Empire editorial: Palin delivers a timely message in, for Juneau

Posted: Wednesday, November 07, 2007

For those who heard Gov. Sarah Palin speak at the annual Juneau Chamber of Commerce banquet on Oct. 27, her message was more timely, more specific and more pertinent to Juneau and Southeast Alaska than many in this business community might have expected.

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Anyone who'd wanted to Palin to say the capital will remain in Juneau forever and ever may have been disappointed, as were those who need assurances that the road into and out of Juneau will be completed during her first four years in office.

There were, however, several positive nuggets in what the governor said to local business leaders about the present and future of Southeast Alaska. They related primarily with the opening of the Kensington gold mine, the road, a "reasonable, responsible approach" to development and the development of a stable Southeast work force.

As for the mine, Palin offered this:

"Alaska has always been a state dedicated to, and defined by, resource development. We wouldn't have a Juneau without gold - and we wouldn't have a vibrant Alaskan economy without oil. More and more we're being challenged to balance the need for development with the need to protect our natural resources.

"There's been much concern about opening the Kensington Mine north of Juneau. ... Our administration is very excited about the potential. The state has stood with Coeur during the permitting process and in the court challenges that ensued. However, we will also ensure that all landowners have an opportunity to develop their land in a reasonable fashion, within the requirements of our environmental laws."

As for the road, which is now the cornerstone issue within this community, the governor said, "One of the biggest concerns for the members of this chamber and this community has been developing the access road out of Juneau. This road is a key part of our Department of Transportation's long-term plans for transportation throughout Southeast Alaska. It is also a huge and complex engineering feat.

"We're working hard with the Army Corps of Engineers to get the project permitted. As we learned from the Kensington project, having agency permits in hand doesn't necessarily mean the project will move forward. Delays caused by lawsuits can cripple a project of this size. That is why it is so critical that we take extra care to ensure that this project progresses appropriately."

What Palin had to say about economic development and work force development was especially important for Southeast Alaska because of the importance of - and emphasis on - education and job training.

"Creating new job opportunities for our young Alaskans and preparing our kids for those opportunities is a top priority of my administration."

All too often, when we hear discussion about our education system and our kids' ability to succeed in the workplace, we hear two common messages: that we need to do more and the government needs to spend more. While the education system must have the resources to be successful, the state also must be innovative about how we spend our education dollars.

"Our departments of Education, Labor and Workforce Development - in cooperation with industry and the University of Alaska - have joined efforts to examine how we can increase graduation rates, attendance rates and job placement rates.

"As a result, we are now implementing a system that will identify gaps between student skills and employment needs. Our Work Ready/College Ready program will help align our curricula to meet the job skills employers need. And to not only help our students see the connection between school and work but to actually document a student's readiness for work."

Palin avoided delving deeper into the issues about which she spoke, and she avoided others altogether. Of importance the night of the chamber banquet was for Palin to recognize Juneau and Southeast Alaska in ways she has not previously done, and making bold proclamations about the future of the capital, the road and the Kensington Mine was neither expected nor necessary.

At the end of the evening, Palin had delivered to Juneau - and in Juneau - a message that was timely and pertinent, and that can only serve to strengthen the relationship between the capital and this first-year governor.

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