The recent shenanigans of Kenai River Sport Fishing Association (KRSA) against local and well-respected Kenai Peninsula Borough citizen Robert Ruffner were a classic demonstration of political manipulation. These were employed for one purpose only, to thwart the governor’s appointment of Ruffner to the Board of Fisheries. I assert KRSA was successful due to the use of three major strategies: 1) building relationships; 2) corporate mentality; and the most important, 3) willful ignorance by the public and legislators.
Building relationships — Any consulting firm/business knows that in competition for work a client must feel comfortable and trust the organization they deal with. Businesses know that to foster this relationship takes time and energy. KRSA spends thousands of dollars fostering relationships. Examination of KRSA’s tax returns reveals hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on the Kenai River Classic pandering to policy makers before, during and after the event. These relationships are slowly nurtured and developed. One member of the KRSA Board is a professional lobbyist who knows the game well and frequents the chambers of the State House. The end result is influence and intimidation when needed. The presence of Senator Lisa Murkowski’s husband on the KRSA Board and the Senator’s attendance at the Kenai River events smacks of influence peddling, the highest prize of building relationships.
Corporate mentality — The Board of Directors of KRSA is comprised of individuals who have risen to the top of major corporations and government. Unfortunately, in corporate America the game is to win — conflict is the rule and the measure of success is to beat the competition. It is not surprising that KRSA would strive to position a person of their choice on the Board of Fish and to develop a liaison advantageous to the KRSA cause over that of other user groups. In this context, KRSA has demonstrated questionable ethical standards in the past (eavesdropping on phone conversations, Ted Stevens gifts, etc.) and therefore it is not surprising that this Board of Directors would use such tactics against Mr. Ruffner. They played a win/lose game without regard to community standards or individual standards of behavior and it worked. The end justified the means.
Finally, and most importantly is the willful ignorance of the public and legislators — Any marketing expert knows this a basic rule of marketing. People are depended upon to choose ignorance. KRSA wields that philosophy very well. They brand themselves as habitat and educationally-oriented but when looking at their history it is obvious that political/regulatory allocation agendas dominate. Citizens of the Kenai Peninsula volunteer hundreds of hours to help put on the Kenai River Classic, thinking they are doing something good for the river. They avoid examining the facts and figures about KRSA and how education is marketed relative to outcomes.
Legislators involved in the Board of Fish nomination process this session were also willfully ignorant of the law. They pushed the KRSA argument about Anchorage representation when the law is clear that geographic residency shall not be considered. National leaders, like Lisa Murkowski, attend the Woman’s Classic to promote women and habitat issues but willfully ignore the ethical and questionable dealings of KRSA or how the money raised is eventually used.
In summary, KRSA plays the political game very well, but is that the game we as Alaskans want to support? In our Kenai Peninsula community do we want a mentality of win/lose, anything goes, and ignorance is bliss or do we want to stand up to organizations like KRSA and say no, enough is enough? The choice for each business and individual is now clear. The Ruffner experience no longer allows one to hide behind willful ignorance.
Ken Tarbox is a Soldotna resident and retired Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist.