When I think of a coalition, I usually think of an alliance of divergent groups that align behind a common cause to achieve a common goal. It is a noble concept where groups, with competing interests, work together to find common ground for the common good. For me, I often think of the first Gulf War, with coalition forces joining together from divergent countries to liberate Kuwait. Closer to home, in 2005, Republicans, Democrats and Fairbanksans of every philosophy came together to fight proposed base closures here.
In recent years, a coalition has led the Alaska state Senate. This coalition has stood in the way of any opportunity Fairbanks had of getting affordable natural gas.
In a time where politics are so polarized, it’s easy to think a coalition would be a refreshing change. But the sound bites don’t match the truth.
Here’s my perspective: Coalitions work when all parties are aligned to a common goal or issue. We should see a coalition of Fairbanks legislators, Republicans and Democrats, joining together to work on Fairbanks-centric issues — the University of Alaska, our airport, our roads, real solutions to the energy problems we face.
Coalitions don’t work when the parties are joining together to promote themselves to powerful committee positions to gain personal power and when they agree to stifle public debate to preserve that power.
We all get tired of the political bickering, but the Senate coalition has reminded me that what we sometimes call bickering is debate. The false reward of a coalition is smiles and friendly press conferences with platitudes of working together. The cost is the democratic process itself and stagnation of ideas and solutions. The coalition is only about keeping the coalition.
Before some of you start blogging about how I’m wrong, let’s look at one of the “promises” the members of the current coalition agreed to:
Current coalition members agreed to not campaign against each other in this election. A pro-life member agreed to not campaign against a pro-abortion member. A Second Amendment-supporting member agreed to not campaign against an anti-gun member, in effect giving up their core beliefs in order to belong to the coalition. Worst of all, Fairbanks coalition members have promised not to work against Anchorage Democrats who continually stop legislation that would benefit the residents of the Interior and assist us with finding a solution to our energy problems. I think selling out your beliefs just to keep a coalition in power is wrong.
The Republican House, with a philosophically aligned majority, passed a bill to reform oil taxes, increase production and jump-start our economy.
The Democrat-led Senate coalition wouldn’t allow the bill to be brought up for a vote, even though the majority of Alaskans have said that they want oil tax reform (Dittman Research & Communication). Why? Because debating and voting on oil taxes would create conflict within the coalition.
The largest impact on the Interior is that work on a bullet line, a solution that would have brought natural gas to Fairbanks, was stopped because the Democrat-led Senate refused to fund the project to open season. Why did this get stalled? Democrats in Anchorage were philosophically opposed to this development. In turn, the Fairbanks coalition members agreed to bury their beliefs so as to not cause conflict in the coalition.
As if that wasn’t enough, the Senate coalition voted against a gas storage project for the Interior. Because of the hard work by Reps. Steve Thompson and Tammie Wilson in the House, we were we able to get the storage credits for the project and a real solution to an issue that we face.
So when you hear about a coalition in this year’s primary, understand that it is not a sudden desire to work across party lines, it is the age-old struggle for personal political power at the expense of those that elected them. In this case, power at the expense of the energy relief legislation that passed the House; legislation that Fairbanks needs to survive until the much-promised, much-dreamed of large-diameter pipeline becomes a reality. Vote for political leaders this election and not coalition joiners.
Chuck Wiegers is president of A&A Roofing, a small business that has operating out of Fairbanks since 1965, and a member of the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce and Associated General Contractors.