This message was sent from the Governor’s office to members of the Legislature Sunday night. It was almost immediately forwarded on to The Midnight Sun by several legislators.
Subject: use of the Governor’s image
Please be advised that the Governor does not permit the use of his image in newsletters or campaign material, either print or online, without his permission. If you desire to use the Governor’s image in newsletters or campaign material, please email a copy of the photo along with the proposed caption to Grace Jang, the Governor’s Communication Director. Grace will respond in writing if the Governor approves.
The legislators that forwarded it along all included some version of “what the hell?” commentary of their own. Bear in mind this unanimity of perplexion and offense came from legislators who agree on almost nothing. It wouldn’t surprise me if they don’t even agree on how to spell “Legislature.”
One legislator commonly viewed as aligned with the Governor said only “Never seen an email like this before.”
The message immediately became both public and the fodder for memes mocking the Governor.
A politician asking other politicians to refrain from using their image while campaigning isn’t that unusual.
In this case, the Governor asked legislators to keep his image out of campaign material and newsletters. (let’s be honest, legislator newsletters are just taxpayer funded campaign mailers).
Sen. Lisa Murkowski did the exact same thing in 2014 when Sen. Mark Begich’s campaign ran an ad showing a picture of the two of them standing together.
Earlier this year, The Midnight Sun ran a story about Alaska stateswoman Arliss Sturgulewski calling on Senate candidate Margaret Stock to stop using her name and out of context quotes to imply Sturgulewski supported or is aligned with Stock.
If one thumbs through the annals of political history, there are plenty more of examples of this sort of thing.
The subject matter of the email isn’t all that big of a deal. The much bigger deal with this email is what it says about Team Walker.
That the Governor fumbled such a seemingly irrelevant issue — in a manner that legislators found at best off-putting and at worst outright insulting — is a microcosm of the Governor’s problems in dealing with his legislative counterparts.
The message reeks of heavy-handedness, personal detachment, and executive hubris. It’s a reasonable request from one official to another wrapped in a decree from one official on another.
And this message is only the most recent in a long string of the Governor’s communications failures towards the Legislature.
Many legislators have openly complained about the Governor’s office wavering between support and opposition for the oil and gas tax credit legislation throughout the day it was voted on. Such waffling left many legislators feeling confused and frustrated.
Rep. Craig Johnson complained at the Alaska Republican Party State Central Committee that as House Rules Chairman, a powerful position in the House leadership, he had only had the Governor’s Legislative Director Darwin Peterson come to his office twice this session.
A Legislator who sees themselves as important as Johnson does expect to be engaged much more. That is how they have become accustomed to being treated by lobbyists, so that is how they expect to be treated by the Governor when he wants something. That the Governor’s Office doesn’t know this is troubling.
And these are only two recent examples of an approach from the Governor’s office that legislator-after-legislator have publicly — and many lobbyists have privately — been complaining about for months. It’s what has doomed the Governor’s most prized pieces of legislation to failure.
This message may seem small in the bigger picture, but to me, it’s the last straw.
Unlike most who are making hay out of this, I have no animosity towards the Governor, his staff, or his agenda. I think the Governor is a good man, who honestly believes what he is proposing is good for Alaska, and is working diligently toward making it happen.
With that said, and I take no great joy in saying this, but Governor, SOMEONE HAS TO GO.
Whoever is the architect of your legislative and communications strategy, is failing you. The point of such a strategy is to make legislators more receptive to your agenda and instead you keep doing things that almost look designed to frustrate and anger them.
Whoever is either telling you those things are a good idea or failing to throw their body in front of the door to stop you from executing your own bad ideas, must go. They are failing you and by extension the citizens of Alaska.
I’m not in the Governor’s office so I don’t know who that is. It could be Legislative Director Darwin Peterson, Communications Director Grace Jang, or maybe Chief of Staff Jim Whitaker. Maybe it’s someone else, I don’t know.
What I do know is a new relationship with the Legislature is a must-have to achieve your administration’s goals. That new relationship can’t really begin until you send some signal that you recognize there is a problem and are taking steps to fix it.
Sadly, in politics, that signal is really only sent with a staff change.