Embrace the chowder, neighbor

Posted: Friday, June 25, 2004

Brandon Loomis is city editor of the Juneau Empire.

Call me a chowderhead, but I don't get all the uproar over Republican ads against Senate candidate Tony Knowles. This is the ad that says electing a Democrat like Knowles would team Alaska's delegation with an Evil Axis of Massachusetts liberals and make it tougher to drill oil on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the one that says Ted Kennedy and John Kerry wouldn't know a caribou if it sat with them and ordered a bowl of Boston clam chowder.

I don't like the ad. It bugged me the first time I saw it, but not because it's a lie or unfair. It's a political ad. It's supposed to appeal to Alaskans' fears or values. It does so. What bugs me is the fears and values that it taps.

If you think the people of an Eastern commonwealth have no voice in an Alaska public lands issue, it follows that you have no business in their business. And you wanted a constitutional amendment to stop gay marriage, such as they perform in Massachusetts. You wouldn't know a gay marriage if it sat on you and ordered hooligan grease.

It's tiresome listening to the isolationist rhetoric that pervades the West and Alaska. I can understand the philosophy that public land oughtn't be public. I don't agree, but I can grasp it. But why voters in the nation that paid to buy Alaska and later made it a state have no say in management of the lands that they own doesn't make sense. It is true that being physically near the question tends to add valuable perspective. One hopes this might lead to a stronger argument, presumably on the Senate floor.

Arguably Massachusetts has a greater claim to meddle in the ANWR debate than Alaska has with gay marriage in the Bay State, or with New England clam chowder, which I suggest tends toward the bland around Juneau.

Massachusetts has more drivers than has Alaska. It's an oil importer. I've seen the Citgo banner on telecasts of Red Sox games. Along with other Lower 48 consumers, Massachusetts residents pay Alaska's bills. They pay into the fund that pays Alaskans' dividends. If they think they have a better energy policy than drilling ANWR, you're going to have to listen. Energy, and especially oil, is unquestionably interstate commerce. The federal government takes precedence in interstate commerce. That's already constitutional law.

When I started my reporting career in Wyoming, I was assigned a story about a county ban on hay imports to prevent weed infestations in the Teton Mountains. I asked the county weed and pest czar for some background. He said, "Boy, you ain't from this country, are you?" I agreed. I had graduated from college a whole state away. He said, "Why do they hire people like you?" I couldn't answer him. Months later I learned that he was from Connecticut. I am forever skeptical of the exclusionary political mindset.

One time in my life I heard a worthy exclusionary philosophy. I met a man who lived in a cabin out in a valley where thousands of elk return each fall. He said that he would not buy meat from Arkansas, under cellophane. He would eat only what meat lived and grew where he lived, only the meat he killed in his own ecosystem. I don't know whether this made him physically healthier, but I know what was in his head, the hunting hippie. It points out that if you're going to be exclusive, you must sacrifice. Anyone who wants to exclude America from ANWR politics should propose hiring Cape Fox Corp. to drill ANWR and sell petroleum to TEMSCO Helicopters, and only then for flights of tourists from, um, Tok.

If Alaskans want to go it alone, I guess we should exclude ourselves from the debate over Snake River hydropower dam and salmon management. And let's give back the excess gas tax money we get from Lower 48 drivers, which we use to build roads.

There are some things we can do on our own, the Eastern liberals be damned. If we want to kill wolves, we can do so until and unless the animals become endangered. We're not punching any holes in ANWR soon, though, no matter who's elected.

• Brandon Loomis is city editor of the Juneau Empire and can be reached at brandon.loomis@juneauempire.com.

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