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Deborah Bonito in Dillingham to Register Voters and Campaign

Mark Begich Campaign

Deborah Bonito, wife of US Senator Mark Begich, was in Dillingham on Saturday to help with last minute registration for residents.

While Senator Begich runs for another term in office, his wife is not staying idle.  As the pair are on the campaign trail, they are also taking care of their son, Jacob.  To say that Deborah Bonito is busy during campaign season would be a serious understatement.  This summer alone she’s been to Angoon, Sitka, Metlakatla and Klawock.  Bonito says although she’s not running for office, she does have a role to play in the campaign. 

“Aside from the little emotional roller coaster that the campaign can be, no matter how many times you go through it, sitting at home worrying and this and that, my main role is keeping down the home front. Jacob and I are, for the school year, situated in DC because usually Mark’s mostly there. I come back for the campaign, we’re here for the whole summer, so I did a little bit of campaigning in Southeast Alaska. But mostly my job is making sure that Jacob is stable and comfortable during all of this.”

Life during campaign season can be incredibly busy. Bonito says in one week alone she can expect to have to travel to several parts of the state for outreach and meetings. 

“Got up at 5 o’clock this morning to get to the airport early to take the flight out here to Dillingham. We’re going to go to New Stuyahok, and then we’re going to come back here. We’re going to fly to Anchorage tonight. Tomorrow I’m going to drive up to Talkeetna and do a coffee and some voter registration there, and then we’re going to go to Palmer and do some work there. And then Monday I’m going to get up and go down to Girdwood and then another 120 miles down to Seward.”

In Washington, DC, Bonito’s passions typically fall in three categories; support for military families, early literacy and suicide prevention.  She is one of the founding members and co-chair of the Congressional Spouses for Suicide Education and Prevention.  Bonito says she wanted to work with the group because Alaska has a high suicide rate among rural Alaskans and veterans. 

A study published by the American Journal of Public Health this spring reported that Alaskan natives are four times more likely to commit suicide than those in the lower 48.  The study showed that men between the ages of 15-34 made up 66 percent of the suicides in rural Alaska. 

Bonito says the best way to help those suffering from depression is to remove the stigma associated with it.

“Suicide is preventable and in a lot of cases of suicide there are undiagnosed mental health issues. So a big part of what we try to do with the Congressional Spouses for Suicide Prevention is try to take the stigma away from depression, bipolar disease, mental health issues. Human beings are organic, everybody’s got something different going on in their brain and psyche. And the more we just accept that and figure out how we’re going to deal with it, the healthier each individual and our society will be.”

Although she’s not an educator, Bonito is a huge proponent of early literacy.  She says she is working to educate people and get resources for early literacy.

“I was part of a Ready to Read, Ready to Learn task force that actually Governor Murkowski’s wife, Nancy, put together with the Alaska Humanities Forum about 15 years ago and was really exposed to all the science and studies on how impactful early literacy is on brain development.”

Bonito says it’s important that educators and parents in rural Alaska to take advantage of big education conferences.  However, she says it’s also important to educate people on the resources that are available.

In rural Alaska, Bonito acknowledges the importance of hunting and fishing season for subsistence living.  She says the schedules of those seasons often clash with school-- but she believes keeping those traditions alive is key to cultural education.

“I had the opportunity to go to the Bethel region a couple of times, I know that the Chevak School District does such a good job of incorporating the culture of their area into their schools and that’s such a wonderful thing for kids to feel connected to who they are and in the context of education so that they feel comfortable. They’re proud of their heritage and when you tie that in with their learning, that’s such a strong element of kids being successful in school so that kind of outreach to who you are and you’re community, that’s really important.”

Bonito spent Saturday in the Sifsof Building in downtown Dillingham to help residents register to vote for the November election.  She says the next month is going to be dedicated to getting people out to the polls on Election Day.  The campaign will also be working to remind the people of Alaska of the work Senator Begich has done thus far. Bonito says his stance against Pebble Mine and his work on the Fisheries Committee are two key elements to his campaign, especially in rural Alaska.