Miller needs to get good staff people and listen to them


The handcuffing fiasco at Central Middle School last Sunday was yet more evidence that U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller isn’t ready for prime time.

He may in fact make a good senator someday, but he has a lot to learn. One important lesson would be getting good staff people and listening to them.

A candidate may know oodles about policy and be able to dazzle national television personalities with his smile and rugged beard, but if he can’t find his way out of a junior high school without paramilitary support, he isn’t going to make it in the halls of Congress.

Here’s a suggestion for Joe. Next time you need security, forget about the Army special forces with prisoner restraints. Get a large lady with a voice like your mother on steroids, one who can say convincingly, “The opera ain’t over until I say it’s over. Sit down, sonny!” Good staff people — if you listen to them — can keep you from making a lot of mistakes. And I’m not talking about voting wrong on immigration policy. I mean somebody that can watch your back and whisper important things you need to know, like “Don’t sit there or you’ll crush that woman’s hat.”

My favorite example of ways staff people can help keep you out of trouble occurred during the ExxonValdez disaster. I worked for Alyeska Pipeline Service Company in those days and — when the ship hit the rocks — was public relations guy assigned to the first responders.

Under the pipeline company’s agreement with the owner companies, Alyeska was responsible for managing an oil spill response, including dealing with the news media, for the first three or four days. Then the company that owned the disaster — in that case Exxon — stepped up to the plate. The Alyeska people remained on the job; we just backed up Exxon and tried to help where we could.

Among the things required by the emergency protocol was keeping both the media and the community informed. We started — and Exxon continued — having daily meetings at which the two groups could be briefed and allowed to throw questions at management. This was an unprecedented and highly emotional event, a monstrous oil spill in a pristine environment. People were very upset.

The first few meetings went fairly well, considering the leaking ship we had on our hands, until some Joe Miller type in Exxon management said, “Think of the time we’ll save if we combine the community and media meetings. We’d get it all done at once and cut the time requirement in half.”

Only problem is that at the first joint meeting, some of the locals, especially the furious fishermen, started playing to the media cameras, waving fists and shouting, showing their anger. The situation developed into a near riot.

The company executives adjourned the meeting as quickly as they could and security began moving a couple of vans to the exit behind the stage. The last to duck into the hallway to the exit were Scott Loll of ARCO and me.

Scott was an old Anchorage guy who went to work for the North Slope pioneers in Anchorage and was then promoted to company headquarters in Los Angeles. He was in Valdez to help because he had disaster experience and I asked for him.

Scott was built like a linebacker and the mob from the meeting hall was trying to push into the hallway, but the vans weren’t ready to pick up the executives. I looked at Scott and asked if he could get up against the door. He backed into the doorway and wedged his football-player arms into the frame.

The door never budged, the vans picked up the guys in suits and all became quiet, at least as quiet as it was going to get in that tumultuous situation. The media were a little miffed about the way things had gone, but the incident got minimal play and quickly blew over.

The moral of the story is that you need a guy like Scott to cover your back. And another staff guy to tell the suits that combining those two groups in a volatile situation is an invitation to trouble.

Somehow I think Joe Miller is a long way from knowing how to deal with anything like that. Or having the good sense to listen to the staff people who could help him avoid mistakes like handcuffing Tony Hopfinger.

* * *

I’m thinking I may just vote for Sean Parnell for governor after all. He is a likable guy and a Republican, but most of all he is hinting that he now understands that the ACES tax system is strangling Alaska’s oilpatch investment.

Nothing could be more important for Alaska’s economy and its job market than getting more oil into that pipeline. And the best way to get that done is to encourage investment in new oil and gas exploration and development.

If Sean Parnell is willing to look at reviving the oil patch, I’m willing to give him a chance for another term. For a while I was torn between voting for him, for Ethan Berkowitz or writing in my dog Clyde (my fallback option when I don’t like the choices offered).

But don’t you think about voting for Clyde. If she won, I wouldn’t let her go. She has a day job watching my back in case of cats, squirrels, mailmen or people ringing the doorbell.

She’s my staff.

Tom Brennan is author of the satirical thriller “The Snowflake Rebellion,” two true-crime collections, “Murder at 40 Below” and “Cold Crime,” and the Alaska humor book “Moose Dropping & Other Crimes Against Nature.