Discover more from The Alaska Memo by Matt Buxton
Hate-filled backlash is making it harder to want to run for office. And that's the point.
Good afternoon, Alaska.
In this edition: Woof.
Who’d run for office with a public like this?
The Anchorage Assembly is, as I’m writing this, settling in for what looks to be several days of petulant and hate-filled testimony from a carefully cultivated base who can most charitably be described as anti-maskers. At the end of the agenda is the assembly’s proposal to mandate masks in almost all situations through the end of the year or whenever the city’s alert level drops out of the high and substantial categories. It’s a direct response to the hands-off approach of extreme-right Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson, who seems to be mostly focused on drumming up opposition to the largely moderate Anchorage Assembly on pretty much all fronts. And by the early looks of it, all his efforts spent opposing masking rather than doing anything to curb the covid-19 pandemic seems to be working. We’re about 20 minutes into the meeting now and they’ve already been disrupted several times to the point where they took a 5-minute break to settle things down.
As someone who’s covered Alaska politics in one form or another for a decade, it’s a deeply disheartening sight. This deep-rooted, rotten anger is anger for anger’s sake. It’s an effective tool utilized by the extreme-right and their cheerleaders to rile up the base to the point where they’re disrupting meetings and dragging everyone else into this deeply adversarial and counterproductive muck. It’s not unique to the Anchorage Assembly either, but a countrywide movement that we’ve seen take root at everything from school board meetings with the hollow fear mongering over critical race theory to, well, the January 6 insurrection. Where we once hoped that the attempted insurrection would have been a turning point for the country, the acrimony has only deepened and worsened. On the local level, there’s a general anxiety about when the shouting and disruptions will turn to violence thanks to the constant drip of misinformation and vitriol fed to them through channels that know full well what they’re doing. The outrage is far too valuable.
What’s particularly disheartening for me, a wonk who ultimately likes when policy makes sense and has a meaningful and equitable impact on bettering people’s lives and opportunities, is that there’s nothing but garbage contained in this outrage. There’s no call to make things better beyond this conspiracy-laden approach of “It's fine that people die as long as we’re free from mild inconvenience.” The refusal to go tolerate the minor inconveniences for the good of the community ensures the pandemic, its uncertainty, and all the pain and suffering will drag on much longer.
Kevin McGee, the head of Anchorage NAACP, sums it all up well in his editorial: Alaska’s failed leadership has given us a fatal lottery
I was going to write, “We are living through…” but I stopped myself. “We” are not all living through this lottery of death created by the utter failure of leadership by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Mayor Dave Bronson and their chorus of anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists who have flooded Alaska hospitals. So some of us are living, others are dying, and so-called “leaders” who refuse to do anything to contain this virus will remain stained with the blood of our fallen neighbors forever.
But even when the pandemic eventually subsides, I’m deeply worried about the future of public service. With the disruptive hearings, the death threats and the spurious recall efforts, I wonder who the hell would want to run for public office anymore?
While doing some research for an article about how the Bronson administration promoting the recall probably violates election laws (which, hooboy, you can find that story here), I stumbled across Ballotpedia’s aggregation of the nearly 100 recall efforts that have been launched during the pandemic (which grew by one since I first looked at it, interestingly). According to that breakdown, only one of the 99 efforts successfully removed the targeted person from office. Most never make it to the ballot, but what was particularly striking to me is the half-dozen or more that resigned rather than deal with it. I have a feeling that that’s the point.
For most, running for school board or the assembly isn’t so much about a grand political agenda as it is about serving the community. That sense of service really made my initial years in Alaska covering the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly enjoyable. I saw people there work across deep political divides to enact meaningful measures and, heck, took off time when they felt that there wasn’t any pressing tinkering to do with the laws. There was a sense of community, of working together to pull in the same direction that now seems so alien when I see the flag waving and not-even-thinly-veiled death threats at the Anchorage Assembly meeting.
I look at the political climate today and wonder why any good, decent person would want to get involved with it when the job comes with guarantees of threats, personal attacks on them and their family—and possibly worse. I don’t blame anyone who looks at the whole situation and thinks “Nah, I’m good.” But I’d also say that that is letting that other, acrimonious side win.
I wish I knew a clear answer how to combat it. Not only how to properly meet the anger and divisions, but to find greater room for kindness and community. What I can say is at the very least I’m grateful to the people who’ve found a way to stick it out and stick to it. We need all the reasonable people we can get.