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Time to push back for a functional democracy in Alaska

Posted: June 30, 2013 - 12:10am

As July Fourth approaches, it is appropriate for Alaskans to take stock of this warming issued by Franklin D. Roosevelt: “The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it comes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism — ownership of government by an individual, by a group.” While ‘fascism’ may seem to be too strong of a word to describe the control of private power in the governing of our state affairs, the warning that Roosevelt issued is all too relevant to today.

The other term that may fit better is Corporatocracy. Corporatocracy is when both the prevailing economic and political systems used to govern a country are controlled by corporations and all their associated interests. Gus Speth, former chair of the United Nations Development Group defines corporatocracy as when corporations move beyond being the principal economic actor into also being the principal political actor as well. In essence, corporatocracy occurs when there is a pattern of having government systems controlled by corporate interest.

Is this where we are in Alaska? Perhaps. Likely, if anyone is keeping score and that would be me. Here is my scoring of recent political events.

A. Last August, you may recall the coastal management initiative failed at the ballot box. Without the coastal management program, Alaska’s coastal communities no longer have a seat at the state permitting table. This is the outcome of having $1.5 million spent by the opponents — Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil Corporation, ConocoPhillips, BP, Alaska Oil and Gas Association, Pebble Partnership, the Resource Development — compared with about $200,000 raised by supporters of the ballot proposition. These numbers come from reports filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

Outside Corporations: 1

Alaska’s Citizens: 0

B. Next came the November 2012 elections when breaking up the Senate Bipartisan Working Group, was the main objective of those frustrated with not passing Governor Parnell’s $2 billion a year tax giveaway. Major financial contributions from Alaska Oil and Gas Association combined with districts re-drawn to favor Republican challengers led to the breakup of the Senate Bipartisan Working Group. Considering that 14 of the 15 member companies of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association are based outside Alaska, we need to score this successful challenge to break up the Senate coalition.

Outside Corporations : 2

Alaska’s Citizens: 0

C. Then in early February 2013, the Republican controlled legislature quickly approved a law proposed by Governor Parnell to abolish cruise ship wastewater standards enacted in 2006 by a citizens’ initiative. According to the Anchorage Daily News, the new law will allow the cruise industry to indefinitely discharge ammonia, a product of human waste, and heavy metals, dissolved from ship plumbing. Those discharges would have been banned in 2015 under the 2006 citizen initiative. Jim Walker, a maritime lawyer and contributor to “Cruise Law News” notes, “Formerly the most progressive state in the U.S. protecting its waters from harmful cruise ship discharges, Alaska was intimidated by the cruise industry to roll back its environmental regulations to permit cruise lines to dump high levels of waste by-products and heavy metals like zinc, copper and nickel.

Outside Corporations: 3

Alaska’s Citizens : 0

D. Now we have Senate Bill 21, the oil tax . The governor’s own cost estimate for the bill’s potential impact to Alaska’s budget is $4.5 billion in just the first five years. The biggest provision in the bill is an across-the-board reduction in Alaska’s sale price for our oil. It applies to every drop of oil leaving the state and has no strings attached that would require the companies to invest more in Alaska, produce more oil, or hire more Alaskans. Notwithstanding the constitutional directive to use Alaska’s natural resources “for the maximum benefit of its people”, the legislature passed SB 21 with 2 of the key votes in the Senate coming from employees of Conoco Phillips.

Outside Corporations : 4

Alaska’s Citizens : 0

With a score of 4 to 0, are we at the point that former President Roosevelt warned us about… the point where the growth of private power is stronger than the democratic state itself? This is scary to think about.

However, the score is not yet final. Even if you don’t agree with my scoring, please consider the trend and let Alaska resident’s vote on the matter of SB 21, the oil tax giveaway. We have a chance to not only heed the warning of Roosevelt but follow the advice of Sitka Senator Bert Stedman, “I think it is important that the people of the State of Alaska get to vote on this issue. It’s their oil and as owners of basically all the subsurface gas, have a right to make sure their views are represented.”

If you have not yet signed a petition to put the oil tax question on the ballot, please do so. Time is running out. Here is where you can go to sign: Observatory Books, the Robotics Gallery, IBEW Hall or Allied Van Lines (near the Alaskan Brewery). Or you can look for people like me carrying a petition around at the July Fourth events.

Remember we used to be an owner state, instead of an owned state.

• Kate Troll is a long-time Alaskan with more than 22 years of experience in fisheries, coastal policy and energy policy. She resides in Douglas.

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