On Monday the Alaska Democratic Party (ADP) issued a press release titled “Republicans fail to hold Hawker accountable” in which they chastise the Republican House Majority for not taking some form of disciplinary action against Rep. Mike Hawker in the wake of emails being released showing he worked closely with Anchorage developer Mark Pfeffer on a $44 million dollar deal to remodel the Anchorage Legislative Information Office (LIO).
Few have been harder on Hawker over this deal than I have. In the immediate wake of it coming to light Hawker called into my radio program to defend it. That conversation ended with me outright calling him corrupt, in so many words. In retrospect, I went too far.
The facts show Hawker made a overly opulent and politically tone deaf deal, but singling him out is both unfair and misses the true context of the situation. For Alaska Democrats to themselves call him out is downright hypocritical and gross.
The decision to vest Hawker with the power to negotiate that deal with big time political donor Pfeffer happened in a June 7, 2013 Legislative Council meeting. In that meeting 4 separate motions had to pass in order to allow the committee’s chairman Hawker to begin negotiating the deal. All four of them passed unanimously (without objection). That means none of the 3 Democrats on the committee (Rep. Max Gruenberg, Sen. Dennis Egan, Sen. Lyman Hoffman) cast a single vote against the idea. The audio further shows not one of them even raised objections or concerns.
An Alaska Democratic Party tweet from Wednesday night said:
They are wrong on both accounts. The Democrats on the committee, all of them, voted to empower Hawker to do the deal and the audio shows they were well aware of the fact Mark Pfeffer was the developer he would be working with. In fact, then Rep. Stoltze, who apparently was the only person in the room who recognized the appearance of impropriety being created, went out of his way to put on the record that he had taken donations from Pfeffer. Hawker then went around the room and asked each committee member, including the Democrats, if they also took such donations. So no, the Democrats didn’t vote against the deal, and no, Hawker didn’t work with Pfeffer “instead.” He did it with the informed consent of ALL Democrats and Republicans voting that day.
If the Democrats on Legislative Council felt they had been hoodwinked, bamboozled, or outright fooled at that meeting they still had another chance to get their objections on the record. On August 23, 2013 Legislative Council had another meeting, almost a month before the deal was signed, where the Anchorage LIO was again on the agenda. This time the committee received an update on the negotiations and moved to further empower Chairman Hawker to pursue a purchase of the building in addition to its remodeling and leasing. Again, only Rep. Stoltze voiced concerns about how the deal was being done and how it might look. Again, the audio shows no objections by any Democrats, and the motion passed unanimously.
The Alaska Democratic Party isn’t without sin themselves. Hawker and Pfeffer finalized their deal on Sept, 19th, 2013. Media reports and talk radio detailed the full outrage due the deal almost immediately. Yet, the ADP was so appalled at the deal that on January 20, 2014 they solicited and received two donations to their state house and senate campaign funds from Pfeffer lobbyist Robert Evans. And they weren’t the only ones. Seven Democrat legislators took donations from Pfeffer Development between the lease becoming public and the end of 2013. Sitting Democrat legislators took another 13 donations from Pfeffer before the 2014 elections.
Wow, taking all the money Pfeffer will throw at you, that’ll show him your outrage.
Hawker made a bad deal for Alaska, but Alaska Democrats have no room to cast stones. They too were part of the problem. They put no objections on the record. They issued no press releases alerting the media to the pending problem. They went on no radio shows to blow the whistle. They knew it was happening and let it happen.
The truth is this: everyone who had to work in that building, Republicans and Democrats, staffers and legislators, desperately wanted it remodeled. I can’t blame them. The building stank, the plumbing didn’t work, and the building’s elevator, when it did work, could be timed with a calendar easier than a stop watch. The place was a dump. If you worked there you would have begged for this deal to get done, whatever the price.
If you injected Anchorage Democratic legislators and staffers with sodium pentathol they would tell you they are grateful to Hawker for doing that deal. Everyone wanted it. Everyone knew it was needed. No one wanted to take the inevitable political bullet that came with it. Mike Hawker did, and that is why Democrats in the building kept their mouths shut and let it happen. Democrats got all the workplace benefit and none of the political cost, and they knew it.
As ridiculously overdone as the deal Hawker and Pfeffer made was, I am almost more offended by those who could have blown the whistle but didn’t in order to pad their campaign accounts and cushion their workplace comfort. For them to empower their party to bash Hawker as though he did it all by himself is political opportunism and hypocrisy of the highest order.
Alaska Dispatch News wrote this in March of 2014,
“House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said the troubled process with the LIO lease wasn’t Hawker’s fault and he doesn’t deserve the criticism he’s been getting. “It’s been unfortunate that the chairman has taken the full brunt,” he said, but it was the entire council over at least eight years that failed to adequately address the looming lease expiration “
Chenault, who sat on Legislative Council when this deal happened, is 100% correct.This was an institutional failure. That failure was total and trumped partisanship as much as it did procurement code. It is unfair to Representative Mike Hawker to look at it any other way.