Contributed by Casey Steinau, AKD Party Chair
Last spring, if you were to ask the average Alaskan their opinion of the legislature, you would probably receive a lot of frustration, impatience and even anger. Criticisms of sitting legislators - mainly the Republican caucuses in the House and Senate - echoed throughout Alaska.
While the state was burning through our savings to pay for essential services like schools, road maintenance and law enforcement, Republican Majority committee chairs refused to hear legislative proposals that could have significantly lessened our budget crisis. Instead, they chose to spend weeks debating the open carry of firearms on college campuses and the instructing of age-appropriate sex education in schools.
But then last summer and fall, concerned Alaskans got to work. Volunteers from all over the state knocked on doors, participated in phone banks and talked to their neighbors about change. People got active. With their help, Zach Fansler and Dean Westlake were victorious over legislators who caucused with the Republicans and contributed to the culture of inaction. Those wins, in addition to two more general election victories, provided a Democratic-led majority in the State House for the first time in 24 years. And for the first time in our state’s history, an Alaskan Native was seated in the Speaker’s chair. This was all made possible through grassroots activism and sheer Alaskan fortitude.
Alaskans by nature are not fans of inaction. We generally don’t like to sit around and do nothing. Even in the most frigid winter temperatures, most of us can be found outside, with frosty eyelashes and mustaches, taking in the fresh air and enjoying the mountain landscapes. Rural areas and even some of the more urban places, are filled with people that live in dry cabins and without the convenience of turning on a tap. They rely on their own elbow grease and energy to haul in their own water because that’s what needs to be done. In Alaska, we build our own houses, fix our own cars, catch our own fish and hunt our own game. We are doers, not do-nothings. So, after last session it became clear that it was time for new ideas and actual work toward solving Alaska’s critical fiscal issues.
Changing the makeup of the State House alone might not be enough. The Senate Majority, still stubborn in their refusal to recognize that we are in the middle of a massive financial crisis, seems reluctant to act in any significant way besides cutting an already bare-bones budget. Many Alaskans share the fear that Republicans in the Senate will contribute to inaction, kicking the proverbial can down the road, with obstruction and excuses by Senate President, Pete Kelly.
If that’s the case, we know what to do. Our volunteers will continue to make their voices heard and in 2018, obstructive legislators will be replaced by folks who get things done. We can get a Senate Majority that will actually do the work. Alaska’s future is too important to wait.