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Home  Columns  Fritz Pettyjohn: Josiah Patkotak is just right for Speaker Pro Tem

Fritz Pettyjohn: Josiah Patkotak is just right for Speaker Pro Tem


 Suzanne Downing


January 17, 2023



After Governor Bill Sheffield and Justice Jay Rabinowitz combined to gerrymander me out of my State Senate seat, I ran for the State House in 1984, hoping to figure out a way to get revenge. 

I got elected, but the House Republican minority of the 14th Alaska Legislature had around 14 members, and we were completely ineffective.

Sitka’s Rep. Ben Grussendorf was the Democratic Speaker, but he was only a figurehead. The power in the House was Finance Chair Al Adams of Kotzebue. 

In the 13th Legislature, Al had been Finance Committee chair in a Republican organization. R’s and D’s didn’t mean anything to Al.  He was in Juneau for his people, the Alaska Natives. He led the  six members of the Bush Caucus, and they called the shots.

I was from South Anchorage, originally from California, and I didn’t have any experience with Alaska Natives. I quickly learned that they didn’t allow personal ambition or vanity to interfere with what was good for the group. They were communal, and Al was a prime example.

He was a brilliant guy, and he worked his butt off. He never showed any ego, and was as mild mannered and kind as a guy could be.  Everybody loved and respected Al. When I left the Legislature I was proud to call him a friend.

Right now the Alaska House is adrift, with no one able to form a majority organization. But there apparently is one legislator who has the potential to bring people together – Josiah Patkotak from the North Slope.

Al Adams didn’t just serve the Native people of Alaska.  He served the whole state.  In his spirit, perhaps Josiah should step forward and take a leadership role.  At least for the next two years.

I never got my revenge on Jay Rabinowitz, but I played a significant role in taking Bill Sheffield down.  Day after day I raised hell on the House floor, demanding the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate his corruption.  His Attorney General, Norm Gorsuch, was an honorable guy, and he knew I was right under the law.  When he did as I was demanding, and appointed Dan Hickey, the die was cast.  We almost impeached Sheffield, and he was resoundingly defeated in the 1986 Democratic primary.

Fritz Pettyjohn blogs at

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Suzanne Downing

Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.


  1. Jimbob Originally from CA says it all.Reply
  2. Robert Schenker Fritz, I agree that the young man from the place formerly called Barrow would be a good choice for SpeakerI have an observation however about your feud with Gov Sheffield, your crippling of him led to the election of “The High Plains Drifter” how did that work out for you? Also, if memory serves, Bill Sheffield is the only Gov in my memory who actually cut State Spending, a conservative thing to do if memory serves.
    Your thoughts in reply will be appreciated.Reply
    • Fritz Pettyjohn He did cut state spending and wasn’t a bad Governor. But he was in bed with the thieves who were looting the North Slope Borough. When reform NSB Mayor George Ahmaogak was elected in 1984, Sheffield refused to meet with him when he came to Juneau.
      Plus, Sheffield screwed me. I had to get payback. Politics ain’t beanbag.Reply
    • Bill Yankee That High Plains Drifter sure had the oil folks in a panic when that tanker went aground in PWS Robert. Things eventually worked themselves out after some called for enormous amounts of dispersants to be used to sink that oil and even some called for bombing the spill, hoping the fire would remove large amounts.Reply
  3. Trouser Bark There’s one sentence in this article to support the title. The rest of it is all about me Me mE MEMeeeeeee.Same as your prior article. This kind of thing might be interesting to some in a ‘welcome to 1980’ sort of way but the disingenuous titling could be done without.Reply
    • Robert Schenker Trouser Bark, Despite your comment having the “ring” of truth, I submit Fritz’s bit makes for amusing reading, you know, going back and talking about the past is fun, ( if not informative).
      It occurs to me that knowing the past helps us understand the present and out how we got so screwed up?P.S. Fritz says Sheffield screwed him over, I wonder if Fritz was a Poker Player back in the day. Seems Sheffield had some doozy card games, attended by elected honchos and other power players. I wish Fritz would elaborate.Reply
  4. NoLegs Good piece, Fritz, and accurate. I’m not too sure Airliss Sturgulewski, a RINO, would have given you many kudos if you had remained in the Senate. Jack Coghill extracted a little revenge on her in 1990. The House minority was a safe place for you. As to Al Adams, that’s tricky territory. How did Al end up with all of those beautiful homes and luxury vacations to Maui? I wasn’t aware that the salary of House Finance Chair was so lucrative. Adams was a dictator because the Republican majority allowed it. And the lone Libertarian at the time, Andre Marrou, wasn’t allowed to even speak up in Adam’s committee hearings. In fact, Adams took away funding for the LIO in Marrou’s district. I guess my recollections if Adams aren’t quite the same as yours.Reply


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Must Read Alaska is news of people, politics, policy, culture, and happenings in Alaska. It is edited by Suzanne Downing, who first landed in Alaska in 1969, and has called it home ever since.

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40 years of politics at the Alaska Supreme Court

Forty years ago I was in my political prime. I was a 37-year-old lawyer with a beautiful wife and three fine looking little boys. For services rendered in his 1978 reelection campaign, Gov. Jay Hammond had designed a seat in the State Senate especially for me, and I was ready to start my legislative career.

I had come back to Alaska in 1974 after law school with the intention of taking out Democratic U. S. Sen. Mike Gravel, a liberal and a whack job. But Frank Murkowski beat me to it, so now I had my sights on liberal Republican Sen. Ted Stevens. I couldn’t run against Congressman Don Young because Don was a good conservative and there would be no point to it.

I made no secret of my intentions, and I had my political game plan all worked out. In 1980, was chairman of Reagan for President, Alaska.  In 1990, I would run in the Republican Senate primary hard to Stevens’ right, and attack his liberalism as being out of touch with the majority of Alaska’s Reagan Republicans.

A few months after I was sworn in to the State Senate, Justice Jay Rabinowitz handed down his opinion in Carpenter v. Hammond, 667 P. 2d 1204.  It threw out Hammond’s 1980 reapportionment, and gave Democratic Gov. Bill Sheffield a free rein in reapportioning the whole state.  Sheffield hated my guts, so my career in the State Senate would end in 1984.

To this day legal scholars have a hard time figuring out Carpenter v. Hammond. Legally, it’s nonsensical. But it wasn’t really a legal opinion.  It was purely political.

My political momentum was stopped cold. I was never able to regain it, and I never ran against Ted Stevens.

For 40 years, Alaska’s Supreme Court has been faithfully fulfilling the Rabinowitz legacy of left-wing political activism and judicial imperialism. Republican Governors have attempted to appoint conservatives, but have been stymied by the lawyer-dominated Alaska Judicial Council, which refuses to nominate them. 

They’re trying it again right now, giving Gov. Mike Dunleavy a list of exclusively leftist activist nominees, all in the mold of Jay Rabinowitz.

But this year there’s a difference. Dunleavy is the first two-term Republican governor in 44 years, so he doesn’t have to worry about reelection. The leftist lawyers and media can hold their breath, roll on the floor, and turn purple, but he doesn’t have to pay any attention.  It’s an historic opportunity, which let’s hope he takes advantage of. 

He doesn’t have to appoint any of these people. He can just say no.

The NFL goes mainstream

Watching wild card weekend was not only great entertainment, but it was also encouraging. No one kneeled during the anthem, and players are once again huddling to pray after the game. Best of all, after an interception, as the entire defensive team ran to the end zone to stage a celebratory dance, the cameras cut away.

NFL fans hate these displays. It never happens in baseball, hockey or basketball, and it should be shunned in football as well.

Go 9ers.