Saturday, May 8, 2010

My Remembrances of Wally Hickel

The person who introduced me to Wally Hickel was "Trader" Ed Shepherd (at left, with Gov. Hickel, and a large Sea Otter pelt), who had been on Hickel's staff during Wally's first stint as Alaska governor. It was December, 1976. I had just been appointed harbormaster in Whittier. Trader Ed watched Wally's boat in the Whittier harbor, the Ermalee.

The week before I had met Wally, I had given a speech to a recently formed group, the Whittier Boat Owners Association. It had formed as a protest to the management policies of my predecessors at the harbor, and of the City of Whittier. They had a long series of complaints about the handling of the new harbor (it was constructed in 1973). The most recent problem, in their view, was a retroactive moorage fee increase that more than doubled the fee. The WBOA was suing the City of Whittier.

As soon as I began running the harbor, I consulted with the city's attorney and two other attorneys about the legality of the retroactive increase. I went into the old law library in the old state court house in Anchorage and read the case law. I decided the retroactive fee increase might be legal, might not. I also determined that if the harbor were managed better than had been the case, we didn't need the funds that had been taken retroactively - around $13,000.00. I recommended to the Whittier city manager that when I met with the WBOA, I announce a refund of the retroactive portion of the fee increase. He OK'd the move.

When I announced the refund and my hopes for major harbor expansion, along with some management reforms, I got a standing ovation from the WBOA. The following weekend, Trader Ed called me, saying "The Governor wants to meet you." He was on his boat.

After I climbed aboard with Trader Ed, I went through two layers of assistants before being introduced to "The Governor." Right off, he asked, "Young man, you didn't have to refund that money. Why did you?"

I told him "It's a goodwill gesture, governor. If the harbor can collect an honest fee for all our services, we can reduce our rates on several items. The harbor's unequal rates for different customers reflect poor management."

We discussed how a harbor expansion campaign might be run, and he advised me a bit on dealing with Chugach Electric, the Alaska Public Utilities Commission, the Alaska Railroad (then Federally-owned) and Gov. Jay Hammond's director of transportation, Bob Ward.

When we got to small talk, I told Wally how much I respected him for his letter to Richard Nixon, that had led to Nixon's dismissal of Hickel as Secretary of the Interior. Hickel observed that part of the reason that Nixon ended up resigning was that he listened to the wrong advice from the wrong people. The letter, according to Hickel, had been the result of Wally's discussions after the Kent State shootings, with his kids and some of their friends.

Hickel was also enthusiastic that I had read his book, Who Owns America? He spoke of a recent conversation he had had with French environmentalist, Jacques Cousteau, about new sources of energy, and about a study Hickel had participated in on geothermal energy.

I came out of this first meeting with "The Governor" with a very positive impression of "the little man." When it came to gaining allies and finding solutions during the battles from 1978 to 1981 to get the Whittier harbor expanded, Wally was very helpful. I campaigned for him in Anchorage, Girdwood and Whittier, during his 1978 write-in campaign.

I can still see Wally, the first person off of the Whittier shuttle railroad train on a Friday evening, quickly striding from train to dock to float to boat, followed by his retinue. On the boat and out on Prince William Sound, Hickel was always one of the most courteous and knowledgeable of local mariners. Several times over the years, he missed the last shuttle out on Sunday evening, as he helped tow some broken down boat in, or helped search for overdue kayakers.

I've got many Wally stories from the five years I ran the Whittier harbor, but I'll share just one more here. We were meeting with several other boatowners on the Ermalee, to discuss possible float configurations in the new harbor's design. A major concern among the boatowners with large yachts - over 42 feet long - was that Anchorage developer Pete Zamarello had ordered a new 48-foot long Tollycraft, the Papeca II, and was slated for a new, 48-foot long berth in the expanded harbor. Several large boat owners had already approached me, asking that they not be next to Pete in the expanded design. Joe Columbus, Dick Pittinger, Peter Kemp, Harold Wirum, Jim Dryden - and others. None wanted to be on the same float as Pete.

Wally turned to me dryly, and said, "I think Harold volunteers to be tied up next to Zamarello. Don't you, Harry?"

Wirum gulped, and said, "Uh, yeah, sure, Governor."


Rest in peace, Wally.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I too always admired Gov. Hickel for his letter to Richard Nixon. That was before I even moved up here, but he was always on my radar after that. I didn't always agree with him, but I certainly admired his integrity and vision. We have lost a great Alaskan.

Blue_in_AK

Gwen said...

I should have known that you would have a fitting tribute to this man. Something better than a two or three line tweet.

Anonymous said...

As long as we're remembering Wally, let's not forget a few bone-headed policies and total screw-ups he brought us.

I'll start with Wally appointing Ted Stevens. Previously Stevens had been beaten when he ran for the Senate, and the second time he ran he was beaten in the primary. So what happens ? Wally appoints the loser and we all get Stevens the loser, a loser of the worst kind.

(and of course it didn't hurt Hickel's confirmation hearings to have the newly appointed Stevens residing in the confirmation committee.. cozy eh ?)


And one shouldn't forget that Hickel was offered the Interior position as quid pro quo for helping get Nixon elected. Thanks Wally, your man Nixon was a real peach.


Then who can forget that he was one of the prime groomers and boosters of Palin. Thanks, Wally, we really needed that. You picked up another loser of the worst kind in Palin.

There's always shotgunning wolves from planes and helicopters. It was Wally that said 'you just can't let nature run wild'.



I'l join with others and wish Wally rest in peace.

What I won't do is participate in a hagiographic one-sided adulation party.

Yes, he's been credited with a few good moves, on the other hand, he may have balanced out all those good moves with his bone-headed wrong moves.

..

Philip Munger said...

anon @ 10:51 a.m:

I find remembering a person's faults a day or so after passing to be generally distasteful, especially if it is someone that the writer knew personally over a long period of time.

When I posted this remembrance, I knew some commenter or another would chime in as you have, rather than assist in what you call "a hagiographic one-sided adulation party."

clark said...

spot on, philip. there's lots of bad i could think of, along with the good, but it's not good timing.
the most positive aspect of hickel i can think of, is he genuinely, unquestioningly cared about this place.

Anonymous said...

As if you could pass yourself off as a paragon of good taste, eh, Phil ?

Save the affected self-indulgence, you've got no proprietary corner on reverence.

For those who may not know Wally, all they're likely to hear is sweet and dear reminiscences.

Saccharine salutations are fine as far as they go, but that's more than likely a case of false framing or a distorted narrative.

Control the narrative, and you can start to believe you can control the history or the reality.

That's not likely to serve anyone well. Illusion never does serve anyone well.

As to the 'timing', no better time than the present to start facing reality. That was one attribute that Wally learned to acquire, Phil, you'd do well to do your best to learn from his example.

As to your whining about hearing of Wally's less than desirable attributes ? Too bad, eh ?
It's not like you're likely to follow up and set the record straight later on, we might as well acknowledge that along with all the praise that gets heaped on upon one's passing, the reality usually wasn't all sweet and light.

And there's nothing wrong with being up front about it and accepting that was the reality.

..

Anonymous said...

As if you could pass yourself off as a paragon of good taste, eh, Phil ?

Save the affected self-indulgence, you've got no proprietary corner on reverence.

For those who may not know Wally, all they're likely to hear is sweet and dear reminiscences.

Saccharine salutations are fine as far as they go, but that's more than likely a case of false framing or a distorted narrative.

Control the narrative, and you can start to believe you can control the history or the reality.

That's not likely to serve anyone well. Illusion never does serve anyone well.

As to the 'timing', no better time than the present to start facing reality. That was one attribute that Wally learned to acquire, Phil, you'd do well to do your best to learn from his example.

As to your whining about hearing of Wally's less than desirable attributes ? Too bad, eh ?
It's not like you're likely to follow up and set the record straight later on, we might as well acknowledge that along with all the praise that gets heaped on upon one's passing, the reality usually wasn't all sweet and light.

And there's nothing wrong with being up front about it and accepting that was the reality.

..

Philip Munger said...

anon @ 9:18,

I didn't quite get that. Would you mind repeating it.

Anonymous said...

Phil is deluded into thinking he may be witty.

You'd ignore reality if it repeated itself three times every time.

You ignore and refuse to respond any time you're caught with no basis for your presumptuous pretensions.

You lack character, and are bereft of any integrity.

A man who cannot or will not defend his opinions, who cannot produce or articulate the basis for his conclusions, hasn't any right to think he should be entitled to broadcast those opinions or conclusions.

..

jim said...

Phil:

I was a Hammond republican and I worked hard for Jay, especially in 1978 when it was so close we thought we'd lost the primary (to Wally). Here is a story on that:

http://www.elections.alaska.gov/news/slupro.htm

But I always admired Wally. What a life. I'd like to have more information about his pre-1965 life. He was a great Alaskan. Thanks for your perspective and personal experience. There are many great Alaskans, including you.