ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A new rural advisor started work in Alaska Jan. 30. The job of the rural advisor is to speak on behalf of rural residents, primarily Alaska Natives, who live in the many small villages sprinkled across the state. The position had been empty for three months.
The news of the appointment, which was evidently made in mid-January, was not widely known until early February as Governor Sarah Palin’s office made no announcement and issued no press release. Her choice came to light in an Anchorage Daily News story Feb. 3.
Palin’s choice for the position, John Moller, is a resident of Unalaska/Dutch Harbor and a former commercial fisherman. According to the ADN story, Moller claims Russian, Aleut and Norwegian ancestry and describes himself as Alaska Native.
Moller says he has worked in rural Alaska for 47 years “with folks from all parts of Alaska in different capacities.” A news release issued in 2007 from Adak Fisheries states, “During the past 12 years, John [Moller] was the General Manager for a CDQ [the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association Community Development Quota] organization where he was instrumental in developing a small boat fleet.”
Moller says that in his work with the CDQ he helped slow down outmigration. An apparent rise in the outmigration of Alaska Native residents from villages to urban areas has been a major concern for Native leaders, particularly the Alaska Federation of Natives, over the last few months. Moller also served on the advisory panel to the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council for several years.
On the topic of energy needs of rural areas, Moller’s e-mail stated, “Energy is a huge issue throughout Alaska and even more so in rural Alaska. There are no silver bullet fixes to the energy issues in rural Alaska. The Rural Subcabinet is tasked with working on those long term solutions. I don’t have anything framed and hanging on the wall saying I am qualified on energy issues, but do have 47 years of living with energy issues in the Bush.”
The Rural Subcabinet was set up by Governor Palin in the fall. After a few meetings, they have been recently active in visiting Emmonak and other economically depressed villages that have been highlighted in news stories over the last few weeks and have assisted residents in applying for state aid to get them through the winter.
Moller has spent his first few weeks in office assessing the conditions in those villages where high costs of necessities and decreased fisheries caused a crisis over the winter months. He says he has recently traveled “to the communities of Emmonak, Kotlik and Alakanuk. … I met with over 130 folks (one on one or small groups), from elders to high school students.”
In a press conference in mid-February Moller suggested jobs might be found for Alaska Native villagers in commercial fisheries. In addition to continuing his visits to the hard hit villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in western Alaska, Moller is presently organizing a job fair to take place in Emmonak in mid-April.
Moller said he is pleased to be serving in the Palin administration, saying he agrees with many of the governor’s policies. However, when first questioned by Anchorage Daily News blogger Kyle Hopkins about which of the governor’s policies he agreed with, he cited no specific examples. He later clarified his statement in an e-mail, indicating that he approved of many of her appointments.
Moller may yet cross swords with the governor on other important issues. In an interview with Arctic Sounder soon after he took on the position, he said he is a strong advocate for rural subsistence rights. To date, the governor’s record on support of rural subsistence rights and priority have been routinely questioned.