Empire Editorial: An ad campaign without a message

Posted: Sunday, January 15, 2006

A mong the proposals for the new year that Gov. Frank Murkowski laid out in his State of the State address on Tuesday, the weirdest was a plan to re-educate Americans about Alaska and Alaskans. His scheme to advertise the state's message to the Lower 48 in hopes of winning the country's hearts, minds and approval for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a twist of logic that would be a waste of money at any cost.

Responding to a year in which Alaska took the brunt of America's anti-pork venting over expensive bridges in Ketchikan and the Knik Arm, and in which rants by U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens in defense of the bridges and ANWR drilling became fodder for late-night television comedy, the governor said the nation's image of the state is "sorely distorted."

Fine, but how did a decades-long national reluctance to open ANWR to industry get linked to federal transportation dollars?

Murkowski said his admininstration will put out a request for proposals to bidders who could assess the nation's perceptions and how to correct misconceptions. Noting that some estimates of ANWR's lease potential to the state are as high as $5 billion, he said even half that would make any investment in better nationwide public relations worth the expense.

"Some might ask, 'Can we afford it?" the governor said. "The answer is, 'Can we afford not to?"

In fact, neither question is relevant. If ANWR ever opens to drilling, it will be because Americans and their congressional representatives decide that every drop helps and that this measure of energy security trumps their desire to maintain a wilderness in the North. This has been the debate all along. It is lost on no one and it has nothing to do with bridges or America's views of Alaskans, in this or any year. Indeed, in this year of bad publicity Congress came within an eyelash of opening the refuge to development. Further, it does no good in the public-relations department to call the other side extremist or to alienate the congressional delegations of specific states as enemies, as Murkowski did in his address.

Alaska already conducts a lobbying campaign on behalf of ANWR in Washington, D.C. And it has a congressional delegation that should be capable of presenting the state's ambitions and views. Contracting to read the nation's mind and then change it smacks of paranoia, and ultimately it will accomplish nothing.

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