Putting people first should be top priority for all in new year

Posted: Sunday, December 30, 2001

A new year. A fresh start. A renewed hope for the future.

There's something about the change of the calendar that sparks an annual inventory of our lives. We re-examine goals. Are we headed in the direction of our longed for destination? We reflect on our values. Are there things in our lives that need changing? We take stock of the good, bad and ugly of the previous year. What should we keep? What should we toss out with last year's trash?

Too often, however, our personal list of resolutions reads like a wish list instead of a road map. "I want to get skinny." "I want to get healthy." "I want to get rich." "I want to get organized."

We forget that "resolve" takes effort -- we can't wish ourselves from point A to point B. Only time will tell the strength of that resolve and the clarity of our vision for the future.

So it is, too, with our collective goals and vision for Alaska. Are we willing to do the necessary hard work to make this the best place in the world to live, work and play? After all, isn't that what we all want?

Most of us know by experience when we try to tackle lots of changes at one time, we're met with failure and disappointment. Experts advise doing just one thing -- meeting success and moving on to the next destination in our goal map.

There are just so many things to tackle when it comes to maintaining Alaska as the vibrant state we know it should be. If we had one priority for Alaska -- what should it be?

A long-range financial plan for the state? Or a subsistence solution? An end to party politics as usual? Unfortunately, as much as Alaskans have talked about those things, a resolution, so far, has eluded us.

What about making the environment the priority, since much of Alaska's allure is in its abundant natural resources and beauty? Shouldn't we make sure our fish runs don't lose their legendary status and our waters are kept clean? A healthy economy, after all, depends on a healthy environment.

What about education? Surely, how bright the future of Alaska will be is more closely tied to the quality of our education -- from preschool through the university level -- than anything else.

What about affordable health care? What about efforts to increase community involvement?

Then, there's the issue of the numbers: Numbers that show nearly 15 percent more Alaskans were living in poverty in the late 1990s than the previous decade. Numbers that put Alaska in the top five states in the nation for per capita rates of domestic violence. Numbers that show Alaska has six times the national average of reported child sexual assault.

Those numbers provide direction for the "just one thing" Alaskans should set their sights on in 2002: people, particularly children.

Our goals should be focused on changing the lives of Alaskans for the better. When lawmakers return to Juneau next month, they should have on their desks a picture of a newborn Alaskan -- perhaps the first baby born in the state in 2002. Every decision they make -- including those decisions not to act -- should center on the question: Will this decision improve the life of that child? Will this decision mean a brighter future for that child?

If state and community leaders keep in mind the goal of healthy families and healthy communities -- really, healthy Alaskans -- the other "stuff" will fall into place. Our communities will not be healthy without a long-range financial plan. There will be no jobs without a healthy environment. Children will be ill-equipped for the future without an excellent education. Every issue Alaskans face today should be put into the context of tomorrow's Alaskans.

Putting people first: that should be our resolution -- our goal -- for 2002.

Now, let's just do it.

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