By TOM BOUTIN
A number of people have called to ask me how in the world Alaskans can choose from among the 48 candidates running to fill the late Congressman Don Young’s shoes. Everyone seems to know someone in the race but in almost every case that candidate seems to be completely unknown beyond one town or village. For that one reason a small group of apparent front-runners has emerged.
From my perspective it’s easy to eliminate the candidate with the greatest name recognition. When I was 4 years old, my parents, just emerging from their teens, moved from the French-speaking pulp mill town of 13,000 to the adjacent town of 3,000 where Protestants and pulp mill managers lived. At first we lived in a rental A 6-year-old girl from the next rental told me there is no Santa Claus, and even at that time I was an avid reader, so likely required very little convincing.
By the time I was 12, both families had moved to owned homes and that girl had become unarguably attractive. So I told her she might owe me another rite of passage because of that Santa Claus experience. Feigning, I think, some shock, she informed her father, a huge Irishman with hands as large as my head. Fortunately he had a great sense of humor and applauded my imagination without commenting on my apparent (and unrealized) intentions.
There still is no Santa Claus. Reading the background and positions offered by candidate Claus, I can see that his candidacy is an attention-grabbing publicity stunt, and a joke; far too much and far too little all at one time.
I first met Sarah Palin when she was Wasilla Mayor. When she ran, unsuccessfully as it turned out, for lieutenant governor, I saw that she had some surprising kind of star quality foretelling expanded horizons. There was one campaign photo that had her wearing a shooting vest and holding a break-open trap gun on her shoulder. I sent that photo to friends and gun rights people around the country, and over 100 people wrote back to say they envied Alaska for having candidates like that.
After she easily won the her gubernatorial primary I helped her, at her request, gain fluency in one particular issue in that race – public employee retiree actuarial arithmetic – and was happy she bested the two challengers who had tag-teamed their assault. I sat with her then husband at one of the gubernatorial debates.
She is no dummy, and she has remarkable instincts for publicity. She handily won her debate against the man who is now our President.
I do not support her run at our one US House seat. We would dread the national drama of whom she’s dating now, what she said on this or that talk show, and whether Alaska was moved ahead or backwards by the latest appearance on a talent show. Congress is not merely a stage for one-liners. Oratory zingers that make the nightly news, clever though they may sometimes be, don’t do all that much for Alaska voters. I strongly believe that years in the spotlight have robbed Sarah Palin of any ability to come up with new ideas or to be more than a characterization of her former self.
Yes, Congressman Don Young could sometimes succumb to temptations to shock The Beltway with the odd exclamation, and most Alaskans were happy to abide, but we are not ready to replace Don Young with Sarah Palin. Indeed, she could not replace him.
I don’t believe we would be well served with Tara Sweeney. I watched her Must Read Alaska interview on Facebook and was surprised that she didn’t feel the need to speak one word to Alaska Republicans. Moreover, she lacks energy and ideas. I think that everyone we send to Congress must and will look out for Native corporations, and I have no doubt that every Congress and every White House will pay special attention to the needs and desires of Alaska Natives, whether they reside in Alaska or not, but it’s clear to me that Tara Sweeney may see little need to look out for the broader values and concerns that Alaskans generally have about what Washington will next do to us.
Juneau Empire coverage of a recent debate open only to Alaska Native candidates from within the 48 says that Tara Sweeney named sovereignty as the top challenge facing the U.S. Congress. Congressman Young was without peer in finding balance, and everything I have read from Tara Sweeney or heard her say indicates she does not understand how he did that.
I have been a supporter of Sen. Josh Revak in his short public career — until this one race. I attended Anchorage fundraisers for his Alaska Senate efforts, and I have had high hopes for his continued progress. However, in this field of 48 he has become a man in search of a headline, and he seemingly wants to be Sara Palin, Version II. Congressman Young was great at reassuring Big Labor without kowtowing to them, but it’s not clear to me that Josh Revak can learn how to do that. After all, he worked for Congressman Young, so if he hasn’t learned it by now…
And finally, if Josh Revak picks fights with Alaska conservatives in order to gain votes in this crowded Congressional race, then I worry that he would forget all about Alaskans if we elected to send him to Washington.
I remain skeptical that we should give our one seat in the US House to someone never elected to public office, and that is my main concern regarding Nick Begich. I see him posing with a shotgun in a campaign ad and worry that he is a box-checker. We need authenticity. I think his transition from a Don Young campaign co-chair to a Don Young opponent smacks of self-interest, and I don’t believe that plays well in Alaska. We value steadfast loyalty. We were loyal to Don Young through thick and thin, and his passing should not serve as a windfall to anyone. Nick Begich is untried and untested, and his decisions as a candidate are anything but reassuring.
Of the candidates that have emerged from the pack the one with the best as well as the most extensive record is John Coghill, of Nenana and Fairbanks. Alaska values are not boxes to check for John but instead have always been a way of life. He has ever been anything but a publicity hound, and he has never tried to be on both sides of an issue in order to please opposing constituencies. We always know where John Coghill stands, and we always know where we stand with him. When we send someone to Washington we need to have the best possible understanding of what is important to them. We would never see Congressman Coghill saying something embarrassing or stupid on the national news. We get to send only three people to Washington, and no one else among the 48 could do as well for the Alaska team.
The problems facing America have been completely reshuffled and re-prioritized over the past two or three years, and Alaska has a large role in most or all of the eventual outcomes. John Coghill doesn’t require on-the-job training, and we won’t see him on a reality television show, nor will we see him doing anything but working hard in the U.S/ Congress representing all Alaskans. Please join me in voting for John Coghill.
Tom Boutin spent more than 17 years in state government, but also had a career spanning 30 years in the private sector, much of it in timber. He retired as president of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority.