Despite its controversy, at least Governor Frank Murkowski had the fortitude in 2006 to take the negotiated Stranded Gas Development Act agreement to Alaskans before it was signed. He personally went community to community across Alaska to hold town hall meetings. Alaskans were encouraged to have their say, even those who adamantly opposed his signature legislation. Facing those who disagree with you? That’s leadership.
Ultimately, the SGDA agreement was not approved. Now, eight years later, we have Gov. Parnell’s process to entice the same companies into yet another gas line study through incentives provided in SB 21 as well as the gas line bill, SB 138.
One highly debated piece of the negotiated SGDA agreement was to lower taxes on existing oil with no commitments for a gas line. We now see this same demand from Exxon essentially reincarnated as Senate Bill 21, introduced and signed by Gov. Parnell.
The marked contrast between the SGDA and SB 21 is the total absence of Gov. Parnell from the discussion or debate of his signature legislation. I have attended several SB 21 debates in both Fairbanks and Anchorage and nowhere on the podium or in the audience is the governor to be found. That’s not leadership.
Ironically, Governor Parnell touted all of the benefits Alaska was receiving under ACES during his 2010 run for governor. Soon after he was reelected, he began to dismantle the very legislation he had long supported. But where is he now?
Why has Alaska’s governor decided not to engage Alaskans by answering their tough questions? Some speculate that it is part of the coordinated overall strategy. The theory is that the powers that be do not want Alaskans to too closely align Parnell, the attorney who represented Exxon during the oil spill and later lobbied for Conoco Phillips, with Parnell, the governor who championed a major oil tax reduction for the industry. Yet, there seemed to be no concern that the president of BP Alaska recently hosted a fundraiser at her home for the governor.
Notably absent from the podium as well are any representatives from Exxon, BP and Conoco Phillips, the companies that purchased the $15 million media campaign to defeat the Proposition 1 referendum.
Not only has Parnell not approached a microphone in the SB 21 debate, he has also skipped all but two of the dozen or more gubernatorial forums that have been held in communities across Alaska.
This past week, he did not attend the UAA College Republicans and Democrats gubernatorial forum. He missed out. I enjoyed an hour-long dialogue with those in attendance concerned about university funding, programs and many issues impacting their future.
Later in the week, I traveled to Nome for the Alaska Municipal League’s legislative priorities conference and gubernatorial forum. This statewide audience of mayors and local officials addressed their concerns regarding energy costs, stable revenue sharing, unfunded mandates and arctic policies. These folks are the boots on the ground in our cities and villages. Democratic candidate Byron Mallott and I were on stage fielding dozens of questions for two hours and listening to their issues. With more than 30 years of experience working with local governments, I know the negative message the governor’s absence sends to these communities.
At this critical juncture in Alaska’s history, our governor must show up for the fun and the forums. Parades, picnics, fundraisers and bill signings are a cakewalk. The interviews and debates can be challenging. But if he can’t face his fellow Alaskans, how can he be a force in the boardrooms around the globe representing our interests?
We need to hear more from our quiet governor. Silence is not leadership.
• Bill Walker is a life-long Alaskan, businessman and owner of an Anchorage law firm practicing primarily municipal and oil and gas law. He is an independent candidate for governor.