- Associated Press - Monday, June 16, 2014

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

June 15, 2014

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: ‘Alaska Agreement’ good theory, flawed practice

In 2008, Alaska’s usually low-profile Senate contests came to an end, as Sen. Ted Stevens saw his decades-long career in office come crashing down amidst a corruption trial that made national headlines.

Two years later, the 49th state got heavy press again when Sen. Lisa Murkowski was toppled by challenger Joe Miller in an unexpected primary result, only to mount a successful and widely publicized write-in campaign.

This year, the state’s Senate race is once again in the spotlight, as incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich will face a strong challenge from whichever Republican candidate emerges from the August primary.

This week Dan Sullivan, the best-funded of Begich’s challengers, came forward with a pledge for which he’s seeking Begich’s support. Called the “Alaska Agreement,” the pledge’s stated purpose is to leave state residents in control of the race’s funding.

Under its terms, candidates would have to donate half the value of any third-party attack ad buys to a charity of their opponent’s choice. Mr. Sullivan modeled the agreement on the “People’s Pledge” agreed to by Sen. Scott Brown and challenger Elizabeth Warren in their 2012 race in Massachusetts.

At first glance, the agreement’s principle is well intentioned: why not cut out negative ads made with outside money?

But the particulars of the race make it clear that this agreement is a political gambit rather than a true effort at campaign finance reform.

One fact that makes this clear is the fact that both Sullivan and Begich will be able to raise ample money in their own campaign coffers to saturate media from here to the primary and - if Sullivan prevails there - the general election. Both candidates are already running ads heavily, some of which are already turning toward the negative.

Even with the agreement in place, Alaskans would likely see little difference in the volume or tone of the ads they see and hear in the newspaper, online, and on the radio and TV airwaves.

Furthermore, the agreement makes no mention of candidates in the race other than Sullivan and Begich, despite the fact that polling shows Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and the aforementioned Miller as credible candidates who have very realistic chances of emerging from the Republican primary.

Treadwell, who isn’t known for making high-profile comments thus far in the race, called the agreement a “publicity stunt,” pointing to the fact that Mr. Sullivan has raised the majority of his campaign funds from donors outside Alaska.

Also undercutting Sullivan’s intention of giving local voices more weight in political campaigns is his stance in support of the U.S. Supreme Court’s well-publicized decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which prohibited the government from restricting campaign spending of the sort he would seek to limit in his current race.

The disharmony between Sullivan’s stances on political campaigns in general and the specific race he is running this fall is peculiar, and doesn’t support his stated intentions in seeking the agreement.

We agree that elections, especially recent ones, have become longer, more expensive, and dirtier affairs than is beneficial to healthy political discourse, and that the sentiment of Sullivan’s “Alaska Agreement” is worthwhile.

We should seek to have more local voices and issues represented in political races at every level of government.

But we can’t square that intention with the facts of how this year’s Senate race is being conducted - and with Mr. Sullivan’s unwillingness to support limits on campaign finance in races other than his own.

____

June 14, 2014

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Conversations about Alaska alcohol abuse, DUI issues is overdue

The death of Healy resident Gitte Stryhn as she biked to work early Thursday morning wasn’t the first tragedy of its type, and it won’t be the last. But it should prompt residents of Alaska and the Interior to take action and begin a conversation in earnest that is long overdue: the toll that drinking, and driving while intoxicated in particular, takes on our communities.

Ms. Stryhn was riding her bicycle on Coal Street in the Parks Highway town about 120 miles south of Fairbanks. When she was hit by a vehicle, she was only about a block from her work as a tour bus driver for the Kantishna Roadhouse. Troopers investigating the incident quickly identified Dustin Dollarhide, 30-years-old and a resident of Healy himself, as a suspect after damage to his truck and evidence on it strongly indicated he was involved. They arrested Dollarhide and charged him with manslaughter, driving under the influence, and failure to report an accident.

Believe it or not, it’s possible that at around 5 a.m., which troopers estimate as the time that Ms. Stryhn was hit and killed, Mr. Dollarhide could have just been returning home from the bar. Closing time for bars in the Denali Borough is 5 a.m., and while no time is a good time to drive drunk, a closing time so far into the morning means drunk drivers are more likely to intersect with commuters going to work for early shifts. The word from Healy is that Ms. Stryhn’s death has revived talk of moving bar closing times more in line with those in Fairbanks, at around 3:30 a.m. This is a topic well worthy of discussion.

Alaska’s problems with alcohol run deeper than bar closing times, though. One doesn’t have to go too far back in Fairbanks history to find a distressingly similar case - in 2005, drunken driver Eugene Bottcher hit and killed a 13-year-old Saul Stutz, who was riding a bicycle on Goldstream Road. Bottcher then left the scene and continued home. Crimes of violence that make their way through Alaska courts frequently involve alcohol, to the point that it’s a good deal more surprising to see one that doesn’t than ones that do.

Law enforcement officers, the judicial system, and the Legislature have taken measures that have helped reduce drunken driving. Stiffer penalties, ignition interlock devices, and alternative treatments like wellness courts led to a measurable decline in both the state’s rate of drunk driving and the number of fatalities caused by DUI between the 1990s and today. But that rate is nowhere near low enough that we can call it good enough.

Nearly all of us know people who have driven drunk and been caught doing so. Many have done so themselves - more than one in 10 Alaskans have been convicted of driving under the influence.

The reason alcohol abuse and DUI persist as widespread societal problems - beyond the physiological mechanism of addiction - is that they’re not issues that can be solved by outside forces. Enforcement and treatment have their place, but the lion’s share of the preventative work that can be done to eradicate drunken driving must be done on a personal level, by resolving ourselves and reinforcing among our friends and families that driving under the influence is intolerable behavior.

It’s often not an easy conversation to have, particularly with people for whom such behavior has become a habit, but the necessity of dealing with the problem should overwhelm our desire not to make waves among those we love. One need only look to Gitte Stryhn and Saul Stutz to see the reason why.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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