Who is Really Putting Alaska First?
Last week reminded me of the day, a little over two years ago when I sat in the Anchorage Baptist Temple with Alaskans and dignitaries from around the country for the funeral of former Sen. Ted Stevens.
Vice President Joe Biden had flown in and was scheduled to speak. Partisan murmurs of “Who does he think he is?” “Why is he here?” and even more disparaging comments were coming from all directions.
Minutes into Biden’s eulogy of “Uncle Ted,” those comments evaporated. Biden explained his friendship with Stevens, how they had supported each other through the tragic losses of wives and later celebrated their newfound loves. He told of how the two of them duked it out on the Senate floor, but supported each other’s good ideas, and how politics never ruled their relationship.
The last picture Stevens took was of a cabin he and Joe had shared on a fishing trip. Ted knew it would bring back fond memories for his old friend. The story brought tears to my eyes. The essence of their bipartisan friendship was the mutual respect of men who loved this country, but just disagreed on how best to run it.
President Barack Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are not close to being friends the way Biden and Stevens were. They have none of the history. In fact, just a few weeks ago, Christie said Obama was “a man wandering around a dark room, hands up against the wall, clutching for the light switch of leadership, and he just can’t find it.”
Which is why I felt like nothing short of an act of God could ever bring them together. Then came Hurricane Sandy.
Christie, saying the disaster had left him not giving “a damn about presidential politics,” complimented the president for his leadership and attention to the devastation visited on millions of our fellow Americans.
Right-wing heads exploded. How dare the headliner of the Republican National Convention say the president is doing a good job. Rush Limbaugh alluded to the two of them being lovers.
I was one of many who felt that tug, that “Do my eyes deceive me?” moment. Could it be that two men from opposite sides of the political spectrum came together to help Americans in need?
This is why we need a federal government. We can’t do everything by ourselves. Democrats can’t do everything necessary, nor can Republicans, it takes both halves of the country to survive, and their cooperation to thrive.
The same goes for both halves of a state.
I fear we’ve lost the old days of Alaska, when if you were in the ditch or a snowbank, no one was going to leave you there because they didn’t like your bumper stickers.
The widows of two of our most beloved statesmen and governors, Wally Hickel and Jay Hammond, had something to say about that last week.
“As our husbands were known for putting Alaska first, we, too, are dedicated to this guiding principle. Now, multinational corporations are attacking those Alaska legislators running for re-election who stood together in the past session to protect Alaska’s interests.
“We thank and endorse Senators Hollis French and Bill Wielechowski and their colleagues in the Senate Bipartisan Working Group for their courage and leadership, and urge our fellow Alaskans to support them in the upcoming election.”
Both Republicans, Bella Hammond and Ermalee Hickel endorsed two Democrats and the Bi-Partisan Working Group. They endorsed the idea of working together — all under the “guiding principle” of putting Alaska first.
Wielechowski, with an A+ rating from the NRA and recent recipient of the Vietnam Veterans of America’s legislator of the year for THE ENTIRE NATION, is an Alaska Democrat. Yes, Democrats are different here.
French was door knocking recently and met a man who said he wasn’t going to vote for him. “OK”, said the senator, “but if I’m lucky enough to win, please let me know if you need anything. My door is always open for you.”
Both French and Wielechowski have been under attack by the oil industry and Parnell administration for their stance on oil taxes. They, like the bipartisan group as a whole, want concrete industry commitments in exchange for tax breaks.
My daughter likes a store in town that gives her “Hot Bucks.” She gets a $25 card for next month if she spends $100. They don’t hand her $25 cash because she may very well spend it in a different store. She has to come back and spend it with them. That’s what the bipartisan senators are fighting for. And that’s why your mailboxes are stuffed with flyers and your TV with political ads. Do we give “Hot Bucks” to Big Oil to spend here, or do we hand them cash they can take anywhere in the world?
I’m not the only one who craves cooperation among those who would govern us. It’s too rare, but historically it’s how we’ve moved forward. Cooperation means special interests don’t dominate, and the moderate majority rules the day. It requires true leaders willing to come to the table in a spirit of compromise, willing to give and take.
Our current governor is not big on the kind of compromise represented by the bipartisan coalition. He even canceled an expensive special session to try to elect legislators who would happily toe the oil company line.
For those of you who haven’t voted yet, please do. It’s your duty. And when you do I hope you’ll think about who is really putting Alaska first.