Diverse local reactions to Trump presidency

After President Donald Trump’s inauguration as the 45th president of the United States, politically active Kenai Peninsula residents still have varying perspectives on what his presidency will mean for the state’s future.

J.R Myers is a behavioral health consultant for the Kenaitze Indian Tribe who has campaigned for Alaska Governor, U.S President and the Alaska House of Representatives with the conservative Constitution Party, which seeks “to restore American jurisprudence to its Biblical foundations and to limit the federal government to its Constitutional boundaries,” according to its party platform. While Myers said Trump’s message fits Constitution Party goals in some respects, such as strong border security, he has reservations.

“I’m concerned about the constitution and the rule of law, whether the pendulum swings left or right,” Myers said. “I hope he will abide within the constitutional parameters. … He’s made several statements during his campaign that don’t really seem to comport with the rule of law or our constitutional safeguards, so I think it’s very important he be held to that standard as all presidents should be.”

David Brighton, a Kenai Peninsula Borough School District special education teacher and president of the Kenai Peninsula Educator’s Association, said he is worried about Trump’s nomination of Michigan school voucher advocate Betsy DeVos to the position of Secretary of Education, which he hoped “will have a minimal impact” on education in the peninsula.

“He’s chosen someone who has very little experience, and it’s become clear through the hearing process that she has very little understanding of public education,” Brighton said. “… Betsy DeVos has a past of trying to privatize schools in Michigan, and the education system was weakened there through her efforts. We have strong public schools here locally. Parents can choose to send their kids to any school they like, including our local charter schools, and I think we have a really good program.”

Nonetheless, Brighton said he was trying to take an optimistic view.

“My feelings aren’t multiple choice,” he said. “I’m worried but I’m hopeful.”

Sammy Crawford, a longtime member and former president of the League of Women Voters, echoed his sentiment.

“I’m hoping it will be a great four years,” Crawford said. “That would be fabulous. But we are planning to take a more active part in our community and try to do what we think is the right thing. … Health care really has all of us concerned. They’re talking about repealing the Affordable Care Act with no plan in place to replace it. That means 20 million people could have to go without coverage. We want to advocate that there should be a plan in place — maybe a single-payer system or something that will make this plan better than the original Affordable Care Act.”

A March 2016 Department of Health and Human Services study found 20 million previously uninsured people had been insured under the Affordable Care Act.

“It’s hard to know what sort of national changes could come down, but I think all of us can be most effective on the local level,” Crawford said.

Amy Jackman was a Bernie Sanders campaign volunteer and served as a spokesperson for 2016 independent U.S. Senate candidate Margaret Stock. She said she was worried about the Trump presidency’s impact on many issues, including health care, environmental policy, climate change adaptation, renewable energy and the fledgling cannabis industry.

“Really, Alaska has a lot to lose,” Jackman said. “The price of oil may go up, but it won’t up enough to bring Alaska out of the recession it is currently in. We as Alaskans need to set aside our political differences and come together, like any family would. … We need to take a stand, and Alaskans we are going to have to stand strong against the Trump presidency and the people he’s brought on board, who are really only there to look out for the wealthy.”

Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly Member Wayne Ogle has previously supported Trump. He said Trump’s replacement of Obama-appointed Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel with his nominee Ryan Zinke will have positive local effects. Under Obama, the Department of the Interior put moratoriums on leasing public land for coal, oil and natural gas extraction.

“Leases out in the Arctic and all those things, I think, will be more measured and temperate and not under the extreme policy control of the Obama administration,” Ogle said.

Rep. Mike Chenault (R-Nikiski), has supported efforts to open federal land, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to oil and gas exploration and drilling. He also believes the Department of Interior under Trump may be more friendly to this cause.

“It’s pretty early to tell, I think, but the hope is there that the Trump administration in general will be more acceptable to allowing us to maybe drill in areas we haven’t been able to drill before, or maybe willing to work with us on permitting processes that would maybe speed up,” Chenault said.

Asked about possible effects of Trump administration policies on other aspects of Alaskan society, such as health care, Chenault said it is too early to speculate.

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

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