Thumbs up: Gov. Bill Walker’s sloganeering on the campaign trail about a nonpartisan administration that would be able to better address Alaskans’ concerns on issues left some worried about whether the new governor had the political savvy to get things done in Juneau. Last week, Gov. Walker took a step toward putting those concerns to rest — while remaining committed to a largely nonpartisan inner circle.
News reports last week stated that Republican party insiders like Randy Ruedrich and Frank McQueary are wary of Gov. Walker’s administration so far, saying the Republicans picked for appointment aren’t sufficiently Republican for their taste and that several of the declared nonpartisan cabinet members are more like closet Democrats, regardless of their registered non-affiliation.
Perhaps motivated by similar concerns, a group of Republican legislators sent the governor an open letter last week calling on him to take immediate action to curb spending in light of the state budget deficit. While a good idea, the call for reduced spending was more than a bit disingenuous given the letter’s authors had a large hand in crafting the very budgets that created and expanded the deficit, while Gov. Walker did not.
In a canny move, however, the governor moved to immediately halt spending on state megaprojects like the Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline, Knik Arm bridge, Susitna-Watana dam, and the Juneau and Ambler roads. The legislators, several of whom had publicly backed the projects, had little room to criticize the governor for making spending cuts they had only the day before requested. Legislators’ responses to the action were telling in measuring their own commitment to budget cuts; Rep. Steve Thompson, to his credit, praised the governor’s willingness to make hard budget choices. Both the governor and Legislature will have plenty more of those to make during the next few months.
Thumbs down: A winter filled with tragedy on Interior roads was darkened once again at the beginning of the holiday season, as a fiery crash near Denali National Park early last week killed two people. The winter’s unseasonable warmth has significantly prolonged and worsened icy conditions throughout the Interior, with eight road deaths so far.
The biggest factor in deadly crashes so far this winter — failure to wear seat belts — may not have been present in the Denali wreck. But the season’s continuing collision streak is a sobering reminder to exercise great caution on Interior roads — particularly at highway speeds when a crash could well be fatal.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,