Young Alaskans gathered in Juneau last week to debate the state’s future and try to solve some of the problems it is facing, just like another generation of Alaska leaders did more than 50 years ago at the state’s Constitutional Convention in Anchorage.
Katie Hurley, who got to watch both gatherings up close, was impressed with what she saw over several days in Juneau.
“I’m so excited about it because it’s our future — that’s a very good group of young people,” she said.
Hurley, a Juneau native who now lives in Wasilla, was the chief clerk for the state’s Constitutional Convention in 1955.
Also there as resources for the conference were state and local political, business and tribal leaders.
The Institute of the North, a non-profit founded by Gov. Wally Hickel, brought 54 Alaskans together to talk about issues facing the state, and got some thoughtful discussion.
The delegates, ranging in age from 18 to 25 expressed concern about issues in which they had first-hand knowledge, such as combating bullying in school, and the risk that Alaska’s defined contribution pension plan would leave public employees at risk of running short of money to fund their retirements.
Those are both issues facing the Alaska Legislature and other state and local leaders. The young leaders themselves decided on what issues they thought were most important.
Then, when they didn’t get their way, they set about trying to convince their fellow delegates that not only should they support the issues they felt were most important, but also their preferred response to the issue.
The conference participants researched issues earlier in the conference, and on Friday narrowed the list of recommendations.
Some delegates urged action to prevent school bullying as a way to both improve academics and health.
Some of the strategies used to win support were sophisticated attempts at public persuasion.
If the Susitna Dam goes forward, it should be done in a “fish-friendly” manner, said Lauren Heyano, who grew up in South Naknek but now lives in Anchorage.
The emphasis on fish was intended to appeal to Alaskans who appreciate fish and may find protecting fish an easier sell than a straight environmental appeal.
Other power issues discussed including advocating for renewable energy, solar power, and net-metering at competitive rates.
Confronting skepticism about solar panels, Brad Gusty, who grew up in Stony River, say they used solar there, when they could.
“In my village there is not that much sun, but we use what sunshine there is to charge our batteries,” he said.
Some delegates asked for an explanation of net-metering, and were told it means that those with their own sources of renewable power generation would be able to sell their extra power back to their utility.
Jodie Gatti of Ketchikan questioned whether the government could decide what a “competitive rate” was and how it would do so.
“The Regulatory Commission of Alaska would be responsible for ensuring that the rates are competitive,” said Molly Dischner of Kenai, who said that’s a decision they already make for other rates.
Alaska’s students, especially rural students, see too much turnover among teachers, hampering their education, said Rachael Peltola, who grew up in Bethel and Scammon Bay.
“To have such a high turnover rate, its gets discouraging,” she said.
Sometimes the delegates spoke of issues more close to home for their age group.
Eli Shayer of West Anchorage High School said forgiving student loans for those who remain in Alaska is a good way to keep the people the state needs.
“Having student loan forgiveness is a great way to get them to stay,” he said.
Katie Hurley, watching the proceedings on Friday, said she liked what she saw and wants the delegates to stay involved in their state.
“These are the kind of people we need in our state government,” she said.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or firstname.lastname@example.org.