In 1986 I was the House Minority Leader when Sen. Ted Stevens decided to make an all out push to get an amendment to the Alaska Constitution. The Alaska Supreme Court had ruled that a law granting special preference to Alaska Natives for subsistence hunting and fishing rights was a violation of the equal protection clause. Stevens essentially wanted to reverse that decision by amending the Constitution.
Stevens was the most powerful man in Alaska politics, and he was willing to get the 2/3 votes in the legislature by any means necessary. Sen. Rick Halford led the opposition in the Senate, but lost when his colleague from Eagle River switched his vote. In his district, that meant the end of his political career. He was one of my drinking buddies, and I knew what was going on. He’d been bribed.
We had sixteen Republicans in the House Minority and we could only lose two. I was worried about Dick Schultz from Tok. He assured us he was solid, but he owned a NAPA auto parts store in a heavily native district. His livelihood was at stake. So when Halford told me the State Senator from his district, Jack Coghill, a merchant, had been threatened with an economic boycott, I knew what was going on.
Rick and I weren’t worried about Jack. He was more hard core than we were. But I wasn’t as sure about Dick (or Double Dick, as he liked to be called). What Stevens was doing was a violation of federal law, and I had the Juneau agent of the FBI come to the Capitol and talk to me and Rick about it. We never heard any more talk about economic retaliation.
We beat it in regular session, so Democratic Gov. Steve Cowper called us back into special session in the middle of the summer. I had to cut short a family vacation in California. We held firm again, and Speaker Sam Cotton called me to the Speaker’s podium for a private talk at the end of the special session. He said the Governor wanted to talk to me. I told Sam I wasn’t interested, and that was the end of that.
So when I say Jack Coghill and I go back a ways, you know what I’m talking about. His son John is now the Senate Majority Leader, and I asked John to tell his dad about what I’m working on, the transfer of federal lands to the State. Jack was one of the guys who first tutored me on this issue, and what it would mean if we could ever pull it off. I wanted him to know what I’m doing.
It’s nice to be part of a tradition.