As someone who does the work that I do in the world of politics, it’s not unusual to be called out by a politician or one of their flacks harboring passive-aggressive animosity that doesn’t come out until we see each other at a bar around 1 AM and the two pitchers of liquid courage we’ve guzzled gives them just the push they need to tell me how they really feel.
It is part of the job. It happens. No big deal.
I wasn’t terribly surprised when I received a call from the Governor’s new Chief-of-Staff Scott Kendall earlier this week wanting to talk about the Governor’s Legislative Director Darwin Peterson.
I have been writing for months that the Governor’s relationship with state legislators has deteriorated to the point that for him to have any hope of having his vision reflected in passed legislation, he needed to make some changes. Big changes. Staff changes.
The most obvious targets for the Governor to replace, if mending fences was his goal, was his Chief-of-Staff Jim Whitaker, who seemed to be the source of a lot of legislative animosity towards the administration, as well as his Legislative Director, Mr. Peterson, who is the Governor’s most direct link to the legislature on a day-to-day basis.
The Governor took my advice, at least I like to believe it was my advice, and replaced Whitaker with Scott Kendall. It was a good move.
Since then I’ve consistently heard from political insiders that the replacement was done, as we had suspected, to improve the Governor’s relationship with legislators and that more staff changes would be made to that end before the legislative session gets underway on January 17.
Reading those tea leaves a bit, I again speculated in our Friday in the Sun column last Friday that Peterson would be the natural target of that change.
It was that column that prompted Kendall’s voice on my phone. The Governor’s Chief-of-Staff called to tell me, emphatically, on-the-record, that he had no plans for replacing Peterson and asking that I tell people that.
As I said, it isn’t odd for someone to argue with my prognostications. It also isn’t odd to have some sources tell me someone is going to do something, only to have that person blow up in righteous indignation when I write about it. Oh, and then, after their denials to see them do exactly the thing my sources said they were going to do and that I wrote that they would do. I’m not looking at you Margaret Stock, but…
Any sports fan is no doubt also tempted to doubt what Kendall is saying, after all, in the NFL, NBA, college sports, etc. it is pretty common for the very last thing you hear before a coach is fired is the team owner or athletic director give that coach an emphatic and public show of support.
This conversation was different than that. Kendall said he was putting his personal credibility on the line and that both I and lawmakers should judge him based on what he is saying about keeping Peterson around. That is a meaningful statement from a brand new Chief-of-Staff looking to establish his own credibility with legislators, staff, the media, and the public. For Kendall to essentially give his word (in a political sense) at this point in time matters. It means he is almost certainly telling the truth.
Perhaps the more interesting question is this: why did he make the call at all? The Midnight Sun is just a little political blog nestled in the Last Frontier. We’re proud of the work we do, but to have the Governor’s Office implore us to make clear something we are calling for or speculating about won’t be happening is pretty big time.
Unfortunately, my speculation has taken on a life of its own in Alaska’s halls of power and led to some questioning if they should be returning Peterson’s calls. If he won’t be there much longer, why bother?
That is a problem because this time of year, the month between when the Governor releases his budget proposal and when the legislative session begins, is the busy season for a Legislative Director. Anything that stops the legislative branch from dealing with him can make it impossible to do his job and really gum up the works for the Governor’s Office.
I have my doubts about whether my writing really is the source of this problem. It is just as likely that legislators and their staffs are using it as a thin excuse for their own disinterest in working with the Governor and his staff. Unfortunately, there is nothing I can do about that.
What I can do, is honestly report what I think and what I know to be true. Right now, I have excellent, on-the-record sources in the Governor’s Office that say Mr. Peterson will be sticking around. So let’s all get back to work.