How Alaskans press their agenda in Cleveland

Photo: Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media.
Photo: Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media.

Party conventions aren’t all about funny hats and nominating presidents. Alaska delegates to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland are using the gathering as an opportunity to spread their Alaska-specific agenda to a national audience.

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When you’re a small state, it helps to have allies. As luck would have it, the Alaska delegates are staying in the same suburban Cleveland hotel as the Wyoming delegates, and they’ve been networking.

At a Wyoming-Alaska breakfast reception Monday morning, Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan appeared with Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso. Sullivan says that on key issues, there’s no daylight between Alaska and Wyoming

“Energy, use of public lands.. These are things that when John and I are working in the Senate, literally I can almost finish his sentences.”

That common purpose  helped add a public lands statement to the party platform. It calls for the government to convey some federal lands to the states.

“Basically we want the Congress and everyone to actually …do something about giving the

Delegate Judy Eledge of Anchorage helped push a demand for public land divestment onto the party platform. Photo: Lawrence Ostrovsky.
Delegate Judy Eledge of Anchorage helped push a demand for public land divestment onto the party platform. Photos: Lawrence Ostrovsky.

federal lands back to the states in the West that belong to them. Basically. It’s a little longer than that, but that’s what it says,” explains Judy Eledge. She’s an Alaska delegate who helped draft the plank. (“Plank” is convention-speak for a position statement that becomes part of the party platform.) She worked with Wyoming delegates to get it through the convention’s Platform Committee last week. She says they aren’t trying  to diminish national parks or monuments, but she believes  federal control of other, undesignated lands is bad for Alaska.

“It shuts us down. There’s things we can’t do,” Eledge says. “You know, that’s how our economy is based, on our lands, most certainly out in the West where there’s oil and there’s gas.”

This is, of course, controversial. Lots of people don’t think the government should give away land. One member of the Montana delegation, Congressman Ryan Zinke, even left the whole convention over it.

photo: Lawrence Ostrovsky
The Alaska delegates wore kuspuks with a message.

But, as with other Republican principles, getting it in the party platform is no guarantee the party’s presumptive nominee for president, Donald Trump, will support it

In fact, when asked by the magazine Field & Stream in January, Trump was against divesting federal lands to the states.

“I don’t like the idea because I want to keep the lands great,” Trump said.  “And you don’t know what the states are going to do with them. Are they going to sell as soon as they get in a little bit of a trouble? I don’t think it’s something that should be sold.”

Eledge, the Alaska delegate, says she thinks Trump was speaking from an East Coast perspective. She thinks he might change his mind as he learns more. Regardless, Eledge, a diehard Ted Cruz supporter, says she now accepts Trump as the people’s choice.

There’s also a different effort to raise Alaska concerns at the convention, specifically: trying

Former state senator Drue Pearce is working multiple angles to make sure Donald Trump knows the Alaska GOP position on resource extraction.
Former state senator Drue Pearce is working multiple angles to make sure Donald Trump knows the Alaska GOP position on resource extraction.

to inform Republicans about the importance of resource extraction to Alaska. Drue Pearce, a former state Senate president,  helped coordinate a letter, signed by Congressman Don Young and both senators, that serves as a primer on Alaska oil and gas matters.The original copy was mailed to Trump, but Pearce says they’re taking every opportunity at the convention to get the letter into the right hands.

“We’re making sure that anybody who has access within the Trump organization, or now to the Pence organization, we shove them the letter,” she said.

Visually, the Alaska delegates stand out at the convention in matching blue kuspuks. A diagram on the back shows the map of Alaska imposed over the Lower 48. That’s another message they want to convey: The state has few people, but it’s huge like no other. 

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She's @lruskin on Twitter. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz