By Alan Boraas
Senate passage of Senate Bill 21, Gov. Parnell’s oil tax giveaway, was sealed last summer through the apparent strategy of a Republican-controlled realignment of legislative districts. Kenai Peninsula Republican John Torgerson, who heads up the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Economic Development District, led the state’s Republican-dominated reapportionment effort.
Despite the defeat of similar legislation last year, SB 21 required only a few oil-friendly seats to assure passage. Senate District O was a chief target. Senate District O was realigned to extend from oil-friendly Kenai and Soldotna on the north to decidedly less oil-friendly Homer to the south. The incumbent was Republican Tom Wagoner. Wagoner was pro-oil but might be described as pro-little oil, favoring Cook Inlet development by the Apaches and Buccaneers. These are multimillion-dollar companies, to be sure, but a drop in the oil barrel compared to giants like ConocoPhillips, BP or mega-giant ExxonMobil, one of the largest corporations in the world.
When the governor proposed the billion-dollar tax giveaway last year, Wagoner sided with the Stevens, French, Steadman, et al. moderate opposition, putting himself in the sights of Big Oil strategists intent on furthering corporate profits.
Wagoner was vulnerable on a second count. He opposed state subsidy to extend natural gas lines to Homer. Homer is an expensive place to live and natural gas would, as everywhere in Alaska, ease the high cost of home heating. Consequently, Homer voters perceived Wagoner as anti-Homer. That is not the case; he was not in favor in principle of the state subsidizing any of the work of a private monopoly, Enstar. Nevertheless, Homer voters were livid.
The reapportionment committee was no doubt well aware of Wagoner’s vulnerability in Homer, so with the stroke of a pen, Senate District O was born.
ACES is generally favorable to small oil companies. It is through progressivity that Big Oil windfall profits are impacted. District O needed a Big Oil candidate and he emerged in the form of ConocoPhillips Kenai plant manager Peter Micciche. While Wagoner can be a little rough around the edges, Micciche is smooth. Perhaps it’s genetic; his sister is long-time KTUU newscaster Maria Downey. Both know how to connect with an audience.
Micciche emphasized his Conoco connection to pro-oil Kenai audiences, but to moderates, to liberals and to Homer, he cast himself as mayor of Soldotna bringing good things to the people. For example he championed feel-good causes like the Boys and Girls Club at black-tie fundraisers where the well-heeled can dress up and donate, the donation hopefully matching the cost of the women’s dresses.
It is likely many who voted for Micciche had no idea he was a manager for one of the largest corporations doing business in Alaska. ConocoPhillips is a multinational corporation headquartered in Houston, Texas, that insultingly advertises itself as “Alaska’s Oil Company.”
Micciche defeated Wagoner in the August primary, and Senate District O became Senate District Oil. As a freshman, Micciche became head of the Senate’s Natural Resources Committee, and Senate Bill 21 sailed through. It went to the Finance Committee, headed by another ConocoPhillips executive, Kevin Meyer, and sailed through again. In both cases, the Republican leadership expressed little more than feigned concern, while the moderate coalition screamed giveaway. On Wednesday, Micciche and Meyer voted to reduce taxes by billions of dollars for a corporation they work for. It passed the Senate 11-9 and will surely pass in the House, where a charter member of the Bill Allen-era Corrupt Bastards Club, Rep. Mike Chenault of Nikiski, holds sway. And it will likely be signed by Gov. Parnell, himself a former oil company lobbyist.
In the 1980s, the oil industry tried to influence tax law through high-powered lobbyists like Big Ed Dankworth. In the 2000s, they used Bill Allen to bribe their way to favorable taxation. Neither of these strategies worked. But the new strategy, to shape favorable tax legislation through election of oil company managers, executives and lobbyists, appears to be working.
Now it is unlikely that oil wealth can be leveraged into sustainable tidal and geothermal energy. The owner state is history. The owned state is the new reality. Alaska’s owner state was not stolen by Big Oil; we the people gave it away.
Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College.
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