I’ve been fielding questions from friends regarding Alaskan politics and geography since Sarah Palin was chosen as John McCain’s running mate. Rather than repeat myself, I thought I’d throw out a few Q&As here.
For those who don’t know, I went to the University of Alaska, Fairbanks for 2.5 years and spent 4 summers in Alaska. I don’t know if that makes me an expert, but I suppose compared to someone who hasn’t been there is does.
1. Have you ever been to the town Sarah Palin use to be the mayor of, Willow, Alaska?
Yes. The last time I went through Willow was in a tow truck after my Toyota 4Runner died near Denali National Park. I asked the tow truck driver to tow me South to the first auto-parts store that may be able to fix it. We passed through Willow but didn’t stop and ended up in Wasilla, Alaska.
2. What is Willow like?
For Minnesotans, I think a decent comparison would be Hinckley, MN without the casino. It’s closer to Anchorage than Hinckley is to the Twin Cities, but not by much.
3. What the heck is the Alaskan Independence Party?
There are many people in Alaska who, to this day, believe Alaska’s transition from territory to statehood was done unconstitutionally and believe it should be an independent country. They also realize that with Alaska’s vast natural resources, including oil, timber, fisheries, and gold, it would be a wealthy independent nation. Palin used to subscribe to this view.
4. What the heck are snow machines?
That’s what they call snowmobiles in Alaska. I don’t know why.
5. Do people really hunt Caribou and Moose?
Absolutely. They are both quite common throughout most of the state. It’s not uncommon to eat caribou, moose, bear, salmon, trout, or halibut.
6. Are all Alaskans social conservatives like Palin?
No. There are a lot of people in Alaska with very strong political views, but they’re all over the map. The state has a lot of people working in mining, oil, and fishing industries, who are generally anti-government regulation and not too environmentally concerned. But there are also a lot of people who live in Alaska specifically for environmental reasons, so they butt heads. There are religious zealots such at Palin who want to enforce their beliefs on all of us, but also plenty of libertarians who want government to stay the heck out of their lives.
7. How would you compare MN to AK politically?
I’d say that a democratic governor of Alaska would probably share many of the same policies as out Republican Governor, Tim Pawlenty. Which means that Palin and previous Republican governors were much further to the right than what we see in MN.
8. Cindy McCain says that Palin has international experience since Alaska borders Russia. Is this relevant?
When I was in Alaska, I had a chance to visit a city in Eastern Russia called Khaborovsk. It’s not the closest city to Alaska, but it’s the first major city in the East. Khaborovsk is more time zones away from Moscow than Juneau is from Washington, DC, and receives about as much attention from the capitol.
There are no roads from Anchorage or Fairbanks to the Western part of Alaska (hundreds of miles), and very few people live along the Western coast of Alaska. They do catch some massive king crab out there but they don’t interact with people across the Bering Strait separating AK from Russia on a regular basis. Basically, Palin is not dealing with international incidents like governors of Mexican border states or Florida’s governor may have to do. Cindy McCain failed to mention that Alaska shares an 800 mile border with Canada, but I guess that doesn’t seem as impressive when attempting to boost an inexperienced governor’s international expertise.
9. What’s with her kid’s names?
Alaskans do seem to like mixing things up when naming their kids. I knew people named Lake, Park, Sky, Willow, and North when I went to school there. If I had to guess an Alaskan name for Bristol Palin’s child, I’d go with Denali if it’s a girl or Wolf if it’s a boy.
10. Which Minnesota politician is most like Sarah Palin.
That’s easy. Michele Bachmann.