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Brantley: South toward home

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KETCHIKAN: The sign says it's the salmon capital. Cruise ship capital is more like it, with hundreds of curio shops. Maybe 10,000 passengers on five ships on this day. - MAX BRANTLEY
  • Max Brantley
  • KETCHIKAN: The sign says it's the salmon capital. Cruise ship capital is more like it, with hundreds of curio shops. Maybe 10,000 passengers on five ships on this day.

A two-week cruise from Vancouver to Alaska was nicely timed for the August heat wave. It dipped into the 40s during my visit to the Hubbard Glacier, loudly "calving" with mighty booms of cracking ice.

A brief politically tinged travelogue:

If you stop in Ketchikan, get out of town fast. Five cruise ships dumped maybe 10,000 passengers on the tiny downtown when we stopped. A comparatively small number of cruisers seemed interested in the Tongass National Forest visitor center (whose attractions included a fine documentary on bush pilots). They preferred the T-shirt and fudge shops. We got on a boat to a small fishing lodge with a walkway through a moss-layered rain forest with a champion cedar tree. There, we also ate from a heap of fresh Dungeness crab, mussels, clams and prawns dumped on newspaper-covered picnic tables.

Earlier, we happened to meet the son of a former female friend of the late Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, who said he'd rehomed to Canada after George Bush was given the presidency by the U.S. Supreme Court. You could do worse than Vancouver or Victoria for political asylum. The weather is temperate, in Victoria particularly. The spending on public infrastructure — from transit to, in Victoria, baskets of flowers dangling from every streetlight — is obvious. Except on freeways. Our guide said Vancouver leaders thought freeways destroyed the fabric of a city, besides being costly. So you ride on city streets to the Vancouver airport and to get out of town. One result: a dense and vibrant core city that commands high real estate prices. The neighborhoods are friendly, with sidewalks even. Remember sidewalks? You don't see them often in Little Rock's growth areas. But you will find ever-widening freeways to faraway places along with a decaying core city.

Alaska? It's Arkansas with mountains and glaciers. We saw a mobile home waving a Confederate flag. You'd have to ask Sarah Palin to explain the tie to local culture and heritage. We'd have asked a black person, but we didn't see any. We did see T-shirts and bumper stickers and overheard conversations that suggest some Alaskans despise the black U.S. president even more than the average Arkansan. And speaking of presidential candidates: "That bitch" doesn't rate too highly either, judging by a shopkeeper who loudly shared his opinion just in time for me to stick a moose Nativity scene back on his shelf and exit.

I vowed to come home with something positive to say about Arkansas politicians — though Sen. Tom Cotton's war-mongering and Gov. Asa Hutchinson's First Amendment offense in ordering a halt to freedom of physician choice for women (ending state payments for gynecological services provided by Planned Parenthood) made it hard.

I found an opening in Victoria. The local newspaper lamented the tactics of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He gave two hours' notice of events in British Columbia that occurred hundreds of kilometers from those receiving the late notice. If you happened to get to the scheduled events, you needed credentials to get in. Harper sometimes meets regular people at stores and malls, but the newspaper observed: "Of course, you would have no way of knowing in advance that he's going to be in your local shopping centre, until he suddenly leans over to kiss your baby."

And there I had it: an occasion to say something nice about Gov. Hutchinson. Not Mike Huckabee, who exempts critics such as the Arkansas Times from notice of his events and bars our admittance. Not Tom Cotton, who also freezes out media detractors and otherwise tightly controls access. Not the rest of the Arkansas congressional delegation, who routinely ignore simple questions from the Times. The governor, alone among high Arkansas Republicans, invites us to his public events. He gives us weekly copies of his public schedule. His press staff answers questions, even critical ones on occasion. Now if he would just heed some of our sound advice.

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