Into a New Century
The late 1990s were hard on Alaska, as oil prices dropped, pulp mills closed down, logging declined, and commercial fishing suffered from low prices and a market flooded with cheap farmed salmon from Chile, Norway, and British Columbia. But the first several years of the 21st century brought a reversal, with sky-high oil and gold prices, a big push to develop a natural gas pipeline across the state, increased tourism, higher prices for Alaska’s wild salmon, and major political upheavals as FBI investigations threatened the oil industry’s stranglehold on state government.
In 2006 voters did the unthinkable by voting to tax and regulate the cruise ship industry while simultaneously throwing out an incumbent governor (and former U.S. Senator), Frank Murkowski, and replacing him with an almost unknown politician named Sarah Palin. This was followed by a series of scandals in 2007–2008 that sent legislators to prison on corruption charges and eventually brought down Senator Ted Stevens. His conviction was later overturned, but not before voters had thrown him out of office in the 2008 election.
For the first time in decades Alaska now has one Democrat (Mark Begich) in the U.S. Senate. Across the aisle is Republican Lisa Murkowski, first appointed to her seat in 2004 by her dad, Frank Murkowski. The lone representative, Republican Don Young, has been in office for decades, though his standing has been severely weakened by scandals.
Even bigger news in 2008 was the sudden ascendancy of Sarah Palin, Alaska’s then- governor. When John McCain brought her onto his ticket as the Republican vice presidential candidate, Palin garnered intense international attention—not all of it positive.
She resigned in 2009 after 2.5 years in office, but as this was being written it appears obvious that she will remain a figure on the national stage. As an Alaskan, all I can say is: God help us all if she ever gets elected to any position of real power. It’s difficult to imagine anyone less qualified for public office.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition