Opinion | Politics

Rodney Pederson: Republicans don't earn rural Alaskan votes

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) campaigns in the village of Napaskiak. Photo from Facebook

The Alaska Federation of Natives recently endorsed Senator Mark Begich and the Bill Walker/Byron Mallott ticket for Governor at its annual convention. The group had very good reasons for making the rare endorsements that all Alaskans, especially rural and Native voters should strongly consider when going to the polls.

One of the primary reasons AFN endorsed Senator Begich was his unwavering support for rural and Native subsistence rights. Of equal importance was Begich’s Republican opponent, Dan Sullivan’s record of attacking subsistence and Native rights as Alaska’s Attorney General under Governor Sean Parnell. As Attorney General, Sullivan tried to reopen a lingering sore spot between the Native community and the State of Alaska; the Katie John litigation.

Governor Tony Knowles, a Democrat, had wisely decided not to appeal to the US Supreme Court a decision in favor of Katie John ruling that the waters of rivers going through federal lands of Alaska were not “owned” by the state and subsistence activities could not be restricted by the state in those waters; that the subsistence priority applicable to federal lands applied to those waters.

That Republicans Parnell and Sullivan tried to appeal Katie John to the US Supreme Court exemplifies a major difference between Republicans and Democrats and their relationship with the Native community. Democrats have always supported subsistence and Native rights with few exceptions. Republicans have always opposed subsistence and Native rights with few exceptions.

One important exception was Ted Stevens. While Frank Murkowski tried to amend ANILCA to remove the subsistence priority, Senator Stevens instead gave the state many opportunities to amend the state constitution to comply with ANILCA, but state Republican legislators and governors refused.

On the North Slope, Inupiaq enjoy the fruits of co-management with the federal agencies that allow the AEWC to manage whaling activities. Imagine if the state was willing to cooperate with Native subsistence hunters to co-manage harvests instead of prosecuting them?

Parnell and Sullivan have attacked and opposed subsistence. Don’t be fooled by their recent claims that they were only supporting “state’s rights to navigable waters” in trying to reopen Katie John. What they wanted to establish was the state’s right to restrict subsistence fishing on those waters and to be able to prosecute Native fisherman like they did in the Yukon- Kuskokwim Delta last year.

Other factors to consider are that Senator Begich is a lifelong Alaskan. A former Mayor of Anchorage. Mr. Sullivan is from Ohio and has never been elected to any public office in Alaska or anywhere. The majority of his campaign contributions come from Ohio. His parents in Ohio have contributed about $700,000 to his campaign.

Sullivan touts his Marine credentials. Few Alaskans know that Sullivan’s father’s multi-billion dollar corporation elected the General who promoted Sullivan to colonel in the Marine reserves to an approximately $160,000 per year board seat in 2008. Sullivan was recommended for promotion by this General in 2011, as Sullivan was serving as Alaska’s DNR Commissioner and apparently preparing to run for US Senator. It appears that Sullivan’s parents have not only helped to fund his campaign but have significantly boosted his marine reserves career also.

Should your vote for US Senator go to a life-long Alaskan Democrat, Senator Begich, who supports Native rights or to a recent Ohio transplant from a rich Republican family who has actively opposed Native interests during his short time in our state? I urge you to make the right choice for you and your children’s futures and vote to re-elect Senator Mark Begich.

Independent candidate Bill Walker, right, and Democratic candidate Byron Mallot, right, have joined forces in an effort to defeat Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R), center. Photo from Facebook

Many of the reasons for voting for Senator Begich apply to the Governor’s race. Governor Parnell directed the attorney general to attack the Katie John decisions. Parnell has also attacked Native rights in other instances including tribe’s rights to protect its members from physical abuse by non-members, and arresting and prosecuting Native fisherman and destroying their gear. Parnell ignored serious problems including sexual abuse in the National Guard.

Many Native corporation shareholders are not aware that the Parnell administration has significantly weakened enforcement of proxy regulations protecting shareholders by the state division of banking and securities. Shareholders are now in many cases required to enforce the regulations themselves and finance prosecutions through civil litigation rather than the state doing so as was the case under prior regulations. Shareholders are not capable of financing litigation successfully against management, so the regulations will now likely go unenforced against management.

Governor Parnell and the DNR Commissioner also eliminated the state Coastal Zone Management Plan. This plan allowed local municipalities like the North Slope Borough to participate in the permitting process of development projects impacting coastal communities and resources including subsistence resources. This was done to allow oil company projects to eliminate a layer of permitting that protected local communities. The NSB has now lost a valuable tool to protect its communities and lifestyles thanks to Governor Parnell.

Bill Walker has pledged to listen to his running mate Byron Mallott when it comes to Native issues. The Lt. Governor will have a significant role overseeing elections and regulations that impact the Native community. Bill Walker and Byron Mallott understand living in a rural area and a borough that relies on taxing the pipeline and oil infrastructure (Valdez). They understand the importance of a robust Coastal Zone management Plan. These are just a few of the reasons to vote for these candidates in the coming election.

Rodney Pederson is an Arctic Slope Regional Corporation shareholder and Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation shareholder born and raised in Barrow. He has participated in subsistence activities including whaling for many years. He is also an attorney concentrating in Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) corporation law and Native law with 15 years experience at ASRC.

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