The convention was held in the newly opened Dena’ina Convention Center, and it was the first sizeable event held there. The first actual event held there was the Sarah Palin Welcome Home rally which I attended undercover….but that was hardly sizeable.
I slipped in a seat just in time to hear Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich deliver a nice address. He had a big hand in getting the convention center built, and talked about the process of giving it an Alaskan Native name. He also talked about his six years as Mayor, his past experiences hosting AFN Conventions in his city, “Alaska’s largest native village,” and his travels around the state. He, of course, is campaigning heavily right now in his attempt to dethrone Ted Stevens, and take the Senate seat that Stevens has held….forever. He finished up and was met with rousing applause and a standing ovation. Enthusiasm factor on a scale of 1-10: 8
Then, the recorded announcement from Sarah Palin. She was flanked by flags, and sat next to a big vase of white roses. I can’t tell you exactly what she said, but you can probably imagine. She went on about how Todd and her kids are part Native, and they “cherish their Native heritage” (a point disputed by several Native people I know), and talked about comin’ together, and seekin’ change, and energy costs, and her travels around the state, and her travel to Kuwait, and the Alaska National Guard. Then there was a reminder of the $1200 energy rebate checks everyone got, and how they came out early this year. (Sounds awful “spread-the-wealth-around” to me…) There was a strained reference to Native legend, trying to tie something in to a story about the Raven. Then a folksy story about two frogs stranded in a pail of milk. One gave up and died, the other kept kicking until the milk turned in to butter and then hopped out. She learned this story from embattled Attorney General Talis Colberg, who is under pressure to resign becuase of his conduct in the Troopergate fiasco, when he told state employees they didn’t need to comply with legislative subpoenas. I’m guessing this little fable is meant to let us know that no, he will not be stepping down any time soon…he’s just gonna be kickin’ away until unethical behavior turns in to butter. As a matter of fact, Sarah told us, Talis Colberg himself will be heading up a sub-cabinet on rural affairs.
By the time she wrapped up her saccharine-sweet, over-rehearsed, cotton-candy slideshow, my teeth hurt. After it was done, I saw one non-Native woman bouncing, and applauding at about 5 claps per second, and the rest of the vast hall was very very lukewarm. The applause was “polite.” Enthusiasm factor on a scale of 1-10: 3.5
Then Lt. Governor Sean Parnell made a “surprise” appearance to present the first Shirley Dementieff Award to a Native woman who demonstrated exemplary public service. Enthusiasm factor on a scale of 1-10 for Sean Parnell: 2 Enthusiasm factor on a scale of 1-10 for the winner of the award, Rep. Mary Nelson : 9
Next up, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, appointed to the US Senate Seat by her Father, former Senator Frank Murkowski when he became Governor Frank Murkowski….the one who lost to Sarah Palin in the primary, garnering only 19% of the vote. Alaskans then passed a law saying that the Governor can no longer appoint a vacant US Senate seat, and then proceeded to re-elect Lisa anyway. Don’t ask me to explain that one.
That said, I will give credit where credit is due. Lisa Murkowski, who sits on the Indian Affairs Committee, knows her stuff, is intelligent, and actually seems to take her job pretty seriously. There was an obligatory jab at Nancy Pelosi, but other than that, she was on good behavior. She talked about the fact that milk is $10 a gallon in some areas of Alaska, that stove oil was already being rationed in some communities, that households in rural Alaska spend 40% of their budget on heating costs, that a woman had emailed her saying she was praying for a warm winter. “Prayer is not, and should not be an energy strategy,” said Murkowski. She talked about the fact that infant mortality for Native Alaskans is double that of non-Natives, and that 12% of Native deaths are in some way alcohol-related. She talked about what she had actually been doing. I sat for a moment marvelling at a woman holding high elected office in the state of Alaska who actually knows what she’s talking about. Even though I disagree with Murkowski on a LOT of issues, and I have not and probably will not ever vote for her, I enjoyed the experience of not being embarrassed by a member of the Alaska congressional delegation. She was refreshingly un-mockable. Enthusiasm factor on a scale of 1-10: 7 with a belated and not particularly enthusiastic standing ovation, but a standing ovation nonetheless.
This is the point where I started to feel like a birdwatcher. I should have brought a pair of binoculars, a better camera, and a Troopergate Field Guide so I could have checked off all the different species I saw.
It all started with a casual glance around at the crowd. Lo and behold, 20 feet in front of me is Attorney General Talis Colberg himself! He’s talking with someone….who is that?….It’s Palin’s Communications Director Bill McAllister! AAACK! Where’s my camera…which pocket??….must document this tete-a-tete! Well, by the time I got the camera out of my pocket, McAllister had fled the scene. I snapped a horrible blurry picture. Then another horrible blurry picture of Talis Colberg….must fix the setting on the camera…. And by the time I fixed the setting, no more Colberg. I submit these two awful pieces of photographic evidence so I can check them off in my field guide. The one of McAllister is like that photo of the Loch Ness Monster. You’ll just have to believe me.
But wait, there’s more! Out in the hallway, who should I spy, but Senator Lyman Hoffman of the Legislative Council that voted to release the Troopergate report! *clap clap clap*
And finally in this amazing Who’s Who of Troopergate, the former Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, Walt Monegan! Himself, part Alaska native, he was ready to implement some very important and comprehensive strategies to improve the lives of rural Alaskans, when Sarah Palin decided to give him the axe….you know the story.
On the way out, I made a quick pass through the downstairs room where some incredible Native Arts and Crafts were on sale.
Good thing I had no money.
On the way out the door, one last Alaskan politician had his chance to make an “impression.” Ted Stevens had his name and website printed on berry buckets which were stacked by the door. My companion had to tell me what they were. Berries, of course, are an important subsistence food, and Ted wanted to be sure his name was toted around all over the state on a useful object. Quite clever, actually.
So Ted Stevens had the last word, even as he sat on the other side of the continent, waiting for a verdict from the jury. Or so I thought. Turns out, the last word, in fact, went to Mark Begich. He was standing outside on the sidewalk talking to people and handing out samples of a traditional Native treat which is known as “Eskimo ice cream”. Someone asked what kind it was. The answer? “Bethel style without the seal oil.” The original recipe consists of (I believe) snow, berries and seal oil. Other versions I’ve seen are berries, sugar and Crisco, and now this one which tasted like Cool whip with cranberries and blueberries.
I asked Mark how he was holding up, and he said he was doing well. I didn’t mention the trial, but everyone is thinking it. I give him credit…he must have a stomach of iron. If he can handle the last two months, I think the U.S. Senate is going to be a breeze.