Walker went Bulworth at Alaska Chamber
“Going Bulworth,” if you don’t know, is an expression for politicians who say what they actually think. It comes from the 1998 movie starring Warren Beatty about a disillusioned U.S. senator who starts drinking at campaign events and rapping about single-payer healthcare.
Gov. Bill Walker went Bulworth in front of the Alaska Chamber.
At its annual meeting in Kenai on Oct. 12, Walker took the podium unshackled from any need to impress a group that was among those who gave him a grade of “D” on its business report card from the 2016 legislative session.
“Don’t give me grades,” Walker said at one point.
Minus the inebriation and the rapping, that was Walker, who angrily told people not to criticize his cabinet officials, said he doesn’t care about approval ratings, promised to introduce tax increases next year that will be bigger than those he proposed this year, and then cried poor about the pay cuts he and his appointees have taken to enter public service.
Walker, who sold his law firm to Robin Brena upon taking office, said he’s taken a “90 percent” pay cut to be governor. He said he’s convinced people to take less pay to leave the private sector to join his administration.
Yes, Walker said this in front of a room full of people from the oil industry that has shed 3,000 jobs over the past two years while state government payrolls haven’t been cut by a tenth of that.
We don’t know exactly what Brena paid Walker and his wife Donna for the firm, but financial disclosures put the number between $200,000 and $400,000 for the firm and that they sold the downtown office for between $400,000 and $1 million.
We do know that Brena, who was the chair of Walker’s oil and gas transition committee, is working to defeat pro-business candidates in the Nov. 8 election and recently wrote a newspaper column claiming that there’s an additional $1 billion to $3 billion to be wrung out of the North Slope oil producers who’ve been bleeding cash all year.
Walker had to be prompted through questions to simply acknowledge the Oct. 4 announcement by Caelus Energy executives that believe they’ve discovered a huge oil reservoir at Smith Bay that could produce 200,000 barrels per day.
The governor downplayed the find, saying it’s at least 10 years away from production and located far from the trans-Alaska Pipeline System.
From the governor’s perspective, a project that needs a 125-mile pipeline to reach existing infrastructure to deliver to established markets is a longshot but his $45 billion-dream of an 800-mile gas pipeline with no existing market has been “ignited” and is full steam ahead now that the state is in charge.
It’s clear Walker hates talking about Caelus, or the Armstrong Energy project at Nunashuk that could produce 120,000 barrels per day. The two projects combined represent more than 60 percent of current TAPS throughput, so why could this be?
The answer isn’t difficult to figure.
When Walker is forced to talk about the recent discoveries, not only is it a rebuke to his desire to repeal the law that brought Caelus to Alaska in the first place, but it shines a light on his policies of raising taxes on production and shafting businesses out of hundreds of millions in tax credits owed by the state through his irresponsible budget vetoes in the last two years.
Regarding the tax credits, Walker said the state has to “balance our checkbook” and therefore vetoing the appropriation was the right decision. He said potential investors in Alaska want to see its fiscal house in order before putting money in the state.
How Walker is going to convince anyone that refusing to pay money owed is a sign the state is a safe place to invest is one thing, but more immediately it is oblivious to how companies who are owed money by the state — for Caelus, that’s $200 million — are supposed to balance their checkbooks.
Want more proof that Walker doesn’t want to talk about the positives in the oil business?
Since Aug. 24, his office has issued at least nine press releases with 2,267 words about the Alaska LNG Project that amount to little more than hope and a hill of beans.
When Caelus made its Oct. 4 announcement about Smith Bay, Walker issued a three-sentence statement totaling 65 words.
Two days later when ConocoPhillips announced it has ordered a new extended-reach drilling rig from Doyon Ltd., Walker managed a whopping 63 words.
Walker opened his remarks to the chamber by saying he’s happy to take all the blame for unpopular decisions while giving all the credit to others. He then proceeded to say how many people are thanking him for what he’s doing and went on to blame the Legislature for not enacting his fiscal plan.
No matter what Walker says about not caring about getting credit, the press releases from his office reveal he’s desperate to show how much progress he’s making on AK LNG.
The lack of enthusiasm for projects he can take no credit for — and is in fact actively working to undermine through his tax policies — also speaks volumes.
On Oct. 12 in Kenai, he delivered the message loud and clear.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected].