It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve had the opportunity to write a column. A planned trip to the Alaska Press Club convention in Anchorage a couple of weeks ago, along with what Hunter Thompson might call “bad craziness” last week kept me off the Empire’s editorial page, but I’m back in the weekly swing of things for the time being.
So, as is always the case when returning from vacation, it’s time to play a little bit of catch-up with what’s gone on lately, both around the office and in this space:
• The special legislative session came to a weird end last week (technically, this week, since the house didn’t adjourn until then, but the Senate’s gaveling out on April 26 effectively ended this year’s legislative overtime). Of the three items listed on Gov. Sean Parnell’s special session call, only one — a bill increasing punishments for sex trafficking and changing law enforcement’s focus away from victims and towards their pimps — passed. Its approval was no great surprise, given widespread support for taking further measures to stop this vile practice.
The surprises came when the Senate took up one of the two more controversial parts of the session’s call, oil taxes. First, the Parnell administration advocated an oil tax bill that was substantially similar to the reform proposal the majority of the Senate vigorously opposed. Then the governor’s team on the hill did a poor job promoting the measure. Revenue Commissioner Bryan Butcher couldn’t explain what, exactly, the cuts in oil taxes would do to spur production in Alaska, the stated purpose of those cuts. Karen Rehfeld, Parnell’s budget director, then unhelpfully pointed out the governor’s plan could force the state into deficit spending as quickly as next year — this not long after the Legislature passed a budget plan that anticipated putting about $2 billion in the bank.
Clearly seeing where his oil tax cut proposal was going, Parnell pulled it out of the special session. The Senate, clearly not happy with that decision and with a legal opinion stating the governor’s pulling one item from the special session probably mooted the whole thing, adjourned. The House followed suit on Monday with the third special session item, a proposal to build a small-diameter natural gas pipeline, never really gaining much traction.
All of this sets an interesting table for the coming 2012 elections, at least on a state level. The Senate, in its current configuration, seems to have no plans to pass the tax cut measure Parnell and oil producers in Alaska want. The next play is surely to try to change the look of the Senate into a more industry-friendly body. It will be interesting to see, in this post-Citizens United landscape, how many political action committees suddenly spring up in Alaska, advocating for “energy independence,” “American values” or the like, and how many members of the Senate’s bipartisan leadership group are suddenly labeled “soft on crime,” “anti-independence,” “un-American,” or, horror of horrors, “liberal.” It’s unfortunately become politics as usual to demonize an opponent when you can’t demonize his or her ideas or ideals, and we’re certain to see some of that if a poll commissioned by Sen. Hollis French is any indication. The Anchorage Democrat — who is part of the Senate’s ruling caucus and campaigned to challenge Parnell in the 2010 primary — touted a poll conducted by the Hayes Research Group in a March press release. The survey showed half of Alaskans think oil taxes are either too low or just right, while only 30 percent believe them to be too high (20 percent were undecided).
There’s an old saying that goes: “If the facts are on your side, argue the facts. If the law is on your side, argue the law. If you have neither, call the other guy an SOB.” Proponents of oil tax reduction seem to be at the name-calling stage at this point.
• Ted Nugent pleaded guilty to transporting a bear illegally killed in Southeast three years ago. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor violation of the Lacey Act after it was learned he shot and killed a black bear after hitting, but not killing another bear during the same hunting season, which violated a bag limit for the area, according to the Associated Press.
In Nugent’s defense, the law he was charged with breaking seemed pretty obscure. Nugent said he didn’t know about the law, and neither did his attorney. Even the judge said the rule was “probably … not widely known, and if there is a side benefit to the agreement reached here today — since apparently newspapers are interested in Mr. Nugent and his doings — this probably will serve to alert a great many hunters to that very issue and may, in fact, prevent violations in the future and court activity for a whole slew of folks,” the AP quoted U.S. District Court Magistrate Michael Thompson as saying.
Another side benefit, however, is that Alaska is much less likely to see Nugent in the near future, as part of his plea agreement requires him to avoid hunting in Alaska for one year.
Nugent, who has been struggling to remain relevant ever since “Cat Scratch Fever” fell off the charts, has proven to be an embarrassment not only to himself, but to gun rights advocates, firearm owners and hunters for years now. Advocacy for those positions is fine, and has even paid off in a U.S. Supreme Court decision that there is an individual, not collective right to own a firearm, which is the right reading of the Second Amendment that was overlooked for years.
But Nugent is hardly the man anyone should want making his or her case for them. He’s threatened violence, albeit with a nod and a wink, against Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and others who disagree with him or his positions. He’s pleaded guilty to another hunting violation in California less than two years ago, according to the AP, losing his right to hunt deer there. When reasonable people who advocate for gun rights and responsible gun owners and hunters get labeled as “gun nuts,” Nugent and his actions are one of the main reasons why. Alaska’s hunting and gun-owning communities are better off without him, and frankly the state as a whole is as well.
• Contact Deputy Managing Editor Charles Ward at 523-2266 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.