Due to the Nov. 4 elections, Alaska was in the spotlight like never before. Alaska’s leaders now must find a way to keep us there.
Most of the press Alaska received was due to the vice presidential candidacy of Gov. Sarah Palin. Like her or dislike her, there was no questioning her power to generate interest.
The state also received a fair amount of notoriety for the U.S. Senate battle between Sen. Ted Stevens and Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich. Normally, Stevens re-election bids are ho-hum, blowout affairs, but this time he was found guilty of seven felonies shortly before the election. This led to a tight race that still hadn’t been decided by Tuesday.
Alaska Rep. Don Young, despite being under federal investigation, also raised a few eyebrows around the nation by holding off a challenge from Democrat Ethan Berkowitz.
So while a Democratic wave, led by soon-to-be President Barack Obama, washed over the rest of the nation, Alaska remained staunchly Republican.
The question now is how Alaska’s leaders make sure they get a seat at the Democratic table.
Palin played the typical role of vice presidential candidate attack dog, storming around the country accusing Obama of associating with terrorists. She also is the new star and the current next great hope of the Republican Party. A national poll said 64 percent of Republicans consider her their top choice to run for president in 2012.
One part of Obama’s energy plan is to prioritize the construction of a natural gas pipeline from Alaska’s North Slope. Obama says the pipeline is critical to energy security and will create thousands of new jobs.
Constructing the natural gas pipeline also would be a significant feather in Palin’s cap. In a perfect world, the Obama and Palin administrations would work hand in hand to get the pipeline built, and not engage in partisan bickering over who gets credit for what.
It’s hard to see that happening. If push comes to shove, can Obama take a back seat on the project to Palin? Will Palin take a back seat to Obama?
As Deborah Williams of Alaska Conservation Solutions said in a television interview the night of the election, Obama’s and Alaska’s interests also intersect in the area of climate change. Williams has called Alaska ground zero for climate change, because this state has warmed more in the last four decades than anywhere in the country. How will Palin and Obama work together to address the problem?
If Stevens does return to the Senate, his power to bring home the bacon will be severely diminished. The Democrats now have a solid majority in the Senate, and Stevens’ stature took a hit due to the felonies. Young also will have to work to gain traction in a Democratic House of Representatives.
Young and Stevens are powerful figures in Alaska partly due to their ability to work earmark magic, but with the highlighting of earmarks in the presidential election and the ethical police all over Stevens and Young, the gravy train has left the station.
Alaskans overwhelmingly turned out for Palin, stood by Young, and appear ready to let Stevens go with a slap on the wrist because Alaska still believes in their leadership qualities. In the face of numerous obstacles, and at a critical time for the state, these leaders must prove Alaskans right.