EDITORIAL: For governor, Parnell is the right choice

Editor’s note: The Journal of Commerce, which is owned by the same company as the Empire, joins in its editorial board endorsement of Sean Parnell for governor.

The road of Alaska politics is never a dull ride — there’s twists and turns, drama, success and defeat; there’s even some old-fashioned corruption every once in a while. When it comes to who the Juneau Empire will recommend for Alaska’s governor, the road led to Sean Parnell.

For us, it comes down to one simple fact: This is a race between two Republicans, even though one will appear on the ballot as an independent.

While much has been made of the Walker-Mallott “Unity Ticket,” it is Walker’s name that comes first and Walker’s views that will guide the state if he is elected. Byron Mallott will have only as much input as Walker allows.

Walker, while a strong candidate, feels like a rogue.

We’ve had enough of rogues.

Parnell and Walker are almost identical in their views on social issues. Where they differ is in their fiscal and gas pipeline plans.

Parnell has said he is focused on limiting the growth of health care and education spending. Walker has proposed cuts across the board — an approach that stands to hurt Juneau jobs more than Parnell’s approach.

We don’t agree with Parnell’s belief that school privatization is the answer, but we do agree with his notion that simply giving more money to schools each year is not a sustainable approach.

Fiscally speaking, Parnell made some smart decisions recently. He advocated paying down the unfunded liability in the state’s employee and teacher retirement system PERS and TERS. He has reduced state expenses, and we are forced to admit that — at this point, at least — he may have been right about SB 21. With oil around $80 per barrel, the state is expected to earn hundreds of millions of dollars more than if SB 21 had been repealed. We’ll see if he was right in the long run.

When Walker met with the Empire’s editorial board after the Unity Ticket was announced, we were somewhat disappointed that he was unable to provide details for his plan to balance the state’s budget. We wrote an editorial saying we were optimistic about the Unity Ticket but that it had to flesh out its platform with details.

In the weeks since, we have not seen him provide those details. Instead, at debates across the state, he has advocated across-the-board cuts to state departments and an end to “excessive planning” by state departments.

You can tell your barber to take a little off the top, but doing the same to a government is risky. The scalp tends to get in the way.

When it comes to natural gas, Parnell’s pipeline has brought the state closer than ever to construction of a trans-Alaska natural gas pipeline. Walker has said he could renegotiate or even scrap that deal, and that makes us nervous.

Parnell has been criticized as of late for his actions addressing sexual misconduct and misconduct in general within the Alaska National Guard. Critics say enough wasn’t done — and done early — by the man who marches with a “Choose Respect” banner.

That may be the case, but much of the criticism seems to be launched from the high ground of hindsight.

We believe Parnell took the right steps once he knew of the problems: He launched investigations as soon as he was alerted, even elevating the issue to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, where it was ultimately hid from many involved, including the chaplains who raised the complaints. He asked for help from U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich. He called on the right resources available. Unfortunately, the problems within the Guard were systemic. Only when outside investigators stepped in was the issue addressed.

We may criticize Parnell for trusting too much in the ability of the Guard to solve its own problems or failing to see that Maj. Gen. Thomas Katkus, the Guard’s former head, was incapable of addressing the issue. We should not criticize him for failing to act.

We trust that Parnell will resolve the National Guard scandal with the same effectiveness he’s shown the budget.

In a second term, we hope Parnell will guide the state toward greater government transparency. Parnell supported House Bill 77, dubbed the “Silencing Alaskans Act,” which holds grave concerns for our editorial board. He oversaw the transfer of the state’s film tax credit into the Department of Revenue, an act that places the next “Bering Sea Gold” under the same security as oil company revenue. Parnell’s administration has repeatedly attempted to limit the public’s role in law-making, in establishing guidelines, permitting and voicing concerns for many of our most important areas and issues. Changes are happening right now to the way Alaska’s protected areas are managed, and those changes are happening behind closed doors because Parnell has adjusted how much involvement the public should have.

With all these issues, why do we still support Parnell for governor?

In debate after debate, Walker has given only the vaguest outline of what he would do in office. Because he is running as an official independent — with no party to guide his political background — we are concerned that Walker could move in almost any direction if elected.

As we said before, we’ve had enough of rogues.

Parnell has been a strong supporter of increasing tourism in Alaska, an industry that has supplanted logging as the third economic leg of Southeast. He’s proven to support oil development on the North Slope and while we may disagree with SB 21, we will give him the benefit of the doubt for its success so far.

Our endorsement of Parnell does not come without a few caveats, but in a race against Bill Walker, Parnell is the preferred choice.

10/29/2014 - 12:50pm