In case you missed it, July 21 was officially former Gov. Jay Hammond Day. Many young Alaskans or those new to Alaska are probably saying, “so what?” right about now.
The “so what” for me is that Gov. Hammond (R-Naknek) was one of the best governors at bridging the political divides during tumultuous times. I first moved to Alaska in 1977, in the midst of the trans-Alaska pipeline boom. As a taxi-cab driver in Anchorage at the time, I got to see up close and personal the downside of a rapidly increasing transient population. From where I sat, the pipeline years were hard on Alaska and we were fortunate to have had Hammond at the helm.
He was not necessarily a popular governor back then. Alaskans were divided about a lot of issues, including how to spend burgeoning state coffers. Reading from Hammond’s memoir, “Tales of Alaska’s Bush Rat Governor,” here is how he saw those times:
“I arrived in Juneau to begin my second term as governor concurrent with the torrent of wealth about to cascade down the trans-Alaska pipeline. Suddenly Alaska was about to be hip deep in one-time petro-dollars. Politicians anticipated political Nirvana: never having to say ‘no’.”
Thanks to Hammond and several other leaders, who pushed back with their own proposal to establish a constitutionally-protected Alaska Permanent Fund, we now sit on a fund valued at $50 billion. Hammond then went on to play an instrumental role in setting up the Permanent Fund Dividend program. Every time you cash your dividend check, you are experiencing the foresight and outcome of leaders likes Hammond.
I have a picture of me at Hammond’s campaign headquarters in Anchorage. The banner above our heads reads, “Jay Hammond ’78 the people come first.” I chuckle now because the phrase of “putting Alaska first” is bantered about by all sorts of political campaigns and commentators (including me). But for Hammond, I never doubted his sincerity to put the people first. As one of the founders of the Alaska Permanent Fund and an avid protector of the Permanent Fund Dividend, he certainly has proved true to his words.
If Hammond were alive today, he would certainly be asked about his opinion on the upcoming ballot proposition to repeal SB 21. The closest we can come to what his opinion might be would be to ask his wife, Bella Hammond. Although I am not in a position to ask Bella directly, I did find this topic addressed in a March 2013 story by Alex DeMarban with the Alaska Dispatch.
In his article, “What would Jay Hammond say about oil taxes? Let’s ask Bella, his wife,” DeMarban noted that proponents of slashing oil taxes in hopes of stimulating oil flow were using the wisdom of Jay Hammond to bolster their arguments. This was immediately challenged by those in opposition, claiming that Hammond’s views were being misrepresented.
Since both sides were claiming the Hammond mantle to enhance their positions, DeMarban decided to ask Bella Hammond what she thought Jay’s opinion would be about Gov. Sean Parnell’s oil tax proposal (the basis of SB 21). Here is the response she gave: “I don’t think he’d agree with the present governor at all. I think his stance would be that we don’t give away the farm. I’ve watched some of what’s going on, and I’m just totally opposed to what Parnell is doing — and I think Jay would certainly view it the same way.”
So for those of you who missed Jay Hammond day last Monday, honor him by voting “Yes” on Aug. 19 to repeal SB 21.
Similar to when Hammond ran for his second term, the polls shows a very close race. In 1978, Hammond was up against former Gov. Walter Hickel, who had the lion’s share of financial support. Through a statewide ground campaign and a persistent pledge to put the people first, Hammond won the primary by a mere 98 votes.