Alaska political party platforms and the absence of Hickel’s owner state vision
Editor’s note: The following was first published at alaskacommons.com on Sept. 13.
With the recent Republican and Democratic National Conventions, the national party platforms have been on the front lines of the discussion surrounding our politics. Professional pundits and strategists are analyzing how best to communicate party-backed ideas to the electorate as we approach the November election. The rush is on!
As Alaskans, we need to look inwards and ask ourselves: what do the national platforms have to do with us? Do they have anything in common with our local Republican and Democratic parties?
Every Alaskan politician, regardless of political stripe, takes a solemn oath to uphold the Alaska State Constitution. When realized properly it is our most valuable man-made Alaskan resource. Something unique to our state is that our Constitution charges all elected officials to both conserve and develop state resources for the maximum benefit of all Alaskans; it makes our elected officials arbiters of our best interests, and thus grants us, Alaskans, ownership of our state and her resources. This owner-state model makes us stakeholders in our success as well as making us responsible for our failures.
Two-time Governor and legendary Alaskan, Wally Hickel, eloquently championed the owner-state model, which he believed to be the key to Alaska’s economic prosperity. Until his death in 2010, Governor Hickel was promoting this idea to other resource-based economies. He and his son, Jack, even made contacts with activists in South Sudan, inviting them to Alaska to see the owner state in action.
In a recent op-ed column for the Anchorage Press, Mike Dingman explained his perception of the owner state: “[T]he state, not the person who owns the land or discovers the minerals, owns the subsurface mineral wealth. This is the basis for the wealth Alaska has seen from the development of North Slope crude oil.”
He was explaining Article 8, Section 11 of the Alaska Constitution, which states: “Discovery and appropriation shall be the basis for establishing a right in those minerals reserved to the State.”
Are our state political party platforms living up to, reinforcing, or breaking away from the state constitution and owner-state model? To find out, we checked out the websites of each party.
The Alaska Democratic Party Platform
The Alaska Democratic Party website is not very easy to navigate. Though it is a basic, functional design, much of the information was buried in sub-menus. Under “Party Platform” (ninth down under the “Your Party” tab), you’ll find the most recent version of the platform, adopted on May 13, 2012. Divided into four parts, it is more philosophical in nature than specific to plans or policy.
“The Alaska Democratic Party moves our state forward by working for the best interests of all Alaskans. We are committed to fairness, hard work, integrity, and personal responsibility. We strive for healthy families and communities, economic opportunity and prosperity. We honor good citizenship and patriotism. We believe the essence of Alaska’s democracy is active participation in fair elections and we encourage every eligible Alaskan to vote. We nominate, elect and support Alaskans who are committed to serve the public interest. Valuing diversity and individualism, we stand united as Alaska Democrats.”
Sharing many of the themes of the national party, Alaska Democrats used the platform to express their belief in upholding, among other things, “individual rights guaranteed in the United States and Alaska Constitutions,” protections under the threat of law for discriminated populations, the right to privacy and the development of state resources in a manner leading to sustainable growth and prosperity.
Much of the Alaska Democratic Party Platform is vague. I am sure that it was a labor of love and pain for those writing it, but it is devoid of specifics, save for a vow to protect the Alaska Permanent Fund.
While mentioning sustainable development under its “Resources and Business” highlights, the document neglects to explain how the responsible use of our state-owned resources can effectively bolster its other platform priorities such as education, health and welfare, environment, subsistence and rural living.
The Alaska Republican Party Platform
In comparison to the Democratic Party website, the GOP website seems to have more time and thought put into it. The platform is much more specific and much wordier – though also not updated. The platform linked on their official website is from 2010 and does not reflect the new leadership, dominated by the influence of Ron Paul.
“The mission of the Alaska Republican Party is to promote the principles upon which this country and our State were founded; advocate fiscally-sound, common sense solutions to the unique challenges facing Alaska; and serve as Alaska’s leading grassroots political organization. We also seek to elect and appoint to public office Alaskans with integrity who are committed to enacting solutions consistent with these principles.”
Much of the Alaska GOP platform is focused on nationalism and social issues. While it places much weight into the tenets of maximum resource development for the benefit of Alaskans, it, like the Democratic platform, neglects to say how these resources will be used to directly benefit Alaskans other than the passive and ethereal means of jobs and fat dividend checks. Instead the GOP platform clearly espouses the private, unquestioned, commercial development of Alaska.
Alaska’s Third Party Platforms
Looking at the party platforms for the Alaska Green, Alaska Libertarian and Alaska Independence Party none have specific references to the owner-state. The Alaska Greens and Alaska Libertarians do not list party platforms on their respective websites. The Alaska Independence Party emphasizes protecting the PFD, but stops there.
Alaska is unique in American history, having the experience of 48 previous state constitutions to draw from. The 49th American state constitution is only 56 years old. It has guided the current generation into an over $30 billion permanent fund and fully resourced congressional budgetary reserve. Alaska is one of five states solvent during a national recession. This achievement arises from something special about how the Owner State is applied.
Alaska need’s a party that understands Wally Hickel’s delicate balance of environmentalism and business — a sentiment shared by his ouster, former-Governor Jay Hammond. Neither party clearly communicates an understanding of the owner-state model. As citizens, we should make sure it is adequately addressed on the campaign trail, and going into the future.