Now that she is the former temporary budget director, it’s time to assess Donna Arduin’s failure to understand anything about Alaska politics and Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s failure to demand a more responsible approach.
She may have just been following orders of Tuckerman Babcock in creating the Dunleavy Disaster. Or maybe she suggested the specifics that Dunleavy embraced and presented to Alaskans as his own. I suspect that she was allowed to be the decider, but neither explanation reflects competent leadership of the executive branch by Dunleavy.
“The state must learn to live within its means and we get there by making the tough spending choices,” Arduin was quoted as saying last December in a Dunleavy news release.
It was clear from the start last November that she would not be here long enough to collect a Permanent Fund dividend. She has had a career as a short-timer, hired by Republican governors to cut the budget while keeping her suitcases ready to roll.
She lasted eight months in Illinois, the last time she worked as a what a Chicago columnist called a “rent-an-ax consultant.” Of her 11-month stint in California, a University of California Berkeley political scientist said in 2004 that “She has a complete tin ear with respect to the political ramifications of particular cuts.”
Her work in Alaska demonstrated that her hearing hasn’t improved. Whether she was lecturing a legislator about pronouncing her name, comparing the cost per mile on a highway with the marine highway, or using the first person plural when opining about what residents of the state want, she demonstrated a unique talent to alienate Alaskans.
Speaking to school officials last spring, one member of the audience complained about Arduin and the governor not listening to Alaskans, but she was unable to take it in stride. “I’m here, I asked you for suggestions, so you just told me that I’m not asking you for suggestions, so I can’t respond to that.”
Last November, I wrote here that she didn’t know the challenges created by Alaska’s size, the lack of roads, the large number of small communities or the expectations of residents.
She told the Anchorage Daily News that she had cut budgets in various states, but the advantage in Alaska is that it is a young state and it is easier to change things here. That’s the kind of thing an uninformed budget director would say.
The responsibility for the budget — in the end — rests with the governor, not with a Lower 48 appointee unencumbered by knowledge of Alaska.
The budget gimmicks and radical proposals she offered fell flat with bipartisan majorities in the Legislature and showed a profound lack of understanding of the 49th state. Former Sen. Ben Stevens is trying to save Dunleavy from the recall, but it won’t work unless Dunleavy admits the error of his ways, which he has refused to do.
It began with Dunleavy cheerleading the Arduin plan to eliminate the state ferry system, dismantle the University of Alaska, cut K-12 schools by $330 million and confiscate hundreds of millions in tax revenue from local governments.
Suzanne Downing, an ex-officio member of the Dunleavy Cabinet who is the heart of the Arduin circle of power, writes that Arduin is the “sharpest dresser” in Juneau. She mentioned Arduin’s animal skin collar as a highlight and complained that people made fun of it.
Downing says Arduin’s sudden exit may mean that Dunleavy is surrendering, having “taken all the pressure he can take over cuts” while facing a serious recall threat.
Stevens says Arduin’s departure has nothing to do with the recall. In fact, it has everything to do with the recall. She may stay on the state payroll and give advice, however, to the big guy. This may be a real job or it may be a way to allow her to save face before leaving.
The question has to be asked in these circumstances, and the news stories contain his response claiming no connection with the recall. But that’s like claiming the clouds have nothing to do with the rain.
Stevens could have admitted that the end of Arduin is all about the recall, but that would require an admission that the governor realizes his administration is in grave jeopardy because of the bungling manner in which Dunleavy, aided by the work of Arduin and others, has chosen to deal with the state budget, Alaskans and the Legislature.
Dermot Cole is a longtime Alaskan, an author of several history books, and a former Daily News-Miner staff columnist who now writes an occasional column on Alaska politics and history. His email address is email@example.com.