It's not often that a presidential candidate has spent time in Alaska and seen firsthand an industry that is one of the largest employers in the state. It's even more rare that a candidate keeps an eye on an issue that can affect that industry and has taken a stance to protect it.
I'm talking about Hillary Clinton. The former first lady, senator and secretary of state spent a summer in Alaska a few decades ago before being in the national eye, and she has not forgotten about that experience. Alaska, and our abundant salmon industry, helped shape who she is and what she fights for.
In the summer of 1969, Hillary had just graduated from college and was heading to Yale that fall to attend law school. But before that, she came to Alaska and worked at a temporary salmon factory in Valdez. She recounted just a few months ago on national television that "one of the best jobs I had to prepare me to be president was sliming fish in Alaska." She argued with her boss about the bad quality of the salmon, and was fired for questioning him. She thought about the quality of our fish and the image of America's seafood, and had the guts to fight back when her boss wasn't doing the right thing.
That's the kind of president that I want. As a third-generation Bristol Bay fisherman who has fought for environmental conservation in my region for the protection of our fisheries, I understand it takes experience and guts to get things done. Hillary is the only candidate with that experience and guts. She realizes what our beautiful country, and especially Alaska, has to offer. During this campaign, she has repeatedly said that she wants to build on President Obama's successes. One of those successes was when President Obama came to Alaska and to my hometown in Bristol Bay last fall. He proclaimed our region a national treasure after protecting our rich fisheries from potentially destructive offshore drilling.
Just a few weeks ago, there was a story about how fishermen like me pressed the presidential candidates on their stances on the proposed Pebble mine. Hillary Clinton was the only one who took the time to respond — I still haven't seen a statement from Bernie Sanders' campaign. Hillary's campaign stated: "Like President Obama, who protected Bristol Bay itself from consideration for oil and gas drilling, Hillary Clinton recognizes the incredible economic, cultural, and environmental value that Bristol Bay's fishery and watershed provide to Alaska and the nation, and she agrees with the need to protect both the fishery and watershed from harmful mining activity." She's the only candidate who is paying attention to the 65 percent of Alaskans who voted in 2014 in a statewide referendum for additional protections for Bristol Bay salmon against Pebble mine, and the more than 80 percent of Bristol Bay residents who are against the mine, according to multiple polls.
In the 1990s, during his presidency, President Bill Clinton took a major step forward for our community when he withdrew Bristol Bay from oil and gas leasing consideration. But that additional layer of protection didn't last — President George W. Bush reversed course in 2007, putting the Bay back at risk. Now that President Obama has moved us back in the right direction of protecting the Bay, we can't jeopardize that progress. We need a president in the White House who will put our community first and help us protect Bristol Bay for generations to come.
On March 26, Alaska Democrats have a chance to make our voice heard on who we want to be the next president of our great country. Hillary Clinton is the one candidate who has the experience and knowledge needed for Alaska, and who will fight hard to protect our great coastal communities. I hope you will join me in caucusing for her on March 26.
Verner Wilson III is a Curyung Tribal member who lives in Dillingham. He has a master's degree in environmental management from Yale University, and goes drift-salmon fishing during the summer in Bristol Bay.
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