Dear President Obama,
I am interested in applying for the position of Alaskan Presidential Tour Guide. This is a unique and important role for Alaska. I have not only filled out and attached the application below, but I also created the position and application, because Alaskans are resourceful like that.
Official-ish application, First Tour Guide
Name: Rearden, Don
State of Residence: Alaska! Is there anywhere else to live? (Except maybe Hawaii?)
Education: I am now and forever a student of Alaska's rich, complex history, cultures, and wilderness. I have a Ph.D. in wood-chopping.
Party Affiliation: I'm not really a partier. I've grown tired of folks acting obnoxious and always being under the influence. I'd be more inclined to do the whole party thing if participants would act civilly and concern themselves with having a good time instead of trying to dominate the conversation or maintain control. I was definitely not in attendance at that big Palin blowout.
Right or Left? Left-handed, like the president, but right-eye dominant. (See gun control response below.)
Race (Answer optional): Alaska has some incredible races. I mostly enjoy skate-skiing races like the Tour of Anchorage, Tour of Kincaid, Susitna 50k, but in all honesty, these races lack the rich ethnic diversity reflected in Alaska's population. I often volunteer for the Kuskokwim 300 sled dog race and often help as a handler at the ceremonial start of the Iditarod. I also finished second in my first sled dog race as an 8-year-old. Not bad for the only white boy in a Yup'ik village.
Special interests? I want to help stop the Alaska suicide epidemic plaguing so many of our communities, rural and urban. As a writer, I've been interested in what will happen to many of our communities threatened by climate change. Alaskans will be the first climate refugees in our country. I'm also interested in why our country continues to believe climate change is fiction. Even the most conservative Alaskans have a hard time denying the changes we're witnessing here.
What qualifies you for this position? Since I created the position, I feel I am best suited to fill it. My qualifications come from my rural Alaska upbringing and current urban life. This visit is hugely important -- I'm talking Alaska-sized -- for so many reasons. Sure, a handful of other presidents have visited us, but never before has the potential for the world's eye to be focused here ever been so great. --- and I'm worried we'll take this incredible moment of history and blow it. President Obama deserves a guide who will help him see the real Alaska, the Alaska that is struggling with climate change, food security, poverty, suicide and violence.
I am also a certified bear guard, training I doubt the Secret Service has.
How do you feel about Fox News? I've grown up with fox news, and I'm working on teaching my son, too. We don't have cable where we live, so we spend a great deal of time in the outdoors. I teach my boy how to watch for animal sign and how the snow often tells a story, and there are often two very different sides of that story. See the fox's impressions here? See how the snowshoe hare jumped here and narrowly avoided the fox and his snapping jaws? I also teach him to be wary of the fox. That creature often appears soft and cuddly but can be rabid and sneaky. He loves hearing the story about the time I was walking to basketball practice as a freshman in high school when a mouth-frothing red fox chased me and I hid in a garbage bin.
Health care? Yes. I care deeply about the health and well-being of the president, and as his guide I will do all I can to protect him from exposure to some of the horrible health conditions he might encounter while touring Alaska. I grew up hauling logs and packing moose and caribou meat, so I'm tough and willing to carry a backpack loaded with the extra medical supplies needed to keep him safe. For those rural areas of Alaska with no running water and active cases of tuberculosis and hepatitis (and other third world diseases), I'll bring extra hand-sanitizer, a box of facemasks, and a stylish presidential Tyvek hot-zone suit. The one thing I can't promise is that his own insurance will help him while he's here in Alaska -- if by chance he needed to see a doctor. We're not just "out-of-network" here, we're beyond the network! We don't have a state-run insurance exchange, our costs are sky-higher than Denali, and our out-of-touch Legislature would as soon build an expansion bridge to nowhere before they allow the president's Medicaid expansion plan to help 40,000 uncovered Alaskans.
Gun control? Like many Alaskans, I have exceptional gun control. I grew up with guns simply as tools to feed our family or on rare occasions protect us from an angry bear or rabid fox. One visit to a grocery store in rural Alaska and the president will understand why we need to hunt in order to fill our freezers. I am, however, deeply troubled by the lack of control too many Alaskans show with their guns when it comes to gun-related violence.
Resource development? Alaska's Constitution has long since been misinterpreted as meaning that our natural resources need to be exported at a maximum benefit to the people. The problem is the maximum benefit only goes to some people, leaving the land, animals and the rest of the people not benefiting as much. The true resource of Alaska is the resourcefulness of its people, the indigenous cultures found here and the wilderness. What needs most developing is the leadership and political will to protect and preserve Alaska cultures and create a sustainable way of living here that works for the people and the land.
Name one thing the president must do in Alaska and explain why: I would insist the president visit one of the villages threatened by climate change and be stuck in the village during a huge storm so that he is forced, by a call of nature, to use a classic Alaska honey bucket. Citizens of this country and of our great state should not have raw buckets of sewage in their homes. Once he places his presidential buttocks above one of these not-so-sweet smelling facts of Alaska life, he'll fully understand the complexity and inequity in the struggles that we face.
Thank you for considering my application. If I'm not selected to be the official guide, I am still hopeful the president will encounter a diverse assortment of Alaskans who are excited and honored to have him pay this extraordinary visit to our state.
Don Rearden is the author of "The Raven's Gift." He has a non-fiction thriller coming soon from St. Martins Press, and his new novel, "Un Dimanche Soir En Alaska," about an Alaska village moving due to climate change, comes out in France on Sept. 10.
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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