What makes an Alaskan ‘authentic’?



It’s become a bit tiresome watching the constant barrage of political ads and op-eds claiming a candidate isn’t really “Alaskan” and thus not qualified to represent Alaska.

As if the length of your Alaska residency or where you were born determined that.

A recent example is Zach Brown’s September 4 Juneau Empire My Turn deriding Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan – labelling him as “Ohio Dan” and unworthy to represent Alaska.

Sullivan’s major flaw?  He was born Outside.  I wonder if Brown feels similarly about “Frisco Bay” Berkowitz,  “Big Apple Jay” Hammond or “Tulsa Tony” Knowles?

Brown implies since Sullivan has received campaign contributions from Republican supporters outside Alaska, by some leap of logic, he must be a climate-change denier who cares nothing for the environment.

According to Brown, the reader’s only choice to defeat this threat and combat the lies “that will spread like an oil slick as more dark money spills into Alaska,” is to vote for Al Gross, “an authentic, independent voice who will speak for Alaskans instead of billionaires from New York City.”

Hogwash.  And how does being born in Alaska make someone automatically “authentic” and deserving of deference and respect?  

Karl Kircher, writing in the ADN last year, opined that in Alaska’s early days, “the spirit of being an Alaskan would likely include a dedication to working together and contributing to create a society in the vast, beautiful place they wanted to live.”

Most of us know people who weren’t born here but reflected that attitude.  They came here to enjoy Alaska’s beauty and experience unparalleled opportunities to succeed, raise a family, and make a difference.  

Their journey to Alaska and decision to stay was a choice, not a birthright.  They expressed their gratitude through public service and helping others.

Conversely, there are people who have spent their entire lives here yet were always too busy for community service.  They spent their time cashing in, not giving back.  

Opportunists like that can be found anywhere and Al Gross is one of them.  

It’s not surprising because Gross has no record to run on.  His carefully crafted narrative is full of irrelevant stories like his family narrowly being buried in an avalanche, shooting a grizzly bear in self-defense, and growing up while his New York-born father was Alaska’s Attorney General.

Gross made a fortune as an orthopedic surgeon in Juneau, but his resumé lacks any public service or recognition in the community where he was born and spent his career.

Gross’s campaign ads extol his “Alaskanism”, but the source of his campaign donations contradict his supposed grassroots-grown candidacy.  Federal campaign reports reveal Gross has benefited from millions of dollars in contributions funneled through ActBlue and the Lincoln Project, two special interest political organizations largely funded by out-of-state coastal liberals dedicated to flipping the U. S. Senate to Democrat control. 

Gross claims political independence but has explicitly stated he will caucus with the Democrats and that most of his values are to the left, but his best path to get elected is to portray himself as an “independent.”

It’s hard to understand how Gross thinks his campaign embodies the “authentic” values Alaskans embrace.

In contrast, Dan Sullivan’s lengthy record of service to our country and state is exemplary.  Dan served as Alaska’s Attorney General, spearheading the state’s Choose Respect strategy to combat domestic violence. He also served as Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources prior to being elected to the U. S. Senate.

Dan Sullivan is recognized as one of the Senate’s most effective lawmakers.  His membership on committees critical to Alaska include: Armed Services, Commerce, Veterans Affairs, and Environment and Public Works. He is currently an infantry officer and Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves.

Sullivan has taken the lead on rebuilding our country’s military, promoting responsible resource development in Alaska, opening markets for Alaska’s fishermen, and cleaning up our oceans. 

Dan and his wife Julie Fate Sullivan were married 26 years ago in Julie’s hometown of Fairbanks, Alaska, where they first made their home.  Later they moved to Anchorage where they raised their three daughters.

On November 3, if “authenticity” is on the ballot, the choice is easy.

Win Gruening retired as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank in 2012. He was born and raised in Juneau and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970. He is active in community affairs, was a 30-plus year member of Juneau Downtown Rotary Club and has been involved in various local and statewide organizations.


  1. Well written and experesses many of my feeling . I did not arrive in Alaska until 1961 and have been somewhat involved with public service over thee years and remained politically active over those years and certainly was happy to support and vote for Dan Sullivan in his first U.S. senate race and will be doing so again on November 03, Dan is not only a good Senator for Alaska, he is a good Alaskan…

  2. I like the definition of a real Alaskan I heard described by Halibut Cove’s” Clem Tillion.
    ” What is a real Alaskan? If you have been in Alaska 70 minutes or 70+ years; you are a real Alaskan…. if you know your bones are going to mold in Alaska’s soil.”

    • How about those individuals who come to Alaska for a minimum of 5 years and work in state government so they can get state retirement benefits.
      Then they leave Alaska. Are THEY real Alaskans?

    • Good post! Unfortunately most of our kids moved away. So even though we’ve been here 37 years, we have mixed feelings. However, we bought a couple of plots in the Wasilla cemetery before they were all gone. So when someone jokes about “when are you gonna leave Alaska?”, my husband always says, well we bought a place to be buried here so I guess that answers that one. So ditto to Clem Tillion–that sounds like a very good definition of a real sourdough. Personally I think Dan Sullivan is more Alaskan than Al Gross can ever be even if he was “born” here.

    • Say that in Europe and you’re instantly branded a nationalist or worse still racist. In fact, there is absolutely no *native privilege* in Europe whatsoever, they long ago decided that branding oneself *native or indigenous* is out and out racism against people from other cultures.
      It’s a funny old *regional* word game we play on each other isn’t it.

  3. We’re all natives in one way of another. One race.
    That doesn’t mean we all necessarily have the best interests in mind of the place in which we live. A lot of Trump’s agenda are not in the best interests of a state like Alaska that hasn’t been able to find a way to take care of itself on its own, and Mr. Sullivan has been supporting those policies. I think that might be what Al Gross is getting at.

    • Hey Greg,
      Sounds like you don’t remember the “wonderful” job Begich did to Alaska. Mr. Sullivan has done his job and then some, for Alaska. It is not just for Alaska either. America is in there too. America and our veterans and Alaska and Alaska people. That’s who Dan Sullivan is working for. I sure don’t see that in Gross or hear it in his claims of “authenticity” or “cojones” he has or doesn’t have. Who the hell cares? If you are ‘authentic’ anything, you don’t have to brag or try to prove it. It’s either there or it isn’t. Just tell the truth. How about telling the truth? How does Gross score with you there? Our state, country and way of life is at stake. Lots of Alaskan Americans don’t seem to realize that. Last thing Alaska and the rest of us ‘newcomers’ need is Gross misrepresentation in any quarter.
      When you vote, the sunshine is brighter on you.

  4. Thank you Win for another well written piece. It grieves me to see Al Gross using the ” Real Alaskan” gimmick to advance his political career. Al’s Father worked for a fellow named Jay Hammond who hailed from the East Coast. Jay was somewhat of a legend for his Alaskan experiences. It appears Al is trying to immulate Jay, however Jay didn’t need to remind folks of his “cajones”. Sorry Al.
    I like this guy Sullivan, he reminds me of Ted Stevens, a ” Real Alaskan”.

    • Good job on this article, Win, and providing a factual retort to Al Gross’s cover-ups and lies. Can’t imagine that this windbag doctor appeals to many Alaskans, other than the hard Left who are raging at Trump and anyone who backs him. Sullivan should easily pick off this phoney gas bag.

  5. Dr. Gross states that “…on the left” means only “left of Dan Sullivan.” OK, he’s entitled to revisionist statements. However, what’s his explanation for “I”ll caucus with the Democrats”?

    It is interesting that Dr. Gross, not having a record to campaign on, leverages minimal facts to present what he thinks is a plausible picture: 2nd Amendment: he must support it since he’s a gun owner…but he doesn’t specifically say whether or not he supports it; Partisanship: he must be independent since he’s been a “registered non-partisan most of my life”: being registered one way doesn’t prevent him from voting another way and there’s some degree of “if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck” analysis that would lead to the conclusion that he’s strongly in the progressive / liberal camp. Green New Deal: “we need our oil and gas jobs” A true statement, but entirely lacking on whether he would support measures that would enhance or cripple the economy in Alaska.

    Leaving out the nomenclature, Dr. Gross does indeed provide a clear alternative to Dan Sullivan. Unfortunately, that alternative wouldn’t benefit Alaska or Alaskans except the progressives.

    • Gross is back-tracking on almost everything he previously stated. How could you trust him? In his own words… …..he is a proven liar. Sullivan has six votes from our family.

  6. Hey Win,
    Suzanne posted a list of Independent candidate Marna Sanford’s campaign contributers. You’re on it! What’s up with that, Win?
    Sanford is that radicalized Left-winger seeking John Coghill’s old Senate seat.
    I hope you reconsider your choice of candidates, and give Republican Robert Myers a real hefty donation…. ASAP.

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