Small government champion Tuckerman Babcock lands big government job
Tuckerman Babcock, 58, has been named by Gov.-elect Mike Dunleavy as the chief of staff for the Dunleavy administration, a position in which he ought to set a good example by accepting a salary commensurate with the ideals of a man dedicated to small government.
It should be a great deal smaller than the $160,000 earned by Scott Kendall, who holds the job now, or the $195,000 earned by Mike Nizich during the last year of the Parnell administration. Shrinking government begins at the top.
State commissioners earn $141,156 a year, an amount set by law. The governor earns $145,000.
Babcock’s biography on a national Republican website says the former Alaska GOP chairman has been a “full time parent since 2009,” which sounds like he hasn’t had a paycheck since he was fired by the Matanuska Electric Association nine years ago.
He has long been a right-wing Republican. In 1995, he complained about Sen. Ted Stevens being an “old bull,” and a man who ''doesn't realize Alaskans don't need favors from Washington; we need freedom from Washington.''
The Wikipedia page about Babcock, as of this writing, says that “between 1974 and 1978 he visited Steller Alternative High School in Anchorage,” but Babcock counts himself as a graduate.
The Republican activist began working to shrink government in his 20s, when he became a Tier I state employee, serving as a clerk in the state Division of Elections for two years. He later worked for various GOP legislators as a legislative aide.
In the mid-1980s, Babcock had been called to offer “expert testimony” in a court fight over the legislative reapportionment plan written in 1980. In a court ruling cutting lawyers’ fees by three-quarters, Judge Brian Shortell said that Babcock’s testimony was “singularly unpersuasive, unduly lengthened the trial and contributed not at all to any favorable result.”
At 28, Babcock ran for the Legislature against his former employer, Rep. Curt Menard, because Menard had switched parties and become a Democrat. Babcock was too late to get his name on the ballot in 1988 as a Republican, so he called himself a member of the Bull Moose Party, which didn’t exist.
Menard said at the time that his experience as an Air Force veteran, dentist and businessman set him apart. “Babcock says his education and political experience working as an aide to Menard and former Reps. Barb Lacher and Edna DeVries makes him well qualified,” the Anchorage Daily News reported.
Babcock lost that year to Menard and he lost again in 1990 to Rep. Pat Carney. The Anchorage Daily News correctly summed him up as a “former legislative aide who aspires to be a professional politician.”
Oddly enough, both Carney and Menard lived on one side of Schrock Road in the Mat-Su, while the would-be professional politician lived on the other side.
When the Hickel administration redrew the boundaries for legislative districts in 1991, Schrock Road became the dividing line for two districts, the Daily News reported. It was pure chance, according to Babcock, who served as executive director of the reapportionment board under Gov. Wally Hickel.
Babcock said it didn’t matter if a district appeared to be carved out for him anyhow because he wasn’t going to run for the Legislature again. Under Babcock’s leadership, the board produced a plan that favored Republicans and was rejected by the courts. He later complained about the Supreme Court’s handling of the matter, while others complained about gerrymandering.
"Tuckerman has honed the method of deviousness," said Democratic Sen. Jay Kerttula.
A news account of a court proceeding over the process to draw district lines said that while Babcock had “once astonished classmates at Anchorage's Steller High by naming all 535 U.S. senators and representatives,” he had a hard time “remembering many of the telephone conversations, dinners and other occasions during which he and board members allegedly conspired to rig the process.”
As the boundary battles continued, Hickel kept Babcock, then 31, on the state payroll. He named him “director of constituent relations” and later said he would be “director of boards and commissions.”
It was at this time that Babcock wrote to some Alaska Republicans calling for a new party name, "Alaska Independent- Republican Party." At that time, Hickel had joined the Alaska Independence Party and won a three-way race for governor.
"With new legislative districts, a united team and a name that reaches out to the 55 percent of Alaskans who call themselves ‘independent,' we can sweep the elections in 1992,” Babcock wrote.
The party name stayed, but a year later, Hickel promoted Babcock to a position on the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, with a spokesman citing his “well-rounded public perspective.”
Mike Doogan, the great columnist of the Anchorage Daily News, had a different perspective: “If you're wondering how a guy acquires a well-rounded public perspective, here's Babcock's work experience: two years as a state elections clerk, six years as a legislative aide, two years working for the governor's office.”
“Of course, that's not everything on his resume. Babcock also went to three colleges, got a degree in government, and twice ran unsuccessfully for the legislature. All that, and he's only 32. No wonder Hickel gave him a $77,000-a-year job.”
After his term on the oil and gas commission ended, Babcock went back to being a legislative aide, this time for Sen. Lyda Green, his future mother-in-law.
In the fall of 1997, he applied to become borough manager of the Mat-Su Borough, but didn’t get it. In 1998, he ran John Lindauer’s disastrous campaign for governor, bailing out a month-and-a-half before the election.
He landed a job as a lobbyist with the Matanuska Electric Association and became a manager, only to be fired in 2009 when the politics of that government-like organization changed.
As Babcock begins the latest chapter of his long government career, keep all of this in mind when he talks about the virtues of the private sector and the evils of government jobs.