Mead Treadwell

GUEST COMMENTARY: S. 1 would muzzle free speech

If you want to turn private life into political warfare, there’s a bill in the U.S. Senate just for you. It’s the Democrats’ 800-page election takeover, S. 1. Promoted as a voting and campaign reform measure, 300 pages of the bill actually contain new restrictions on your First Amendment rights to association and free speech. These provisions have been criticized by everyone from the ACLU to Mitch McConnell, but Democratic leaders refuse to budge. The bill has already passed the House of Representatives. S. 1 also seeks to nationalize election law in ways that won’t fit our unique state. I oversaw elections as Gov. Sean Parnell’s lieutenant governor. Alaska’s election rules reflect our vast land areas, diverse languages and cultures, and even the challenges of getting an ID card if you live in rural Alaska. Sadly, S. 1 will not allow for our uniqueness and diversity. It turns more power over elections to the federal government, and overrides our state’s constitution in several ways. A second challenge in the law is its effort to stifle political debate and undermine individual privacy, both things Alaskans hold dear. Under S. 1, any group that mentions a candidate in communications about legislation or public affairs could be forced to publicly expose its supporters. This will discourage Americans from joining groups that speak about the issues. It would also violate the privacy of longstanding nonprofit organizations that care about public policy and good government. Americans have a First Amendment right to privately support charities and civic groups, including through membership. Doing so should not “brand” someone as fully supporting everything that group does or advocates. A garden or gun club, an aviators’ group, or a snowmachine group might have views on parklands or air traffic control or access to public lands. Why should they have to release their membership to make their feelings known on a legislative issues? First Amendment freedom has been vital to social movements, including many that are now celebrated among our democracy’s greatest achievements. Americans who challenge the establishment have good reason to value their privacy. One of the great victories of the civil rights movement was a unanimous 1958 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court protecting citizen privacy. It said Alabama could not force the NAACP to turn over a list of its members. The Court saw that “compelled disclosure of affiliation with groups engaged in advocacy may constitute as effective a restraint on freedom of association as (other) forms of governmental action.” In other words, censorship isn’t the only way the government can make a troublesome group or viewpoint disappear. If it can weaponize the law to force organizations to expose their members, it can dry up support for any group that dares to criticize the government. Soon enough, the criticism goes away, or at least gets a heck of a lot quieter. Importantly, the court’s ruling did not just apply to the NAACP or in the South. It protected the right to private giving for all Americans and from all governments. The threats to citizens today, and the chill to speech, are significantly greater. Thanks to the internet, private giving that is publicly exposed will be available for all time, to anyone, in just a few clicks. Who knows what opinions will get you “canceled” a generation from now? Even today, three out of four voters say they cannot speak openly because of how others would react to their views. S. 1 would silence us more. Sen. Lisa Murkowski courageously stood for privacy and the First Amendment freedoms of Alaskans during the 2005 Patriot Act debates. I agree with the sentiments she expressed then about the importance of “providing safeguards to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans.” She fought giving the government power to do a “fishing expedition” into our library, health and gun records. Now I’m hopeful our delegation stands together to protect our privacy, by defeating S. 1. Congressman Don Young has already voted no. Private giving is the protection that new ideas need in a democracy. History teaches us that some of them, maybe even those we regard as silly or strange today, will become the founding principles of our future. No wonder those in power want to shut them down. Mead Treadwell was lieutenant governor of Alaska from 2010-2014. He is a board member of Alaska Policy Forum and many other nonprofit groups.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Ranked-choice voting should be voted down

Every lieutenant governor of Alaska I’ve known takes his or her role overseeing elections very seriously. Impartial, crystal-clear election rules are vital to our democracy. We should not be bamboozled by a proposal — set for the November ballot — that would deny political parties the ability to put forward a candidate, and totally confuse the process for the rest of us as voters. A national voting fad has made its way to Alaska this November, by way of ranked-choice voting in Ballot Measure 2. It would eliminate party primaries for a free-for-all. It would create confusion at the polls. It potentially would render a person’s vote not to be counted. As a former Lt. Governor of our state with experience overseeing elections, I join leaders of all political parties urging Alaskans to vote this proposition down. Imagine a situation where candidates of the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, the Alaska Independence Party, even perhaps the Republican and Democratic parties are, after a wide-open primary, not even allowed to appear on the general election ballot. Only four candidates would make it to a general election ballot, in a state that usually has five or more parties. Thus, Ballot Measure 2 restricts our civil right to associate and form a viable party. Sounds hardly constitutional or fair. I’ve worked with Libertarian, Green, and Alaska Independence Party elected officials during my career, and we already make it tough — perhaps too tough — for newer or “smaller” parties to put a candidate forward in a general election. I’ve run in three Republican primaries myself and seen times when several candidates in my party’s contest drew more votes than all the other parties combined. In a highly contested primary situation, with a single candidate in another party, it’s possible that party’s choice doesn’t even make it to the November ballot. Far more people vote in general elections. Primaries should narrow a party’s choice of people, not the peoples’ choice of parties. The “ranked-choice” part of this proposal comes later, during the general election. If no candidate receives a majority of the first-choice votes, then the candidate with the least number of votes is dropped from the ballot, and those who had that candidate as their first choice get their second choice counted instead in a re-tally. This continues until one candidate is declared the winner. Simple? Hardly. This proposed form of voting is so complex, in fact, that when Maine implemented it in 2016, officials needed a 19-page instruction manual for voters to explain it. Other states have found that ranked-choice voting leads to some voices not being fully heard in the political and electoral Studies on ranked-choice voting have shown that minority groups, voters with less education, older voters, and those whose first language is not English are less likely to fill out their ballots completely. With ranked-choice voting, when people leave blanks on their ballots or assign the same ranking to different candidates, those ballots can be discarded in the subsequent and final tabulations. This means that their vote may not be counted, creating what is otherwise known as “exhausted ballots.” This process gives those who fully complete their ballots more influence over the electoral process, and leaves those who don’t understand the process more likely to be disenfranchised. Another problem with ranked-choice voting is there is not always a majority winner. In one extreme case, the prevailing candidate in a 2010 San Francisco election won less than 25 percent of the total votes. While this is not always the case with ranked-choice voting, a non-majority winner is a possibility that occurs 61 percent of the time, according to research done by the Maine Policy Institute. As a final warning about the ranked-choice voting scheme, multiple jurisdictions in the U.S. have implemented and later repealed ranked-choice voting. These include the state of North Carolina; Burlington, Vt.; Aspen, Colo.; and Pierce County, Wash. While the voters in these jurisdictions may have had varying reasons to repeal ranked-choice voting, one thing is clear: voters preferred their traditional voting method of “one person, one vote” over the convoluted ranked-choice system. There is no denying the importance of voting, nor the importance of keeping elections simple and accessible for every eligible voter. Unfortunately, while proponents of Ballot Measure 2 make it sound easy, ranked-choice voting is confusing, runs counter to the democratic process, and disenfranchises voters. All eligible voters in Alaska deserve to have their ballots counted and their voices heard. Adopting ranked-choice voting will accomplish the opposite. Mead Treadwell served as lieutenant governor of Alaska from 2010-14.

GUEST COMMENTARY: NEPA ripe for revisions after 50 years

When I was entering high school in the early 1970s, sit-ins for the environment and a new thing called Earth Day were all the rage. I wore a green-and-white striped eco-flag patch on my Army-surplus jacket. We identified with a nonpartisan global youth movement that was behind efforts to fight air and water pollution. When Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, I believed America was doing the right thing to mandate an environmental impact statement for major projects that required federal approval. Fifty years hence, I still believe in the spirit and goals of the environmental movement. Environmental stewardship is an ongoing mission for everyone. To that end, I also support the EIS process: It requires a conversation between project developers and the public. It ensures that projects meet agencies’ objective permit standards (e.g. limiting the parts per billion of pollutants coming out of a smokestack or a water pipe). It promotes science, as it makes sure agencies consider less tangible, values-based norms we share like respecting wilderness, open space, good hunting and fishing, diverse and abundant wildlife populations, and limiting noise, traffic and other development impacts At the same time, the EIS process has produced bad, unintended consequences. It has added uncertainty to and prolonged the permitting process for too many projects. It routinely forces the expenditure of a lot of money on design and engineering work in advance of permitting decisions that don’t need so much specific information. It has invited a continuous stream of lawsuits over the adequacy of assessment and generated lengthy documents few people read. In short, the process itself, rather than specific opposition or a project’s failure to meet objective standards, has come to delay, add great expense to or even to block projects our nation needs. We should update and reform this system. A recent set of executive orders by the Trump administration has set the stage for the first comprehensive update to the EIS process since 1978. These reforms would limit the time and expense project developers, government officials, and the public all face in the EIS process. For the past three years, the Council on Environmental Quality, which oversees this process, has earnestly crafted these measures. As CEQ Director Mary Newmayr notes: “The process for completing environmental impact statements for highway projects now exceeds seven years and statements currently average over 600 pages, and in some instances are thousands of pages long. In many cases, it can take a decade or more before permits are issued and construction can begin.” Some critics instantly dismissed the new EIS rules as quick Trump administration policy to fire up bulldozers and advance economic growth at the expense of the environment. But a closer look shows the new rules would still consider the environmental costs as well as the economic benefits of projects, namely economic growth and jobs. Citizens who believe impacts are overlooked can still head to the courts. But some burdens will be lifted. If regulatory procedures create costs and obstacles to development without a discernible protection for people or the environment, how are we served? Environmental rules should protect the environment, rather than waste time, paper and money. America’s environmental laws have set standards around the world. But when policies become costly and convoluted, they drive development of natural resources and infrastructure to other nations with lesser standards, then we need to change them. Early in my career, I helped lead Alaska’s state environmental agency. We were a cooperating agency in several EIS processes, including some controversial mines. Some of those mines are operating today, and some never made it through the gauntlet. EIS completion was required before almost any key permit was issued. It was then that I found the EIS process, as it had evolved, was often a barrier to problem solving, a process with no discernable schedule, and an impediment to investment. In one case, we found that if we gave credence to a new idea with less potential environmental impact, it became an “alternative” in the EIS process. If it became an alternative, it had to be studied. If it had to be studied, it would set back the project in time and expense to the point that the whole EIS process might begin again. I have seen a similar dismissal of alternative consideration in other, more recent projects pending in Alaska. This has caused me to realize that while NEPA’s goals continue to have merit, an accumulation of lawsuits, new mandates, and case law has created a process of, by, and for itself rather than for the environment. For that reason, I welcome CEQ’s start on modernization of the process. CEQ’s proposed revisions to NEPA are open for comment to March 10. There is a chance to greatly streamline this cumbersome process. Inevitable court cases will follow, and hopefully the courts will approve this EIS modernization approach that has been long in coming. Mead Treadwell served as Alaska’s lieutenant governor from 2010 to 2014.

COMMENTARY: Obama's OCS ban should be reversed in Trump's first days

The last-minute decision by President Obama to indefinitely ban any future offshore energy activity in the U.S. Arctic should be reversed by President Trump, soon — within the first 100 days of his term. Why? Obama's decision was taken with no public comment or consultation ahead of time. Resources worth more than $1 trillion at today's low prices were put off limits to human use. Large supplies of natural gas, mankind's "bridge fuel" to lower-carbon power, including recent discoveries, were locked away — while Russian Arctic gas, much further away from world markets, continues its march toward production. Take away development and the effect is to dampen Arctic research, monitoring and infrastructure development — things we need to establish leadership in this newly accessible ocean. But there's one more reason the ban should not stand: It was probably illegal. The state of Alaska's equities in law were never met. This can be rectified by court decisions if the state challenges it in court — but America's energy future is too important to tie up for years in litigation. Only a few months ago, I — a pro-production, pro-conservation Republican — would have said that President Obama executed an Arctic policy based on balance. I joined an October Atlantic Council conference where a senior White House official publicly noted that "responsibly developing Arctic oil and gas resources aligns with United States' 'all-of-the-above' approach to developing domestic energy resources." And yet in the space of eight weeks the White House performed a stunning about-face, first removing the Arctic from the next offshore leasing program, and then delivering the coup-de-grace by killing any prospect of future development. Suddenly the Arctic ecosystem was simply too fragile to even consider domestic energy development, irrespective of past exploration. We had adopted a "drain Russia first" energy policy for the Arctic. So what changed in the space of those two months? Looking at these decisions, it's hard to reach any other conclusion than that the White House was reacting to the November election. Under the new reality of President-elect Trump's stunning victory, the administration decided to toss every land mine it could to slow or prevent oil exploration and production in Arctic waters. It blew up the bridges to the state of Alaska, the Alaska Native community, and to other Arctic nations pursuing offshore development that its own policy had built. The "leave-it-in-the-ground" crowd had crowded out the "all-of-the-above" policy, and in a manner that was most undemocratic and unfair. Keystone Pipeline got eight years of extended hearings before Obama killed it. Alaskans who had worked out how to explore the Outer Continental Shelf got no public process, not even a tweet. 
A detailed analysis of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and its previous applications highlights three primary difficulties with the White House's order; that there's no precedent to show a ban should be permanent, there is nothing to suggest a subsequent White House cannot overturn the decision, and that the administration's application of the rule conflicts with previous uses and several of the act's wider specifications. The relevant language permitting a moratorium on energy development sits in section 12(a) of the act and states that the president may "withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer continental shelf." Crucially the law never suggests that these withdrawals should be considered "permanent" or "irreversible," a point the White House tacitly admitted when it termed the decision an "indefinite" action. That argument is corroborated by past applications of the rule, which in each case have included a specified time limit. Nor is there anything to suggest that a 12(a) ruling will handcuff subsequent administrations. After President George H.W. Bush implemented a ban on Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico waters, President George W. Bush used the rule to remove restrictions, effective immediately on his order. Put simply, precedent suggests that if one president has been able to use an executive memorandum to implement a ban, that president's successor should be able to use the same authority to repeal the regulation.
 Finally there are numerous issues with the way the administration has applied the regulation. According to its text, the act was explicitly designed to ensure that the Outer Continental Shelf is "available for expeditious and orderly development." Previous restrictions have reflected this point and protected specific, discrete areas of the continental shelf with special characteristics. In contrast the Arctic moratorium covers almost the entire Beaufort and Chukchi seas, a combined area of more than 125 million acres. It is hard to argue that President Obama's use of the rule fits with Congress' intent of ensuring access to the continental shelf. Similarly, the OCSLA also requires that the federal government consult with the governor of any state where restrictions are under consideration. Alaska state officials have already noted that the administration failed to conduct any such discussion with them, a point borne out by Gov. Walker's comment that the decision "marginalizes the voices of those who call the Arctic home." I hope Alaska sues. As recent polling has indicated, Alaskans overwhelmingly support offshore energy development in the Arctic, a point the administration appears to have been cognizant off when it neglected to discuss the ban. President Obama's decision to implement a ban in the Arctic poses several troubling realities. Any attempt to cut carbon should be applied fairly, with public input, with maintaining American energy independence in mind. Technology development, including finding ways to decarbonize hydrocarbons, is the best approach. But because the Obama administration appears to have actively chosen to re-interpret the intention and application of the original act, its decision is clearly beyond the scope of executive control. It ignores the spirit of previous rulings, disregards state and regional authority and has no historical parallel. President Trump should overturn it as a priority in his first 100 days in office. Mead Treadwell served as lieutenant governor of Alaska, 2010-2014, and as chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, 2001-2010.  
Subscribe to RSS - Mead Treadwell