Jack Coghill, 1925-2019, R. I. P.

One of the biggest fights in my time in the Alaska legislature was in 1987 over a proposed constitutional amendment to give Alaska’s Natives a priority in the taking of fish and game.  It was the brainchild of U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, and he managed to get enough Republican votes in the Senate to get the 2/3 vote it needed.

Senator Jack Coghill of Nenana was one of his target votes, and the Stevens forces were organizing a boycott of Jack’s business.  I was the leader of the 16 member House Minority, and when I found out about this illegal maneuver I called the Juneau office of the FBI, and asked the local agent to come to my office in the Capitol to talk about it. Senator Rick Halford was there as well, and the news of the agent’s visit quickly spread through the legislature.  The boycott came to a screeching halt, and Jack held firm.

When Governor Steve Cowper called a special session that summer to try to muscle the bill through the House, I was on vacation in Santa Barbara with my family.  I had to jump on a plane to get back to Juneau, and my minority  caucus held firm.  We beat it with three votes to spare, thanks to the vote of then Democrat Dave Donley.

After the vote, Speaker Sam Cotten called me to the podium and told me the Governor wanted to talk to me.  I asked, “Why would I want to talk to him?”  Sam didn’t have an answer, and the special session was over.

One of the casualties of this vote was Senator Tim Kelly of Eagle River.  He ended his political career when he voted for the amendment.  But he was taken care of by Uncle Ted, and got a nice paying job out of it.  Before he left the legislature Tim passed a Resolution calling for the Anchorage International Airport to be named for Ted Stevens.  It was the only thing he did in the legislature that anyone remembers today.

In fact, the airport ought to be named for Jay Hammond, the 4th Governor of Alaska, and the man most responsible for the Alaska Permanent Fund.  All my time in Alaska, I was a Hammond man.  He was a great Governor, and a man’s man.  He and Jack Coghill are together now.

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