Founding Fathers and New Kids
A while ago, Wickersham’s Conscience was at Gulliver’s Books in College, Alaska to get Jack Coghill to sign my copy of his fine, new autobiography. Jack and WC go back a ways – at least by WC’s time scale – and while Wickersham’s Conscience and Jack Coghill disagree on a great many political issues, we get along well. (Unlike Wickersham’s Conscience, by the way, Jack Coghill actually knew James Wickersham.)
As Jack was signing WC’s book, Sean Parnell, Alaska’s Governor by Default, formerly Governor Lite, came in to the store. A mutual acquaintance introduced us, we shook hands and then Governor Parnell, clearly a man in a hurry, and cutting in front of at least 15 people, asked Jack Coghill if he could have a photo of the two of them. Parnell, had, of course, brought a photographer along.
Jack Coghill was a member of the Alaska Constitutional Convention (one of two surviving delegates). He’s been a territorial representative, a mayor, a state senator, a lieutenant governor, a father, grandfather and great-grandfather. He was active in politics long before Parnell’s parents met, possibly before they were born. He was a state senator before Parnell was born. He’s a walking history of the Territory and State of Alaska. He has donated his time to countless charities. But he is, above all, a consummate gentleman. He’s a man who has had far more than his share of tragedy, but is unfailingly cheerful and helpful. He’s a class act in a political party where class acts are an endangered species.
So he said yes, he’d agree to the photo, although in this hasty shot, taken with WC’s cell phone camera, his discomfort is fairly obvious. But he is trying to be courteous to someone who might be a little short on courtesy. A more polite, thoughtful and respectful politician might have contacted Jack Coghill privately, to see if a photo was alright, rather than cornering Jack in public. Especially for one of the senior most members of his party. But then, such a politician wouldn’t leave the chairmanship of the Alaska Senate Finance Committee to become a lobbyist for one of the big oil companies who are the primary taxpayers regulated by that Finance Committee. And while WC has a grudging admiration for Parnell for his decision to run against Don “Pottymouth” Young, WC notes he did so from the safety of the Lt. Governor’s seat, that he chose to do so when Young was at his most politically vulnerable, and still managed to lose.
Opportunism isn’t fatal in a politician, but it’s an unfortunate condition even so. Governor Parnell is likely too far advanced in his political career to develop manners, but we can hope.