The election season is nearly behind us and I am confident not many people will miss it. To most of us it feels like Alaska is under siege by something worse than a pandemic — a toxic stew of extreme polarization and identity politics that uses deception, slander, and pejorative one-liners to demonize and destroy “other” Alaskans of different views.
I believe we are witnessing a paradigm shift in the general political atmosphere of the past 50 years in Alaska. Identity politics and extreme polarization now rule the day. It used to be that the shared difficulties and hardships of work and life in Alaska pulled the broader group into a centrist, “community-first” mentality that was primarily concerned with protecting the rights of our citizens, promoting a strong economy, and cultivating a healthy sense of citizenry that was entrepreneurial, faithful, and loyal to neighbors.
If you open Facebook today, it doesn’t take more than a minute to see that our party extremes are wholly consumed by the thirst to win, through any means necessary, often leaving an “opponent” — a person who is first and foremost our neighbor — as bloodied as possible. Party purity is now given a higher value than our spiritual faith, a faith which compels us to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.
We see this evidenced in the Alaska Family Council’s recent descent into the abyss of partisan extremism, exchanging the peace and good news of the gospel for the role of “winner takes all, ends justify the means” political action arm. To judge by the language of their political mailers and communications, you would hardly imagine they had studied the teachings of Jesus Christ with the attention they profess to have given the subject.
And this is only the symptom of a much deeper problem across our state and nation, the sickness of our hearts. We don’t love our neighbor, or honestly face our own frailty and capacity for evil, or seek the peace, unity and welfare of our community. This has produced a culture of fear and resentment with no real hope. We can’t fix this problem with legislation, getting “the right person” into office, or “that stupid party” out of power.
Today in Alaska we allow those with interests far different than ours — Outside lobbying firms, Washington, D.C., think tanks — to overwhelm our local elections with money and advocacy that has nothing to do with improving our community. They cut checks, dump resources into races, and leave town after three months, with no care for the character of the person they elect, as long as they will conduct themselves according to the will of the Party.
We wonder why real, local community concerns and basic rights of citizenry aren’t fought for by our elected leaders. Why? Because our current party system elects to have leaders who will only care about the issues the Party wants them to care about, to vote the way the Party wants them to vote, and to leave other matters alone. It is no wonder many Alaskans have become disillusioned with politics, their elected representatives are beholden not to the people, but to the Party bosses.
For Alaska’s most successful leaders, party power was always secondary to getting the job done for Alaska. Yet today we condemn one another for a newly minted cardinal sin: working with “the other side.” As if the “other side” were not people who go to our same PTA meetings, fish beside us in the same creeks, or rush to the side of the same neighbor in times of need. Does “our side” really have a monopoly on perspective or answers to every challenge?
What can we do to regain what has been lost, and reclaim a process promised to all Alaskans? It begins with us releasing our death grip on a dead paradigm run by partisan extremes, running the same campaigns, with no new ideas whatsoever on good governance. Alaska needs leaders to show up for their communities, put forward real solutions, and work with anyone who shares those same values and a commitment to a better future. And we must recognize that we are all broken people who need grace. This will enable us to look at those who disagree with us as our neighbor, brother and sister, and not “the enemy.”
We can turn the tide. Let’s remind the arsonists who would rather set their political opponents on fire than listen to them, that the only progress we have ever made was when Alaskans pulled together as one people. Alaskans can reclaim Alaska, decide what’s best for Alaska, and save Alaska.
Rep. Chuck Kopp is a lifelong Alaskan and chair of the Alaska House of Representatives Rules Committee.