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Elise Patkotak: Don't let your children watch our Legislature

Elise Patkotak

For those of us brave or insane enough to follow the shenanigans of the Alaska Legislature, the end of session comes as quite a relief. This is especially true in those years when no one tries to circumvent the will of the voters for a limited session by calling a special session. Of course, our legislators still manage to go over the time allotted by extending the current session. Why pay attention to the will of the voters now? Why start a new tradition when the old one is so effective -- just ignore what the voters want and do as you please.

This year in particular I find myself hoping that schoolchildren around the state are focused on "American Idol" or "America Can Sing" or whatever other inane competition show is currently sweeping the country. It's better for them to focus on entertaining frivolity rather than on legislative high jinks.

For about nine months out of every year, people representing us in the Legislature spend a lot of time piously mouthing the phrase "Children are our future." A normal and relatively sane person would take that to mean that the members of that august body would put the needs of children above, say, the needs of tennis players or bridges to god knows where or suing the feds over issues that have proven to be losers every time we've done it in the past. But there is nothing logical, sane or normal about our Alaska Legislature. Even though there are seemingly intelligent and reasonable people who are part of this group, when it becomes a group all reasonableness, sanity and logic get thrown under the bus and we are left with a sad, sad spectacle.

This is why those schoolchildren should not be paying attention to our representatives. Because if they are, they will quickly notice that the words said by these politicians when they are at home and campaigning to keep their precious little piece of the action are entirely different from their actions in Juneau. How else to explain the ongoing battle for school funding that has so absorbed this end of session if those legislators truly believed that children are our future? Or do legislators just figure they'll be dead by the time that future arrives, so they don't care if we send our children into it unprepared for the challenges?

I think most of us understand that legislators are beset on all sides by special interests that vie for their attention and votes. That's politics. Having a difference of opinion is expected in a democracy and everyone should have the opportunity to express their views to their representatives. Where I get lost is when the group lobbying the Legislature is composed of parents concerned about the gutting of the public schools in this state through a fascinating system of budget cuts and flat funding. How can anyone dispute the need to provide the best education possible for kids? After all, they are our future, right? And playing voodoo math with the education budget still doesn't change the fact that our "future" is being shortchanged.

These same legislators seem willing to dump endless amounts of money into projects that have been on the books forever, have questionable viability at best and are simply sucking millions and millions each year from state coffers with no real return in sight. Can you say Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority? Do you really think you will live long enough to ever drive across the bridge? And if you do, will you ever be able to pay the toll they'll have to charge for the privilege in order to break even?

If the kids of this state are truly our future, then they probably have some right to wonder what kind of a future our current crop of politicians envision. Given the tasks we hand over to our public school system, and given the multi-ethnic composition of many of those schools, the results they produce on a regular basis are fairly astounding. Why they need to fight to maintain enough funding to continue this amazing job is beyond me and, I'm guessing, more than a little puzzling to the children who watch teachers and programs disappear year after year.

Children are our future. Too bad our current legislators don't take that phrase as anything more than a convenient slogan.

Elise Patkotak's latest book, "Coming Into the City," is available at AlaskaBooksandCalendars.com and at local bookstores.


Elise Patkotak
commentBy ELISE PATKOTAK