Sunday, May 9, 2010

An Alaska legend passes . . . Hickel

One of Alaska’s true political powerhouses and true Alaska spirits has passed. Walter Joseph Hickel died at the age of 90 in Anchorage hospice. He had a very full life. He is survived by his wife Ermalee Hickel, his six sons and 21 grandchildren.

Hickel was born in 1919 in Claflin, KS. His family farmed. He was the Kansas Golden Glovers champion by age 20.

Walter Hickel came to Alaska when Alaska was still a frontier in 1940. He made his fortune here, and established himself as one of Alaska’s political powerhouses. He was a great promoter of Alaska and our resources. His stance on Alaska’s sovereignty was reflected in AS 35.05.500-505.

Hickel married Jannice Cannon, his first wife in 1941. She died in 1943. They had one son.

In 1945, he married his second wife, Ermalee Strutz. They had 5 sons.

Wally Hickel became our Governor twice. His first term in office was in 1966. He defeated Bill Egan, Alaska’s first governor. In 1969 Hickel was appointed as Secretary of the Interior under President Richard Nixon. He was fired in 1970 for writing a letter protesting the President’s handling of war dissension, notably the Kent State shootings.

Hickel was diligent at his job as Interior Secretary. He set high standards for the oil companies after an oil rig accident off the coast of California. He was also an advocate for the Everglades.

Hickel was a strong advocate for export of Alaska resources to Japan and Asia.

Hickel was again elected as governor under the Alaskan Independence Party in 1990. He pursued the injustices of the federal government in their dealings with Alaska resource development and lands issues in the federal courts. Unfortunately, his successor, Tony Knowles dropped the lawsuit with prejudice, leaving future governors no recourse.

Hickel supported Sarah Palin, until she dropped the all-Alaska pipeline project to Valdez in favor of AGIA. He became a vocal opponent of her resource development policies and her distractions.

He publically supported gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker in the 2010 campaign.

An as yet to be scheduled funeral mass will be celebrated in Anchorage.
My father was a State Police officer. In 1959, he was sent to investigate the newly formed company to bring Cook Inlet and Kenai Penninsula gas deposits to market in south central. Walter J. Hickel was the man my father spoke with. My father asked about stock in the company, who could purchase, etc. Hickel smiled at him and told him suscinctly that my father could not afford the stock. You see, a State cop at the time made about $450/mo.

It was Cook Inlet gas supplying Ft. Richardson and Elmendorf in 1965 that shut down Evan Jones Coal Mine in Sutton. The coal mine provided the coal that previously had fueled the power plant and heating system for the bases. Over 60 families in the Mat-Su valley lost their livelihoods. Working at the coal mine was one of the good jobs--year round, non government, good money for the time.

Hickel pushed our timber to the Japanese during his first term in 1966, who bought Alaska timber in the round initially, started a timber industry in southeastern that grew until the feds shut down Tongass.

Hickel had a vision of Alaska that I did not necessarily agree with, but he was right. The "owner state" concept reeked of socialism to me and was distasteful. However, I did agree wholeheartedly with his exceptional and in your face protection of Alaska's sovereignty in opposition to the increasing federal encroachment.

I wish Hickel had lived to see the all-Alaska pipeline built. And, I wish Sarah Palin had been the governor that we and Hickel had hoped that she would be.

Oh, well. Life is a bitch and then you die.