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My Turn: Your vote is free speech- think before you cast

Posted: August 14, 2014 - 12:04am

While in East Africa in 2005, one could observe a fledgling democracy. One Kenyan pundit wrote about democracy being more than just voting. We can observe the same public behavior here in Alaska in 2014.

To modify Winston Churchill’s well-known quote on democracy, it is a form of government, that being messy and chaotic, may still be the worst of several forms that have been tried in our social evolution. My take on Churchill’s wisdom is that democracy is the least violent form of government among several tried over the last 12,000 or so years.

In Alaska, we the 49th argue, and sometimes fight, over what the writers of the U.S. Constitution meant — and we try to follow the rules of our Alaska Constitution. A prominent example, which shows how there is much more to democracy than just voting, is Ballot Measure 1, to be decided by a few hundred thousand Alaskan voters next week.

Here, I share two themes about this Alaskan vote. First, and most important, is that the U.S. Constitution and our developed sense of civil behavior — that is our non-violent behavior — are built on practicing and accepting respect for each other’s views. Whatever the outcome, this August our elected governing leaders will follow the lead of its voters’ choice. The U.S. Constitution really does give all of us freedom of speech, which guides our civil behavior and voting processes. Your vote, and mine, speak for us. Each of our votes counts.

The second theme is a bit more complex. Every election and every ballot measure is a public process in making group decisions about our shared human future. Ballot Measure 1 is an excellent example. In the balance we must decide between two futures. One is a short-term choice for immediate economic stability and jobs for Alaskans. This is possible because of the human-controlled petroleum industrial enterprise and the abundant supplies of gas and oil underneath Alaska’s lands. The other is a long-term choice for energy sustainability. We humans enjoy daily comfort and physical safety through harnessing nature’s various forms of energy. Our very survival rests on this scientific and engineering ingenuity.

Voting is both a precious opportunity and vital responsibility. Voting is also a numbers and substance process. Statisticians tell us the more who vote, the more likely an accurate measure of the public choice. Philosophers and political scientists tell us the more who study the complex issues to inform their vote, the more likely a successful outcome for all of us. In brief, governing through democracy demands widespread and fair voting. First, though, there must be thoughtful study about the issues. Such thinking demands sincere listening to opposing views, with respect and non-violence.

As for democracy being more than voting, the real work will begin after the Aug. 19 vote. No doubt, there will have to be future changes in how we Alaskans partner with petroleum enterprises because we are trying, together, to make the wisest decisions about an unknown future. As long as enough of us engage our governor and legislators, we will be practicing President Abraham Lincoln’s dream of “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Remembering Lincoln’s dream always reminds me that our U.S. Constitution begins with “We the people ...”

Several of my fellow Alaskans, with years of experience and wisdom, have studied the Norwegian citizen and leader governance structure. Norwegians have a sizable savings account from a shared oil company and government deals. Their children enjoy quality education and citizens have access to affordable, quality health care. In addition, they are building sustainable alternative energy and country-wide transportation infrastructure. Perhaps they too have carefully studied the writings of our first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln.

• George Brown is a Juneau resident.

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