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


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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