JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell on Friday announced plans to seek re-election next year, saying he believes he can be more effective in that role than in pursuing a U.S. Senate bid.
Parnell told The Associated Press his administration has helped to build a “solid foundation” of opportunity for the state, “and it’s now time to frame in that opportunity and make it more lasting for Alaskans.”
Parnell will seek to hold on to the office he’s held since July 2009. He’s coming off a legislative session in which he scored some major political wins, including passage of a controversial oil tax cut aimed at spurring North Slope investment and production.
The announcement comes with the 2014 primaries more than a year away. Attorney Bill Walker has already announced plans to seek the GOP nomination for governor. He came in second to Parnell in the 2010 gubernatorial primary.
Parnell announced his decision at a Republican women’s event in Fairbanks, putting to rest speculation that he would seek to challenge first-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich. Fellow Republicans Joe Miller and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell have already said they are considering a run against Begich.
Parnell said he considered the race seriously, adding his belief that the federal government “is in deep need of a different direction.”
“But I felt I could be more effective for Alaskans as their governor at this point in time and in the years ahead, rather than pursuing that,” he said.
During the last legislative session — “the most productive in decades,” Parnell said — lawmakers passed a number of bills deemed priorities by the administration, including the oil tax cut and a plan aimed at bringing natural gas to parts of Interior Alaska suffering from high energy costs.
Parnell points, too, to continued efforts to make progress on a major natural gas pipeline project. Parnell has set a series of benchmarks for progress on the long-hoped-for line, all of which have been met so far. He has called for the next benchmark to be met sometime this spring.
“We’ve got a large-diameter gas line to build. We’ve got a liquefaction plant and natural gas distribution system to get built in the Interior. We’ve got a Susitna-Watana project to get firmly launched,” he said in an interview. “We’ve improved high school graduation rates, but we’ve got plenty of work there to get to our 90 percent graduation rate goal. We’ve got a five-year plan of fiscal restraint to follow through on, and yes, we’ve got still a lot of children who need leadership in this state to keep them safe in their homes.
“I think we’ve got a lot more work to do,” he said. “I think Alaskans trust this administration. I think they know what they can expect, that we will continue to look out for them, and I want to do that.”
Parnell, 50, inherited the governor’s office in 2009, when he was lieutenant governor and Gov. Sarah Palin resigned during her first term. He won election to the office in his own right in 2010.
During his tenure, Parnell’s legislative agenda has focused, in part, on family and fiscal issues. He championed efforts to crack down on domestic violence and sexual assault in the state, and he made record budget cuts in 2011 after legislators failed to keep to a spending limit he had proposed as financially responsible. He has been an outspoken supporter of a state-funded scholarship program that he sees as key to helping raise expectations for students and changing Alaska’s public education system.
Perhaps his biggest win came just weeks ago, with passage of a tax cut on oil companies. Parnell had proposed changes of some kind to the tax system since 2010, his first legislative session as governor. His victory this year came months after Republicans seized control of the Senate from a bipartisan coalition. That put Republicans in charge of the House, Senate and governor’s office.
There is a citizens’ effort under way to try to repeal the tax cut, which critics believe will be disastrous for the state’s budget.
Parnell is an attorney and former state legislator who, in-between stints in public service, worked for ConocoPhillips. In 2008, he challenged U.S. Rep. Don Young in a three-way race for the Republican nomination for U.S. House, coming in a close second.
Walker said he was surprised by Parnell’s decision to seek re-election.
“I thought he’d given everything he could give away to the oil industry. ... I’m not sure what’s left for him to give away, so I’m surprised he’s going to go another round,” Walker said. “I think Alaska needs a governor that puts the office and puts Alaskans first.”