Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott have begun forming our new government — like Abe Lincolns, and like the mugwumps who, down to the 20th century, fought corruption and robber baron control.
What’s a mugwump? Someone who is independent of party politics. The new Alaska Cabinet is being appointed without regard to party. Good luck getting our quite Republican Legislature to confirm them.
Revenue from oil production is down, way down. “Alaskans, roll up your sleeves,” said Gov. Walker’s unity team. “We’ll get through this. As always we must make the best of things.”
They stopped just short of calling oil industry domination of politicians another natural disaster likes floods, earthquakes and tsunamis. These guys were raised in small communities: Valdez and Yakutat.
Walker is a carpenter, with a law degree. From a building family, he was a journeyman on pipeline construction. Now he is the boss-carpenter in charge of constructing a better state.
Mallott was raised making a living fishing and went on to run the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. and did well by us with that. Education is his priority. A very useful expertise with our school funding method struck down which requires restructuring.
First thing after the votes were counted they put together a transition team — 250 people from around the state, meeting for 2½ days without bureaucrats and legislators. Nobody on the state payroll was invited, except to listen. Transparency is a theme for these guys and the press and public was welcomed to sit in all 17 subcommittee rooms and post suggestions.
Walker/Mallott promise more of Gov. Jay Hammond’s Alaska Public Forums which met in community schoolhouses around Alaska. Everybody who showed up in Homer, where I attended, was assigned at random to a group, and what emerged was a very united voice calling for establishing our permanent fund in the Alaska Constitution. It takes two-thirds vote in both houses of the Legislature to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. The House and Senate were not about to do that until we Alaskans rose as one and demanded the permanent fund.
These forums can be held again to let the people speak. Locals sitting down together and finding common ground. No disrespect to the Legislature, they have much important stuff to go over, and over, and over. Taking care of a lot of business — routine or off-the-wall — all very serious stuff. All the while waiting impatiently to hear what their home voters are thinking.
What could we be thinking? How about putting more dough in the permanent fund? Jay Hammond said why not get 12 percent from mining and 6 percent from logging and fishing? He also advocated putting 100 percent of oil revenues in the fund, and hoped to settle for 50 percent of royalties, bonuses and severance taxes. Severance taxes were severed by the Legislature who then put only 25 percent on the ballot and so today we save about 12 percent. If we had put more in the fund, from the beginning, today the operating and capital budgets could be fully paid from the permanent fund earnings and without reduction in our level of dividends.
The fund is what it is. Can we improve it by putting more into it? I know, times are looking leaner. To me this is more reason to put more away. After all, as one 90-year-old said: “It’s not our oil. We have had our share. The rest should benefit Alaskans yet unborn. Think of the kids, and their kids for heaven’s sake. Leave some decisions about
their rightful wealth, to them.”
I talked with a few elders today, regarding the down-spiraling oil prices, and this is what they said:
• “We got through the quake, the fires and floods, this is not so bad.”
• “Whatever comes just do the best you can.”
We might be worried now, we might be worried for awhile, but take a look at the outside world: war, pestilence, famine, partisan politics and popular culture.
In Alaska we have now elected mugwumps, because we are independents and outnumber party-line voters be they Libertarian, Constitutional, Republican, Tea, or Democratic.
The best advice for all parties could be the words of Charlie Miller of Miller’s Landing, which he had chiseled on his tombstone in Homer: “Don’t take yourself too damn serious.”