Mike Dingman: Alaska's best put ideas above ideology

It starts with a nip in the air that you remember, but hadn't felt in a while. Then after a few cloudy days, the sun returns and you notice that there is snow on the mountains and that nip in the air bites just a little bit more.

Summer is gone, we can't remember if fall actually happened and thoughts of sunny days, picnics and hiking have turned to those of football, holidays and political campaigns.

Very appropriately, the dismal cold and cloudy weather brings with it the heating up of campaign season.

Right now campaigns are being started, office locations are being scouted and campaign managers are being hired and starting their early strategizing.

I don't remember when I started enjoying politics. It's always been a part of who I am. Aristotle said we are all "political animals" and he was right - the question is what we do with it.

I do remember that when I first started learning about and trying to be involved in politics I immediately equated it to an "us vs. them" proposition. Two teams battling it out in a winner takes all contest. Two teams enter the arena, one goes home with their heads hung in shame and one leaves victoriously.

I was wrong.

Back then I listened to Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and Ken Hamblin. I read the writing of Ann Coulter, Thomas Sowell and well . . . Rush Limbaugh. I wrapped myself up in one ideology and refused to look at the other side.

Instead of wrapping myself in ideology, I should have wrapped myself in ideas. Rather than rooting for my team, I should have been looking for solutions to fix the problems in my state.

Today I read whatever I can find. I read stuff written by partisans and by people who are just trying to figure it out. I listen and talk to politicians on both sides of the aisle and those in the middle. I reach out to those with ideas that don't conform to the party system, that don't fit in anyone's ideological box.

I long for the days of dynamic thinkers and vigorous motivators like Andrew Halcro and Ethan Berkowitz - both of whom were shunned by their party for being willing to look at all the sides of an issue and for putting ideas in front of ideology.

The new political season in Alaska promises to bring all of the partisan rhetoric - just as the snow on the mountains and the nip in the air promises to bring cold winter weather.

We can make the best of that though, just like we can make the best of winter. Break out the snowshoes, snow pants, gloves, heavy jackets and embrace Alaska for what it is. One great thing about Alaskan winters is the unmistakable beauty. There is very little more awesome than the view of our mountains up close covered in fresh snow. It is a breathtaking sight to see.

While Alaska may seem partisan on its face we have a great history of being a non-partisan state. Non-partisan and undeclared voters outnumber those attaching themselves to a party in their voter registration.

Alaska proves to be a very "purple" state rather than the red state image we seem to project.

We embrace independence in multiple ways, including in our voting habits. In the governor's office we have welcomed seven Republicans, five Democrats and of course Wally Hickel's stint as a member of the Alaska Independence Party.

Alaska has pro-union and pro-choice Republicans as well as pro-gun and pro-development Democrats. A "Bipartisan Working Group", rather than a majority party, recently controlled the state Senate.

We are united in the fact that we are Alaskans and that we all struggle through the long cold winter together - looking forward to those moments of majestic snow topped mountain views and a warm cup of coffee.

All of this, however, doesn't stop the partisans. The Republicans control both houses of the Alaska State Legislature, the same party as our governor. When a disparity in power like this exists, it's easier to resort to partisan rhetoric rather than innovative thinking.

Just like the deep freeze creeping upon us, so is the campaign season.

As it arrives we can tense up, shudder in the cold and wait impatiently for it to end, or we can be inspired by the ability to change, see the majestic beauty it can be and find the men and women who value ideas over ideology to lead Alaska into the future.

Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaska born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former UAA student body president who has worked, studied and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late 90s. Email, michaeldingman@gmail.com.