“I gave her my heart, and she gave me a pen.”
– Lloyd Dobler referring to Diane Court in the movie
A simple ballpoint pen has tremendous signifi cance and power
in the making of laws in the state of Alaska. I recently was invited
to attend the signing of HB36, the Open and transparent Initiative
Act, with Governor Sean Parnell at a ceremony in beautiful, but rainy,
Ketchikan. Given the impact initiatives have had on RDC members
over the last five years, passage of this legislation is one of the most
important successes we can claim of late. Indeed, much work was
done by the bills’ cosponsors, Representatives Kyle Johansen, Charisse
Millett, and Peggy Wilson as well as by the bill’s lead staff er Sonia
Christensen of Rep. Johansen’s office. Upon completion of the
ceremony, I was given one of the pens Governor Parnell used to sign
the bill into law. It was quite a symbolic gesture.
This very piece of legislation was put in place to track, among
other things, the amount of money that is spent in the efforts to
get people to pen their signatures to put initiatives onto the ballot.
Significant, but up until now, undisclosed sums of money were spent
by anti-cruiseship, anti-mining, and anti-oil industry interests, as well
as others to try to get things on the ballot without letting Alaskans
know how much money was actually spent in their eff orts. How
many Outsiders were brought up to hold stacks of pens and signature
booklets has been unknown. Th is is no longer the case and I am
grateful for the Legislature’s and Governor’s efforts to bring more
openness and transparency to Alaskans.
By contrast, a pen may also be used by Alaska’s governor to line item specific things out of the capital or operating budgets. After the 90-day legislative session, RDC and numerous other Alaskan groups, Native Corporations, businesses, and individuals wrote to Governor Parnell requesting he veto a $750,000 appropriation for the Legislative Council to conduct an independent study of the potential large mine development in the Bristol Bay drainage, a study that appears to wrongfully target one industry, and Pebble in particular. We argued that funding such a study will set a dangerous precedent for resource development projects across all industries in the state. Alaska’s permitting system is among the most stringent in the world and companies have invested millions of dollars in this state with the understanding that they will be afforded the opportunity to navigate the rigorous permitting process in a manner that is both fair, and consistent for all.
Unfortunately, Governor Parnell did not use his pen to veto this item. In his letter to RDC outlining his reasons, Governor Parnell stated, “In evaluating applications to State agencies for permits to develop our state’s resources, my administration remains committed to following Alaska’s permitting laws and regulations. There is no study that will change that – only deliberate action on the part of the legislative or executive branch, or both, can change the permitting system.” A complete copy of his letter is found on our website at www.akrdc.org/legislature/. Though I do not agree with the Governor’s justification, I very much appreciate that he took our letter into consideration in his decision making process, ultimately penning a response to RDC justifying his action.
Each of you also has the power to use your pen (or keyboard) to write comment letters when RDC sends you action alerts. Without your voice, local, state, and federal policy makers will make their decisions without your input. The true benefits of a project may never be known if RDC members choose not to participate in the many public comment periods we are afforded. Indeed, when your pen remains silent, bad policy may in fact result, and ultimately responsible resource development projects likely won’t come to fruition. As I’ve said oftentimes before, you reap what you sow.
Further, as we embark on campaign season, each of you also can use the power of your pens to write checks to candidates you support. You can also write checks to Political Action Committees such as the State Chamber’s Alaska Business PAC (ABPAC), the Alaska Miners Association PAC (AMAPAC), the Associated General Contractors of Alaska PAC (AGCPAC), and others. This is your constitutional right, and with rights, come responsibilities. Willy nilly opening of your checkbooks to everyone that is running in a campaign, in my opinion, is not doing justice to this responsibility.
I encourage you and all RDC members, to use the pens you have been given to help shape the future of Alaska, and indeed, this nation. Otherwise, we could end up like Lloyd Dobler and only have a pen full of ink (and a government full of red ink) to show for our inaction.
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