Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Outgoing borough mayor shares tips with students

From left, SNRAS graduate students Tracy Rogers, Benjamin Rance, Leah Roach, former borough mayor Jim Whitaker, Yosuke Okada, and Tina Buxbaum examine Whitaker's files.

When former Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Jim Whitaker arrived at the UAF campus Nov. 19 to be the guest speaker for the SNRAS graduate seminar he did not show up empty-handed.

During his four years as a state representative and six as the borough mayor, Whitaker had accumulated forty-three bankers’ boxes of files. He randomly selected one from his garage to take to the seminar and as he talked to the students about policy he grabbed papers from the box and read excerpts. Each file had a story behind it. Items he pulled out brought forth tales of Bill Allen of VECO, former Sen. Ted Stevens, former Gov. Frank Murkowski, BP price fixing, and proposed legislation.

“Public policy is frustrating as hell,” Whitaker said. He urged the students to imagine what it would be like if they weren’t able to trust the people who make public policy. “We expect people to be honest and we should require them to be so,” he said.

“It’s easy to be cynical and it’s appropriate to be critical. The system works because of all the components.”

Whitaker advised the audience to look at lands in the context of global warming. He said Alaska is in an uncomfortable position right now. “Maybe we will get a slap in the face from Washington, D.C. Maybe it’s OK we are moving in that direction, away from Ted Stevens having all the power. Things are changing and we have to recognize that. We can’t have old set values; we know so much darn more now.”

As much planning as there has been in Alaska for a gas pipeline Whitaker predicted the state would be lucky to have one by 2054 if counting on Outside assistance. “We need to find a way to do a gas pipeline ourselves or find alternative energy. If we don’t take care of our energy needs we are at risk.”

He said public policy works best when people get involved. “It’s slow; it’s cumbersome and I’m proud to be part of it,” Whitaker said. “The system works; I didn’t say it was perfect.”

Serving the public has been the most rewarding experience of his life, Whitaker said. His advice to anyone considering running for office is to put others ahead of themselves, tell the truth, and to be straightforward, thoughtful, and considerate.

“If I were young and idealistic like you I would ask why aren’t things better,” Whitaker said. “My invitation to you is to change it. This is one of the few places in the world where you can do it.”

Since leaving the mayor’s office in mid-November, Whitaker said he will shy away from anything political for a while and is looking forward to going to back to school.

Related reading:
Former mayor says borough needs to solve its own problems, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Nov. 21, 2009, by Amanda Bohman

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