Home Politics John Aronno: On Politics A Tired Political Accusation May Be Mayor Dan Sullivan's Entire Strategy

A Tired Political Accusation May Be Mayor Dan Sullivan's Entire Strategy

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There is no shortage of go-to political phrases used by lawmakers and pundits to dredge up populist support. Among one of the more virulent strains is the “shoved down our throats” meme; the accusation that a certain piece of legislation was not subject to the will of the people, but instead forcibly inflicted upon an unsuspecting and disapproving public.
It’s a potent attack.
The argument creates a visual comparing a proposed law to a race between two people: the evil government and you. When the race begins, the evil government is afforded a motorcycle, while you are offered a strong wind that discourages forward momentum. It becomes about fairness: you are being unfairly treated. The government does what it wants, which is to cheat and win.
It’s an easy train to jump on for voters who are generally displeased with representative governance and haven’t been paying close attention.
The strategy is overwhelmingly overused in cases that shouldn’t apply. When I hear it, my eyes gloss over. I distinctly feel as though I’ve just heard a boy crying wolf.
But, sometimes legislation does fit the description. In those cases, we should object. The current government-shutdown-theater is a great example of something no rational American wanted, but received, without a whole lot of input. Our hyper-partisan state redistricting serves as another example of a plan that we did not come up with, but demands our obedience.
As a lawmaker, it’s desirable to avoid choking constituents on public policy. We really don’t like choking. If choking were a candidate, it might actually beat Don Young in a general election. If Politician A alleges that Politician B is “shoving” this or that “down our throats,” Politician A should grow very concerned very quickly, and figure out clear steps to disprove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he or she is shoving anything anywhere.
In other words, if the strategy is being used politically, rather than substantively, you need to shut it down before the stupid spreads. And a distrustful, tuned out public is a powerful contagion.
So, why has it become the most overt feature of Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan’s administration. and why aren’t we objecting more loudly?
Over the past several years, the municipality has seen more than its fair share of controversial proposals. Virtually all of the more questionable proposals shared one clear and present characteristic: severely limited, sometimes nonexistent, public process. They weren’t vetted by the people they would affect.
Take for instance, the current tennis court debacle. Did you know we had a tennis court debacle? Well, we do. And it’s being shoved down our throats!
Sullivan worked with state representative Lindsey Holmes (R-West Anchorage) to secure $10.5 million in state funds to build six new tennis courts in West Anchorage. The move has been criticized from the right to the left and most places in between. It came out of nowhere and, except for our indoor tennis playing community, doesn’t seem to benefit anyone.
Every year, community councils put items on a capital improvement projects list; a wish list for projects they’d like to see funded. The courts were not on any of them. The city, likewise, did not ask for the funding. Alaska Dispatch reported that the Alaska Club president, Robert Brewster, “approached the city with an offer to sell some of his indoor courts.” Brewster indicated that he loses money on tennis.
Had the administration bothered to ask local residents if this was a good idea, they would have saved themselves a lot of heartburn and bad optics.
But Sullivan doesn’t like to ask permission before announcing plans.
Last month, West Anchorage residents were waking up to a whole other surprise when Sullivan announced intentions to turn 66 acres out by Kincaid Park into a giant homeless camp. Shockingly:
“Community councils around Raspberry Road — located near the neighborhoods of Jewel Lake and Spenard — were not contacted prior to the proposal’s submission.”
The list goes on.
Back in January, the Mayor’s proposed moving Karluk Manor (the wet homeless shelter in downtown) to Mountain View. But before asking Mountain View what they thought of the idea, he announced the plans at the Chamber of Commerce. Then-community council president, Don Crandall, sent a letter that “expressed similar disappointment in the Council’s continued non-involvement in the decision to the location of the new Karluk Manor, as well as concerns about the proposed location’s proximity to Tyson Elementary School.”
Ordinance 37 – the Sullivan-backed labor rewrite – was dropped without any input from the over-2,000 public employees it would affect. The subsequent repeal attempt is now being fought by the municipal attorney while the mayor seeks to postpone the vote. Public be damned.
And there is no more flagrant example than the Title 21 rewrite, which took over a decade of public input and award-winning involvement, and rejected it for the privately contracted opinion of one Dan Coffey.
Alaska has a special reverence for local knowledge. We give it much more weight than outside knowledge, because we understand the value of the wisdom and experience from people with boots on the ground.
Our city charter reflects this as a priority. The preamble secures “maximum local control of local affairs” in order to “eliminate waste and duplication in government.” Its authors went even further when they established community councils as the ground floor of local governance; “to afford citizens an opportunity for maximum community involvement and self-determination.”
The mayor has repeatedly sidestepped the part, in the legislative process, where the public is informed and afforded the opportunity to vet the legislation he intends us to abide by. The only community involvement is through public testimony offered to assembly people who have, largely, already made up their minds and would very much like to move on to the part where they vote. If we don’t, they vote for us and close testimony.
Through omission of the expert local knowledge, we end up with fatally flawed legislation – much of which becomes law anyway. And we end up worse and worse off. We need to demand more public involvement; more cooperation between local government and the Anchorage community. And we need to start demanding it now. Even if we have to shove it down this administration’s throat.

1 COMMENT

  1. I think John nailed it. Everything he pointed to in his arguments has happened or is happening. Sullivan truly disregards the Charter and public input. I just hope we survive his administration!