Columns 2014

Sleazy politics…. what’s new?

How tone deaf does a politician have to be to think he can insert controversial language into a bill providing services for abused women and children and not have it backfire in a very loud and public way? Or have our politicians reached such a state of total sleaze that they no longer care if they endanger women and children in order to get their way?

In case you missed the recent slime coming out of Juneau, let me fill you in. A bill to extend the Domestic Violence Council, which otherwise sunsets on June 30, 2014, passed the Alaska Senate 20 to 0. It seems that at last we found something Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, could agree upon – sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse are bad things that are destroying the moral fiber of this state and need to be addressed. For a brief moment, our common humanity asserted itself in government.

Then the bill reached the State House, that bastion of self-serving mediocrity.  House Speaker Mike Chenault took the opportunity to slip into this simple, clean bill an amendment that would allow the governor to appoint an outsider to a state board, a move that had proven quite unpopular when the governor tried it a few weeks ago with a different board. So the question has to be asked, how sleazy do you have to be to hijack a bill that holds the safety of women and children in this state hostage in order to get your way on a totally different issue? And where in all this is our Choose Respect governor. Given that Chenault is a member of Parnell’s party, you’d think Parnell would have picked up the phone and given Chenault his marching order to remove the amendment so that the governor’s declared priority of safeguarding women and children could continue unimpeded. But apparently the governor was willing to risk them if it got him his way on the appointment because there was no indication whatsoever that he objected.

Whether or not the governor should be able to appoint an outsider to an Alaska board is a question that should be debated on its own merit. It should stand alone so that it can be fully examined and discussed. If Parnell is so hot to trot with it, and Chenault thinks it is such a good idea, why were they afraid to simply put it out there and have the discussion? Both sides of this issue have raised credible points that deserve airing. Do we appoint the best no matter where they’re from or do we appoint the best Alaskan? And is the best Alaskan as good as the best outsider? All legitimate questions that have absolutely nothing to do with domestic violence or sexual abuse or the need to fund programs and shelters that deal with those issues.

After realizing that even most of his party would not vote for the bill with the amendment, and presumably after realizing that if he stood alone as the person who killed the Domestic Violence Council he could possibly be jeopardizing his future electability, Chenault withdrew the amendment. He is now working on a different track to achieve the same goal. But that still begs the question of how cynical, sleazy and immoral you have to be to jeopardize such a critical program with what was already known to be an unpopular and controversial issue. And it begs the question of how a governor, who made the issue of domestic violence in this state his signature social agenda issue, could not jump out in front of the first TV camera he saw to make it clear he was totally opposed to getting his way over the bodies of the women and children who would be harmed if the bill failed to pass.

Alaskans deserve better than this grossly cynical attempt to gain political advantage by endangering funding aimed at the most critical social and family problems our state faces today. Governor Parnell needs to put his money where his mouth is when it comes to his commitment to ending this epidemic. Marching is easy. Standing up and doing the right thing even when it means not getting your way is not. Too bad we don’t have more politicians willing to do take the tough road when necessary.