What if Santa rode a state ferry instead of a sleigh

For the sake of this holiday political fable, let’s assume there is a Santa Claus and the all-knowing gift giver tracks your behavior 365 days a year, not just the month or so before Christmas — much like your phone, your web browsing history, Alexa, front-door camera or whatever other electronic tracking device that watches over you.

Santa knows who has been naughty or nice long before anyone starts wrapping December presents.

And let’s hope that Santa — and coastal Alaska voters — have been making the list and checking it twice for the past few years. And checking the state ferry schedule.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy, in a pre-Christmas, pre-reelection gift-wrapping frenzy, has pulled a couple of presents from his Alaska Marine Highway System holiday bag, that while appreciated, are too much like warm socks — you deserve them, but shouldn’t have to wait until Christmas before an election year to receive them.

Dunleavy’s Department of Transportation is seeking bids from private vessel operators to plug the winter holes in the state ferry system schedule for smaller communities in the northern half of Southeast Alaska — schedule gaps that the administration created by cutting the budget, holding vessels out of service and dismissing community concerns soon after he was elected in 2018.

And from the looks of news reports, the department put together its temporary privatization effort without consulting with the communities.

Then the administration announced it wants to use federal infrastructure funds to build a replacement ferry for the 57-year-old Tustemena, which serves Kodiak and communities on the Gulf of Alaska and Aleutian Islands.

That the Tustemena would be the next ferry on the replacement schedule is not news; it has long been the state’s top priority. The news is that the governor sees the opportunity to use federal dollars to pay for the new vessel. That money is from the same infrastructure bill promoted and pushed through by President Joe Biden, who Dunleavy has vilified at every opportunity.

Not surprising, the governor chose to reveal the ferry construction decision in a separate announcement from the usual Dec. 15 unveiling of the state budget, to ensure maximum news coverage and headlines.

He’s not the first governor to roll out good news before the holidays. Not the first governor to pile on the gifts as a reelection year is about to begin. If it helps get good things done, no complaints.

But it’s a late switch from Grinch to a Santa costume, giving coastal communities visions of sugar plums and a nice, new shiny ferry when previous gifts of deteriorating ferry service were more like a lump of coal.

So, in keeping with the holiday spirit, coastal Alaskans should thank the governor for supporting the use of federal dollars to replace the Tustemena, for looking to see if private operators can provide minimal service to several communities that would go without ferry service for almost two months this winter, and for remembering that a coastal vote will count the same as a Southcentral vote next year.

But what took so long to see the problems created by the wake of the governor’s 2019-2020 budget cuts and vetoes?

I guess a state ferry looks a lot like a Christmas sleigh in an election year.

 

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