When election talk turns to Alaska’s U.S. Senate seat, typically only two names are discussed: Ted Stevens and Mark Begich.
Bob Bird, a 35-year teacher from Nikiski, is trying to expand that list to include one more: himself. Bird is seeking the Senate seat on the Alaskan Independence ticket.
Bird has made a name for himself as a conservative, pro-life activist. In 1989 he led the Alaska Rescue Project, which involved nonviolent civil disobedience to protest abortion clinics. He was president of Alaska Right to Life from 1995 to 1997, and garnered 34,000 votes in the 1990 Republican primary in a previous bid to unseat Stevens.
His reason for running again this year is a dramatic one: “We are perilously close to not being a free country anymore,” he said.
Bird doesn’t want to be a career politician, he said. And he doesn’t want to leave Alaska for life in Washington, D.C., either. But he’s willing to do whatever it takes to turn this country from the path he sees it on.
“If there was another candidate, I’d have given him my support. But time is very short. If my descendants are going to live in a free country, something’s got to be done,” he said.
“… I’m not looking for a second career. I’m looking to try and restore freedom. I’m prepared to sacrifice it all because there’s no substitute for freedom.”
Call him a conservative — he’s pro-gun, pro-life and advocates cutting government. Or call him a radical, he’ll answer to that, too.
“Someone has to make the breakthrough, and I’m willing to be the so-called shock troop to make it,” he said.
But beyond everything else, Bird is first and foremost a Constitutionalist. He can quote it chapter and verse. He can trace the history of how it came about and how it’s been used – and abused – since its inception. He spends an entire semester each year teaching it to government students in his classroom at Nikiski Middle-High School.
Every topic, every issue, every prescription for change in his campaign comes down to one thing — returning to a government that directly follows the U.S. Constitution.
“Politicians try to be all things to all people. I see that as fakes and phonies. That is not what I’m doing, and yet, if a return to the Constitution followed, it would in fact help all classes and all peoples and all political philosophies,” Bird said.
Bird’s vision for a return to the Constitution is literally that. Eliminate everything going on in government that is not directly laid out in the Constitution.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, Internal Revenue Service, No Child Left Behind legislation and a host of other federal programs and agencies, gone. The Supreme Court’s ability to strike down state laws would be curtailed, which would open the door for states being able to enact bans on abortions.
The U.S. would pull out of Iraq. Subsurface mineral rights would be returned to property holders, and title to all federal lands — including national parks like Yellowstone and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge — would be relinquished, since the Constitution only specifically allows the federal government to own “The District of Columbia (not to exceed 10 miles square), forts, arsenals, magazines, dockyards and other needful buildings.”
Doing so would remedy a host of problems, Bird said. For one thing, it would stop the government from trampling on people’s civil liberties. As an example, Bird cited the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act this summer, the government’s attempts to obtain customer records from credit card companies, and the Department of Homeland Security requiring that access be blocked to Nikishka Beach in Nikiski. Gas prices would go down, in part because ending unconstitutional overseas military ventures, like the war in Iraq, would stop creating scarcity, and because the Constitution dictates use of gold and silver standards. Going back to that method of currency would curb inflation, which would in turn curb rising gas prices, Bird said.
“The price of gas hasn’t gone up so much as the value of our currency has gone down. People say it’s the big bad oil companies, and I’m no fan of big oil. It’s not the big bad oil company. It’s the big bad federal government,” he said.
In perhaps his biggest philosophic split with Stevens, Bird also champions the end of federal handouts.
“This is what Stevens is famous for. He has kept our economy going through federal subsidies. You take a federal subsidy, you also get federal dependence and control,” Bird said. “It’s a short-term fix but a long-term loss. There are Constitutional things the federal government can do — military expenditures, post offices — that’s the kind of pork you’re entitled to.”
Bird said he realizes the prospect of drying up the well of federal funding in Alaska can be difficult to take, and he said it could be done gradually through sunset clauses. But it must be done, he said. “Ultimately, it’s killing all of us. We can’t continue to use the federal government as a source of income. We are loaded with resources here. I just want to see people make a livelihood, and you can’t do that without developing our resources.
“Alaska’s wonderful independent spirit has been stifled by federal handouts and by the frustration that nothing seems to change,” he said. “Both Begich and Stevens are offering more and more government. It’s like an alcoholic who thinks one more bottle of whiskey will cure his drunkenness.”
The Constitutional government Bird envisions would have states playing a larger role, taking over much of what the federal government does now. Disaster relief, health care, public works construction projects and the like could all be done on the state level. Power should be kept on a local level, closer to the people, he said.
“The more and more power government gets, the less and less it can actually hold the hearts and minds of the people,” he said.
Even at 221 years old, Bird said the Constitution is adequate to meet the challenges of today’s society.
“Human nature never changes. Since government is made up of human beings, it never changes,” he said.
The amendment process allows for change in the Constitution, should it be deemed necessary, Bird said. And the Bill of Rights already gives instructions for how the Constitution should be interpreted.
“The Ninth and 10th Amendments tell you how to interpret it — loosely for personal liberties and strictly for federal power, and right now we’re working the opposite, aren’t we? We use the government for just about anything we can dream up,” he said.
So far in his campaign, Bird has been frustrated in his attempts to get his message out to voters. He was ranked the nation’s top 2008 independent candidate by the Independent Political Report, but he says he’s been blacked out by mainstream media in Anchorage. He’s being outspent by leaps and bounds by both Stevens and Begich.
“My supporters are simple, humble working people who want freedom,” he said. “If I had $100,000 I would win this election, because the message is so different and unique that people instantly recognize it.”
Bird will continue his campaign, with plans to visit Southeast Alaska at the end of September and Fairbanks in the beginning of October. He’s currently scheduled to speak at the North Peninsula Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Oct. 9 and in a candidates forum held by the Kenai and Soldotna chambers on Oct. 21.
He said his message resonates with people, once they have an opportunity to hear it.
“No one’s ever told me I’m wrong, or that I’ve somehow misunderstood the Constitution,” he said. “… The philosophy applies at all times and in all ages of history. And that is this: Government, like fire, is a fearful servant and a deadly master. But we can’t live without fire. I’m not an anarchist. We can’t live without government. I want it as small as possible.”
Bob Bird on…
- Pebble Mine: “I think it’s a great thing to have a livelihood for the working men and women of Alaska other than getting a federal handout,” Bird said. As for the specifics of whether the mine should be allowed: “It should be only a matter of the state of Alaska. … These are questions for the people of Alaska to decide.”
- Global warming: “It’s a fraud of monumental proportions. It is Al Gore ‘Chicken-Little’ science. A government that wants power has to keep people in fear. The war on terror and the environmental war are both manipulated,” Bird said.
- Bird said the issue of whether global warming is occurring and whether human activity is to blame is unresolved. He said thousands of scientists who say global warming isn’t occurring or isn’t human-caused don’t get media coverage like those who say it is happening. If legislation is passed because of global warming, like federal protections for polar bears, it could have a serious impact on Alaska and its ability to develop its resources, he said.
- “All of this because supposedly polar bears are swimming around without an ice cake to climb on. And all of this passes as science and statesmanship? It is a mad hatter. You think, ‘My gosh, where has sanity gone?’”
- Opening ANWR to drilling: “Every Alaskan knows it’s absurd not to open ANWR,” Bird said. He favors opening ANWR in accordance with the statehood act, where Alaska would get 90 percent of the royalties from development.
- Iraq War: “Not constitutional, and I think on its merits it’s not justified. If we were serious about our nation’s security, why is our southern border unguarded? Anybody can cross that. It’s harder to get on an airplane than for potential terrorist to cross our border.”
- Gov. Sarah Palin as John McCain’s vice presidential running mate: “Mixed emotions. I’d rather have her as governor than as VP. She was elected for four years and still had something to prove. It’s smart for her and the Republicans, but the verdict’s still out on her job as governor.”
- Natural gas line from the North Slope: Bird said he wants to see an all-Alaska gas line with a bullet line to Fairbanks.
- “An all-Alaska gas line keeps Alaska in total control of the marketing. Right now we’d get almost twice the spot market value if we sent it to the Pacific Rim liquefied,” he said.