Story last updated at 3:24 p.m. Thursday, October 31, 2002

Accessibility, compassion, experience should give edge to Lt. Gov. Ulmer
Jamie Ross
point of view

I have watched with curiosity the campaign tactics being employed in this years gubernatorial race by U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski's camp, and see nothing but the call for endless development, and of course JOBS, JOBS, JOBS! As I listen to these advertisements, I could assume that the oil industry and ANWR were the only issues of importance in Alaska. Is this really the case?

As an Alaska commercial fisherman for 20 years now, I agree with the slogans that we are "at a crossroads." Our future and way of life are hanging by a thread, and the decisions made in the next few years by our leaders will determine the fate of commercial fishing in Alaska.

Will we survive, or shall we go the way of the dinosaur?

Many around the state would just as soon see commercial fishing go away and be replaced by tourism or something else. But the fact remains that commercial fishing is Alaska's No. 1 private employer, and it is still the second largest industry behind oil.

Coastal communities like Homer still depend heavily on the fishing industry, and the vast majority of coastal villages and towns around our state are totally dependent on commercial fishing. But the crisis in our salmon industry affects all of Alaska. Most people will have nothing else to fall back on, and the social costs to the state will be huge -- unless we have a leader who promotes the restructuring and revitalization of our industry.

Many commercial fishermen blame Gov. Tony Knowles for our woes. It's his Board of Fisheries that has ruined us, his inaction, etc. Some of this is true. But can we really blame him for the expansion of farmed fish in the past 10 years?

I have been disappointed with his leadership as much or more than any fishing activist. He always seemed to be more worried about oil and big corporations than coastal Alaskans.

But this is not Fran Ulmer's record.

I met Fran back at my first UFA meeting in l987. When she walked into the room, I asked a fellow UFA board member who she was.

"Oh, that's Fran Ulmer. She is commercial fishing's best friend," they said.

I have always appreciated her passion for our industry -- chairing two "salmon forums" and initiating many other tasks to help improve the fishing industry. The word from Juneau is that Fran, as lieutenant governor, has been held back in her personal desires to do more for the fishing industry -- and for this we can blame Tony Knowles, not Fran Ulmer.

Over the past few years, I have called Fran's office several times to ask a question, or to request some help on a fishing issue. One of the reasons that I am so devoted to Fran Ulmer is that no matter when or how, she has always responded to my calls, letters or questions. And I know that she will be the same way as governor, because she truly cares about people.

I am not affiliated with any party -- never have been, never will be. I am proud that I voted for President Bush and ashamed that I voted for Knowles on his first run for governor.

I was so bummed during the last gubernatorial election that I didn't even vote.

I really don't want to bash Sen. Murkowski. He has a long history of service to our country and state. However, I am concerned that he has been in Washington, D.C., for so long that he really doesn't have the 21st century view of what we face everyday here in Alaska.

Washington is dominated by lobbyists and big corporations. One of the things that I have always appreciated about our state is that you can just show up in Juneau and talk to a legislator or perhaps even the governor. Fran Ulmer's door has always been open.

I don't think that Sen. Murkowski will allow that kind of access. I am afraid that the same lobbyists and corporate interests will run the show, not 'little Alaskan you and me."

As most coastal fishermen should be, I am extremely concerned about the effects of a potential "Gulf rationalization" scheme, and the associated "processor shares" that are being discussed. Remember who crafted the American Fisheries Act? It was our congressional delegation.

The AFA has essentially gifted monopolistic rights to fisheries in the Bering Sea to large Seattle-based corporations and foreign conglomerates. If these corporations have the same influence in Juneau as they did in Washington, D.C, then all our efforts to revitalize the salmon industry will be for nothing. We will be back to the "company boat" days before long, because the processors will own the rights to our salmon fisheries.

Fran Ulmer has been a tireless advocate for fisheries in Alaska. She cares about coastal communities and personally has been in touch with, and experienced on a day-to-day basis, the needs of our people.

Is she some radical environmentalist? No way. But she cares about our environment, and I am confident that she will promote sound resource development.

Do you really think that ANWR will be decided by Alaska? I doubt it. Let's wait and see how the war in Iraq goes. Then Congress will decide, not Alaska.

I look at Fran Ulmer's devotion to the people of Alaska through 20-some years of continual service. She has the energy, intelligence and commitment to do the best job for all Alaskans.

Are we at a crossroads? Yes. And now is not the time to change from a state bureaucracy to a federal one.

Let's make the right choice for Alaska and keep the experience and years of commitment where they are needed most in their respective arenas. Vote for Fran Ulmer -- not because she is a Democrat or whatever, but because she is the right Alaskan for the job.

Jamie Ross is a 15-year board member of the United Fishermen of Alaska, board member of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, founder and president of the Alaska Herring Seiners Association, and one of the founders of the Chignik Seafood Producers Alliance.