In this June 23, 2016 photo, the Alaska Marine Highway’s ferry Matanuska passes Eagle Glacier. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

In this June 23, 2016 photo, the Alaska Marine Highway’s ferry Matanuska passes Eagle Glacier. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: Make Southeast Alaska America’s 51st state

SEXIT: The great state of chinook.

  • By GERSHON COHEN
  • Monday, April 1, 2019 7:00am
  • Opinion

I’ve been involved in politics for most of the 36 years I’ve lived in Southeast Alaska. I believe compromising is great when you can do it, but sometimes the divide is just too wide. Take, for example, the many gaps between Southeast Alaska and the rest of the state. Nevertheless, there still is a chance for a win-win.

I’m talking about SEXIT: Southeast Exit.

Southcentral folks don’t believe Southeast is part of Alaska in the first place, and with Passover coming in a few weeks, I’m reminded of when Moses cried out to Pharaoh: “let my people go.” Well, it got me thinking, maybe it’s time to partition Alaska into two states.

Southeast is geographically separate; you have to drive for hours through Canada just to get to the rest of of the state. We support ourselves primarily on fishing and tourism, while the rest of the state’s economy depends on oil and mining. A majority of Southeast votes progressive — even many Southeast Republicans support education and Medicaid, while most Alaskans are conservative and all they seem to care about is cutting services and the promise of a big Permanent Fund Dividend. We float our highway. They drive on land. We have the Capitol down here, and god knows they want one up there. I could go on, but you get the point.

Rather than continue to be members of one uncivil family, why not amicably divorce and just try to be good neighbors? We could stop trying to change them, and they could stop trying to change us.

Between fishing, tourism and a little mining, and our willingness to pass an income tax, we could make ends meet in Southeast. We have the infrastructure we need, and we could spend our highway dollars building a world-class ferry system. We’d give up our oil-based PFD (which would certainly make folks up north happy) and amend federal law to create a new PFD based on cruise ship tourism (I’ll bet Florida would want one too).

Sure, our population would be considered very small for a state. There are only about 75,000 of us right now but we’d easily top 100,000 once some of the folks in Anchorage, Homer and Talkeetna realize what a cool place this would be to live. Nevada only had 40,000 people when it became a state. Okay, so that was in 1864, but is this really a numbers game? Rhode Island is just over 1,200 square miles and that’s a state, while the Haines Borough alone covers 2,700 square miles. And consider this: Wyoming has 500,000 people and two U.S. Senators. California has 40 million people and two U.S. senators. Do the math — we’d be a lot closer to Wyoming in per capita representation than Wyoming is to California.

We clearly have different values and priorities from the people now running Alaska. After all, folks in Southeast support funding education, maintaining the ferries, protecting fisheries and taking care of the elderly, and we’re willing to pay an income tax to support those programs if necessary.

I know SEXIT sounds like a radical idea, but it’s April 1, 2019; maybe it’s time to agree to disagree and go our own way.

Imagine … America’s 51st state, the Great State of Chinook.


• Gershon Cohen has lived in Southeast Alaska since 1983. He works to protect public waters and coauthored the 2006 cruise ship ballot measure. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.


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