Voices of Alaska: Unity ticket represents Alaska’s interests

  • By Lisa Weissler
  • Monday, October 20, 2014 8:45pm
  • Opinion

In Alaska, we are currently under the leadership of people who shut out Alaskans and local and tribal governments from major public policy decisions, who put private corporate profits above Alaska jobs, public services and infrastructure, and who have lost their connection to Alaska as a community.

We started down this path years ago, around the time oil began flowing from the North Slope. But even at its worse, most elected officials still had at least some respect for the Alaska public and the public’s interests. That began to change in 2002, with the election of Frank Murkowski as governor.

Governor Murkowski began his term with changes to the state’s coastal management program, significantly reducing coastal communities’ ability to weigh in on resource development decisions that impacted local resources. He negotiated a gas pipeline deal with the three major North Slope oil producers — ExxonMobil, BP, and ConocoPhillips — that traded the state’s sovereign rights in exchange for the producers’ consideration of an Alaska pipeline. Thankfully we still had legislators watching out for our interests, and the contract was not approved.

It was also Governor Murkowski who oversaw changes to the state’s oil production tax, changes that led to the conviction of three legislators for taking bribes from an oil service company to give a more favorable tax rate to the industry.

Riding the wave of anti-corruption sentiment, the next administration made changes to the oil production tax to provide a better balance between state revenue and industry profits. Taking the opposite approach from Governor Murkowski, the Palin administration introduced natural gas pipeline legislation to encourage a project built on Alaska’s terms.

The stand for Alaska’s interests was short-lived. In 2009, when Governor Palin quit mid-term, her lieutenant governor, Sean Parnell, took over the governor’s seat. Following his election in 2010, Governor Parnell showed his true colors, introducing legislation and taking actions against the public interest that surpassed anything that came before.

Governor Parnell put forward the failed House Bill 77 that would have shut Alaskans out of resource development decisions; was instrumental in the termination of the state coastal program; signed into law a bill that makes it harder for people to challenge development decisions that impact their lives and livelihood; and discarded the long practice of involving the public in a collaborative process for managing areas with special resource values.

It was Governor Parnell who introduced Senate Bill 21, the oil production tax legislation that hands over profits and decision-making to the North Slope producers with the hope the companies will act in our best interests. With the natural gas pipeline project, Parnell made even more concessions to the producers than Governor Murkowski, for little in return. And now Alaskans are being shut out of the pipeline project contractual agreements Parnell’s administration signed with the companies, agreements that commit millions in public funds.

During his time as governor, Parnell took many other actions against Alaskans’ interests, including: threatening funding for Ketchikan’s capital projects in retaliation for a lawsuit over state education funding; ignoring a public transportation advisory board when cancelling a long-planned ferry; rejecting the Medicaid expansion that would provide better health care for thousands of Alaskans; challenging Alaskans’ subsistence rights; and failing to act on reports of sexual assault and corruption in the National Guard.

Come November 4th, we have a chance to set things right. With the Walker/Mallott Unity ticket we have the opportunity to elect two able statesmen who, through merging their campaigns, have demonstrated a commitment to bringing us together and representing Alaska’s interests. Bill Walker and Byron Mallott are a refreshing change to a governor who has shown a consistent lack of respect for Alaskans and for our communities, and who has handed Alaska’s future to private corporations.

Let’s change the path we started on years ago and take back our state. Please vote November 4th!

Lisa Weissler is an attorney specializing in oil, gas and mining law, natural resource permitting, and coastal management, with 21 years experience working for the State of Alaska.