There was a lot of Louis Renault going around Juneau last week.
The Casablanca police captain unforgettably pronounced himself shocked — shocked! — to find out gambling was going on in Rick Blaine’s club.
Renault’s supposed ignorance of the routine business in Blaine’s club is of course belied a moment later when an employee hands him a stack of cash: “Your winnings, sir.”
“Oh, thank you very much,” Renault says as he pockets the money, “now everybody out!”
On March 2, Gov. Bill Walker took his turn as Renault first, proclaiming himself shocked the House leadership introduced a bill to prioritize the ongoing Alaska LNG Project over Walker’s nebulous plan announced Feb. 18 to create a competing project by upsizing the Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline.
A couple hours later, it was Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, who declared he was shocked that the impulsive new governor would fly off the handle in the manner he did at a hastily called press conference by insulting the bill sponsors, declaring House Bill 132 unconstitutional and vowing a veto.
While the House sponsors no doubt expected a reaction from Walker, whose administration has not been forthcoming with the details of his new plan, it is possible they were surprised he would dispense with any modicum of decorum by calling their bill “un-Alaskan” and asserting they were working for someone besides their constituents.
In Walker’s case, the more disturbing conclusion than a feigned ignorance of politics going on in Juneau is that of a willful ignorance.
Did he really think the Legislature and its leadership that spent years crafting the structure of the Alaska LNG Project was going to roll over as he blew it up?
Does he not realize that anything he wants — whether it is Medicaid expansion or funding for his new gas plan — will require that he work with legislators rather than vilify them?
He can line item veto, but he can’t line item appropriate. It is probably also worth noting here that the legislation creating the Alaska LNG Project passed by veto-proof majorities in both houses.
In their press conference following Walker, the House members including Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, were calm yet firm in their reaction to Walker’s personal attacks and easily defended the merits of the bill they’d just introduced.
Walker, in contrast, was full of emotional bluster, disjointedly jumping from metaphor to metaphor about buying cars and leasing commercial office space, grasping at hearsay from a meeting with ExxonMobil to paint the House leaders as the only ones opposed to his idea to create a competing project to AK LNG.
Repeatedly pressed by reporters about why he believes it is better to align with customers who want the lowest price possible than to align with the producers who not only have the gas but want the best price possible, Walker had no good answers.
Instead, he kept going back to an example of a commercial office building that requires tenants signed up to lease space to finance construction
That is all well and good, but the problem with Walker’s example is that he’s trying to finance a project and line up tenants when he doesn’t own the lot where he wants to build, or, in this case, the gas.
Walker needs the suppliers of the gas — aka the big three producers — to be on board with any plan or he has nothing to market to customers. There is no way he can attempt to market 2 billion cubic feet of gas per day of which the state currently has no access.
Going back to his real estate example, given that he doesn’t own the lot where he wants to build, Walker’s plan appears to be to seize it through eminent domain.
If he really intends to invoke the “duty to produce” concept, North Slope gas will be tied up in court for decades. That would be a moot outcome, though, as the state will go bankrupt long before such a case is resolved.
What is becoming clear is that Walker did not level with the Alaska voters during his campaign when he said he would continue the Alaska LNG Project as conceived and in fact always intended to chart his own course even if his haphazard style of governance alienates legislators and throws uncertainty at markets that were finally starting to take a North Slope gas project seriously.
Not even Captain Renault could fake shock at this outcome.
— Alaska Journal of Commerce, March 4