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PARTICIPATING IN THE ALASKA POLITICAL PROCESS


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Influencing the Alaska Legislative Process by Dennis Garrett

At one time or another each of us has been frustrated or disappointed by the actions of bureaucrats or our elected representative. Many people believe that one person cannot make a difference, but it already has on occasions too numerous to attempt to recount here. A group of like-minded citizens is certainly more effective, but one persistent individual will make a difference.

One excuse some people have used it that it is all too complicated. "Where do you register to vote, how much does it cost, and politicians don't listen to me anyway, so why bother" are all statements people have made to me, and they are all easily answered. While the political process can be involved, participation in the process is easy and very rewarding.

In Alaska, each area is represented by two state legislators, as well as assembly representatives to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. All of Alaska has three representatives to Congress, Representative Don Young, Senator Ted Stevens, and Senator Lisa Murkowski. Barely 40% of the voters (which is not everybody eligible to vote; many who are eligible simply don't register) elected your representatives. If you're not involved in the political process, then you'll be subjected to the will of the active minority who are. If you are unhappy with the way things are, then blame it on the majority who don't even bother to vote.

Getting your message across to your representative is easy. Failure to let your representatives know what is happening, and actions you'd like to see in response, will result in things staying the same. If you're going to complain, you might as well be complaining to the people who can do something about it, and who actually care.

The first step in effective communication with your representatives is to outline your thoughts, and organize your letter. You can start out with a long list, but you'll have to reduce it to one topic per letter, and the entire letter should not be more than two pages. The first paragraph will state your position, concisely, politely, and identify the nature of the situation. The rest of the letter will provide support for your position. Stick with the facts, and avoid straying into philosophical arguments, instead pointing out the potential negative impact the actions could have. Use your own words; quoting information from other sources will help to support your position, but keep it to a minimum. Suggest a better alternative if you have one. And keep the overall tone respectful, never threatening. Offer to meet with them to discuss the matter in more detail, and offer to help them find a solution.

In concluding your letter, ask for a response. Your name and address should be on the letter, and legible. Be ready to follow up with a response, and if you don't hear back from your representative within a reasonable time, or if the answer is insufficient, don't hesitate to write again.

Give copies of your letters to like-minded friends and encourage them to use it as a base or guide to write their own letter. You can also use your letter to base letters to the editors of your newspapers and other public forums.

Your letter will also serve to keep you on track when communicating with your representatives in other ways. For example the Legislative Information Offices are available in every part of Alaska. These offices, maintained by the state, serve to facilitate the participation of the public in the political process, and provide information on the activities of the legislature. The LIO for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough is located at 600 East Railroad Ave., Wasilla, Alaska 99654. Their phone number is 376-3704, and their fax number is 376-6180. If you would prefer to email them, their address is Matsu_LIO@legis.state.ak.us

Email addresses of each state legislator is the same as their name. For example, Senator_Lyda_Green@legis.state.ak.us or Representative_Beverly_Masek@legis.state.ak.us. Find them online by going to http://www.legis.state.ak.us/

An often overlooked approach to getting the attention of your representatives is to get involved in their campaign. Very few people contribute money or time to a campaign, and those that do are rewarded by having the ear of the politician when they are elected. Even if they aren't elected, they usually have influence on those that are elected, and there is always the possibility that they will run again.

To keep abreast of the political process, you need only to travel as far as your library. There you will find press releases and other materials from the LIO, the current addresses of the representatives, computers to compose your letter (and send it via email if you wish), and you can even register to vote!

It's also a good idea to write your representative when you like some action they've taken, as well as for numerous other reasons. For example, I've invited my representatives to visit my gold mine (which they did), and that really helped out later when bureaucrats tried to exercise an abuse of their powers. Invite them to your business, school, public event, or community event. Get to know the faces of your representatives (there are pictures of them in your local library), and take a moment to talk with them when you see them at public events. They will remember you, which can only help your case. Even if you're not old enough to vote, you can still communicate with your representatives.