Alaska is a place where more than 60 percent of the voters chose to describe themselves as independent or non-partisan, rather than Democrat or Republican. That 60 percent may in reality be shades of red or blue, perhaps even a blending into purple.
Is Alaska, therefore, a state where the majority reject party politics?
Or has the national level of polarization between Republicans and Democrats also forged a foothold into Alaska politics?
A new study conducted by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation underscores that the growing gulf between Republicans and Democrats has never been wider. Partisan polarization now presents a potentially insurmountable barrier to governing for whomever wins the White House in November, the study’s analysts say.
The study is based on a poll of more than 3,000 randomly selected adults. It’s no surprise that it finds sharp divisions over religious and social issues. The two parties are opposite on whether organized religious groups should stay out of politics or stand up for their beliefs in the political arena. The two parties are miles apart on whether it is better to have smaller government with fewer services or bigger government with more services. On economic matters, Republicans overwhelmingly say people should take care of themselves; Democrats overwhelmingly say government should do everything possible to improve living standards. Republicans see deficit reduction as more important than spending money in an effort to create jobs. Democrats believe the opposite.
On the issues, Alaskans also are divided in these ways. In local elections involving the Homer City Council and mayoral races, the rhetoric of party is not often found. But the debate over how much government should do to stimulate the local economy or spend on programs is very much part of the discussion.
As we head into the primary election on Tuesday, schisms in the two political parties’ system for organizing what to believe in and what to denounce also roars in the din of legislative campaigns. Is this a good thing?
Probably not. If it’s true that a new sharpness, a new edge of violent opposition to one another’s ideals is part of the national political character today, there is much to mourn. It is why Congress goes into gridlock over matters that desperately need solution, like a balanced federal budget. If it’s gotten so bad at the philosophical level that crossing aisles to make joint solutions is seen as unworthy – even immoral – activity, then we’re in big trouble.
Alaskans haven’t been strict by-the-party political practitioners, historically speaking. Our Democratic leaders often support big development projects and continued resource development. Our Republican leaders have been instrumental, at times, in protective environmental legislation. Many Alaskans believe it is good to cross-balance one another in a robust public discussion in favor of doing what’s best for the state financially, yet remaining environmentally proactive.
In Alaska politics, bipartisan coalitions are under attack in certain legislative political discussions this season, as if that kind of cooperation is a bad thing. The national debate on the “necessity” of keeping to party politics has, indeed, crept into the Alaska discussion. The high wall they erect in the Lower 48 has become a desired wall to close the commonalities of our party politics.
We need to ask ourselves whether this is to our liking, and if it is not, talk about it. Talk about it to candidates. Think through the consequences with an eye toward what ill is occurring in anti-coalition work in Congress.
We don’t have to let it happen here.
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