The announcement on Friday that former President Jimmy Carter had won the Nobel Peace Prize probably generated mixed feelings in Alaska. Seldom have a majority of Alaskans found themselves in agreement with the peanut farmer from Plains, Ga.
Alaskans favored Gerald Ford over Carter in the 1976 presidential election and favored Ronald Reagan over Carter in 1980.
With the votes counted and his defeat assured, Carter signed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which set aside about 104 million acres of our state's geography. Included was a doubling in size of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which had been created in 1960 in the final hours of Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower's second term.
A section (1002) of the 1980 ANILCA legislation directed the Interior Department to evaluate the potential for oil and gas development in ANWR's Coastal Plain. Released in 1987, the evaluation recommended development of the energy resources.
Fifteen years later, the battle continues and Carter remains a combatant. He visited ANWR in the early 1990s to observe the annual caribou migration. He returned to Alaska in August 2000 and, in a speech in Anchorage, called for permanent protection of all of the refuge.
"Once oil production started there, it would do irreversible damage," Carter said.
There is ample evidence Carter is out of step with most Alaskans on this issue and persuasive arguments abound that he is wrong about the impact of oil exploration within the refuge.
We know why Jimmy Carter gets under our skin. (And we know, too, that all Alaskans do not speak with one voice. Some residents agree with Carter's stand on ANWR, although his fellow Democrat, Gov. Tony Knowles, assuredly is not one of them.)
Yes, ANWR is a political issue and, yes, there is truth in former House Speaker Tip O'Neill's observation that all politics is local. But there is a basis for Alaskans to set aside our irritation with Carter and what we consider to be his meddling in our affairs.
Friday's announcement was not linked to Carter's activism on behalf of the arctic refuge. The Nobel Peace Prize transcends local and state issues. It is bigger than Alaska. The prize recognizes unselfish efforts on a global scale - where only a few people ever can hope to make a difference.
The Nobel Committee praised Carter's decades of "untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development."
Unlike most other ex-presidents of the last half-century, Carter didn't retreat to the cozy fairways of resorts and country clubs. He founded the Carter Center in Atlanta and has spent most of the past 20 years monitoring elections in nations where democracy was an experiment, not a tradition. He promoted human rights, and, with his wife, Rosalynn, helped provide health care and food to people in the world's poorest nations.
His hands-on efforts have changed societies and saved lives. Carter is so widely considered to be our nation's best ex-president that the label has become a cliché.
We can agree to disagree about ANWR, but for the 20 years of his retirement he devoted to humanitarian causes and to peace, Jimmy Carter deserves our gratitude and our respect as Alaskans and as Americans.
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