The annual Petersburg Chamber of Commerce Banquet was awash in green and sparkles as business owners and residents attended to hear Representative Beth Kertulla speak about herself and her experiences, the legislative session and the future.
Kertulla's family has a long history in Alaska and her father, Jay was the state's longest-serving legislator and the only legislator to have served as both Speaker of the House and Senate President. Kertulla, herself has been elected eight times to the Alaska House of Representatives and she has been a strong voice for Alaskans retaining control over their resource wealth and responsible development and has been instrumental in oil and gas decisions.
She has served on the House Finance Committee, was Minority Whip for four years and has been the House Minority Leader, the highest rank for a minority member in the House for the last six years.
Kertulla has come to have Petersburg in her district by way of redistricting. She has also gained Kupreanof, a few other small communities, as well as a portion of Juneau.
She is a great supporter of education and making sure the children of Alaska have the best education possible.
"We are a great wealthy state," Kertulla stated. "But we will be nothing if we don't make sure our children get an education."
She also stated that she wanted to maintain a commitment to Alaskans’ individuality and their civil rights.
"This is Alaska," she stated. "We have very few people. My grandfather said, you can come here and be an Alaskan in five minutes or live here for 50 years and not get it."
Kertulla wants to support the people, those who do come here and after five minutes become Alaskan.
"I don't get angry easily," she stated. "But I don't tolerate laziness, lying or just outright ignoring what reality is."
She stated that in 15 years, this is the hardest year in the legislature that she has ever seen.
"Many things that we, as Alaskans, rely on are under attack," Kertulla stated. "From our oil revenues to educating our children, there is a really big attack on some of the fundamental underpinnings of our Alaskan society."
Kertulla used the word "absurd" and "crazy" several times in her speech to describe this legislative session.
"Some of the crazy things, let’s start with vouchers," Kertulla said. "I have no problem with parents sending children to the private schools of their choice. What I do have a problem with is giving away a lot of public funding and undercutting our public school experience."
She also explained that efforts by the Republican governor and legislators were too relaxed on the cruise ship wastewater treatment requirements.
"I introduced the first bill 15 years ago just so we would understand what the ships were dumping in our water," Kertulla stated. "We had great success with this until a citizens’ initiative, to my great horror, to roll back our successes went through the House of Representatives in four hours. I don't care where you stand on that issue, that's wrong. Four hours is not enough time to roll back Alaskans pollution law on cruise ships."
She was also against a small pipeline to bring North Slope natural gas to southcentral communities.
"This is undercutting the larger gas pipeline proposed from North Slope," Kertulla stated.
Kertulla explained that Alaska's future is dependent on four things: education, economy, energy and the environment.
"I went through the schools with your superintendent and met several teachers and students," Kertulla stated. "I can say that Petersburg really gets education."
On the economy, Kertulla states that she understands the fishing in Petersburg is the heart of the economy, even though she has a lot to learn about it.
"I feel very proud of all of you," she stated. "I think there is a connection between fishing and farming. Each has to deal with the seasons, regulations with the government and financing."
Kertulla states that she will work hard to see that the resources of the fishermen are protected and remain there for the future because fishing and those who work at it are the ones that keep this community vital.
"In regards to energy, we have to have the hydro, wind and tidal power," Kertulla said. "Right now, we are going through options and making a plan to see where we can get the most of our natural resources."
The environment is another of her major issues in regards to the future of Alaska.
"Ocean acidification is a major issue for Alaska and the fishing industry," Kertulla said. "I feel like you, in Petersburg, are on the front line of this issue. I have learned a lot from being here and I will work with great faith with you to make sure we are moving toward the future."
Kertulla will return to Petersburg for Mayfest along with Senator Dennis Egan.
"I am proud to represent Petersburg and look forward to returning in May," she stated.