There are some issues we Alaskans have been arguing about for a long time. Is Anchorage better than Fairbanks or vice versa? Was the fish this big, or that big? What does ADN actually stand for now anyway?
And … less humorous, but no less steeped in the tradition of Alaskan argument: are we willing to ensure our gay neighbors have the same rights as our straight ones to live, work and get married in Alaska?
Back in 1998, I wrestled with this argument as a newly elected state representative. The vote on the same-sex marriage ban was on the floor. I didn't feel that government had any business telling Alaskans who they could love, just as I don't believe government has any business telling me how many guns I can keep in the safe at home either.
The conventional wisdom was that voting against the ban was political suicide. But it wasn't really a tough call. If voting for equality meant I lost my House seat, I was ready to do some other job. My opponent insisted on rehashing that same argument all through the fall, although I managed to hang on to my seat after a tough campaign.
It might surprise you to learn the Anchorage Assembly has actually passed a version of this ordinance four different times, dating all the way back to 1976. After all, Alaskans have a long-standing attitude that says "if you can do the job, you can have the job," without asking too many questions after that. However, Anchorage mayors have vetoed the ordinance over majority-Assembly support every time until now. So what's changed in the last three years?
Nationally we've seen gay marriage bans overturned by courts across the country, most recently the U.S. Supreme Court, and an overwhelming swing in public opinion towards acceptance and tolerance.
Here at home, we overwhelmingly elected a mayor who ran on a platform of bringing people together, and who made acceptance of our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender neighbors a defining difference between himself and his opponent. By overwhelming elected, I'm talking 60 percent of the vote. That's a city that has made up its mind.
I believe this week's 9-2 vote on Ordinance 96-S1 reiterated Anchorage and the rest of the country are ready to put this argument to bed. And that's not a moment too soon, because our city faces a host of new challenges we need to tackle head-on.
How do we build a modern public safety system that makes our city a safe place to raise a family, while making sure the firefighters and police officers we hire aren't spending all of their time responding to Spice overdoses downtown?
How do we make our transportation and digital infrastructure fast, efficient, and effective, so our city is the kind of place that attracts entrepreneurs, young professionals and forward-thinking corporations?
How do we harness the potential of our incredible cultural and social diversity to build collaborative communities in our schools, neighborhoods and city government?
These are the problems we elected our current mayor to tackle. He's hired a team ready to move Anchorage forward in these areas. I've lived almost my entire life in West Anchorage, and I'm as optimistic as I've ever been that we are about to make incredible progress as a city. It'd be a real shame to forego the chance to solve these new challenges, because we're still hashing out decades-old arguments.
In other words, the future in Anchorage is too exciting for us to remain stuck in the past.
Eric Croft grew up in West Anchorage, has served on the Anchorage School Board the last three years and is running to represent West Anchorage in the Assembly.
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
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