The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In Alaska, Rand Paul offers a prebuttal to President Obama


FAIRBANKS, Alaska -- Rand Paul had told the story before, but there was something different about telling it in Alaska. Robert Lucas, he said, was a 70-year-old Mississippi man who was undone by the same government regulators that wanted to impede the land and gun rights of Alaskans. Fact-checkers had challenged Paul's version of the Lucas story -- Lucas had been sent to jail for many counts of fraud, not merely having dirt that the EPA found unclean -- but it did not matter with this crowd. Men in camouflage hats and camouflage jackets nodded, and Paul gained energy as he described Lucas's plight.

"He served 86 months in prison," said Paul. "That should not happen in America. If I'm president, we're getting rid of all that crap."

On Tuesday, the Kentucky senator became the first presidential candidate of the 2016 cycle to stump through Alaska. Roughly 300 people showed up for a rally in Anchorage, and just as many followed him into a speech in the smaller city of Fairbanks. Paul's father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, had stumped in both on his way to a third-place showing in the 2012 caucuses.

His son had never been to Alaska. His debut trip, the start of a five-day jaunt across states holding likely March 2016 contests, put him on the record for the libertarian stance on every issue facing America's own, sui generis petro-state.

Paul, who left the state before President Obama's scheduled trip to environmental sites Tuesday, told The Washington Post that he would scrap the administration's executive orders that limited energy exploration. Last year, the president declared a drilling moratorium in Bristol Bay, complementing a voter-driven campaign to bar mining there. Obama would come to Dillingham, a salmon-fishing hub in the bay, presumably to talk all of that up.

If elected president, Paul said, he would end the moratorium.

"I'd really give back the right to make the decision to Alaska," Paul said during an interview on the small plane from Anchorage to Fairbanks. "I think Alaska ought to be able to decide where they drill. The federal government should only really be involved if it involves something that goes between states. The bay ought to be decided by people who live on the bay. They have much more interest in it than someone who lives in Kentucky."

That put Paul at odds with most Alaska voters, who voted last November to let the legislature block mining in Bristol Bay. But on energy issues writ large, Paul's libertarianism put him in sync with Alaska's Republican-led legislature and congressional delegation. In an interview with a TV station in Anchorage, Paul said that he, like Alaskans, understood that you could explore for energy without disrupting anyone's resources.

"I've seen oil developed next to peoples' houses," Paul said. " People can live and co-exist with oil wells without trashing the environment."

That wasn't all. The White House had trumpeted news of the Alaska visit with a promise: It would demonstrate that "climate change is one of the biggest threats we face, it is being driven by human activity, and it is disrupting Americans’ lives right now." Rand Paul would happily dispute that.

"There is a debate, and there needs to be a debate, about the causes of climate change," said Paul, during an interview in Fairbanks. "Man's been around, what, 100,000 years or so? There's 5.5 billion years [of earth history]. We've had climate change through cycle after cycle before man got here. So the climate does change through significant cycles of glaciation and receding of the glaciers happens above and beyond man."