Recent decisions by the Parnell Administration have left many Alaskans, including myself, scratching our heads wondering if anyone is at the helm.
Diplomatic discourtesy: The most recent blunder as reported in the Alaska Journal of Commerce was Parnell’s refusal to meet with the dignitaries of the Japanese consortium, Resources Energy Inc. (REI) and afford them diplomatic courtesies. For decades Alaska has explored the viability of a large volume gas line anchored in long term contracts with the Asian markets. REI has made substantial investments seeking to buy state royalty gas at the wellhead for LNG production and shipment to Japan.
I have met with REI’s president twice in Tokyo and once in Hawaii. This is a real and exciting opportunity that Parnell ignores while granting extensions and pumping money into the failed Exxon/TransCanada efforts that have focused primarily on a Canadian gas line that will never materialize. Fortunately, Governor Murkowski took the initiative to host REI and attempt to salvage Alaska’s deteriorating reputation on the global energy front. Global experts have told me Alaska is becoming a laughingstock because we have relinquished control of our resources to three major leaseholders who opt to develop their competing projects worldwide.
Parnell’s actions are reminiscent of his public shunning of President Obama in 2009 when Parnell kept an Anchorage speaking engagement rather than go across town to meet with the President who was en route to Asia to discuss global economics. Alaska has had governors who would have tenaciously sought to accompany the President recognizing the significance of the Asian markets to the United States with Alaska in closest proximity. A visit to Governor Hickel’s office inevitably included us gazing down at the top of his prized globe in order to appreciate Asia’s proximity to Alaska as he proclaimed, “Our market is the Asian market!” Governor Parnell could better serve Alaska by engaging in this simple visual exercise.
Alaska Hire Preference Eliminated. On August 16th Governor Parnell voluntarily eliminated an Alaska resident hiring preference on public works project in most urban areas citing low unemployment rates. Yet rural areas still suffer large unemployment rates. Rather than hire non-Alaskans, why not train rural Alaskans to fill these typically seasonal positions concentrated in urban Alaska. Rural Alaskans could work by summer and return home with income to pay their astronomically high cost of living expenses. For a governor to voluntarily eliminate a hiring preference that has been in place for 25 years confounds most Alaskans.
Corralling Public Employees. Governor Parnell has implemented “universal space standards” whereby most public employees will be moved into 6’ x 8’ cubicles with a goal of increasing the number of employees on each floor by 50 percent. This has caused widespread morale deterioration as public employees feel herded and devalued and are concerned about issues ranging from client confidentiality to safety.
The anticipated savings is up to $50 million over 10 years. As a fiscal conservative, I appreciate efforts to reduce spending but it cannot all be done on the backs of our public employees. There is such a disconnect with Parnell’s priorities in slashing billions in oil tax revenues without reciprocal guarantees, funding another $400 million study for a small volume bullet gas line that puts not $1 into state coffers, and continuing to fund Exxon/TransCanada’s AGIA gas line charade at the tune of $25 million a year, $500 million overall.
Failing to Choose Respect. Despite his banner program to combat domestic and sexual violence, the Parnell administration is seeking to void a tribal order declaring a father an unfit parent after he was convicted of nearly murdering the child’s mother. In optionally defending the due process rights of the father, Parnell may succeed in reinstating the parental rights of a violent domestic abuser who had previously abducted the child from her tribal foster home.
And perhaps most troubling of all is that Governor Parnell has yet to show up and personally explain any of these actions to the people he serves. What gives? We are waiting and wondering.
• Bill Walker is a lifelong Alaskan, businessman and owner of an Anchorage law firm focusing on oil and gas and municipal law. He is an independent candidate for governor in the 2014 election.