The other day I went to the Tok LIO. I’d never been to a Legislative Information Office so I had no idea what to expect. I went to be a “cheerleader” for a friend who was going to give testimony on the importance fo early childhood education funding, in particular, the funding for Best Beginnings, the Alaska organization helping to bring Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to children in rural communities. The Imagination Library program was created by the non-profit Dollywood Foundation and selects age-appropriate books and sends one each month to participating youngsters under 5 years old.
The program was brought to my attention last year by a woman who was hired in Anchorage to help bring the Imagination Library to very rural parts of Alaska, especially villages. When I told her I was moving to Tok and would love to help bring the program to the community, she welcomed my offer enthusiastically and sent me an information package.
More about Best Beginnings:
Best Beginnings is a public-private partnership that mobilizes people and resources to ensure all Alaska children begin school ready to succeed. Through support from businesses, foundations, nonprofits, government, and individuals, Best Beginnings:
- Supports parents as a child’s first teacher
- Advocates for high quality, affordable, and accessible child care and early learning programs for all families who want them
- Works to make early learning a priority for Alaskans
Once I arrived in Tok, I learned that another gal in town was also looking into the program. Not wanting to come into a new community like gangbusters, I instead offered the original commitment to contribute $250 to the program as a donation from my Internet company and also offered to provide public relations services and Internet marketing at no charge. More on this incredible program, and how we’re progressing in a future post!
Back to the LIO. I found it fascinating that people in communities across the state who cannot get to Juneau to speak directly to the Legislature can go to their LIO and address the various committees via speakerphone. While it did take quite a long time until the Tok office got their turn, we were able to listen to people across the state giving testimony on various issues that matter most to Alaskans.
In this case, we were speaking to the Finance Committee, and after my friend and another woman gave their heartfelt testimonies about early childhood learning, the Committee representative thanked both women for their time and acknowledged the importance of Best Beginnings but also made a point to say that chances are given the budgets cuts that the program may not be funded this year.
I left the LIO with mixed feelings. I felt a certain sense of empowerment as a resident in a rurul area being able to have my voice heard (even though I didn’t choose to give testimony at this particular time). But I also felt a sinking feeling that the act of getting testimony from Alaskans is more just running through the motions to give the appearance that our gorernment is “listening” to real Alaskans. Maybe I’m jaded, but I believe it is more likely that decisions have already been made in high places with favors being exchanged rather than any decision resting on what the rest of us have to say.
This skepticism or cynicism won’t change a new interest I have in keeping an eye out for issues that come through the LIO that might be of interest to my family or my community.
Am I just being cycnical or do you really think our legislators might change their minds based on the testimonies they hear at these hearings?