I want to begin and end by sharing from Ernest Gruening’s landmark book, “The State of Alaska.” Gruening was a three-term territorial governor of Alaska and, in 1959, was appointed the first U.S. Senator of our newly established state. Major sections of his book have as titles: “The Era of Total Neglect (1867-84),” “The Era of Flagrant Neglect (84-98),” “The Era of Mild but Unenlightened Interest (98-12)”... You get what’s going on here. Gruening was referring to the federal government and its treatment of Alaska. Ironically enough, that’s what is happening in Juneau right now with House Bill 77 and the Parnell administration’s rollback of our rights as Alaskans. We pushed for statehood so Alaskans could steer the boat. Now, Parnell and his lot are acting as pirates.
This past Thursday, Sitka hosted Southeast Alaska’s first public discussion on House Bill 77. It was supposed to be attended by Department of Natural Resources representative Wyn Menefee, but his flight got snowed out of Sitka. Regardless, about 50 people showed up to gather more information on the bill and 14 people testified, all in opposition. The moderator of the event even asked if anyone would like to speak in favor of the bill — not one person came forward. After all, who would speak in favor of a bill that aims to deny citizens access to the democratic process and silences Alaskans’ concerns in matters directly related to allocation and utilization of our public lands?
For four years, I served on a state board called the Trails and Recreational Access for Alaska (TRAAK) Citizen Advisory Board. We were tasked with advising the Alaska Department of Transportation on matters of trails and recreational access. It was an incredible group comprised of a dozen or so Alaskans ranging in political persuasion from the far left to the far right. Numerous state and federal agencies were involved. We helped guide government resources with stellar results. When Frank Murkowski became governor, TRAKK had a meeting, already planned for, in Juneau. We were all there, from all over the state, sitting in a room, ready to roll up our sleeves, to share our ideas. The interim DOT commissioner walked in the door and said, “well, this is going to be your last meeting because the DOT engineers know exactly what they’re doing and really don’t need your input anymore. Thanks a lot, but we’re done here.”
I, along with all the others assembled in the room, were floored, just as I am floored right now as I contemplate the ramifications of HB 77.
Removing the public from the equation is simply not right. It’s un-Alaskan, un-American and tantamount to a dictatorship. Consider this: the incumbent Murkowski received less than 20 percent of the vote in the Republican primary in his failed attempt for a second term.
There are so many people that aren’t directly employed by the government or political machine who have tons of expertise and lots of bright ideas that could lead to more carefully and thoughtfully conceived development and management of our shared natural resources if only our current state government would value public input rather than attempt to hide from it.
Governor Parnell and DNR, please create MORE opportunities for us to participate in the public process, NOT fewer.
I just wanted to finish with the final passage from Gruening’s book, which hits this message home: “Alaskans have stood too much, too long, to be discouraged, or other than determined to fight-on, to validate the most basic of American principles — government by consent of the governed. They knew, through unchanging experience, that the state of Alaska would not improve appreciably until the State of Alaska came into being.”
The people make up our great State, and now the people are asking you, Gov. Parnell and Alaska Legislators, to strike down House Bill 77.
Thank you Senator Stedman and Representative Kreiss-Tomkins for supporting Southeast Alaska’s opposition to HB 77.
• Davey Lubin owns and operates a wildlife tour and wilderness sea taxi service out of Sitka.