Last week, in the wake of her endorsement of the Bill Walker-Byron Mallott Independent "Unity Ticket" in the Alaska gubernatorial race, I declared that, politically, I was through with Sarah Palin. Evidently and unsurprisingly, this rubbed her most ardent supporters the wrong way. I even merited a front page take-down at one of the most prominent pro-Palin websites.* I was called a cronyist, an establishment squish, a "rank and file GOP"--whatever that means.
So, let me double down and go further than I did last Friday: Sarah Palin's endorsement in the Alaska gubernatorial race was unconservative, and supporting it requires abandoning conservative principles.
The major issue prompting Palin to endorse the Walker-Mallot ticket is incumbent Republican Sean Parnell's dismantling of her oil tax regime, known as Alaska's Clear and Equitable Share, or ACES. As Palin sees it, that program was one of her finest achievements while in office. As the National Journal explains it:
Parnell dismantled Palin's oil-tax increase, called ACES (short for Alaska's Clear and Equitable Share), by signing a repeal of some oil taxes in 2013 that was intended to curb the state's production decline. But many fear the measure will severely diminish the revenue brought in by the state, where oil and gas taxes have accounted for as much as 90 percent of government funds.
Palin backed an initiative to repeal the new law, SB 21, when it appeared on the August primary ballot, which put her at odds with Parnell. (Palin accused Parnell of being "suckered" by "crony capitalists" at the time.) The referendum narrowly failed, garnering 47 percent of the vote as the state's Republican U.S. Senate primary attracted conservative voters to the polls.
So in essence, Palin is endorsing the Unity ticket because she wants higher taxes on oil companies. There are very few Republicans one write about openly doing that.
But what of her ACES program? It was blatantly redistributionist in nature, and it was the most socialist tax regime in the United States. As Elstun Lauesen at the Anchorage Daily News explained in 2008:
Sarah Palin just presided a huge redistribution of wealth when she signed an energy "rebate" of $1,200 for every man, woman and child in Alaska. The money for that wealth redistribution comes from our collective wealth, which we have thanks to our state constitution. Article VIII, Section 2 holds that the resource of the state will be utilized, developed and conserved for the "... maximum benefit of its people." This precept of public management of benefit is precisely what makes Alaska today one of a handful of states that enjoys a budget surplus while other states are struggling with deficits. The framers of our constitution wisely didn't want state resources to be privatized, as they are in Texas, for example, where the people of that state are separated from their wealth by billionaires. Thanks to the framers of our state's constitution, our collective ownership of state resources guarantees low taxes and high revenues, not to mention a Permanent Fund dividend program, another socialist scheme that gave each Alaskan over $2,000 this year.
When Parnell dismantled ACES, he was standing up for common sense conservative free market principles. Predictably, he was called a "cronyist" for making this principled stand, but one is used to Democrats making this charge, not purported conservative icons and former Republican vice presidential nominees. As he explained while pushing his reforms:
One group holds that Alaska’s economic pie is about as big as its going to get, and it’s shrinking. This group says that because Alaska’s economic pie is as big as it’s going to get, the government has to grasp more, to get all the money it can now. You know the senators I’m talking about: Senators French, Wielechowski, Paskavan and others like-minded senators, with just a different view of how it works.
Another group of legislators and I hold that Alaskans can grow our economy. That more capital will flow here from other areas, more oil production will result, and more jobs will be created for Alaska residents. We believe in growing the economic pie for all Alaskans.
Before I continue quoting his speech, I do want to stop for a moment and note that all three of those senators Parnell specifically named as defending Palin's plan were Democrats. In particular, Hollis French is the current Minority Leader in the Alaska Senate, and until the Unity ticket was formed, he was the candidate for Lieutenant Governor on the original Democratic ticket. Parnell did not name one Republican who defended Palin's plan.
But anyways, let's see what else he says:
The bottom line— “our oil” – Alaska’s viscous and heavy oil -- remains locked up – even while the price of oil is high. Alaskans cannot benefit from oil trapped in the ground— the result of doing nothing.
As justification for doing nothing, the opponents of tax reform also proudly claim, “It’s our oil.” And it is. It is our oil as Alaskans. Then why are they doing nothing to unlock our oil? Why are billions of barrels of Alaskans’ viscous and heavy oil locked up in the legacy fields while company investment flows to North Dakota, Texas and beyond?
If they really believe it’s our oil, then why are they satisfied with status quo decline? Why have they done nothing to get us new production now?
The notion that tax reform is a “giveaway” is classic “tax more, spend more” government thinking. It’s that Obama-like thought process that the pie is as big as it’s going to get and the government has to grasp everything it can.
Well, I say we need a different vision for Alaska’s future, one where we can grow this opportunity for Alaskans. We don’t need decline. We need increased production. We need a vision from our Legislature that unlocks Alaskans’ oil for Alaskans.
This is exactly the kind of thinking we need to be promoting in today's Republican Party. Why is Palin against this?
By comparison, let's look at how Ronald Reagan talked about oil prices in 1986:
One week after I took office, we decontrolled the price of domestic oil, and we stopped the Government from putting ceilings on its pricing and production. Our action wasn't exactly greeted by rave reviews. Those opposed said decontrol would drive up the price of oil, increase gas prices, and cause terrible inflation. One Member of Congress, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said decontrol would impose impossible economic burdens on those least able to pay. Well, 5 years later, Massachusetts is enjoying an unprecedented economic comeback; and the reason is lower taxes—something else we contributed to—and the lowered energy prices that followed the decontrol of domestic oil.
Despite all the scare tactics and dire warnings, decontrol was a success. The price of oil has fallen from the $36 a barrel of 1981 to about $12 a barrel today. The price of gas has also plummeted from an average of $1.25 a gallon when I took office to about 82 cents today. In fact, the price of gas is now cheaper in real terms, meaning accounting for inflation, than it's been at any point since the 1950's. My mother used to tell me, "It's not nice to crow," but maybe this once I can't help it. We've also been able to close down the costly Synfuels Corporation, a quasi-governmental agency that ate up billions of taxpayer dollars while it didn't solve the energy crisis. Government didn't perform any of these miracles; freedom did, the marketplace did, the entrepreneurs and businessmen and women of America did. Those of us back in Washington just sort of lifted the artificial restraints, sat back, and watched the gushers blow.
Parnell's rhetoric would be right at home in a speech like this.
The problems don't stop there. Palin comes off as a bit of a sore loser in all of this fight over the ACES repeal. As the National Journal article I cited earlier notes, she's making this endorsement after an initiative to repeal these reforms failed at the ballot box back in August. The people spoke, and they want Parnell's reforms to stay. In other words, Palin cannot respect that fact that Alaskans have already explicitly rejected her failed oil tax regime.
Palin supporters have been wont to compare this endorsement to her decision to support Independent/Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman over Republican Dede Scozzafava and Democrat Rep. Bill Owens (D-NY) in the 2009 special election for New York's 23rd Congressional District. There are a few problems with this comparison. The first is that Scozzafava was clearly the Liberal in the race. She never came out against healthcare reform with a public option, she was in favor of card check, and she was staunchly pro-choice. Second, Hoffman was running to the right of Scozzafava, and finally, when it was clear that she wouldn't win the election, Scozzafava withdrew and endorsed the Democrat in the race.
Parnell, meanwhile, supports none of the things Scozzafava did. Meanwhile, Walker's actions resemble what she did when she realized she couldn't win the election. She endorsed the Democratic nominee, and he brought the Democratic nominee onto his ticket.
The only people who are calling Bill Walker a conservative are in the Walker-Mallott campaign. People outside the campaign don't see things the same way. E.J. Dionne, for example, proudly includes Walker in his list of GOP moderates challenging conservatives across the country. Elsewhere, Paul Jenkins at Alaska Dispatch News describes Walker's twists and turns he had to make in order to present himself as a moderate:
Until recently a socially conservative Republican, Walker flipped to independent and flopped to undeclared to hook up with a liberal, traditional Democrat to challenge Republican incumbent Sean Parnell for the state’s top executive post. Just think of Walker’s gyrations and contortions in climbing to the tippy top of that ticket as part of a political game of “Twister.”
To get there, to assuage gobsmacked Democrats, he dismisses seemingly irreconcilable contradictions in conservative and liberal dogma by dismissing them with a wave of the hand, by proclaiming social issues are not his bag. He is, Walker will tell you, unconcerned with that sort of thing. He is a fiscal guy, a big picture guy. He will leave the social stuff to somebody else. It is the same schtick, journalist Amanda Coyne notes, that Senate candidate Dan Sullivan uses. Democrats castigate Sullivan, but apparently forgive Walker.
One of those pesky social questions tripped him up right out of the chute. He had vowed, as the fusion ticket was being hammered out, to veto any legislation that would weaken abortion rights. Two days after the new ticket’s formation, he took back the promise.
When he last ran for governor, Walker was not so wishy-washy when it came to core Republican principles. In a 2010 survey by Alaska Family Action, the lobbying arm of the conservative Alaska Family Council, Walker displayed strong views when it came to abortion.
It seems clear from pieces like this that principles are fungible to people like Bill Walker. Like Charlie Crist in Florida, when Bill Walker couldn't find success in the Republican Party, he left them and went independent. When the chips were down, Bill Walker turned to the Democrats for help. This is the kind of candidate Sarah Palin is now supporting to protect her legacy, but if she needs to support a candidate like him to protect it, what does that say about her legacy?
Sean Parnell needs our help. Alaska should send him back for a second term.
*=You can figure which one on your own. I'm not linking them. They can get their traffic other ways.