“Houston, we’ve got a problem.”
This famous distress call, issued 50 years ago this April, will likely be the message that is soon beamed to the capital of the oil industry once again. The extraordinary heavy-handed budget cuts of the Tea Party inspired the Dunleavy administration, and unless further moderated, are more than likely to reverberate all the way to Texas.
The continued $1.2 billion oil tax credit giveaway to that industry, as well as oil taxes much lower than most other oil-producing states, are now a major irritant to many Alaskans. When we are expected to suffer enormous budget cuts imposed autocratically solely by Dunleavy’s pen, sentiment not only to recall their author but also to change those tax policies by referenda will build to the point of revolt.
It has long been nearly axiomatic in Alaskan politics that coastal communities from Ketchikan to Kaktovik can, in the right circumstances, determine the outcome of statewide elections. How so you ask, when by far most of our population is centered in the Anchorage basin? Keep in mind that Anchorage, though not large by some standards, has been a rather cosmopolitan town for many years. It is not only ethnically and economically diverse, but politically polarized as well. Most elections result in very narrow margins in Anchorage, as different political positions often fight nearly to a draw. Only a relatively few votes turn those elections. Fairbanks and the Rail Belt, though once solidly conservative, have in recent years become much more diverse as well. As a consequence coastal communities can sometimes play an out-sized role in determining statewide elections.
The most egregious cut the governor has made with his red pen has been the Alaska Marine Highway System. We call it that because that’s in fact what it is, and what it means to these communities. Imagine if the road from Anchorage to Wasilla were completely cut by an earthquake, and the state refused to fix it. That’s exactly what the administration has done to coastal towns.
These small towns have retained close personal relationships as part of the fabric of their communities. Even voters of different parties agree very strongly on matters like the ferry, schools, fishery management and so on, and will vote as a bloc when deliberately attacked in the manner that this governor has.
So if Houston thought that they scored a big win with Dunleavy, they should consider the emerging backlash his heavy-handed attack on coastal communities is cringing to bear. Referenda may not inure to their benefit.