Senator, public to discuss war at Iraq forum

Idea for event sparked by conversation with senator, Juneau People for Peace and Justice

Posted: Friday, May 26, 2006

Juneau will get the rare opportunity next week to discuss the war in Iraq with a U.S. senator.

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A Community Forum on the Iraq War with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, is scheduled 4:30-6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Centennial Hall. Additional community discussion will follow from 6:30-7:30 p.m. The forum is sponsored by the University of Alaska Southeast, Juneau World Affairs Council, Juneau League of Women Voters and Juneau People for Peace and Justice.

"I would certainly commend Sen. Murkowski for agreeing to do this," said David Noon, a UAS history professor who will be on the panel. "On the other hand, it is kind of sad that it has taken three years for this type of conversation to happen."

The event sprung from a private teleconference Murkowski had early in the year with several members of Juneau People for Peace and Justice. The peace activists have since been working to find a date when the senator could meet with the public to further the discussion.

Judith Maier, one of the event's organizers and a member of the pro-peace group, said it is pretty unusual for a conservative politician to attend a forum in a relatively liberal community.

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"I don't know if senators in any of the other 'red states' have engaged their constituents in talking about Iraq," she said. "So it's very impressive that she's willing to do that."

Calls to Murkowski's communications staff were not returned by press time.

Rich Moniak, another forum organizer with Juneau People for Peace and Justice, said the sponsors want the forum to be equally balanced with different political perspectives so it can be engaging and informative.

"I think we have some common beliefs," he said. "I don't think war is a place anybody in the country prefers us to be. If we look at it from that perspective, then we all have a common goal."

Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho will open the forum, Alaska Supreme Court Justice Walter Carpeneti will be the moderator, and Noon will be on the panel with Murkowski. Moniak said organizers have been working to get a particular local representative from the Alaska National Guard, who served in Iraq, but there have been some challenges getting the authorization from the chain of command.

Moniak, who has a 25-year-old son serving his second tour in Iraq, said he hopes people will come away from the forum feeling better informed and that every citizen's voice counts.

"We want to be heard," he said. "We want a voice. We want our ideas to be part of the discussion."

Noon said he hopes the forum will be a chance to learn about and discuss new ideas regarding the war, not recycled information that has been heard time and again on cable television and in letters to the editor.

"I hope it's a conversation that takes place with cool tempers," he said. "I always worry about events like this kind of reverting back to the predictable arguments."

Moniak said organizers had hoped both Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, would participate in the forum, but he said they did not respond to the invitation. He said Murkowski's commitment to participate is a sincere message that she cares about the voices of her constituents.

Moniak said he thinks it is important for politicians to show that they still care about voters after ballots have been cast, and vice versa.

"Once they're in office, if we lose touch with them, they'll lose touch with us," he said.

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