From an early column in the Anchorage Daily News that wondered
whether Alaskans still had what it took to settle and launch the state.

March 13, 1986

A learned acquaintance once told me he had trouble figuring out Alaskans until he realized our secret.

"I came here believing you were pioneers," he told me. "Then I realized you're colonists."

I'd like to think he's wrong. We're about to find out.

Sudden wealth can test character. Sudden shortage is an even better measure.

Alaska grew fat on its petrodiet in recent years, and now must learn to think leaner. We are not poor, by any standard, but we are no longer flush. The days of the easy Juneau compromise -- I get mine and you get yours, no questions asked -- are behind us. Choices are no longer optional. Judgment, discipline and imagination must again become the prized coin of the realm.

Throughout the bonanza, a few voices warned about the corruption of wealth, but they were lost in the noise of celebration. Like many a prodigal enriched by early inheritance, we proved unreliable stewards.

There will be a bit of whining now about bad fortune. Fingers will be pointed and blame ascribed. Selfish interest will rise where bald greed stood before it. And none of that will advance our cause by a single pace.

Does anybody else remember that Alaska had a bright future before oil? Long before Prudhoe Bay State No. 1 was drilled up in the arctic desert, a lot of folks thought this was a good place to be. There was generosity before there were gushers. There was pride before pipelines.

The Alaska we inherited was the legacy of confidence, not consternation. It grew on dreams, not doubts. The pioneers who paved our way did it without state subsidized loans. They asked the government for authority to impose an income tax to build their society.

Optimism is the anthem of the pioneer. It's the colonist who seeks only security.

And there are pioneers among us yet. What we will test, as Alaska learns to live without the security blanket of easy wealth, is whether there are enough.

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