If you want to turn private life into political warfare, there’s a bill in the U.S. Senate just for you. It’s the Democrats’ 800-page election takeover, S. 1.
Promoted as a voting and campaign reform measure, 300 pages of the bill actually contain new restrictions on your First Amendment rights to association and free speech. These provisions have been criticized by everyone from the ACLU to Mitch McConnell, but Democratic leaders refuse to budge. The bill has already passed the House of Representatives.
S. 1 also seeks to nationalize election law in ways that won’t fit our unique state. I oversaw elections as Gov. Sean Parnell’s lieutenant governor. Alaska’s election rules reflect our vast land areas, diverse languages and cultures, and even the challenges of getting an ID card if you live in rural Alaska. Sadly, S. 1 will not allow for our uniqueness and diversity. It turns more power over elections to the federal government, and overrides our state’s constitution in several ways.
A second challenge in the law is its effort to stifle political debate and undermine individual privacy, both things Alaskans hold dear. Under S. 1, any group that mentions a candidate in communications about legislation or public affairs could be forced to publicly expose its supporters. This will discourage Americans from joining groups that speak about the issues. It would also violate the privacy of longstanding nonprofit organizations that care about public policy and good government.
Americans have a First Amendment right to privately support charities and civic groups, including through membership. Doing so should not “brand” someone as fully supporting everything that group does or advocates. A garden or gun club, an aviators’ group, or a snowmachine group might have views on parklands or air traffic control or access to public lands. Why should they have to release their membership to make their feelings known on a legislative issues?
First Amendment freedom has been vital to social movements, including many that are now celebrated among our democracy’s greatest achievements. Americans who challenge the establishment have good reason to value their privacy.
One of the great victories of the civil rights movement was a unanimous 1958 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court protecting citizen privacy. It said Alabama could not force the NAACP to turn over a list of its members. The Court saw that “compelled disclosure of affiliation with groups engaged in advocacy may constitute as effective a restraint on freedom of association as (other) forms of governmental action.”
In other words, censorship isn’t the only way the government can make a troublesome group or viewpoint disappear. If it can weaponize the law to force organizations to expose their members, it can dry up support for any group that dares to criticize the government. Soon enough, the criticism goes away, or at least gets a heck of a lot quieter.
Importantly, the court’s ruling did not just apply to the NAACP or in the South. It protected the right to private giving for all Americans and from all governments. The threats to citizens today, and the chill to speech, are significantly greater.
Thanks to the internet, private giving that is publicly exposed will be available for all time, to anyone, in just a few clicks. Who knows what opinions will get you “canceled” a generation from now? Even today, three out of four voters say they cannot speak openly because of how others would react to their views. S. 1 would silence us more.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski courageously stood for privacy and the First Amendment freedoms of Alaskans during the 2005 Patriot Act debates. I agree with the sentiments she expressed then about the importance of “providing safeguards to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans.” She fought giving the government power to do a “fishing expedition” into our library, health and gun records. Now I’m hopeful our delegation stands together to protect our privacy, by defeating S. 1. Congressman Don Young has already voted no.
Private giving is the protection that new ideas need in a democracy. History teaches us that some of them, maybe even those we regard as silly or strange today, will become the founding principles of our future. No wonder those in power want to shut them down.
Mead Treadwell, Lieutenant Governor of Alaska 2010-2014
Board Member, Alaska Policy Forum
It’s Time to Correct a Vietnam-Era Injustice
In the years leading up to 1971, the federal government urged Alaska Native families to claim their 160-acre land allotment before the program was abruptly terminated by the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
That message never reached George Bennett Sr. Like 2,800 other Alaska Natives, he was serving his country on the battlefields of Vietnam.
Last month, President Biden significantly curtailed the most promising effort in decades to correct this travesty. His administration imposed a two-year stay in the implementation of several public land orders in Alaska that would’ve lifted restrictions on 28 million acres of federal land. This decision means thousands of Alaska Native veterans and their surviving families are unable to receive land allotments in these areas under the 2019 Dingell Act.
Working in our individual capacities as U.S. senator and governor of Alaska, we’re committed to correcting this affront to our heroes. First, Senator Sullivan will continue to fight for timely implementation of the Dingell Act, which included a version of Senator Sullivan’s Alaska Native Veterans Land Allotment Equity Act. There’s no excuse for the Biden administration to specifically target these patriots by delaying land selections that were due a half-century ago.
Second, Governor Dunleavy will be amending the “Unlocking Alaska” land bill with a proposal that offers our Alaska Native Vietnam-era veterans state land in exchange for their future federal allotments. Not only will this amendment offer an immediate solution to a decades-old problem, it will open up more land selections closer to home for many veterans.
Let’s be clear, if it was up to us, there would be little to no restrictions on land selections. By complementing the federal law, this amendment will bring us closer to that goal.
The bottom line is that our Vietnam-era veterans deserve better. As soldiers, they carried with them both the physical and mental scars of war – a burden many bear to this day. Instead of providing comfort and gratitude, some across our nation treated them as villains. Years later, President Reagan would call it a “noble war,” but even today, Vietnam veterans don’t always receive the respect they deserve despite suffering 58,000 in-theater deaths and hundreds of thousands of injuries.
Their wounds were uniquely brutal. Agent Orange and dioxin – known at the time to be “exceptionally toxic” – didn’t discriminate between friend, foe, or civilian. Others returned with mental wounds that haunted them for years. Yet instead of receiving care, they were forced to trade the battlefields of Vietnam for the battlefields of Congress.
Those drafted were largely from the middle and lower classes, while over half of wealthy young men obtained student deferments. Alaska Natives, however, didn’t seek to defer. They didn’t burn their draft cards. In fact, the majority of these patriotic Americans volunteered to fight heroically for their country and have faced more than 50 years of injustice since.
Perhaps most frustratingly, the land withdrawals needed to facilitate these federal allotments were put up for review in 2004 by the Alaska Land Transfer Acceleration Act. Now, President Biden claims more years of deliberation are needed. Only in Washington, D.C. is 17 years an insufficient period to conduct an “accelerated” review.
Not only have our veterans been exceptionally patient, they’ve contributed so much to our country in the intervening decades. George Bennett returned to Southeast Alaska in 1998 and took up traditional Tlingit carving. As a veteran’s advocate, he is known to offer his services to Sitka’s veterans seven days a week.
“Veteran’s don’t stop being veterans after 40 hours,” he loves to say. His story is like so many other Vietnam veterans – men and women whose service to our country didn’t end when they left the battlefield.
But time is running out. After this latest delay, some veterans have said that they believe their best hope is to include their unfulfilled land allotment in their will. They hope this will give their families some legal standing should a future administration finally right this wrong. No veteran – Alaska Native or otherwise – should be treated in this manner.
We have the power to make this right. Let’s give our Alaska Native Vietnam-era veterans the land they’re owed and honor their legacy of service before it’s too late.
Mike Dunleavy, 12th Governor of Alaska
U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan
Colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve