To the editor: I am a lifelong Alaskan. I’m proud of that fact. I spent many of those years in Fairbanks, which I still consider my hometown. I now live in Anchorage. I graduated from North Pole Junior High (then just called elementary school) during our first year of statehood. So I really do have the benefit of a long view of our great state, from its infancy, so to speak, to whatever we can call this current period; midlife crisis, perhaps.
In those early years, Alaska was charged with excitement! The state seemed filled with visionaries; everything seemed possible. Leaders with big dreams weren’t afraid of being attacked by cynics and nihilists. The precursors to the “Far Right” existed in those days. The John Birch Society was active and visible in Fairbanks. I knew many of them and enjoyed talking with them; Rod Wolf cut my hair, Rudy Vetter was the school janitor. But these folks were not the deeply toxic kinds of personalities who crop up in today’s Alaska forums.
The biggest difference that I see between those early days and today is in how the Republican Party has changed. Many of the visionaries who inspired me as a young person were Republicans. Elmer Rasmussen ran for governor on the theme of establishing the first public equity system that would accrue to the benefit of all Alaskans. Was he foreshadowing the Permanent Fund a decade and a half before the oil pipeline existed? I believe so. Walter Hickel wasn’t afraid to embrace our public ownership and collective dreams as an “owner-state.” And I grew up with Terry Miller (he was my Scout Leader, Troop 542) who came to symbolize for me the future of the Republican Party. Terry was forward leaning and understood governance. He would have made a brilliant young governor.
So how did the GOP go from being a visionary and positive force in Alaska to what it is today?
None of the great Republican leaders of the past would have a place in today’s Republican Party! They would be shocked at the conspiracy theories being passed around the party base. They would be appalled by the disrespect demonstrated at public meetings whose sole purpose is disruption of the civic order.
I miss the good old days.