Palin's arrival stirs optimism

Posted: Thursday, December 07, 2006

I was picking up a ticket at Juneau International Airport today and noticed that the "Welcome to Juneau" sign had been promptly changed to reflect the name of our new governor. Those two little wooden plaques with the names of the mayor and governor were perfectly up to date.

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It made me optimistic about the next few weeks, months, and years. I hope every one in Juneau will help me in joining Gov. Sarah Palin and her family to town, and I hope the talk of making things happen across the aisle doesn't fade away like the melting snow.

About a month ago, I wrote in these pages what I thought was going to happen, and what should happen, in the general election. I was right about some things, wrong about others, but now it's time to move on. The reversal of Republican power at the federal level was greater than I expected. I think it is great that a woman will be speaker of the U.S. House for the first time in history, and I sincerely wish Nancy Pelosi good fortune as she undertakes a challenging task.

I am confident that the relegation to minority status of our congressional delegation will only minimally reduce its ability to help allocate assets toward Alaskan needs in the federal budget. And I don't feel at all embarrassed that Alaska (or Hawaii, for that matter) gets what some call a disproportionate (or worse) share of federal dollars. We are recreational meccas for the Lower 48, and Alaska meets more national resource needs than most of the continental United States. We are not wrong in getting some monetary compensation for helping the rest of the country in the uniquely as we do.

Here on the Last Frontier, I hope Alaskans will give each other some new chances in the coming political season. Palin is the first Alaskan woman to run the state, and I have heard voices from across the political spectrum applaud this fact. Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, was effusive with his praise of Sarah in his most recent online newsletter, an example of positive commentary that delighted me. I truly hope he'll maintain his constructive perspective in assessing things as they happen over the coming session. I'd be even more encouraged if he were to come to accept the desirability of some projects that generate debate here in Southeast Alaska (the Lynn Canal Highway and the Kensington Mine come to mind) and I'll happily hope for a protracted period of open-mindedness.

The bipartisan Senator Majority will be something to watch. I know most of its members, and I have to say it will be fascinating watching senators who've battled for years working on the same team. Some say it won't work, that it can't last, but I'm willing to withhold judgment for the time being.

I am not the only Alaskan to observe that most of the minority of six are among the more moderate Republicans in the Alaska Senate. It is odd that these six Rs will be on the outside as some of their more conservative colleagues sit down with Democrats to write the operating and capital budgets. I predict each of these newly-minted minority members will become stronger legislators and wiser in their pursuit of public policy if they see a lengthy period of service in the loyal opposition.

I know that may of my fellow capital city residents were concerned at the decision to hold the Inauguration in Fairbanks, and called this the first instance of capital creep. I don't think this is necessarily the case. Allowing some ceremonial functions to take place in other places may be one way to reach out to the rest of Alaska, to let them know that Juneau is their capital, but we're all Alaskans.

I am fairly certain that overt criticism of things like the Fairbanks Inauguration will have little positive effect. I think we need to be as confident and optimistic as we can about maintaining our privileged position as Alaska's capital. My belief that building the road north along Lynn Canal rather sooner than later is no secret; it's inevitable in the long run, and it demonstrates our commitment to accessibility.

Juneau really is an awesome place to live. If we can just remember to remain positive and firm, yet insistent on continuing to serve as the capital city, our future is as bright as the rest of Alaska's. And Alaska's future is very bright indeed.

• Benjamin Brown is a lifelong Alaskan, an actor and attorney.

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