By Vic Kohring
With the election behind us and a new legislature poised to begin in Juneau, including some new faces, let's watch closely to see who follows their convictions, versus the do-nothings who kick back and take the easy route. Will principled people step forward and demonstrate leadership or will the spineless, “Captain Zeros” of the political world once again rule?
Upon my initial election to the state house nearly a quarter-century ago as a young man in my mid-30's, my attitude was, "I don't care what the left-wing press or my conservative-hating opponents think, I'm going to follow through on my promises. If I rock the boat and upset people so much that it costs me reelection, so be it; as I'm in office to do what I pledged on the campaign trail, not forge a long term political career." This mindset actually made my job easier, because I wasn't constantly worried about winning support of future voters or collecting campaign dollars by licking my fingers and sticking my hand above my head to see which way the political winds were blowing.
I respect and admire those with courage to stand for what they believe in without regard for the consequences. I think of the Reverend Franklin Graham, a hero among Republicans, who made the unpopular decision to leave the party in 2015, over dismay with its liberal bent. Graham was reportedly "disgusted" over wasteful spending by Congress including its failure to block federal funds from being channeled to Planned Parenthood for abortions.
I myself bid the Republican Party adieu five years ago, by switching my voter registration to the Alaska Independence Party. I agree with most of the Republican platform, but disagree with the yellow-striped good ol’ boy RINO's that dominate the legislature, who've placed us on a progressive trajectory that's spending us into oblivion and allowing government to grow unchecked. There's no reason why a tighter ship can't be achieved while simultaneously fully funding core essentials. Yes to roads and schools. No to the frivolous, such as government funding of the arts, TV and radio. During my first year at the capitol, the state-operating budget was a third of what it is today, growing in leaps and bounds with much waste and mostly on the Republicans’ watch. Alaska spends more than any other state per capita by far.
As with Franklin Graham, I was so dismayed with my fellow Republicans in the legislature, the self-proclaimed "conservatives," that I contemplated bolting from the party as early as 1995, only two months into my first term of office. It didn't take long to see that few in the legislature were serious about reining in government as they enjoyed feeding out of the big money trough too much. There were several colleagues who clearly were Democrats by philosophy, but ran as Republicans out of political convenience. Sound familiar?
A group led by left-leaning Republicans joined Democrats to form a group called the "Fiscal Policy Caucus," whose primary objective was to push for spending the Permanent Fund on government and putting in place a statewide income tax to keep the bureaucracy fat and happy and flush with cash. State Representative, abortion advocate and NRA D-rated Lisa Murkowski, now U.S. Senator, was their champion. Fortunately, the rest of us derailed their efforts.
During my second reelection campaign in 1998, when my frustration again reached a crescendo, I nearly switched my voter registration to "Independent" from Republican. Then in 1999, I resigned out of protest from the Republican-led coalition, to contest a lack of serious effort to reform government. Murkowski was a major critic and fought to keep me from joining the coalition the following year, when we reorganized. As a genuine, proactive conservative, I was a thorn in her side. A month later, Lisa was appointed to the U.S. Senate by her father, so she was gone.
Each election cycle, we are given the usual lip service by candidates. Most Republicans tout, "I'm a conservative and believe in less spending, promoting a strong private-sector and focusing on the essentials of roads, schools and public safety." It sounds good and gets them elected, but when they're in office, very little change, if any, occurs. Government remains as bloated, wasteful and inefficient as before, like a big monster gobbling up dollars.
Perhaps for once, we'll see more courage and conviction when the new legislature gathers in January. We can only hope. And that will be my prayer.