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'Feeling the Bern' in Alaska

Bernie Sanders hit Hillary Clinton like an avalanche in Alaska last weekend, winning 81 percent to 19 percent in the state's Democratic caucuses. Bernie won all 40 districts convincingly, and gets 13 Alaskan delegates while Hillary gets just three.

Bernie Sanders hit Hillary Clinton like an avalanche in Alaska last weekend, winning 81 percent to 19 percent in the state’s Democratic caucuses. Bernie won all 40 districts convincingly, and gets 13 Alaskan delegates while Hillary gets just three.

Hillary can’t seem to connect with Alaska Democrats. They voted 75-25 for Barack Obama in 2008. Hillary must be annoyed that she went to all those Arctic Council meetings and said the right things about the North while she was Obama’s secretary of state, and then did even worse in her second run in Alaska.

Neither candidate visited the 49th state, but Bernie’s wife Jane dropped in just before the voting to visit Anchorage. She was also supposed to visit First Alaskans in Dillingham, but bad weather scotched the flight and she had to speak to local aboriginal and other community groups by video conference.

The best the Clinton campaign could do was a robo-call to Alaska from husband Bill.

Bernie also got a lot of press just before the vote by coming out against the proposed Pebble mega-mine near Dillingham, which he announced after his wife’s video conference with the local community. Clinton’s previously announced opposition to the mine got buried in the hubbub over Jane Sanders’ visit.

Of course, Alaska doesn’t have many delegates. After last Saturday’s voting, Hillary was still ahead 277 elected delegates according to CNN (not counting so-called super-delegates, who are strongly pro-Hillary). So it would take 28 more states like Alaska for Bernie to catch up on elected delegates.

And Alaska isn’t much of a factor in presidential contests. Not only is it small, but it is reliably Republican. Since the state entered the union, it has voted Democrat for president only once. That was for Lyndon Johnson against Barry Goldwater, probably the most alarming Republican candidate prior to either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, Ted Cruz won by a few points several weeks ago. However, based on complicated party rules, he ended up splitting the Republican delegates 50-50 with Donald Trump. I don’t know where they stand on the Pebble Mine, but Alaskan conservatives must have been pleased to hear Trump promising to slash funding for the federal Environmental Protection Agency if elected.

What explains the success of the ultra-liberal Sanders, ultra-conservative Cruz and ultra-populist Trump? Yukonomist’s Alaskan political correspondent described the state as a “weird combination” of “redneck Republican” and “socialist” Alaskans. As for Hillary, she is perceived to have “so much baggage.”

Despite being small, Alaska had its day in the spotlight of the national primaries; I saw the Alaskan results announced on CNN. Say what you will about the American system, but it gives some voice to smaller states. Since we don’t get to vote directly for prime minister, the closest thing we have to the U.S. primaries is the periodic party leader selection processes. The processes for the current NDP and Liberal leaders and the upcoming Conservative supremo are based on the concept of “one member-one vote” on a single day, not delegates selected at different times across the country (although the Canadian parties have used similar systems in the past).

I don’t recall a single drop of national media ink getting spilled about the Yukon’s influence on the selection of the NDP or Liberal leader, and we will probably be ignored in the Conservative race too.

Another interesting comparison between Yukon and Alaska politics has to do with how liberal Alaska Democrats would fit in nicely here. While Bernie is considered a bit of a Don Quixote in Alaska for advocating universal health-care and free university education, in the Yukon this is mainstream stuff.

All three of the territorial parties believe in universal health-care and the Yukon Grant. If Jane Sanders visited Whitehorse, she might be impressed to find out that the Yukon Grant is more than annual tuition at UBC for an arts or science degree and almost covers tuition at University of Alaska Fairbanks (where Yukon students pay the same as Alaskans).

Bernie’s stance against the Pebble Mine might seem to put him on the “Save the Peel” side of the Yukon political spectrum, but don’t judge too soon. We’ll see if any of our political parties support our equivalent projects, Casino and Selwyn, once Yukoners find out how big those mines and their impacts are.

In fact, maybe we should invite Alaskans to move here. I know one who did after George W. Bush got re-elected. Over 10,000 Alaskans caucused for Bernie or Hillary, and it would only take a small percentage to replace the 95 Yukoners who moved away last quarter according to Statistics Canada. Alaska is one of our few sources of immigrants who arrive already knowing how to dress for Forty Below and start a snowmobile, although the current Canadian immigration points system doesn’t give any credit for those skills.

The timing might even work for Bernie, himself. If he loses to Hillary, he could always run here territorially. There will be two openings for party leader after the Yukon’s 2016 election.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. He won the Ma Murray award for best columnist in 2015.