Southwell: I am something new

Posted: Friday, October 29, 2010

Ray Southwell, of Nikiski, has a challenge in his run as the Alaska Independence Party candidate for House Seat 34; he wants to convince people he's different from all of the other candidates running this season.

For the oft outspoken grandfather of eight, that shouldn't be too hard.

Southwell, who hails from Detroit, has spent most of his life in his native Michigan where we worked in health care.

He's been a nurse for 34 years, and was an enlisted man in the U.S. Navy before we went to nursing school.

He's said he's always felt an attraction to the 49th state.

In 1976 he and his wife almost moved to the north, but at the time she wanted to stay closer to home, he said, so they settled in northern Michigan.

Then, eight years ago, with their three children off and grown up, they made the move.

"As a nurse I'm in a real unique position because I can work in any state in the union and I think there's a need at, I think, every hospital anywhere," he said.

Southwell said the pull came from that desire to seek adventure in a land renowned for its hunting, fishing, wilderness and hiking.

There was another reason too though, he explained.

"I think some of the underlying issues for what I've been seeing for the last 20 years with where this nation has been going economically, this is going to be the better part of the country to live in with what we're facing in the near future," he said.

Southwell said they spent a little time in Anchorage. But when he realized that the metropolis was just like any other urban center anywhere else in the Lower 48, they looked for greener pastures and found fertile ground on the northern Kenai Peninsula.

Southwell's name is hardly an uncommon one in these parts now, though he's a relative newcomer to this particular political arena.

He has long voiced his concerns with the management structure of Central Peninsula Hospital and the direction the administration has has been taking that entity.

It has indeed, finally cost him his job as an emergency room nurse there.

Southwell said he has been on disciplinary probation since July because of his public vocalizations on issues that he sees at the hospital; and on Oct. 18, was fired.

CPH Chief Ryan Smith, confirmed that Southwell was terminated, but said he could not go into the specifics, or confirm if he had been on probation beforehand.

The firing certainly has Southwell in a bit of a conundrum, but it is perhaps the single most compelling example of who Southwell is as a person; someone that stands behind his convictions through thick or thin.

When asked what he'll do now, Southwell smiled and said, "Win, send me to Juneau, I need work."

Southwell, who threw his name in the ring for the seat back in May, said he was pulled into the race because he felt it was time to participate.

"I think where a lot of friends of mine and I differ is that there are five ways to change the government, four are peaceful, one is violent revolution," he said. "I do participate in all five of those areas actively." He said the political process is one that too often the public and the people complain about but rarely have answers for.

"We don't step up to the plate and exercise that political process to force change," he said.

Southwell lists his time in the health care industry as a significant qualifying asset for leadership in the legislature for two reasons.

The first, he said, is a solid understanding of that industry.

The second is a greater understanding of the economic, political and corporate issues that he sees facing the country and the state.

"For the last two years I have been active in researching and understanding what's been going on at my hopsital," he said. "I've certainly been very vocal on that and I'm out of a job because of that exposure." As a leader, he said he would take an open approach to working with other lawmakers.

"I think that if you approach things honestly and then explain that to people honestly, if they're honest, you'll get this cohesion on how to get the job done," he said. "The problem I see is that I'll approach something honestly but the corporate mind-set is overpowering, and I see that happening a lot in Juneau." Southwell said, as well, that's he's never had an issue with getting his feet wet on an issue he's not entirely familiar with.

He pointed to his time as a grievance officer at the hospital as a good example of this.

"In 1999 the health care industry realized it couldn't blame the nurses for everything, but also had to look at processes," he said. "I didn't understand all of what the Institute of Medicine was trying to do, so I studied it." He said his studies helped him to prove that errors sometimes come from these processes, something he said the hospital wasn't looking at.

Along with a willingness to hunt and gather information, Southwell said he'll stand behind the decisions he makes.

That's something he doesn't see in many of today's politicians.

One example he said, was when he attended a meeting in Moose Pass about a Homer Electric Association hydro electric facility being proposed in that area.

He said that he found a large group of concerned residents at the meeting, but was surprised that he didn't see any legislators there, despite a push by the state to seek more of its energy from renewable sources.

"After the meeting I thought to myself, I should have spoke up," he said. "That's what needs to happen, these legislators in Juneau who passed the idea that we need to look at alternative energies need to be saying to those folks, 'Look, you guys, we need alternative energy.'" He went on to say, "If you vote for it, step up to plate and argue for it, and if the people don't like what you say, and they vote you out, so be it, but you stick with your convictions, regardless of what the people think."

Southwell said he's prided himself as running as the non-politician.

He's campaigned this season on a small budget and the money he's spent has been his own.

Along with a sign he mounted to his van, his biggest expense has been printing of brochures that he hands out.

He said he expects to spend about $1,500.

He said he's made a point to attend various community events, from meetings to parades, where he can chat with voters about issues.

"I think we're in a unique time in history," he said. "People are angry and upset and fearful." At the same time, he said, while he has had some people call and tell him their stories, he's been somewhat surprised, and even a bit dismayed, that he hasn't received more interest or phone calls, despite listing it on the brochure.

"What makes this unique, is that people are angry at the incumbents at every level and people are fed up, and it's sad, there are more people voting in TV reality shows," he said. "I understand why, because we have two political action committees running the country. People say, 'What's the point, nothing changes.'"

And therein lies Southwell's challenge.

"That's the difficult part; Trying to convince people that I'm different," he said.

Southwell also addressed his involvement as a cofounder of both the Michigan Militia in the mid-1990s, and more recently the Alaska Citizens Militia.

He said that the negative light these organizations have been cast in is the result of media portrayal. He questioned the labeling of the groups as being extreme right, or as hate groups.

"Where's the documentation?" he said.

Southwell has a slate of issues he sees the need of address in Juneau, but at the top of that list is economics, he said.

"We've lost the understanding of what a true economic base is," he said.

He pointed to past national leaders who invested heavily in infrastructure projects during periods of economic crisis, and said the country needs to be on that course now.

He was vehemently critical of the billions given to Wall Street and to banks.

"So how does that relate to Juneau?" he said. "We need to look at this all-Alaska pipeline and how we fund it." He went on to criticize the current process in the state's capital of shipping gas from the North Slope.

"Right now I see Juneau saying to the corporations, 'Please, we beg you, build it,'" he said. "Nobody is going to build it." Southwell said he's suggesting taking some of the Permanent Fund investments, along with some of the state's reserve funding, and throwing $7 billion at constructing a gas pipeline from the North Slope to Valdez.

"If we take that step, two things will happen," he said. "Investors will come and the oil companies will come." He argued that those who don't want to invest money from the Permanent Fund should look at some of the places that money is already being invested.

"Look at our Hungarian and Greece investments," he said. "Why are we investing around the globe and we're not investing in Alaska?" He touted that such an investment would have numerous benefits, including putting people to work, reducing the delivery cost of the gas and opening a value added and export market.

"This, to me, is a no-brainer, but we're looking to the corporations," he said.

He's also concerned about the lack of oil flowing through the trans-Alaska pipeline.

"We have to find more oil and put it in the pipeline and we need to tell Washington -- how can I put it politely -- 'We're going to drill it and we're going to take it, now stop us from doing it,'" he said. "Washington has done nothing to help Alaska except made us dependent on them in the welfare system."

Southwell said he's also concerned about the direction the education system in the country is going, and called for more support for vocational courses.

"When I went to school we had vocational education," he said. "Now the emphasis comes from Washington, D.C., that everybody has to be going to college." He said in a state like Alaska, vocational education courses could help keep more kids in school and offer more students career options at home instead of Outside.

He looked at his own brother as an example.

"I'm convinced my brother never would have finished school if it weren't for vocational education," he said. "He spent half his day in school as a senior in auto mechanics class. That's what he loved. He ended up getting great job. He's younger than me and he's retired. I'm the one with the college education and I don't have retirement in sight."

He said he's also concerned about the size of classes.

He spoke emotionally about a daughter-in-law who he said used to love teaching. Then, last year the school system she worked for went through funding cuts and her class size went from 18 to 28. Her emphasis in class has since gone from teaching to controlling kids.

"Fortunately, it hasn't hit Alaska yet, but it will. The future is there," he said.

Dante Petri can be reached at dante.petri@peninsulaclarion.com.



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