“The status quo came to a screeching halt with the last election,” Gov.-elect Mike Dunleavy said after appointing three new commissioners on Monday. He expects them to “bring a bold, fresh approach to managing their respective departments,” adding “it is past time to start doing things differently if we want different results.”
Some of that message applies specifically to policies implemented during Gov. Bill Walker’s four years in office. Some go further back. And in what’s become a tradition of undoing the actions of previously elected governments, some will be different by virtue of resuming the way things were done in the past.
That’s the direction the Permanent Fund Dividend is headed. To balance the budget, Walker capped it in 2016. Lawmakers agreed to limit the payout the next two years. Now Dunleavy wants the checks we get to be based on the same formula that had been used every year before all that.
Just as Dunleavy’s pledge to restore the PFD was his biggest campaign promise, repealing Obamacare was the top priority of Republican candidates for Congress. And once in office they brought it up for a vote more than 60 times.
There have been two camps on this issue. Repeal and replace, which was really an attempt to amend the law. And straight out repeal, which essentially meant health insurance would be different than it’s been by going back to way it was before Democrats legislated doing health insurance differently.
Paralleling pursuit of the repeal effort were several lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Obamacare. In the first of several U.S. Supreme Court rulings, the law was upheld but its provision which forced the states to expand Medicaid was invalidated.
It was after that decision that former Gov. Sean Parnell, Walker’s predecessor, opted out of Medicaid expansion. So, it’s fair to say Walker undid Parnell’s decision by expanding it. Dunleavy, who was a senator at the time, asked Walker to undo his own action or face a legal challenge of his decision to bypass the legislature’s appropriations authority.
That was 2015. Now Dunleavy says he has “no intention of kicking people off of health care.” He just wants to be sure the state can afford Medicaid expansion and can manage it efficiently.
But that could be as insincere as Republicans running for Congress this year. Despite all their promises to repeal Obamacare, they claimed only their party was prepared to protect its provision that prevented insurers from denying coverage for preexisting conditions. They made that pitch knowing the entire law could be overturned by the latest legal challenge filed by Republicans from 20 states.
My point here isn’t to argue that Dunleavy can’t be trusted to keep his promises. It’s that once politicians stake out positions like these, they can become irrationally focused on undoing legislation enacted by the opposition. And going back to the problems we had before one side thinks they solved them isn’t “doing things differently.”
After Obama became president, he relaxed enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states where medical or recreational use is legal. Like prior Democrats, he established stricter fuel efficiency standards for automobiles. Both were policies that had been rejected by President George W. Bush. And by undoing what Obama did, President Donald Trump took us back to the way Bush dealt with those problems.
Then there’s the 1984 law signed by Ronald Reagan that prohibited U.S. funding of international family planning groups that provide abortions. Bill Clinton overturned it in 1993. Bush restored it 2001. Obama rescinded it in 2009. And Trump continued the cycle of doing and undoing by reinstating two days after he became president.
Alaska’s government has been no less erratic. In August 2006, Gov. Frank Murkowski did oil taxes differently by enacting the Petroleum Profits Tax. Soon afterwards, Sarah Palin undid that by getting Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share passed. And after two failed attempts to undo ACES, Parnell finally succeeded with SB21.
The oil companies are notorious for complaining about Alaska’s lack of a stable tax policy. Sure, their hypocrisy was on full display when they supported Parnell’s effort to change it the third time. But that’s also true of partisan voters who only complain about the other side reverting to policies undone by the short-lived status quo they voted into office.
• 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.