Editorial: Bring on the junketeers

Posted: Thursday, August 18, 2005

This editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

Not only is it tourist season in Alaska, it's also "fact-finding" season. Lots of folks from D.C. have been passing through Alaska, and will continue to do so over Congress' August recess, studying up on issues and checking things out firsthand to enhance their understanding of matters - and maybe they'll do a little fishing while they're here.

That was certainly the case last month, when Sen. Ted Stevens hosted his 12th annual Kenai River Classic, which raises money for the Kenai River Sportfishing Association. The event drew seven U.S. senators, as well as a couple of Cabinet secretaries, but also attracted lobbyists and industry executives who paid for the chance to mingle with the decision-makers.

This week, four U.S. senators - Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. - are expected in Alaska after traveling through Canada. The four are reportedly on tour to gather information about global warming, which is the subject of a bill written by Sen. McCain and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., that would impose mandatory emissions reductions on industry. Details of their trip haven't been available, but the four were scheduled to begin the Alaska part of their trip today.

And next week, aides for five other U.S. senators and for six House members will be traveling across Alaska at the request of the National American Indian Housing Council, which is seeking full funding for housing and community-development block-grant programs that benefit Native Americans. They'll spend four days traveling from Anchorage to Bethel, Nome, Barrow and Kaktovik.

The migration north of the nation's leaders is an annual event, as sure as the migration of so many other life forms through Alaska each summer and fall. And each year people snicker and make jokes about the fishing and sightseeing trips that occur on the side as these leaders do their fact-finding. That's the real reason senators and representatives come north, often at the taxpayers' expense, right? Surely they couldn't be coming here for legitimate business.

Critics of these trips raise too much of a stink.

Call them wasteful jaunts if you want. But the bottom line is that senators and representatives - and Cabinet officers, too, for that matter - who might not otherwise come to Alaska end up leaving here with a little more knowledge about a state that might seem a mystery from their desks back in Washington, D.C. That can only be a gain for Alaska.

And all it might cost us is a few fish.

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