By TOM BOUTIN
I grew up at a time and place in which the Catholic Church seemed to have a larger footprint and more power than local, state and federal government combined – mostly because the part of New Hampshire that touches Maine, Vermont and Quebec had lots of Catholic schools and hospitals, and not much governmental presence.
A pulp/paper mill was bisected by the line between the two towns, a mostly French-speaking town of 13,000, and a town of 3,000, where the mill executives and the few Protestants lived. One radio station was French and the other English, and all the road signs were bilingual.
The mill employed 2,500, plus another 1,000 in the woods. Catholic priests had full run of the mill, and I wasn’t the only one noting that no one but priests wore a hard hat in the mill. I never saw a priest in the woods. The only hospital for 50 miles around was entirely French, and managed by Catholic priests. Most of the nurses were nuns.
For a time the mill was owned by a man the media called God’s Banker, a Sicilian. He visited the school accompanied by a priest who wore a tall red hat. He bankrupted a U.S. bank, Franklin National, then fled the country to soon be garroted in an Italian prison.
Until I left for college, at age 17, I may have hardly ever gone more than four waking hours without hearing someone ask for help from or seek forgiveness from the Virgin Mary. I cannot recall ever feeling left out, but when I was one year old, at an incident that I’ve always been led to believe I was present, my grandfather, a man who lived almost 4 years in the 19th century and almost 4 years in this century, not to mention the full measure he found in the 20th, forbid all of us to set foot in a Catholic church for two generations.
I logged and farmed with the old fellow but we were not a family that allowed younger people to request explanations from elders. However by the time I threw my saws in my truck and drove to Alaska, 49 years ago, I had logged throughout New Hampshire, and many people had volunteered bits and pieces.
Growing up in an era of an all-powerful church that I had a license to ignore, while at the same time not seeing much evidence of government, seemed entirely in concert with New Hampshire’s Live Free or Die motto. When I met the one state trooper on the highway and watched him disappear in my mirror I could take my F100 up to 105, its top indicated speed. Then, in 1968, the year I registered for the military draft, the Gun Control Act showed me I could not ignore government. Five years and three or four new pickups later I drove to Alaska, possibly hoping for less government.
As commanded, I didn’t set foot in Catholic churches, or their offshoots for that matter. So while always a fiscal and political conservative I have never made the connection between politics and abortion, or politics and religion for that matter; can find no mention of abortion in the Constitution. I’ve never worried about what someone running for office thinks about it. After all these years, when something isn’t specifically mentioned in the Constitution, the New Hampshire motto remains a good guide for me.
Driving off the Alaska ferry Taku and directly to the pulp mill at Ward Cove, I was hired and sent to what happened to be a Seventh Day Adventist logging camp. Saturday was the day off. I spent the better part of 10 years around Alaska Seventh Day Adventist logging camps, but I never heard mention of abortion, or politics for that matter. They did debate whether anyone can eat halibut – whether halibut is a scavenger- and I never heard if that was finally decided.
Starting the work week on Sunday morning seemed to suit me so well that I took it as a good lesson in perspective. Since the Seventh Day Adventists didn’t have anything in camp called a church, I didn’t fear I might violate the family edict, and in any event Granser Napoleon was thousands of miles away. I sent him a case of canned salmon every year.
So it certainly didn’t matter to me that President Donald Trump didn’t appear to be a strict observer of Catholic Church dicta and doctrine.
I was happiest with Trump when he was defending the Second Amendment. He was never more effective at that than in nominating judges for the US Supreme Court. However I don’t know that he was particularly interested in the right to keep and bear arms until he sought the NRA endorsement of his candidacy six or seven years ago.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, on the other hand, has long understood the issue. When President Obama set out to confiscate many guns commonly owned by Alaskans, she worked more closely than anyone else did with Senator Joe Manchin, President Obama’s chosen gun-control champion, defeating the dangerous hegemony Obama had at that time. Manchin once had a campaign ad in which he shot a hunting rifle, and in Obama’s warped mind that gave Manchin the credibility to sell gun registration to American gun owners.
When the Bill of Rights drafters wrote the Second Amendment they had not recently returned from a hunting trip. No, they had just then founded a nation through rebellion.
Sen. Murkowski has long known that gun registration is called universal background checks by Democrats, and that in concert with Stalin, Hitler, Mao and other figures in history, and lesser lights like the Clintons, the Obamas, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, Democrats have worked toward preponderant gun confiscation.
It’s well and good to rail against politicians who have no respect for the Bill of Rights but stopping them at a critical moment requires having built long-term credibility and a relationship with the likes of Senators Manchin, Collins, and McConnell, and that is the kind of amity Sen. Murkowski builds to then employ for Alaskans when necessary. The record shows me that Alaska could not do better.
President Trump was not only good for the Bill of Rights, he was good for Alaska, arguably better than any other president. I was grateful for that; a White House that tried to help Alaska was overdue. But his continual and entirely unnecessary outbursts and social media derision of the U.S. Armed Forces, Sen. John McCain, many world leaders, entertainers, and so many others wasted time and credibility to an unprecedented extent. So I cannot imagine how anyone would trade for his endorsement a license to tell Alaskans how to vote in an Alaska election. I suppose that President Trump can be an above average president while not being someone you would take fishing.
During the 2018 election season there was a period of about one week during which Republicans I engaged as I went door to door for the Mike Dunleavy campaign wanted to discuss Sen. Murkowski rather than the gubernatorial election. Had Senator Murkowski not lined up in the end to allow each of the three Trump Supreme Court nominees to be seated, I might feel differently about the 2022 Senate race. But Sen. Murkowski wanted only to be heard, and I think she knew that the best way to deal with the Kavanaugh accusers was to let them be heard. She neither intended nor tried to stop the nomination, but at the same time President Trump’s decades of misogyny and mistreatment of women, and possibly his incessant bragging about it, seemed to be in Murkowski’s sights. I know of no woman in Alaska who unambiguously argues with that today. I wonder if Murkowski had one or more daughters, rather than only having sons, what she might have done.
Each generation of Americans has expectations of the coming generations. It’s for historians to later argue how well those expectations were met. The generation that won World War II did not expect the U.S. to lose the manufacturing leadership that it had coming out of the war, but of course that happened.
Also, I saw the shock and shame they felt upon the ignominious loss and exit from Vietnam. Those fellows never again saw the world in the same light. Now we find ourselves with a president who focuses on climate change and a race-based idea of equality as he undoes the advantages Alaska derived from the Trump years. His results reveal that he chooses his advisors and minions based upon optics, rather than records and competence.
President Joe Biden replicated our Vietnam exit with his Afghanistan decisions of last year. Biden has a majority in Congress but not one that automatically does his bidding. As always, the future of the US is in play and now I cannot imagine a better 2022 U.S. Senator than Murkowski is for Alaska.
President Trump has given Americans who believe in the Bill of Rights, rights not granted but instead recognized by the Constitution, the best possible chance for judicial affirmation of the Second Amendment. I voted for him at every opportunity and of course wish every day he had won in 2020. But Alaskans will evaluate Murkowski by her record instead of some slight perceived by President Trump.
Most Republicans I know in other states would happily trade one or both of their U.S. Senators for Murkowski, and they often say so. She is not a back-bencher. She is much more than just a vote. When she eventually does pull the pin, Alaskans will need to make sure her successor is someone who has been thoroughly vetted through winning elections to effectively and reliably meet the commitments of elected office, as Murkowski has.
In a state of small population and attenuated economy our two seats in the U.S. Senate amount to just about all the stroke we have in Washington. We have usually made the most of it. Murkowski is by far the best we can possibly do in 2022. Thank you for taking the time to read this.
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.