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By Nick Tabaczka
Dear Sen. Murkowski,
I imagine you do not get many of these letters. Sure, you get letters thanking you for doing the will of individual voters and promises to be unseated from those whom you didn’t represent individually, but I doubt seriously that a significant number of your constituents take the time in the wake of a month like the one we just endured wrote to say, “Thank you, Senator, for being present.”
Not for taking my call and not for voting in a manner I preferred, but for just being present.
“Present.” It’s funny how people have reacted to your vote, or non-vote as it were, on the nomination of now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Claims are abundant in Alaska that you either didn’t represent conservative Alaskans, progressive Alaskans, female Alaskans or even Alaskans that now “fear for their men” in this new and mathematically conjured #HimToo movement. Yet in the wake of the final confirmation vote and more specifically, your cloture floor speech, the importance of reflecting on one’s charged responsibility is, unfortunately, being dismissed.
I’m still not sure whether you would have voted Yay, Nay, or Present in an alternate reality where you didn’t know the Senate headcount. I’m not sure if you really think Judge Kavanaugh really is “a good man.” I’m not sure if you believe the presumption of innocence exists to equal extents in criminal trials and job interviews. But I am sure you reflected on this decision and your responsibilities.
Why is that conclusion important?
First, I wish your constituents spent a fraction of the time reflecting on the position they elected you to as you do to fulfill that role. Namely, you represent all Alaskans, not just the ones who vote, voted for you, are conservative, etc. It is a fiction to believe that with one vote you can directly represent some 740,000 Alaskans—simultaneously. I wish you held the attention of your constituents long enough to explain that in a democratic republic, we are voting for you to make decisions on our behalf and in our best interests. That our system would be dire if all elected officials ignored political minorities and placed party above our institutions. Because if more constituents understood this, I believe the letters, calls, tweets and emails you receive this week would be much more understanding. Instead, too many of my Alaskan peers are spending more time being angry that you didn’t vote their will (on either side) and not enough time considering how they would use a single vote to represent 740,000 others.
Second, in a hyper-contentious political climate, I found reassurance in your focus on our institutions. We have had justices confirmed by Yay votes in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s when in none of those instances did either party have that number of seats in the Senate. Yet we now live in a time where nearly all Republicans and all Democrats made up their mind, either before the hearings or even before the nomination. Seldom this fall was I given the impression that our leaders were interested in putting the best possible Jurist on the court or that our leaders valued their roles as a check against the Judicial Branch. But I believed you did.
I know people will disagree with that, but they haven’t done enough to convince me that your seat is more threatened by an up-and-coming progressive than it is by a more right-of-center Republican or Libertarian. The easier play here was to shore up your conservative support in Alaska by voting to confirm Justice Kavanaugh, but you didn’t do that. It would have been easier to avoid media interest early on by presenting yourself as a firm and automatic Yay vote like Sen. Sullivan, but you didn’t do that either. No, you took your 1 percent of the “Advice and Consent” role stated in Article II, Section 2 seriously.
But if we spend the next 30 days or until 2022 arguing over cynical political strategy, then we are missing the chance to address the root problem you and Sen. Sullivan submitted as an opportunity or silver lining. Specifically, how are we going to put an effective end to sexual abuse and assault in America?
Because we can’t end it if we can’t admit that rape is worse than assault, which is worse than abuse, which is worse than harassment, but they are all immoral.
We can’t end it if we don’t take a long look at our legal systems and structures. We can preserve the presumption of innocence in America and simultaneously recognize and perhaps even reduce the burdens we place on survivors and victims. The idea that in a victim’s worst moment they are to gather DNA evidence, witness statements, camera footage and log their own written testimony is unrealistic and unfair.
We can’t end it if the narrative that fathers, sons, brothers and uncles in our country are in any way at a similar risk numerically than victims and survivors.
We can’t end it if the possibility of short-term character condemnations for accused perpetrators is placed on equal ground as the certainty of hurt, damage, shame and abandonment that victims and survivors will and do endure.
We can’t end it if accusations ever become a tool for political ends or if accusations are consistently met with character attacks. President Trump’s critique of (former) Sen. Franken wasn’t that he assaulted a woman, but that “he folded like a wet rag.” The disparity in reporting will continue as long as powerful men remind others that the best policy when wrong, is to act like you weren’t.
I know I don’t have to remind you, Senator, of these and other things, but I wanted you to know that some of us listened to your speech and other recent comments, and share your genuine concern for this problem.
I hope your call for civility resonates. I hope your call for searching for the right men (or women) in our time, prevails. I hope governing is once again elevated somewhere near the height of winning.
I still don’t know enough about 1982 to say you should have voted “No,” what with the high percentage of unreleased documents and with an FBI investigation that didn’t find corroboration in Dr. Ford’s claims by not talking to possible corroborators. But I’m not upset that you didn’t vote “No” and wish others weren’t upset with you for not being another automatic “Yes.”
But you were present, in all the ways a senator could be. And I thank you for that.
Nick Tabaczka is a graduate student at the University of Alaska Anchorage.