Compass: Alaska's public officials need to remember who they serve

AFACT, Anchorage Faith and Action Congregations Together, is an organization of churches that have been attempting, for years to gather and disseminate information on access to health care in Alaska.

Most recently, our listening and research efforts sought hard facts on the pros and cons of Medicaid expansion to inform our faith communities. Contrary to some media reports that AFACT supported Medicaid expansion, our function has always been to gather factual information for the purpose of informing our congregations on issues of concern.

We did this because our public officials and elected representatives failed to do so.

Our work to educate people on the facts of Medicaid expansion has alerted us to a much larger problem -- Alaskans are being excluded from the democratic process. AFACT leaders have difficulty eliciting responses from public and elected officials while researching concerns, and more often than not, phone calls are not returned. Through our conversations with AFACT's membership, we're encountering a common perception that this lack of courtesy and basic respect for the constituent is becoming business as usual in Alaska.

We believe the lack of public process on the issue of Medicaid expansion is downright alarming and suggests a serious deficiency in decision-making leadership, particularly in the critical area of social policy.

Where is the sunshine of informed discourse our democratic process guarantees?

Prior to the administration's decision not to expand Medicaid, there were no opportunities for hearings or input from Alaskans. Furthermore, the publicly funded Lewin Report, held in secrecy for eight months, was released the same day as the administration's announcement to refuse the federal funds to expand Medicaid.

In response, legislators drafted House and Senate bills to expand Medicaid (HB290 & SB150). Both bills stayed in committee until this past week, when AFACT learned that there was to be a public hearing on the House Medicaid Expansion Bill.

Initially encouraged by this news, we soon learned that the hearing was first postponed and then canceled indefinitely.

As people of faith, we feel compelled to cry out that enough is enough! We have an indifferent cadre of government officials who do not view their constituents as worthy of attention or response. There is also a growing perception in our community that only corporations, lobbyists, committee chairs and wealthy contributors deserve the basic courtesies of returned phone calls, timely notification of canceled hearings, involvement in decision-making and fundamental respect.

Multiple stories in the press indicate that we are not alone in our frustration, which is increasingly directed at all levels of government and across a wide range of issues including capital budgets, resource development, infrastructure planning, education funding and more.

Are we tired of being ignored and patronized? Absolutely. Is the public process broken? Unquestionably.

AFACT's response to this pervasive culture of closed door policymaking is to research the public process laws and policies, present factual information to our congregations, dialogue about our findings, pray for our decision makers and invite others who are as frustrated as we are to speak out.

Our elected officials must understand that their first priority is to serve the people of Alaska, and this begins with lifting the veil of secrecy surrounding public policy decisions. They would do well to remember that: "Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light (John 3:21)."

Patrina Davis of Bethel Chapel and Dahna Graham of Central Lutheran Church are members of AFACT (Anchorage Faith & Action--Congregations Together). AFACT has researched Medicaid expansion and public process for more than a year.