Alaska editorial: Don't jump to conclusions in wake of investigation

Posted: Friday, September 08, 2006

This editorial appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

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This is a dangerous and worrisome time in Alaska politics.

A publicly amorphous and seemingly open-ended federal investigation has penetrated the state capital building, and the image of federal agents carrying out boxes of documents purportedly related to a leading oil field services company, the recently approved oil taxation overhaul, and the natural gas pipeline contract made a splash across the news pages and on radio and television.

"Throw the bums out," is a cry that might conceivably be percolating as a result, with the aim of cleaning house in Juneau from top to bottom and from side to side.

But that would be a mistake and would unnecessarily punish the large number of legislators, from both parties, who are well-meaning and who are genuinely trying to do what is right, in their view, for Alaska. In that vein, it's notable that none of the Interior's legislators had their offices searched by warrant-toting FBI agents.

There's a lot that is unknown about the federal investigation. To begin with, while we know some of the names and some of the documents being sought, we don't know for sure who the targets are or why they are being looked at.

Having federal agents show up at a legislator's office - as was done with six legislators last week - is a jarring event, but it's terribly important for Alaskans to realize that the presenting of a search warrant doesn't mean that the person whose office is being searched is even a subject of the investigation, let alone guilty of anything.

It's also important for Alaskans to realize that the temptation to artificially extend the investigation's taint to others will be strong.

Alaskans should remember, however, that politics, be it in Alaska or in any other state, has its foundation on personal relationships - between elected official and constituent, between individual elected officials, and between elected officials and outside interests. That's the way it works, and rules are in place to keep things on the up and up.

The FBI raids, therefore, shouldn't be allowed to tarnish those who simply happen to have a professional or personal relationship with any one of those who have made the news in association with the federal probe. But people will try.

This truly is a dangerous and worrisome time. People, especially those who are running for office against incumbents, will feel the urge to whip voters into that "Throw the bums out" mood. That, though, would be nothing but misplaced opportunism and would suggest that the challenger's ideas alone wouldn't be enough to win the day.

The capital is home to a lot of good people trying to serve this state well. That point shouldn't be lost among the disturbing headlines of last week and of the stories yet to come.

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