Yes, there is life beyond Palin. It may seem hard to believe, especially here in Alaska, where the media is swarming on the small town of Wasilla like ravens on a dumpster full of french fries. (Trust me, it’s a good metaphor)
As everyone in the Lower 48 + Hawaii is finding out, the cast of characters in Alaskan politics is full of…well…characters:
Walt Monegan, the noble Police commissioner who said, “I’d gladly die for the governor, but I would never lie for the governor”
Chuck Kopp his non-vetted replacement who famously proclaimed, “I am not a sex harasser!”
Mike Wooten, the trooper in Troopergate who has a list of offensive deeds, but was axed by whom Palin wanted to axe for what many feel is personal revenge.
Stephen Branchflower, the rock solid non-partisan investigator, and Thomas Van Flein, his nemesis and the private attorney now representing Palin. Palin’s new private attorney.
And the whole supporting cast of children, children’s boyfriends, extended family, ex-coworkers, the almost fired librarian saved by the outraged masses at the last minute*, the fired police chief, and of course, Palin herself – the lip-sticked pit bull moose-skinning gun-toting mother of 5 (or 4 say some), who either rose like a star, or flimflammed her way to the top…depending who you ask.
But, yes, there is a whole political landscape outside the governor’s little world. There is big news developing with two of those characters who haven’t been discussed much lately – Don Young, and Sean Parnell.
Don Young. That’s him up there standing in front of the giant portrait of himself, wearing an Alaska state flag bolo tie. When people who don’t know about Don Young ask about Don Young, they are met with one of three reactions: the eye roll, the head shake/chuckle combination, or an expletive. It never fails. He is absolutely indescribable, but I’ll try. He is a cocky, loud mouthed, angst-ridden, bloviating, jaw-dropping bully. He looooves pork, and people that love pork, love him. He’s a porketarian of the highest order. His annual fundraiser is even a pig roast and he’s proud of it. The grill at the event is usually a $30,000 barbeque donated for the event by Veco corp, the now defunct oil services company whose president and vp have plead guilty to felony counts of bribery and agreed to dish the dirt on what feels like half the Republican politicians in Alaska…and one Democrat just for the heck of it. Many are either on their way, or already in prison.
Don Young himself is currently under investigation by the FBI, and has spent more than a million dollars from his campaign fund on lawyers and hasn’t even been indicted yet. All of this does not keep Alaskans from voting for him. He’s been holding Alaska’s lone seat in the House of Representatives since 1973, and most Alaskans just look upon him as an inevitability, like snow. He just keeps coming back, no matter what you do. And besides, we’ll overlook a lot, as long as we get our pork.
The last time Don Young was up for reelection, the Democratic challenger (a woman, and Alaska native) Diane Benson got 40% of the vote. While this may not sound like much in other elections, 40% against Don Young with a progressive female candidate on the ballot was huge. This proved that Young was vulnerable. Smelling blood in the water, hoards of lower level politicians began circling the wounded bloviator.
This time around, he may go down. State legislator Ethan Berkowitz, a rising Democratic star, stand a very good chance of unseating him in the upcoming election. Progressive Alaskans are doing the happy dance all over the state. For them, it is a dream come true. But…there’s one more hurdle to overcome. The hurdle is named Sean Parnell. Sean Parnell is what many like to call a ‘Palin-bot’. He shares Palin’s idealogy, and is “supportive” of her administration. Translated, this means whatever she says goes, and he doesn’t argue. Critics say he’s an empty suit and an empty head. He also doesn’t like to show up at debates, or give interviews…too uncomfortable (sound familiar?). BUT, he has Sarah Palin’s ‘full support’, which is enough for many in the state.
Berkowitz doesn’t fare as well against Parnell in the polling, and it might be a tight race if that was the match-up in November. Parnell might very well swoop into office exactly like Palin, by getting the anyone-but-the-incumbent-as-long-as-I-can-still-vote-Republican vote. That’s a big slice of the pie up here.
I went down to Convention Central at the Egan Center in Anchorage on primary night, just to watch the returns. And, as many predicted, the race of the night turned out to be Young vs. Parnell. We all bit our nails, drank $8 beers at the bar in the corner, chomped peanuts and watched the big board. At times there were only four votes separating the two candidates. Progressives stopped doing the happy dance and started worrying. Many Democrats and independents I know voted for Young, simply to assure that he would stay in the race long enough to be taken down by Berkowitz. (The Alaskan version of Rush Limbaugh’s operation Chaos, urging Republicans to cross over and vote for Hillary). They will be happy they did. At the end of the night, only about 150 votes separated the two candidates, with Young holding a razor thin lead over Parnell, and hanging on by his fingernails.
Then the absentee voting began. There were 25,000 votes to be counted. The result? After more nail-biting ups and downs and the Division of Elections working into the night, Young maintains his lead by a scant 239 votes. With still more absentee ballots to be counted from overseas, this is about as close as it gets. The last of the absentee ballots will be rounded up by Wednesday, and it’s anyone’s guess. There will likely be a recount.
Oh, and did I forget to mention that the Division of Elections is under the purvue of none other than…the Lt. Governor, Sean Parnell? Oh, it’s true. Who said life beyond Palin would be boring?
Now that you’ve welcomed a new Alaskan eccentric into your political world, please sit back and enjoy this little homage to Don Young from TPM Muckraker who refers to Young as a “one man mud wrestling match”. Enjoy.
*correction from previous post