Monday, August 20, 2012

Alaska State Rep. Les Gara Decries Corporate Campaign Contributions, But Gives Unions A Free Pass; Gara Opposed By Cris A. Eichenlaub Jr.

In the re-districted Alaska House District 18, there are two candidates, each of whom has their primary slot assured. The incumbent is Democratic Rep. Les Gara, who has represented the area since 2003. The Republican challenger is Cris A. Eichenlaub Jr., a political rookie who, based upon the blizzard of Les Gara campaign signs I've seen on the south side of the Delaney Park Strip, has what can be diplomatically described as an "uphill fight" (probably similar to climbing Mount Marathon in Seward).

Although a doctrinaire true-blue Democrat, Gara has earned some respect on the other side of the aisle because of his personal transparency and authenticity; Gara frequently takes his case on political issues to the pages of the local media, most often the Anchorage Daily News. Unlike many lefties, Gara remains issue-oriented and avoids stooping to Shannyn Moore-style name-calling. However, on August 19th, 2012, Alaska Dispatch published a column by Gara entitled "Get ready, Alaska. A flood of Outside election money is coming", in which Gara decries the flood of corporate campaign spending expected to take place in Alaska during this election season. Gara opposes any change in Alaska's current oil tax regime without an increase in exploration and production investment by Big Oil; he calls the proposed changes in the hopper a "two-billion dollar giveaway".

Gara claims that the pre-ACES tax regime did not generate sufficient new investment:

History shows what would happen under the giveaway all House Republicans but Alan Austerman, Paul Seaton and Carl Gatto voted for last year. Until 2006 we had a near 0 percent Production tax on 15 of 19 North Slope fields, and all new fields that weren't massive. Under Big Oil's trickle-down theory, 0-percent Production Taxes should have attracted tons of investment, right? Well, they didn't. While oil prices had risen from $20/barrel to nearly $60/barrel in that time, production declined between 5 and 8 percent a year from 2000-2006.

However, Rep. Gara does not want to maintain a level campaign contribution field by holding unions to the same standard. His excuse is that the unions don't display the same financial prowess:

Finally, corporations cry firefighters, police and other unions spend too. No union can spend what the Big 3 oil companies, who earned $75 billion in profits last year, will spend.

But what Rep. Gara omits is the fact that while corporations do contribute to Republicans and Democrats alike, unions contribute almost exclusively to Democrats in this state and nationwide. What unions lack in money they make up for in solidarity. Gara also gets extremely low ratings from pro-business lobbies, including a letter grade of F two years running from the Alaska Business Report Card.

Thus Les Gara has a pronounced bias for labor and against capital. The most effective way to deal with the campaign contribution problem would be for Congress to enact a national ban on corporate AND union campaign contributions, and possibly a ban on PAC contributions as well. This would force candidates to go to individuals for funding, promoting more one-on-one interaction.

In contrast, Cris Eichenlaub, who has a strong affinity for the 10th Amendment, will support legislation to make Alaska more competitive at attracting business by working to reform the current oil and gas tax structure. He anticipates that new royalties from additional natural resource development will create the additional revenue stream to close the budget gaps. Eichenlaub favors curtailing all non-essential spending, particularly when it comes to education. He believes that public schools should not be burdened with additional duties that have little to do with learning; this would include food programs, transportation, and after school daycare programs that do not directly have an educational benefit despite consuming dollars spent on education.

However, Eichenlaub's solution to the education spending problem has its faults. To compensate for cuts in education spending, Eichenlaub would push an Education Competition Award Fund which would "leverage corporate sponsorships, volunteers, private educators, and parental participation to create public contests in which students would compete for cash prizes and scholarship winnings". Nice try, but this would be a shotgun marriage of unpredictable and occasionally dissimilar interests creating very little margin of error. Certainty of funding would be chancy at best.

Despite Eichenlaub's innovation and enthusiasm, the re-election of Les Gara to the State House in November is likely. While undesirable, it would not be detrimental. The same cannot be said of Senator Hollis French, who has become a cancer growing upon the body politic of Alaska. French's position on the Senate Judiciary Committee has allowed him to bottle and throttle a considerable amount of pro-business legislation. This doesn't just hurt his district, but the entire state. The defeat of Hollis French must become Job One for the Alaska Republican Party in this election.

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