''Vote like your life depends on it. My message is simple: It does.''
That urgent call to arms was issued last fall at the Alaska Federation of Natives conference by CIRI President Carl Marrs. The words are especially relevant today. With the recent redrawing of voter districts, the coming election season will be the biggest in state history.
Nearly the entire government will be up for grabs, and the winning party can control the course of state politics for at least the next 10 years, until the districts are redrawn again.
On the ballot will be 17 of 20 senators, all 40 representatives and the governor. Also up for re-election at the federal level are U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens and Congressman Don Young.
The election is especially important in rural Alaska. Represented by a minority caucus whose members must fight each other for the same dwindling funds, rural Alaska is an easy target.
To close a nearly $1 billion budget gap without raising new taxes, lawmakers want to reduce basic services like education and public safety. Considering rural Alaska's disproportionate cost of living and limited representation, it's easy to see who will get shortchanged.
That's why rural Alaskans should send a loud warning shot during the April 2 advisory vote on subsistence in Anchorage. Only Anchorage citizens can vote, but rural residents can make a difference by encouraging friends and family members in Anchorage to vote in favor of getting a subsistence amendment on the ballot.
It will read: ''Shall the citizens of Anchorage urge the Alaska Legislature to resolve the Subsistence issue by placing a constitutional amendment before the qualified voters at the November 2002 General Election: Yes or No?''
The Anchorage vote isn't binding, but a strong turnout would show legislators how far off the mark they really are. Polls have long shown that the public wants the vote, but the Legislature has refused to allow it.
They're afraid Alaskans would allow a rural subsistence priority in accord with federal law, an outcome the powerful sportfishing and hunting lobby doesn't want. They're afraid the public understands the moral significance of ensuring the cultural, spiritual and physical survival of Alaska's first people. This year, voting is indeed a matter of life and death.
-- Alaska Newspapers Inc.
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