My Turn: Political opportunism requires a response

Posted: Friday, September 28, 2001

The column by Richard Schmitz that ran in the Empire Sept. 25 is a "fixer-upper" and I have some fixing to do.

Mr. Schmitz's premise is that a community forum about the terrible events of Sept. 11, hosted by Perseverance Theater, was captured by those with whom he doesn't agree. As proof, he said the forum was: 1) held in an "isolated environment"; 2) left out "the more conservative"; 3) included participants "who love mankind but can't stand people"; 4) failed to reach out to those who "see America as a great nation or show the flag or support President Bush"; and 5) was "far too shallow" (apparently because nobody invoked Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Thomas Merton, or Woody Allen as he did in an erudite manner that is surely more easily accomplished when you have several days to write instead of a few moments to speak).

Mr. Schmitz expounded on these themes in a disturbing attempt to try and turn a community forum about the terrible events of Sept. 11 into an opportunity to score political points. Let me address his issues.

First, Perseverance Theater hosted the discussion so it made sense to use the theater. And who, besides Mr. Schmitz, wants to define Douglas and its landmark theater as an "isolated environment" unworthy of a public forum?

Second, the theater invited conservatives as panelists. Perhaps Mr. Schmitz should speculate on why they didn't attend instead of casting aspersions on moderates who did attend. Further, the theater opened the forum doors to everyone. Not one of the radio ads or newspaper ads recommended that anyone stay away. I'm further puzzled by Mr. Schmitz's suggestion that Perseverance chose KTOO to broadcast the event rather than KINY because KTOO "reaches a smaller audience." Both are fine radio stations. Both devote a great amount of airtime to news and public events. Both have an equal audience.

I was one of the participants, and I can't tell you how dismayed I was with Mr. Schmitz's bald-faced statement that those who did participate "love mankind but can't stand people" and that we were not interested in reaching out to those who "see America as a great nation or show the flag or support President Bush." President Bush is not just his president, he's mine also, and Mr. Schmitz has never and will never hear me say otherwise - in peacetime or in war. His gratuitous swipe about loving mankind but not liking people is especially offensive but not as offensive as his saying I ignore those who see America as a great nation. If I didn't believe America was a great nation I wouldn't have devoted my life to serving it at the community and state level. Neither would anyone else on the panel. I don't usually invoke my service in Vietnam (because I don't want to imply that those who didn't serve don't have the same depth of commitment to America) but I can tell Mr. Schmitz that if I didn't believe in each of the freedoms our flag stands for, I wouldn't have served my country in uniform, in a war on foreign soil.

I'm sorry Mr. Schmitz doesn't think a Douglas-based community forum is as good a venue as Pappy Poe's Pork Place - where the food is good but the seating is limited. I'm sorry Mr. Schmitz didn't hear what he wanted to hear. I'm sorry Mr. Schmitz didn't turn up to speak up. I'm sorry Mr. Schmitz didn't even listen closely enough to know that Mayor Sally Smith wasn't there as he alleged. I'm sorry Mr. Schmitz chose to identify himself as an aide to Rep. Jeannette James because it might lead some to believe she would try, as Mr. Schmitz did, to use a national tragedy of unimaginable magnitude to impugn the integrity of any Alaskan or American. I've served with her seven years and she never has. I have tremendous amount of respect for her because I believe she never would.

I really do hope that, as a self-described trail guide, Mr. Schmitz better understands the wonders of the world of nature than he does the complexities of human nature.

Kim Elton has lived in Juneau for 40 years. He serves in the Alaska Senate.



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