“We are all in the same team”: Inside the Alaska model of US politics

“We are all in the same team”: Inside the Alaska model of US politics

Mary Sattler Peltola, Democrat, was looking for a chief staff member. She chose someone who had extensive experience in her state and a good knowledge of Alaska. He is also a Republican. Alex Ortiz was the last person to serve in that role. She succeeded Don Young who was a titan of the state and died in 2022. He set a record for the longest-serving Republican Congressman in American history.

After winning an August special election to succeed Mr. Young, Representative Peltola also put him on her payroll. Another Young vet, the scheduler for Representative Peltola, was also a communications director. She has experience in conservative trenches.

In the Capitol, party loyalty is more important than a flawless resume. Washington colleagues asked Ms. Peltola whether she would change the party affiliations of her staff.

This is Why We Did It

71% want Democrats and Republicans working together. Is “the Alaska Way” a way to return to moderation?

She said, “That was quite surprising” in a telephone interview.Rep. Peltola says that the staffers were hired for their deep knowledge of Alaska and the workings of federal government. She says it was practical and “common sense”. I would not ask anyone to switch their party affiliation. Although we are all part of the same team and all share the same goals, we all remain united.Our team has autonomous members.”

Americans tired of the polarization that is causing so much chaos and lack of practicality in America can look to Alaska, which has reelected Senator Lisa Murkowski, a moderate Republican, for a full term. It’s raising questions as to whether this “Alaska model” could be replicated in other states.

Alaska is the nation’s new frontier“A road map to political parties and the development of political discourse in the country. … That is what I expect.Zack Brown, the former communications director of Congressman Young, said that this will happen in the next years and into the future. In a campaign advertisement for Ms. Peltola’s reelection, Mr. Brown was featured. He and several other ex-Young-sters spoke out in October to praise her positive campaign and bipartisan approach and promise to continue Mr. Young’s legislative priorities for Alaska.

The key to making the Alaska Way possible is an alternative voting system. Alaska implemented a unique voting system last year that included completely open primaries as well as ranked-choice voting. This resulted was that the red state sent two moderates to Congress. This representative, the first Democrat in Alaska to occupy the lone House seat for over 50 years and the first Alaska Native elected to Congress. Signs on yards featured Ms. Murkowski with Ms. Peltola, and the Republican senator stated publicly that she would vote for the Democratic congresswoman.

A lot has also been said about the fact that Ms. Peltola did not run a negative advertisement as a candidate. Trump-endorsed Republican Sarah Palin, a former governor and former vice-presidential nominee, is her chief competitor. Palin, a former governor who has lost much of its star in the bright night sky above the Last Frontier, was Palin’s main rival. Actually, they’re friends. This is true of both Ms. Peltola as well as Mr. Young’s family.

Sarah Palin, a Republican is seen before the debate for Alaska’s only U.S. House Seat on October 26, 2022 in Anchorage. In the November general elections, Ms. Palin was challenged by U.S. Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola, Republican Nick Begich and libertarian Chris Bye. Ms. Peltola prevailed.

The state Legislature is another example of bipartisanship. Despite having the largest number members, Senate Republicans have chosen to begin the year in Juneau as a majority coalition with Democrats. Each chamber has a history of bipartisan majorities, mainly due to fractures in the GOP over fiscal issues. Three GOP senators from Alaska will not be able to attend the Jan. 17 Alaska Legislature. They are still in committees but they cannot lead or set the Legislative Agenda.

Ivan Moore,Alaska Survey Research has an independent polling company.He calls November’s election “a victory for moderation”. This is unusual, he said, considering that the state voted twice in favor of Donald Trump, and that the state Legislature had for many years been dominated by Republicans, even if they were not all veto-proof.

The majority of Americans desire compromise

The ideological middle of America might find Peltola’s acceptance of common sense, continuity and even those on the opposite side of the aisle appealing. Gallup reports that 37% of Americans described themselves as moderate in 2021. This is a tie with the “conservative” (36%), and ahead of the “liberal (25%). Gallup finds that the nation’s largest political group is now made up of independents: 42% identify as such, which represents at least one third of those who self-identify themselves as Democrats and Republicans. However, independents can often be leaning in either direction.

According to Pew Research Center, this is correlated with growing dissatisfaction with each party. The percentage of Americans disapproving of either party has risen to its highest point in many decades, due to increased hostilities and large majority of Republicans and Democrats now calling people from the opposing party “immoral.” While only 6% of 1994’s population had negative opinions about both the Democrats and Republicans, more than 25% have negative views.

The majority of Americans desire that the parties work together. Pew also found that 71% of Americans believe compromise in politics can make things work, even though it may mean sacrificing one’s beliefs.

Don Young, Office of Congressman

Mary Peltola and Don Young, a Republican congressman, meet in Washington, D.C. Following his death, and his election, Mary Peltola (a Democrat) hired Don Young’s chief-of-staff and other Republicans.

Rep. Peltola will answer questions about both her worlds by describing her parents. Her father is from Nebraska, her mother is Alaska Native, and all her family members are Republicans. She also describes her Alaska Native mother with 100 percent Democrats. Both branches are described by her using the same expression: “kindhearted and hardworking people.” She says that this has enabled her to “see people for who they really are”,“Without labels” – Democrat, Republican or white.

We all share the same basic human needs. All of us want to be recognized. Respect is what we all want. She says, “We want to feel loved.” We all love our children. We love our parents. All of us are proud of our parents.Where we are now.”

Walking in the two worlds

It is believed that Ms. Peltola represents the ideal of a bridge-builder both politically and culturally. Her family was born on the Kuskokwim River, in western Alaska. She can easily switch between English and Yup’ik languages. Both Natives and nonnatives are proud of her victory. She walked onto the stage at October’s Alaska Federation of Natives Convention to thunderous applause. Participants spontaneously sang the Russian Orthodox Church hymn of blessing, which is where she belongs along with many Natives. The Inupiat song of thanksgiving was also performed.

Photo courtesy of Mary Sattler Peltola, Office of Rep.

Mary Peltola fishing. She can fill a freezer, as many Alaskans are fond of saying. A campaign ad showed her at summer fish camp, filleting salmon.

Ms. Peltola considers the Kuskokwim River Community of Bethel her home, located 400 miles west from Anchorage. The Yup’ik community of Bethel is a Yup’ik center for the area’s villages. Despite a harsh climate and subsistence culture and reliance upon weekly water deliveries, it has a metro feel with a growing population.,Ana Hoffman has been friends with Ms. Peltola since middle school. She says that the airport is becoming more diverse and it’s the third-busiest in the state. She says residents feel rooted in their community. This is evident by the summer camp where families lay up winter fish.When she was six years old, Ms. Peltola began commercial fishing alongside her father. She was a teenager and served a decade as the Bethel regional representative in the state Legislature. There she earned a reputation of collaboration.

She is a responsible Alaskan, just like most Alaskans. For a while, she worked as a project manager for a goldmine. She was also the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission’s executive director. This commission works to preserve fast-dwindling salmon stocks in west Alaska. Many Alaskans rely on hunting and fishing for survival. Her campaign was “pro-fish”, pro-family and pro-freedom.

Nathaniel Wilder/Special To The Christian Science Monitor

As seen from the Kuskokwim River, Bethel is an Alaska community. Mary Peltola (from Bethel) was a representative of the area in the state Legislature for a decade, earning a reputation as a collaborator.

Sheri Buretta is chairman of Chugach Alaska Corp. Chugach Alaska Corp. was one of twelve tribal corporations created under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. She explained that Ms. Peltola is able to understand the rural, remote world of Alaska Natives (20%) and the more urban Alaska including Los Anchorage, where her husband Gene “Buzzy”, Peltola has a home.

Interview at Representative Peltola’s office. Here, Native headdresses and beads are displayed on the shelves and walls, while giant plates glass windows show the magnificent Chugach Mountains. Ms. Buretta described Representative Peltola in an interview as one who understands “how government works and how business operates, and how to compromise to meet the people’s needs.”

Face-to-face outreach

Andrew Halcro gets choked up when he reminisces about the first meeting with Ms. Peltola. He was just a rookie Republican legislator in Juneau. Ms. Peltola was also a freshman. He arrived at the conclusion that, “by God,” we were going to reduce the state’s budget deficit. Cut. Cut. Reduce.

So, shortly after arriving, he delivered a speech from an “ignorant”, privileged, white-guy’ perspective in which he urged rural Alaskans to get rid of subsidies and to build better economies. He had never been to remote areas except for sports. It was quickly and widely received.

He recalls that Mary Peltola arrived at his office within an hour. After acknowledging that they were new to each other, she offered to meet him for a conversation about Alaska rural, including the Energy Cost Equalization Program, which he had recently thoroughly denigrated.

Nathaniel Wilder/Special To The Christian Science Monitor

Andrew Halcro, a former Republican lawmaker, at his Anchorage home on December 6, 2022. She shared with him her rural Alaska knowledge as a freshman in the state Legislature. He says, “That made me feel secure.”

He says that this created a bond with me and gave me the desire to help rural Alaska understand and advocate for it.His cheeks.

Alaska can be difficult to manage. This is the reality, says Mr. Halcro. He has unsuccessfully run for governorships and Congress as an Independent. The price of and the production of oil will determine how much money Alaska has. The state’s large terrain, which is the biggest in the nation, houses far-flung communities with only a few residents. He, Ms. Murkowski and Ms. Peltola were newcomers to the state House. They created a bipartisan fiscal strategy caucus in order to address structural budget issues. The state lost only the alcohol tax, while it is struggling with outmigration.There are some bumps in the bottom when compared to other states for education, public safety and economic growth.

Ms. Hoffman is Ms. Peltola’s friend and co-chair of Alaska Federation of Natives. She describes Ms. Peltola’s election as “restorative”. This means that it will be good for democracy and fish. The supply of salmon has reached a crisis on the Kuskokwim River. She says that the result of the new voting system has been noticed by Indigenous People and other people in the lower 48.“Mary’s election helps to restore people’s faith in democracy – far beyond Alaska,” states Ms. Hoffman. She is also president and CEO at Bethel Native Corp.

Nathaniel Wilder/Special To The Christian Science Monitor

Ana Hoffman is co-chair of Alaska Federation of Natives. She lives in Bethel, and has been friends with Mary Peltola ever since she was in middle school. Ms. Hoffman is shown in Anchorage (Alaska) on December 4, 2022.

Alaskan spirit

Can the Alaskan model be replicated?

The state known as the Last Frontier is characterized by a strong independence streak, some calling it libertarian. Amazingly, 57.6% are registered here as voters who have not declared their political affiliation. According to Mr. Moore, most Alaskans are from the lower 48 in order to escape the take-no-prisoners policies of the lower 48. He says that “In some respects we are fundamentally different.” He suggests that Alaskans are open to innovative ideas such as open primaries or ranked-choice voting because of this difference.

The state is also characterized by a cooperative spirit. Although it is a beautiful area, there are also dangers. A passerby might be able to help you if your tire gets flat. Mr. Moore experienced this after he hit a pothole. You might need fuel to get your boat out of a remote area. Moore says that Alaskans are rooted in mutual survival, which leads to an ingrained sense of reasonableness.

It’s huge, but it is also the most populated state in the country. The size of Washington D.C., Ms. Peltola says, “There’s only 1 degree between Alaskans.” Everyone knows everyone else.

She and Ms. Palin, for instance, were both pregnancies when Ms. Palin served as governor and Ms. Peltola was a member of the state Legislature. Ms. Palin was full of praise for her friend in 2022After Ms. Peltola’s win, campaign, he complimented her on being an “alaska chick”. Similar to Mr. Young’s early years, Ms. Peltola was raised by her father, who worked as a mechanic for the company. Her mother was also pregnant at that time, so she campaigned for him. It was a very emotional moment when Ms. Peltola received her prized bolo tie from Mr. Young by one of his daughters at last year’s Native convention.

Although Alaskans may be different from other people, it does not mean that they can’t work together, Ms. Peltola says. Ms. Peltola reminisces about growing up during a period when Republican Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan was referring to President Jimmy Carter with the phrase “There you go again!” America used to have a certain level of civility, which it is able to recapture, she says.

She says that “We begin with ourselves” and urges elected officials to set an example for others. Attitudes can be contagious. It will spread if there are enough people doing it. It was the culture we used to have before.

New voting process

Alaskans approved in 2020 a ballot initiative for nonpartisan open primaries. Every registered voter has the right to vote for one candidate. The top four candidates advance to the general elections. Then, ranked voting begins. This is when the voters rank their choice for every office according to preference. No candidate receives more than 50% of the votes, and the votes for the lowest candidate are eliminated. The votes for that candidate are then redistributed according the preference until the winner is chosen with the majority vote.

This process has two purposes: It ensures that candidates with broad support don’t get filtered out of a closed-partisan primary and encourages a civil tone and wider appeal for candidates seeking to reach beyond their base in order to attract voters who may choose them to be their second choice.

Richard Pildes of New York University School of Law, an expert in election law, says that the overall goal is to reward those who have broad support. There is no reason to. [the Alaska model] It cannot be used in another state.”

Nevada voters approved an identical ballot measure last November. It will require them to approve the amendment to their state constitution again in 2024 to make it effective. Since 2018, Maine uses ranked-choice voting in its state primaries and general elections. Federal candidates are excluded. It was extended to include presidential elections in 2020. FairVote promotes ranked-choice voting in six other states, including two counties and 58 cities.

“I’m kinda a fan” the new voting system says Cathy Giessel. She will be the Republican majority leader of the Alaska Senate, which convenes this month. It wasn’t always like this, she says. She says, “I believe this will allow voters – particularly what people sometimes call the silent majority’, the people in middle – to have a real voice and not have these elections run by the parties,” on a sunny winter afternoon at University of Alaska Anchorage.

Francine Kiefer/The Christian Science Monitor

Cathy Giessel, December 2, 2022 outside University of Alaska Anchorage School of Nursing Alaska’s newly established voting system has benefited Ms. Giessel. She will now be the Republican majority leader of the Alaska state Senate. The new system allows “the silent majority”, she says, to speak up.

Giessel, the state senator-elect has directly benefited and learnt from this new process. She was previously the Senate President, but she lost her reelection bid in 2020 after she was primaried from to the right. She tapped into a wider audience this time by knocking on 8612 doors as part of a strong retail campaign. By emphasizing the common good, she found many former Republicans as well as Democrats. She heard it repeatedly: People want simple problems to be solved. Politics doesn’t matter to them.

“I spoke to some very interesting people that, even if it had been a closed primary I wouldn’t have gone to the door to speak to them. “That really helped me to see the bigger picture,” Ms. Giessel says. In the end, it paid off. Her Democratic opponent, who was ranked second in the polls gave her a large majority. It was the same with Senator Murkowski who ran against Trump-backed candidate Kelly Tshibaka. Many Alaska Republicans hate Ms. Murkowski for her vote against repealing Obamacare and in support of President Trump’s impeachment.

How about political parties?

Alaska’s ex-Lt. Governor Snowfalls gently Loren Leman enters New Sagaya City Market, Anchorage. It’s not something most people know, but this is the beginning of an “snowmaggeddon”, which will dump 4ft over the next 11 days. This could bring the city to near a standstill. It’s cozy inside – it’s a liberal hangout according to the Republican remarks, but they love their great coffee.

Nathaniel Wilder/Special To The Christian Science Monitor

Former Lt. Governor of Alaska Loren Leman, downtown Anchorage (Alaska), Dec. 17, 2022. He is a staunch opponent to the new state voting system. He says, “It renders political parties more irrelevant in terms influence.”

He was Alaska’s lieutenant governor during the 2000s. The new system of voting is something he strongly opposes. Over a cup of coffee, he said that “it makes political parties more irrelevant in terms influence.” Political parties are there for a reason. Because they have values people are able to identify with, many people associate with them.

This criticism is not uncommon. There are also complaints about Alaska’s new system being too complicated (even though 79% of respondents said it was simple) and taking more than two weeks for final vote tally – raising suspicions that fraud may be involved. He also said that the system does not fulfill its promises to remove power from special interest dark money. He wrote an opinion piece against the measure and questioned the system’s promise of producing leaders who are “wiser and kinder” than the dark money special interests.

Mead Treadwell is another Republican ex-lieutenant governor who was against the new voting system. She notes that Republicans were unable to unite behind one primary winner because of the new method of voting. Her two Republican oppositions, Nick Begich and Ms. Palin, went at one another with a hammer and tong. They somehow missed the fact they were demeaning their supporters by ranking them either as their second choice. Redistributed Begich voters were what eventually made Ms. Peltola a majority. Treadwell says, “We never had the chance to combine.”

Nathaniel Wilder/Special To The Christian Science Monitor

Former Lt. Governor of Alaska Mead Treadwell in Anchorage (Alaska) on December 17, 2022. Treadwell points out that Republicans were unable to unite behind one primary winner because of the new voting system. He adds, “We never had the chance to unite.”

Alaska’s new voting system was approved by only 4,000 votes. Efforts are being made to repeal the law through a new ballot initiative. The pollster Mr. Moore believes that this could happen. However, he remains puzzled by the objections of conservatives. Republican Governor. Mike Dunleavy was elected to a second term on the first round. Typically, there are almost twice the number of Republican candidates than Democrats. Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats. The new system, especially the open primary, had an “huge” impact, however, winners also ran winning campaigns. Ms. Murkowski, Ms. Peltola were helped by supporters of abortion rights.

He isn’t the only one who describes Ms. Peltola “first-rate” candidate.

Because she does what they do, Ms. Peltola can be relatable to everyday Alaskans, according to Jim Lottsfeldt (political strategist), who created the super-political action committee Vote Alaska Before Party to help her get elected. She can, like many Alaskans before her, “fill a freezer.” A campaign ad showed her at summer fish camp, filleting salmon. Alaskans were reminded by her possession of more than 170 firearms and that she hunts.

M. Lottsfeldt says that rank-choice voting was a way for her to get in the door. “But she didn’t stumble. “She didn’t run through the door. She just ran.”

Road ahead

The hard part is now. In contrast to her months of service in Congress, Rep. Peltola suddenly finds herself in the minority party. The agenda for the House will be set by Republicans, and not Democrats. She is a moderate, but she can be a swing vote in a room where Republicans hold the most power.

Additionally, she has the bully pulpit and an administration who’s supposed to be on her side. Recently, she teamed up to Senator Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, and Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan to pressure the government to declare Alaska fisheries catastrophes so that fishermen can receive relief funds. This was something that she successfully lobbied for in the huge year-end spending bill.

She’ll be judged in Alaska, like Mr. Young by the work she does for Alaska, in terms of what she brings home to fund development projects and jobs as well as constituent services. She says that relationships are what influence policy. So she is learning all the names and addresses of the 434 House members she knows, as well as continuing the “fish Fridays” tradition she started in Alaska House where she shared salmon among her colleagues.

Her top goal is to authorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act, 1976 law which manages fishing in U.S. waters. She literally spoke turkey last fall on the House Floor with Rep. Bruce Westerman, Arkansas’s incoming GOP Chair of the Resources Committee. What is better, stuffing or dressing? He asked his mom to make dressing. She learned that cornbread is used in it. He told her how much Mr. Young meant to him and that he wanted her to continue his legacy, such as reauthorizing Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Peltola knows that voting in divided America will “annoy 50% of the people”. She’s therefore inclined to support an energy independence bill which Democrats don’t like but which Republicans plan to introduce quickly. This bill would increase domestic fossil fuel production as well as critical mineral mining.

She can’t fix the American partisan split, but she believes she can help as a House Member.

We face formidable foreign challenges. There are formidable domestic problems. American cannot afford to engage in partisan bickering,” says Representative Peltola. We need to be able to see the real problems and then find ways to solve them.

Editor’s Note: Maine has clarified the implementation of ranked-choice voting.

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