Invitation to Drue Pearce: Join women working for the future, not partisanship

As an Alaskan, a woman and a leader in our state, I was puzzled by Drue Pearce's Oct. 25 opinion piece. Pearce seems to recognize leadership qualities only in women who hold positions of political power, with a narrow focus on Republican women in positions of influence in the Alaska State Legislature. Such a narrow political partisan focus does a great disservice to all Alaska women who have served and will continue to serve as leaders in our state, be they Republican, Democrat or nonpartisan.

There are countless women who have rolled up their sleeves and given of themselves to this great state. Heather Kendall-Miller, for example, is an Athabascan from Seward who dropped out of high school and was on the front lines assembling the trans-Alaska pipeline. She went on to get her GED and a bachelor's degree from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and became the first Alaska Native to graduate from Harvard Law School. She has since devoted herself to the fight for Native rights, taking it all the way up to the Supreme Court.

And what of Carol Comeau? She began her career humbly as a crossing guard at her children's elementary school. She climbed to teacher's assistant, to teacher and all the way to superintendent of the Anchorage School District, where she served with distinction for many years.

Abbe Hensley, a founder of Best Beginnings, mobilizes people and resources across the state to ensure all Alaska children begin school ready to succeed, by providing them with books and other resources many of us take for granted.

More recently, Alyse Galvin, Alison Arians, Deena Mitchell and other founders of Great Alaska Schools propelled their grassroots organization, with membership in the thousands, to become an influential force in advocating for a quality public education for every child.

New women leaders are emerging all the time; Caitlin Shortell, one of the lead attorneys in Hamby v. Parnell, helped bring marriage equality to Alaska. Shortell is following in the footsteps of Elizabeth Peratrovich, a Tlingit woman credited with passage of Alaska's Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945, the first anti-discrimination law in the United States.

Alaskan women today earn only 67 cents for every dollar earned by men for the same work. Thank goodness Alaska is home to community leader Hilary Morgan, the CEO of YWCA Alaska, who leads the fight for pay equity and helps provide crucial services to poor and disadvantaged women.


I could spend all day listing examples of Alaska women who have helped shape this state without the label of a political persuasion or party. The fact is, the challenges faced by Alaska women transcend partisan politics. We need leaders -- Republican, Democrat and others -- who don't define their power in terms of how well they wield a partisan sledgehammer from the influential seat of political office. These women will lead the fight for change in this state, without partisan rhetoric clouding their motives and decisions. This is true leadership for Alaska.

Leaders represent and support their communities, empowering others instead of claiming a monopoly on leadership or power. The longer we cling to silly goals like scoring political points, the longer it will take for us to find creative solutions to the difficult problems facing our state. It's time to move Alaska forward to a place where Alaskans' well-being takes precedence over partisan politics.

I'm looking forward to continuing to serve our state with leaders of all persuasions, including the women engineers, teachers, police officers, mothers, etc. I'd invite Drue to step away from partisanship and join us all.

Sen. Berta Gardner serves the Anchorage districts of Midtown, U-Med and Spenard as a Democrat in the Alaska Senate, after having served in the House since 2005.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

Berta Gardner

Berta Gardner represents Anchorage’s House District 24 (Midtown Anchorage and Taku) in the Alaska House of Representatives. Rep. Gardner sits on the House committees for House Resources, Community and Regional Affairs, Economic Development, Trade and Tourism, and Ethics. As a Democrat, she also serves the 26th Alaska Legislature as House Minority Whip.