Where’s Sarah? The Return of a Classic.

1 12 2008

wheres-sarah1

Back in 2006, the members of the Alaska State Legislature were doing their jobs in the place they were supposed to be doing their jobs, also known as the state capitol, Juneau. The governor, however, didn’t like Juneau much. She preferred to do her job from Wasilla and Anchorage, while collecting per diem payments and living in her own home. I know that the rest of the Legislature who live in the Anchorage area would probably love to do their jobs from home while collecting per diem payments. It’s hard to be away from your family for that long. Juneau can only be reached by plane. It can be difficult. But I’m guessing it would be frowned upon if they did it.

Double-standard aside, Sarah Palin was absent from her place of employment a lot. As a sign of protest, legislators from both sides of the aisle took to wearing a unique fashion accessory. They appeared at the Legislative session wearing buttons that said, “Where’s Sarah?” They realized that it was, in fact, impossible to be effective as a governor if you are not actually present.

This astute political observation couldn’t be more relevant today. Today, Sarah Palin is not in her office. She is not dealing with the affairs of state. She is not working on the gas pipeline, or the dropout rate, or trying to figure out why our gas prices are more expensive than anywhere else in the country. She’s not playing catch-up from all the work she missed while on the campaign trail, and she’s not trying to figure out what to do to keep Alaskans warm this winter. She’s not figuring out what to do about the budget which was finalized when oil was in the $60/barrel range, not the $45/barrel it is now.

So, where’s Sarah? She is on the stump for Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss. She flew out to a private fundraiser last night, and is making four campaign stops in Georgia today. This travel comes on the heels of two months of campaigning out of state, and a recent trip to Florida for the Republican Governors’ conference. Yes, this is only two days (plus travel prep, speech prep, flying time, jet lag, etc.), but once again the Governor has missed the point. It’s what got her in the turkey video. She was unable to step outside the situation and ask herself, “How will this look to OTHERS?” How will it look that after months away trying to run the state from my Blackberry, and a return to a politically divided Alaska with lots of domestic problems that have been on the back burner, that I’m heading off to do more partisan political grandstanding for a controversial Republican candidate on the other side of the continent?” Because, if she had asked the question, the answer would have been, “Bad.”

I was glad to see the Democratic Party in Alaska stand up and say something today. This came from the Alaska Democratic Party:

Anchorage – While Gov. Sarah Palin is out of state again, this time in Georgia campaigning for incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss on the eve of the runoff election, Alaska faces challenges including a lack of leadership from the Governor.

Palin will stump for Chambliss, the draft-evading incumbent Republican who waged a notoriously misleading campaign against a decorated war hero, at rallies Monday in Atlanta, Augusta, Savannah and Perry, Georgia. Palin has been back in Alaska at work for only a few days since running for vice president. “Alaskans need our Governor here earning her salary and working on key problems facing Alaska families,” said Alaska Democratic Party Chair Patti Higgins. Alaska is facing significant challenges, Higgins said, including:

  • Oil prices have dropped dramatically to about $45/bbl from the peak of $144/bbl in July, which threatens the state budget.

  • Alaskans are paying some of the highest prices for gas in the nation, averaging $2.87 per gallon, while the national average is $1.91.

  • The state’s oil production continues to decline, due to falling prices and mature fields.

  • The global credit crunch and falling natural gas prices threaten the Alaska gas line.

  • The State is failing to meet its constitutional obligation to take care of public education as shown by the high drop out rates and the low graduation rates.

  • Many Medicare patients cannot find doctors.

  • There is continued flight from rural villages.

  • Alaska faces the prospect of reduced federal dollars from Washington, D.C.

“Alaska’s challenges are significant, and there is much that needs to be done right now. Our Governor should remember that her primary job is to work on behalf of the citizens of Alaska, not engage in partisan politics in other states,” Higgins said.”Governing is more than creating photo ops. We’d like a commitment that the Governor is working, not just scheduling media appearances.”

Why the press conference? Is this one-day stump that egregious? Isn’t she going to be on the east coast anyway to join other governors as they meet with President Elect Obama on Tuesday? What’s the big deal? I’ll answer that question as my mother would. “Sarah, you’re really pushing it.” And she is. And each time she pushes, more and more Alaskans will push back, and her popularity will continue to slide, and she will continue to play “gotcha” with herself. In honor of the governor’s flight to Georgia, I have resurrected the “Where’s Sarah?” button. I have tried in vain to find an image of the original button, but have hopefully captured the spirit in this new incarnation of an old favorite. To get one, or several dozen, click HERE. And don’t worry Legislators, my customer list is strictly confidential…your secret is safe with me!





Would You Rather Freeze to Death, or Be a Socialist?

28 11 2008

On Thanksgiving weekend, when Americans are thinking of all they have to be grateful for, many are also burdened with worries about the future. Matters as fundamental as keeping warm are very real for thousands of Alaskans living in rural villages where the price of heating oil hovers around $10/gallon. The costs associated with flying heating oil out to rural communities that are off the road system is astronomical. Many communities are experiencing theft of heating oil by neighbors desperate to keep warm, and others in coastal communities are scouring the shore for driftwood to burn. These things are incomprehensible to most Americans, but are a stark reality in Alaska. Many families are abandoning the native subsistence lifestyle that their families have been living for thousands of years, and moving to Alaska’s urban centers because they feel they have no choice. This is causing a whole host of other challenges for the rural communities that are losing residents, and for the urban centers coping with the influx of rural Alaskans coping with culture shock.

For the past three years, Venezuela President Hugo Chavez has been donating free heating oil to Alaska villages, and economically depressed communities in 23 states across the country. This has the effect you might imagine in Alaska. Some are deeply grateful. Those are usually the cold people. Others are furious at the gesture from this unapologetic socialist, and either accept the gift begrudgingly, or have outright refused to take it. Those in the latter category are starting to rethink their position facing the hard reality of the coming winter, and the fact that some rural families will be spending in excess of 40% of their income on heating fuel.

I am unsure if the irony of the socialist free fuel dilemma is lost on Alaskans. While some state leaders are squawking that

a) Chavez is a Socialist

b) Socialists are evil

Therefore we should reject them and all they stand for.

They seem to be OK with the fact that

a) Sarah Palin also gave away money for free fuel to all Alaskans in the form of an energy rebate check.

b) This sounds awfully…..socialist

c) Sarah Palin was openly railing against socialism and all things socialist across the country on the campaign trail.

Many say, “We shall forget this comparison because we don’t like cognitive dissonance and we shall not ever admit that a socialist idea has any merit at all, nor that any Alaskan might think we need to be doing the same thing as Hugo Chavez. Humph.”

The main difference, of course, is that Chavez is providing the fuel to rural communities that have at least a 70% Alaska Native population, and Sarah Palin gave it to everyone, including wealthy Anchorage residents who spent it on…whatever.

Speaking of the $1200 energy rebate check issued by Palin,

Anchorage Rep. Bob Lynn, a Republican, said he doubts the state would cut checks again because oil prices are dropping and the payment was meant to be a one-time measure.

Lynn said it’s not right for Alaska to receive oil from Chavez. “We need to be able to take care of our own. The United States needs to do something about this,” he said.

Still, Lynn added later, “It’s one thing for me to speak philosophical thoughts here in the warmth of my home in Anchorage. It’s another thing to have a wife and kids in danger of freezing to death out there.”

Bingo. It’s time for Alaskans and Americans to stop screaming “Socialist!” like it was a four-letter word and get over the reactionary knee-jerk rejection of an entire political philosophy because of the fear of a label. Fear of freezing should trump fear of a word. We need to address these problems using concepts with long-term solutions, and not be afraid to use what works because of how it sounds. And we need to recognize where the need exists most and focus our efforts there.

It’s going to take some conviction and courage from both sides of the aisle in Alaska to deal with this, especially considering the ironic anti-socialist rhetoric that came from our Governor on the VP campaign trail.