Parnell to focus on economy, families

Parnell to focus on economy, families

Posted: Wednesday, July 29, 2009

ANCHORAGE - Gov. Sean Parnell said Tuesday he's not worried about defining his legacy as he fills in for his high-profile predecessor, Sarah Palin.

Al Grillo / The Associated Press
Al Grillo / The Associated Press

In his second full day in office, Parnell said he's simply concentrating on being effective for Alaska.

Parnell was sworn in Sunday in Fairbanks as Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, stepped down with 17 months left in her first term.

Palin's success in energizing partisan crowds around the country contrasted sharply with criticism at home after the campaign, in which she was accused of losing interest in governing. She became the target of ethics complaints that she claimed were a major drain on her administration, even as most have been dismissed. Palin said the state would be better served with Parnell as the governor continuing their agenda and her working outside of government.

During a media availability in the governor's Anchorage office Tuesday, Parnell said he shares core values with Palin. But the contrast in style was evident.

Parnell joked about keeping television cameras away from his bald spot. He had no commissioners in the room to provide details on questions. He said he did not intend to start a Twitter account, the abbreviated electronic communication form favored by Palin in her final months. And when a reporter asked about a moratorium on new applicants for certain federal health care assistance programs outside institutions, Parnell launched into a detailed explanation of how a backlog on assessments was tied to a shortage of nurses.

"There's a lot happening over that and I've been on top of it," he said.

Parnell, a former Senate finance committee co-chairman, also said he will focus his attention on the economy and helping Alaska families.

A trip this month to Kotzebue, where gasoline is selling for more than $6 per gallon, persuaded him to push for another yearlong suspension of the 8-cent-per-gallon motor fuels tax on gas, diesel and marine and aviation fuel.

"I had families talking with me and saying they couldn't even afford to go to their fish camp as early as they wanted to because they didn't have the money to pay for gas," he said. "I think to saddle Alaskans even with a little tax, I think it's too much."

Parnell's Christian faith, he said, "informs" his values in governing, and he quoted the country's founding documents that recognize the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

"I believe that because our creator endowed us with those rights, that I need to treat individuals with respect and dignity as individuals," he said. "That's the underlying philosophy that I'm guided by in government."

He said he plans an open door policy with staff and legislators.

"My goal is not to be different," he said. "It's to be who I am. Who I am is a person who works best when I'm able to interact with people."

Alaska's lousy high school graduation rates are a concern and Parnell promised initiatives that will be unveiled in the fall. Compulsory education until age 18 or measures tying driving to school success may not be part of a reform plan.

"I prefer carrots rather than sticks," he said.

As for the perennial question of where he will live, Parnell said he will split his time between Juneau, Anchorage and the rest of the state.

Parnell said he would rely on Health and Social Services Commissioner Bill Hogan to choose a new public health director after Bev Wooley left last month at Palin's request. Parnell said social issues would not factor into hiring her replacement or filling other jobs.

"I'm not requiring anybody to meet a litmus test for service in state government."

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