Business, labor leaders to attend subsistence summit

Posted: Sunday, August 12, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Gov. Tony Knowles has invited labor and business leaders to his subsistence summit this coming week, joining the Native leaders, hunters, fishermen and legislators who have been trying to solve the knotty problem for more than a decade.

The reason is simple, said Bob King, Knowles' spokesman: ''Business leaders have a vested interest in seeing this issue resolved. They don't like to see the state torn apart, and they recognize it makes good sense to have strong ties with rural Alaska.''

Knowles hopes that bringing these influential leaders into the talks will result in support for a constitutional amendment granting a rural subsistence priority and in turn put the pinch on lawmakers opposed to a rural preference, King said.

The last time the Legislature considered such a measure, it died when eight senators voted against it, leaving its supporters two votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to put the measure before voters.

Some of those senators say Knowles' strategy is flawed.

''If the governor thinks he can get pressure groups to convince me to change my vote, he's wrong,'' said Sen. Randy Phillips, R-Eagle River. ''There's nothing they can do to change my mind. Zip. Nada. Nothing.''

The half-dozen business leaders invited to the summit say they're not there to push Knowles' agenda. They believe they have a legitimate place in talks on a subject that they say hurts Alaska's residents and economy.

''It's an issue that the AFL-CIO in Alaska has never been fully engaged in, and I believe we need to be,'' said Mano Frey, the labor organization's president. ''It impacts our members.''

Dick Bishop, a vice president of the Alaska Outdoor Council, the state's largest hunting and fishing group, said he welcomes the new faces to the subsistence discussion because it's a chance to explain what his group sees as serious problems with the federal law.

David Wight, the new CEO of Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., has only been in the state for a year but said he has seen how the subsistence debate injects mistrust into business relationships.

''Alyeska crosses so much of the state, in rural areas, and it shows up in a hurry,'' he said in a telephone interview. Those who believe the rural priority is unconstitutional tend to clash with villagers who embrace that privilege, he said.

Besides hampering personal relations, ''the fact that it's unresolved hurts the state's economy,'' said Rob Shoaf, an Alyeska vice president and chairman of the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, which represents 600 businesses and individuals and 38 local chambers.

Development in Alaska requires cooperation, he said, and subsistence can become a bargaining tool that can stall or kill projects here. If an industry comes to a Native group for support on a project, Natives may respond by saying ''you're not helping us with subsistence or funding for rural schools, why should we help you get your project built?'' Shoaf said.

The natural gas pipeline may be one project impacted by the subsistence debate, he said.

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