Empire editorial: Elton's record of dissent

Posted: Friday, February 14, 2003

This past fall by a narrow margin, Juneau voters returned Kim Elton to the Senate to serve a third term. Sen. Elton won the election fair and square in a very tough race against Republican Cathy Muñoz.

Sen. Elton gets high marks for consistency as evidenced by his unyielding opposition to all measures that would advance the opening of ANWR and most other legislation aimed at sound, practical development for Alaska.

This week by a vote of 15 to 1, Sen. Tom Wagoner's Joint Senate Resolution advocating that Congress open the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration and production passed on to the House.

Sen. Wagoner framed the positive bipartisan support for the measure by observing, "This year it looks like all the stars are in alignment, both in Alaska and Washington, D.C. The difference this year is that the opening of the coastal plain of ANWR to exploration and production is supported by a majority of members of both houses of Congress and President Bush."

Sen. Elton has established a solid history in the Senate as the odd voice of dissent. While many will view his unwavering commitment to anti-development causes as laudable, the net result is that his influence in the Senate remains meek. His position on AWAR is not even in synch with his own party as the rest of the Democratic senators voting on the measure supported Sen. Wagoner's resolution. Minority leaders have widely voiced their support for resource development, especially in oil.

In addressing a meeting of the State Chamber Board this week in Juneau, House minority leader Ethan Berkowitz boldly stated that "Alaska Democrats are not like Democrats in the rest of the country. Alaska Democrats support resource development." Berkowitz and other minority leaders have shown a strong willingness to work with the new administration and their colleagues on the other side of the aisle to move Alaska forward.

Sen. Elton had the opportunity to make the ANWR resolution vote unanimous, thereby demonstrating that Juneau's support is consistent with the best interests of the whole state.

As the sole state senator representing the district that contains the seat of Alaska's government, it is especially important that his voice speak not only for the interests of his district, but also for the entire state.

Elton's vote on the ANWR resolution could have been an opportunity to build bridges and show support for Alaska's most important economic driver. Instead Juneau's vote amounted to nothing more than another vote of protest, while diminishing Juneau's relevance to the rest of the state.

Don Smith



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