My Turn: Stop the smear campaigns against conservationists

Posted: Sunday, October 06, 2002

The recent spate of radio and television ads as well as orchestrated editorial letters attacking Deborah Williams and other Alaskans with conservation leanings is proof that the little subcontinent we call home has become politically dysfunctional.

By now we are all familiar with the clever ads and letters portraying longtime Alaska conservationists as "extreme environmentalists" and linking this odd smear campaign with an individual who aspires to be a politician. Is there a point to be ascertained with this campaign or are we witnessing the final death rattle of a goofball "soft money" campaign before the soft money spigot is shut off later this autumn?

The campaign to malign Williams and to trash politicians probably gives cheer to the already convinced but likely will have no impact on the elections later this year. What the smear campaign may succeed in doing is intimidate the uninitiated and add to the growing cynicism that afflicts our political culture.

There was a time in Alaska when speaking out and working for conservation were perfectly acceptable. Once, and not all that long ago, the politics of Alaska were not completely aligned with the interests of corporations based Outside. Remember when Walter Hickel had the courage to stop oil drilling in sensitive offshore waters? Was Jay Hammond a naughty Alaskan for halting oil drilling in Kachemak Bay? Is Lowell Thomas evil for supporting conservation work?

Those Alaskans, Republicans all, acted on principle and for the benefit of our state and nation. So did Bill Sheffield when he halted Seaworld's idiotic capture of orcas in Alaska waters. And was it wrong for Steve Cowper to work to establish the magnificent Wood-Tikchik State Park (largest state park on the planet), when he was a politician?

As for Williams, she has been an effective conservation champion for years. In the North American marketplace of ideas, Williams, the advocate for conservation protection, has been a winner for more than a decade.

In the worldwide fund-raising marketplace, Williams and the foundation she works for have enjoyed significant success. In the political marketplace known as Washington, D.C., Williams routinely has croaked the best efforts of the extreme development crowd. Williams' success, at least in Alaska, apparently breeds resentment and leads to ad hominem attacks. Maybe we should adopt a new motto for our state: "If you can't beat 'em, whine about 'em." Or something like that and in Latin, for sure.

Perhaps as our state matures, the rhetoric regarding conservation issues will improve. We might once again engage in civil discussions pertaining to the future of Alaska without resort to personality bashing and hysteria. Maybe, just maybe, we might get back to the point I remember well when ardent conservationists like Celia Hunter would vigorously debate conservation issues in public with men like Joe Vogler and then have the courtesy and decency to knock back a drink with each other and tell tales of life in the North.

But that was 20 years ago and before the most recent generation of political hacks in the Legislature and the administration essentially turned Alaska into a resource colony for outfits operating in Texas, England and Liberia.

Disagree with Williams if you wish. Try to beat her on the issues if you can. But for heaven's sake and the sake of all of us living in Alaska, stop with the silly McCarthy tactics.

Joe Geldhof is an attorney in Juneau.

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