President Barack Obama's visit to Alaska on Thursday was a lose-lose situation for Gov. Sean Parnell, resulting in criticism regardless of where the Republican governor decided to be that day.
Obama's trip to Asia to discuss global economics was delayed following the Fort Hood, Texas, shootings so that he could attend a memorial held there Tuesday. Because Obama's visit was pushed back a day, Parnell chose to uphold a speaking engagement at the annual meeting of the Associated General Contractors of Alaska, something he committed to months ago.
Parnell said Thursday he had planned to meet with Obama up until the President's schedule changed. Before Air Force One had even crossed into the next time zone, criticism of Parnell began. Alaska Democratic Party Chair Patti Higgins was among the first to sound off.
"We are talking about the President of the United States coming to Alaska," she said in a statement. "When your commander in chief comes to address our soldiers the day after Veterans Day, the governor should be there, come hell or high water.
"Governor Parnell could have met with the President and talked about key Alaska projects like the gas pipeline, but he decided to put partisanship over civility - disrespect over diplomacy."
Comments such as those from Higgins distort the truth of the matter, however. Obama wasn't coming to Alaska to meet with politicians, discuss state government or pipeline projects. His visit was a presidential pit stop. Air Force One was low on fuel and an Alaska military base was en route. We applaud the president for taking 15 minutes to speak with troops from Elmendorf Air Force base and Fort Richardson, sharing a message of hope and support.
Had Parnell skipped out on his prior commitment, he'd have been accused of Palin politics by catering to outside influences and neglecting obligations to the state. Instead, Parnell was a man of his word. It also was at the AGC conference where Parnell first outlined his plan to allocate $100 million for "hammer ready" maintenance projects.
AGC Executive Director John MacKinnon said the governor's presentation, scheduled months ago, was appreciated by the group.
"He made a commitment to us two months ago and he's honoring that commitment," MacKinnon said. "That says a lot."
Alaskans criticized former Gov. Sarah Palin for not making state business her first priority. Parnell learned a valuable lesson from Palin's playbook and did the opposite. For some Alaskans that still isn't enough.
Had President Obama scheduled a visit to Alaska - not to be confused with a refueling stop - we're certain Parnell would have been first to welcome the president.
Parnell's decision to not meet with Obama wasn't partisan politics or meant to disrespect the nation's highest office. He was merely upholding an obligation to some of the constituents he serves.