OPINION: Alaska needs a sea change in how we pick our leaders

By John Hozey
Anchorage Daily News | October 19, 2022

I have been an Alaskan since the Air Force first brought me to the state back in the late 1980s. Since then, I’ve married a local girl and raised two sons here. I’ve had the honor to work for Sen. Ted Stevens; I’ve also served in municipal management for both the Ketchikan Gateway Borough and the City of Valdez; and I was privileged to help Gov. Bill Walker as his deputy chief of staff.

But after 30 years of public service to this state, at every level of government, I now find myself disillusioned over what it means to be an Alaskan, as well as the state of our current political discourse. Thirty years ago, I was so proud to call myself an Alaskan. Back then, most of the Alaskans who showed up on election day were considered hardy, hardworking stewards of the Great Land, who generally supported the concept of working toward a greater good.

But Alaska, and Alaskans, have changed.

Today we live in an Alaska where “most” Alaskans appear to be driven more by fear, divisiveness, and self-interest. Gone is any thought of the greater good. In fact, just mentioning that concept as a reason for potential self-sacrifice, often invokes anger among many.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not so naïve as to suggest that we haven’t always had a large portion of the electorate motivated by uninformed self-interest. What I’m saying is, that this group now represents the majority of those who vote.

Case in point: I am a lifelong Republican, so I am on their mailing lists. In 2018, I received a flyer in the mail from then-candidate Mike Dunleavy that looked like a Permanent Fund dividend check worth thousands of dollars, made out to me, signed by him as the next governor, with the message: Elect me and I’ll send you this check. He was essentially bribing voters with public money, and boy, did that ever work. Meaning, of course that he got elected; he certainly never sent me — or anyone — what he promised.

By comparison, Bill Walker was running for reelection at that time and had to explain that, for the greater good, he needed to control the terminal bleeding of the Permanent Fund reserve, so that it could survive to be there for our grandkids and beyond. But as we all know now, that greater-good explanation went over like a lead balloon.

This year we received the largest PFD in history. Why? Because Bill Walker, suffering great personal harm politically, took the action necessary to enable sustainable growth of the fund, which was then capable of producing this year’s dividend.

Ironically, Gov. Dunleavy is now reaping the rewards of Gov. Walker’s courage and wisdom; Gov. Dunleavy is also choosing to not answer tough questions or show up at debates if issues of the greater good might be discussed. He just wants to keep his head down in hopes of once again bribing voters with the public money from this year’s dividend.

If this wasn’t the case, and Gov. Dunleavy really had a vision for our state, one he truly felt was in the greater good; then why won’t he show up and articulate that vision? It’s because he has discovered that in today’s Alaska, that strategy just doesn’t sell. Instead, he understands that a successful candidate must now only play to partisan fear-mongering — to preserve divisiveness — and push the self-interest of this new “majority” of voters.

As someone with a fair amount of history and perspective on Alaska, I find this a truly disturbing new reality. Good people, who just want to put the state first, are becoming unelectable.

Polls now show that we could again pass by a man like Bill Walker for the likes of Mike Dunleavy. This should seriously alarm the former “majority” who once understood that serving the greater good, is actually what always winds up being in every individual’s best long-term interest — this year’s PFD is just one example.

This is really not about being on the left or right. It’s about recognizing that those who care about the greater good are more likely to approach all issues in a fairer, more holistic way.

So, what’s an Alaskan to do? Is it time to think about trying to turn the tide? If you might think so, please consider sharing this message, especially with those who might not understand, using whatever forum you think appropriate. Then get out there and help establish this needed new “majority” by making your vote count.

John Hozey is a longtime Alaskan who served as deputy chief of staff for former Gov. Bill Walker, as well as in other municipal government positions around the state, such as municipal manager for the City of Valdez. He lives in Copper Center.