It’s not every day that two of the biggest names in Alaska politics stop by Dillingham High School. But on Halloween, Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Mary Peltola spent some time chatting with a room full of students dressed as butterflies, pirates, Minions and mimes.
“This is historic for Dillingham High School,” Murkowski said. “But I also think that it is noteworthy that never in Alaska’s history and never in American history have you had a woman in the House of Representatives representing Alaska and a female senator in the U.S. Senate. So we are kind of doing firsts today.”
She gave Peltola a high-five, and the class applauded.
The pair was there to talk with students in the high school government class about their jobs as the students prepared for a mock debate. Murkowski was originally scheduled to be in Dillingham a day earlier, but her trip was postponed because a Coast Guard plane was stuck on the local runway.
Peltola talked to the students about her duties as a representative.
“Even if you’re not for something, you might be in a position where you have to be for something. Not because you personally want to do that, but because you think that’s what’s best for the most people in our state,” she said.
Peltola also stressed that it’s important to find common ground to get things done.
“You aren’t going to get 434 people to agree with you if they all hate you,” she said, referring to her colleagues in the U.S. House. “So for the people who say, ‘I’m going to go and be a fighter,’ that only gets you so far. You have to go and be a get-a-long-er to, you know, and make friends. The only way you can get things done is if you have a good relationship with the people that you work with.”
The class was getting ready for its own debate, where each student would play a different real-life politician. Asked for tips, Murkowski said it’s OK to be nervous.
“It’s because you want to try to do well,” she said. “So kind of pat yourself on the back, saying, ‘Oh, this is an important one, I want to do well for this debate, I want to win this debate.’”
She told the class a good way to start a debate is by talking about something familiar.
“It’s not like you have to be the expert,” she said. “But find what you’re passionate about, start off by saying, ‘This debate is important, because it’s about our fish, our land, our families.” And you know. I know that.”
Peltola said she centers herself by praying before a debate. She said she tries not to memorize long, dense text.
“I try to stay away from heavy written things because then I end up talking to kids like this, and I talked to the audience like this,” she said, mimicking a robot and getting a laugh from the students. “That’s horrible to listen to.”
Peltola said when she first started speaking in public she would think about all the people who disagreed with her.
“In that debate that we did last week, I didn’t feel like I was doing very well and I said, ‘Okay, come on. Your father-in-law is watching this — make him proud. Come on, say some stuff that makes sense to Gene Peltola, Sr.,’ because I knew he was watching.”
Both Murkowski and Peltola urged the students to get involved in leadership and get into the job market. Peltola said that simply growing up in Bush Alaska gave them a leg up on many of their peers.
“Just because you come from Dillingham, you’re an expert in logistics supply chain, you know what it’s like to go to the store and not have mosquito dope for sale. You know what it’s like to pay high gas prices and high diesel prices, you know about the fish economy and what fish mean to you guys,” she said. “So on a meaningful level you are experts on Alaska.”
Both Peltola and Murkowski spoke at a school-wide assembly and met with local leaders before leaving on Monday afternoon.
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