Candidate for Alaska's lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives Tara Sweeney, a Republican, was in Juneau on Monday, May 16, 2022, and sat down with the Empire for an interview.  (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: Tara Sweeney is a terrific voice for all Alaskans

It takes an adept, broadly credible Alaskan to bridge competing interests and get things done…

  • By Tom Barrett
  • Wednesday, June 8, 2022 4:45pm
  • Opinion

By Tom Barrett

Many candidates seek your vote to become Alaska’s representative in the U.S. House of Representatives. I know and respect several of them. But Tara Sweeney is by far the best candidate to be the voice for all Alaskans in the House of Representatives. Tara’s Alaska roots are deep; she will bring them and unique professional and interpersonal skills, broad experience, and Alaska grit to the Congress.

I have known Tara for many years, while serving as president of the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, leading Coast Guard operations in Alaska, and living in Juneau, Kodiak and Anchorage. I understand how national government functions from service as Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard, leading the national agency for pipeline and hazardous materials safety, and serving as Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. I worked for Presidents of both parties, Cabinet Secretaries of both parties, and dealt routinely with Representatives and Senators of both parties, including the Alaska delegation and staffs. The most effective representatives were fierce advocates for their state’s interests, who also worked well with those of differing views, building bridges that advanced shared interests. Sen. Ted Stevens did this especially well, working closely with Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii. Both were strong partisans, but they partnered together where they found common ground. Both Alaska and Hawaii were far better served because of their ability to cooperate.

In the House Alaska has only a single representative of 435 voting members. It takes an adept, broadly credible Alaskan to bridge competing interests and get things done for Alaska on the legislative, regulatory, budget and policy matters the House routinely handles. Deep understanding of Alaska’s diverse people, Alaska’s economic and business challenges, responsible development opportunities, and community needs is essential. Glib sound bites and views shaped by the political philosophy of outside think tanks won’t cut it, nor will ranting only about what one is against. The ability to work with others across the aisle to gain outcomes that help Alaska is essential. Ted Stevens and Don Young had that ability; so does Tara Sweeney.

Tara was unanimously elected to serve as International Chair of the Arctic Economic Council, an international business organization that supports responsible business and economic development of the Arctic and its communities. Council focus areas, all important to Alaska, include maritime transportation, telecommunications, aviation, energy (oil, gas and renewable), mining, tourism, human resources investment and capacity building. The AEC hosted the first Top of the World Broadband summit in Utqiagvik(Barrow) in 2016 when Tara was International Chair. Tara was also unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate for the position of Assistant Secretary of Indian affairs at the Department of Interior. She is the first Alaskan Native woman to hold that position. Her unanimous confirmations are testimony to her ability, reputation for fair dealing, and integrity.

Tara’s experience extends from small business ownership to corporate executive at the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC), Alaska largest private corporation by revenue for many years. Tara served as labor and government affairs officer at Houston Contracting (HCC), a leading Alaskan pipeline construction and maintenance company. She managed stakeholder relations related to energy policy and was the first woman to serve on the company executive management team. Over time she rose to Executive Vice President of ASRC, where she helped shape and implement corporate positions on energy, taxation, resource development, broadband, capital access and government contracting. Public relations initiatives she oversaw received Northwest Regional Emmy Awards. Tara understands business and knows how to communicate.

Outsiders often have limited understanding of the realities of life for people who live and work here in Alaska. Spread over 365 million acres of land with little connecting infrastructure. Alaska’s communities and small population are isolated. In the lower 48 “rural” typically means access on narrow, winding roads, not “no” roads. Alaska is America’s only Arctic state, remote from the lower 48, but holding a globally strategic commercial and military location. Over 60% of land in Alaska is owned by the federal government, managed by a dozen federal agencies. White House staff and federal department officials make policies and issue directives and regulations that shape Alaskan’s lives. Simply demonizing all federals doesn’t help Alaska; and by the way thousands of federal employees are fellow Alaskan residents. Alaska needs a Representative who can get federal officials to act in ways that benefit Alaska. Tara has the skill to do that. Senator Stevens was once Solicitor of the Department of Interior. Knowing from inside how federal departments operate at a high level, especially the Interior Department, is an advantage for someone who aspires to Congress from Alaska. Tara has that advantage from her service as an Assistant Secretary at Interior.

Tara’s Alaska roots run from Noorvik to Wainright, to Utqiagvik (Barrow), Bethel, Unalakleet and Girdwood. She holds a B.S. in industrial and labor relations from Cornell University. She played Cornell Women’s Rugby as an open-side flanker. Players in that position are picked for strength, agility, tenacity, and toughness; they typically make the most game tackles. Tara still has those characteristics today. If elected she will bring them to the Congress, along with her ability to bring people together to benefit Alaskans. She is an Alaska strong, purpose-driven woman whose cause is Alaska. I urge you to vote for her.

• Tom Barrett is retired from senior government and business positions and lives in Anchorage. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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