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Using Sierra Club playbook, state's business community holds elected leaders accountable

Posted: May 29, 2012 - 12:00am

Holding elected officials accountable is an essential part of our democracy. Indeed, it is something we need more of, not less, in these days of political gridlock.

The Alaska Business Report Card (ABRC) is an effort to do just that. Comprised of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, the Resource Development Council, the Alaska Support Industry Alliance and ProsperityAlaska, this group gathers each year to hammer out letter grades on Alaska’s state officials.

Even though this is our third year of working together as a group, we are still relatively new to the grading and ranking process. The Alaska Conservation Alliance, the local chapter of the Sierra Club, the National Rifle Association, the Alaska chapter of the NEA, and many Alaska labor organizations have been grading legislators for a long time and using those grades to educate their members.

This past week, the ABRC released grades on the individual members of the 27th Alaska Legislature, the Governor, the group grades for the Senate Majority and Minority, and the House Majority and Minority. Please consider the following as you listen to reactions from individual legislators.

First, the ABRC serves as collective feedback from Alaska’s largest business associations who represent thousands of Alaska businesses and tens of thousands Alaskan workers. These are the businesses and the workers who are the backbone of Alaska’s economy. More than 60 bills in the 27th legislature were identified by ABRC organizations and considered in the grading process.

Letter grades are computed through an average of each participating organizations’ scoring based on their respective legislative priorities. Considered in the grading process are bill sponsorship, committee votes, floor votes, actions taken in committee (when applicable) and, especially, overall leadership inside and outside of the legislature.

Second, each organization has its own scoring and weighting processes, using its own mix of key legislation. Interestingly, even with this diversity of scoring criteria and with numerous people involved, we come to remarkably similar conclusions before ever sitting down to compare notes. As it turns out, lawmakers who are pro-business on some issues tend to be pro-business on others.

Third, to help elected officials know in advance how they will be graded, we share the top priorities of our combined organizations at the start of each legislative session. In fact, as a group we walk together through the halls of the Capitol and hand-deliver them to each office. For the past two years our joint priorities have been: fiscal responsibility, oil tax reform, regulatory efficiency, litigation reform, general business climate and strategic transportation infrastructure funding.

In addition to informing our members, the Report Card is intended to stimulate dialogue with legislators. It has been successful in that regard. Several legislators have used the Report Card constructively and strengthened their performance markedly.

Even so, a number of elected officials will be disappointed by their grades. We share their disappointment. However, the Report Card is all about accountability. Nearly every candidate for elected office runs on a platform of economic prosperity. After the election, some successful candidates honor their pledges and some do not. Some have a view of prosperity that is defined by private sector growth and vitality, and some view it in terms of short-term public sector growth coupled with opposition to private sector projects. The Report Card brings accountability to our elected officials as viewed through the lens of private sector vitality.

We realize that not every voter or campaign contributor will consider the business community perspective to be important, but those who are concerned about Alaska’s long-term vitality will.

Grades are posted online at www.alaskabusinessreportcard.com

• Rachael Petro, Rick Rogers, Rebecca Logan and Scott Hawkins are the chief executives of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, the Resource Development Council, the Alaska Support Industry Alliance and ProsperityAlaska.org, respectively.

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