My Turn: Californians as crows and Alaskans as eagles

Posted: Wednesday, March 06, 2002

L.A. Times columnist John Balzar takes a poke at Alaskan "rugged individualism" by stringing pearls of words together (Empire, Feb. 22). His prose and wit serves his profession well. It better. Columnists are a major natural resource in his state, next to politicians.

My first encounters with Californians go back to the late '60s when the first of many waves hit the beach and melted into the wilds of S.E. Alaska to forage and multiply. They could be viewed when bathing, communing or carrying honeybuckets. Come winter and the human tide would return to Malibu, leaving behind clearcut encampments and bagged trash. Over time some would remain to open headshops and sell beads and wind chimes. Most would return to California eventually to erect shrines to capitalism secure in their fuzzy knowledge that Alaska would always be there, and to ensure the Ninth Circuit Court (in California) would dictate terms and Congress would draw the boundaries. In just 30 years. Alaska has acquired 49 lienholders to the "last frontier."

Mr. Balzar alludes to Alaskans milking the proverbial cash cow, something Californians know a little about, having reached into every bordering state just to keep the lights on and lawns manicured. Rugged individualism is frying the air conditioner in the car. When I compare Californians to Alaskans I visualize the former as crows and seagulls pecking and gouging each other over morsels on the frozen ground. The Alaskan is the lone eagle sizing up the situation and pouncing on a seagull for dinner.

By the way, those millions spent on lobbying were checks deposited into California banks. Not only do we lose the efforts, we get to foot the bill. He should be thankful we don't reciprocate his "love" for Alaskans. Look what it's done for us.

Mr. Balzar wants everyone to know the emperor has no clothes. Alaskans have led the easy life pumping out kids and raking in the dividends. Now we want to open "public lands" for resource extraction to prime the troughs. ANWR is the main selling point here. We don't need it, you will feel it, and no one should be selling it to Asia. Right, and we don't need the fish, lumber, mining or land. What we need are more Californians gawking at the landscape and filing legal briefs. Last I looked a barrel of crude was considerably less expensive than a barrel of orange juice.

To set the record straight, Juneau government does not print the dividend checks and we do pay a 5 percent sales tax as well as user fees and surcharges like most everyone else. Visitors have had a free ride upon request. The federal building is the largest structure in town until the cruise ships dock.

It's bad enough Alaskans are being forced to peck through the snow, and each other, for morsels. Do we have to do it to the tune of Enron rhetoric?

At least Alaskans are getting their dividends. Energy independence is a term penned by national leaders. One state cannot tip the scale of consumption the SUV state draws down in fuel alone. We would do better making California license plates. In my view Uncle Sam made the ultimate realty coup in Alaska for .68 cents an acre, second only to "manifest destiny." Don't mention Enron to me. Californians are the consumers and traders. Who played the larger role in propping up the Enron trading game?

With a population at par with a medium California city spread over a state nearly three times the size of Texas, our state leaders wisely engineered a means for Alaskans to share the corporate wealth. Mr. Balzar is not the first Californian to envy this. But revenues are declining from resource extractions begun 30 years ago. To pin economic recovery on taxing our population base is just a Band-Aid. We can agree to disagree.

But the next time you shake hands, share coffee or swap tales with Mr. Balzar know that he places you on the same level as Enron executives.

Ken Dunker is a long-time resident of Juneau, a one-time visitor to California, a small business owner and a doting grandfather.

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