(Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: The oppressive use of political censures

Censures should be reserved for serious ethical transgressions.

  • By Rich Moniak
  • Monday, December 19, 2022 10:45pm
  • Opinion

By Rich Moniak

Republican Party officials in Alaska showed a hint of introspection last week when they voted to sunset their censures of U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and state Sen.-elect Kelly Merrick of Eagle River. They also agreed to a place a moratorium on issuing new censures at least through April 2024. Between now and then, it would be wise for them to recognize the inherent right of party members to follow their conscience.

The objective of the censures was to put an election roadblock in front of Murkowski and Merrick. It didn’t work. Murkowski was reelected and Merrick earned a seat on the state Senate. Both won by comfortable margins over more conservative candidates endorsed by the party.

Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, was also easily reelected. Like Merrick, he joined the 17-member bipartisan senate majority with six other Republicans.

That’s what Merrick was censured for two years ago while serving in the House. The party declared her action was “detrimental to the Alaska Republican Party and to Republican values and goals.”

This time, officials in Wilson’s district put him on the receiving end of that statement. To avoid being censured, he was told to resign from the well-balanced majority (which they badly mischaracterized as “a leftist-controlled coalition”) or give up his Senate seat. However, the resolution was passed before the state party decided they wouldn’t be issuing further censures.

It’s worth noting that neither resolution described how joining bipartisan legislative coalitions undermines the party’s goals. But both undermined the American value of individual freedom.

In Murkowski’s case, the resolution did identify two of the party’s 48 platform principles (abortion and repeal of the Affordable Care Act) that she and they have long been at odds over. But they never censured her over those issues. Which made sense. Ideological disagreements don’t warrant political censures. They should be reserved for serious ethical transgressions.

It was Murkowski’s vote to convict then-President Donald Trump for inciting the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol that changed the party’s calculus. The censure resolution included these related complaints:

“Senator Murkowski repeatedly [spoke] critically of President Trump throughout his term in office;”

She “demanded the resignation of President Trump following the January 6, 2021 capitol building riot, alleging the President had incited the riot;”

She “voted against a Senate resolution asserting that a second impeachment trial against President Trump was unconstitutional.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan used that last argument to justify voting against convicting Trump. But that’s not unlike a criminal defense attorney arguing for dismissal of charges on a technicality rather than challenging the merits of the case and the prosecution’s witnesses. Or defending one’s favorite team after they were unquestionably caught cheating.

Sullivan did find enough courage to “condemn President Trump’s poor judgment in calling a rally on that day, and his actions and inactions when it turned into a riot.” But does anybody doubt he would have voted to convict President Barack Obama if he egregiously violated the Constitution or any important U.S. law during his last month in office?

Murkowski got it exactly right. “If the end of a President’s term meant he or she would never be held politically liable for high crimes or misdemeanors committed while in office, the lame-duck period would pose a serious danger to the stability of the country.”

The difference between their positions is a matter of party loyalty. That’s what these three censures have in common. Murkowski, Merrick and Wilson all dared to buck their party.

The sad irony here is the Republican Party prides itself on being a bulwark against the oppressive nature of big government. But only truly independent party members are strong enough to stand up to its oppressive political machine.

Craig Campbell, the state party’s National Committeeman, explained that sunsetting the censures doesn’t mean they’ve been withdrawn. “We will work with all Republicans, and what actions happen in the future are based on how [they] perform. If they stand for Republican principles and vote properly and organize properly, there probably will be no issues.”

Now, the small, activist party wing of the party has 16 months to consider softening that enough so that its members elected to office can exercise their freedom of conscience.

Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector.

More in Opinion

Gov. Mike Dunleavy unveils proposals to offer public school teachers annual retention bonuses and enact policies restricting discussion of sex and gender in education during a news conference in Anchorage. (Screenshot)
Opinion: As a father and a grandfather, I believe the governor’s proposed laws are anti-family

Now, the discrimination sword is pointing to our gay and transgender friends and families.

Kenai Peninsula Education Association President Nathan Erfurth works in his office on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Voices of the Peninsula: Now is the time to invest in Kenai Peninsula students

Parents, educators and community members addressed the potential budget cuts with a clear message.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy holds a press conference at the Capitol on Tuesday, April 9, 2019. (Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: An accurate portrayal of parental rights isn’t controversial

Affirming and defining parental rights is a matter of respect for the relationship between parent and child

Opinion: When the state values bigotry over the lives of queer kids

It has been a long, difficult week for queer and trans Alaskans like me.

Dr. Sarah Spencer. (Photo by Maureen Todd and courtesy of Dr. Sarah Spencer)
Voices of the Peninsula: Let’s bring opioid addiction treatment to the Alaskans who need it most

This incredibly effective and safe medication has the potential to dramatically increase access to treatment

Unsplash / Louis Velazquez
Opinion: Fish, family and freedom… from Big Oil

“Ultimate investment in the status quo” is not what I voted for.

An orphaned moose calf reared by the author is seen in 1970. (Stephen F. Stringham/courtesy photo)
Voices of the Peninsula: Maximizing moose productivity on the Kenai Peninsula

Maximum isn’t necessarily optimum, as cattle ranchers learned long ago.

(Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: The time has come to stop Eastman’s willful and wanton damage

God in the Bible makes it clear that we are to care for the vulnerable among us.

Caribou graze on the greening tundra of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska in June, 2001. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: AIDEA’s $20 million-and-growing investment looks like a bad bet

Not producing in ANWR could probably generate a lot of money for Alaska.

A fisher holds a reel on the Kenai River near Soldotna on June 30, 2021. (Photo by Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Voices of the Peninsula: King salmon closures long overdue

Returns have progressively gone downhill since the early run was closed in June 2012

(Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Fixing legislative salaries and per diem

The state Senate was right to unanimously reject giving a 20% pay… Continue reading

Alaska First Lady Rose Dunleavy. (Photo courtesy of Office of the Governor)
Opinion: Volunteerism is a key pillar of Alaska history, future

I am happy to continue the First Lady’s Volunteer Awards