Efforts to defeat HB4 costing big bucks in high stakes political strategy
The Valdez City Council – with two vocal dissenters – approved an additional $473,876.43 to amend its contract with Walsh Sheppard to ramp up its media campaign to promote a large volume gasline and defeat House Bill 4.
“I’m very concerned, the message we will send, not finishing what we started,” councilman Mike Wells said after expressing equal concern over the campaign’s escalating costs.
Last February, the council elected to approve a contract worth over $400,000 with Walsh Sheppard to rebrand the all-Alaska gasline to the MVP, or Maximum Volume Pipeline, in the eyes of Alaskans outside the Richardson Highway corridor.
The project grew in scope to include a campaign to sway voter opinion against House Bill 4, legislation that will authorize a thin-piped gasline – stripped of its valuable liquid gases such as propane – from the North Slope to a the Anchorage area. The legislature has hired its own PR firm to promote the project it calls ASAP (Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline) in communities throughout the state.
Council members Donna Schantz and Chris Moulton were absent for the February vote and both voiced opposition to expanding the MVP campaign.
“I really don’t support this campaign for a lot of reasons,” Shantz said during a special council meeting Thursday.
Schantz , who had previously said she supported cheaper outreach alternatives such as one-on-one meetings with state officials, was skeptical Alaskan voters could be swayed by advertising.
She also lamented the large number of hours city staff was dedicating to the project already and pointed out numerous projects the city had not yet funded that are also important for the public good and have not been funded for many years.
She also disagreed with the new Valdez concept in the current campaign that supports a large diameter gas pipeline, but does not specifically promote Port Valdez as its terminus.
Valdez mayor Dave Cobb, who is also chairman of the Alaska Gasline Port Authority, defended the city’s stance on not specifically promoting Port Valdez as an LNG terminus.
“Every one of you sitting here said ‘we’ve got to take the high road,’” Cobb said, backing up the council’s current public stance, that Valdez will not oppose an LNG export gas line that ends in a competing community, as long as the theoretical project indeed brings cheaper energy for most - if not all - Alaskans and maximizes state revenues.
“When we take care of Alaska we take care of Valdez,” Cobb said.
Moulton agreed with many of the arguments postulated by Schantz, but said he agreed with other city spending dedicated to LNG gasline development, such as its recent contract with former Valdez legislator Gene Kubina and a contract for direct public relations with media consultants Strategies 360.
“I think it’s reactionary,” he said of the Walsh Sheppard campaign. “I think it’s too late.”
Other council members backed the campaign despite its added expense.
“I think it’s important that we integrate all media,” council member Jeremy Miner said before the vote, though adding later, “I feel a little taken advantage of.”
The Walsh Sheppard contract is not limited to TV, radio and newspaper advertising. It includes maintaining a Facebook page, a website that is maintained to be relevant, tweeting and other modern media campaign tools.
The expanded contract passed without the support of Moulton and Schantz.
The council also approved its proposed contract Taylor Bickford and Strategies 360.
Bickford appeared before council two weeks ago and gave a report on the town hall type meeting held in Seward recently put on by the state’s hired guns.
The two contracts required an addition council vote to transfer $564,805.11 from the city’s debt service account into its general account to cover the approved contracts.
“No one else can do what we’re doing,” the city’s manager, John Hozey, said before the vote. “This is an investment, that if successful, could bring dividends for years and years and years.”