Columns 2014

Alaska jobs should be filled by Alaskans

After years of being viewed by the rest of America as a barely civilized wilderness, Alaskans have a bit of a complex about people from outside coming here to do jobs we’re capable of accomplishing. I can’t believe Governor Parnell doesn’t get this. If he did, he never would have tried to appoint someone from California, the land of fruit and nuts, to a position in Alaska, the land of guns and nuts.

While this distrust of outsiders has a long and storied history, and while some of that history could be used in a court of law to prove Alaskans are a bit nutty about defining what it takes to be a real Alaskan, in truth there are some actual reasons why Alaskans should fill Alaskan jobs. Despite the fact that it has become a cliché, the reality is that Alaska is different and if you don’t get those differences, then you can’t serve Alaska well.

Case in point – people in Alaska who cannot take care of themselves can have a conservator appointed by the court to assist them in using their money for their needs and protecting them from those who would exploit their vulnerabilities.  I recently spoke with a conservator concerned that her client, who lives in a small village, was not using the money set up for him at the village store for groceries. This conservator is one of the more dedicated people I’ve worked with in that position. She cares about her clients and worries if their needs are not being met.

She is also from outside, having moved here a few years ago, and has never experienced Alaska beyond the urbanity of Anchorage. This conservator had no idea of what life in the Bush was like. She’d never been in a village store. She’d never seen a $13 gallon of milk. She didn’t understand there was no guarantee there would even be milk available, that weather or flight cancellations could leave the store shelves empty.

I explained to her that most village stores didn’t have butcher stations, fresh stuff or lots of groceries. Often you are lucky to find some dried and canned goods on the shelves. The idea of living off what you buy in a small village store is ludicrous based both on cost and goods available. Unless you are an Alaskan aware of all of Alaska’s diversity, this is not something with which you’d be familiar. When she told me she was concerned that her client mostly bought cigarettes and pop in the store, I had to explain to her that those were the two commodities almost always available and that for meal planning, people went to their ice cellars.

It’s hard to fathom how the governor could be so deaf to the fact that Alaskans want Alaskans in Alaskan jobs because we understand Alaska is different than anything in the lower 48. Our governor should certainly understand this. A state that has thrived on oil money for over three decades must have residents who can fairly evaluate any number of oil and gas related issues.  So the question that must be asked is why Parnell went outside the state to find a nominee for the state board that determines the pipeline’s tax worth. Was he really so tone deaf to how Alaskans feel about outsiders being brought in for jobs they could fill or was this some kind of low key quid pro quo with the end game not visible until the governor completes his public service?

Since the governor has openly stated that he wants the tax value of the pipeline to drop, I think we can pretty much assume that he wants to stack this board with people who will do just that – or at least stack it with people he thinks will do that.  What puzzles me is why he thought he had to go outside of the state to find those people. I’m sure he could have found some locals who would be happy to downgrade the tax value of the pipeline to accommodate his wishes. Going outside the state just opens him up to all kinds of questions you’d think a man running for re-election would not want to answer.

If you’re the governor of Alaska, act like it. Choose Alaskans for Alaskan jobs.