In 2014, Alaskans will go to the polls for a state-wide election that will decide everything from local city councils, state representatives, senators, and U.S. Senator. One of the most interesting races will be for governor. I do not mean to say that the excitement of local politics, or the highly-funded Senate race will not be important to Alaskans, but the governor's race is a little different. Running for the first time will be an Alaska Native, Byron Mallott. Originally from Yakutat, Mallott has lived in Juneau and traveled throughout Alaska.
What's more, Byron Mallott is Tlingit.
Current Gov. Sean Parnell is running for re-election, as is his 2010 primary opponent, Bill Walker. This time, Walker will be running as an independent, ensuring a match in the general election for voters less tied to the base of the Republican Party. This strategy may have looked appealing before a strong Democrat entered the race. It may still be appealing, that is what is exciting about Alaska politics, the outcome is never certain.
I want to talk a bit about Byron Mallott. His candidacy represents two important things that we have not had in recent years. First, we haven't had an Alaska Native candidate running for a high-profile seat in a while. Diane Benson ran for Congress and Lt. Governor several years ago, and there are Alaska Natives serving in the Legislature from their home districts. This is the first time that an Alaska Native might appear in the General Election in a long while. Regardless of your politics, Alaska Natives represent a large and important segment of the population, and having an Alaska Native as a serious contender for governor represents an opportunity that Alaska Natives do not always have: to be at the center of decision making for our State.
The second, but no less important implication, is that Mallott has lived and worked in rural Alaska. Our governors lately have been urban people. Sean Parnell, Sarah Palin, Tony Knowles, these are people based in the urban core of Alaska along the railbelt. We may have to go all the way back to Jay Hammond for a governor who lived and worked in rural Alaska. I say this because rural Alaska is a special place. Rural Alaska is what people think about when they think of Alaska. Rural Alaska is where the rest of Alaska is paid for. There are no oil rigs on 5th Avenue in Anchorage. Living and working in rural Alaska gives people a sense of the hardships, and opportunities away from the railbelt. Certainly Walker has been outside of the railbelt, but Yakutat is remote in a way that Valdez is not.
In our communities, whether Barrow, Kotzebue, Nome, Dillingham, King Salmon, Dutch Harbor, or all the way to Yakutat and Ketchikan, we experience an Alaska that is slightly different than in Anchorage or Fairbanks. Rural communities are more dependent on the weather, and if a barge can get in to deliver fuel. If the snow or wind is too bad, rural communities don't get fresh fruit or milk. Business, and even healthcare, are vastly different when it has to be done through several trips on a bush plane. I am excited to hear how someone who has lived in rural Alaska and urban Alaska runs his campaign, and look forward to hearing more about his ideas for a better Alaska.
Jason Evans is publisher of the Arctic Sounder and Bristol Bay Times-Dutch Harbor Fisherman, where this commentary first appeared. It is republished here with permission.
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