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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Mea Culpa and More

I was wrong. In my last two columns, I predicted that justice would triumph and we would not have a man with Brett Kavanaugh’s record of partisanship, arrogance, and temper on the Supreme Court. I was too optimistic, too willing to believe that Jeff Flake of Arizona and/or Susan Collins of Maine would separate themselves from Mitch McConnell’s narrow Republican majority. In the end, only one did – Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. She paired with the guy whose daughter’s wedding was the day of the hurried vote, and with the defection of West Virginia Democrat Joe Machin, the Senate confirmed Kavanaugh by two votes.

I’ve yet to figure out why Jeff Flake flaked. He is leaving the Senate and thus has no reelection to fear. Especially since John McCain disinvited the Republican leadership from his funeral, Flake could have been a similarly assertive Arizonan, resisting the Washington rulers. Maybe someone offered him a good retirement package contingent on his vote. We’ll have to see.

Lisa Murkowski’s case is more complicated. I was outraged when, late in 2002, her father left the Senate to become governor of Alaska and appointed her to complete his term in Washington. She proved herself up to the job, though, and was easily elected in 2004. With the Tea Party takeover of the Republican Party in 2010, however, she lost the primary to an unknown man – and managed to win the general election as a write-in candidate. That is an absolutely amazing political achievement, and having done it, she had no reason to fear Mitch McConnell. Instead, she stood with the protesting women who made the long trip from Alaska to Washington.

Susan Collins made history back in 1996, when Maine became the first state to have elected three women to the US Senate. She followed Margaret Chase Smith, elected in 1948, and joined Olympia Snowe, who had won Maine’s other seat just two years earlier. Maine followed only California in having both of its Senate seats held by women: Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein set that precedent in 1992. Of these, only Collins and Feinstein remain in the Senate, and I wish that Collins had paid more attention to her longtime colleague from California.

Losing Battles and Winning Wars

Although I rarely turn on the television in the daytime, I sat down in the family room and watched Collins’ speech live. It was impressive and well-researched, with a lot of attention to historic court cases – albeit not so much attention to the more relevant topic of judicial confirmations. I want to believe that her crucial vote was, as she said, because Supreme Court nominations are getting too political. On the other hand, I have to question her logic. Given that the conservative Washington Times tells us that Merrick Garland and Brett Kavanaugh voted together as judges on the DC Court of Appeals in 93% of cases, I have to ask: Why did Garland, nominated by President Obama, not get the courtesy of even a minute with the Senate Judiciary Committee? Why was it not “too political” when the Republican Senate refused for 293 days to consider the uncontroversial Garland?

The truth is that Senate President Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has not been shy about his overwhelming partisanship. He has not even a pretension of fairness or proper procedure. Instead, during those 293 days, he made it very clear that he was waiting for a Republican to “win” the 2016 election. So why, Senator Collins, this belated concern about politicization? We also should remember that Democrats gave President Trump a successful appointee with Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation on April 7, 2017, just 86 days after Trump’s inauguration.

Gorsuch was not contested with anything like the fury that hit Kavanaugh – and that was because Kavanaugh made his bed and then lied about lying in it. Women were and are furious at his cavalier treatment of their trauma as victims of sexual harassment, and especially with his smart-mouth attitude towards female senators, he created the circus of which he complained. But you know all that, dear reader, and I trust you’ll stay mad until you mark your ballot.

It may be on your desk right now; if so, just mark and mail, postage free. Don’t wait until Election Day to pile up those votes for Democratic Senator Bill Nelson. In the House, it’s Kristen Carlson for East Hillsborough and Polk; Chris Hunter for Northeast Hillsborough and Pasco; and David Shapiro for the southern part of the area. Our other two seats are safely in the hands of Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist, who saw the meanness and mendacity of his former Republican Party and became a Democrat. Please follow his example, see the light, and elect a Congress that represents all people, including women.

Finally, remember that even as we lose battles, we win the long war. Progressives always will, because that is what progress means. We lost the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s, but that motivated us to create the greater change we have today – social and economic change, in addition to the legal aims of the ERA. The loss of the Kavanaugh nomination will lead to more social change, especially by encouraging parents to do a better job of rearing their sons to believe in true equality for their daughters. Even older men brought up in the “boys will be boys” tradition are becoming more aware of their behavior, and within a generation, it will be a whole new world. Keep on keeping on.

A Change of Subject: Alaska

Thinking about Lisa Murkowski and her colleague from Hawaii, Mazie Hirono, prompted me to tell you that I really appreciated the great response I had to a recent column on Hawaiian history. So here we go with some history of the nation’s second-newest state, Alaska.

Contact with the world outside of its ice and snow began when Anna Ivanovna, Russia’s monarch in the 1730s, sponsored Danish mariner Vitus Bering on his second voyage to the sea that now is named for him. She died in 1740, but some of Bering’s men landed on the North American mainland in 1741. Another female Russian monarch, Catherine the Great, also sent expeditions to the area and authorized its first Christian missions in the 1790s.

Alaska’s natives, like others in the Americas, were varied tribes. The Eskimos in the north were relatively gentle and family-oriented: Early travelers described them as contented and so fond of singing that songs pervaded every area of life. Anthropologists observed that families were small and that mothers often nursed their children until age four or five. But while northern Alaskan family structure was quite egalitarian, further south and especially among coastal tribes, native cultures were less democratic and more patriarchal.

Polygamy was common, and female infanticide was not unknown. Girls went through a rite of passage at puberty that mandated months of isolation and hunger. Belief in witchcraft was genuine, and women were much more likely than men to be victims of witch hunts. Slavery in southern Alaska actually lasted longer than in the American South – some cases were found even in the twentieth century.

The Aleuts, who lived on the islands nearest to Asia, were suspicious of the first whites they saw and drove them out. Spanish ships from California also were driven out, and the relatively few American and British whalers who worked the ocean did not try to settle on the land. Only Russians, with their greater acclimation to cold, did that. Evidence of this culture still can be seen in beautiful Byzantine art that adorns Russian Orthodox churches in Alaska, but many natives long resisted Christianization. The Tlingits, a major coastal tribe, killed all the residents of a settlement called Glory of Russia in 1805; the previous year, they wiped out the pioneers at Sitka.

The highest priority of most white men was not religion, but the fur trade. Yet these quick-profit guys overhunted to the point that by mid-century, Moscow decided that maintaining an administration a half a world away was not sustainable. In 1867, the Russian government was glad to accept an American offer of $7.2 million for the claim to Alaska. You learned of this in high-school history as “Seward’s Folly,” named for Secretary of State William Seward. He was perhaps the strongest abolitionist in Lincoln’s Cabinet, and thus Southerners especially opposed the purchase. Having rebelled against the US just a few years earlier, however, they did not yet have a restored presence in Congress and Seward’s Folly was committed.

The first American military men sent to Alaska, and especially their wives, were not happy with either the climate or culture. Again, missionary presence proved more important. Presbyterian Amanda McFarland arrived in 1877 and opened a school at Wrangell – and soon added a shelter for women and girls. The need for this was made clear when a white man bought one of McFarland’s students from her father for 20 blankets. Edith Kilbuck, a Moravian missionary from Pennsylvania, also mused in her diary about the negative effect of Russian and American men: “The natives say, ‘nearly all the white men we see are rough and carry revolvers as though we were wild animals to be afraid of. Why don’t you Christianize those of your own kind?’”

Although Alaska still was not officially organized as a territory, it was included in the 1890 census. Census taker Eliza Scidmore, the first woman elected to the board of the National Geographic Society, left excellent accounts of Alaskans, as did several other white women. Alaska finally was formally organized as a territory in 1912, and without any effort whatever on the part of feminists, the first territorial legislature granted the vote to women. Like the Wyoming Territory, the first to enfranchise women in 1869, Alaskan men wanted women to move there.

Inspired by this, natives also began to agitate for an end to racial discrimination. That was a longer haul, and it was 1945 before the Alaska Civil Rights Act passed the legislature. Its passage generally is accredited to a speech by Elizabeth Peratrovich, a Tlingit married to a man of Russian descent. That was during the last year of World War II, when Alaska played a vital part of defending North America against Japan. Promises of statehood finally were fulfilled in January 1959, with Hawaii following in August. Alaska remains a fascinating place, and you should go before it’s gone. There’s nothing quite like soaking yourself in the open-air water of Chena Hot Springs, comfortable with the icicles in your hair.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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