Saturday, August 23, 2014

Discussing the campaign ...

Yesterday was an active day for the campaign.  We published an op-ed piece explaining the campaign and did two talk radio shows that provided the opportunity both to have an extended discussion about the effort and respond to some early criticism.

The first interview started during one hour and extended into the next (Hour 1 is here starting at 25:50; Hour 2 is here starting at 00:20).  The second interview is a shorter segment, available here (starting at 30:59). At the end of the day we also developed a tag line ("It's Our Future, a campaign to restore fiscal responsibility to the Alaska Legislature"). 

Seeking to deflect its focus on fiscal accountability, some have attempted to paint the campaign as a partisan effort, directed at Republican incumbents.  But as I had the opportunity to explain yesterday in response to that specific question on KFQD's Bernadette & Berkowitz (podcast starting at 07:35) "in a perfect world" my goal would be to receive responses to the questionnaire from incumbents that say, "we were wrong, we spent too much" and describe specifically how they are going to get it right in the coming legislature.  Indeed, two of the questions on the questionnaire are designed specifically to invite that result:
7. In retrospect, do you view the total UGF spending levels set in the FY 2014 and FY 2015 budgets to have been too high? If so, what total UGF spending levels do you believe should have been used instead? 
8. If you were a member of the Majority in the last Legislature, would you have voted differently on the amount of total UGF spending in the FY 2014 and 2015 budgets if the caucus rules had permitted you to cast your vote on the floor independently of the Finance Committee version, without being subject to discharge from the caucus?
I supported a number of the current incumbents in the last election and believe those in the Senate Majority (and those in the House that expressed similar sentiments) were sincere when they listed "[d]evelop sustainable capital and operating budgets for current and future generations" as one of their "Top Three Areas of Focus."  But as I have explained previously, not only did they not achieve that goal, in fact they went backwards in the sense that the sustainable spending level fell during the last two years directly as a result of their actions.  Having not only failed, but in fact gone in reverse the first time it is legitimate to question how they intend to do better if they are reelected.  In my view those that argue the effort is "partisan" because it challenges incumbents to explain what went wrong and how the results will be different this time are simply trying to create a diversion in order to dodge responsibility for those actions.

Others suggest that the effort is not "serious" because we have not "established" an Independent Expenditure, "registered" with the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC), done all the appropriate paperwork and established a campaign bank account.  The people I have retained to help with this effort have worked closely with APOC in setting it up.   Because it is an individual effort instead of a group (I am neither soliciting nor accepting contributions from others, this is all on my dime), this effort is governed by different rules than those which govern group efforts.  There is nothing to file -- indeed, there is nothing that can be filed with APOC -- until I select the specific legislative races in which I intend to participate.  That won't occur until after the questionnaires are back and we have finished some polling that I have commissioned.  For those apparently (and overly) concerned with how I conduct my personal affairs, I indeed have established a separate, individual bank account for this effort (recall, this is an individual, not a group effort) and set aside the appropriate assets to support it.

Still others suggest that the questionnaire violates various provisions of the Legislative Ethics Act which  prohibit legislators from "soliciting or accepting campaign contributions in exchange for a pledge to take or refrain from taking specified action."  The questionnaire is no different than if a candidate called me on the phone, as many have done, or asked to sit down for coffee, as others have done, and I asked them what their positions were on certain issues in order to help me decide whether to support and, as many ask, contribute to their campaign.

No one has ever suggested such efforts are proscribed; instead, asking candidates about their positions in order to determine whether or not to provide support goes to the very heart of a representative democracy.  As explicitly contemplated by the ethics rules, I am merely requesting a statement of each candidate's point of view and their intention with respect to future action as part of my evaluation process. Moreover, several candidates, including at least one incumbent, already have responded to the questionnaire -- as others have to questions previously either over the phone or coffee -- without raising any such concerns.  As with the claim that this is somehow a "partisan" effort, the issue appears to be a red herring designed to create a diversion from the central point.

Finally, some have suggested that the effort may produce unintended consequences, by requiring those seeking to form a caucus to "sweeten the pot" in order to attract enough others to constitute a majority.  There are two responses to that.  First, my approach does not prevent the formation of a caucus; it simply contemplates that one of the caucus rules -- the one which requires members to commit in advance to vote for a certain budget before they know what the budget contains -- be changed. There have been other changes in caucus rules in the past; the system can survive this change as well.

Second, while changing the caucus rule would be helpful, success may come even if only a handful of members agree with the position and decline to join a caucus that continues to insist on the rule.  One of the reasons the budget has spiraled out of control over the past few years is because both parties have ignored it.

That is similar to what existed at the federal level in the years preceding the 1992 election.  As a subsequent analysis noted, prior to Ross Perot's campaign in that year on a platform that advocated reducing the federal budget deficit, both parties had largely ignored the issue.  By the time he was done, however, the world had changed.  “'[Perot] was the first candidate really in a big way to float the idea that the deficit was a bad thing,' said historian Michael Beschloss. 'By the time Bill Clinton was elected that fall, if he had not done something about the deficit he would have been in big trouble and that was largely Ross Perot’s doing.'"

If this problem can't be solved by changing the rules, perhaps it can be solved by a handful of members staying uncommitted on budget issues and as a result, reserving their right to shine light on it as the budget bills make their way to the floor.

Either way it is abundantly clear the old way has not worked, despite repeated assurances in 2012 that members would fix the problem.  It's time to make the effort to change the system that is producing the results.

As someone very knowledgeable about the problem and how Juneau works put it in a conversation the other day, bringing the budget back under control is "the fundamental issue" that confronts Alaska today.  As ISER has made clear, if we don't do it the state faces a "fiscal crisis," "economic crash" and the adoption of "a broad based [sales and/or income] tax, and use of a portion of the earnings of the Permanent Fund."

Alaskans deserve the right to know that and what their representatives intend to do about it.  This is an effort to help that occur.