THURSDAY JULY 17, 2014
A week in the state is good for the mind and body. Over the 4th of July weekend, I was able to escape the heat and humidity in Washington and enjoy the fresh air, sunshine (and showers) from Fairbanks to Wrangell. All over the state people are talking about fishing. My son is on a tender in Bristol Bay and he reports that the season is good, the reds are running in Southcentral and folks are waiting to go dipnetting, but those on the Yukon and Kuskokwim are again disappointed with the Chinook returns.
The highlight of my week home was spending the 4th of July with my parents and siblings as we gathered to celebrate my mom and dad’s 60th wedding anniversary. We lived in Wrangell for several years when I was a child and we love that Mom and Dad have chosen to retire there. The 4th of July in Wrangell brings back great memories. This year’s festivities reinforced how special our small town celebrations are – a fun parade, fireworks, a logging show (complete with a rolling pin toss competition), a very competitive egg toss for all ages, and of course great food and homemade root beer.
With Mom and Dad on the beach in front of their house in Wrangell.
Competing in the rolling pin contest at the logging show.
Watching the July 4th parade with my family.
Veterans Listening Session in Wasilla
I have heard too often that we are failing our veterans when it comes to our VA system. During my trip home, I made sure to stop in Wasilla to hold an informal meeting to hear veterans’ concerns about the healthcare they are receiving. The Community Based Outpatient Clinic in Wasilla has experienced many staffing issues that have prompted complaints from veterans, who deserve the healthcare they were promised when they made the decision to serve our country.
We had many Valley veterans come out to offer their thoughts, observations and frustrations. I thank each and every one of them for their service and for coming together for an evening of constructive criticism, which will result in better care for the men and women who served. Last week, I shared their observations directly with the Acting Assistant Inspector General Richard Griffin of the VA. I have asked that the IG investigate the concerns surrounding the Wasilla CBOC and am pleased that a team will begin their investigation soon.
Listening to veterans’ concerns in Wasilla.
Growing Peonies in Alaska
While I was in Fairbanks, I had the opportunity to visit the Georgeson Botanical Garden at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. There they are growing one of Alaska’s newest and most exciting export crops: peonies. Because of Alaska’s unique climate and long hours of daylight in the summer, peonies thrive and grow up to the size of dinner plates. As many as 59 peony farms have sprouted up in Alaska and are able to produce almost 200,000 peonies a year to ship around the globe.
In UAF’s Georgeson Botanical Garden discussing peonies.
Peonies are such gorgeous flowers!
As co-chair of the Senate Small Brewer’s Caucus, I’m a big supporter of the many craft breweries in our state. These brewpubs and small breweries benefit communities by creating both jobs and a sense of local pride. I’m trying to visit all of our local breweries throughout the state, and this trip I was able to go to the Denali Brewery Company in Talkeetna to meet with the General Manager, Sassan Mossanen, and learn that they are one of the largest year-round employers in the area.
If you would like to know more about my efforts to guide federal policy to help our small brewery economy in Alaska, click"here to read a recent conversation I had with “Dr. Fermento.”
Chatting with Denali Brewing Company GM Sassan Mossanen.
Jobs for Alaskans
A few years ago I made a small but important change to the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) about how the National Park Service hires employees: I added language to the 2012 Interior Appropriations bill that allowed the Park Service to prioritize local hires, so that Alaskans who know the most about the region may be hired and share their expertise. As a consequence of their effort, 157 Alaskans received National Park Service jobs. I am always happy to see when my work in Congress has such tangible impacts on so many Alaskans. Below is a chart of the distribution of local jobs as a result of my fix to ANILCA.
Honoring Walter Harper
Last month marked 101 years since Walter Harper, an Athabascan from the Interior, became the first man to summit Denali, and I can’t think of a better way to honor that accomplishment than by renaming the Talkeetna Ranger Station after him. Last year, I worked to pass the Denali National Park Improvement Act to rename the Ranger Station after Walter – a small gesture, but one that I hope means a lot to Alaskans who take pride in each other’s achievements. I joined his descendants, NPS Rangers, and community members in celebrating his accomplishment at the renaming ceremony in Talkeetna.
Descendants of Walter Harper after naming the NPS Talkeetna Ranger Station after him.
With some of the NPS Rangers who will be stationed at the Walter Harper Station.
I recently received"word from Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James that the Air Force will delay the demolition of the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) facility in Gakona until next year. This came in response to a letter I wrote to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, expressing my concerns that the scientific and research benefits of HAARP far outweigh the potential cost savings that would come from its closure. I suggested to the Department of Defense that it explore other options regarding HAARP’s future, such as transferring responsibility of its operations to another research institution such like the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
Washington, D.C. Summer Interns
Every summer, I invite 20 high school seniors from Alaska to intern in my Washington, D.C. office to help my staff and get to know the legislative process. The first session of summer interns were Lyndsey Brollini, Nicole Eldred, and McKenzie Stepovich of Anchorage; Deirdre Creed of Kotzebue; Emily Hartley of Talkeetna; Austin Ramsay of Ketchikan; Alfonso Sitenga of Homer; Michaela Spaulding of Fairbanks; Rachel Tougas of Seward; and Maria Villa of North Pole. I sat down with the first session of interns to record the Alaska Report and answer some of their questions. I encourage you to take a look – their questions covered it all from energy to women in politics to school nutrition.
(Click image to view the Alaska Report.)