Saturday, October 08, 2005

Local Politics with a small town mindset

Living in a town of 80,000 may seem small compared to some places, but we ARE the second largest city in Alaska and provide services for a pretty large, though sparsely populated area beyond. Still, once in a while, things happen that surprise the Republican power brokers and they send out their mouthpiece to cast aspersions on those who would aspire to challenge their control. It was such a stupid editorial, I couldn't help but reply by a letter to the editor, The editorial is quoted below my letter.

October 7, 2005

To the Editor,

I'm much obliged to the News-Miner reflective editorial of Oct. 6, 2005, explaining that we voters must not have known that those we didn't elect were in fact financially supported by political heavies such as Ralph Seekins and Jim Holm, well known for selling us gas guzzling trucks and cutting off funding for public broadcasting, respectively. The News-Miner suggested that voters might have been reacting to the negative partisan antics of the current conservative local governments, but we still didn't understand we might not following the guidance of the well-healed business power brokers. Was the News-Miner warning us that these pillars of our community are going to take revenge on the people who participated in the democratic process? What DOES it mean?

If the "conservative" candidates had all this money and political support for their campaigns and either didn't get their message out or the voters didn't approve their message, the News-Miners said it's the media's fault. I wouldn't blame the News-Miner. I read well done ads and information from all candidates that outlined their priorities and supporters quite adequately, even those the News-Miner sold to the campaigns. The News-Miner suggested that incoming Assemblywoman Torie Foote took unfair advantage by having more contributors than challenger Carl Skaugstad. Strange that she also got more votes that Mr. Skaugstad. And ironic that the law which allowed the News-Miner to view the detailed list of contributors were sponsored by "liberal" state legislators.

Charlie Dexter, a News-Miner business page columnist and UAF professor, talks about good customer relations in numerous columns. The News-Miner is welcome to endorse who it likes in any election, but as the single daily newspaper in Fairbanks, they ought not to insult its customers and the voters who cared enough to cast their ballots in Tuesday's election.

As to what the political tilt might be, I hope it will be a lean toward open, responsive, and responsible government. If that outcome is "left" and the opposite is "right", the News-Miner made the case, not me.


Gary Newman

Fairbanks Daily News Miner
Article Published: Thursday, October 06, 2005

Editorial: What does it mean?

Around the Fairbanks North Star Borough, people who have an interest in such things will be trying to figure out what voters meant on Tuesday by returning three former assembly members to office. That alone is enough to get people wondering, but the fact that these three are of a decidedly different political persuasion from the conservative lineup that has been in place will be the cause of even greater discussion.

Seats on the Borough Assembly are nonpartisan; candidates in general don't campaign as Republican or Democrat. But people, unlike seats, carry with them partisan leanings and political beliefs that can fairly be defined as conservative or liberal and in varying degrees thereof. And without question, the incoming assembly has more liberal members--a majority, in fact--than the outgoing conservative-dominated assembly has.

What did voters mean by doing this? There are several possibilities, but it will probably never be known whether it was a single reason or a combination that led to the sharp shift leftward with the return of Tim Beck, Torie Foote and Valerie Therrien. Assemblyman Randy Frank, a conservative member of the assembly, won re-election to the other seat on the ballot.

In sending the three former assembly members back to office, were voters saying they were unhappy at the prospect of losing veterans Bonnie Williams and Garry Hutchison, who were not allowed to run again because of the borough's prohibition on serving more than two consecutive terms? Did they not want to replace them with newcomers that they knew little about? Or did they simply want change, without risk, after having had several years of openly conservative and sometimes loudly partisan rule on the assembly?

Or is there no uniform reason for the election of these three former assembly members. Was Assemblyman Earl Romans defeated solely because he sponsored the controversial code enforcement ordinance. If that's the case and Mr. Romans would have otherwise won re-election, then the four seats on the ballot would have been split equally between conservative and liberal candidates and the post-election ruminating would be less than it is.

Or was this the result, in whole or in part, of a weakness in the local media, which did not provide a widespread listing--if it provided a listing at all--of the people who were financially supporting each candidate? Giving such a listing does help voters form an impression of a candidate, especially first-time candidates, and without it some voters may have chose to vote for the familiar name instead.

Take the race for Assembly Seat H between Mrs. Foote and Cal Skaugstad, who has not had much public exposure. Mrs. Foote won with 57 percent of the vote, a substantial total. But would the race have been closer or perhaps gone the other way had the public known that Mr. Skaugstad had the financial backing of people such as state Sens. Ralph Seekins and Gary Wilken and Reps. John Coghill, Jim Holm and Jay Ramras? Of business leaders such as managers of Usibelli Coal Mines and Aurora Energy? Of many other conservatives in town who gave to his campaign?

Maybe the outcome of the Foote-Skaugstad race wouldn't have changed, but a wide array of voters should have been told--in news reports--of Mr. Skaugstad's backers and of Mrs. Foote's backers, who include retired Fairbanks legislators John Davies and Joe Hayes, Rep. David Guttenberg, the Alaska Conservation Voters Political Action Committee, the Alaska Public Employees Association PAC and four other labor union committees. Her list of contributors is even longer than Mr. Skaugstad's and includes many other fairly well-known local liberals.

So what to make of all this. Again, we'll never know for sure, but it may not be a public demand for a leftward tilt in governance of the Fairbanks North Star Borough. And the new assembly should consider that as it begins its work.