The Alaskan Independence Party. We Are Outta Here!

3 09 2008

The Alaskan Independence Party…. Everyone is wondering what it’s all about.

First, it’s important to understand that Alaskans’ party affiliation is quite different than the rest of the country. More than 50% of registered voters are registered as Independent or Non-Partisan.

Alaskans don’t like being put in a box. And although political opinion varies widely, there is a common thread that runs through most Alaskans, regardless of their party affiliation, or lack thereof – Libertarianism. You’ll find Conservative Libertarians, Liberal Libertarians, and Independent Libertarians.

Living in Alaska is very much like living in another country as it is. We are geographically, financially, and philosophically isolated and we like it that way. People don’t live here because they want to be connected, and in the middle of it all. It is not uncommon for Alaskans traveling to other states to say, “I’m going ‘to the states'”, or “I am going outside” (and they don’t mean to the backyard). This is something that doesn’t sink in with most tourists and visitors. We love tourists and visitors. But we like it when they leave, and Alaska gets back to normal.

When I first moved to Alaska, I was astounded by how often people talked about being Alaskan, doing Alaskan things, supporting Alaskan owned businesses, ….Alaska Alaska Alaska. I thought, “What’s with all this Alaska talk?” After almost two decades, I realize that being up here, thousands of miles from the nearest U.S. city, fosters a ‘band of brothers’ mentality. For those of you who have never been here, imagine boarding a plane in Seattle and flying four hours north. We may be technically part of the U.S., but we are far far away. Hawaiians may understand what I mean.

Many old time Alaskans who were here long before statehood, look back on those days fondly. They reminisce fondly about the time before the Federal Government locked up our land, told them where and when they could hunt, fish, mine, and where they could use all terrain vehicles. Things were just fine up here before the damned government stuck their noses into our business and started running our lives. Those over-educated, elitist, radical environmentalists are out to rob us of our way of life….grumble, grumble. This is how many Alaskans, especially rural residents, think. The term “radical environmentalist” is used routinely, mostly by the republican party, in stump speeches, TV interviews, and campaign materials as an example of everything that’s wrong up here.

So. That being said, I asked my spouse, who was born way up in rural Alaska, before statehood, about the AIP. “What a bunch of wackos”, was the answer. Don’t get me wrong, no one is going to lock up their children if they see the AIP coming, but they are kind of like the craziest uncle in a family of crazy uncles. You love your crazy uncle, but he’s still a crazy uncle.

The party was founded by Joe Voegler, a true Alaskan ‘character’, and captain of the crazy uncles. Voegler, an uber-Libertarian, was known by many old timers who were here before the pipeline days in the 1970s that brought in all the ‘oil people’ from Texas and points south. Real old timers don’t like THEM either, but that’s another story for another day. The 70s also saw huge areas of Alaska land locked up as Federal, and Native lands.

Alaska was given a choice in 1958 to vote on one of the following:

1) Remain a Territory.
2) Become a separate and Independent Nation.
3) Accept Commonwealth status.
4) Become a State.

The vote never happened, but we did become a state. The AIP feels gyped, and wants that vote. They have been holding this lack of closure close to their hearts for the last 50 years, and they will. not. give. it. up. Now, obviously Alaska did indeed become a state. So it’s pretty obvious that if #4 was a popular choice with the AIP, they would have no need to exist. There may be those out there that would cast their vote for #1 or #3, but I’ve never met them. I know a few people who are members of AIP, and they are all pro-secession. If they could wave a magic wand, Alaska would be its own country. Pling! (magic wand noise)

The reason they are not regarded as dangerous anarchists is because of the pervading philosophical climate of Alaska, and it’s naturally independent streak. They are just one end of the ‘normal’ political spectrum here. If you lived in Colorado, and joined a political party that was seeking to make Colorado its own country, it would fall much farther outside mainstream thinking.

From the AIP website:

The Alaskan Independence Party can be summed up in just two words:

ALASKA FIRST!

Until we as Alaskans receive our Ultimate Goal, the AIP will continue to strive to make Alaska a better place to live with less government interference in our everyday lives.

That’s the message. ALASKA FIRST, in contrast to the theme of the convention at which Palin will speak tonight, ‘Country First’. Reports are conflicting about whether Sarah Palin was a member of the AIP. The current party chair says yes, but the official records don’t jibe. But her husband Todd was a member of AIP for several years, and his membership clearly implies a preference for secession. Otherwise, why join?

The thing to remember here is that the Alaska First mentality runs deep in Sarah Palin. When she first was asked on camera about her opinions on becoming the VP candidate, and after saying she’d need to find out “what it is that the Vice President does every day”, said that she would only accept if she thought her position there would be “fruitful” for the state of Alaska. Her son Track has a tattoo of the state of Alaska (and a Jesus fish tattoo). Do people from California, or New Mexico, or Pennsylvania have tattoos of their state map? Probably not. Here? Pretty mainstream. Even her children all have “Alaskan” names. Bristol? Bristol Bay. Piper? Piper Cub airplane. Willow? The town north of Wasilla. Trig Paxson? Another town further north of Wasilla. Track? Generic outdoorsy, but we’ll take it.

When Alaskans travel outside the country, and people ask us where we’re from, we don’t say The United States. We don’t say “We’re Americans”. We say that we are Alaskans. We really think of ourselves as Alaskans first. (And people in foreign countries tend to not hate us as much).

The other important thing to note is that Sarah Palin did deliver the opening address at the 2008 Alaskan Independence Party convention saying that the Alaskan Independence Party “plays an important role in state politics” and that she “shares [the party’s] vision of upholding the Alaska constitution”, with the implication that she supports ‘the vote’, and wishes them luck on a successful convention. She was present, and encouraging and supportive.

So, should everyone down in “the states” be concerned about Todd and Sarah’s affiliation with this group? Alaskans would probably say no. ‘Outsiders’ would probably say yes. There’s no real chance that AIP candidates will take over the state, and Alaska will secede from the union. AIP candidates don’t win elections. All 50 stars will remain on the stars & stripes, so no need to race out and buy stock in flag manufacturing companies just yet. But understand that the “Alaska First” mentality is very real, and that Sarah Palin was born and raised with this mentality and has a fierce loyalty and dedication to all things Alaskan (except polar bears). For a country of people who have, until recently, barely even given Alaska a thought, understand that Alaska will be very very high on the priority list of your potential next Vice President. Alaskans know this and that is why many Alaskans are so supportive of this candidacy. Many feel sad at the prospect of losing her as governor, but this is mitigated by the fact that they know Alaska’s priorities will become top of the list. Although Alaska is geographically the largest state by far, Sarah Palin has lived in a very small world. And that world is very self-focused and for the most part looks at the rest of Americans as distant cousins.

Some here would call AIP a group of independent mavericks. Some would call them whack jobs. Some would argue there’s a fine line. Most would agree with the “Alaska First” slogan.

So, if the AIP got their way and had that vote they never got in 1958, would we vote for secession? Probably not. But, it might be closer than you think.