My Turn: Time for AFL-CIO boss to step aside?

Posted: Friday, November 01, 2002

Mano Frey, the head of the Alaska AFL-CIO, recently slammed Sen. Frank Murkowski in the Juneau Empire while touting Fran Ulmer as the best choice for governor. Many of us in organized labor support Sen. Murkowski's quest to become our next governor. The reason we support Sen. Murkowski is simple: It's in the best interest of union members and working families throughout Alaska.

Frank Murkowski is committed to developing Alaska's enormous natural resource assets. Like his gubernatorial opponent, Frank Murkowski promotes development of Alaska's significant oil and gas resources. Unlike his opponent, Frank Murkowski actually seems intent on delivering on his promises. Sen. Murkowski will provide leadership on economic development and aggressively address the stagnant Alaskan economy.

I do not understand why Mr. Frey has decided to take such a harsh position against Sen. Murkowski. Other unions and organizations, including the National Education Association in Alaska and the Alaska Federation of Natives, have chosen not to endorse any candidate in the governor's election this year. Many unions, including the Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association, the Teamsters, the Operating Engineers Local 302, the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 375 and the Seafarers Union are backing Sen. Murkowski.

Much has changed in Alaska over the last three decades since oil became the dominant force in our economy. We were once a state rich in "can do" spirit and poor in wealth. Now we've become a state of great wealth but poor in "can do" spirit. Alaskan voters are electing more conservatives than liberals. Neither major party in our state commands a clear majority of the electorate or has a lock on solutions that will again make Alaska a great land. The race for governor this year comes down to a choice between leadership seeking economic development or leadership seeking taxes.

Fran Ulmer's basic political problem has as much to do with timing as any position she has adopted or not adopted in this year's campaign. Following years of economic stagnation presided over by an administration absorbed with "policy by press release," the lieutenant governor is now plagued, in part, by the "legacy" of Tony Knowles. Ulmer's determined efforts to talk taxes is disconnected with the perception many average Alaskans harbor about our state's economy. The talk about taxes has eroded support for Ulmer and virtually guaranteed Sen. Murkowski's election as our next governor.

Mano Frey's attacks on Sen. Murkowski for supporting a growing economy and promotion of capital projects is odd and inappropriate for a union official who "never saw a construction project he didn't like." The gubernatorial election in a few days comes down to a choice between a candidate who will foster job growth and increased economic development compared to a candidate who is inclined to tax the people. For the average working family in Alaska, Sen. Murkowski offers the promise of jobs and growth compared to taxation. Given the choice, is it any wonder why working families will vote for Sen. Murkowski in a few short days?

Mr. Frey appears out-of-touch with the workers he claims to represent. Mr. Frey has pirated the AFL-CIO in support of a candidate delivering a message that is inconsistent with the dreams and desires of the average Alaskan. Mr. Frey, pay attention to the working women and men who are your members or step down as head of the AFL-CIO and make way for a responsive labor leader who truly represents the interests of working families in our state.

Greg O'Claray of Juneau is director of Legislative and Governmental Affairs for the Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association in Alaska.

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