Alaska Native villages, which generally vote Democratic, have accounted for much of the write-in votes for Republican write-in candidate Lisa Murkowski. But the 2010 midterm election has driven rural Natives to vote Republican rather than Democrat in hopes of preventingthe far-right-wing official Republican Party candidate Joe Miller from becoming senator. Democratic candidate Scott McAdams was also a preferable choice to Miller, but early polls showed that he had no strong possibility of winning, thus placing Murkowski as the leading alternative to Miller.

During the 2004 elections, the majority of rural Natives voted for Tony Knowles, Democrat, over Murkowski in the Senate race. According to the Anchorage Daily News, Murkowski’s current 13,400-vote lead over Joe Miller consists of 60 percent of votes cast in five rural voting districts – changing the tide of victory in Murkowski’s direction.

In spite of the fact that Murkowski is Republican, she represents the shrinking moderate wing of the GOP in comparison to Miller and Sarah Palin. This means that Murkowski is willing to confront global warming as a serious problem, which is one of many issues important to the Alaska Native communities, such as those populating land that is being threatened by the rising levels of the Arctic Ocean. In doing so she has forged an alliance with Alaska Natives attempting to fight Arctic temperature changes, and as a result this places Murkowski in conflict with the GOP establishment, which stands against curbs on carbon emissions.

Several criticisms made by Miller include Murkowski’s track record of swing votes, liberal social positions, less dependency on Alaska’s oil money (the opposite of what Palin and Miller propose) and “selling out” party principles through acts of bipartisanship. Palin and company’s criticism actually worked in Murkowski’s favor in Native rural communities, making rural Native Democrats more inclined to vote for the write-in Murkowski.

A pro-Native representative is needed in Alaska since much of Alaskan Native voice and rights is heavily dependent on Congress. For instance, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act gave federal funds to the indigenous people for economic development through the building of regional and village corporations. In addition, decisions made in Washington provided funding for free health care for Alaskan Natives, and social services to low-income hunting and fishing communities, as well as special hunting privileges for Native people living in remote regions – usually federally owned land, since 69 percent of Alaska is U.S. government property – where hunting is crucial for survival and maintaining the culture.

The fact is Miller’s general stance came at odds with the Native people’s tribal lives, which are greatly dependent on federal aid. Miller’s rhetoric of “out of control federal spending” and “cutting the state off federal money” did not provide any answers and solutions for concrete problems that affect the small-community Native Alaskans.

This is evident when examining the current crisis in the village of Newtok, which is experiencing massive erosion that will require moving the entire community. This estimated cost is $2 million per household. Murkowski visited with the village leaders to discuses the costly relocation effort, but Miller could not come up with a feasible and practical way of relocating the village without federal aid. In fact he did not even meet with any village leader to discuses a solution. This gave the impression that Miller would not put the interests of the original inhabitants of the land first, but instead treat such matters as trivial issues.

McAdams, who is mayor of Sitka, was a strong advocate for Native sovereignty, but as a newcomer at the state level he was virtually unknown by Natives in the west and Aleutian Islands, and as a result was rendered unable to make an impact on the rural population. Though the final ballot count is yet to be announced, this midterm election made Alaska a unique case, insofar as voting Republican did not necessarily mean defeat for the progressives and Alaskan Natives, but a needed sacrifice to keep the far-right wing out of office.

Photo: Associated Press