FAIRBANKS — The limited-entry system used to control attendance at the Koch Network/Dunleavy budget meetings came under criticism in Nome by those who said they wanted a more open process.
There were protests outside St. Joe’s in Nome, the Nome Nugget reported, while inside there was finally some public comment allowed starting in the middle of the meeting after the notecard communication ended. “Members in the audience pointed to (Melanie) Bahnke holding up her hand until the AFP (Americans for Prosperity) and the governor could no longer ignore the silent request to be heard,” the Nugget wrote.
Bahnke, the president and CEO of Kawarek, the nonprofit regional tribal consortium, said of the notecards, “If you want to truly have a dialogue, that’s not the way to go about it. That’s not how we typically do things here in Nome.”
She also said there should not be any question about who is allowed in and who is not.
“I’m sure we’ve got a good variety of Democrats and Republicans in here, but typically the people come to Nome, our political leaders, there isn’t this question around who’s allowed in and who’s allowed to address you,” she told Dunleavy.
She invited Dunleavy to come back and give the community more specifics. She said Kawarek would sponsor the trip and that the residents of the region would like to hear about what the Dunleavy budget would mean to their part of the state.
“Your proposal, I think, disproportionately affects rural Alaska,” she said.
The Facebook page of Americans for Prosperity-Alaska, the Koch Network group that is sponsoring the roadshow and had its banner at the front of the room, livestreamed the meeting. I give the group credit for taking this step.
When given a chance to speak, members of the audience voiced real worries about health care, education, child abuse, the Power Cost Equalization program, poverty, violence, public safety and more.
In the other Koch Network/Dunleavy meetings, the governor, his staff and the Koch group have done all the talking, relentlessly selling their point of view, requiring notecards for anyone who wanted two-way communication.
The Koch Network set up the rules and said it didn’t want any grandstanding in the audience. It was a mistake by the governor to agree to these rules and to relinquish control of what should be a state function to a right-wing political group.
There has been plenty of grandstanding at the Koch Network/Dunleavy roadshow by state officials and Koch Network officials. It would be good if Dunleavy and other state officials used the experience in Nome to realize they should do less talking and more listening.
Dermot Cole is a longtime Alaskan, an author of several history books and a former Daily News-Miner staff columnist. His email address is email@example.com.