Minority rule in Alaska

15% of Alaska’s legislators are from rural, mostly Alaska Native districts, and are known as the Bush Caucus.  They’re mostly Alaska Natives and Democrats, but party label is meaningless to them, and many whites have played prominent roles.  They look out for their own interests, regardless of which party is in power.  Because of their flexibility, discipline and personal selflessness, Bush legislators have been in charge of the Alaska legislature since I arrived there in 1983, and long before that.  They are ruthless, relentless, and well organized.

For the last 20 years their leader in the Senate has been Lyman Hoffman of Bethel.  Hoffman was the protege of former State Senator George Hohman, who in 1981 was convicted of attempting to bribe Rep. Russ Meekins, and expelled from the senate.  Hohman returned to Bethel and continued to dominate its politics as acting city manager.  His $10,000 fine upon conviction was never paid.

In 1986 he put Lyman Hoffman into the House from Bethel, and in 1990 into the Senate.  Since 2000 Hoffman has led the Senate Bush Caucus, which has controlled the organization of the senate.  They have three votes between them.  They need eight more for a majority, and they will do whatever it takes to get them.  Given their druthers, they’d rather organize with Democrats, but Republicans will do just fine if needed.

The nominal leader of the Senate today is Kathy Giessel, but she owes her position to Lyman Hoffman.  She can’t go ahead against his wishes.  Hoffman controls the entire senate majority.

For the eight years I was in Juneau, the leader of all Bush legislators was Rep. Al Adams of Kotzebue.  I was always in the minority, but I always got along with Al.  Everybody liked Al, and respected him.  He was a very smart and genuinely nice man.

Al never drank during the session, but in 1986 at the adjournment party up on the fifth floor he got pretty wasted.  When I saw some reporters had gotten into the room I grabbed Al and took him down the fire stairs outside, and found someone to take him home.

Quite a few years later, on New Year’s Eve, Babbie and I had some drinks and appetizers with Al and his wife , when we ran into each other at the Alyeska Resort.  Al liked to tell about being on some trade delegation to China.  Everybody kept thinking he was a Chinese translator.  I think Al was close to full blood Inupiat, and he did look a bit oriental.  He really thought that was funny.

I served in the House with Lyman for four years, but never got to know him.  I don’t think he liked me, for some reason.  He never really had anything to say to me at all.  On a personal level, I got along pretty well with almost all the men and women I served with.  But not Lyman.


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