Empire editorial: A welcome voter drive

Posted: Friday, September 17, 2004

The nationwide Native Vote 2004 initiative had a good day in Juneau this week. Now it's up to organizers, candidates and Native Alaskan voters to keep the momentum through election days in October and November.

Candidates for state and local races spoke before a largely Native audience of some 250 Tuesday, some discussing their views of hate-crimes legislation and others promising more attention to Native history and culture in Alaska's and Juneau's schools. Native Vote 2004 sponsored the event at the Tlingit and Haida Community Building.

Jackie Johnson, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, says the group is trying to register 1 million new voters this year and, while information on the American Indian vote is scant, she expects it to be a force in swing states and U.S. Senate races.

As Senate races go, Alaska may be considered a swing state and 16 percent of the eligible voters are Native, so the group's attention here is significant. But, especially in Juneau, the significance goes far beyond the U.S. Senate.

With a new high school up for another vote next month, education is a key issue. When two-thirds of Alaska Native students and a third of all Juneau students don't finish high school, it is fair to call matters a crisis.

But while some Native education advocates have backed a second high school as a way to reduce crowding and consequently the city's abysmal Native dropout rate, the problem surely is not that simple. The issue deserves continuing scrutiny and creativity, beyond the teaching of Alaska Native history - a worthy offering and an embarrassing oversight in this state. Other ideas such as a Native-oriented charter school are worth investigation. More state money is needed to reduce class size and offer specialized classes. In a city that talks so much of brain drain, it's not the siphoning away of talent that should concern us so much as the unnecessary waste of it.

Juneau's dropout rate is one of its biggest problems. Candidates up and down the tickets should talk the talk throughout the campaign - beyond the Tlingit and Haida Community Building - and voters should hold them to it.

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