So Governor Parnell tweeted:
Extreme D legislators say oil tax bill goes too far. AOGA says it doesn’t go far enough. Lends cred to argument the proposal is fair. #AKLeg
— Gov. Sean Parnell (@AKGovParnell) January 20, 2013
This prompted Alaska State Senator Wielechowski to respond:
@akgovparnell: Extreme D legislators say oil tax bill goes too far. / What do you say you and I debate this issue on statewide TV?
— Bill Wielechowski (@wielechowski) January 20, 2013
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.