OPINION: This Thanksgiving, don’t let Alaska politics give you heartburn

I can be sentimental. Not often, but I’m working on it. I just need to figure out how to increase my sentimentality without decreasing my cynicism.

Nostalgia is my favorite form of sentimentality. I enjoy recalling the happier times before social media, before angry people felt entitled to yell at store clerks, flight attendants and their own mothers, before Donald Trump convinced millions of people it is OK to be mean and even dangerous.

Routines and schedules help calm me. Which is nostalgia — looking forward to those things that don’t change, that offer stability and predictability in a world that is moving faster than a trending text.

In particular, I like Thanksgiving. It’s slow-roasted nostalgia with a smell that drives away everything else in life. It’s the who-needs-an-excuse attitude toward three helpings at dinner and two desserts. There is nothing more traditional than the Thanksgiving menu.

Even the food decisions are nostalgic: Canned versus real cranberry sauce; chunky mashed potatoes or buttery smooth; cream of mushroom soup in the green bean casserole or something new this year; sausage in the stuffing or vegetarian; who really wants green salad; and does anyone really need celery sticks on the appetizer tray?

And the ultimate decision at the dinner table: white meat or dark meat, which leads me to a civics lesson.

Another nostalgic piece of the holiday season is that it means the start of the state legislative session is less than two months away. Think of it as political indigestion, heartburn that lingers no matter how many stomach acid pills you pop.


In about eight weeks, the 60-member Alaska Legislature will go to work. Maybe the governor will too, but we’re still waiting on that.

Our elected officials will have 121 days of regular session to discuss, debate and possibly legislate on issues as diverse as public employee retirement plans, health care, child care, public safety, public roads and public schools.

But 2024 will be an election year, which is never a good recipe for cooking up the best public policies. Too many legislators will be looking ahead to their reelection, avoiding any ingredients that voters find distasteful. The governor, though not up for reelection, will be seasoning the pot and stirring up trouble to make his opponents look bad and his supporters as sweet to voters as a Thanksgiving dessert.

I expect the biggest debates next session will be how much more the state should spend to support public education — and how much the state should spend to increase the amount of the Permanent Fund dividend. That’s the way it’s been for years — all the other issues fall away as lawmakers and the governor fight over the two largest items in the budget.

It’s nostalgia at its worst. It’s a sad, repetitive menu, made unhealthier by the governor and his supporters putting a large dividend above all else. They pledge a bigger PFD than the state treasury can afford, knowing they won’t win in the Legislature but will win with many voters. It’s my cynicism acting up again.

As you enjoy your holiday meal and choose between white meat and dark meat, I hope you will not ruin the day by thinking about how elected officials will soon fight over the raw political meat of the Permanent Fund dividend.

Unlike holiday dinner guests who may find the white meat dry and hard to swallow — but can smother it with gravy — there is nothing that can make the bad taste of another dividend food fight go down easy. Nothing until more elected leaders make education the main course and not a side dish to the dividend.

Larry Persily is a longtime Alaska journalist, with breaks for federal, state and municipal public policy work in Alaska and Washington, D.C. He lives in Anchorage and is publisher of the Wrangell Sentinel weekly newspaper.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Larry Persily

Larry Persily is a longtime Alaska journalist, with breaks for federal, state and municipal service in oil and gas, taxes and fiscal policy work. He currently is publisher of the Wrangell Sentinel weekly newspaper.