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Searching for the middle: Centrist voters are key to electing reasonable candidates

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Election season

As the election cycle ramps up for the Oct. 5 local election, I am thinking a lot about who is voting and who is not voting. I know the extremes of both parties are voting, but I’m not sure about those in the middle.

Fairbanks is a place of extremes. Just as our temperatures range from 40 below zero to 90 above, the politics of the borough run the full spectrum too. For the most part, the people of Fairbanks tend to be a practical crowd. To survive here, we must be resilient to the extreme swings of temperatures and the drastically changing seasons. Just to be social here, we overlook general political swagger that bogs down larger communities because there just aren’t that many of us to pick and choose our friends from. It’s common to see relationships cross political party boundaries. It’s, well, reasonable.

The pandemic has tapped an already polarized country, putting stress on jobs, the economy, families and our society. No one has escaped the burden of the unknown during this time. But this op-ed isn’t about the pandemic, although Covid has raised some issues that can be addressed with a vote.

What we have seen in the last 18 months is the ability — or inability — of our leaders to actually lead. This includes those who are running for office and those who are already elected.

Where are those who live by the moral values of decency to one another, respect for our institutions and compassion for community? Where are those who use reason to weigh the impact of their decisions, leaving national blubber for talking heads? What happened to the middle-road voters who understand common sense is good business? Why have our own local governments, who offer public services to every individual in this borough, consistently ignored medical advice from our own local professionals when making public risk decisions?

It’s not difficult to figure out why centrist voters have been silent. In the crusade to dismantle government at all costs, an angry mob has threatened violence at public assembly and school board forums over the last few months. In the days leading up to and following the school board decision to require school masking, protestors have been seen waving vulgar and upside down American flags against the president at busy intersections and in front of schools and the hospital. They have disregarded rules for decorum at public meetings, often shouting, clapping and displaying aggressive behavior. They’ve sent crude and threatening emails. We’ve seen them grow angry at anyone who tries to reason with them, explain the rules or challenge their behavior. This extreme behavior is done in the name of freedom, but ironically, voters in the middle of our polarized political system appear to have been silenced because of it.

Our local election includes moderates and extremists. The extreme candidates have aligned themselves with QAnon and calls from God to be in public office. These extreme candidates will prevent our community from moving forward in a positive way. A vote for Silva, Roberts, McKinley, Graham, Rentzel, Cleworth and Bagwell will keep us in a chaotic and antagonistic state that has silenced many in this community from saying anything contrary for fear of retaliation and disruption at any cost.

This slate of extreme candidates will ensure a worn-out downtown, a skyline of deteriorated property, half-functioning community buildings, bad-faith bargaining, the homeless to remain hidden, an outdated school curriculum, and local government and medical personnel hamstrung by staff shortages. Fairbanks will become a town where anger is allowed to speak louder than reason, and reasonable people no longer feel safe speaking up.

Centrist voters have an important choice to make before Oct. 5. Continue to let the extreme voice disintegrate our community or send a consequential message on Election Day. For sound candidates who do their homework, evaluate the risks, listen to reason and make common sense decisions, vote Savannah Fletcher, Kristan Kelly, David Guttenberg, Chrya Sanderson, Erin Morotti, Shoshana Kun and June Rogers.

We can cross political boundaries as friends and we can cross political boundaries as a way to embrace the immense opportunities before us. Early voting begins Sept. 20. Fairbanks needs the centrist vote to turn down the temperature so decisions can be made that advance our community. Our borough is full of promise. If only we are bold enough to see it and to vote for it.

Mindy O’Neall has been an Alaska resident for nearly 20 years. She is the executive director of the Cold Climate Housing and Research Center and serves as the presiding officer of the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly. These comments are her own.

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