By Jenny Neyman
Announcements for Saturday afternoon’s “Celebrate America” rally at Kenai’s Leif Hansen Memorial Park did, indeed, specify 2012, though much of the proceedings would have been right at home in the 2010 election season, or even the 2008 presidential campaign.
Among the attendees were supporters of Texas Congressman and current presidential candidate Ron Paul, who also ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 against Sen. John McCain. Standing at the park’s frontage with the Kenai Spur Highway was another reference to the 2008 presidential election — a man bearing a homemade cardboard sign that read, “Where’s the real birth certificate?” and, “Obama is a fraud,” with a Washington, D.C., phone number for Rep. Don Young.
Presenters spoke of continuing the ongoing effort to return Alaska and the U.S. to the values of conservatism, rather than setting out any brand-new mission. The special guest speaker, Joe Miller, reiterated the message he’s been delivering since his 2010 campaign for U.S. Senate, in which he won the primary vote but lost in the general election to a write-in campaign for incumbent Lisa Murkowski.
The message bears repeating because the state and country are still facing the same problems, Miller said.
“This nation still is at a crossroad point, similar to what we saw in 2010,” he said. “… We’ve got to have people who are willing to tell the truth, and we aren’t seeing that at the national level. And even at the state level, the same sort of situation approaches — decreasing oil production and increasing expenditures.”
Miller warned that the practice of “kicking the debt can down the road,” on both the national and state level, is not sustainable. Sometime in the near future, spending will need to be ratcheted back and tough decisions will have to be made, he said.
“It’s easy for the free money. That’s why politicians like it, because it’s the lazy approach. And that’s what we’ve dealt with for years and we’ve got to move to a different direction or else we’re going to end up with hard times,” Miller said.
In Alaska, he advocates for diversifying the economy as a way to soften the tough transition the state faces as both oil revenues and federal spending decline.
“It’s obvious that this state needs to be active and very concerned about ensuring that we create an economy outside of those traditional sources,” he said. “… This state has got to be real about creating an economy, or we’re going to have a mass exodus of people going on. We’re not going to have jobs for our kids, we’re not going to have jobs for the adult voters.”
Miller said that increasing resource development and private enterprise activity is key to economic diversity in Alaska, but that government is restricting that from happening.
“I absolutely believe the regulatory controls the federal government has imposed are one of the primary reasons we do not have an active economy in mineral wealth in this state. The natural resources of this state are second to none throughout the United States. And our richest resource is the human resource. We’ve got exceptional people, exceptional skills, a highly educated workforce, but the fact of it is that engine of jobs is going to be the natural resource base and we’ve got to get the federal government out of the way,” Miller said.
He referenced his recent trip to China, where he saw “an almost Orwellian state based on technology,” with countless cameras trained on the streets. Yet he also saw more construction in a 10-mile stretch in China than he has across the United States in the last two years, he said.
“I can tell you what I saw going right in that country is that, in order to start a
business there, you don’t have government over your shoulder. Although government may be watching you at every move, they’re allowing economic activity to go forward. You don’t have the regulatory restraints like you have here,” Miller said. “People scratch their heads and ask themselves, ‘Why can’t we in the state of Alaska move forward? Why can’t we get rid of this three-legged stool (an economy reliant on oil and gas production, governmental spending and natural resource development), and make that private enterprise leg a little big stronger?’ Especially given the fact that we’re going to lose a lot of those federal funds in the not-so-distant future as the continuing budget crisis grows more severe.
“And the reason why is because of those regulatory restraints, and that’s why we need good leadership to strip that away to get back to that free-enterprise system that made this country great. To free up that ingenuity that’s still present in this country. Americans are creative, industrious people that, given the ability — take the government off their back — can move forward and make this country great again,” he said.
Miller’s name has been suggested as a possible opponent to Sen. Mark Begich in the 2014 election. Miller did not make any election announcements Saturday, but did say he is “staying active, being involved politically in the state.”
Miller used his appearance Saturday to encourage attendees to be active, as well, in advocating for a return to conservative ideals, such as those espoused by the Conservative Patriots Group that organized the “Celebrate America” event. The group was founded in Wasilla in 2009 — supporting Miller in his 2010 race — and has recently founded a chapter on the Kenai Peninsula.
“We know we have to have people in leadership willing to address these issues, and that’s where you and I come in. Those foundational values that made this country great, that the Conservative Patriots Group is all about, is what we need to see in more of our leaders who want to represent you in office,” Miller said.
“We need to get back to basics with respect to the state, cut back the rule of
government, increase private enterprise, increase investment. And consider whether or not you ought to go out and run for office. At the very least, stay active, show up at meetings like this,” he said.
Debbie Brown, of Kasilof, coordinator of the local CPG chapter, said the event was held to raise awareness of the group and its principles.
“We’re trying to just basically encourage one another to be about the business of taking public action. If we want to exercise our freedoms that we cherish, we have to do it. And so this picnic is an outpouring of that kind of energy and patriotic spirit. If we fail to take a strong position to really hold firm on what our Constitution and what our freedom means, then we’re going to become much poorer of spirit in our country and Alaska,” Brown said.
The event, scheduled from noon to 3 p.m. at the park, involved live music, including the Riverside Harmony women’s quartet, based at the Soldonta Church of God. Pastor Alan Humphries, with the church, gave an invocation prayer, accompanied by Pastor Doug Bowers of the Kenai Church of God.
Apple pie, hot dogs and other food was available for the 30 or so people who braved the chilly weather and squished through the still-melting snow to listen to the proceedings. This event loosely coincided with Tax Day, and Brown said that other CPG events are being planned over the summer, possibly around Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. Brown estimated the group has about 30 members so far on the peninsula, and said that she expects membership to grow.
Miller said he was happy to accept the invitation of the CPG to come speak in Kenai. In the 2010 election, a majority of Kenai Peninsula votes went to Miller, with 10,231 in all on the peninsula (7,651 from central Kenai Peninsula voters), over 6,702 for Murkowski and 4,784 for Democrat candidate Scott McAdams.
“There’s a good conservative base down here,” Miller said. “They’re concerned about the direction of the state, the direction of the country. And I certainly want to continue to maintain contact and encourage that activism because I think it’s necessary for the future.
“So don’t be dismayed that you don’t have a thousand people out here,” he said. “Be encouraged of the fact that the Kenai is a solid foundation of conservative values and you can bring out 10 more people next time, but keep the faith that you can make an impact.”