TRIBUTE TO KYLE HOPKINS; Congressional Record Vol. 166, No. 86
(Senate - May 07, 2020)

Text available as:

Formatting necessary for an accurate reading of this text may be shown by tags (e.g., <DELETED> or <BOLD>) or may be missing from this TXT display. For complete and accurate display of this text, see the PDF.


[Pages S2316-S2317]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




                        TRIBUTE TO KYLE HOPKINS

  Mr. SULLIVAN. Mr. President, as we all know, it has been an 
extraordinarily challenging time for our great Nation, a time that has 
been painful for so many of our fellow Americans.
  It has also been a time when people across the country have given so 
much to their communities, to their States, and to their neighbors. 
And, as you know, we are a great nation. We are a kind nation. We are a 
proud nation, and we are a resilient Nation.
  This pandemic has been testing the character of our country, and I 
believe that we are passing the test as Americans. I believe that 
because I see it everywhere. I certainly see it in my State, the great 
State of Alaska. People are passing out food, doing what they can for 
the elderly, tending to those in need. We are seeing this all across 
our Nation.
  We see millions of our fellow citizens--people whom we all have the 
privilege of representing here in the Senate--stepping up with purpose 
and resolve. We see a greater appreciation for the dignity and the 
value of our workers who are on the frontlines of helping us get 
through this pandemic.
  I was recently home in my State. The rule in Alaska is if you travel 
from the outside, when you get to Alaska, you have a very strict 14-day 
quarantine. I was quarantined with my wife and three daughters, 
hunkered down in Anchorage.
  Yet I was also able to still appreciate what was happening with so 
many of our fellow citizens, especially frontline workers who are 
helping Alaska power through this crisis. So many of them are working 
day in and day out to ensure that our grocery stores are stocked, that 
the goods are transported, that buildings are maintained, that our 
telecommunication systems are running, that our airplanes are flying, 
that our hospitals are open, that our healthcare workers can give care, 
and that our extraordinary teachers are finding creative ways to teach 
our kids. The list goes on and on. It is happening in every State 
across the Nation.
  Last week, I decided to give an impromptu Alaskan of the Week speech 
in my backyard. It wasn't here on the Senate floor the way we usually 
do it and the way we are doing it today. I was highlighting these 
workers. Many of them are part of the Teamsters Local 959, led by 
third-generation teamster Gary Dixon. I want to say thank you to them 
again.
  We talk a lot about people who are telecommuting. That is great. It 
is important to get us through this pandemic, but we also know there 
are a lot of people who can't do that. They are really our national 
heroes right now--essential workers on the frontlines, keeping our 
economies and our supply lines open, moving, robust.
  Now that I am back in DC and the Senate is open again--finally, open 
again--and the business of the Senate is continuing, so does our 
Alaskan of the Week series from the floor of the Senate. It is one of 
my favorite times of the week, when I get to focus on a special Alaskan 
or a group of Alaskans who made Alaska such a great and unique place. I 
think the Presiding Officer likes it a lot, too.
  I had intended, as I mentioned, on my Alaskan of the Week speech here 
coming back, to focus on more of these frontline workers who are doing 
so much in our States and so much in our country to get us through this 
pandemic. However, some really interesting and, I think, exciting news, 
broke on Monday in our State, as big news born of a tragic situation. 
And for that reason, I thought we would have a different focus on our 
Alaskan of the Week.
  The Alaskan of the Week this week is an intrepid Alaska reporter, 
Kyle Hopkins, who led coverage in our local paper, the Anchorage Daily 
News, that earned him the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for public service. It is 
probably the most prestigious award in all American journalism--the 
prize of prizes.
  Kyle Hopkins, an Alaska reporter, won that on Monday. He won it for a 
17-story series called ``Lawless,'' about the public safety crisis of 
rural Alaska and the horrendous issue of sexual assault and domestic 
violence in our State.
  As we all know, we are confronting a pandemic in our country. I live 
in a great State, but we have a lot of social challenges, just like a 
lot of States. We are confronting this pandemic right now nationally. 
My State has been confronting an epidemic of domestic violence and 
sexual abuse that has been going on for years--decades, generations.
  Kyle's series combined dogged reporting and meticulous fact-checking 
with the utmost sensitivity that a subject like this requires, which is 
not an easy task at all. It was, according to the Pulitzer committee, 
riveting public service reporting. It was so much more than that. I 
will tell you that it was very, very important to the State of Alaska.
  Let me tell you a little bit about our Alaskan of the Week, Kyle 
Hopkins, and what made him very qualified to write this series and why 
it had such an impact. And I believe--maybe, I should say I hope--it is 
beginning to bring changes to our public safety system and, most 
importantly, to the unfortunate culture that we have in our State that 
spawns this kind of abuse and violence.
  Kyle was born in beautiful Sitka, AK. That is in Southeast Alaska. 
His father was a teacher who came from California to teach the children 
of logging camp workers at a time when the southeast part of our State 
had a very vital timber industry. The family moved back to California 
after a few years, but then back to Alaska again, and then away and 
then back again. Sitka, Kake, Skagway--two small towns, one village--
are all in Alaska's beautifully gorgeous southeast. For Kyle, the towns 
provided the backdrop of a magical childhood--spruce trees that seemed 
to rise to the clouds, aquatic universes and tidal basins, fish to 
catch, towering totem poles. High school was all about basketball for 
him, as it is for so many Alaskan high schoolers and kids. Traveling 
for tournaments in Alaska is a unique experience, requiring trips on 
small bush planes.
  Kyle remembered seeing the planes and the ferries: ``I remember 
thinking I was lucky to see and do these things.'' He knew that even as 
a young man. He went to the University of Alaska Fairbanks for college, 
searching for a subject that allowed him to read a lot. He had an 
adviser that recommended a journalism class. Well, the rest, you could 
say, is history.
  During college, he had a host of internships across the State in 
journalism, covering business, politics, sports, and crime--all the 
usual beats--and with some of our best journalism and media 
establishments, like the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, before moving to 
Anchorage to work for the Anchorage Press, a weekly paper; then, to 
KTUU, Channel 2, our big TV station in Alaska; and, then, to where he 
is now, the Anchorage Daily News.
  Throughout all of his reporting, a few things constantly struck him. 
One is that we are a very big State, but also how few people even in 
Alaska had ever been to a village in our State. They didn't know the 
challenges and the beauty of what we call rural Alaska, the soul of 
Alaska. More than 200 villages dot our State, most of which are not 
connected by any roads or infrastructure.
  He was always struck and increasingly disturbed by the challenge that 
I mentioned at the outset of my remarks--these very high rates of 
sexual violence that we have in Alaska. Depending on how you measure 
it, it is at least three times the national average--three times the 
national average.
  Just like so many of us in Alaska, he assumed that someday the 
adults, the people in charge, would do something about it, until he 
realized at a certain point in his life that he was an adult and he had 
two children, two girls, with his wife Rebecca Palsha, another intrepid 
reporter in Alaska, and he wanted to make Alaska a better place

[[Page S2317]]

not only for his girls but for all other children across our State, a 
State that he knows and loves.
  So the time was right to tackle this issue, and the time was right 
for another reason throughout the State. There was a more open 
discussion about this dark issue, this black mark on Alaska, the issue 
of sexual assault.
  Brave women had started coming forward to tell their stories. A 
statewide initiative that I was part of called Choose Respect was 
launched over a decade ago trying to address cultural changes and then 
the ``Me Too'' movement came, and more and more people were beginning 
to share their stories of trauma and abuse and to have the courage to 
do it--because it takes courage.
  Kyle not only captured many of those voices, he also began to dig 
into the larger issues of generational trauma and an issue that is so 
important in our State, the lack of law enforcement in many of these 
places, in so many small villages across Alaska. He did it all the 
while by capturing the complexities of a multitiered public safety 
system in Alaska. Working with ProPublica, he traveled throughout the 
State, dug through reams of documents, talked to dozens and dozens of 
survivors, perpetrators, police officers, lawyers, you name it.
  Let me try to capture the breadth and depth and heartache of his 17-
part series told by just a few headlines. These are some of the 
headlines of the stories in the Anchorage Daily News: one, ``Discussing 
Alaska's history of sexual violence is one step toward seeking 
solutions;'' another headline, ``Lawless: One in three Alaska villages 
have no local police;'' another headline, ``Dozens of convicted 
criminals have been hired as cops in rural Alaska. Sometimes, they're 
the only applicants;'' another headline: ``She leapt from a van on the 
Kenai Peninsula to escape her rapist. Then she waited 18 years for an 
arrest.'' You get the picture.
  Let me summarize the opening to one of the stories, a first-person 
piece headlined, ``Why we're investigating sexual violence in Alaska,'' 
and it tells Alaskans why this series is delving into this very, very 
difficult topic. It is a story--a horrible story--of a very young girl 
in one of our villages who vanished from the playground, found later 
sexually abused, murdered, and it rips your heart out.
  These are the kinds of stories that I have certainly heard about and 
tried to address in my time in public service in Alaska. These are the 
stories that haunt us as Alaskans. They have haunted countless 
Alaskans: of course, survivors, victims, their families, leaders, good 
citizens, good people. They are difficult and shocking stories to tell, 
but they need to be told, they must be told, and that is what Kyle 
Hopkins did, and that is why he earned the Pulitzer Prize. These are 
the kinds of stories that Attorney General Barr confronted when he came 
to Alaska last May, his first trip to any State in the country after he 
was confirmed as our new Attorney General.
  Before his confirmation hearing, Senator Murkowski and I had both 
invited him to come to Alaska. We talked to him in detail about these 
challenges, and then we did something that I think mattered, and, 
again, it gives a sense of why this series was so important. We started 
sending the Attorney General some of Kyle Hopkins' stories of this 17-
part series, the ones that he had written at this time.
  So the Attorney General knew before he even got here some of the 
challenges because of this reporting. Attorney General Barr actually 
came to our State for almost 5 days--a long visit--to hear from 
survivors, law enforcement, lawyers, meeting dozens of Alaskans 
throughout the State who have worked on these issues--some without a 
voice, without help from the Federal Government, many Tribal members. 
It was a really important trip.
  He was given a beautiful kuspuk as a gift, and when he left, he took 
a piece of Alaska with him in his heart. I am convinced of that. As a 
matter of fact, I talked to him about Alaska yesterday on the phone and 
this very series. He still wears the kuspuk, by the way. He says it 
makes him look trim.
  Shortly after returning to DC, he began to focus with the Department 
of Justice on some of these big issues, declaring a public safety 
emergency in rural Alaska and starting to free up significant resources 
to improve public safety in our State's rural communities.
  So the funding helps, and it is already being put to good use, but 
this is a story not just about money. As a matter of fact, that is not 
even the important issue. The important issue is culture. We 
desperately need a cultural change on these issues in Alaska that have 
been going on for way too long, and that is another reason why Kyle's 
work is so important, because you can't change the culture if you don't 
know how broken it is.
  Will it work? Does he think things will change? ``I wouldn't presume 
to know,'' he said, when my team caught up with him on Tuesday, a day 
after the Pulitzer Prize was announced, already hard at work on another 
story, by the way.
  ``I hope things change,'' he said. ``That's one of the goals of the 
series . . . But if nothing changes, at least people will know about 
the injustice in our system . . . and if it's going to continue, if 
we're going to allow this to continue, it should be with our 
knowledge.'' That is his quote.
  ``This is my place,'' Kyle added, talking about Alaska. ``It's an 
awesome place and I don't want to live anyplace else. But things are 
wrong. And it shouldn't be for the next generation, for my girls and 
other girls. If there's something we can do about it, we should do 
it.'' That is his quote.
  And of course, he is right. We should do it, and many of us in 
Alaska--really, thousands of us in Alaska--are committed to this cause 
and have been committed to the cause for a long time. I believe Kyle's 
work is going to help a lot in that regard.
  I want to thank the Anchorage Daily News for supporting this series, 
to all the staff who worked on the series, to the owners, the Binkleys. 
Thanks to the Pulitzer committee for recognizing the importance of this 
series, and thank you, Kyle, for your hard work and determination.
  Congratulations, again, on winning the Pulitzer Prize, and probably 
even more prestigious than winning the Pulitzer Prize for the United 
States, congratulations on being our Alaskan of the Week.
  I yield the floor.

                          ____________________