This editorial first appeared in the Ketchikan Daily News:
Gov. Frank Murkowski, in his State of the State address last week, made a point to legislators that most Alaskans have made to each other over the years: "The nation's view of Alaska is sorely distorted."
That was a sentence with which, no matter what our differing opinions on the issues, we all can agree. Want a bridge or no, we all understand that a bridge to our airport isn't designed to serve, and would not in fact be used only by, 50 people on Gravina Island. (And even if it were, we still wouldn't call Gravina "nowhere." Perhaps people are more expendable "somewhere.") It is as ludicrous to say the bridges would "serve Ketchikan" as it would be to say JFK Airport serves only its New York neighborhood.
That's the most recent example of what the governor called "the Lower 48's perception problem with Alaska." It's easy to ignore Alaska, and it's easy for Congress members to vote against Alaska's interest. We are a far-flung state and we have relatively few people. We can't cause them much political heartburn, so they can "protect" Alaska from economic vitality while vigorously supporting development in their own backyards. Let's see - are there any bridges from one New York island to another? Is there any logging on the East Coast?
It's not just bad information or cheap shots that are the problem. Many Americans' only awareness of Alaska is when we get our free money "just to live there" - as they think of the permanent fund dividend - or when someone accuses us of destroying the last, most beautiful land in the country.
They don't know about honey buckets up north; they don't know what subsistence is or what it means; they don't understand being miles away - sometimes hundreds of miles away - from medical care. They don't realize that, if it doesn't rain, some of us don't have water in our households. (They really can't visualize 16 feet of rain in a year.)
What to do?
Learn from the masters. At least, that's what the governor suggested, and we think it's an idea worth study. Gov. Murkowski urged the Legislature to solicit proposals for a national education campaign "to accurately portray Alaska."
The immediate reason, of course, is to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Most Alaskans, most members of the House of Representatives, and most U.S. senators favored such drilling, and yet once again the effort was stymied.
Why? Because people Down South do not understand the situation, and the only stories they are getting about it are bankrolled. How many people ever saw or read about the letter from the City Council of Kaktovik, its mayor, the Kaktovik tribal government and the Kaktovik Inupiat Corp. urging drilling in ANWR? Hardly anyone, according to the mayor of the city that's the only one that would be directly, physically affected by such drilling.
No one read the letter because it wasn't distributed professionally; it didn't get national play because it didn't come from one of the "players."
Alaska needs to become one of the players.
If ever we were to tell our state's story in our own words, this is the time to do so. We have the money, and we have the reason. Of course we want Americans to be able to have access to American oil supplies. But shouldn't Americans also have access to the truth about one of their states?
Gov. Murkowski said, "The strength of our nation is made up of the 50 states, each contributing to the whole. Alaska's role is unique - we are a young, still-developing state. But Alaska does not just take. We give, and we have the capacity to give much, much more - if permitted to do so. ... Our strength is contributing our resources - oil, gas, minerals, fish products, timber. In return, our citizens deserve a quality education, health care, public safety, care for those who cannot care for themselves, and quality job opportunities - in short, we have the right to make Alaska a world class society. This is the story of Alaska. We have many successes. We have many challenges. We have many contributions to make to our country, in sharing our resource wealth and ingenuity."
We agree with the governor - it's time that we tell our story, instead of letting junketeers with an attitude from Outside do so.
We urge the Legislature to follow through on the governor's proposal, and adequately fund a campaign to share Alaska's story with our fellow Americans.
(And it wouldn't be a bad idea for lawmakers to wrap it up within 90 days, either.)