Here’s why Alaska should be part of first Republican presidential debate

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Thursday’s Fox News Republican presidential primary debate is important for many reasons.

For starters, this is the first opportunity for American voters to get a better glimpse of the top-polling candidates. Hopefully, we’ll hear details from the front-runners on their vision and goals for the nation. Social media digital one-liners and media interview sound bites won’t cut it Thursday night, as viewers scrutinize who should be the next commander in chief.

Poll after poll indicate that strengthening the economy, creating more jobs, lessening dependence on foreign governments, protecting borders and supporting veterans while building our military are top priorities.

But what could steal the show Thursday beyond bravado and charisma? Is there a panacea-level platform that sparks the momentum so desperately needed to “make America great again,” as the Trump campaign’s mantra embraces?

Enter the Arctic, and the only state in the union that is situated in this last frontier: Alaska.

Photo by: Lorry Schuerch

It doesn’t take a Sarah Palin or Ted Nugent to remind us Alaska is a treasure trove. The state has more than 50 percent of the nation’s coastline. Alaska is larger than Texas, California and Montana combined. The state has the northern- and western-most points in the United States.

The bone-chilling, ice-capped, polar-bear-meandering mystique of the far north represents a thin veneer over one of the most abundant, strategic and burgeoning regions in the world. The fortune of our citizenry is that Alaska is the 49th state, and a prize to be sure.

If the consultants are earning their fees, the candidates on Thursday will, at minimum, highlight the critical importance of Alaska to the national economy and defense. There are three pivotal categories, to that end, that must be part of a nation-building direction.

Increasing natural resource development should be a foundation to any presidency.

Per the advocacy group Arctic Power, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in northeastern Alaska has reserves in the billions of barrels of recoverable oil, and in the trillions of cubic feet of natural gas, dwarfing the famed Prudhoe Bay from which the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System carries to port and distribution. Add the petroleum discoveries in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, which the Obama administration blocked development of for years, the robust range of minerals scattered in dense pockets throughout the state, and the move in Congress to overturn the ban on exporting oil outside the United States, and suddenly a significant economic boom has been unearthed.

How about the actual Arctic? There is an Arctic Council made up of the eight nations within the Arctic Zone. The United States is one of the member countries, thanks to the state of Alaska, and for the next two years the U.S. chairs the council. That’s why President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are going to Alaska for their first formal visit on Aug. 31, albeit too late, per Wednesday’s Fox News report that Russia is now claiming 463,000 square miles of Arctic shelf and more than 350 nautical miles from shore in a region with 25 percent “of the planet’s untapped oil and gas supplies.”

The president plans to speak on Arctic policy, but Republican presidential candidates on Thursday can steal his thunder. Transportation corridors because of melting ice, jurisdictional enforcement, tourism, commercial fishing and shipping, and deep sea mapping and exploration are the jewels of this virgin territory. Alaska is a major global player, rich in resources, and our next president should capitalize on this reality in every campaign debate.

Finally, America’s military and armed forces are essential to the nation’s existence. Yet under President Obama, veteran health care, benefits, support and recognition have faltered.

In July of this year, the Army announced a nationwide cut of 40,000 troops. A chunk of that was in Alaska, which is counter intuitive when the state hosts nine military bases, including three Air Force bases, three Army bases and three Coast Guard bases. These bases, from Alaskan Command’s foundational operations to the first line of defense against Russian and Asian aggression, are sentinel to U.S. protection. The military narrative of any Republican presidential candidate should be to build our military rather than reduce, fund it prudently, respect and support veterans past and present, and never ever forget Alaska and its vital importance to the security of our great nation.

Thursday night will be the start of a horse (or dog sled) race to the White House. Lots of issues and interests will surface. Let’s hope at least one candidate has the wisdom and wherewithal to break the ice and include Alaska’s potential in the narrative, along with the plentiful Arctic’s role in helping attain a sustainable U.S. economy.


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