“The new rule in American politics is divide and conquer,” longtime political analyst Bill Schneider wrote at the dawn of the 2106 presidential campaign. “At the extreme,” he warned, “identity politics means that public opinion is replaced by party opinion.”
In 2014, Bill Walker and Byron Mallott gave Alaskans the chance to experiment with something different. “Our administration is going to look like Alaska in every way possible,” Walker said the day they announced their decision to join forces. “Partisan politics will not have a place in our administration.”
Republican Gov. Sean Parnell responded by trying to reinstate the partisan divide. He called Walker and Mallott the “Democrat gubernatorial ticket.” To emphasize his point, he said they favored “more of President Obama’s policies in Alaska.”
It didn’t work.
But divide and conquer came back this year. Although this time Republicans can watch from the sidelines while supporters of Walker and Mark Begich fight for votes and then blame each for putting Mike Dunleavy in the Governor’s Mansion.
It’s unfortunate we reached this point. But like Bruce Scandling wrote in the Empire last month, I don’t feel conflicted at all. He’s all in behind Begich. For me, it’s Walker. Even though he doesn’t share many of my core values, Begich doesn’t seem to either.
Yes, Begich is “the only pro-choice candidate,” as Scandling emphatically observed. I get that. And I understand a women’s right to make that decision will be seriously threatened if Brett Kavanaugh or any other anti-choice nominee is confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
I disagree with Walker’s support of the National Rifle Association just as much as I do with his position on abortion. I’ve criticized his proposals to privatize parts of state government. But I never expected anything but disagreement on these issues. They’re part of his conservative heritage.
So is his position on management of the Tongass National Forest. But I wouldn’t accuse him of being an ideologue on that front because he opposes the Pebble Mine. And he chose the “No-Build” option on the Juneau Access project. While I’m not going to pretend to know the primary factors which influenced these decisions, both transcended the identity politics normally associated with land use and resource extraction.
I supported Walker’s new tax proposals and the cut to the Permanent Fund Dividend because I believed both were necessary to solve the state’s budget crisis. Neither aligned with his Republican sensibilities. And they weren’t popular with voters either.
Which brings me to back his Democratic opponent. People “are fed up with politicians who are more interested in the next election rather than the next generation of Alaskans,” Begich wrote an opinion piece published by the Empire four weeks ago.
I agree. It’s why he lost my vote for re-election his four years ago.
With more than two years left in his U.S. Senate term, Begich sent a fundraising letter which began by claiming “the entire national right-wing attack machine” was out to defeat him. Several months later it seemed his tepid response to the Sandy Hook school massacre was meant to keep the NRA from joining that group.
On management of the Tongass, Begich is in the same camp as Walker and all three Alaskan Republicans in Congress. But similar to his views on gun control, I suspect he was trolling for votes.
Begich’s four-point plan to create long-term fiscal stability reminds me of the magical math of the balance budget resolution he proposed as in the Senate. On the latter he didn’t address the Pentagon’s bloated budget despite the fact it accounts half of all federal discretionary spending. Now he’s not willing to tell Alaskans he can’t save the Permanent Fund without new tax revenue.
I would have voted for Begich in 2014 if he’d stood up to the NRA, the military industrial complex, timber interests and other congressional lobbies who don’t represent my values. So don’t mistake me as someone who, as Scandling put it, supported him in the past but am now “afraid he’ll split the vote.”
And I’m not voting for Walker because he’s the lessor of three evils. His independence, integrity and humility has earned my respect. And on issues we disagree, I trust he’ll always put the interests of Alaskans ahead of himself.
• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector. He contributes a weekly “My Turn” to the Juneau Empire. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.