I am a recovering opiate addict. I have autism and schizophrenia. We will not solve our "Epidemic of Despair" until those of us who suffer are given a seat (and a voice) at the table.
Public education made me who I am. It changes lives for better, every single day. There is no better economic development investment.
The way America treats its poor is cruel and cheap. I know. I'm one of them. The social safety net saved me from complete ruin.
It works, but it's underfunded.
It's that simple.
I live paycheck to paycheck. I have medical bills I can't pay. My life is very simple...
Being "poor" isn't an evil thing. "Poor people" aren't bad. I'm trying to dispel some of the stereotypes society holds about those living in poverty. Most of us are resourceful, resilient, and creative; some of us are f&^%ing geniuses.
I've tromped around in Tongass clear cut, and I've hiked through badass stands of old growth. It's time to take better care of our wilderness motherlode.
Also, I'm tired of hearing about how climate change is a problem for "our" grandchildren to solve...
WE are YOUR grandchildren.
I am not an Alaskan Native. I am however, an ally and dedicated advocate.
I believe in strengthening the ability of tribes to exercise sovereignty, including jurisdiction over their territory. I believe IHS is criminally underfunded. I advocate for complete village public safety reform.
I am a product of the public education system. I'm grateful for the education I received. I learned to make friends with people from all walks of life. I was given the opportunity to excel as much as I wanted to. Public education is a direct investment in our future. There is no better "economic" investment.
When companies look to expand to new locations, they look for universities producing high quality graduates in the relevant fields. New college grads represent a source of cheap, educated, eager labor. Our university system is teetering on the brink. One Alaska specific plank on my platform is a federal bailout of the University of Alaska. Even an investment of less than $100 million could shore up the university's finances for years to come.
The public school system is not perfect. One area, in particular, in need of massive overhaul is our system of educating children with special learning needs. My family fought with our school district for years, through the IEP process, before finally securing a plan just before The Pandemic hit. Advocating for a special needs child is hard enough as it is. Our schools should be working with us, not an adversary, actively looking for a reason to deny us the help we seek.
I've spent most of my adult life living on the margins of society. I have autism and schizophrenia. I'm a recovering opiate addict. I've been to the bottom of the barrel, rolled around in the grime of the gutter, and (with lots of help) pulled myself up. Nobody is beyond hope, we all have something to add, to give, to society, no matter where we are in life. People like me don't usually have a very loud voice in the halls of power. I'm trying to change that, to be that advocate we've never had before.
The reason we've failed to make much progress in solving our Addiction Epidemic (it's a lot bigger than just opiates), or why we can't bring our suicide rates down, or produce better long term outcomes for the seriously mentally ill -- it's because the perspectives, ideas, experiences - the voices - of those of us who actually suffer with these problems, are altogether drowned out by the opinions and theories of doctors, politicians, public health officials, the "public", law enforcement... anyone but "us". We are talked about, locked up, experimented on, mocked, decisions are made for us, our rights are taken away simply for who we are...
Poverty is something that has heavily influenced the course of my life, for better, or worse. Some people may not understand what I'm about to say next, but... Poverty, per se, is not a "bad" thing, not something to be embarassed or ashamed of, not something to be "eradicated". There is nothing inherently wrong with being poor. This notion that poor people are ignorant, lazy, to blame, or worth less than anyone else is bullshit. I'm proud to be "low income," or "economically disadvantaged". Poor people are among the hardest working, most resourceful/resilient/brave humans on the face of the Earth. Why do you think they send us to die on the front lines - whether the enemy is a hostile nation, or a nearly invisible virus...?
I live a fulfilling life. I can meet my family's basic needs. I don't have to worry about "keeping up". I can be exactly who I want to be. I can see life for what it really is, which is something a rich man can not buy, find, embezzle, or otherwise steal. Being poor is the most genuine of human experiences. We are the vast majority.
Food Stamps, Unemployment, Medicaid, Vocational Rehabilition, and other programs were there for me when I hit rock bottom. Without the help of Public Assistance programs, I would not be here trying something like this. I want to make sure those resources are there for the next person who needs them.
We also underestimate the economic impact these programs have. For me, Medicaid not only saved my body and mind, once I was stable enough to work, it created a job for me, providing services to people with disabilities.
The system is not perfect... it is inefficient, frustrating, fragmented, underfunded and overextended... Nonetheless, it works, but nowhere near as well as it could. This pandemic has cruelly demonstrated what happens when a first world country has a subpar safety net.
Climate change is real.
That I still have to write that sentence in 2020 is unreal.
I don't know what the solution is. I don't care how it happens, our greenhouse gas emissions MUST be reduced. I wonder, sometimes, if we are making a very simple problem very complex because we are scared to admit the truth.
TIMBER & WILDERNESS
The Tongass National Forest has been my home since childhood. It has a pull on me I've never been able to escape. I always come back. I understand the value of wild places - they've been my playground since I was a third grader.
I have seen the double edged ax of the logging industry - the wreckage the clear cuts left behind, then the damage the Pulp Companies left when they abandoned our communities in Southeast. Our region, and Ketchikan, specifically has never been the same.
The logging industry is so withered away, if someone were to throw a large amount of cash at the remaining operators and their employees, the end of clear cutting in the Tongass could be had (permanently) -- probably for well less that $100 million. That's an easy decision in my book.
I do not oppose all logging in the Tongass, or national forests in general. However, the world is very different than it was in 1978. Paper is dying. There is no need for clear cuts any longer. What I do support is small scale cutting to support craftsman, artisanal level lumber milling. There are some people over on Prince of Wales turning out really cool products or simply some of the straightest pieces of cedar and spruce you can find anywhere.
I am not an Alaskan Native. I do not know what it is like to be Native. All I can do as a Senator, at the end of the day, is listen, and then advocate, based on what I learn, and also to do my best to amplify the voices of important Native leaders - to be a microphone, not a white savior.
I do understand that there is long standing, systemic issues that continue to go unresolved, at the state and national level. Questions of tribal sovereignty and territorial jurisdiction. ANCSA, and its separation of "tribal" money and land, from "tribal government". There's an ongoing epidemic of violence against Native women. Villages are eroding/melting into the Bering Sea. The role of ANSCA regional/village corporations (and their subsidiary 8(a) businesses) is unsettled and confused.
I don't have the answers, but I will champion whatever solutions Native communities see as best fit to solve the challenges they face. It's one thing for a candidate to make hollow promises about "collaborating with tribes" or "promoting tribal economic development". It's another thing for a candidate to approach tribes with the mentality of service and empowerment, not imposing my own ideas, rather, soliciting and carrying out those of Native Alaskans.
I have mixed feelings about guns. Personally, I'm not a gun guy, but I know that, for others, they hold an important place in their lives. I respect the 2nd Amendment -- I'm an Alaskan, I understand guns are tools of survival for many of us.
However, no right is unlimited under the Constitution. The right to bear arms is not absolute. I support common sense changes -- universal background checks, prohibition of high capacity magazines. I tend to lean towards an "assault weapons ban" because weapons of that nature are intended for only one purpose - to intimidate and harm others. They are lethal machines, designed solely for killing other humans.
ABORTION: I'm a devout Christian. I've studied the Bible from Genesis to Relevation. I've poured over the words of Christ, and his apostles. There is not a single verse in the entire book having to do with abortion. It's a made up "sin".
Abortion is a medical procedure. It is not my business - or anyone else's, so long as it is done safely. Like guns, the right to terminate a pregnancy is not absolute, for better or worse. If Christianity were instead, to turn its efforts towards the main driver of abortions - poverty - they would save many millions more lives than they do bitching about what other women do (or do not do) to their bodies