Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A BIG SMALL TOWN?

Is Alaska really a big small town, as claimed by our governor and her party as they stump for a four-year stint in Washington?

Who can argue the appeal of a small town, with its good and honest and hard-working people? Quintessential America. John McCain invoked it yesterday, as Wall Street was collapsing around its ankles, in an attempt to convince us that the economy is fundamentally sound because America has the same good, hard workers it has always had. Funny, but I think we had that same small-town work ethic when the market crashed in 1929.

True, Alaskans run into friends from far-flung parts of the state all the time - usually in Anchorage, derided as "Los Anchorage." But beyond that, I'm having a hard time plastering the small town sticker on the largest state in the Union. We're caretakers of vast chunks of real estate most of us will never see. Most Alaskans haven't a clue how folks live on the other side of the tracks, in Chefornak or Shishmaref. We entertain millions of visitors every year. We've got oil and gas and gold and sticky issues associated with development. We've got wildlife to manage and oceans to protect and species to ponder (or plunder) in the face of global warming.

Alaska has some fascinating small towns. Heather Lende writes beautifully about Haines in If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name. Amanda Coyne has a nice piece in Newsweek about Wasilla. But to characterize the whole state as a big small town is wrong.

The more we learn about how our state has been run like one - from our legislators pandering to oil companies to our governor appointing high school classmates to head state divisions on flimsy qualifications such as "I've always liked cows" - the more we should reject the notion that we're just one big small town.

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