Who will defend Alaska's U.S. reps?

Posted: Sunday, July 29, 2007

Isn't anyone going to defend Alaska and Alaskans? Maybe this writer is more sensitive than most because Ketchikan keeps getting hit with that "$200 million bridge to nowhere" tag.

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The bridge isn't just to serve 50 people on an island, but the myth continues:

"The jury has decided that this (the Gravina bridge) is not an appropriate use of federal funds. In the end, I don't think there's a good way to spend the money in Alaska. In the long run, this is money that could go to other projects around the country, nearly all which would serve more than 50 people."

So says Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, R-Ill. Small wonder that members of Alaska's congressional delegation occasionally blow their tops at the arrogant and ignorant among their colleagues, for which some Alaskans condemn them.

A New York Times writer says "Alaska's Senator-for-Life Ted Stevens, who used to be a respected independent voice, has become an old politician with a host of grudges."

That for a man who has 42 bills pending before Congress vital to Alaska and the nation, and who has co-sponsored 100 more? His Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation Act alone protects the offshore fisheries for the entire United States.

Providence, R.I., columnist Forma Harrop compared Rep. Don Young to former Califorina Congressman Duke Cunningham. How does Cunningham's jail sentence for accepting $2.4 million in bribes and pleading guilty to bribery, mail fraud, wire fraud and tax evasion compare with Young's earmarking $10 million for a highway interchange study that would improve access to a Florida university that is setting up a transportation study center?

What is sad is that some Alaskans have jumped on their own people. One Alaska newspaper has declared Young "corrupt to the core" without any investigation or charges filed. Young has been ridiculed by his state's largest newspaper for 34 years. And that California-owned newspaper, resenting Young's and Steven's ability to direct funds to Alaska, already is mounting a campaign to defeat them in 2008.

Jake Metcalfe, the Alaska Democratic Party leader, referred to Young and Stevens in a letter to the Juneau Empire as "corrupt bastards." Pretty harsh for people who haven't been charged or convicted of anything. That attitude may be why Metcalfe is no longer a district attorney.

A retired Wasilla contractor wrote from California: "In 2004, Alaskans received $1.87 in federal funds for every $1 they paid in. Californians received a paltry 79 cents. ... With no state income tax or sales tax, and $39 billion in your savings account, it's no longer necessary for Lower 48 Americans to carry Alaskans on their back."

This is to inform those in Congress and members of the media who have never visited Alaska, that "Nowhere," Gravina Island, is the site of the only major airport at the southern end of the 500-mile long Alaska Panhandle. There are no roads or railroads into the area. It is a five-hour ferry ride to the nearest highway terminus at Prince Rupert, British Columbia, so air transport is vital.

The federal government and residents of the Lower 48 constantly remind Alaskans that the reserves in Alaska are owned by them, too. But federal money spent in Alaska only partially pays for service to 244 million acres of nontaxable federal land in the 365 million acre state.

The state provides health, education and safety services, fish and game management, access (nearby airports, harbors, roads), or it is a long hike or swim from the Lower 48. Also exempt from taxation are 37 million acres of Native land, making 77 percent of the state nontaxable but requiring some level of service, spread out over a state one-fifth the size of the entire Lower 48.

The federal government isn't providing its fair share. Rep. Young and Sens. Stevens and Lisa Murkowski do their best to recover the costs. Where is their Alaska cheering section?

The three will be in the state in August during the congressional recess, bringing members from other states on educational tours. We hope Alaskans treat them more courteously than some Alaskans have treated our own elected leaders.

• 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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