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The average Alaskan is . . . fortunately, not in charge

Out of the Woods

Posted: Sunday, May 06, 2001

It happened again. I was discussing history and current events with some visitors and one asked me what the average Alaskan thinks about a couple of the issues. Pleased that the asker cared what Alaskans think about national issues, I was reluctant to report that, unfortunately, to date, no three Alaskans have ever registered opinions similar enough to apply the formula to find an average. It would be like trying to average apples, oranges and Spam.

I have been listening to Alaskan's thoughts on a range of subjects for many years. I don't know why, but people tend to open up and tell me the most interesting things from all points of the political and historical compass. Just this week, I was told that for centuries the people near Tok would hunt and gather in an area, then set it on fire and move on. They could come back in about five years, all the game and berries would be back and they'd start over. I also heard many versions of the best way (or whether) to harvest timber and fish and how to get along with (or get rid of) bears. Someone told me we should be farming all of this country, that it's currently going to waste. I was even introduced to a safe way to capture and transport an alligator. It involved handcuffs. Strong opinions come from lifetimes of experiences. Because Alaskans are so spread out (physically and mentally), we can all have very different experiences in Alaska life. Like about 600,000 sets of them. A person could argue that there is no average Alaskan.

I know our congressional delegation is desperate when they send out questionnaires with their newsletters, asking us all what we think. Limited space makes the list of options short. We can either strongly agree or just agree with them. Or we can write comments all over the margins before carefully folding and sending them back. I strongly agree that they read all the comments and take them to heart. How else can they know what Alaskans think and represent us?

You would think that election outcomes would show how people feel. I don't know about you, but I regularly hear friends, relatives and coworkers report that they don't vote. Not on local issues nor big whopping national ones. The reasons include but are not by any means limited to forgetting, claustrophobia, feeling too insignificant to bother and being too far from mainstream to be represented on the ballot. Interestingly, this doesn't keep the same people from public meetings where they get to argue the issue of the day. That leaves who at the polls? A person could argue that the average voter is not the average Alaskan.

But what if the average Alaskan did vote, would things be any different? I rather think so. Instead of just talking about it, we would have bought the NFL, Western Canada or Cuba with the first pile of oil money, dogs would be allowed to test for and, when successful, get drivers licenses and all lighting would be full spectrum.

It is tempting, when visitors beg, to take a shot at what the average Alaskan thinks, but don't do it. One will overhear and feel compelled to straighten you out on everything from apples to oranges to Spam. Listen and learn, because although you can argue there is no average Alaskan, there is also no arguing WITH one.

Nita Nettleton can be reached at nitan@alaska.com.



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