My turn: Dems should support Natives

Posted: Sunday, April 12, 2009

I am disappointed the Juneau Democrats did not include an Alaska Native on their new list of qualified candidates to serve out former Sen. Kim Elton's term in the state Senate. I don't make this statement lightly, or in any sense of sour grapes because my name was not on the list.

The Alaska Native community in Juneau has a long-standing history of solid support for Democratic principles and priorities. Moreover, the pool of educated, professional and business leadership in Juneau boasts many Alaska Natives. We have a proud tradition of political organization and advocacy, and we represent the interests of 8,000-9,000 residents of Juneau. We understand the importance of cooperative relationships with our sister cities and villages in the region in a way that is lesser understood by many residents.

We have developed statewide networks and have well tuned relationships with the federal government and Congress. Alaska is not only our historical home, it is place we expect our children and grandchildren to call home. We have a vested interest in policy decisions that affect our quality of life and the future of our community.

A month ago, the Juneau Democrats advertised for letters of interest from Democrats interested in filling out the term. I don't believe anyone responding took the solicitation lightly - anyone who considers volunteering for public service goes through a process of seriously weighing the responsibility and demands of the job.

So I was surprised when the executive committee of the Juneau Democrats met in a hastily called meeting and sent one name to the governor, after granting not one interview to those of us who had responded. We learned about the decision in the morning paper. It would have cost the party perhaps four hours of time in interviews, but it would have given the public, a sense of political process and ultimately, in my view, a stronger base of support for their decision, even if the decision had been the same. Who knows what the outcome of interviews might have been.

The tradition of sending the governor three names has deep roots. When the governor didn't get three names, she solicited letters of interest on her own. It is my perception that the governor spent more time on the process than our party. She interviewed several of us, asking important questions about our vision of the community and leadership we might bring to the Senate.

Many of us with lifelong membership in the Democratic party have understood that we are the party of inclusion. We are the party that engages in philosophical tug-of-war among competing ideas and open the umbrella to welcome the masses.

In a blink of the eye, we will be engaged in new elections with candidates from competing parties. Whoever runs for the Juneau Senate seat in 2010 will need the support of the Native community. The snub by our party, effectively suggesting none of us are qualified to represent Juneau in the Legislature, is a mistake. Our nation embraced the cultural diversity that is vibrant in America last November with the election of President Obama. Juneau has yet to do this with our own Native population.

• Gordon Jackson is the director of transportation for Central Council Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and former president and CEO of Kake Tribal Corp.

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