Fighting the Feds: Another state lawmaker calls for civil disobedience
State lawmakers are supposed to make the laws, not break them. But an increasing number of legislators say it may be necessary to engage in acts of civil disobedience to get a point across to President Barack Obama and the nation.
“Fight the feds,” has long been the rallying cry at the State Capitol, one that keeps getting louder.
Although it’s been more than a week since Obama shelved development in parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, lawmakers — especially the Republican majority in the Senate — are still fuming over what they call one of the worst cases of federal overreach ever.
On Tuesday, it was as if the feds picked at the scab during a joint House and Senate hearing on the Alaska Railroad.
Lawmakers were told about the costs of the Positive Train Control program, an unfunded federal mandate.
It requires railroads all across the nation, including Alaska, to install high-tech equipment to prevent train-on-train collisions, which the Alaska Railroad says is not a problem in Alaska because there’s not that much multi-directional rail traffic compared to urban areas.
The Alaska Railroad has tried to get an exemption without success.
The Legislature needs $55 million to finish the upgrade, which would bring the total spent so far to $160 million.
During the hearing, Sen. Peter Micciche of Soldotna, who chairs the Senate transportation committee, questioned Bill O’Leary, president and CEO of the Alaska Railroad.
“If you had $160 million to spend on a railroad that you know better than anyone else in the planet,” Micciche said, “would you spend it on Positive Train Control?”
“It will make it safer. It will provide some benefit,” O’Leary said. “But coming back to if I had $160 million to spend, would that be where I would direct the funding? No.”
O’Leary said the money would be better spent on conventional improvements like new railroad ties and bridges.
But if the state doesn’t implement the PTC program, it will have to give up passenger service and possibly pay fines of up to $100,000 a day.
Micciche, and other lawmakers in the federal overreach fight, say this is yet another reason why the state needs to push back.
Micciche says the battle to build a 10-mile road from King Cove to a health clinic in Cold Bay might be the place to start.
The U.S. Department of the Interior has blocked the road because it would cut through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.
“I’ve talked about chartering a jet for the Izembek road for every member of the Legislature and the governor — to show up with a shovel and a hard hat,” said Micciche, who is among a growing number of lawmakers who want the state to defy the federal government and build a road connecting the two Alaska Peninsula communities.
“Civil disobedience has accomplished some pretty great things in our country. Think about women’s suffrage. Think about civil rights,” Micciche said. “Peaceful, civil disobedience might be a necessary tool to get the attention.”
Sen. Mike Dunleavy of Wasilla, in a recent speech on the Senate floor, encouraged lawmakers to follow the example of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
But Rep. Andy Josephson of Anchorage believes King’s message is being misinterpreted.
“It’s Black History Month. When I think of civil disobedience, I think of passive resistance,” Josephson said. “I am disturbed by suggestions that there would be civil disobedience that would constitute criminal misconduct.”
“I think the idea that we would encourage this sort of rebellion against the United States, when we asked to join the United States, is not useful,” Josephson added.
And it’s not productive either, according to Rep. Scott Kawasaki of Fairbanks.
“It’s political theater at best,” Kawasaki said. “We’re missing the ball. There’s a $3.5 billion budget gap. Those are the things we should be focusing on.”
Other Democrats say Alaska needs to keep its eye on the prize — and that’s to fight for a share of federal oil and gas royalties for offshore oil and gas development. Other states get these revenues from offshore drilling, but not Alaska.
In the meantime, Micciche says he isn’t sure how far he’s willing to go.
“I don’t know if I would be willing to get arrested for Americans to understand the challenges we’re seeing here,” Micciche said.
Other lawmakers have said it’s not necessary to turn dirt on the road, but simply march together in solidarity.
Lawmakers may not have time for much creative mischief, not with a Feb. 24 deadline looming for implementation of the marijuana initiative; a proposed special session to take the Alaska liquefied natural gas project to the next phase; as well as downsizing the size of state government to live with in its means, due to lower oil prices and production.
Oh, and there’s that billion dollars-plus from Uncle Sam, which helps to prop up the state budget — for now, the price of obedience.
The post Fighting the Feds: Another state lawmaker calls for civil disobedience appeared first on KTVA 11.