By SUZANNE DOWNING / MUST READ ALASKA
Politicians complaining about how hard their job is? That’s never a good look.
Alaska State Sen. Natasha von Imhof is known to complain in her caucus meetings that she is not happy about having to go back to Anchorage and explain to her father the caucus hasn’t fixed the state’s budget problem. Her colleagues kind of roll their eyes during these times, with as much politeness as they can muster.
Last week, her complaint spilled out onto the Senate floor. Her father is dying of cancer and she is having to listen to “crap” on the Senate floor, she said. Then she demanded that senators vote for the budget. She threw what is known as a hissy fit.
“I’m here listening to the biggest crock of crap I’ve ever heard. I’m so sick of it. Get a grip, people! Vote for this budget!” she yelled at the senators who sat quietly watching the Natasha show.
It was an awful moment in Alaska lawmaking history. One of the worst. Many in the room had lost their fathers in various circumstances, relating to cancer, old age, or heart attacks. Others have grieved the loss of other relatives. Some lawmakers carry deep emotional pain from serving in wartime, others carry deep physical pain from the hard work of a lifetime, or the horrors they have seen in this world.
Those who witnessed her speech online and social media were not entirely sympathetic to von Imhof. Must Read Alaska heard privately from several:
“My dad died of liver cancer, and it was way too soon,” one reader wrote. “I think about him every day, many times a day.”
“My dad dropped dead at 66 and I didn’t get to say goodbye,” wrote another. “He was 4,000 miles away.”
“My dad died of pancreatic cancer, and it was six weeks from diagnosis to his death. I don’t need a lecture,” wrote a third.
“I know mine passed while I was deployed. The Air Force moved heaven and earth to make sure I was able to be home for the funeral. Of course I then returned to Afghanistan,” an Alaskan wrote.
“How can she politicize her father’s cancer?” wrote another Must Read Alaska reader.
Von Imhof has a self-awareness problem. She has never faced any real problems in her life because every problem she may have faced was fixed for her before she even knew she had a problem. Every skid has been greased. It’s as if she has lived in a Truman Show her whole life, and now this — her father is dying and it’s the Senate’s fault that she cannot be with him.
Never mind that her family could send the family foundation jet to fetch her at a moment’s notice from Juneau, where the theater continues over the $525 Permanent Fund dividend. She created a moment of class warfare when she uttered those words.
On the eve of Fathers Day, this writer is somewhat sympathetic. Many of us grieve the loss of our dads. I lost my father a year ago. He was living deep in the heart of Mexico and I could not fly to be at his side because Covid-19 policies had closed the borders. I visited him in March and promised I would return in May. I intended to with every ounce of my being, but then the pandemic was in full panic mode. He died alone on May 6.
As with many others, I don’t need a Rasmuson-von Imhof telling me I’m greedy or entitled or inconveniencing her because I think the Legislature should stop breaking the law, and I refer here to the statute that determines the amount of the Permanent Fund dividend.
Von Imhof scratched the grief of many Alaskans with her histrionics. We understand what it is like to lose a father, a mother, a child, a spouse, and we don’t wish any of that on her. But truly, weaving the Senate debate about the Permanent Fund dividend into a story of our greed and entitlement, and dropping the guilt trip on her colleagues because of her father’s health — that was beyond the pale.
No, I’m not one who thinks the statutory $3,500 Permanent Fund dividend is good for the state. I think such a check might prevent people from going back to work for yet another few months, or might overheat the economy. That concerns me from a public policy standpoint. I think the statutory formula is not a God, but it is law, and if we’re to not ignore the law, then it needs to be fixed.
The governor has offered a solid solution — the 50-50 plan. While it doesn’t fix everything, Dunleavy argues that the Legislature should let the people vote on it, because they are shown to have a strong interest in this matter and yes, they do have a dog in the fight. For some of them, they are literally fighting for their lives to keep from living out of their cars this winter.
The Rasmuson Foundation has been a generous organization that has helped many people through its largesse. But as the secretary and treasurer for her family’s foundation, von Imhof gave us a glimpse into exactly what she thinks of the majority of Alaskans: They’re greedy and entitled. Maybe this lawmaking thing is not the best fit for her.
Suzanne Downing is the publisher of Must Read Alaska.