Anti-Alaskan Democrats pose a threat to the future of the Southeast economy

Posted: Sunday, September 09, 2007

Campaigning gets rougher before the state primary election next August 28. It also can be tough in the nonpartisan municipal elections in October as some environmentalists seek local office. However, it is unlikely that the Democrats will make gains in Alaska if they don't encourage changes by the national party and its leaders. A look at the record is discouraging.

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The Democrats' leading Alaska politician, former Gov. Tony Knowles, has had two crushing defeats since he was governor, one by Sen. Lisa Murkowski and one by Gov. Sarah Palin. Going back to 1973, a majority of Democrats in the U.S. Senate sided with the Wilderness Society and other environmental organizations and voted against approving the trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline. The pipeline was approved by one vote, that of Republican Vice President Spiro Agnew.

Where would Alaska be today without that pipeline, or the other states, especially West Coast states? Watch out for when permits are asked for the natural gas pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to the Lower 48. In 1994, Alaska Pulp Co. in Sitka asked permission of the Democratic Clinton administration to switch production to kraft grade pulp. In a one-page letter to the regional forester, Under Secretary of Agriculture James Lyons not only said no, he ordered ALP's long-term timber contract canceled.

In 1995, President Clinton vetoed legislation that would open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration. In 1996, Louisiana-Pacific considered switching its Ketchikan Pulp Mill to a chlorine-free product. In order to justify the expense, L-P asked for an extension of its long-term timber contract. Instead, the Clinton administration bought out the contract for 300 million board feet of timber and $140 million. L-P took the money to British Columbia, where by 1999, it had opened four new mills with lots of new jobs.

Then before leaving office, Clinton invoked a ban on roads in roadless areas of the national forests, including Alaska, which blocks access to the communities of Southeast Alaska, and cripples logging.

Environmental groups also are opposed to opening the Kensington Mine north of Juneau unless it is done their way, whatever that is, just as they opposed reopening of the old Alaska-Juneau gold mine, now abandoned. Much of downtown Juneau sits on old A-J mine tailings, and they worry about Kensington tailings?

There is still a chance for the Democrats. If they drive enough industry and people out of Southeast, the Panhandle might go Democrat, but it also will have gone down the economic drain. The state's population increased 42,500 between 2001 and 2006, with 22,500 of those in Anchorage, but Southeast's population dropped more than 3,000 - 500 in Juneau in the last year.

Southeast can change its trends positively. Ketchikan is developing its shipyard and pushing Gravina access and development. The Swan Lake-Tyee Lake Intertie is going ahead, a new 14-mile road provides better access to Metlakatla. Kake seeks to develop power at Thomas Bay, and Juneau's potential boost is opening the Kensington Mine.

What Southeast needs is more roads to lower the cost of living. Many roads also provide rights-of-ways for power lines.

All of Southeast needs development of its mines and a timber supply to provide year-around jobs to supplement seasonal visitor industry employment. Southeast needs access to timber or we lose another 300-500 people not yet listed in the population trends.

Gov. Sarah Palin, in announcing special legislative sessions, says she would like them somewhere on the Alaska road system so more people have access to lawmakers. That should be a message to Southeast, roads are more economical and open 24/7 for the traveler. They also make ferry runs shorter and more affordable, lowering the cost of living blamed for Juneau's population loss.

Alaskans, at least in Southeast, will be watching the message from the candidates. So far, the Democrats lack a positive message. Their negative Alaska record concerns Alaskans, especially those in Southeast.

• 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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