The Concerned
Is Berkowitz preparing Alaskans for hard days to come?

Alaska Dispatch - September 25, 2010

Dear Berkowitz Campaign,

We The Concerned were intrigued when you announced your candidate's three-part plan for Alaska's future, which you've dubbed the "Alaskan Ownership Stake." After all, it takes guts to be standing all alone out there in front of voters with a set of actual propositions, like a new bag of pet-store goldfish that your opponent is trying to poke holes in.

Part of your Alaskan Ownership Stake proposes an escrow account to which Alaskans can contribute part or all of their annual Permanent Fund dividend checks, in order to own a piece of a natural gas line running from the North Slope to somewhere. We The Concerned have been waiting for an opportunity to use our checks on something more future-oriented than credit card bills, airfare, home entertainment gear, and gourmet vittles from D'Artagnan. But since we started hearing more about your whole plan, we've grown increasingly concerned.

We're not concerned in the same manner as your opponent, Gov. Sean Parnell, however. His campaign's assertion that Alaskans chipping in on a gasline would cost the state jobs was pretty well deflated a short while after it was made. No, we're not worried about Alaskans' jobs. In fact, it looks like your plan is pointed toward making Alaskans, collectively and individually, live a more self-reliant lifestyle.

But that's what worries us. Many of us have forgotten how to do that.

In addition to the gasline buy-in, you've also proposed lifetime, combination hunting, fishing and trapping licenses and an across-the-board reduction in taxes on businesses not involved in the petroleum and mining sectors, and an outright elimination of taxes on small businesses.

As we understand it, that second part is intended to attract businesses to build headquarters or expand operations in Alaska. We can't imagine Alaska could lure a telemarketing firm away from Omaha, or the grocery giant Kroger from Cincinnati, but it's a neat idea, and at least it's a concrete idea.

The only problem for us is that we remember when there were no large companies in Alaska (except maybe the AC) and when there was very little private investment of any kind. Back then, people had to make do on their own, and they did -- by hunting, fishing, trapping and creating their own business opportunities.

Some of The Concerned remember when pretty much every enterprise in the state was a small business, and resourceful Alaskans did each other's laundry and woodchopping for extra money. Others of us remember when buying finished (and sliced!) loaves of bread from the grocery became the thing to do because two empty wrappers would get you into the movies for free.

Why make bread when you can buy it and avoid the hassle of kneading, refreshing the starter, and tending a woodstove's delicate balance -- and on top of all that, get into the movies for free?

Hence our concern. We're worried the lifetime fish and game licenses represent less a way to cut through the yearly red tape Alaskans have to go through for renewals, and more a way to make sure Alaskans won't have to resort to poaching once the petroleum-based economy takes its final nose-dive and no one can afford yearly licenses.

We're worried because sport-hunting and sport-fishing are more like beloved hobbies than necessities for the vast majority of Alaskans these days, especially for many urban and suburban residents. And believe it or not, there are Alaskans who don't like to gut things. Some Alaskans don't even know how to shoot (!). And don't get us started on how few Alaskans trap anymore. We bet we could stand for days on a corner in most towns around the state trying to find a resident who knew how to release a sprung conibear.

If, as we fear your plan indicates, hunting, fishing and trapping become necessary adjuncts to living in Alaska, we also fear a vast reduction in the state's workforce, by starvation perhaps, but mainly by flight. We also fear large groups of our neighbors milling around our yards wanting free meat. Socially-tolerated begging is another thing we remember from the days when hunting and fishing had greater importance, when the pinnacle of ‘Alaskan-ness' was owning a pet wolverine, and there wasn't a single Thai restaurant.

What's more, since Alaskans have no way of knowing how the two current efforts to build a natural gas line are actually going, we're concerned that asking Alaskans to pitch in expresses a lack of confidence in the industry and government backing that the oil and gas industry's plans may attract. And since in your recent TV spot, you carried a propane tank to tidewater in Southcentral, we're also concerned that an in-state gasline to bolster supply for Alaska utilities isn't a very high priority.

Although, frankly, supplying natural gas to Southcentral and the Interior is a lesser concern of ours. We remember when blackouts and outages were infuriatingly common. Living without electricity is not as difficult a skill to master as wilderness harvest. In fact, aside from possibly freezing to death, the most challenging thing we remember was boredom. Luckily, we still have our Parcheezi boards (we burned the cribbage boards, not for heat, but because of all the damn muggins points).

At any rate, we're still not convinced a gasline will be the economic savior that most people think it will, but Alaska's oil production has been declining, and new exploration has all but halted, and something needs to be done.

Maybe a pipeline telethon, more non-gargantuan businesses, and more reliance on nature's bounty will be the answer. Heck, maybe Alaskans can try large-scale reindeer farming again; that experiment didn't seem to catch on really well the first time around. And Anchorage's Sullivan Arena would make a totally badass arena to settle bartering and trapline disputes in. Admission to the spectacle would be free, of course, with two bread wrappers.


The Concerned