The past year has been a mixed one for Anchorage and Alaska, with successes and sorrows intermingled. For every triumph, it seemed there was counterbalancing trouble to temper it. We don’t need any help remembering the difficulties — in many cases, we’ll be carrying them forward to 2023 in hopes of making progress. But at a dark time of year, it’s good to recall the developments that positively defined 2022 — here are a few:
Neighbors helping neighbors
We are defined not by how we behave when things are easy but how we react to pressure and adversity. And by that metric, despite all our challenges, Alaska is doing well.
Natural disasters defined the year, from the Hiland Road avalanche that cut residents off from Eagle River, to the Seward landslide that stranded residents and visitors on the road to Lowell Point, to the recent series of snowstorms that closed schools, caused road chaos and exposed deep issues in our response to winter weather.
But, amid it all, Alaskans displayed a matter-of-fact resolve to help each other out and keep moving forward. Boats ferried stranded tourists from Lowell Point and brought supplies to isolated residents. Crews scrambled to reestablish power on Hiland Road, and neighbors lent vehicles to cut-off homeowners, so they could travel from the town side of the massive snowslide area. After the snowstorms, residents helped push each other’s stuck cars and shoveled their neighbors’ sidewalks.
Banding together when we all need help is one of our most noble impulses, and one that we should remember when the temptation arises to divide ourselves based on politics or other base impulses. When the chips are down, we are our neighbors’ keepers.
A better election system
The election changes Alaska voters approved in 2020 went into effect this year, bringing open primaries, ranked choice voting and more transparency around sources of dark money. And although it’s still early going, the benefits of the system are already apparent.
With all Alaskans able to pick their preferred candidate from the entire slate in the primary, the race to the extremes we’ve witnessed for years in party-controlled races stalled out. In its place, consensus-minded moderates who ran on a platform of breaking down partisan gridlock benefited and saw success in competitive legislative districts, thanks to the second-choice votes of Alaskans whose first-choice candidates were eliminated. Meanwhile, a close U.S. Senate race in Georgia, where ranked choice voting has yet to be adopted, had to go to a runoff at the expense of millions of dollars to state taxpayers there.
Predictably, partisan elements who enjoyed the outsize influence they had in selecting candidates under the old system are already trying to undo the election reforms, but Alaskans should see that for what it is — a naked power grab that will only break our government further if it succeeds.
An opportunity to help build up Alaska’s infrastructure
The massive infrastructure bill that passed in late 2021 contained a cornucopia of funds that will benefit Alaska, and this year, the concrete allocations of some of that money came into clearer view. So far, Alaska is slated to receive more than $2.6 billion, making our state one of the biggest per-capita recipients of the federal funds.
That’s an appropriate position for Alaska, as the 49th state has also had much less opportunity to develop the kind of infrastructure that longer-tenured states have enjoyed for many decades. Among other allocations, Alaska will receive $363 million in highway funds, $209 million for ferries and tens of millions of dollars for rural internet service. All this presents a tremendous opportunity for Alaska — provided we allocate the money wisely, with an eye toward the kind of development that will help most not only now, but also generations from now.
A continued return to normalcy as pandemic waves abate
The COVID-19 pandemic is entering its fourth year, and although the sickness has long overstayed its welcome, the latter half of 2022 saw a diminishment in serious cases and deaths, enabling a further return to life more closely resembling pre-pandemic normal for many Alaskans.
Hundreds of Alaskans per week are still getting sick with COVID-19, and new infectious variants remain possible, so it’s too early to put the pandemic fully in the rearview mirror. But the slow uptick of vaccinations and new bivalent boosters helped keep more people healthy and more cases mild when the disease did break through. As a result, the mass gatherings such as concerts and sporting events that many shied away from in 2020 and 2021 weren’t as risky this year, and Alaskans got back to enjoying them. Let’s hope the positive trend continues in 2023.
The revitalization and reclamation of Alaska Native culture
Alaska Native people celebrating their heritage and culture is well established here, but 2022 seemed like a moment for more mainstream awareness of Native traditions, culture and issues — even well outside Alaska. Gwich’in and Lakota model Quannah Chasinghorse continued her ascent into the limelight at the intersection of fashion and activism, the younger generation is reviving the tradition of Indigenous tattooing, and efforts to restore Native place names are happening from Chanshtnu (”grassy creek,” the Dena’ina name for the area of Westchester Lagoon) to the Yuyanq’ Ch’ex peaks (”heavenly breath,” formerly known as North and South Suicide peaks). Combined with ongoing efforts to keep Native languages alive and thriving, the revitalization of Alaska Native culture is exciting — and a credit to many who have worked long and hard to maintain these cultural threads.
There’s just a week left in 2022, so in a matter of days, we’ll be turning our gaze forward, to consider what we’ll tackle in the year to come and what problems we need to address. But, in the meantime, it’s nice to take a last look back at everything that transpired over the past 12 months — and to remember that there was plenty of good that this year brought us.