Restoring trust, forging a shared vision

Posted: Wednesday, April 26, 2000

If you ask a well-informed Alaskan to identify the most pressing issue facing Alaska they will likely say the state's fiscal dilemma. I would assert the No. 1 issue is ``trust.''

The lack of it underlies the major issues affecting Alaska right now. It is critical to the subsistence debate because the Alaska Native community does not trust the dominant factions in our state to protect their culture. It is relevant in the state fiscal dilemma because the people of Alaska do not trust politicians to do the right thing with their hard-earned money or the earnings of the permanent fund. This is a major reason why the advisory vote went down to such an overwhelming defeat.

What is trust? Trust is built by close contact among people and through shared virtues like honesty and dependability. It is reinforced by the fulfillment of expectations - a confidence that once something is placed into the care of another the results will be there.

A populace has to adopt a sense of common purpose as a whole before trust can be generalized. So how do we determine the shared values of Alaskans? Certainly not by policies crafted behind closed doors by self-serving special interest groups out to advance their own narrow agendas. Defining shared values can only be done through a communal process. In the old days this was done in the town halls and at local town meetings where people met their neighbors and engaged them in discussion about common issues. It was also done through chance meetings at civic events and along the streets of the neighborhood.

We have lost the old ways of building community. Suburban sprawl has physically isolated us from one another and cable television has drawn us into a world where we just want to be entertained in the privacy of our own homes. The Internet, for all its promise of being an empowering technology, is becoming just another way to pass time, isolated from our neighbors. The result is an erosion of ``Community,'' a weakening of the common good and a steadily shrinking concept of the public interest. Where is the ``glue'' that binds us together?

That glue, a sense of common cause and belonging, is a necessary condition for trust. Without that trust our toughest problems will continue to beset us. A solution to our fiscal woes is critical, but this solution requires state leaders to shoulder their leadership responsibility and re-establish the bonds of trust and statewide community.

The Legislature is tasked with advancing the interests of the state as a whole. It is best equipped to coordinate a unifying vision for our state. It is time for the Legislature to take the lead in building a sense of shared destiny amongst Alaskans.

The Legislature can empower citizens, both personally and politically, by engaging them in conversation about what kind of state they want Alaska to be five years from now. It is fundamental to our future well-being that the people of Alaska get involved as equal partners in shaping this vision. This dialogue should be done systematically and statewide.

I introduced HCR 13 creating the Commission on Alaska's Future to do this. The commission would be a bipartisan group, with extensive civic participation, that would develop a shared vision for Alaska. Part of the commission's mission would be to develop the Alaskan Benchmarks, performance measures that would establish how good we want to be compared to other states. This would link public expectations of performance with actual results produced. The annual review of these benchmarks during budget deliberations would show Alaskans how they are getting full value for each public dollar spent.

This dialogue would not be the limited discussions of elite eggheads. Instead it would be regular Alaskans coming together in neighborhood meetings, village debates, town and cyberspace conversations to talk about our common future. Trust would be restored between regular people and state government by emphasizing the traditional ideal of Alaska society as a voluntary convenient among citizens.

It is time for a Commission on Alaska's Future. We need to define ourselves as Alaskans if we are to have a successful resolution of our fiscal dilemma. We can no longer afford to stand idly by and watch the dismantling of public education, the University of Alaska and other components of common good. State leaders need to restore the people's trust and a sense of community.

Rep. Allen Kemplen is a Democratic state legislator from Anchorage.

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