Compass: Thank your Alaska legislators before you give them hell

It is not easy. In just over ninety days, our elected representatives tackled legislation to move a gas pipeline forward, examined an education overhaul from all angles, and dealt with a $9 billion budget, not to mention the hundreds of other issues that came their way.

At Public Employees Local 71, we may not agree with every decision--heck, we may even despise some of them. We do, however, always recognize and appreciate the time and effort that each individual lawmaker puts into their job, and we deeply respect the determination it takes to do the work.

It is not only the governing part of the equation that is difficult; campaigning is achallenge in its own right. Any individual who puts their family and themselves out there for public criticism deserves appreciation. Knocking on doors, attending public forums, listening to people who disagree with candidates' thoughts while maintaining composure is something that we should celebrate.

We often forget that our lawmakers are not cardboard cutouts, but real people who simply are willing to take the public pounding because they want a better Alaska for their families, friends, and neighbors.

Disagreeing with our representatives is democracy in action, however remembering that representatives are our fellow Alaskans is imperative. We have a citizen Legislature and should take great pride in the fact that our elected officials treat it that way.

One area where the Alaska House and Senate dug in and held detailed, analytical debate is the choice to pay $3 billion toward Alaska's retirement debt. Passing this legislation was critical for the financial health of our state. By analyzing, modifying and ultimately accepting Gov. Parnell's proposal to transfer funds from savings accounts, the Legislature and governor will be able to cut the size of payments to the trusts in half for the next 6 years and make predictable and affordable payments against the unfunded liability for the next 25 years. This will ensure the health of the funds and securing future retirement payments.

This action increased the funded status of our Public Employee's Retirement System and Teacher's Retirement System to at least 70 percent. These systems provide financial security for valued public employees and their survivors.

Another issue the legislature discussed was a change in healthcare options for Alaskans who work in school districts. Senate Finance Committee members looked at the cost and benefits of moving all school district employees to the Alaska health benefit program. With some encouragement, members of the committee decided the time was not right for the move. At a minimum, it was decided more studywas needed. It is better to be deliberate than to make hasty mistakes, and Local 71 applauds this methodical, analytical approach.

Our representatives face tough decisions that will affect each and every Alaskan. Grappling with these issues in a short window of time and defending their stances in the face of fierce opposition is one of the hardest tasks anyone can take on. They shoulder the burden of shaping the values and laws that guide our state. They slog through long days to make Alaska a better place. All this work is a tall order indeed.

While many of us are planning our garden, summer fishing outings or family camping trips, the men and women who spent more than three months away from their families are working on their re-election campaigns. They are preparing issue papers, maps that show what doors they should knock on and raising money in hopes of spending January, February, March and April in Juneau, once more serving their constituents and communities. Legislators are never off the clock.

So when that politician or candidate calls or comes to your door, before you give them a piece of your mind, take a moment. Think about what they are contributing, offer them a glass of iced tea or lemonade, and tell them thanks. You may even see a smile and discover an enhanced opportunity to explain your point of view. At Public Employees Local 71, that is what we'll ask ourmembers to do.

Dennis Moen is the business manager of Public Employees Local 71, a proud member of the Alaska laborers union.