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Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

Alaska Needs A Voice in Washington

By Mike Wenstrup


January 29, 2015
Thursday AM

Alaska has always needed a voice in Washington. From the Trans Alaska Pipeline to the Native Claims Settlement Act to present day debates about oil exploration, our economic opportunities are closely linked to federal policy. That means our federal representatives must be effective, not just loud.

jpg Mike Wenstrup

Over the last six years, we witnessed an extraordinary expansion in energy development opportunities on Alaska federal lands. Senator Begich persuaded the administration to open development in the Chukchi Sea, National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, and Beaufort Sea. While Begich often disagreed with Obama on certain policies, he maintained a working relationship and proved himself to be a power broker who could deliver for Alaska.

Our current Congressional delegation seems to have forgotten that lesson. Dan Sullivan only knows how to sue and scream at the federal government, not how to negotiate or extract concessions. Lawsuits & vitriol might make for good press, but they’re not the best tool to get results.

Don Young continues to make ad hominem attacks on the president, earning himself newspaper headlines but not the policies he claims to want.

Lisa Murkowski’s blind obedience to party bosses mean that she has no leverage with the administration either.

Over the last week, the administration has proposed significant policy changes affecting millions of acres of land in Alaska, and our Congressional delegation appears powerless to do anything except make angry speeches.

We should hold them to a higher standard, because temper tantrums aren’t going to deliver the policies Alaska needs. Our elected officials need to work with the administration. In politics, you don’t need to be on the same team in order to negotiate deals based on mutual self interest. Of all the legislation and administrative actions in Washington, there are opportunities for our Congressional delegation to use their leverage.

If they started using leverage instead of just complaining, we might see a change in policies out of the administration. But as long as Murkowski, Sullivan and Young are more interested in headlines than results, Alaska will suffer.

There is a better way. When Senator Begich was in office, he got the administration to open the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, and much of NPR-A to oil development. He stopped the proposed F-16 cuts at Eielson. He reversed proposed pension cuts for the Alaska Territorial Guard. He negotiated a historic Veterans Administration/Indian Health Service partnership to expand health clinic access in dozens of Alaska communities. He persuaded the administration to approve mining permits in Greens Creek, Kensington, and many other mines. These achievements resulted from persuasion, not petulance.

In 2016, we should assess candidates based on what they can get done rather than how loudly they can complain.

Mike Wenstrup
Fairbanks Alaska

About: Mike Wenstrup is the Chairman of the Alaska Democratic Party


Received January 27, 2015 - Published January 29, 2015


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