Thursday was a good day for the village of Bethel at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention.

About 10 minutes after 2019 Iditarod champion Pete Kaiser delivered his keynote address, fellow Bethel resident Sen. Lyman Hoffman received AFN’s Citizen of the Year Award.

The two shared the spotlight Thursday morning for accomplishments, both recent and long-term. Kaiser went first.

He spoke of a journey that began in 2008 “with the hopes of someday competing with the best mushers in the world.”

Kaiser delivered told a story of success but did so through his dog teams, particularly his lead dog Marrow, who carried him to victory.

“During last year’s Iditarod, Marrow spent most of the race in the middle of the team,” he said. “With 300 miles left, she showed more signs of enthusiasm and energy than some of my other leaders so I put her up in the lead.

“I felt like this was her opportunity to shine and she knew it. All her years of patience and practice led to this magical moment and Marrow led us up the Bering Sea coast to victory. Marrow’s story is one of hard work, determination, doubt, perseverance and the ability to overcome obstacles and help her team achieve success that was bigger than herself.

“I have no doubt that everyone in this room, whether they know it or not, shares all these same qualities. If you haven’t found your place in the team yet. Keep at it and be ready for your opportunity.”

Hoffman soon followed.

The current majority leader and Senate Finance Committee member is the longest serving member of the Legislature, having first won a House seat in 1986. Hoffman is well known for his ability to broker compromises and work with members in opposing parties and caucuses. He is currently the lone Democrat in a Republican-led caucus.

He’s also recognized for his political acumen and using his words sparingly, but when Hoffman speaks his observations often resonate throughout the Capitol halls.

Less than 10 days after Gov. Mike Dunleavy rolled out his amended budget on Feb. 13, Hoffman weighed in with pointed comments on a proposal to cut $225 million for Medicaid, a proposed reduction that would also result on losing $450 million in federal money.

“You cannot balance this budget with federal funds,” he said in a Feb. 22 Senate Finance Committee hearing. “Your comments are not apropos of balancing this state’s budget when we are talking about federal funds. You say may not affect people’s lives. But they may affect people’s lives. That is the other flips side of the equation. You are, with this proposed budget, playing with people’s lives.”

Hoffman spent more of his time Thursday recognizing the 16 rural senators who have either served or who still serve, such as Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, and Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks.

“I mention these individuals,” Hoffman said, “because we are talking about good government, because they have been instrumental, each and every one of them, in molding Alaska.”

AFN continues the next two days, concluding Saturday evening.

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