State editorial: With campaign ended, Palin faces challenges at home

Posted: Thursday, November 20, 2008

After a campaign in which Gov. Sarah Palin suffered some heavy punches and wicked caricatures, her postelection media blitz could be seen as a justifiable effort to reclaim her independence and appeal.

Now that the governor has concluded her postscript at the Republican Governors Association meeting in Florida, though, it's time to put a wrap on the 2008 campaign and attend to Alaska's issues.

Palin's energetic effort to engage the postelection nation was remarkable. Most of us would have collapsed on a couch for days if we experienced the sort of wringer that Palin did. But the past two months seem to have given her more energy than they consumed. The governor barely paused before she was back on some sort of campaign trail.

It's not clear to anyone, perhaps not even the door-testing governor herself, whether the blitz was designed to retroactively adjust the nation's image of her or to set herself on course for the next electoral opportunity. Maybe it was both.

Alaska needs her back now.

The governor's fiscal 2010 budget proposal is due to the Legislature one month from yesterday. This will not be an easy budget to create. Oil production and prices are both declining rapidly.

Future prices may be uncertain, but indications are that they won't be rising any time soon. With a global recession, demand has dropped enough to bring daily consumption back in tune with daily production. With falling demand, some analysts say, even the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will find it difficult to trim production enough to boost prices.

Another factor in the price of petroleum may be congressional efforts to cap carbon dioxide emissions. Such a scheme could press oil prices upward; however, its price effect could vary widely and may take years to become evident.

This means Alaska's fiscal options could once again be held captive to the ever-slowing rate of oil slipping through the 48-inch pipeline that winds quietly through the neighborhoods on the eastern edge of Fairbanks. Halting or reversing that decline should also be a top issue for the governor today.

A second such pipeline - one designed for natural gas - could offset the oil decline. That raises a second question that demands the governor's attention: Who will build that gas line? The major North Slope producers last month applied for a right of way across federal lands for their Denali project. TransCanada, which received the state's blessing and a promise of $500 million for meeting certain conditions on its separate project, hasn't said much in the past few months. How is the current financial crisis - described primarily as a credit crunch - affecting its ability to borrow money to build that line?

These years-long, multibillion dollar issues have a bearing on the month-to-month, hundred-dollar issues faced by Alaskans. Our energy costs are dropping but still remain high and uncertain. The state government handed out cash indiscriminately this year, but that option shouldn't go into the governor's plan for the coming year.

More beneficial would be a concerted effort to provide some cheaper energy. That doesn't mean a takeover of the refineries. It could mean firing up the dormant coal-fired power plant in Healy. For the longer term, we hope the governor is considering other sources such as the Susitna hydroelectric dam, which could compete with fossil fuels, particularly if a carbon cap is implemented.

All that said, there is one field outside Alaska in which we'd expect to see the governor playing regularly - Washington, D.C. A stronger Democratic grasp on federal authority may bring policy changes that respond to the nation's vision of a park-like Alaska more than they respond to the desires of a majority of Alaskans. The governor will need to stand up and tell them so.

The governor obviously returns from her national sojourn with plenty of energy. We hope she has a strong appetite as well. She has a full plate in front of her.

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