Didn't he used to be somebody?

Hammond pens a sequel to his autobiography 'Tales of Alaska's Bush Rad Governor'

Posted: Sunday, January 13, 2002

"Chips from the Chopping Block: More Tales from Alaska's Bush Rat Governor" by Jay Hammond (Epicenter Press, paper, photos, 192 pp., $14.95).

When legislator Jay Hammond first ran for governor of Alaska, polls said he had 3 percent name recognition and gave him no chance of winning the race. With typical good humor, he makes fun of this, as well as the fact that having served as governor from 1972 to 1982 seems to have granted him scant face recognition.

In "Chips off the Chopping Block," part two of his autobiography, Hammond records instances of his being mistaken for Joseph Hazelwood (infamous captain of the Exxon Valdez), Norman Vaughn (Antarctic explorer) and former governor Wally Hickel. In his preface, he notes that, a year after leaving office, a curious young sales clerk inspected him repeatedly and finally asked, "Didn't you used to be somebody?"

Hammond served four years in the Marine Corps, seven with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, three as a manager/mayor of the Bristol Bay Borough, 12 as a legislator and two terms as governor. "I'm the biggest bureaucrat I know," he writes, but "many people, myself included, do not recognize me as a politician...."

For his first autobiography, "Tales of Alaska's Bush Rat Governor," Hammond wrote 1,400 pages, of which his publisher wanted only the 400 printed in 1994. He decided to winnow "the overlode" for this fresh volume, "sifting the nuggets from the clinkers."

"Chips from the Chopping Block" gives us, then, "personal experiences both hilarious and harrowing from days of my youth and later as a pilot, a wilderness guide, and last and certainly least, a politician." He has had to resort to doggerel to tell the truth about his days in Juneau, he says.

He touches on "still smoldering" issues such as subsistence hunting, wolf control and the earnings of the Permanent Fund, issues which Gov. Tony Knowles has found knotty indeed.

"Chips from the Chopping Block" wanders hither and yon, but its uniting thread is a zest for using specific, multisyllabic vocabulary and a good way with a tale. It would be a disservice to tell any of those stories, especially the ones in which Hammond twists the tails of sacred cows.

Once, guiding a fisherman through heavy brush, Hammond crawled onto some alders which happened to obscure a sleeping brown bear. He escaped, but it was, as he puts it, "yet another stupid way to die." Hammond's new book immortalizes many of these occasions over the course of his life, beginning with being trapped in an Adirondack cabin as a 14-year-old by a pedophile hermit and continuing with the saga of 13 airplane engines that failed him in flight. In later years, he's put a plane through the ice at Ugashik Lake and had ankle, knee, hip and back "overhauls" plus a pacemaker. He confronts death squarely in his final chapter.

"In my case, should I depart tomorrow, I'd not feel shortchanged," he concludes.

Hammond will appear at Hearthside Books at the Nugget Mall today from 1-3 p.m. to sign books.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire.com.

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