My turn: Do people's votes really count?

It's time to elect new blood - whether it be Republican, Democrat or from another party

Posted: Thursday, June 08, 2006

The debate over the Juneau road is far from over, unless voters want to set precedence where elections do not count. The simple fact is that Juneau voted down the road - not once, but twice. Just as important, our neighbors in Haines and Skagway overwhelmingly oppose the road.

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But now a governor who is obsessed with "development" regardless of who benefits, who pays or who votes, is ramming this road through. More importantly, he is succeeding with the help of a few like-minded legislators. Their stubborn, insulated decisions hurt all of us, as the Juneau road comes at the expense of other unfunded state projects.

The governor's Juneau road to nowhere is just one example of the disdain for voters. It was predestined before he was elected, a sort of payback to Juneau. This is not unique to Juneau. Remember the campaign promises to develop our way into prosperity and protect the permanent fund?

One of his first acts was to turn down the heat in grandma's room by eliminating the longevity bonus for seniors.

Early on, he tried to raid the permanent fund by selling us a new way to calculate our dividends (i.e. the percent-of-market-value model), in exchange for half of the permanent fund.

Then the governor eliminated community revenue sharing, letting the small communities starve until they might be enticed to help him make a second raid on the fund. Thankfully, this failed as well.

Then there are the other unwanted roads and bridges: the Nelson Bay and Bradfield roads, and the Ketchikan bridge. The three communities to be interconnected by the Nelson Bay road are now opposed to the road. Our Canadian neighbors have said no, for a second time, to the Bradfield road, and a majority of Ketchikan residents are against the bridge.

Now it appears that our road policies are as wrong-headed as our oil and gas policies. Remember the shallow methane gas debacle in Southcentral Alaska? Outside firms were sold the right to explore and profit from private lands. After running rough shod over the landowners, the firms left with little in hand but retained their development rights and have promised to return. Is this just another blind commitment to "develop," regardless of who benefits or who pays or who votes? If so, it may shed light on our most dangerous and current gambit, locking-in the governor's proposed oil and gas taxes for two generations for a mere promise of a pipeline. Here again, the tradeoffs and uncertainties are just too great. The governor's "deal" has no firm startup date or contractual signatures. We do not even get a whole pipeline - we get to pay for 20 percent for their pipeline and presumably with our permanent fund. Perhaps the third raid will be the charm.

My frustration with our omnipotent governor is the real issue - in democracy our votes should count. The voters of Juneau said no to the Juneau road - not once, but twice. A majority of businesses in Skagway and Haines are clearly opposed. Notwithstanding these voices, the governor and his like-minded Legislative allies - Sen. Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks, and Sen. Lyda Green, R-Wasilla - have not paused for even a nanosecond. They have put themselves above the voters and chose to support hard-line political agendas. It is time to help elect new blood who will not put themselves above the voters - be they Republican, Democrat or whatever. The upcoming elections will be busy for me and hopefully for you as well.

• Joseph Mehrkens is a Juneau resident and retired natural resource economist.

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