My personal and political hero has always been Gov. Jay Hammond of Bristol Bay. I never knew that he was but an agent of the real hero of the story, Dan H. Cuddy. I just figured it all out last night. It made sense of my whole life, and explains a lot of the odd things that kept happening to me.
What I never knew was that I was acting as Dan Cuddy’s instrument the whole time. I met him once for two minutes when his son David introduced me to him. He looked me over, but he really didn’t say anything to me. He knew my crazy Uncle Fritz, and he knew all about him. I looked just like Uncle Fritz, and I think he thought he was my father, not my uncle. I never saw him again. The full story, the one that only he knew, went to his grave with him last year.
My first taste of the corruption of Alaska, and the looting taking place under the lieutenants of one the most corrupt men in American history, Walter F. Hickel, was working for Hammond’s reelection in 1978. He was opposed for the Republican nomination by two men, Tom Fink and Wally Hickel. Gov. Hammond was the former Mayor of the Bristol Bay Borough, site of the richest salmon fishery in the world. Fink sold life insurance in Anchorage. A law school graduate, Fink had been denied entry into the Alaska Bar Association, based upon no grounds whatsoever. Tom Fink was smarter than 95% of the lawyers in the state, but he was utterly incorruptible, and thus unsuited to the practice of law in Alaska. His candidacy was necessary to stop Wally Hickel from reclaiming the Alaska governorship.
We wound up beating Hickel by 97 votes. I wasn’t in the thick of it, but, unbeknownst to Hammond, some of those votes may have been questionable. Hammond would never do anything like that, but there were people around him who would. I’m not making any accusations, because I don’t know.
The best way to think about Hickel is to look at Donald Trump. Two peas in a pod. Very similar, in so many ways. When I have time I’ll draw out the comparison.
Hickel had resigned the governorship to become Nixon’s Secretary of the Interior in 1968. But before he did he appointed his enforcer, Ted Stevens, to the U.S. Senate. Stevens was a small and arrogant man, and could never have been elected on his own merits. He lost to Democratic Senator Ernest Gruening in 1962. In 1968 he lost the Republican nomination for Senate to Elmer E. Rasmusen, the Mayor of Anchorage, and the owner of the National Bank of Alaska. So when Sen Bartlett died, Hickel did not appoint the Republican candidate, Rasmusen. He put in the man Rasmusen had beaten to win the nomination, Stevens. Alaska’s senior senator for all but ten days of his 40 year Senate career, Stevens was the most powerful man in Alaska politics, until he was indicted and convicted of fraud and corruption. He’d already beaten David Cuddy, Dan’s son for the Republican nomination in 2008. David had done all he could to pull back the veil of corruption hiding this loathsome man. But the entire Alaska media was in Stevens’ pocket, and they covered for him until the end. Even indicted and convicted, he almost beat Democrat Mark Begich.
One of the great traitors in Alaska history is former Governor and Senator Frank Murkowski. When Bill McConkey and I got him elected in 1980, beating Democrat Clark Gruening (the grandson of Sen. Eernst Gruening) he was an honest man, or we all thought he was. He turned out to be totally lacking in courage, and quickly became a Stevens henchman. Stevens had him elected Governor in 2002, and Murkowski appointed his daughter Lisa to take his seat. It’s the one she’ll be defending this year.
The best thing about this story is the quality of the people involved. Leading the white hats is Dan Cuddy, with literally thousands of Alaskans playing supporting roles. I know many of them personally. One story I can’t wait to tell is about George Ahmoagak, an Eskimo whaling captain, and friend of Jay Hammond, and therefor a friend of mine. His election in 1984 as Mayor of the North Slope Borough, put an end to a big part of the looting. Unwittingly, like so many others, George and I were all working for Dan Cuddy.
One of Stevens’ most loyal servants was Sen. Tim Kelly of Eagle River. Kelly sold my mentor Sen. Jack Coghill down the river on the subsistence bill. (Jack’s the father of Senate Majority Leader John Coghill, about whom much later). This meant the end of his career in the legislature. He didn’t care. He was a coward and a traitor, and Ted Stevens took care of him for the rest of his life. Always the boot licker, Kelly had Anchorage International Airport named for the bandit, Ted Stevens. It always pisses me off whenever I fly into Anchorage. When the dust settles next year, I’m going to work with John on that. We’re going to rename the airport. I want to name it the Dan H. Cuddy International Airport. There will be a story behind that name.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of this story. I don’t know all of it, and some of it will never be told. Up until five minutes ago I had a picture of Frank Murkowski on my office wall. It reads, “Fritz, Thanks for your strong hand — it’s been great, Frank.” I’ve got to figure out what to do with it.
It’s important that it be told now, because the reason I was able to figure it all out was because I was working the Alaska precinct caucuses on behalf of Ted Cruz. I left Alaska fifteen years ago feeling like a loser. If I hadn’t come back for the caucuses, none of this would have been revealed, and Lisa Murkowski would be waltzing toward reelection.
And the impact of the Cruz win is only beginning to be felt. It will have a major impact on the selection of delegates from Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Idaho and eastern Washington, Oregon, and even California.
And, oh, do I have a story to tell. By way of coincidence, it’s also the story of Fritz and Babbie Pettyjohn.