How do you lose something you never had in the first place? How do you mourn something that never existed?
I have been struggling with this concept for a long time, but especially since November of 2016. My disillusionment with the history and politics of my home country has been a gradual process, but during the general election of 2016 I felt something snap. I had an instinct and a desire to mourn the state of US democracy, but what was I mourning? What had we lost, besides our naiveté? My brain raced after a time when things were better, simpler, more innocent. That train of thought always arrived, devoid of redemptive cargo, at the very inception of this country.
When I think of the United States of America that I love, I need to invent one. I must imagine it, because this country has only ever been lovable if its system of White patriarchy afforded you a seat at the table, and if you were able to ignore or compartmentalize the atrocities that built and perpetuated a republic that has only ever given lip service to its lofty ideals. The US has experienced moments of glory and housed individuals of great character, but the project as a whole has never been great, not even for one moment, because it is built on unreconciled genocide, unapologetic colonization, hungry imperialism and White supremacy.
How could we possibly be surprised at our present crises when we wrote it this way from the very beginning? Our doom was foreshadowed long ago; the trees we planted in blood-filled soil bore poisoned fruit, and somehow we are surprised at the taste.
I’ve realized that a better word for what I’m experiencing is that of anemoia, a nostalgia for a time I’ve never known. It’s like a variant of the German fernweh, except their farsickness is in my case not based on distance but on metaphor. The Welsh have something similar called hiraeth, a longing for a home that might not even exist.
This imaginary country that I am proud of does exist, if only hypothetically. It exists out of necessity, because the hope that we can actually become the thing we claim to be is a survival mechanism. Right now the America that I love is a fantasy, and to get out of bed in the morning I must believe that it might, if we work together, become something real.
The America that I love finally (finally!) acknowledges the subjugation and continued diminishment of Native American peoples and their cultures and their way of life. It admits fully to the horrors of slavery and the institutionalized racism that has taken its place. The America that I love offers reparations for its crimes, and begins finally to support and love and represent the Black and Brown communities to which it owes more than it can ever repay. The America that I love becomes a leader in the efforts against climate change; it preserves the natural world so that we too might be preserved. The country in my head begins a hard global conversation about fundamentally reworking capitalism to move away from GDP-obsessed systems of voracious growth, and begins a period of sustainable degrowth that might finally find a balance between economy and survival.
The America that I love takes care of the health of its people and stops selling it to the highest bidder. It redistributes the wealth of its citizens and starts representing the 99% for a change. It finally admits that the war on drugs was a conflict started in bad faith against its own people, and it starts re-enfranchising its lost generations of Black men. It abolishes its brutal system of global imperialism and leads with diplomacy and soft power and humanitarianism. It actually allows for religious freedoms instead of using such terms to discriminate and spread hate—the place I am dreaming of does not make income or skin color or sexual orientation a barrier to human rights. In that country, queer and trans people are allowed to live the joy-filled lives that are their inalienable right. That country leads in technologies of the future and doesn’t sacrifice its soul for profit. It reforms its education systems and starts paying teachers what they’re worth.
The America that I love welcomes immigrants who strengthen and enrich our culture and economy. This country is Black and Brown and White and everything in between. This hypothetical state believes in science and shared truth. It embraces democratic systems by giving every citizen one equal vote, and it undoes the damage that neoliberal corporatocracy has wreaked on our elections and way of life. The America that I love abolishes its inhumane meat industry and prioritizes the health of its land and its workers and its livestock. It takes care of the veterans who served because they too believed in an imaginary homeland—one that would take care of them and their families when they returned from fighting the wars of the rich.
This is a country that I could love. This might make me finally raise a flag. This would make the Fourth of July something other than a grotesque pantomime. This is what it would take for me to feel pride in the land of my birth, finally and at long last.
We have never been the country we claim to be, but the America that I love is out there—we just need to go get it.
If you are reading this, thank you. Not because you’re reading my blog (that’s nice too) but because it probably means you’re participating in the democratic process and looking for information about Alaska’s upcoming Primary Election on August 21st. It’s not often obvious where to go for good voter information before an election.
This post is an attempt to remedy that. Here I will share what information I have gathered, and point you towards a handful of useful links and resources so you can be prepared for Alaska’s primary. I don’t attempt to cover every candidate in every State House and Senate district, but Ballotpedia’s Ballot Tool (also linked below) will narrow down candidates to your particular district, and provide profiles if available.
Disclaimer: I attempt to present this information in an unbiased manner. I am a left-leaning voter but this is not an opinion piece; this election resource should be useful to people on every part of the political spectrum.
2018 Alaska Primary Guide
So where to start? A good place might be the official Alaska Division of Elections website, which lists all the candidates on the 2018 ballot. However this resource can be a tad overwhelming, and not particularly useful on its own, though it does list contact info and websites for most of the candidates.
A great resource for election information is Ballotpedia. If you follow that link, you can enter your address, select “Primary Election on August 21, 2018,” and you will see a sample ballot, including the candidates for whatever House or Senate district you belong to. You don’t need to research candidates for all 40 House districts, thank goodness. This won’t be the last time I provide a link to Ballotpedia’s election coverage.
The usefulness of this next resource will depend on your political leanings, but The Alaska Center is an organization whose main issues are climate change, salmon conservation, renewable energy and healthy democratic communities. You can find a list of their endorsed candidates here. If I find other resources for endorsed candidates in the near future, I will update this post.
Vote411 Voter Guide features informative Q&As with candidates, though not every candidate has responded.
Governor Bill Walker was elected in 2014 as an Independent with the support of Democrats, but he has faced criticism over high crime rates, a budget deficit impacted by plunging oil prices, and the subsequent capping of the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend.
Now incumbent Gov. Bill Walker faces both Republican and Democratic challengers in the primaries, effectively a three-headed race between Walker, the unopposed Democratic nominee Mark Begich, and Republican frontrunners Mike Dunleavy and Mead Treadwell.
Dunleavy moved to Alaska over 30 years ago, and wants to start Alaska on a “new trajectory.” His platform includes balancing the budget by reducing state spending and driving business investment, while also protecting Alaskans’ PFDs and tackling the state’s troubling crime problem.
Dunleavy’s main Republican challenger Mead Treadwell served as the state’s Lieutenant Governor from 2010-2014; Treadwell is hoping that his political background and business experience will propel him to the Republican nomination. His main issues are not radically different than Dunleavy’s, and his views on gay rights, abortion, and the Affordable Care Act fall well in line with the modern GOP platform.
Democratic candidate Mark Begich has served as U.S. State Senator, as well as Mayor of Anchorage from 2003-2009. Like Dunleavy and Treadwell, he wants to cut state spending while protecting the PFD. This is a consistent theme on both sides of the aisle, despite some polls suggesting that the majority of Alaskans either support the cuts or at least understand why they are necessary. I am no political strategist, but apparently targeting the roughly 43% of people who oppose the cuts is good political strategy in 2018.
There is significant concern on the left that Begich is playing the role of spoiler for Walker, and possibly handing the race to the Republicans. A poll commissioned by the labor organization AFL-CIO suggests that either Begich or Walker could defeat Dunleavy, but with votes split between them this becomes much less likely, with Walker polling at a distant third. AFL-CIO President Vince Beltrami has even suggested that he may ask either Walker or Begich to withdraw from the race, depending on how the Republican primary shakes out. This is an interesting story to monitor as we move toward the general election in November.
Dunleavy and Treadwell both support the continuation of the Pebble Mine permitting process, while Walker and Begich oppose it. According to Begich, it’s “the wrong mine in the wrong place.” How you feel about Pebble Mine most likely influences how you feel about these candidates in general.
Here is a televised debate between Begich, Dunleavy, Walker and Hawkins (who has since dropped out of the race), about rural issues like Pebble Mine, tribal management and commercial fishing. Dunleavy, Begich and Hawkins also participated in a public forum debate at the Alaska Oil and Gas Association conference in early June.
The rest of the Republican pack includes Christian conservative Gerald Heikes, the mysterious Darin Colbry, Merica Hlatcu (his name is Merica and he wants to bring an NHL team to Alaska), and Michael Sheldon – his fun fact is that he wants to remove fluoride from Alaska’s water reservoirs.
Lynette Clark is the Party Chair of the fascinating Alaskan Independence Party, and she is running for Governor as an Independent. The AIP contends that the vote for Alaskan statehood in 1958 was invalid, and they would like a chance at a redo, though they claim (not all that convincingly) that they are not a secessionist movement. I could easily write an entire post on the AIP and their provocative founder Joe Vogler, but this isn’t the place.
William “Billy” Toien is running on the Libertarian ticket, and this marks the fourth time he has run for Governor of Alaska.
The Lieutenant Governor of Alaska serves as a second-in-command to Governor, and the primary responsibilities of the position include oversight of state election laws and The Division of Elections, along with supervising Administrative Regulations and use of the State Seal. These are the candidates for Lieutenant Governor in 2018:
When Edgar Blatchford dropped out of the race in early June, Debra Call became the lone Democratic nominee for Lt Governor. Call is an Alaska Native Tribal official who was hand-picked as a running mate by Mark Begich, who joined the race for Governor very near the deadline. Call is Dena’ina Athabascan originally from Knik, AK who now resides in Anchorage. She also serves on the Board of Directors for Cook Inlet Tribal Council.
Gattis is a former member of the Alaska State House of Representatives, with a BA in Aviation Technology from the University of Alaska Anchorage. Her primary objectives as Lt Governor are to update and secure Alaska’s election services, grow the economy while keeping taxes low, and achieving fiscal stability through business investment and sustainable resource development. Here is her voting history while serving in the Alaska State House.
Grunwald doesn’t have previous political experience, but she believes new leadership is needed in Juneau. She spent 30+ years in the Air Force before eventually retiring with the rank of Colonel. The murder of her teenage son in 2016 has pushed criminal reform to the center of her political platform (she’s not the only running politician that has issues with SB 91). She also wants to rework the state budget and “give the people their PFDs back.”
Sharon Jackson served in the United States Army, and worked as a certified Electronic Technician after that. She also worked as Constituent Liaison for Senator Dan Sullivan, and more recently founded and serves as President of Republican Women of Anchorage. Her key issues are overseeing a “fair and honest” and more affordable election process and the reinstatement of full PFDs.
Mayer was born in Nebraska but has lived in Alaska with his wife for over 30 years. He is a former ConocoPhillips senior executive, and his political experience includes time spent on the Anchorage Assembly, the State House of Representatives and the Alaska State Senate. He positions himself as a candidate who is tough on crime, and he also wants to limit state spending and grow the economy while cutting “unnecessary” programs. His voting record can be found here.
Gary Stevens was born in Oregon and got his PhD at the University of Oregon, but has lived in Alaska since 1970. He served in the Alaska State House of Representatives from 2001-2003, and is currently serving in the Alaska State Senate. His Ballotpedia profile can be found here, and you can see his voting history on VoteSmart.
Wright was born on the Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage, AK in 1969. He served over 20 years in the U.S. military, and wants to bring his experience to the position of Lt Governor. Wright wants to bring the state budget “back into balance” and limit government overreach, and he supports the development of Pebble Mine and ANWR. You can get a clear idea of his political beliefs via VoteSmart’s “Political Courage Test.”
U.S. House of Representatives
Republican incumbent Don Young is the longest currently serving U.S. House member, having served in Congress for over 130 years now. That second part isn’t true but it feels like it is: the infamous Young is the only member of the House to have served under Nixon, and he’s running for his 24th term as Alaska’s House representative. Here is a record of his sponsored bills, voting record, alleged misconduct and advocacy group scores. A troubling detail: his percentage of missed votes from 1973 to 2018 is 14.5%, well above the median of 2.4%.
Here are the Democratic challengers to Don Young’s House seat:
Dimitri Shein is a Russian immigrant who has lived in Alaska since he was 12 years old. His wife Melissa is an Alaska Native, and they have six children (four adopted). He is running on a progressive campaign of Medicare for All, increased public school funding, and an end to corporate tax handouts and corporate money in politics. His campaign does not accept PAC contributions.
Hafner is running for the U.S. House as a Democrat who doesn’t live in Alaska (and in fact has never been to the state), which I didn’t actually know was possible. Hafner is a former flight attendant and biotechnology industry professional who has pledged not to take campaign donations from the fossil fuel industry. She supports net neutrality, federal legalization of marijuana, better care and support for veterans, investing in Alaska Native communities, and (like Shein) a Medicare for All system.
Independents running for U.S. House on the Democratic Ballot:
Galvin is a mother of four who has worked in the service, healthcare and education industries. For the last five years she has headed Great Alaska Schools, a statewide organization that she helped launch which advocates for strong public education for all Alaskan children. Along with enhancement of K-12 educational services, she supports net neutrality, abortion rights, renewable energy development, oil & gas development (she supports drilling in the ANWR but not Pebble Mine), and strengthening the Alaskan economy through diversification.
Cumings is a Ketchikan resident who is making health care his key issue in a campaign for the nomination. This focus on quality of life is informed by his personal struggle with opioid addiction; he can personally relate to the epidemic which is being felt across the country and he feels that a change is needed. He supports universal health care and an increased focus on mental health care, along with early childhood education and a $15 minimum wage. He is outgunned in campaign fundraising, but hopes that his message will stick with voters.
Here are the two Republican nominees running against Don Young:
John Nelson says he admires Don Young but that it’s time to finally pass the torch. Nelson was born and raised in Alaska, and lives in Wasilla working as a financial advisor. He pledges to stop the “discourse of division” taking place in Washington politics, and to put a stop to federal overreach and wasteful spending. Other promises of his campaign include passing a responsible and balanced budget and finding “responsible solutions” to the problems facing health care and social security.
Whittaker is a longtime staple of Alaskan politics. As part of the Green Party in 1996 he came in second to incumbent Ted Stevens, and then in 2016 tried to run without a party, which is technically possible given the proper amount of signatures (which he fell short of). This year, he is running as a Republican with no online presence and no ads. He calls himself the “Don Quixote” of Alaskan politics, and says frankly that he’s “not going to win” against Don Young. For Whittaker, running seems like more of a democratic imperative, and a way to push forward new ideas. Honestly, more power to him.
Update: This Ballot Measure has been approved by the Alaska Supreme Court and will be on the November General Election Ballot, not on the August Primaries. Still, it can’t hurt to learn about the issue now.
The “Stand for Salmon” ballot initiative centers on an industry that is important to many Alaskans both culturally and economically. Essentially, voting “Yes” means you support changing the way permits are reviewed and issued for any projects that would have an effect on bodies of water important to anadromous fish.
The measure would establish protection standards for fish and wildlife habitats that may be threatened by “adverse” or unrestorable damage brought about by any project, minor or major in scale. Permits could be denied if the proposed project would cause substantial damage to the wildlife habitat, as determined by the Department of Fish and Game.
Voting “No” means you do not support these new standards or permit processes.
The main supporters of the measure are Yes For Salmon and Stand For Salmon, who say that the current protections are vague and limited, and leave salmon habitats vulnerable to “political interference” and irresponsible development. According to the ADF&G, the current laws protect less than 50% of salmon-bearing streams in Alaska. Proponents of the measure also say this would give communities a chance to have a say in projects before permitting goes through.
The list of opponents to the ballot measure is a long one. The opponents are organized under the Stand For Alaska group, who say that the initiative is a misguided solution to a “problem that doesn’t exist.” They cite the already established protection laws, and say that this new system would seriously hamper Alaskan development and lead to lost jobs across the state. These groups have spent big money to get this message to Alaskans, raising over $9 million in contributions compared to Yes For Salmon’s approximately $1.1 million.
A detailed breakdown of the ballot measure can be found on Ballotpedia.
If you can’t make it to the polls on Tuesday, August 21st, you should check out the list of places and hours you can go to vote early, which you can do anytime between now and Election Day. To find your polling place ahead of Election Day, just follow this link.
The (unofficial) results are in for Alaska’s first ever vote-by-mail elections, and the main story is one with national implications for transgender rights.
Proposition 1 made national news as the notorious “Bathroom Bill” which would have rescinded the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance that currently allows transgender people to use bathrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity, as opposed to the sex on their birth certificate. It was narrowly defeated by a vote of 53% against to 47% for, a surprisingly thin margin considering the “No On Prop 1” side had a 13-1 fundraising advantage over the proponents of the bill, namely the Christian policy group Alaska Family Action.
The Fair Anchorage organization called the results a “groundbreaking, first-of-its-kind victory. . . not only for transgender people, but for their allies and everyone who is proud to call Anchorage a welcoming place.”
Alaska Family Action did not comment on the results.
State legislatures in several other states have considered similar “bathroom bills” this year, and LGBTQ rights proponents are encouraged by the example set by Alaska, though the slim margin of victory indicates that Americans are still divided on this issue.
Mayor Ethan Berkowitz defeated Republican challenger Rebecca Logan by about 18% of the vote, a relatively easy victory for the incumbent mayor facing his second term in office.
Voters also broadly approved the $1 billion sale of the city-owned electric utility ML&P to Chugach Electric, a merger which will settle the sizable debt of ML&P and theoretically make Anchorage more energy efficient in the process.
All the bond measures passed with little drama.
And the new vote-by-mail system? Election officials are calling it a “spectacular” success. Anchorage set a new record for voter turnout in a municipal election, the unofficial count of 80,000 votes beating the previous record set in 2012. Lowered costs and increased voter turnout were the main goals of voting by mail, and officials hope that Anchorage has laid a blueprint for the rest of the state to follow.
As of 2018, Alaska is switching to a vote-by-mail system, following in the footsteps of states like Colorado, Washington and Oregon. People in those states say that the “vote from home” system has increased voter turnout, a conclusion supported by a Washington Post study. It’s not entirely shocking that giving people the option to vote from home over the span of a couple weeks is a positive step towards improving the functionality of our beleaguered democratic process.
This post is specifically meant for Anchoragites who have questions about their ballot or how the new system works.
Quick note: if you have not received a ballot in the mail, call 907-243-VOTE (8683) or visit one of the Accessible Vote Centers around the city. Click here for a municipality FAQ which should answer many of your questions.
Now let’s get to the ballot itself.
The first section on the ballot gives you the candidates for mayor of Anchorage. There are nine candidates, though it is effectively a two-person race between Democratic incumbent Ethan Berkowitz and Republican Rebecca Logan. Mayor Berkowitz was elected in 2015 and has focused a lot on crime and police presence in a city which has become increasingly dangerous in recent years. Berkowitz’ main challenger is Republican-backed Rebecca Logan, who works as the general manager of The Alaska Support Industry Alliance – an oil, gas and mining association. You can find background information on these and the other candidates here, as well as a light and inconsequential Anchorage Daily News Q&A which asks each candidate what they do for fun in Anchorage (Dustin Darden’s is a doozy).
The next three sections focus on the candidates for school board seats E-G, and this category is the biggest mystery for most voters. There is very little information online about the options, though the League of Women Voters of Anchorage has a ballot review with contact information for most of the candidates. One piece of advice: if you don’t know anything about the options, it is better to leave it blank than to pick a random choice. As of this writing, I have reached out to multiple organizations looking for official endorsements, and will update if I find out more. The candidates do at least have their own websites, and for now that is the best source of information.
There are 12 ballot propositions on the 2018 Anchorage ballot, and Prop. 1 is by far the most controversial. The so-called “Bathroom Bill” would undo Alaska’s current nondiscrimination law by restricting access to bathrooms and locker rooms based on a person’s sex at birth, regardless of their gender identity. For the sake of clarity: voting “Yes” would allow businesses to restrict bathroom access based on sex, while a “No” means keeping the current nondiscrimination protections in place. The proposition is backed largely by Alaska Family Action, a Christian public policy organization which says the bill is a necessary step in protecting the privacy and safety of Alaskan citizens who shouldn’t need to share an intimate setting with someone of the opposite sex.
Opponents to Prop. 1 (Fair Anchorage, Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, NAACP) say that the bill is a step backwards into discrimination, an unenforceable bill that would hurt the rights and privacy of transgender people. The Chamber of Commerce worries that the bill would also be bad for business, citing the similar North Carolina bill that is estimated by the Associated Press to cost that state $3.76 billion over the next dozen or so years.
This proposition has thrust Alaska’s voice into the national conversation about equality and LGBTQ rights. The country is listening: let’s think carefully about what we say.
Props. 2-8 are far less sticky. They are all bond measures that would go towards improving city services and infrastructure, from school facilities to roads to police boilers. They are basically seeking funding for basic and necessary municipal upkeep, at a negligible yearly cost to taxpayers. By all means, read the fine print. But for most voters, these should be an easy “Yes” and forget.
Prop. 9 is a direct response to Slush Cup 2017, when the popular event turned Girdwood into a “parking lot.” This measure would allow Anchorage Police Department to delegate parking enforcement to the Whittier Police Department, giving Girdwood residents some relief from the abandoned and improperly parked vehicles that flood their town every year.
A “Yes” to Prop. 10 would allow the Anchorage municipality to sell debt-ridden electric utility company Municipal Light & Power to Chugach Electric. Proponents of this measure say that it would increase efficiency of operations and spread out the effect of ML&P’s debt, leading to lower rates for consumers. They also say it would allow Chugach Electric to more effectively utilize variable renewable energy from sources like Fire Island, all while promising not to layoff any workers at either of the companies.
If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it might be. An article from Alaska Policy Forum urges caution when it comes to this deal, pointing out that the process and details of the proposed sale have been shrouded in mystery from the beginning, and it appears that the normal competitive bidding process for a sale of this kind was bypassed for a direct “sole source” to Chugach Electric. In other words, it is nearly impossible to know if the municipality (and taxpayers) got the best deal possible.
APF also points out that while the measure promises no increase in “base rates,” this does not mean that your bill won’t necessarily go up from other rate increases. The general lack of transparency and careful wording of the large print has a number of voters concerned about the quality of the deal.
Prop. 11 would save most Anchorage homeowners money on their property taxes each year, though the trade-off would be a tax increase for residents who own commercial or residential property. The proposition would change the state law by raising the property tax exemption from 10% of a property’s value (max. $20,000) up to 20% (max. $50,000).
While this would give some tax relief to homeowners, business owners are not very happy about it, and it is feasible that renters’ rates would go up as a result. Mayor Berkowitz says that Prop. 11 would give tax relief to homeowners and broaden the city’s revenue stream, while critics worry that the “trickle down” effect on business owners and the local economy would cause more economic harm than good, all for a few hundred dollars saved by homeowners come tax day.
This proposition seeks to expand the borders of the Anchorage Fire Service Area to include currently unprotected property in the northeast area of Eagle River (an area including the Eagle River Nature Center). As it stands now, residents without fire services are sent a hefty bill if the AFD responds to their call (not a guarantee), and the size of that bill may go up in the near future. If Prop. 12 passes, the taxable services would begin in 2019. Properties currently within the current fire service would most likely not see their taxes increase in any way, but the newly-covered Eagle River Valley residents would of course see a tax increase in exchange for those city services.