The mighty muscle of big oil and corporate rule was on full display in the battle to defeat proposition 2, the coastal management initiative. Being outspent 10 to 1 from the get go, the Alaska Sea Party had only a marginal chance to counter an aggressive, misleading media campaign. Now these same forces, the Anchorage Tea Party, BP, Exxon-Mobil and Conoco-Phillips are joining up with Gov. Sean Parnell to undo the Senate Bipartisan Coalition. Without the Senate Coalition, Gov. Parnell and the oil industry would then be able to secure the up to $2 billion-a-year tax cut that they have been fighting for. Rather than make quid pro quo commitments to actually boost their oil production from existing fields in exchange or accept the Senate’s efforts to provide tax breaks for new field production, big oil has now decided it would be more expeditious to just break up the coalition. In essence, we are entering round two of having multinational outside interests directly affect the outcome of our elections.
Fortunately, a formidable group of Alaskans leaders have revived an organization named “Backbone” to defend the actions of the Senate Bipartisan Coalition. One of the key organizers, David Gottstein, a prominent Alaskan investor, recently noted in an Anchorage Daily News OPED that Backbone was formed in 1999 when BP attempted to acquire ARCO. He explains that the combination of BP and ARCO would have given BP a virtual monopoly on Alaska’s North Slope, leaving the State of Alaska negotiating from a position of weakness in terms of managing the petroleum resources Alaska owns. A bipartisan group of Alaskan leaders including former Governors Wally Hickel and Jay Hammond, state constitution framer Vic Fischer and former Senate Presidents Chancy Croft and Rick Halford saw the threat to Alaska’s financial health and formed Backbone. Through a media campaign, Backbone alerted Alaskans and got the attention of the Federal Trade Commission, which in the end forced divestment of ARCO’s Alaska assets before approving the merger. Backbone now believes we are at the same critical moment with Gov. Parnell’s proposal to give a ‘no strings attached’ windfall in hopes of stimulating oil production. Backbone sees the Senate Coalition as the last defense against “the oil companies overtaking the Senate,” said David Gottstein. “If they accomplish that, if they can take over the Senate, the game’s over. Alaska goes from being an owner state to an owned state.”
While my “Alaska first” heart is comforted to see the resurrection of Backbone, it is going to take a lot more than business and labor leaders to keep the Senate Bipartisan Coalition intact. It is going to take motivated voters actively supporting the Senators still standing after the primary election. Even though we here in Juneau have no Senate race to worry about, we need to be supporting those who have contested races in Anchorage and Fairbanks. This includes Senator Hollis French, Senator Bill Wielechowski, Senator Bettye Davis, Senator Lesil McGuire, Senator Joe Thomas and Senator Joe Paskvan.
We don’t have to choose between continued oil production by hugely profitable companies and the sustained financial health of Alaska. We can have it all if we remain firm to the principles of accountability and fairness. This is what Senator Stedman and the Senate Coalition discovered during their hearings on oil taxation. All we need do now is strongly support the Senator’s that put Alaska’s interest above enhancing the profit margin of big oil. As shown by the leadership of Backbone, it’s time for Alaskans to fight back.
• Troll is a long-time Alaskan with more than 22 years of experience in fisheries, coastal policy and energy policy. She resides in Douglas.