Diane Benson is one of the most amazing women I have ever met. Coming from extreme adversity to not only succeed but to help so many others, she is the embodiment of what is best about America. After meeting her one-on-one back when she ran for Congress, I was eager and proud to endorse her since she was undoubtedly one of the best candidates I had ever met. Of course she was beaten out by money and the old boy's network that is Alaska politics. But Diane Benson has never been someone to give up. So she is running for Lt. Governor and I eagerly and proudly endorse her for Lt. Gov. of Alaska.
Diane Benson is one tough woman from a working class background. She has had nothing handed to her but rather has worked hard for everything she has accomplished. A member of the Tlingit Nation, Diane grew up in Southeastern Alaska in foster homes and boarding school as well as logging camps with her father and in Sitka with her grandparents. She began volunteer work with senior citizens at Ketchikan Hospital at the age of 12, and although often homeless (she refused to rely on charity), worked a variety of social service oriented jobs with the underprivileged and the elderly until she took a position with the Fairbanks Native Association. At the age of 18 she was the youngest person to ever serve on the FNA Executive Board, and was invited by then U.S. Senator Mike Gravel to work in Washington D.C. Thereafter, she acquired a job as one of the first women tractor-trailer truck drivers on the Alaska pipeline in 1975.
Diane paid for two years of college by driving trucks in the early 80's as Alaska's first female union concrete-mixer driver. She was a proud member of Local 959 - Teamster Union.
The birth of her son in 1979 was her driving force to improve her life. She not only survived, she became stronger. She did volunteer research work for the Berger Commission, was Public Relations Director for UTA, and 1986-1988 was a Para-legal for Alaska Legal Services. Through the 1990's Diane ran Northern Stars Talent Agency doggedly promoting Alaska's talent in feature films and commercials nationally and internationally. Because Diane understood first hand the trauma of violence, she found herself often invited to speak on justice for victims of crime, breaking the silence, and finding hope and dignity in survival. In the spring of 2007 she completed co-production on a video, "Healing Child Sexual Abuse."
Diane is the mother of one son who served in the Iraq war until he was severely wounded, losing both his legs from a roadside bomb. The time she spent watching her son's recovery and visiting with other injured veterans played a large part in her decision to run for Congressional office, and which has shaped many of her ideas surrounding the Iraq war, terrorism, homeland security, and Veterans' benefits.
Alaska Senator Mike Gravel had this to say in his endorsement of Diane Benson:
Alaska is a place with endless possibilities and untapped potential. Alaska needs in it's next Lt. Governor someone who is not afraid to stand up and speak out. Diane Benson is that next Lt. Governor. As a former Speaker of the State House and then U.S. Senator from 1969-1981, I fought hard for Alaska and Alaskan interests. Alaska needs a new fighter and a new advocate who will be there for veterans, for seniors, for the working men and women of Alaska. I proudly endorse Diane Benson for Lt. Governor and ask all my friends and supporters to vote for her."
- Mike Gravel (D), U.S. Senator from Alaska 1969-1981
I can think of no better leader in America and in Alaska than a woman like Diane Benson. To find out more about this amazing woman, visit her website.
Re-elect State House Representative Woodie Salmon
This comes from the Indigenous Democratic Network (INDN List):
Representative Woodie Salmon, former Chief of the Chalkyitsik Village Tribe, has spent his six years in the State House working for Indian communities and working families across Alaska. Representing the largest State House district in the country, he believes families in communities large and small deserve equal services from their government. Having a seat on the powerful Finance Committee, Woodie ensures that Alaskan Natives receive their fair share in the budget process.
Woodie is currently running for reelection for the Alaska State House of Representatives in District 6 against a Republican challenger.
Rep. Salmon co-authored an opinion piece (in 2005) discussing Equity in Education funding which reflects his approach to government. From that opinion piece:
Imagine an Alaska in which all students have a fair crack at a good education. In that Alaska, kids from all across the state would be able to read, write, and compute, and they would use those skills to get good jobs after graduation.
Unfortunately, this is not our Alaska. The distribution of education funds in Alaska is unfair, and as a result rural kids do not have access to a good education. The good news is that the Legislature has a chance now to correct this inequity.
It's common sense that the cost of delivering education is higher in rural Alaska than in Anchorage or Fairbanks or Juneau. Almost everything that can be bought costs significantly more in rural areas than in urban areas. According to the University of Alaska's Food Cost Survey, a weekly grocery bill that costs $105 in Anchorage costs $187 in Bethel. Fuel costs are extraordinarily high in rural Alaska, and the state's subsidy for rural energy through the Power Cost Equalization program doesn't apply to schools. This means a big percentage of schools' budgets go to pay for energy costs. In the Northwest Arctic Borough School District, for example, annual fuel costs total $900 out of the $4576 they receive per pupil - a fifth of the total amount they get from the state for each student enrolled.
A fair distribution of education funding would correct for these increased costs. Yet for years, study after study has shown that rural schools are not getting their fair share of education funding. The Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Alaska just completed a study, the "Alaska School District Cost Study Update," which makes one thing crystal clear: there is a big gap between the amount of funding rural school districts are receiving and the amount they need. This report can't be put on a shelf, ignored, or changed: it raises facts that need to be a part of the equation.
What's more, Alaska faces a critical achievement gap between Native and non-Native students. A new report by the Alaska Native Policy Center shows that thousands of Alaska's children - most of whom are in rural districts that don't receive a fair amount of education funding - are not receiving a quality education. Half of low-income and Native children regularly fail benchmark exams. Native students are twice as likely to drop out of school as are non-Native students. Our education system is failing Native kids.
Studies show that rural schools are underfunded. Studies show that many rural kids are not getting a good education. As legislators, it's our job to ask: is money really the solution to this achievement gap? We're convinced that the answer is yes.
Money helps districts to take the necessary steps to correct the achievement gap. In one Alaska school district, 65% of students can't read at the level they should. District officials decided intensive reading intervention, while drastic and - yes - expensive, was necessary. The intervention took a 2 nd grader from the 2 nd percentile in reading comprehension to the 50 th. An 11 th grader went from a 4 th grade level to a high school level. It's clear that reading is important, and it's clear that intensive reading intervention works - but it takes money. This is just one example of how money makes a difference.
Alaska's rural kids deserve a fair crack at a quality education. In order to give them this chance, school funding must reflect the actual cost of delivering education in different places around our state. The Legislature is currently considering House Bill 173, a bill to adjust funding so that rural school districts can get their fair share of education funding; we hope that our colleagues will move quickly to pass this bill.
You can see what bills Representative Salmon has sponsored and co-sponsored by clicking here.