TSA-Iditarod breakup irks Alaska senator
Sen. Mark Begich said he's 'shocked' that the TSA bowed to PETA's pressure and called off a publicity effort scheduled to coincide with the race.
Fri, Feb 18, 2011 at 12:27 AM
DOG SLED RACE: The grueling 1,150-mile race from Anchorage to Nome, which starts this year on March 5, commemorates the 1925 delivery of serum for a diphtheria epidemic in the remote Bering Sea town. (Photo: ZUMA Press)
ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Alaska Sen.Mark Begich on Thursday blasted the Transportation Security Administration's decision to cancel a recruitment campaign aligned with the world's most famous sled dog race.
Begich, a Democrat, sent TSA Administrator John Pistole a letter saying he was "shocked and disappointed" to learn the agency had bowed to pressure from an animal rights group and called off a publicity effort scheduled to coincide with the upcoming Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
"It is outrageous the TSA would act on one complaint from a group with virtually no understanding of the 'Last Great Race on Earth,'" Begich said, referring to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which opposed the TSA's involvement with the Iditarod.
The grueling 1,150-mile race from Anchorage to Nome, which starts this year on March 5, commemorates the 1925 delivery of serum for a diphtheria epidemic in the remote Bering Sea town.
"Nothing captures the Alaska spirit like the Iditarod," Begich said. "The original life-safety mission of the run continues today as hundreds of volunteers work year-round to ensure the mushers and dogs are safe."
The TSA had planned to use the race to help publicize job opportunities in Alaska, many of which remain unfilled.
But the agency backed out of the sponsorship deal after the Washington Post called TSA to ask about objections raised by PETA, the newspaper reported. The animal rights group has long criticized the race as inhumane, citing the 20 dogs that have died in competition since 2005.
The Post quoted TSA spokeswoman Kristin Lee as saying that the agency "immediately took action to ensure taxpayer dollars were being used wisely, focusing on our frontline security operations," after the Post's inquiry.
In a statement on Wednesday, PETA Vice President Daphna Nachminovitch said the TSA "made the right decision ... and we hope ... other sponsors will quickly follow suit."
Begich, in his letter to Pistole, said TSA's plan to use the Iditarod as a recruiting tool was sound.
"Since the Iditarod is closely followed by Alaskans ... in every corner of our state throughout the month of March, it is a great opportunity to reach rural Alaskans about job opportunities at TSA," Begich said.
Begich spokeswoman Julie Hasquet said various federal agencies have had similar deals with the Iditarod for years.
The U.S. Census Bureau last year sponsored one musher, Zach Steer, who passed out special dog booties to fans to encourage involvement with the 2010 population count. The U.S. Coast Guard also sponsors musher Ken Anderson, last year's fourth-place finisher, and coordinated public-education events with the Iditarod. And the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which oversees much of the territory where the historic Iditarod Trail runs, is involved with race management.
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Bohan)
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