My Turn: 'Breaking New Trails': Public money for private interests

Posted: Friday, November 26, 2004

I read with utter fascination the 12-page enclosure in the Nov. 14 Juneau Empire titled "Breaking New Trails" and published by Governor Frank H. Murkowski at a cost of exactly six cents per copy. It was public money well-spent in my opinion, and I was reminded of an observation made by Mark Twain: "You tell me whar a man gits his corn-pone, en I'll tell you what his 'pinions is." I'd translate that into the local vernacular as, "You tell me where an Alaskan gets his sourdough/salmon/ moose/timber/minerals/pelts and I'll tell you how he'll vote."

Since the governor published this account of his accomplishments, it is not surprising that his virtues are extolled. "Murkowski is not shy about his priorities as chief executive. They can be distilled into five words: resources, energy, and economic development." How does one extract resources? In one word: roads. He says that they are key to economic development. One road goes to the proposed Rock Creek Mine near Nome, two roads go towards the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on the north slope to open new areas for oil and gas development, three roads go to the Red Dog, the Pebble Gold-Copper, and the Donlin Creek mines.

I don't know the background of any of these deals, yet I wonder why private companies can't build their own roads with their own money? The governor backs a road and bridge project to connect Anchorage with Point MacKenzie that "will open thousands of acres for development just 15 minutes from downtown Anchorage." I wonder who owns the land past Point MacKenzie?

I get the feeling that most of the governor's accomplishments use public money to further private interests, and that he seems delighted to tell the public all about it. Am I way off-base? This is my first visit to Alaska. I am an Outsider from Boulder Colorado, an expired professor who was paid half the time to teach, and the other half to think. The weather is horrid, as I was warned, but at least it has eliminated the mosquitoes and the tourists.

"Gov. Frank H. Murkowski is making state timber available to three Southeast Alaska sawmills." He says, "Those trying to put these mills out of business with endless and unnecessary litigation do not have the best interest of the people of Southeast Alaska at heart." What an interesting sentence. The governor certainly seems to have the best interests of the mill owners in mind. I wonder what are the terms and conditions of the timber sales, who if anyone is trying to put these mills out of business, and who would file unnecessary litigation.

Murkowski says, "Local leaders are taking responsibility for their future and the future of their children. They recognize that successful oil and gas production will diversify the region's economy, lower the high cost of energy, improve the quality of life and provide sustainable high paying jobs to local residents." That sounds great. But how will Alaskan oil and gas lower world energy prices? How will global warming, and oil spills improve the quality of life? What happens to the high-paying jobs when the wells run dry?

"Alaskans rely on moose to feed their families," says the commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game. So the governor launched a wolf and bear management program in 2003. Commissioner Gray Muzzle says, "Wolves rely on moose to feed their families. A human bounty is the way to go." Tom Moose proposes a "total predator control program - just bring me their ears!" I predict that the governor, if he runs again, will be reelected in a landslide.

• Robert Easton is a professor of applied mathematics at the University of Colorado and presently resides in Juneau.

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