Some talented locals are seeking office

Posted: Friday, September 01, 2000

I knew right off she was a high-class lady by the delicacy of her tattoos. Tiffany or Faberge might have created the red eyed snake curling up from her decolletage, but I suspect it was actually done by a cellmate some time in her past. She was railing at some poor slob who had taken a booth at the farmer's market to promote his candidacy. Judging by the pain in the man's eyes I guessed he was a neophyte at campaigning. He had boldly proclaimed his position on an issue and was now paying for it.

By the time the slattern's companion, who had fewer tattoos but more earrings, was able to move her along, the candidate was staring straight ahead.

"Good evening," I said, stepping up to his table.

"Is she gone?" he asked, without turning his head. He knew I had witnessed the tirade.

"Yes", I replied. "She and Lurch have gone off, perhaps to a cave, where they will breed more just like them."

"Makes you wish there were some sorta spray, doesn't it?" he said.

Other than personal satisfaction, the rewards of public service, at least at the municipal level, are few. Election to local office will undoubtedly bring you new friends. You will need them to replace the old friends you'll lose. Making new enemies is easy. As I remember, Alaskans are far less stingy than their neighbors to the south when it comes to rewarding elected municipal officers. I believe Juneau supports its mayor, assembly and school board members as well as, or better than, comparable cities when it comes to cash. Nobody seeks municipal office for the financial rewards unless they have no other visible means of support. We have had a few occasions when that has been the case.

It seems Americans have become increasingly nasty to one another over the past dozen years or so. In Alaska - and Juneau in particular - neighbors ought to join hands at sunset and dance thanking the gods of abundance. For whatever reason, many choose instead to criticize everything, especially public officials. Maybe Juneauites have it too good; living is easy, therefore there is ample time to bicker and complain. Not that there aren't serious issues facing the community - it's just that it often appears the real issues are lost in the din of petty carping. The task of doing the people's business, always time-consuming and often contentious, appears to become more daunting each year. Its not surprising the pool of responsible candidates for municipal office is drying up. Be assured Juneau is not the only small town facing the problem; you hear about it everywhere you go. Our country is changing and the lack of interest in public service makes me uneasy.

It is Juneau's good fortune to have two well-qualified candidates competing for the mayors position: Jamie Parsons, who held the office a few years ago, and Sally Smith, certainly no stranger to the workings of government. I have known both of them since they arrived in Alaska a couple decades ago. Either of them would well-represent the community. Since I know they are receptive to new ideas, committed to the community and honest, it will only be their approach to the issues that will be different.

If they differ on the issues I have little doubt they will debate them openly and without rancor. I cannot imagine Sally or Jamie condoning underhanded campaign tactics. I hope it is not necessary to caution supporters to adhere to a policy of fairness. I suspect there will be some negative campaigning during the next several weeks despite all efforts to maintain a high level of discourse. Juneau is sophisticated enough to tune it out, select the responsible candidates who have genuine qualifications and commitment, and then support them at the ballot box and throughout their tenure in office.

I have some acquaintance with most candidates for school board and assembly. They are all good people. Personally I would rank service on the school board with the Chinese Water Torture or a night with Rosie O'Donnel on my list of least favorite things. I am grateful we have folks who feel differently. Some school board debates would try the patience of Job and the Wisdom of Solomon.

Now that we've dealt with some of the candidates it's time to discuss the responsibilities of voters. That means you. Your neighbor has offered to answer the late night, early morning and otherwise inconvenient phone calls. He or she has volunteered to sit through too-frequent meetings that often degenerate into scrutiny of mind-numbing minutia and to spend hours studying an unceasing flow of paperwork. The candidates are offering to do all this and more to see that systems continue to operate; schools open and close on time, water and sewer service functions, roads are cleared of snow, investments are properly handled and municipal spending is carefully monitored.

You have it easy. As a voter you only need to do the following: Make sure candidates you favor have sufficient funding to conduct a decent campaign; pay attention to the issues and discuss them in a civil manner and, finally you must head for the polls.

You might also take a moment to thank people who will be leaving office. I have watched a long string of Alaskans serve in legislative and municipal office since statehood. In many cases when their last day comes they walk out the door with little more than a good-bye - and some dont get that. Most would tell you they dont ask for gratitude but that does not mean we don't owe it. After all, life is sometimes tough on our former elected and appointed public officials.

Just look at my old pal Bill Overstreet. Bill plans to publish his memoirs. Now that hes in his dotage it's either so he can remember what he did back then of so he can raise money for greens fees. You'll have to ask him.

Warren W. Wiley, a former Juneau resident, political observer and radio personality, now lives in Montana. He can be reached by e-mail at

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