How Governor Parnell Got His Groove Back

Alaska Governor Sean Parnell has earned himself a reputation for not being very assertive, a bit of a pushover if you will. Typically, this criticism comes from the governor’s own party. Even Alaska’s lone Congressman has referred to him as a “zero” on more than one occasion. That, coupled with the fact that it is totally en vogue to bash every facet of the federal government, might explain Governor Parnell’s latest bout of nastygrams sent to federal agencies.

Last week, the day prior to the end of the federal government shutdown, Governor Parnell sent Interior Secretary Sally Jewell a letter. The letter, dated October 15, informed Secretary Jewell that, unless she opened federal refuge lands in Alaska “by the close of business Alaska time on Tuesday, October 15”, the State of Alaska would “file a complaint for injunctive relief and request an immediate Temporary Restraining Order from a federal court judge”.

Yes, the Governor gave Secretary Jewell until the end of the same day he sent her the letter.

Alaskans know that mail and shipments take a little bit longer to get to and from here compared to the rest of America. For some reason, however, Governor Parnell not only expects a letter to travel across the entire continent and arrive on Secretary Jewell’s desk within the same day, he also expects her to take action on said letter that same day. Maybe Parnell felt he was being generous by giving her until the end of day Alaska time, effectively providing her an extra four hours to meet his demands due to the difference in time zones.

Let’s dig into the letter a little bit:

Dear Secretary Jewell,

This follows my letters to you dated October 4 and October 11, 2013, urging you repeatedly to open up federal refuges in Alaska so as to ameliorate the significant and adverse fiscal impact on our guides and support businesses during the short hunting season.

Yes, he’s been writing her a lot of letters lately. I wonder if he might have a bit of a crush on the Secretary.

Last week you offered to have the State of Alaska pay the entire operational costs of the refuges in order for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to reopen these lands to Alaskans and visitors. While I did express reservations about the need to pay the entire costs, I nonetheless had my staff contact your office to see what those cost estimates would be. As of today, we have heard nothing back.

Hmm… I wonder why federal employees haven’t gotten back to the Governor with that information he requested. Could it be the fact that the federal government was shut down at the time?

Besides closing of the refuges to members of the public and visitors to the State, USFWS has also announced that the State wildlife managers are barred from doing their normal research and management functions.

Secretary Jewell, you have visited Alaska; you understand the vast size of this state, and the fact that a decision by federal land managers to shut down federal refuges has a disproportionate impact in our state. Supervision of these areas is not labor intensive, and all we ask is that outfitters and guides – who already possess the requisite permits and certifications, – and who have already paid for these permits – be allowed to conduct their normal activities in federal refuges and that Alaskans be allowed to participate in the state managed hunts that take place on federal lands.

Holy punctuation, Batman! Did you just use two parenthetical dashes back-to-back in the same sentence? Sure, the dash is one of the least regulated marks in the world of punctuation, but please use some discretion before you ruin it for the rest of us. Blatant misuse like this is what causes new regulations to be created!

This is a zero-cost option that is consistent with the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) other federal land management decisions in response to the shutdown, including the most recent announcement allowing public access to Waterfowl Production Areas.

It was my sincere hope that we could avoid recourse through the courts. However, DOI’s position leaves us little choice. Unless USFWS reverses its shutdown of the federal refuges by the close of business Alaska time on Tuesday, October 15, Alaska will file a complaint for injunctive relief and request an immediate Temporary Restraining Order from a federal court judge here in Anchorage. [Emphasis the governor’s, not mine.]

Oh snap! Throwing down the gauntlet.wrestler gif

I respectfully request your reconsideration. With everything else that is going on, litigation between our respective principals should be avoided.

Well, if the Governor really wanted to avoid litigation, he should have sent her a time machine along with the letter containing his impossible demands. I get the feeling that he doesn’t actually mean this statement; after all, he’s no stranger to filing lawsuits against the federal government.

However, the financial impact and inconvenience to Alaskans can no longer be ignored, and we will seek to reopen these refuges based on the USFWS’ failure to follow its own closure regulations and other inconsistent positions adopted by DOI which have been repeatedly brought to your attention.

Thank you for your consideration. Please feel free to contact me through my Scheduler, Janice Mason, at 907-465-3986.

Sean Parnell

Governor

This is by far my favorite part of the letter. Rather than end it with something like, “here’s my personal cell phone number; call me anytime, day or night, and let’s come up with a solution to this problem” he tells the Secretary to contact his “Scheduler”. This isn’t even one of those, “have your people contact my people”; this is a “you contact my people”.  So much for choosing respect.

All that said, perhaps those of us that were lamenting the shutdown of the federal government owe Governor Parnell our gratitude. After all, this was the same night Congress finally passed a bill to re-open the government. It just might have been the Governor’s stern polemic that put an end to the impasse.

 This post is cross-posted at The Mudflats.

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When Animals Attack: Bizarre Alaskan Edition

You know that thing, where a group of ravens steal a hunk of smoked pork and then proceed to repeatedly drop it on your car in order to break it up into more palatable pieces?

My poor car:
My car after being used by ravens.

Found on the ground next to my car:
RavenAttack2

I hate when they do that; don’t you?


To answer some of the questions I’ve received about this:

  • I have no idea where the pork came from. In fact, I don’t even know if it’s pork.
  • Luckily, no dents.
  • Yes, I registered scorn with the ravens: I shook my fists at them and referred to them in very disparaging terms.

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Gross Anatomy, I’d Say So

 

Uaa_alaska-seal

This email alert just came to me from UAA (bold formatting mine):

UAA Campus Community:

Respect is an important value at UAA and safety is our highest priority. For those reasons, we are compelled to inform you that an inappropriate incident involving a female cadaver occurred in the Health Sciences Building’s Gross Anatomy Lab sometime between Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning. In addition, an act of vandalism to building furniture occurred Wednesday afternoon in the same building.

Criminal investigations are underway and additional security measures were implemented immediately.

Students and staff should take appropriate precautions, including extra vigilance, avoiding isolated areas of buildings, working and traveling in groups or seeking escorts at night.

If you have any information regarding these incidents, please contact the University Police Department at 786-1120.

Thank you.

 

I guess that’s what one might expect in a “Gross Anatomy Lab”.

 

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Wielechowski v. Parnell

So Governor Parnell tweeted:

This prompted Alaska State Senator Wielechowski to respond:

And thus, the stage was set.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran a brief story about the exchange. Alaska print and broadcast media weighed in as well. On Thursday, the Anchorage Daily News editorial board recommended the Governor accept the challenge, and conservative talk-show host Mike Porcaro offered his program as a venue for the debate.

Governor Parnell’s response came through his spokesperson, Sharon Leighow:

“A spokeswoman for Parnell, Sharon Leighow, said Parnell would not debate Wielechowski.

“The debate is occurring in the legislative hearings,” she wrote in an email. “As a former legislator, Gov. Parnell understands and appreciates the thorough examination of proposals, by Alaskans and legislators alike, that is carried out during the public process.”

Governor Parnell was a guest on Kenai radio yesterday, on KSRM’s Sound-Off with Duane Bannock (humorously dubbed, “The Tall, Dark, and Handsome Hour”). Bannock asked the Governor, “The Senator from East Anchorage and part-time Homer resident, Senator Bill Wielechowski, wants to debate you. Is that going to happen, yes or no?”

Parnell: “No. Not directly. You know, everyday, he has a unique opportunity, unlike most Alaskans, to debate people speaking on my behalf in the legislative hallways. He has a unique opportunity to put forward new ideas to create new production. Those opportunities are there everyday for him, to be on statewide TV doing it. He really needs to do his job as a senator, and I’m doing my job as Governor.”

His comment about the debate being had in the legislative hallways struck me as a bit bizarre and disconnected. There have been far too many deals struck, and debates had, in the capitol’s hallways that should have happened in televised committee rooms and floor sessions. It is extremely important that Alaskans understand this issue; it has the potential to dramatically affect the operations of our state for many years to come. Vice President Biden might refer to it as a big…ahem… deal.

As far as Wielechowski having the opportunity to have these discussions on statewide TV, committee meetings covered on Gavel to Gavel are hardly the place for the lay Alaskan to learn the debate on oil taxes: the discussions are often technical, lengthy, and well… a bit boring. And still, committee hearings are ran by the legislators asking questions of the administration and others selected to offer testimony; they lack the back-and-forth exchange that a proper debate would allow for.

I’ll admit, part of my desire to see such a debate stems for my love of political theater and the potential exists that this could be one of the great debates of Alaskan history. Some are speculating that the next Governor’s election will be between these two men as well, so what a great preview of what might be in store for 2014.

But greater than my desire to see this event for entertainment purposes is my desire to become educated on the Governor’s oil tax plan. I’m tired of the soundbites and slogans. I don’t know if the Governor’s plan is to giveaway $2-billion to the oil companies or if it’s going to create a booming Alaskan economy the likes of which we haven’t seen since the construction of the Alyeska pipeline. And neither do many other Alaskans.

This is one issue that warrants the extra attention. Governor Parnell should give not Senator Wielechowski, but Alaskans an hour or two to let this issue be heard. If the Governor doesn’t want to do it himself (and I can respect the notion that the Governor shouldn’t get in a habit of debating legislators outside of a political campaign), maybe Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell could have someone else protect the state seal for a couple of hours and carry the Governor’s banner in his stead. If the Governor’s plan is defensible, and it damn well better be if he’s proposing it, then time is nigh to defend it.

When it comes to something so important to Alaskans and our future, Alaskans would be better served by having at least part of this debate on primetime KTUU than they are to have all of it happen within the less-accessible halls of the state capitol.

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Great Moments In American Tweets #1: Chuck Grassley and Iowa’s Hunting “Cson”

I’ve been reading a bit of American history lately, the eloquence of Daniel Webster, the wit of Benjamin Franklin, and the slicing reason of Thomas Paine. I wonder, was everything that our great American historical figures said and wrote something you might want to print, frame, and revere? Did the culture of the time require more of its orators and writers than that of ours today? Or maybe they occasionally lapsed into lazy blurbs and stream-of-conscious musings, as if they inked a quill and lawn-darted it at some parchment across the room. We may never know.

But the good news is, today we have the technology to save the words — all of them — of our great political leaders. 150 years from now, when one of my ancestors looks to the pages of American history for some literary inspiration, that sacred historical record will be there for them…

Thanks to “Great Moments in American Tweets”!

For our first installment, I bring you Iowa’s senior US Senator Chuck Grassley, who just might be one of the most active members of Congress on Twitter.

I hope you enjoyed this “Great Moment in American Tweets”, stay tuned for the next edition, coming soon!

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A Nation in Need of Discussion

On Friday, I woke up and prepared to take my daughter to school — as I generally do on Fridays, as they are one of my scheduled days off from work. Like many others, I’m sure, I glanced at my phone for any messages or notifications that came through while sleeping. One news alert notification disturbingly caught my eye: “Police respond to reports of shooting at elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut’. This prompted me to check the various news outlets for more information. It became immediately clear that a great horror had unfolded upon our nation once again. I exclaimed to my wife about what I was reading, forgetting for a second how she might react being an educator herself. Thoughts of keeping my first-grade daughter home from school worked their way into my thoughts, though some bit of rationality managed to seep through my befuddled mind and I elected to take her to school. I walked her into the school, told her I loved her, and walked away. Halfway to my car, I realized with a shock that, on the other side of the country, other parents had done the exact same thing with their kids that very morning, never imagining for an instant that those would be their final moments together. I’m certain my heart stopped in that moment and I recall having to force myself to breathe, as thoughts of turning around and bringing my daughter home for the day leapt back into my mind. Again, rationality permeated, and I managed to leave the school. I elected to leave the radio off for the drive home, letting silence intensify the thoughts ringing dizzily in my skull.

Extreme emotion tore through the social networks I monitor. Anger and grief — often intertwined — spilled out in front of me, and understandably so. Images of candles and calls for prayer were taking residence with shared news reports of that morning’s horrific events, sprinkled with wishes of eternal damnation for whatever monster perpetrated this mindless tragedy. In those early moments, I cannot find fault in the way anyone chose to cope with the situation. Some of us get angry, some try to ignore it, while others become frozen in sorrow — or, as was my case, a bitter combination of all of the above. As the day progressed, and into the next, some reactions began to turn vile. Comments, graphics and conspiracies from the fringe elements of our digital populace began to bubble up to the surface: sickening claims that the White House conjured up the morning’s events in order to expedite the taking away of our guns, theocrats shouting about secularism in our public schools being to blame, and even, I’m afraid, people claiming that the children of Sandy Hook got the best Christmas present ever by getting a headstart on their eternity in Heaven. The anti-gun crowd shared contradicting, lazy infographics while going up against the opposite end of the spectrum which espoused claims that “if only those teachers were armed…”.

It was, and still is, a sad sight that shows no signs of diminishing. Yet, I understand.

I was raised in a household full of guns — old guns that were passed down from generation to generation (and thus far, one generation beyond mine), as well as new guns for the upcoming hunting seasons. There were guns for moose, guns for birds, guns to provide some confidence around bears, and guns even for fish (I dare one to lug a 200+ pound halibut into a boat, that weighs about the same, without softening its fury with a few rounds to its flat head). Guns never held any taboo allure in my home and never once did my siblings or I feel an urge to sneak into the gun cabinet to show a gun to a friend while our parents were gone. The reason was because we understood guns. We knew how the worked, how to take them apart and put them back together, and how to handle them safely. To us kids, they were no more exciting than my father’s table saw. I can recall kids that didn’t have the same exposure that I had to guns. We may have had twenty or more guns in our house, but it was them that seemed to obsess over them. And as far as Alaska goes, and I imagine the same holds for other rural parts of this country, my situation was pretty normal. It wasn’t until I began meeting people from urban areas in the Lower 48, in my travels and online, that I realized my perspective on guns was not shared with a great number of other Americans. For the first time in my life, I felt alienated for my views on guns.

Politically, I occupy the pragmatic middle, so it isn’t surprising to me that that appears to also be where I fall on the “gun spectrum”. I own and use guns, believing that I have a right to do so responsibly. But I also have never felt the need to advertise that right by participating in the “Second Amendment Task Force” rallies that occasionally befall my city (Alaska has some of the loosest gun laws in the nation: you do not need a permit to carry a concealed weapon and it is perfectly legal to walk around town with a pistol on your belt or a rifle slung over your shoulder), I’ve never believed that the Democrats were going to take our guns away (“they” told a young and impressionable version of me that President Clinton was going to do it, yet I still have all of the guns I had at the time he was elected), and I’m not, nor have I ever been, a member of the National Rifle Association (I harbor a great disdain for Chuck Norris).

If you’re still with me at this point, please note that I’m not an apologist for the pro-, nor anti-, gun crowds. I have great friends that fall into either camp and can equally understand their respective arguments. My purpose here is not to make the case for one position or the other. There are plenty of activists on either side with the resources and passion to lobby their side of the debate, and I would prefer to occupy my time with other matters.

My perspective holds that this nation is long overdue for a discussion on not only how we “do guns” in this country, but how we handle the other pieces that comprise the puzzle of violence that has once again darkened our nation. Solutions will not be found by going to our respective corners and puffing our chests. Now is not the time to stand your ground or dig in your heels. The answers do not lie in misattributed quotes, “Likes” or “Shares”, or the words of a sports commentator. And they certainly do not occupy space anywhere near the fringes of any particular ideology. The solutions can only be found through honest and open dialogue, applying the principles of science and research, and agreeing on places we can draw some lines. If you think any of this can be summed up with an ignorant bumper sticker slogan, you’re the last person I want to see have a seat at the table. While it’s easy to crack jokes about false equivalencies involving spoons and obesity, you’re not only not funny, but missing the entire point completely. There are no solutions in the degradation of our discussions.

We don’t yet know the real cause of these great tragedies that are weighing heavily on our hearts and minds. We might do well to understand that these events are the symptoms of something we desperately need to unravel. Some argue that it is our nation’s legal stance on guns that is to blame. Others point to a poor understanding of mental health challenges and a desperate lack of proper coverage. Why not all of the above?

We can start by detaching gun philosophy from both the realms of partisan politics as well as religion. Both of these factors only intensify the rhetoric and thicken a reluctance to effect real positive change. From there, let’s focus in on the things everyone can agree on. No one believes that guns should be made available to people with violent pasts or without the proper mental capacity to responsibly own such powerful instruments. Background checks and waiting periods are of no concern or inconvenience to responsible gun owners. And maybe, just maybe, a semi-automatic Bushmaster with a 30-round magazine or other similar assault rifle should require a little extra work to acquire than the single-shot, Marlin 60 .22-caliber rifle my son just received for his 11th birthday. And as well, maybe we should start treating mental illness seriously in this country. We’d be served well to focus on the ailments that occur inside of us just as much as we do on the ones that occur externally. I’m confident that adequately-funded research, coupled with the proper political focus, is the path to unlocking the chemical and physiological mysteries that negatively affect so many of our loved ones, young and old alike.

These are things we should all agree on, if only we can sit down to have the conversation. Before we do that, however, we must reroute some of our anger and sorrow into the energy and will that we need to take reasonable and effective action, to shape the issue into one we can all agree to address, and put our political sensibilities aside so we may work together. Because when you boil it all down, there really is only one side.

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Petition for Secession

Apparently, waxing ecstatic about your state seceding from the United States is all the rage. Petitions by members of nearly each of the 50 states have been filed on the White House’s “We The People” website. “We The People” allows citizens to create a petition, and if they get a certain number of signers (currently, 25,000), they’ll receive a response from the White House. Some of the states have already achieved the 25,000 signatures required, such as Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. Most that have passed the threshold have just around the 25,000 signatures required, but Texas has nearly 100,000 currently (are you surprised?).

Every state has its fringe elements; Alaska is no exception. We have at least three petitions for secession at “We The People”. The one that prompted this post, titled “Peacefully grant the State of Alaska to withdraw from the United States of America and create its own NEW government”, had 32 signers yesterday, and 34 today. At that rate, we’ll have enough signatures for an official White House response by the year 2046.

I stumbled across another one, “allow Alaskans a free and open election to decide whether or not Alaska should Secede from the United States”, that was also created yesterday that has significantly more signatures (as of this writing, 6,543). That one basically asks for a do-over of the 1958 vote for Alaskan statehood. There are a number of people in Alaska that believe that the statehood vote was administrated poorly or illegally, or that fraud was involved. In fact, Alaska has a political party that is apparently based upon this idea. (You might recall some hubbub during the 2008 election about Sarah/Todd Palin ties to the party.)

Hey, and here’s another: “ALLOW ALASKA TO SECEDE FROM A DYSFUNCTIONAL UNION”. It has just over 1,300 signatures.

All of these petitions fail to offer a reason as to why we’d be better off no longer being a part of the United States. A lot of the same people that I’ve heard think out loud about Alaska becoming its own country are also the same people who also act as if they’re more patriotic than others… the people that like to tell you that your beliefs are un-American. It’s bizarre.

But seriously, have these people really thought secession through? Let’s assume the White House responds to the petition and says, “Sure. No problem. You’re on your own.” (By the way, this would be the opposite response that George Washington would respond with. Whiskey Rebellion ring a bell?)

Seriously, how many states could afford to survive without the support of the rest of the United States? If each of those states seceded, I’m guessing they’d each need their own military. How many states can afford a single fighter jet? How about the EPA, or FEMA, or the FBI/CIA/NSA? You think there’s bureaucracy now? Imagine the hassle of a company trying to do business in multiple states, dealing with multiple different state EPAs. What about the money we’ve paid into Social Security; would that be paid back or would the Feds keep it? And for Alaska to play this silly charade, it’s downright troubling, if not also ridiculous. Alaska, a state that relies so heavily on Federal largesse, one that elects the same people to Congress decade after decade due to their ability to bring home the proverbial bacon, a state that has … what, 5 military bases? Would we really be better off severing those ties? Sure, we can talk tough… talk about how without Federal intervention we could tap and drill whatever and whenever we wanted — starting with ANWR — and we’d be completely independent and flush with cash (of course, we might need to wait and see what our current legislature and Governor does with oil taxes to see just how much that extra production would impact revenue), but the bottom line is that many, many Alaskans would be in a world of hurt without help from any number of federal agencies that provide service to our state. People would die.

I believe that our nation is great because its sum is bigger than its individual parts. There are things that every state wants and needs in order to make sure its citizens are healthy and safe. We take those common needs and centralize them, pooling our resources to make sure everyone can be taken care of. Nationally, we fund research that leads to treatments and cures to diseases that ravaged previous generations. We centralize our surveillance and intelligence, to keep America safe from enemies, both abroad and within. We enjoy a common culture that has been seasoned by the people who have brought to America a piece of their previous homes. We are a great nation, a beautiful nation.

Does the federal government have its flaws? Can it be wasteful, overzealous, inefficient, and cumbersome? Ab-so-lutely. But our form of government also offers us the ability to change these things, which also happens to be one of America’s greatest traits. Unlike countries where your only chance of seeing a change in your government is through the force of violence, bloodshed, terror, and the death of innocents, in America you can work from within the system. Each of you have power at the ballot box, the ability to run for office, and the right to criticize and question your government, all without fear of retribution.

This country is truly a remarkable thing, tragically taken for granted far too often.

To those signers of these petitions, I urge you to think deeply about what you’re promoting. This, “I’m taking my ball and going home” attitude is something you’re supposed to grow out of. It’s time to re-visit the words of a great American that lead our nation through some similarly challenging times. He said,

“Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country”.

Secession ain’t the answer, my friends.

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