U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, speaks to a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature at the Alaska State Capitol on Tuesday, April 19, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, speaks to a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature at the Alaska State Capitol on Tuesday, April 19, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: Gazing at the stars while democracy burns

“The stars are aligned at long last” to get the Alaska LNG project built, Sen. Dan Sullivan wrote in an Anchorage Daily News opinion last week. It’ll be “the only LNG project backed by the full faith and credit of the United States.”

But any serious effort to make that happen will require standing up to the unserious populist wing of his party. And because Donald Trump is its leader, Sullivan lacks the political will to do that.

It was just two weeks ago that most House Republicans rejected a continuing resolution to keep the government running. The populists, who refuse to compromise with Democrats, preferred shutting it down.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) chose the responsible alternative. The resolution passed with support primarily from Democrats. It gave lawmakers 45 more days to craft a complete budget for FY24. But it cost McCarthy his job.

While it’s true that not a single Democrat voted to retain McCarthy, it’s impossible to ignore Trump’s role in those events. He didn’t explicitly support shutting down the government. But he did state doing so was justified in order to defund the Justice Department’s prosecution in the two cases in which he’s a defendant. And he did nothing to defend McCarthy’s decision to keep the government running.

Trump made similar mischief back in May. He wanted to use the debt ceiling issue as leverage to reverse some of the domestic spending signed into law by President Joe Biden. If Democrats refused, he argued, Republicans should let the government default. He mischaracterized that as merely “a bad week or a bad day,” when in reality it would have destroyed America’s reputation for honoring its debt obligations.

Thanks to substantial support from Democrats, Congress was able to raise the debt ceiling. Had they failed it would have been impossible to leverage the country’s credit to attract investors for the Alaska NG project.

Sullivan’s refusal to address Trump’s shenanigans is matched by his reluctance to compliment Biden. But he needs White House support for the Alaska LNG project. That’s why he happily noted the administration has already approved the Record of Decision. He even acknowledged they re-approved the Willow project on the North Slope.

Before mentioning any of that though, he tossed the party’s populist base some red meat.

“Inflation is eating into paychecks,” he wrote in his opening paragraph. “The wide-open southern border is fueling thousands of fentanyl overdoses. The cost of energy is skyrocketing. At every turn, it seems that the Biden administration is determined to shut down our state.”

Inflation and high energy prices aren’t entirely due to Biden’s policies. Nor are drug-related deaths in Alaska. But unlike just hinting he’s to blame for inflation and energy prices, in a social media post he directly accused Biden of “allowing drug cartels to invade Alaska.” That irresponsible exaggeration conveniently ignores such facts as how one of the worst drug dealers from Mexico operated in Alaska while Trump was president. He was arrested last year and is currently awaiting trial.

Obviously, Sullivan’s claim that Biden is doing everything possible to harm Alaska’s resource economy is contradicted by his applauding the administration’s support for the Alaska LNG and Willow projects.

And while it’s true Biden canceled oil exploration leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, there were never any serious leaseholders.

The bill to open the refuge was signed into law in December 2017. The Trump administration didn’t offer any leases until November 2020. No major oil companies submitted bids. Two small companies each picked up one of the 11 tracts. They backed out before Biden canceled the remaining leases. Those were held by the state-owned Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority which had no ability to explore for oil.

But Sullivan’s most disturbing pandering to Trump and his base includes supporting the congressional impeachment inquiry of Biden despite there being no evidence of wrongdoing. And arguing that prosecuting Trump is ill-advised because it will divide the country, while disregarding the details of probable crimes detailed in the criminal indictments against him.

Alaska may or may not get its LNG project. But if Sullivan was a serious defender of Alaska and American democracy, he’d be less inclined to stargaze while Trump and his populist minions attempt to burn it all down.

• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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