My turn: A better way to fix Alaska

Posted: Monday, January 28, 2008

In a political environment where "reformer's zeal" seems to know no partisan or ideological bounds, the good news is that some form of long-overdue ethics reform is finally moving from hope to reality here in Alaska.

Since most everyone agrees there is a serious problem with the way our affairs are being conducted in Juneau, the question now becomes - what do we do about it? Can we honestly afford to miss this golden opportunity to fix Alaska's government by approving half-measures that fail to address the underlying corruption? What will the voters say if our solution to the skepticism and distrust Alaskans currently feel toward their government only breeds more of the same?

In a recent opinion piece published in the Juneau Empire, columnist Joe Mehrkens of the Alaska Public Research Interest Group argues for the passage of the so-called Clean Elections Initiative, a well-intended but hopelessly inadequate anti-corruption tool.

Creating a new class of "professional politicians" fueled by taxpayer-funded campaigns is not the answer to corruption in government. In fact, wasting already scarce resources on political campaigns (particularly when the problem of "pay to play" special interest dollars is left completely unaddressed) is precisely the wrong approach to take.

What are we honestly to expect from such a proposal other than more government control, more government regulation and more government spending?

Of course, Mehrkens' strategy is not so much to debate the merits of the CEI proposal - which does nothing to break the stranglehold special interests have over politicians of both parties in our state - but rather to go on the offensive against supporters of a legitimate anti-corruption measure.

Specifically, Mehrkens targets my friendship with Howard Rich, a politically savvy leader of the limited government movement nationally, falsely insinuating that I am little more than a puppet who has "lent my name" to the real Anti-Corruption Amendment.

For the record, I asked Rich to help us spread the message about the need for true ethics reform in Alaska, not the other way around. Rich and I have worked together over the last 25 years and he has assisted me with other Alaska initiatives as far back as the early 1980s. When we along with thousands of Alaskans, through the initiative process, forced the repeal of the state income tax, there was nothing stealthy about that. That initiative has kept billions of hard-earned Alaskan dollars in the pockets of the people who earned them. This current effort that we are working on will go a long way toward cleaning up Alaska's political and business good-ol'-boys buddy system that has caused this great state so much embarrassment.

In fact, I've asked several friends across the country to join our cause, and for Mehrkens to single out one or two of these individuals for public contempt strikes me as one of the worst examples of McCarthyism I've seen in quite some time.

This debate should be about its merits, not personal invective, which is why I haven't attacked any of the union leaders, government bureaucrats and left-wing ideologues associated with the CEI proposal and Mehrkens group.

Unlike their approach, I trust the people of Alaska to see these competing proposals for what they really are, and to make their decision based on facts, not ideological witch hunts, which is precisely why states with huge Republican majorities as well as states with liberal, Democratic majorities are embracing the central tenets of our amendment.

Essentially, this entire debate boils down to a simple choice - we can either put a stop to the "pay-to-play" corruption that has plagued our government in recent years (which the Anti-Corruption Amendment does) or we can start subsidizing the political aspirations of the very people who got us into this mess in the first place (which the CEI proposal would do).

Faced with such a decision, I have every confidence that Alaskans will see this issue for what it really is, not what the status quo insiders who oppose true reform want us to believe.

• Dick Randolph is chairman of the Committee to Stop the Corruption and a former legislator.

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