Columns 2007

Dream big, Alaska!

I don’t want to get all huffy and possessive about this scandal stuff, but I do feel obliged to point out to those people weeping, wailing and wringing their hands over what has befallen our pristine state that this is not the first corruption scandal ever in Alaska. So we should stop acting like a virgin on her wedding night.

And, may I add, our previous corruption scandal involved people who couldn’t be bought for anything that didn’t have six to seven figures before the decimal point. They would have scorned the amounts being cited in current indictments.

I’m speaking, of course, about the North Slope Borough’s very own beloved corruption scandal of the 1980s.

Before I go any further into this topic, a disclaimer. I was raised in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Almost everyone who was mayor of Atlantic City since my birth went directly from his office to jail.  When it comes to corruption, Alaska has a far distance to go before it will even get close to my home state.  In New Jersey, most politicians wouldn’t get out of bed for anything less than five figures unless they were being asked to do so by the same people who inspired The Sopranos.  If you didn’t have muscle to back up your request in Jersey, you needed lots and lots of money.

And this is where our Alaska legislature has greatly disappointed me.  In a state where thinking big is a badge of honor; in a state where a governor once seriously suggested a water pipeline to California and is, even now, considering a tunnel to Siberia; in a state that claims the biggest, largest, most enormous everything; it turns out we have legislators who think so small as to be almost pathetic.

Now I realize no trials have yet occurred and no one has been proven guilty of anything yet. But the guilty pleas already entered and the recordings cited in the indictments certainly cause one to believe that there might have been something other than the people’s business happening in Juneau.  But who would have ever thought Alaskans could be bought so cheaply.  The money changing hands in that hotel room wasn’t enough for dinner and drinks for two at Simon and Seaforts. Heck, it wasn’t enough to gas up the boat for some fishing or fill up the RV for a leisurely drive to the cabin on the Kenai.

If New Jersey has any lesson for Alaska, if the North Slope scandal of the eighties has any lesson for Alaskans, it’s this. Don’t sell yourself cheaply. You will go to jail for the same amount of time whether you took five thousand, fifty thousand or five hundred thousand.  Once you’ve hit felony level, the rest is just details.  And since the other lesson from Jersey and the Slope is that you will inevitably get caught, why not at least have a good time while you’re free.  You can’t afford a good time in Alaska on a roll of twenty-dollar bills.

Heck, Dishner and Matthisen of North Slope scandal fame would have scoffed at such a picayune amount. They lit cigars with twenties.  When they went for the gusto, they grabbed with both hands. No hesitation, no second thoughts, no concerns that they were taking too much.  Because really, how much is too much when you’re on the take?

I don’t know how our current political scandal will be resolved. I can’t imagine who will roll over on whom.  I can only speculate about how many more indictments are yet to come.  There’s an old saying that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Pretty much the same can be said about money.  Except in this case, for whatever reason, the legislators allegedly on the take seemed to have sold themselves to the lowest possible bidder.  That’s usually only a plus when awarding government contracts.

As a former New Jerseyite, I find this whole mess disheartening. As a current Alaskan, I find it depressing.  Last year we were the laughing stock of the country over our bridges to nowhere. This year we will be the laughing stock of the country over how little it takes to buy one of our legislators.

Whatever happened to dreaming big in Alaska?