As a fly-fishing guide and Alaska Salmon Fellow, I recently attended a launch party for the International Year of the Salmon here in Juneau. Gathering to celebrate fish were seiners I’d met in Kodiak, state representatives I’d had long meaningful conversations with on airplanes, my son’s baseball coach, scientists who work with my wife, as well as commercial fishermen, hatchery operators, and activists whom I’ve not yet met — even Lisa Murkowski stopped by — all of us bound by geography and a commitment to fish.
Walking home along a slushy Calhoun Street, energized by an evening with Alaskans working to safeguard our fisheries from development threats looming across the border in Canada, I was thinking about how this array of fish people certainly disagree about the details, but that we all want an Alaska with salmon, and we are doing what we can to make this vision a reality.
Responding to a text as I shuffled through wet snow, I looked up to see a large man in a red raincoat getting out of my way, his friend ducking behind him so I could pass on the narrow sidewalk. We exchanged pleasantries — “good evening,” he said, and I nodded and smiled — before we continued in opposite directions. It took me 10 seconds to realize I’d just passed the governor.
This isn’t uncommon here. Sarah Palin bought her own mochas (white chocolate, triple shot) at my favorite coffee shop. Sean Parnell walked his golden retriever past my house. Byron Mallott was a regular at little league games. But this latest gubernatorial encounter hit hard.
This fellow who wished me a “good evening” was the topic of discussion at the evening’s event. You’ve surely heard about his budget proposing to cut university funding by 41 percent, state ferries by 75 percent, K-12 education by 25 percent, while retaining significant cash payments to profitable oil companies. This draconian budget is consistent with his message that Alaska is the nation’s “natural resource warehouse”; apparently Alaskans are just the uneducated lackeys here to keep a few lights on so the global elite can empty out this warehouse. This budget also clarifies his campaign promise of “Standing Tall for Alaska.”
While I can assure you that he’s tall, this budget makes it clear he doesn’t stand for the same Alaska I live in. His warehouse vision for this place doesn’t include me, my colleagues or many of the salmon-loving people who were at the event.
I didn’t realize it was him in time to find words for any of this, but as I’ve been thinking about what I might have said, I keep coming back to the fact that he said “good evening.” He smiled, I’m pretty sure. So while I disagree with his policies, I’m also sure that he’s just a human, like me.
So the next time I see the big man in the red rain shell I will pause to look him in the eye — I’m 6’3” and I’ll have to crane my neck — and ask him to see me as one single human whose life’s work in Alaska is “zeroed-out” in his budget. I’ll say “good evening,” smile, and continue on my way, but I hope he’ll see a fellow human who has built a life here, who sits down to discuss societal problems with neighbors at the local cafe, who volunteers to coach soccer, who helps plant trees to repair damaged salmon streams, and who wants to raise two boys here who love this place and its inhabitants more deeply than words can capture.
Perhaps more importantly, we should all hope that Standing Tall means more than treating the lands and people of our great state as simple warehouse widgets.
The hopeful news is that the legislature seems to be taking a broader view. As they push back against this draconian budget, it seems that they know what the folks at the salmon event know: sometimes to protect things you love, you have to put aside differences, roll up your sleeves and work together to solve problems. Those legislators doing the “honest” work of crafting a real budget appear to see us, and they need the support of fellow Alaskans now more than ever.
• Kevin Maier is raising two Alaskan boys in Juneau, where he works as a fishing guide and professor. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.