I explained to him that I've been a longtime supporter of Ethan's primary race opponent, Diane Benson, and am an elected officer of the Alaska Democratic Party in my local area. He said, "oh, that can't do." I agreed.
He asked if I knew anyone who could write the Alaska part of the article, and I recommended a person I thought would be excellent - Shannyn Moore. I have no idea where that went, but yesterday the writer he assigned to the job, got in touch. He's now asked me a series of questions, which I'll send off to him, and also answer here.
Outside Writer: I just wanted to get your insight on how Berkowitz is perceived by those on the left. My lazy google searches have taught me that those on the right have cast him as a uber liberal, and many on the left think he's too conservative.
Phil: I'm pretty far left. I'd say Ethan Berkowitz isn't any further to the left than I am on anything.
On the issue of addressing the medical care crisis, he is perhaps the least liberal. Here is his solution to the crisis:
Expanding medical record-keeping technology to reduce administrative costs and improve safety through information sharing
Promote preventative care and healthy living choices
Expanding the federal SCHIP program to cover a wider range of children
Allow for small business insurance pooling.
I've heard him make statements in forums and debates that sound more hopeful, from my point of view, but they were quite vague past being promises to somehow make medical care affordable for everyone. Back in January, in a discussion I had with Ethan, I asked how his approach would help young people who graduate out of their parents' medical plans, and who have pre-existing disabilities or chronic medical problems. These people are often just plain uninsurable under the present system, and I told Ethan his plans don't seem to address these hundreds of thousands of young people. He told me he would get back to me on how to fix it. He hasn't.
I've been highly critical, as have been national liberal figures Howie Klein and Jeff Cohen, of Rahm Emanuel's PAC's list of donors. These two men are highly esteemed, with Klein having won major awards from People for the American Way and the American Civil Liberties Union, and Cohen being the founding director of the Park Center for Independent Media at the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College.
And I'm concerned that should Ethan become our new freshman Alaska congressman, he will vote in line with Emanuel's agenda on all the items congressman Emanuel deems important. Emanuel and those he has sought to elevate, are among the most conservative Democrats now serving.
As far as the right seeing him as "uber liberal," that is the case. Alaska Republicans have a history of often supporting candidates who are very far outside of the national GOP mainstream. And, as you can see, even with a pending corruption trial, Sen. Ted Stevens is being all but worshiped up here by "conservatives."
Outside Writer: There are also issues with him maybe being in bed with the more corrupt elements of Alaskan politics, though in my conversations with him, he comes off as ferociously anti-corruption. Or is he just a slave to the Stevens effect -- the fashion of anti-corruption?
Phil: I've been critical of him being one of the major Democratic Party recipients of campaign funds from VECO CEO Bill Allen, of former Allvest CEO Bill Weimer, and of now-indicted lobbyist, Ashley Reed. But I don't believe he could be characterized as "being in bed with the more corrupt elements of Alaskan politics." My feeling is that he has been careless and exceptionally naive about his campaign funding in general.
He isn't "pro-corruption," but he certainly isn't "ferociously anti-corruption." When a good friend, David Shurtleff, began working as Ethan's Communications Director, back at the beginning of July, we had an e-mail exchange on aspects of the history of Bill Allen and the Alaska legislature. I expressed concern that it took Mr. Berkowitz so long to openly express disdain for a guy - Mr. Allen - that I was able to read as a particularly sleazy person within minutes of having met him, back in April 1990.
In early 2007, Governor Palin appointed Ethan and former Federal prosecutor Wevley Shea to come up with recommendations regarding cleaning up ethical lapses in our state legislature, but the recommendations, though well-intended, were not "ferocious" by any measure, and, by and large, haven't been implemented.
Outside Writer: I also have it on good authority that he called out a few of his colleagues on the floor of the house -- though I haven't found any video evidence yet. That doesn't sound like a guy who is corrupt. Or was he just the first rat off a sinking ship?
Phil: Essentially, I find it hard to accept Ethan's thirty-second tirade against Allen's blatant manipulation of our legislature over a fourteen-year period as qualifying him as "ferociously anti-corruption." What Mr. Berkowitz did at that time was certainly the right thing to do. I've never seen a video of Ethan's legislative session statement, and I can't find a link to the audio. I thought I had it cached somewhere, but...
Ray Metcalfe has characterized Ethan's speech like you are referencing, but I haven't and don't feel that was the case.
Outside Writer: I'd also be curious to know if you would vote for him if he beats Benson.
Phil: Absolutely. I've developed huge opposition files on both Don Young and Sean Parnell. People come to me with information on both of these guys almost weekly. A lot, especially on Parnell, hasn't been made public yet. Whether or not Mr. Berkowitz would want me to help him in the November race, should he prevail next Tuesday, would be his choice, but I would certainly support him as much as asked to.
Outside Writer: I'd like to get your insight on how the VECO business has changed the landscape of Alaskan politics.
Phil: Not nearly as much as it should have. VECO was acting as a cutout for the big oil companies in its acts of legislative manipulation. Any time one industry is responsible for 85% to 90% of a state's general fund revenue, the state's citizens and legislators need to be more watchful, rather than less, toward manipulation by that industry. Since moving here in early 1973, I've seen several attempts by factions within both major political parties to come to terms with this, but months of reform acts are almost always separated by years or decades of accommodation with big oil's wishes.
Update - Saturday, August 23: This article has had names and a media outlet removed for now, at the request of one of the other people involved.