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The Congresswoman for All Alaska
What Mary Peltola's election and swearing in tell us about the road ahead.
Happy Friday, Alaska.
In this edition: It’s Alaska U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola, now, and let’s talk about what that means, how we got here and why this is better than the alternatives. Also, the reading list and a musical weekend watching.
Current mood: 🤧
Programming note: Thanks for sticking with me as I’ve been battling a cold. Ah, the perils of running a one-person shop.
The Congresswoman for All Alaska
This week, Mary Peltola became Alaska’s U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola.
You don’t have to look far to understand how much it meant to so many people to see Alaska’s congressional seat filled by the first-ever Alaska Native congressperson and by a woman for the first time in the state’s history. Turning the page on what has been the one constant in Alaska politics for the last 49 years, Peltola’s ascension from a crowded special primary to Congress is the start of a new chapter in the state’s political story and it’s one that, in a lot of ways, is broadly representative of Alaska.
“It is the honor of my life to represent Alaska, a place my elders and ancestors have called home for thousands of years,” Peltola said on the floor of the U.S. House. “Where to this day, many people in my community carry forward our traditions of hunting and fishing. I am humbled and deeply honored to be the first Alaska Native elected to this body, the first woman to hold Alaska’s House seat, but to be clear, I’m here to represent all Alaskans. I will work every day to make all Alaskans proud that they have entrusted me to carry their voices here.”
In her remarks, Peltola paid tribute to the late Don Young—joking about how their styles may differ because “you know how soft-spoken he was”—and outlined a platform of lowering the cost of living, improving access to and affordability of child care and early education, promoting good-paying jobs, boosting resource development and, of course, fighting the good fight for fish.
The history-making day came from Alaska’s first-ever election conducted under the slate of voter-approved election reforms that opened Alaska’s primaries—diminishing the control of party string-pullers—and gave voters the opportunity to better express themselves on the general ballot with ranked-choice voting, which enabled a significant chunk of voters to cross party lines to send Peltola to D.C.
But the system itself didn’t make this happen.
No, that was the work of Peltola’s affable, down-to-earth campaign approach that played well to the reality of Alaska’s new election system. Instead of denigrating her very denigrate-able opponents, Peltola was the bigger person on the campaign trail—the kind of person we’d all like to think we would be. For those of us kept up at night about what feels like the inexorable slide into the politics of cynicism, division and dysfunction, Peltola’s a breath of fresh air.
Peltola brings to D.C. a wealth of experience that her opponents—and, frankly, even most of the progressive alternatives—simply don’t have. She’s not a multimillionaire who can self-fund much of her campaign while claiming she “can certainly identify with the struggle that many Alaskans have right now,” she wasn’t making six-figures a year on Cameo appearances or cryptocurrencies. Peltola is a regular person who worked a regular job, with, according to her financial disclosures—assets that might be pocket change to some Alaska legislators.
That sort of perspective really does matter in advocating for the everyday Alaskan—especially the sort who can’t loan their congressional campaign $650,000 from their personal fortune. It matters when considering legislation on affordable child care, free school lunches, student loan forgiveness and access to health care.
It’s also hard not to imagine what Tuesday would have been like—and what it could be like if the November election goes a different way—if it had been Palin in the spotlight with Biden in her sights and Trump in her ear. Instead of being an inspiration to many, we could have been a laughingstock to all.
Of course, Peltola’s term is a limited one and there’s no guarantee that she will win in November, let alone have five decades in office ahead of her. For however long her term lasts, though, it’s great to see Alaska in the national headlines for a reason we can be proud of.
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Alaska lost a legend last week with the death of musher Lance Mackey. While there’s many great reflections on Mackey’s legacy, there’s something really touching about the grit and determination on display in this 2019 sprint dog race. From the Star: Down but never out, Lance Mackey endures a brutal Eagle River Classic
Turns out folks still don’t love Sarah Palin’s “bridge to nowhere” comments. From the Alaska Beacon: Fourteen years on, Palin’s ‘bridge to nowhere’ comment still resounds
Remember that largely bungled small business grant program that the state launched with covid money and little oversight? Well, turns out it was just about as messy (and more) than we thought. From the ADN: Alaska’s $290M COVID aid program for small businesses was slow to act and had a ‘high rate’ of problems, audit finds
Beachcombers in Southeast Alaska have been hitting some awesome scores, including a mountain of Yeti coolers, thanks to a cargo ship spilling more than 100 shipping containers last year. From KUOW: High-end coolers wash up on Alaska beaches after Washington cargo spill
After the state transitioned its suicide hotline system to an easy-to-dial 988 hotline, calls went up 22%. From the Beacon: Use of new 988 suicide and crisis hotline shows Alaskans are willing to seek help, officials say
The Mat-Su Borough School Board continues to lead the charge on transphobic, alienating school policies. After voting to ban trans athletes from participating in girls’ extracurricular activities earlier this year, the board has now banned them from using the bathroom that match their gender identity. From KTUU: Mat-Su school board bans trans students from using bathroom of gender they identify with
Anchorage-based Quinn Christopherson, an Ahtna Athabascan and Iñupiaq songwriter who vaulted to the national stage after he won NPR’s 2019 Tiny Desk Concert, released his first album this week. It’s called “Write Your Name In Pink” and here’s the single: “Uptown.”
Have a nice weekend, y’all.