Posts Tagged ‘Washington DC’

Expatriates in D.C.

I was in Washington, D.C. attending a party for members of the Alaska Family — persons of high-profile from Alaska, who have since oriented their careers toward securing federal dollars from the U.S. Congress on behalf of the state. What a pleasure to reunite with informants who gathered for a small reception of the annual Alaska Energy Forum.

That is Jack Ferguson, everyone’s favorite (and some say highest-paid) Alaska lobbyist. All around well-liked guy, he has a way with capturing the mood of the moment. I was told of one such an instance when a newly elected Governor of Alaska Frank Murkowski flew to Washington D.C. in the middle of winter to meet with several lobbyists who he had known previously when serving as Alaska’s U.S. Senator. One of the meetings took place over lunch with Tom Roberts, a lawyer for a high profile D.C. law firm. For decades, Roberts has provided lobbying services to the Canadian pipeline construction company, Foothills Pipelines Ltd., who holds critical permits to build the proposed gazillion dollar natural gas pipeline along the Alaska Highway route.

Years before, both Jack Ferguson and Tom Roberts had served, at different times, as Chief-of-Staff to Murkowski while the latter was U.S. senator. Both had continued a mutually supportive friendship. In fact, Roberts served as treasurer on Murkowski’s gubernatorial campaign. Actually, at the beginning of Murkowski’s gubernatorial reign, Roberts was considered part of the Governor’s Kitchen Cabinet, in large part, because that very phrase designating that particular group was assigned during that very luncheon with Roberts — when Jack Ferguson, came in out of the cold, threw off his jacket and bellowed across the restaurant, “there they are, the ‘Kitchen Cabinet’!”. The name stuck and was used throughout the following months to refer to the decision making authority of D.C. friends of the governor and also — as the reason for the lack of decision making authority among highly placed political appointees back in Alaska.

Returning to the occasion, everyone was in good spirits, and there were so many folks that I had not seen in some time. Members of the Press and leaders of Oil Companies, buddy–buddying, schmoozing, rubbing palms and patting backs, just like ole times. Of course, even Alaskans can get on the wrong side of each other, but, according to John Katz, everyone eventually gets “under the tent”.

John has served under seven or eight Alaska governors, I forget how many now — as the Federal-State Director in the D.C. Office. He has so many quotes to sum up the situation. Another of my favorites, especially in the context of energy legislation: “Success has a thousand fathers but failure is an orphan”.

Here we are. That’s energy journalist, William Murray, Political Correspondent for Energy Intelligence, standing next to David C. Nagel, Executive Vice President of British Petroleum (BP).

David just stepped into the seat at the D.C. Office of BP. But his arrival did not disrupt the position of an old playmate, Brian W. Miller, Senior Director, US Government Affairs for BP, who was also in attendance that evening.

Drue Pearce, Senior Policy Advisor for Crowell Moring, was in attendance as well. Drue has had such a long and distinguished career in Alaska politics. I first met her when she was a State Senator in the Alaska Legislature. She then went on to become Special Assistant to Secretary of Interior Gale Norton, in Washington, D.C. — That must have been an amazing experience. I remember meeting the Madam Secretary in her office, with Drue, while accompanying the newly elected Alaska Governor, Frank Murkowski, on his inaugural tour of D.C. heavies.

I wish I had my camera on that occasion! Wow. What a beautifully plush office. Frederick Remington paintings of the Old West hung on the darkly wooden paneled walls, photos from Edward Curtis, capturing the twilight of the West. There was a central drawing room that any executive would envy. I had to hold my breath — so nervous to be in the inner-sanctum of federal bureaucratic power. On such occasions, whenever offered a drink, wine or juice, I declined for fear that I would spill the darn thing and make a fool of myself in front of such a distinguished party.

Drue completed her political appointment career with the Presidentially appointed, and Senate confirmed title of Federal Coordinator, which was an amazing post — and one that is now being held by none other than Larry Persily, former Alaska journalist and political appointee under two Alaska Governors: Tony Knowles and Sarah Palin.

Yup. That is Larry Persily, Federal Coordinator of the Alaska Natural Gas Transportation System. The Office of the Federal Coordinator (OFC) was created to expedite the construction of an Alaska natural gas pipeline, if it ever got off the ground. Actually, the OFC, is a precursor to the OFI, Office of the Federal Inspector, which was created several decades ago, under President Jimmy Carter, when the original plans for the Alaska pipeline were created. The whole idea behind these offices is to create a one-stop shop for all federal government issues to be handled, so just in case the project does move forward, it does not get mired down in squabbling over regulations.

Wow. That is Rita Stevens, flanked by Oil men from Marathon Oil Company. Geez. I know Rita from my first trip to Alaska, on Kodiak Island, when I was an undergraduate student at Columbia University. Rita is married to Gary Stevens, former college professor and now president of the Alaska State Senate. Both flew in from Juneau, Alaska, for the meeting.

We all hugged, and then went out for dinner, right then and there, with other Alaska politicians from the State Legislature.

Around this time, several months ago now, I was in Houston, Texas, with members of the oil and gas industry on arctic natural gas development. I mentioned the need to create communities of participation, that bring together in one room the principals of energy companies and sovereign arctic officials, so that everyone becomes familiar with each other and understands how to communicate across a broader band-width of demands than what continues to be narrowly construed as, on the one side “economic viability”, and on the other side “increasing local revenue”.

One example of a roundtable meeting took place between Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski and the principals of Alaska energy companies. I believe the mutual understanding that grew from these face-to-face meetings ultimately led to the contract drafted between the Governor and the Alaska oil and gas producers on conditions of a natural gas pipeline project. Terry Koonce, former head of ExxonMobil met with the Governor at pre-arranged roundtables to speak openly about requirements on the Alaska pipeline.

However, when the Governor finally delivered to the Alaska State Legislature the contract, to be ratified, Alaska lawmakers faulted and dropped the agreement. Was it the weakness of the contract itself? Or was it the lack of engagement between lawmakers and principals of energy companies? As an observer, I found the ordeal a missed opportunity.

The need for alliance building through face-to-face roundtable contacts became clear to me while I was having dinner with Alaska’s State Senate Majority Leaders visiting Washington D.C. Seated on the right is State Senate President Gary Stevens, and to his left co-chair of the Finance Committee, Bert Stedman — two of the most influential persons involved in negotiations over energy tax relief legislation proposed by the Alaska governor.

A primary question for me that evening was the following:

Can someone please explain to me how it occurs that on their night off in Washington, D.C. the only non-politician having dinner with these Alaska leaders is a Photographist and International Travelry Specialist? And not, for example, Jim Mulva, CEO of ConocoPhillips who could best portray his company’s long term interests in Alaska and explain why he is requesting a tax break from the state?

To be fair to Mr. Mulva, he does communicate in-person frequently with Alaska U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, at her office in the Hart Senate Building on Capitol Hill, which is where I first met him, introduced to me by energy lobbyist Don Duncan. It was in this moment of our meeting, actually, that I developed right-there-on-the-spot my initial theory of corporeality of the intellectual professional, based on a handshake with this powerful, charming and charismatic individual.

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