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Alaskans forget their history, swallow the partisan poison

  • Author: Mike Dingman
  • Updated: September 29, 2016
  • Published July 2, 2014

As human beings, we are unfailingly imperfect.

Many of us fall into this trap of wanting everything to fit perfectly into a little white or little black box. When it doesn't, like a toddler trying to fit the square peg in the round hole, we become frustrated and throw a fit, either internally or externally.

Following the realization that the issues that face us won't fit nicely into those two boxes most of the time, it becomes a little bit easier to process the very complex issues and even more complex individuals.

There was a time in this country when ideas were big and we searched for candidates that transcended specific issue statements and searched for great men that could lead.

This is the point in the column where I tell you in a very erudite and declarative manner - "it's the political season" - except that, anymore, it's always political season.

During this time of year, we should be enjoying the fruits of the short but fantastic Alaskan summer. The sun is sitting high in the sky and fighting hard against falling into nighttime. Alaska is primed with peaks, trails, creeks, canyons, lakes, rivers and endless valleys.

We would be much happier were we discussing the biggest king salmon, the amazing view from Magnificent Peak or the harmony of Echo and Symphony lakes. Instead we are killing one another in wars of words over candidates and parties that, in the end, should not cause the amount of consternation that we allow.

We have become entrenched in these endless political cycles which get caught up in the minutiae of issues that matter in a less than meaningful way.

The rock band Pop Evil's song "Trenches" explains, perfectly, how many politicians must feel about this.

(begin ital)"I've waited all my life to get out of the trenches I'm ready to fight for what I believe you can steal from me I won't take this Gonna fill these trenches and stand up" (end ital)

It's not hard to figure out where this change came from. We are on information overload these days. The confluence of the 24-hour news cycle and the access to material via the internet has created a perfect storm of information -but not necessarily knowledge.

A couple of weeks ago, on Facebook, I asked people to imagine what would happen if we chose our political leaders based on their ability to lead and who was the better person - not on a litmus test of the various issues.

The idea was largely scoffed at as impossible. It was preposterous for most people to imagine a world where we chose leaders and then allowed them to lead. The unfortunate and frightening consensus seemed to be that the majority of voters should choose the closest thing they could find to a mouthpiece of what they believe and put that puppet in office.

It seems to me that this desire to be on the winning team has made people, over time, fall completely into one camp or the other. Partisans yell and scream the party platform through their word for word talking points at the top of their lungs.

Alaska was different. We elected free thinkers like Bill Egan, Walter Hickel, Jay Hammond, Bill Sheffield, George Sullivan, Tom Fink and Tony Knowles. Partisan lines were blurred by Alaskans needs and wants. We are, after all, the "conservative" state with an "owner state" oil tax system which pays dividends to many who preach against socialism all the way to the bank.

However, with Alaska's two Senate seats having been back in play for some time now, the national parties are working hard to ensure we spew as much hate as those outside do.

And Alaskans have been following their lead.

Professor Scott Goldsmith was attacked for his economic analysis of SB 21 (Alaska's new oil tax system) and former Governor Tony Knowles, a Democrat, was called a "paid shill" by the Vote Yes! Repeal the Giveaway group.

Republicans are no better, attacking legislators such as Sens. Bill Wielechowski, Hollis French and Rep. Les Gara personally because they have created, arguably, the strongest opposition party in the history of our state.

Leaders challenge ideas with what they believe is a better vision. Those who cannot do that, attack the messenger personally.

Every issue, these days, can seemingly be classified into one camp or the other.

It doesn't have to be that way. We could be looking for leaders that want to lead. That's what representative government is all about. Direct democracy never worked and just like issues, people don't fit neatly into one box or the other, regardless of what the two major political parties would like to do to you.

When we dig ourselves out of the trenches and are able to stand tall and look past minutiae to the greater vision, then we will be able to see clearly again.

Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former UAA student body president and has worked, volunteered and studied in Alaska politics since the late 1990s. Email

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