amanda Coyne at


11 thoughts on “Parnell plays with blunt honesty. Will we let him?

  1. AlaskaCodPiece

    You are right, Lynn … It also was not very ‘nice’ when Parnell two years ago violated state statute and changed the mission statements for both Alaska Governor and the Dept. of Natural Resources without legislative approval. Parnell removed pesty words like “future generations” and “conserve.”

  2. Mr. G

    My hats off to you. As a rather constant critic of the governor’s policies I am pleased that you have the courage to stand up for him when its warranted. I?e gained a lot of respect for your professionalism having read this commentary.

  3. Lynn Willis

    This threat comes from the guy who hates a “big government” who won’t follow the Constitution? Apparently that depends on who offends his highness and which political party is in charge of that big government and if that government is state or federal. Why hasn’t he threatened the communities of North Pole and Dillingham for HB 245 “An Act repealing the required local contribution to school funding; making conforming changes; and providing for an effective date.” Sponsored by North Pole Representative Tammy Wilson and Dillingham Representative Bryce Edgmon? This bill would accomplish exactly what the Ketchikan lawsuit is attempting to do.

    As to his being “nice”; maybe a “nice” Governor could do such a fine job of driving this state to financial ruin and be tolerated if not forgiven. As in his latest outburst against the local government of Ketchikan I don’t see a Governor who threatens others for exercising a valid constitutional right to address a grievance in a court of law as “nice”. I don’t see a Governor who violated the State Constitution (Article 2 Section 5) when, in 2010; he created a state job for a sitting legislator then hid behind his own appointed Attorney General to avoid prosecution as being “nice”. Parnell is loyal to a very select group and to them he is indeed very “nice”. Others had better be satisfied with whatever trickles down to them and the “aw shucks” smile.

  4. AlaskaCodPiece

    ‘Squeaky clean’ administration – as long as all Commissioners et al. stick strictly to Parnell talking points and principles.

    Can you say gag order?

  5. anonymous

    If he was going to tank them, he wouldn’t have said it. This story is written everwhere. To me, it just isn’t that big of a deal.

  6. Embarrassed Alaskan

    If Parnell was older we could rack it up to dementia or old age. The fact is he’s simply embarrassing. what in the world would make a politican say such a thing? He’s not a bad guy, just seriously out of his league with a staff of equal intellects.

  7. WGA

    The walls surrounding Parnell are crumbling down – – Ketchikan threats, the AIDEA financed tank farm he didn’t know about, the DHSS $140m computer system that doesn’t work and is destroying Alaska businesses and more. The boy has been lucky. That luck doesnt look like its holding right now. Them walls come tumbling down, down, down.

  8. Nonpartisan Alaskan

    I’m bot the biggest fan of Governor Parnell’s. I’m not thrilled with the two gentlmen challenging him either. At this point, I’m still undecided as to whom I will vote for in November. Parnell sways too far to the right ideologically for me. What I do find appealing and tremendously so is his basic goodness. He seems honest, caring and kind. These are values that I fing very appealing in a public official. I don’t think the Governor was threatening anyone. In this case, his candid observations weren’t articulated very well and the outcome was OUCH ! Governor, I’d like to see most of our elected officials not be zealots of the right or left. Please don’t tack further to the right.

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