Thursday, June 01, 2017

Living in a remote, rural, politically divided town

NPR photo
Haines, Alaska, is a small town with a big political divide. And we have to wonder if there aren't a lot more like it.

Just 2,500 people live in the town that's surrounded by water and snowy, forested mountains, Melissa Block reports for National Public Radio: "The city center is just a few blocks, with several bars, a few restaurants and a beautiful, award-winning library. But lately, this idyllic place has been roiled by a bitter political battle. A group of residents wants to recall more than half the members of the local government, the borough assembly. . . . Some people are upset over local issues, like a harbor expansion or who should be the new borough manager. But it's about more than that. It breaks down as old-timers versus newcomers, to some extent. But also, people who want resource development, like mining or logging, against 'greenies' — environmentalists who stand in the way."

Block suggests that the divide was reflected in the presidential election, which split Haines down the middle, with Hillary Clinton beating Donald Trump 374-370.

Motel owner Shane Horton is circulating the recall petition. "I came here and was doing construction and dirty work involved with the timber industry," he told Block. "And that went away. So I went into doing something else, and then that gets blown out of the water. How many times can I get told to completely start over because what I am doing is now not acceptable?"

Heather Lende, a writer elected to the assembly last fall, is one of the recall targets. "When Lende heard that some in her community were trying to oust her, she said, 'It was heartbreaking.' And social media only makes it worse, Lende says. Like just about anywhere, people in Haines say things online they wouldn't dare say in public in such a small place."

Lende's a liberal, but has close friends who are Trump supporters. "I'm not gonna lose a friend over whoever votes for someone in the national election, and maybe that's the lesson that can come from Haines for the rest of the world," she told Block. "We've lived with divisiveness for a long time, but is it worth losing a friend over? I don't think so."

Dave McCandless, another Haines resident, is confident that this, too, shall pass. "What you're seeing, this tension and this turmoil and all that, it's all happened before," he says. "This country has been full of that, just like the town is full of it. Three years from now we'll be arguing about something else just as feverishly. And we won't be able to remember what this was."

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