An encouraging meeting?

Posted: Sunday, July 02, 2006

For the Ketchikan Daily News

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Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and two dozen Seattle business and civic leaders visited Anchorage late last week at the invitation of Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich.

There was a time when Seattle, Tacoma and Portland delegations visited Alaska every year, especially when the Alaska Legislature was in session. Interest waned when Alaska became a state and Washington state members of Congress no longer dictated federal policy for Alaska. We commend Mayor Begich for extending a new hand of friendship and to Mayor Nickels for accepting.

Accompanying them was Jim F. Vesely, editorial page editor of the Seattle Times, who worked for the Anchorage Times from 1990 to 1991. That was too short a time to learn much about Alaska, or he wouldn't have written this last Sunday:

"The rift between Seattle and Alaska has no basis in history or practicality, but it exists in political ideology as much as any divide between red and blue states in the country."

This writer just completed a history of Alaska newspapers, "Bent Pins to Chains: Alaska and Its Newspaper," due out in four to five weeks.

"No basis in history"? Try this:

"Last year Seattle's commercial transactions with Alaska reached the magnificent total of $20 million, yet, if an Alaskan were to approach a Seattle capitalist with a bona fide mining proposition, he would be turned down with scant courtesy. ...

"They are not far-sighted enough to see that the development of Alaska's resources means added growth and prosperity for Seattle. Seattle's attitude toward Alaska has always been of the mean-spirited kind."

Nome Nugget publisher J.F.A. Strong (who would later found the Juneau Empire) wrote that in 1906.

Alaska newspapers regularly referred to Seattle as the "Spirit City," without being explicit in the meaning. But the Valdez Miner gave a full explanation in an editorial titled "Shell Game Spirit" on June 1, 1913. It called Seattle a "beast of prey," having an instinct for "commercial graft."

It noted that at the time of the Klondike discovery, a busted real estate boom left Seattle "stranded on the shoals of time. Seattle was so hungry that the first meals it bought with the money of Klondike stampeders dropped to its shoes and swelled its feet.

"In those days the Seattle Spirit went after the pilgrims within its gates with the methods of the bunko shark.

"During all the succeeding years Seattle has continued the shell game. It holds a drag net for Alaska money, but it never gives anything back. ... They lack the sporting spirit that makes the upper-class gambler give back a small stake to the player who has lost his entire wad."

Through the years, there was other criticism of Seattle in Alaska newspapers. The most recent appeared in the Ketchikan Daily News in March 2001:

"Seattleites opposed granting Alaska a nonvoting delegate to Congress in 1906 and lost. They lost again in opposing territorial status and a Legislature in 1912. ... In 1946, the Seattle Chamber of Commerce raised $250,000 to lobby against a direct airline route between Anchorage and Chicago. They lost. ... Seattle interests opposed Alaska Statehood and lost. They opposed the trans-Alaska oil pipeline and lost.

"Washington state members of Congress dictated salmon regulations in Alaska through the federal Fish and Wildlife Service during territorial days. The salmon lost. ... Washingtonians destroyed their own salmon runs by overfishing and sided with Canada against Alaska in recent international salmon treaty negotiations - and lost. ...

"So to have the Seattle Times, the Seattle P-I and the Seattle establishment against Alaska on issues such as ANWR is encouraging. They usually lose."

The Seattle Times had a nice feature last Sunday on Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, noting his cooperation with Washington's congressional delegation in the past, contrasted with his current battle with Washington's Sen. Maria Cantwell.

We don't understand the Seattle mindset. Washington needs Alaska oil for its Bellingham refinery. Instead of encouraging oil development in Alaska (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), it's opposed.

Seattleites need billions to replace their waterfront viaduct, but they criticize Alaska Congressman Don Young, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and ridicule Alaska's spending money on famous "bridges to nowhere." The bridge money is in Alaska's share of the Federal Highway Trust Fund, how it is spent is not the business of other states.

Seattle, and other blue state areas, contributed to Alaska becoming a red state. When Alaska gained statehood, its governor, its congressional delegation and 52 of its 60 state legislators were Democrats - a blue state. Now Alaska has a Republican governor, Republican congressional delegation and Republicans control the Legislature - a red state. It's the uninformed Outside agitation on Tongass timber, Alaska land, fishing, oil, mining and transportation that converted Alaska.

• Lew M. Williams Jr. is the retired publisher of the Ketchikan Daily News who has been a Southeast Alaska journalist since 1946.

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