Mallott to SE Conference: 'Why am I here?' - Must Read Alaska
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Mallott to SE Conference: ‘Why am I here?’

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Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, file photo

CONFERENCE PARTICIPANTS EXPRESS SHOCK

Alaska Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott was the headline speaker at Southeast Conference last week. The annual gathering brings leaders from all over the Alexander Archipelago to discuss the issues of the day, as it has done for 58 years.

Normally, it’s a rather predictable affair. They talk about the Four-Dam Pool, hydro, ferries, timber, fisheries, tourism, the economy.

But Mallott’s speech was anything but normal. It was either visionary or it was bizarre.

“Why am I here?” he asked the audience, and then he left a long pause. He sighed. He rustled papers. The audience responded with nervous laughter. Perhaps they were not sure, themselves.

Mallott continued haltingly to talk about an oceans conference he had just attended in Washington, D.C., hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry. He explained how it was “really cool” to be in a gathering in which among the speakers of the morning included such luminaries as Secretary Kerry, President Barack Obama and Leonardo DiCaprio.

“What I saw or came away with from that conference. And I think its important to us here in Southeast — NGOs matter. Environmental organizations matter,” he said.

“As the world deals with climate change, in that room were some of the most powerful people in the world, and none of them were members of government. They represented billions of dollars that are available to deal with the reality of our world today,” Mallott said.

“In Alaska, our conversation in recent years has been more about Arctic policy than it has been about climate change. We know the reality and we need right now to deal with that reality,” he continued.

Then, almost as an aside, he announced that soon Gov. Bill Walker would establish a “climate change process and structure for the State of Alaska to be more in a focused way engaged.”

Returning to the importance on NGOs, Mallott may have been attempting to make the case that Gov. Walker’s new “climate change process and structure” would try to capture some funding flowing from the billions of dollars that these NGOs will be spending on climate change.

In other words, our new economy in Alaska will be nonprofit funding to deal with climate change.

“At that conference, there were billions of dollars. [We need to] get NGOs to focus and put their dollars.”

Before leaving the topic that inspired him for 10 minutes, Mallott implied that Alaskans need to get out more and hear what others are saying about climate change because we just don’t get it up here. The most powerful people in the world, including Leonardo DiCaprio, do get it, and it’s time we board the climate change train.

Southeast Conference has 180 member organizations that care about transportation, maritime, tourism, timber, seafood, mining, health care, government, and overall quality of life. Mallott wants them to embrace climate change as a cause.

Mallott then spoke about mining and trans-boundary issues and then spent several minutes giving the eulogy for petroleum resource development in Alaska:

“No one in the market place and leadership nationally, internationally, forecasts at all that oil prices will recover any time soon in any meaningful way.The revenues that have sustained Alaska for the 50-plus years now of its existence are gone.”

“We will always have petroleum revenue in Alaska’s budget. It will continue to be significant. A billion dollars or more is nothing to sneeze at. But it will not be the sustaining driver of both governmental funding and our economy, not even close to what it has been in these first 50 years of Alaska’s existence.

“We know that our economy must diversify. We know that the underpinnings of our economy have essentially, fundamentally altered.

“How do we grow Alaska again? We postponed that conversation for two full years. Years we will never get back.”

In all, Mallott spent 30 minutes making the case that non-profits (NGOs) are the future source of funding for the Alaska economy, along with federal funding and State of Alaska funding. The audience clapped with relief as he ended his remarks.

‘SOMETHING IS WRONG’

Attendees to Southeast Conference were polite, but here are the notes participants sent to Must Read Alaska while the speech was under way:

“He’s 15 minutes over his time.”

“Something is wrong with Byron Mallott. It’s like he has dementia. He’s not making sense.”

“He’s talking about climate change and meanwhile, we’re losing population and our schools are closing. WTF.”

“He actually just asked us ‘Why am I here?'”

“This is the weirdest speech, you should hear it.”

And so we did. You can listen and judge for yourself at KFSK: Is Mallott a visionary or just on a different wave length?

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

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