Last week, shortly before Dr. Al Gross officially conceded Alaska’s 2020 U.S. Senate race to incumbent Dan Sullivan, Gross campaign Communications Director Julia Savel tweeted a brief farewell to the Last Frontier. “I love you, Alaska,” Savel wrote. “We left this state better than we found it-- and that’s saying something.”
So, what exactly was Savel thinking? I called to ask her to unpack it for me.
"When I first moved to Alaska, there was institutional knowledge that Independents could not run on statewide levels," Savel explains. "What I meant by the tweet is that the Gross campaign put together a large coalition and created an organizational infrastructure that we hope will be used in future cycles. We showed the nation that Dems can play here, Independents can play here. That’s all I’m trying to say. We created something, and I’m proud of it.”
Is that so unforgivable? Apparently so.
Savel was quickly and aggressively berated online for what many perceived to be a tone-deaf pronouncement over a state that bears an ingrained disdain for all things outsider. On the face of the 13-word tweet, it could be argued that anyone familiar with Alaskan culture would have expected this reaction from the locals. Unforgivable.
And while dog-piling on a digital faux pas is one thing, the conversation- involving several local journalists and political junkies- instead took an uncomfortable, misguided turn into Alaska localism.
It stemmed from one reasonable thought: “...it is frustrating to watch so many people complain about the brain drain in AK and then hire people from out of state. ‘Young people keep leaving. They’re not coming back. How can we keep them here?’ Find them. Reach out to them. Hire them. There is talent here you just have to look and invest in them. Do this instead of giving opportunities to people from ‘outside’ who don’t know Alaska’s diverse policy issues and nuances, only come here to ‘save us,’ have a romanticized ‘Alaska’ experience to brag about to their friends, then leave.”
I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to scratch the needle here.
Generally speaking, yes; that is a wholly terrific sentiment and, in a perfect world, it’d be ideal to hire locally for Alaska jobs. But Al Gross was running a campaign against a sitting U.S. Senator for one of ten seats up for grabs for the first half of a post-Trump Democrat president’s campaign.
Let’s consider that, given the astronomical stakes, the Gross campaign selected the best available candidate for comms director rather than the best local candidate. Savel’s LinkedIn lists an education at The George Washington University, and a work history in the offices of Bill de Blasio, Hillary Clinton, and the DNC. Say what you will about those names, but you’ve heard of them. Sorry, but the smart hire was the DC insider, not “I grew up here” and a BA in Poli-Sci from UAA.
If that last part upsets you, go back and read the earlier bit again where locals are pissed at people coming to Alaska “from outside...to take jobs”. As sleep is the cousin of death, toxic localism is the cousin of nationalism. Check that sentiment before you’re voting to build a wall around the Last Frontier and make Canada pay for it. Sure, it may provide a level of economic security for those on the preferred side, but if you ever lent an honest ear toward MAGA, you’d know that was always at least part of the point.