Not Eudora   By Harry Welty
Published October 28, 2005

Catch as Ketchikan

Little could I have imagined thirty-five years ago as we debarked from our ship into the hamlet of Ketchikan, Alaska, that it would someday become an obscene symbol for America's fiscal enslavement of my children. I would have been even more surprised to learn that this enslavement would be championed by my once frugal "cloth coat" Republican Party.

Ketchikan was a tiny hamlet then. Even today it only supports 8,000 souls but they are very lucky souls who are about to receive an extravagant quarter-of-a-billion dollars to build the "highway to nowhere." It's a nice little pork chop for people living a catch-as-catch-can life off Alaska's natural resources.

There wasn't much to do in Ketchikan back in the 60's. Our hotel didn't have television but there was a tiny movie theater. We killed time by watching the worst double feature we ever paid money to see. One movie was a "Hard Days Night" knockoff starring the "Herman's Hermits." Ketchikan was a desperate town.

The industry of Alaska's panhandle depended on raw materials. Even the one certifiable tourist draw, totem poles, were hewed from the Sitka Spruce which was being cut down to fuel Japan's ravenous emerging economy. We were given a short tour of the town's highlights, a lumber yard and the fish hatchery, by a young Ketchikanian. He told us he couldn't stand the Japanese businessmen, "little japs," who were "crawling" all over Alaska buying up the forests.

He told us, with unintended irony, that he was planning to move to Hawaii. I couldn't help but be amused. If our young guide couldn't stand the sight of Japanese in Ketchikan I wondered how he would manage in Hawaii where one-fifth of the population was Japanese-American!

Today's Ketchikan is served by an airport on an island which is a seven-minute ferry ride away. There is no great hurry and there are no bumper-to-bumper traffic jams. However, the Republican Congress considers this enough of an inconvenience to authorize the building of a span longer than the Golden Gate Bridge in its pork laden highway bill. We will borrow a quarter billion dollars from China to put the Ketchikan ferry out of business. This is the best way to finance the bridge because raising taxes to pay for it could slow down the economy while Republicans control Congress and the White House. It will be much better for Republican office holders if we let our children pay China back after the Democrats have taken back control of the Federal Government.

According to a new book authored by Chris Edwards, "Downsizing the Federal Government," the list of pork barrel projects has grown dramatically since Republicans took over.

                                                                     Year             # of Pork Barrel Projects

Republicans take control of Congress  1995 -             1,439
                                                                   1996 -                958
                                                                   1997 -             1,596
                                                                   1998 -             2,100
                                                                   1999 -             2,838
George W Bush is elected President    2000 -             4,326
                                                                   2001 -              6,333
                                                                   2002 -              8,341
                                                                   2003 -              9,362
                                                                   2004 -            10,656
                                                                   2005 -            13,997

Anti-pork Republicans have sacrificed most of their "Contract with America" values (remember term limits?) for the higher priority of perpetual reelection. Some Republican Senators were embarrassed enough by the Ketchikan bridge to suggest dropping it but Alaska's Republican Senator, Ted Stevens, threatened to retire if the bridge was not built. As this would have opened the way for a Democrat to take Steven's place thereby imperiling the Republican majority the Senators hastily caved in to his blackmail. Lord Acton would not be surprised.

Only a bleeding heart liberal could seriously suggest that a better use of federal spending, in the wake of the FEMA aided crippling of the Port of New Orleans, would be to repair America's most important water transportation highway. But then again, there are (or were) too many Democrats in New Orleans, in its pre Katrina days! Why it had 100 times the population of Ketchikan, Alaska. Fortunately, most of them have since moved to Republican Red states. Besides, how could anyone compare rebuilding New Orleans to sparing a few Alaskans the tedium of an occasional seven minute ferry ride?

And we lucky Northeastern Minnesotans have gotten a little piece of the pork action even though our Congressman is a Democrat. Jim Oberstar snuck a fifty million dollar appropriation for a four-lane highway to his hamlet of International Falls into the Republican's highway bill. This white elephant gift came as a great surprise to Minnesota's Highway Department because it never occurred to them that such a project had any serious priority.

How did Oberstar pull this off? Jim has been a very quiet critic of Republicans but more importantly he rushed to Majority leader Tom Delay's side when President Bush signed legislation to keep the brain dead Terry Shaivo on feeding tubes. I suggest we name the four-lane highway to International Falls the "Terry Shaivo Memorial Highway" in Jim's honor.

Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at: www.snowbizz.com