Like absolute power, partisanship corrupts

Posted: Wednesday, January 10, 2001

It did not take Alaska Senate President Rick Halford and his majority colleagues long to dispel any notion they might follow the lead of President-elect Bush or the Republican members of the U.S. Senate in seeking bipartisanship and a collaborative approach to governance.

At the start of the new legislative session, Halford and his associates blocked veteran Juneau Democrat Kim Elton from the Senate Finance Committee. In Elton's place, the Republicans assigned freshman Sen. Donald Olson from Nome to the powerful budget-writing panel.

To make that assignment, Halford had to ignore Elton's seniority, ignore the will of the Democratic minority, which unanimously supported Elton's appointment to Finance, and ignore Olson, who voted against his own appointment.

Fearing retaliation from Halford, none of the Democrats (or sympathetic Republicans) in the Senate publicly will acknowledge the obvious: Elton could have been counted upon to tell committee members what they needed to hear, not just what they wanted to hear. His advocacy for common sense could have contributed to the occasional guilty conscience. As a freshman, Olson can be expected to be seen but not heard - or at least paid any attention by his new committee's majority.

To add insult to injury, the Senate majority pretended Southeast is well-enough represented on the panel by Alan Austerman, who lives in Kodiak, all the way across the Gulf of Alaska. Austerman's district includes smaller Southeast communities and he promised to represent them. But this is his first time in the Senate and his first with constituents in the Panhandle. Elton knows the territory far better.

Let's face it, Halford is throwing his weight around because he can. He does not have to accommodate any views but his own and those of the GOP majority.

Bipartisanship? Something sought by losers and the weak, according to Halford.

Of course, politics run in cycles, but we're not here to remind Mr. Halford that what goes around comes around. We prefer to appeal to his better nature.

The Democrats are not the enemy. They do not need to be vanquished. Voters - no doubt including some card-carrying Republicans - endorsed every individual Democratic member of the Legislature. A snub of the minority members is a snub of the people who voted for them.

Winner-take-all partisanship brought gridlock to Washington, D.C., where even the U.S. Senate is waking up to the bitter consequences. On the night Al Gore conceded the White House to George W. Bush, the winner graciously promised us that he will be a president for all Americans. He is right to try to take politics to a higher, better level.

We urge every member of the Legislature to serve the biggest audience possible - every citizen of Alaska.

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