AK Voices: Bill Sherwonit

Anchorage nature writer Bill Sherwonit is the author of more than a dozen books, including "Living with Wildness" and "Changing Paths: Travels and Meditations in Alaska’s Arctic Wilderness."

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Big Thumbs Up for Scott & Dana, Major Thumbs Down for Joe & Lisa, and Barely Thumbs Up for Ethan

It’s easy to get dismayed by Alaska’s politics if you happen to be a left-leaning, greenie sort of person, especially one who pays attention to our state’s increasingly radical and regressive wildlife management system. But this election season has been so loony, it’s proved remarkably entertaining, thanks in large part to Joe Miller. A guy who touts himself as a Constitutional fundamentalist hires a security detail that handcuffs a journalist? Current Tea Party darlin’ Sarah Palin may have fooled most Alaskans when she ran for governor, but Miller isn’t nearly as slick or charismatic as dear Sarah. Instead he’s shown himself to be a deceitful guy of dubious character and extreme views, even by Alaskan standards. Not that Lisa Murkowski is a much better choice; in fact, she may be worse, despite what many Native corporations and a contingent of high-profile DINOs – yes, Democrats in Name Only – are saying.

For a while, voting for Lisa appeared to be the “in thing” to do among many Democrats and independents, whose fear of Joe pushed them toward a candidate deemed more viable than the Democratic Party’s relatively unknown pick, Scott McAdams. But even as Joe Miller has self-destructed, a growing surge of voices has rightly pointed out that Lisa M is no friend of liberal and moderate Alaskans, or even Alaskans generally. The best “analysis” I’ve seen is the Compass piece recently written by Vic Fischer, one of the Alaska Democratic Party’s most respected elders. Fischer comments, “As strongly as I oppose Joe Miller’s candidacy, I doubt he could compile a more conservative voting record than Lisa Murkowski already has. . . .

“Now that she is fighting a right-wing extremist, many Alaskans are overlooking the new Lisa. But if elected, she’ll be right back in lock step with the Republican Party leadership . . .

“We should not vote for Lisa just as the lesser of two evils. We should not cast our vote on the basis of fear, a fear of the horrors that a Joe Miller could wreak on Alaskans and our nation.”

I, like Fischer, remember a time when Lisa Murkowski was in fact a moderate. I admired her when she served in the Alaska Legislature. But that changed when she got appointed and later elected to the Senate. Moving up the Republicans’ chain of command, she became ever more conservative in her votes, her actions, even when those actions hurt Alaska. Again, as Fischer notes, “Since joining the Senate leadership, LISA HAS VOTED WITH HER NATIONAL PARTY ALMOST EVERY TIME, EVEN WHEN IT HURTS ALASKA. [My emphasis.] . . . in her role on the appropriations committee she has opposed specific funding lines for our state. Thus, she must be judged by her actions, not by our memories of her more moderate years.”

Rather than detail here the many times that Lisa M voted against Alaskans’ interests, I will point the reader to Lisa’s Votes. It is damning evidence against her, as she tries to paint herself as the champion of “all Alaskans.” It simply ain’t true.

I would also argue that Murkowski's election could be even more harmful than Miller, given her seniority and what she’s learned from this year’s election. She now knows that she must pay increased attention to the far right if she’s to retain her Republican support and move farther up the national chain of command. A more independent Murkowski? I think we’d see an even more conservative Lisa.

Though there’s a good chance I’ll again be disheartened when the final election results are in, there’s an equally good chance that I’ll be happily surprised on some fronts, including the race for U.S. Senator. As Miller’s campaign continues to implode and Lisa Murkowski’s “standing together” write-in juggernaut shows signs of stalling out, Scott McAdams is looking more and more like a possible winner. His rapid rise from statewide obscurity, in a race that higher profile Democrats avoided like the proverbial political plague, has become something of a feel-good story. And the longer the race has run, the better – and more Senatorial – McAdams has looked, especially when compared to Joe and Lisa.

The rap against McAdams has been that he’s too inexperienced. But from what I’ve seen and heard, he’s a fast learner. Again, I’ll defer to Vic Fischer, who knows McAdams better than I: “Scott McAdams is the strong alternative to [Miller and Murkowski]. If we Alaskans vote our conscience rather than our fears, he will win. Because he will vote on the basis of what’s good for Alaska, he’ll vote his principles and conscience, not to please party bosses or fringe constituencies.

“McAdams is a real, small town leader. Like Bill Egan, he’s a man of the people. He is not a career politician. He was elected to the Sitka school board and as mayor on a nonpartisan ballot, just as those of us who were chosen to write Alaska’s constitution.

“Scott is bright, committed, practical. He is modest, honest, a man of integrity. Most important, he won’t forget whom he works for. Scott has Alaska in his bones.”

In a time when many people are looking for change in our nation’s capital, what better change than electing McAdams to the U.S. Senate?

• • •

Ethan for Governor, Sort Of

One of my great disappointments in this election season was Hollis French’s loss in the Democratic primary. Though impressed with Ethan Berkowitz in the past, I’ve been disappointed with his campaign for governor, as he tries to outdo Sean Parnell on the pro-business, pro-development front. I’m not sure if Ethan is coming from his heart, or is doing what he thinks he must to have a chance of winning, a chance that frankly seems remote at best. My final disappointment came when Ethan, in response to a Daily News question, responded that Alaska’s predator control program “is just about right.” Does he really believe this? Has he been paying any attention to Alaska’s wildlife politics? My gut reaction to his response was “Ugh.” Ethan has my vote and my endorsement, but it’s lukewarm. From where I stand, he’s better than the alternative. But on some issues that matter to me, I don’t see a heck of a lot of difference.

• • •

Retain Dana Fabe

About a week ago, I got a message from a friend that Alaska Supreme Court Justice Dana Fabe was facing a last-minute attack by groups that would like her removed from the court. I wrote back, “I hadn't heard that Justice Fabe is under siege. What's that all about? From what I know of her, she seems like a fair, reasonable and thoughtful person. Is she too liberal?”

That, in a nutshell, seems to be the case. A coalition of conservative groups led by Alaska Family Action, Inc. has launched an effort to unseat Fabe, who is up for a vote of retention on this year’s ballot. A day or two ago, I got a campaign flyer in the mail, urging residents to “Vote NO on Dana Fabe,” in order to “Stop Liberal Activism on the [Alaska] Supreme Court.”

It’s one thing for groups to express their opposition to Alaska judges. It’s quite another if that opposition is done as a smear campaign, intentionally launched late in the game so that Dana Fabe and her supporters have little time to respond. As one blogger commenting on the attack has put it, this is “election [or non-election] by ambush.”

Especially egregious is the fact that many of the claims made against Fabe are either flatly false or misleading. The blogger Wickersham Conscience takes on specific accusations and rebuffs them one by one.

Another to address the attacks is former Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Alex Bryner, in a Point/Counterpoint piece opposite Jim Minnery, president of Alaska Family Action. As Bryner points out, “The last minute attack is timed to prevent any response: As the challengers know, rules of ethics prevent judges campaigning for retention absent ‘active opposition.’ Even then, they can’t answer directly but must organize a committee to respond.

“Not only did the challengers strike late, they struck below the belt. Hoping to leave no chance for the record to be set straight, they proceeded to distort the truth.” Bryner goes on to give specific examples and I direct readers to his commentary to learn more. But here I will add his thoughts that “What voters who look for themselves will find is a wise, fair, and extraordinarily diligent judge who has dedicated 34 years to public service, has worked tirelessly to bring equal justice to all Alaskans, has regularly taught students and their teachers about Alaska’s legal and constitutional traditions, has earned national acclaim for her leadership as a justice, has twice been elected Chief Justice by her colleagues, has worked effectively with legislators and executive branch officials of all political stripes, and has consistently received high ratings from attorneys, jurors, police and probation officers, and court employees.”

I would also recommend a visit to the website Alaskans for Justice Dana Fabe, which includes a long list of supporters from across the political spectrum (except, perhaps, the extreme right) and summarizes the many reasons to retain her.

In ending, I’ll remind voters of something that I only learned this week: Because judges/justices are normally retained, a lot of voters don't pay much attention to that section of the ballot; some will even skip it altogether. Skipping in this case is an awful idea, because, as I understand it, a non-vote is counted as a “no” vote. To support the retention of Justice Fabe, you must vote YES. Don’t let a narrow-minded, unfair and dirty campaign keep a deserving and exceptional judge from doing her work.

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