My Turn: Williams, Murkowski misrepresent facts

Posted: Sunday, September 22, 2002

Lew Williams Jr. and Sen. Frank Murkowski have launched personal attacks on me and allege that a lawsuit filed by my employer, Oceana, seeks to shut down Alaska salmon fisheries. This simply isn't true.

These personal attacks are inaccurate, intentionally misrepresent the facts and are obviously designed to do political harm to my former boss, Gov. Tony Knowles, or Sen. Murkowski's political opponents. True leaders don't blame public servants and non-profit workers who propose solutions because they have no plan or vision of their own to address the world's problems. True leaders bring people together and provide solutions.

I have worked for five governors from both parties directly or as commission member. None of them would have attacked a public servant or group of Alaskans with this gross indiscretion. I am disappointed Lew Williams and Sen. Murkowski would stoop to such transparent tricks for political gain.

First, the lawsuit filed by Oceana is clearly to force the National Marine Fisheries Service to do two things as required by Marine Mammal Protection Act: establish "take reduction teams" of scientists, fishermen and others to develop strategies of how to reduce the injury and mortality of marine mammals (while maintaining fisheries); and complete a report to Congress as required by the law. There is no aspect of this lawsuit that asks the court to take any action to close Alaska salmon fisheries and there will be none.

Second, their concerted attack implies that my motives and action are a result of "big outside foundation" funding. About half of my family income is from Alaska employment and state retirement and the rest from Oceana work to restore and protect oceans and fisheries. I will publish in this newspaper all "outside funding or contributions" my family receives in any manner, if Williams and Murkowski do the same. That includes Murkowski revealing all sources of corporate income and contributions including "soft money" support from outside corporations like Enron, WorldCom and Louisiana Pacific Corporation.

Third, they say I am callused to the needs of Alaska because I work with a conservation group to restore and protect oceans and fisheries. Both our oceans and fisheries are in big trouble. We are working to change the way this country manages our oceans. We need a "NASA like" ocean program with research, sound science, good management and public participation. That is the only way that we will maintain healthy oceans, strong fisheries and a robust economy in the long term. I am proud of the work I do and have done in Alaska for Alaskans. I believe my son, your children, and other children will appreciate and benefit from the work that public servants like me do every day.

I have spent the past two decades dedicating myself to long-term solutions for serious issues in Alaska. This includes: improving Head Start preschool programs throughout Alaska; establishing a long-term plan of new ocean and fast-ferry vessels; attaining funding for services for families with disabled children; working with United Fisherman of Alaska to maintain fisheries and research; restoring and protecting habitat impacted by the Exxon Valdez oil spill; stopping bad things from happening like the Legislature's efforts to drastically cut support to poor or disabled children under the guise of "welfare reform;" and working to maintain our economy in many ways like opening the National Petroleum Reserve to continue responsible oil development in Alaska and supply oil for our country.

If Williams and Murkowski believe my service is unbecoming of an American or Alaskan, say so. Otherwise, they owe an apology to all the people who work hard in government, non-profits, and schools who may live in fear of similar attacks for someone's political gain.

We need leaders who pull people together to solve problems, not continue to blame and divide because they don't know what to do. Stop the rhetoric, get the facts straight and go to work. If you're not part of the solution, then you become part of the problem.

Jim Ayers is the director of the North Pacific Region of the non-profit organization Oceana Inc. and former director of Head Start, Alaska Marine Highway, Coastal Management, Exxon Valdez Trust; a private business owner and Gov. Tony Knowles' chief of staff.

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