Seward’s Day commemorates the signing of the proposed Alaska purchase treaty by American Secretary of State William Seward and Russian diplomatic minister Edouard de Stoeckl. Coinciding as it does this year with Easter, the commemoration likely will get lost in public consciousness, despite David Strathairn’s effective portrayal of Seward in the blockbuster film “Lincoln.”
That’s unfortunate. Seward is not significant just for Alaska; he was one of the most important political figures in 19th century America.
Strathairn’s rendering of Seward in Spielberg’s film was a bit too good. As Lincoln’s right hand and political lieutenant, Spielberg’s Seward orchestrates the disbursement of money and favors needed to secure the votes to pass the 13th Amendment through Congress, to guarantee the abolition of slavery.
Strathairn is fully convincing as the consummate political apparatchik, directing unsavory operatives and providing deniability. But it’s an incomplete portrait, prejudicial to Seward’s true character and achievement.
Senate passage of Senate Bill 21, Gov. Parnell’s oil tax giveaway, was sealed last summer through the apparent strategy of a Republican-controlled realignment of legislative districts. Kenai Peninsula Republican John Torgerson, who heads up the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Economic Development District, led the state’s Republican-dominated reapportionment effort.
Despite the defeat of similar legislation last year, SB 21 required only a few oil-friendly seats to assure passage. Senate District O was a chief target. Senate District O was realigned to extend from oil-friendly Kenai and Soldotna on the north to decidedly less oil-friendly Homer to the south. The incumbent was Republican Tom Wagoner. Wagoner was pro-oil but might be described as pro-little oil, favoring Cook Inlet development by the Apaches and Buccaneers. These are multimillion-dollar companies, to be sure, but a drop in the oil barrel compared to giants like ConocoPhillips, BP or mega-giant ExxonMobil, one of the largest corporations in the world.
While it was instructive to read our mayor declare in these pages that Homer is open for business, the descriptive comments made by our town’s putative leader as to our economic future left this reader with many concerns.
To start with, it seems clear that the mayor has not read, much less reflected on, the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) issued by the Homer Economic Development Advisory Commission in February 2011. Otherwise, the picture and emphases she described may have been considerably different. It also appears that the mayor has little more than a superficial understanding of the economic driving forces and demographics of this community or of rapidly changing future trends.
The mayor puts much of the economic future of Homer in a few baskets, namely oil and gas development, harbor related activity and tourism. Nothing too surprising or revelatory about that. If the past is indeed prologue, then we could take some comfort in this picture.
The fate of the shellfish industry in Southeast Alaska appears to be sealed. This fate has comparatively little to do with overfishing or the return of sea otters. It has to do with CO2 and the fact that about 25 percent of CO2, which comes mostly from coal-fired power generation and fossil fueled powered vehicles, gets absorbed by the ocean, resulting in an increase in ocean acidity. This increase negatively affects the calcification process used by shellfish to make shells.
Since there has been no real effort to address this issue by only a few governments in the world, it is probably already too late to save the shellfish industry. The question is when we will lose shellfish, and that is something over which we do have some limited control.
In Health and Social Services Committee last Tuesday we had our first hearing on House Bill 16, drug and alcohol testing for adult public assistance recipients.
The committee considered a substitute version, which introduced several changes to the bill language. The biggest changes included deleting the section which would define the testing procedure in statute and shifting the testing guidelines from randomized to ‘reasonable suspicion.’
Testimony from the public and the Department indicated that the CS was moving in the right direction, but questions were still raised in regards to the constitutionality of required testing and the practicality of implementing the program, especially in our rural areas. This is a delicate issue which will require careful discussion.
Jack-up rig property taxes, based on assessed value as determined by Alaska Department of Revenue are, (drumroll): The Buccaneer Endeavour, which can leave Homer, but cannot drill, has a taxable value of $40,241,590. That could bring the city $180,000 in taxes for 2013, subject to the appeal process.
The borough gets a similar sum, while the South Peninsula Hospital Service Area receives $90,000. This is disappointing for local government, which expected four times as much.
Rep. Paul Seaton has introduced legislation, House Bill 89, that directs the state Department of Fish and Game to set up a rapid response plan to deal with incipient aquatic invasions. Other state agencies with responsibilities for the health of state waters would be drawn in, as well. Seaton’s measure also establishes an aquatic invasive species fund.
Aquatic invasive species are a well-known problem in Alaska, and it’s high time for such action here, in perhaps the most marine and freshwater-dependent state in the country. Once introduced, aquatic invaders are difficult to eradicate, and can have a permanent effect on the environment including catastrophic damage to local fisheries.
This Thursday, the Community & Regional Affairs Committee will hear House Bill 131 in Juneau. This bill, introduced by Rep. Seaton, brought forward through resolution by the Alaska Association of Harbormasters and Port Administrators, and further pushed ahead by Cook Inletkeeper, will take a first step toward improving the ability of municipalities and state agencies to deal effectively with abandoned and derelict vessels along Alaska’s vast coastline.
A biotechnology company called AquaBounty Industries and a principal investor, Intrexon, are poised to become the Monsanto of salmon production. Last April, the Food and Drug Administration found “no adverse affect” for human consumption of a salmon AquaBounty created called AquaAdvantage. After public comment, it could be on restaurant menus and in supermarkets as early as next year.
March is Women’s History Month and March 8 is International Women’s Day. I hope you will join me in learning more about women in the world on Thursday and Friday. We will be exploring how people have used the oppression against women across the world to make new and wonderful opportunities for women.
An old Chinese proverb says, “Women Hold up Half the Sky.” We’re showing the film, “Half the Sky,” which features women and men who provide education, healthcare and protection against violence for girls and women across the world.