Alaska editorial: Pledges and puffery

Governor gives senator a not-so-subtle dismissal

Posted: Thursday, March 05, 2009

Good leadership means knowing when to set politics aside, to forget the same old politics as usual, even if for the afternoon.

So it was disappointing to read the first line of Gov. Sarah Palin's official statement on the appointment of Juneau's Democratic state Sen. Kim Elton as the director of Alaska affairs at the Department of the Interior.

"Senator Elton pledged his allegiance to President Obama last summer," the governor said Monday.

Obviously, Elton and Palin will have different responses to the Alaska issues that arise at the Interior Department during the next four years. The probability of such disagreement can be acknowledged respectfully. Or not.

The governor chose the latter course. Describing Elton's support for Obama's candidacy as a "pledge of allegiance" carries the clear implication that Elton will offer the president nothing but blind fealty. Pledging allegiance - if that's what Elton did - would render him incapable of representing Alaska's interests to the benefit of Alaskans, as Alaskans see it.

Evidence of such allegiance might be revealed by Elton's actions in his new post. It shouldn't be assumed from the start.

Elton's appointment called for some stateliness, some bipartisan congratulations, which the governor did offer in her remaining remarks:

"We wish him well as he moves on and hope that he uses this job for Alaska's benefit - to advance the state's oil and gas issues, including the natural gas pipeline, and to work diligently to remove the barriers imposed upon all states that want to open up their shores to offshore drilling.

"I hope he can represent Alaskans by opening ANWR, conveying the importance of responsible mining development, and building roads - all issues crucial to the future of our state."

The governor has good reason to raise these issues. Elton, for example, was one of two state senators in 2001 to vote against a resolution endorsing oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's coastal plain. Elton dismissed the resolution as political puffery because the federal government, not the state Legislature, controls the decision. But, speaking of pledges, Elton that same year voted for a resolution urging the federal government to appeal a federal court's declaration that the Pledge of Allegiance's reference to "God" is unconstitutional. So it's a safe bet that Elton's vote against the ANWR resolution reflected his view of the merits and not just a blanket aversion to puffy resolutions.

Despite his 2001 ANWR vote and similar votes in other years, it's encouraging to see that Elton's legislative actions do not reveal any blind allegiance to the environmental lobby. In 2005, for example, he co-sponsored a bit of puffery that, had it passed, would have proclaimed the Alaska Legislature's "strong support" for the proposed Kensington Mine north of Juneau, describing it as an "environmentally responsible mining project" and encouraging federal agencies to issue the mine permits. That expression "raised concerns" from the Alaska Conservation Voters, the political arm of the more verdant camp within the state's environmental community.

The Department of the Interior is an agency of great import in Alaska. It hosts the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, among other agencies. Anyone living in the state for a week can see the impact those agencies have.

We hope that Elton can help educate his fellow Democrats at the national level - much like we hope new Democratic Sen. Mark Begich will do - about Alaska's vital role as a provider of energy, recreation and resources to the nation.

And we wish him well, as well.

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