Senator Berta Gardner

February 8, 2016

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An Offer to Help Create a Sustainable Fiscal Plan for Alaska

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Senator Gardner and Representative Tuck address the media about their proposal to have all lawmakers come together to develop a fiscal plan.
Senator Gardner and Representative Tuck address the media about their proposal to have all lawmakers come together to develop a fiscal plan.

Sixty years ago, 55 Alaskans assembled. They were from all walks of life, with differing beliefs and ideologies, each strong-minded with equally strong opinions. The task before them would test a different kind of strength - who was strong enough to compromise? Who had the depth of character to move from a position they knew in their hearts were right, knowing that their colleagues were equally certain of their own position, and equally wanted to create a future for Alaska that was bright, and full of opportunity.

The unimaginable happened, as we know, and those 55 delegates emerged from a hall in Fairbanks - much as our founders emerged two hundred years before in Philadelphia - with a document. The Alaska Constitution would be hailed and emulated around the world for its fairness, its celebration of individual rights and privacies, its acknowledgment of Alaskans’ collective ownership of our resources, and its affirmation of the democratic process. As remarkable as it was, it was not the first time that Alaskans had come together from across the political spectrum to bring about real advancement.

Fifteen years earlier, inspired by Elizabeth Peratrovich and her calls for basic civil rights for Alaska Natives, the Territorial Senate met in what was called a “Committee of the Whole” to debate equal rights, and a bill that would prohibit racial discrimination in Alaska.  Even though many senators spoke against equal rights at the committee, the forward-thinking whole passed the Alaska Civil Rights Act in a vote of 11-5.

Less than a decade after the constitution was ratified, massive oil deposits discovered on Alaska’s North Slope fundamentally changed the course of our destiny in ways our founders could not have imagined. This avalanche of oil wealth spurred some forward thinking Alaskan leaders to come together to create a plan preparing us for the day when this seemingly infinite supply of oil money reached its inevitable end. Alaskans, who now had a constitutional stake in their own commonly owned resources, now also had a stake in future prosperity through Alaska’s Permanent Fund.

Sixty years have passed. Alaska is still in its formative years compared to most other states in the union. We are still having growing pains.

There are definitive moments in Alaska history when all of us, with our hands on the tiller, are called to steer our ship of state away from the rocks, and to chart a course to open water and a prosperous future. So far we have steered our ship pretty well.

Today, we find ourselves at another defining moment in history. Our constitution stands firm, but our cash cow is running dry, and it is time once again for Alaskans to come together in strength, and in a spirit of optimism and cooperation to chart a new course. There are many courses that could lead us away from disaster, but by doing nothing there is only one outcome. We will crash, and we will all go down together.

Our history of working together in a collaborative alliance in Alaska is strong. When the chips are down, and the situation is urgent, we have always come through -shedding our identities as Republicans or Democrats, and remembering that in our core, we are Alaskans first, Alaskans together.

In 1959 we came together and ratified our Constitution.

In 1976 we used that Constitution and came together to create a secure future with our Permanent Fund.

And the last time we worked together, from 2006-2012, legislative leadership formed what we called a “bipartisan working group” – Bipartisan. Two parties. Working together. And it did work. Republicans and Democrats co-chaired committees, and we shared ideas, solutions, and gavels. Together, we charted our course, agreed to put inflammatory partisan issues aside, and work in unity for the good of the state we love. And we did. Together we passed good legislation. Together we saved more than 18 billion dollars for a rainy day. 18 billion dollars in the bank, when we worked for the common good.

Now, that 18 billion dollars is down to about 4 billion, and it’s shrinking fast. We’re even thinking about tapping that insurance plan that Governor Jay Hammond worked so hard to put in place.

The rocks are close, and we are running out of time. It is with this knowledge, and in the spirit of reconciliation, and unity that the Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition and the Senate Democrats extend our hand, and offer to go back to the last model we had that actually worked.

There is no worse time to be the captain of a ship than when faced with an imminent wreck, and we understand this. Our Republican colleagues are not in an enviable position. Regardless of what they decide, they will be asking Alaskans to make unpopular sacrifices. Everyone will dislike the fiscal plan, no matter what it looks like. We do not want to see our Republican colleagues fail, because we do not want to see Alaska fail.

It is because of this that we now offer in good faith to come together using the old model of the bipartisan working group, to join with the majority in solving these issues, which are absolutely critical to Alaska’s prosperous future. We offer to share the responsibility AND the burden.

It’s possible that our colleagues will say no. It’s possible that our partisan divisions are too deep and too wide to overcome. It is possible that the grip of political power is too strong. But Alaskans have overcome before. We have been strong enough to work together before. We have surmounted seemingly unsurmountable obstacles because of our devotion, our loyalty, and our belief in Alaska.

Whether we like it or not, the 29th legislature has a place in history, and we will be remembered. Just as those Republican and Democratic leaders of the past were able to take the long view and plan ahead for generations they would never know, so must we. And because we know that we have succeeded EVERY time Alaskans have united across party lines, we say to our Republican friends we are here, we are ready, and we will shoulder this with you for the good of the people of the state we all love.

This is a serious offer to both Majority caucuses, and one that was carefully considered. It has the support of every member of the minority House and Senate. We’ve been hearing lots of input from Alaskans about what to do in this fiscal crisis, and opinions are all over the map. But one thing we hear over and over is – Work together. Put politics aside. Focus on the big issues, and get it done. That message makes sense because most Alaskans are neither Republicans nor Democrats. Alaska is bigger than political party. We’ve taken that message to heart. We look forward to hearing back from our Alaskan colleagues, and to getting down to work.

I’m Berta and I’m still listening,

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact my office.

signed: Berta

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