Barbara Hood

If we’re serious about being real contenders, Alaskans need to rally behind Gov. Dunleavy’s recent budget cuts. Despite all the screaming and shouting, they represent our best opportunity yet to distinguish ourselves as first in many things. Up until now, we’ve been so close, and yet so far.

Let’s start with education. For years, Alaskans were able to celebrate some of the lowest K-12 test scores in the nation, and some of the lowest high school graduation rates. We’ve also ranked comfortably in the bottom tier nationally in the percentage of residents with college degrees. But because of some successful efforts to turn these statistics around, we’ve never really been at the top of the list when it comes to poor educational attainment and outcomes. A few other pesky states have done better at keeping their people in the dark. So the governor’s aim to cripple our school systems and destroy our university is promising. We can seize the opportunity to dull our wits, dampen our intelligence, and dismiss the advantages a good education brings. We can go where no rival dares. Now’s our chance, Alaska!

Now, let’s talk addiction. In recent years, Alaska has placed only 2nd among the 50 states in rankings of adult drug use and unmet drug treatment needs. (Don’t worry – we’re still first in illicit drug use among teens.) And we’ve only placed 3rd in a prominent ranking of “America’s Drunkest States.” Surely with the governor’s proposed decimation of health care coverage and substance abuse treatment services, we can lift our standings. And pulling resources from public safety will diminish our attacks on drug trafficking, bootlegging and substance-fueled crimes that have stifled the free flow of drugs and alcohol for too long. With time and neglect, we can be awash in addiction like never before. We can do this, Alaska!

Now let’s look at rates of suicide. Alaska has been close to full victory here for years and years. We’ve ranked solidly at or near the top, but our standing is never assured, and last year we were only 2nd. We’ve let other beleaguered states chip at the edges of our dominance, with their opioid crises and cultural decay threatening to edge out our perennial advantages of darkness, isolation, and spiritual pain. We’re going to need to work harder to reach the top spot in the coveted “diseases of despair” category – the ones that cause people to take their own lives or lose them to hopelessness, drugs and booze. We have a corner on this, Alaskans, but we can’t let ourselves slip. We can only hope that dramatic cutbacks to the arts, mental health services, and environmental protection, among others, will help keep more of us despondent about our lives and the world around us. This will be key.

And of course knocking the wind out of local governments and non-profits struggling with problems of the poor will help ensure that over one-quarter of Alaskans continue to live near the poverty level. This is no small feat, coming from a state with over half a century of oil development, one of the highest median incomes in the country, and billions in the bank. It has taken focus and effort to get us this low on the scale, and we can’t afford to ease up now. When we take away housing, more people can live on the streets. When we take away legal representation, more people can fear for their basic needs and means of support. When we limit low-income medical coverage, more people can get sick and die. Alaska, we got this!

But truly, the achievement we can be most proud of and best protect is our astounding rate of violence. Not to brag, but we’re already pretty good at this. Gun deaths? Number one. Rape? Number one. Sexual assault? Number one. We rock, Alaskans! But we can do better. By pulling law enforcement and justice system resources from some of our most remote and hard-to-serve regions, we can diminish the investigations, arrests and convictions that might cause our violent crime standings to plummet. And we can make sure the deaths and injuries ramp up nicely. We’re the champions of hurting each other, Alaskans! And nobody’s going to take that from us without a fight.

Gov. Dunleavy’s cuts will bring us high unemployment rates with the predicted loss of jobs, helping seal an important measure of downward decline. They will drive people seeking both quality of life and simple survival from the state in droves, letting us reclaim another long-held first as the nation’s least-populated state, opening the door for powerful Outside interests to shape us more readily. We can become the undisputed winners of the de-civilization decathlon! We can win hands-down at backwater blackjack!

Alaskans, the governor’s cuts, taken together, will help us claim our rightful place atop every negative socio-economic indicator there is. We should stop fussing and applaud his vision, courage and leadership. Without them, we might never know the sweet taste of victory – a success no money can buy.

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