Empire editorial: It's time for a change, elect Frank Murkowski

Posted: Sunday, October 27, 2002

On Nov. 5 voters will select a governor from six candidates. Libertarian Billy Toien and Green Party candidate Diane Benson, Republican Moderate Ray VinZant and Don Wright of the Alaskan Independence Party join Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer and U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski in the quest for the governor's office.

The two principal candidates, Ulmer and Murkowski, have each distinguished themselves in service to their state. Both candidates recognize that Alaska is at a crossroads facing grave uncertainty in the coming years.

Murkowski and Ulmer are both well-versed in the dynamics that are unique to Alaska. In some respects Alaska's characteristics define it more as an emerging country than a state. Alaska is indeed a study in extremes. Its small population is out of scale with its gargantuan geographic stature.

Culturally, its people represent a rich and vibrant mixture. Lifestyles in Alaska run the gamut from rural subsistence to city living replete with comforts and social amenities found in any modern American city.

The government of Alaska must deal with extraordinary challenges faced by no other state in the nation. Alaska's destiny is, in fact, determined by the unpredictable forces upon which its economy is based: oil, minerals, and fishing, with tourism now eclipsing timber. The primary driver of the state's economy, oil, is subject to wild swings in price.

Alaska is also unique in the extent to which its political hierarchy is dominated by the executive branch. Our governor sets the political agenda and appoints commissioners and directors to run governmental operations. Our governor exercises enormous power and control.

The Knowles/Ulmer legacy is eight years of economic stagnation. Over this time we have seen innovation, enterprise and investment quashed by oppressive policies and regulations that go beyond reason, responsibility and sustainability.

While the rest of the nation enjoyed the economic boom of the '90s, both median household and family inflation-adjusted income in Alaska declined.

Under the Knowles/Ulmer administration, opportunity left Alaska and along with it the hope for our children to make a future here. In Southeast Alaska, once-prosperous communities such as Wrangell, Ketchikan, Craig and Petersburg have seen their foundations crumble and a portion of their population vacate.

In terms of transportation infrastructure, Alaska is today at a point that most states in the Lower 48 had passed 75 years ago. It has been more than 30 years since a new highway was constructed in the state.

Close to home, a critical segment of the Southeast Transportation Plan, the Lynn Canal, has been purposely shunned by the Knowles/Ulmer administration. Ulmer has been so detached from the Juneau Access EIS question that she is not even knowledgeable enough to be conversant on the subject.

According to DOT/PF Commissioner Joe Perkins, the state will shell out an additional $2.5 million to complete the study, which he estimates will take an additional two years to complete. This sad reality is the result of politically motivated foot-dragging by the executive branch.

Ulmer and Murkowski share similar views on some issues. They can both be counted upon to support education, public safety, rural sustainability, Native autonomy, protect the permanent fund, and oil exploration and development.

It is naive to believe that either candidate would provide detailed solutions to daunting problems related to the state's fiscal challenges while trying to get elected. They are both smart enough to know that doing so would amount to political suicide.

Voters are then left to make a choice based on the trust and belief they have in one candidate's ability to deliver on their respective vision for the state's future.

The key issue centers on the approach each candidate would take in achieving a balanced budget.

Ulmer wants to address closing the fiscal gap before moving forward with added infrastructure. There is no way to make this happen without aggressive taxation, which in turn runs the risk of sending Alaska's limping economy into a tailspin. Once a broad-based tax plan is in place, government spending will be tougher to control.

Murkowski sees the fiscal gap as a challenge rather than a crisis. He believes we should first rely on resource development and infrastructure expansion and the jobs that will follow to fuel economic expansion before we resort to placing onerous taxes on Alaskans.

In the wake of World War II, Alaska's veterans returned home with dreams of building a great state. Their bold vision included the construction of ports, highways, bridges and railroads to move the state's timber, minerals, and fish to distant markets and attract new people to make their home in Alaska.

In the years leading to statehood and through to the discovery and production of oil, Alaska rode the crest of prosperity. Somehow, today, the dream of building a great state has been lost and replaced by an abiding acceptance of mediocrity while others far removed from Alaska's shores shape our future for us.

Frank Murkowski possesses the leadership and vision to make dreams happen.

For a stronger Alaska and a better future for our children, vote for Frank Murkowski.

Don Smith

dssmith@juneauempire.com

586-1428



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