The following editorial first appeared in the Ketchikan Daily News:
Gov. Sean Parnell didn’t threaten to retaliate against Ketchikan in reaction to an education lawsuit filed by the community’s borough.
That’s not who Parnell is.
Parnell simply gave an honest answer to a sincere question Feb. 6.
He acknowledged the same sentiments that appeared in a Ketchikan Daily News editorial shortly after the Ketchikan Gateway Borough decided in a narrow 4-3 vote to pursue the suit: By nature a lawsuit is an unfriendly gesture.
No Alaskan welcomes a lawsuit. Most, if not all, Alaskans would interpret a suit as adversarial and would have it in the backs of their minds when dealing with those who had brought it. Any Alaskan, if sued privately, would do the same.
That’s all the governor really said. Everything else is reading between the lines.
Gov. Parnell and the state legislators are Alaskans, many of whom had been lobbied by the borough in recent years to introduce legislation that would eliminate local contributions to school districts in organized boroughs.
None of the 60 legislators introduced a bill to that effect. Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst and four Assembly members didn’t agree with that result. Thus, the lawsuit.
It remains to be seen at the end of the legislative session how Ketchikan comes out in terms of state capital project dollars. But, the Assembly voted to pursue the lawsuit in October 2013.
In December 2013, Gov. Parnell released his proposed fiscal year 2015 budget. His budget showed an almost exact amount for the district home of Ketchikan to what appeared in the prior year’s. (Then last month Fairbanks Rep. Tammie Wilson pre-filed the bill the Ketchikan borough had hoped for earlier.)
Parnell’s critics of the past week also accused him of attacking local government. But, in fact, he spoke favorably about local governance of schools while in Ketchikan, and visited with some of the community’s students. When discussing education he pointed out that it is better to keep control and oversight at the local level, where parents, teachers and others interested in local schools can be involved more easily.
The interaction between the borough that provides school funding and the local public is irreplaceable, according to Parnell. The state cannot provide that accessibility, obviously because of geography. Nor would the state want to turn its education responsibility over to the federal government to pay the bill; that also would remove local control of schools, and Alaska — Ketchikan specifically — has experience with Washington, D.C., making decisions that negatively affect it. It would be chaos for local schools to be funded solely by the feds.
Ketchikan shouldn’t be quick to take offense at the inaccurate conclusions being drawn from Gov. Parnell’s responses. He simply stated the obvious that when one is sued there’s no pretending it didn’t happen. For gubernatorial challengers in an election year and plaintiffs in a suit against the state to act shocked and offended is disingenuous. One wants the governor’s job; the other seeks to force him to do what he doesn’t believe is in the best interests of Alaska and Alaska students.
The majority of Ketchikan voters elected the Borough Assembly. We are responsible for what they do on our behalf. Maybe this lawsuit is what we want. But then we must be ready to accept any consequences.
We’ve started a fight, and we shouldn’t act hurt or victimized if the target of our lawsuit points out that he’s aware of that and that he just might be a little irritated by it. As we pointed out months ago, we can’t throw a punch and not expect to get hit ourselves.
Gov. Parnell also noted when commenting on the suit that most legislators don’t pay much attention to the difference between Ketchikan’s governments. We have two. One is the borough, which is suing the state. The other is the city, which hasn’t joined the lawsuit. The suit has created uneasiness between the two local governments, too.
This places the cohesiveness of the joint Ketchikan Legislative Liaison lobbying trip to Juneau in jeopardy. But Ketchikan is one community. Its officials should travel to Juneau for the purpose of lobbying as one, focusing on the liaison’s top item on the community wide priority list: expansion of the Swan Lake hydroelectric facility.
It’s the increased power that will be generated there that is of utmost importance.
Honestly, that’s what it comes to — both Gov. Parnell and community leaders focusing on what’s best for Ketchikan, and both are committed to that without a doubt.