On his visit to Homer last Thursday to be the host of the fifth Governor’s Family Picnic held in Alaska this summer, Gov. Sean Parnell stopped by the Kachemak Bay Rotary Club weekly noon meeting for a short speech and a lot of questions.
“I like to spend a lot more time interacting with you than giving a prepared speech,” Parnell said.
Last Friday, Parnell celebrated his fourth year in office after becoming governor in 2010 when former Gov. Sarah Palin resigned halfway through her term. He was later elected in 2010. He started off his talk with an anecdote. Recently a king crab was seen in Juneau crossing the Egan Highway, one of the busiest highways in Alaska’s capital, he said.
“It’s pretty rare to see a king crab anyway, but to see one on the Egan Highway … It was headed into town, but turned around, because the sea was only 150 yards behind it,” Parnell said. “It’s a metaphor for something.”
More seriously, Parnell mentioned his Choose Respect initiative, a project he started when becoming governor. Through rallies and programs, Parnell has placed an emphasis in his administration on reducing sexual assault and domestic violence. In 2010, 18 communities had Choose Respect rallies, he said. That has grown to more than 150 communities.
“What that does is give our people permission to speak about these things,” Parnell said. “People understand and they have the courage to come out and get the help they need.”
When asked about the issue of male-on-male sexual violence, particularly hazing or sports team initiations involving sexual acts, Parnell said Choose Respect also includes that aspect.
“How do we take this to the next level?” he asked. “Marches and rallies are great, they’re great in raising awareness, but the next step really has to do with our sports teams and our youth.”
Parnell mentioned Coaching Boys into Men, a program run by Coach John Blasco at Thunder Mountain High School in Juneau.
“He’s taken it to a different level,” Parnell said of Blasco. “They’re made to understand sports is not if you can run a play well, it’s about how you live your life, too.”
Team members are signing Choose Respect pledges at the beginning of the sports season and having people speak to them about values, Parnell said.
“That’s going to be the next level. It’s not the governor’s job. It’s our job as people, to mentor people in our lives,” he said.
In response to a comment by Rotary Club member Gary Thomas about supporting the arts, Parnell talked about how his daughter Grace’s experience with photography showed him the value of art in a young person’s life. Grace was going through a rough period in her teenage years, and Parnell suggested she keep a journal of her feelings. Grace is a good writer, he said, but she chose to do a 365 project, where she took a photograph every day of something involving her or with part of her in the photo, like a hand holding a cup.
“What Sandy and I realized from that experience with her — we saw not only the growth artistically in her, we saw her life story,” Parnell said. “She was journalling through photography. That to me was an eye opener. It’s the telling of our story and our people. We will work to value the arts and the quality of life it brings.”
Holding a copy of the late Gov. Jay Hammond’s book, “Bush Rat Governor,” Amy Bollenbach, a one-time Democrat Party candidate for representative to the Legislature, asked Parnell if he wanted to be one of the great governors of Alaska.
“My aspiration is to serve and love Alaska,” he said. “If I do that in accordance with the Constitution, I think Alaska will be better off. I feel humbled in this job.”
Bollenbach then gave Parnell a copy of Hammond’s book, and suggested he read the section on the environment and the economy. Parnell thanked her for the book and said he’d already read it.
Following up on the subject of the environment and the economy, Will Files asked Parnell about Senate Bill 21, the bill changing the oil tax structure in Alaska. This week, the Division of Elections certified a citizen initiative putting on the ballot the question of if that bill should be repealed.
“I really need some help from you in understanding why we should support SB 21 and not the repeal,” Files said. “I’m confused.”
“It comes down if you believe lower taxes result in better opportunity,” Parnell said. “If you don’t believe that, nothing will convince you.”
Parnell said SB 21 addresses the issue of declining oil production. “I think the proof is going to be in the next five years,” he said. “We raise taxes at the high end and lower them at the low end.”
The bill has incentives to get oil corporations to produce more oil, such as the gross revenue exclusion, Parnell said.
“If you produce a new barrel of oil from a new field, you get to exclude a portion of that value from tax,” he said. “That tax break is geared to new production. You don’t get it if you don’t produce new oil.”
Oil companies have announced new projects in response to the tax change, Parnell said. He mentioned visiting a welding shop in North Pole where the company was investing $500,000 in new equipment because it had more work coming from the North Slope.
“I just see that confidence,” he said. “I really think we need to stay the course.”
In response to a question about the future of Alaska and what we should make of it, Parnell mentioned a revelation he had when at age 16 his father sent him away for the summer to work in the Washington, D.C., area.
“It wasn’t long into that experience that I began to realize that in the East Coast lifestyle, if you didn’t have a long-standing name or were independently wealthy, it’s pretty tough to break through the barriers there and live your dreams,” he said. “At 16 I remember calling my dad and saying, ‘Alaska is where I want to make my life. It’s a land of opportunity.”
It’s still that way, Parnell said.
“This is a place where you can create a future for yourself,” he said. “There’s no place like Alaska. Never has been and never will be.”
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.