By TODD SMOLDON
For years, I approached politics the way most Alaskans do. I paid very little attention to the legislative process and then complained about the decisions that were made. Essentially, I used my undeclared voter registration status as a political “safe space.” Gov. Walker’s election in 2014 on “the unity ticket” proved he would do anything to get elected, and I started to pay more attention.
It is difficult to make political changes if you don’t join a party. As a fiscal conservative who believes in small government, becoming a Democrat was never an option, but I was very frustrated with some of the Republicans in Alaska. Over the years, I had watched too many of them vote and legislate in a way that did not honor the platform they claimed to support.
Then, in 2016, Representatives LeDoux, Seaton, and Stutes caucused with the Democrats and gave them control of the House. That was the tipping point for me, and I felt compelled to get involved.
I registered as a Republican and fought to get my local district organized, but I never imagined that I would submit my name to replace Senator Dunleavy. I had no desire to change what I was doing. I love my teaching job. The opportunity to be a teacher and a positive male role model for teenage girls dealing with mental health issues has been an incredible blessing. Disrupting my family, career, and taking a pay cut made the decision even more difficult.
A conversation I had with a friend changed everything. While speaking about our choices to fill the empty seat he said, “It sounds like you want a clone.” At that moment, my own political action rhetoric raced through my mind.
I heard what I had told my students and others many times about getting involved: “One person can make a difference,” “You have the power to change things,” “If you want to make a difference, stop complaining and do something.” So, to honor the state that I love and out of respect and appreciation for the people of Senate District E and Senator Dunleavy, I submitted my application.
The good news is that I get to spend time with my family, continue in a job that I love, and motivate people to get politically active so that we can elect a new governor in November.
I was a bit shocked when I made the short list. I had only been a registered Republican in District 10 for 14 months. But in hindsight, it makes sense. I am “entrenched in conservative values” and I believe the district party leaders thought I was the most like Senator Dunleavy. (Albeit with a mullet, about a foot shorter, and not as good looking.) But despite their desire to have me seriously considered as a replacement, Gov. Walker continually refused to consider me.
Why? Because I have been a strident opponent of the governor’s agenda. I openly criticize the governor in op-eds and on the radio. I remind people that his partial veto of the PFD took 120 million dollars out of the Mat-Su economy. I criticize him for not filling empty State trooper positions that are desperately needed to protect us from an explosion of crime exacerbated by SB 91.
I bombastically question why he would continue to fund a gas pipeline project that is not economical. And I continually highlight the many campaign promises that he broke almost immediately after taking office; to protect the dividend, to cut the operating budget by 15 percent, and to not support any new taxes.
At some point in the process, Gov. Walker must have asked his staff, “Would it be better for Mr. Smoldon to be in Juneau where he has to be more diplomatic, or should I just declare him unacceptable?” He chose the latter.
Many people have asked me why he summarily rejected me as a candidate without explanation.
The answer is simple. There is no reasonable explanation. How could he tell everyone that he would not appoint me because I have exposed his terrible policy and the harm he has caused to the economy and people of Alaska?
Mr. Smoldon goes to Juneau? No, not right now. But the good news is that I get to spend time with my family, continue in a job that I love, and motivate people to get politically active so that we can elect a new governor in November.
Todd Smoldon has lived in Alaska for 30 years, is a resident of Willow, and a high school economics teacher.