Both Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski issued press releases to announce who they were sitting next to for the president’s State of the Union speech. This is like announcing a new class seating chart for whenever a person of significance was to visit your school. Like then, the objective was to display unity among a diverse body. While this is all good and well, the real class act during the State of the Union address came from Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. If you’ve not seen her video announcing her resignation from Congress, do yourself a favor, go to gabriellegiffords.com and click on the video with tissue in hand. In her own struggling voice she reminds us that public servants can bring out the best of America.
In her resignation letter to House Speaker John Boehner, she spoke about how hope and faith is what she clung onto since that horrible day in January when six lives were lost and 13 people were seriously wounded by an unstable individual fueled by the violent tinged rhetoric of harsh partisanship. She spoke of “hope that our government can represent the best of a nation and not the worst. Hope and Faith that even as we are set back by tragedy or profound disagreement, in the end we can come together as Americans to set a course toward greatness.”
Her words and demeanor provide us all with a glowing example that our elected officials can rise to the greatness of our core American values . . . a class act by any measure by any party.
A little closer to home, we can find another example of politicians rising to the moment with class. With the Alaska Sea Party handing in more than 33,000 signatures to restore the Alaska Coastal Management Program, we all witnessed the fastest initiative signature gathering effort in Alaska; an unprecedented effort in the history of citizen activism in Alaska. Heading up these grassroots efforts were three local officials, Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho, Kodiak Island Borough Mayor Jerome Selby and Mako Haggerty, Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member. Each of these politicians went well beyond the typical role of being an initiative sponsor.
In addition to personally gathering signatures in Juneau, Botelho also traveled to Ketchikan and Sitka to help the volunteers in those towns. When he arrived in Anchorage in advance of the petition turn-in deadline, he went to the Carrs/Safeway Huffman store and gathered signatures in the entry way during the lunch hour. Selby’s personal effort resulted in District 36 having 60 percent more than the required number of signatures. Haggerty was instrumental in assisting with the statewide distribution of the petition booklets and organizing the volunteer effort on the Kenai Peninsula. He also traveled the highway from Copper Center up to Tok in weather up minus 43 degrees to personally gather signatures in those remote towns and villages. In essence, all three of these local officials rolled up their sleeves, embraced the grunt work and inspired hundreds of volunteers across the state. Their unabashed willingness to be workhorses and not just settle for lending their political support represents a class act for grassroots democracy.
As the nastiness of negative ads rise in this upcoming election year, leaving many with a disgustful taste for any and all things political, let’s keep Giffords’ words of in mind and not lose faith. As the attention draws to the “battleground states” and we Alaskans begin to feel left out, let’s remember the difference we can make here as exemplified by the grassroots efforts of Botelho, Selby and Hafferty.
• Troll is a longtime Alaska resident and resides in Douglas.