Hammond helped a besieged capital city

Posted: Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Jay Hammond was known as "father of the Alaska Permanent Fund" and a longtime defender of keeping the capital in Juneau.

"He is somebody who understands the state from Ketchikan to Barrow," said former state lawmaker Clark Gruening, who served in the Alaska Legislature during Hammond's first term, from 1974 to 1978.

Thomas Stewart, a retired Juneau Superior Court judge and a Democrat, said Hammond was more liberal than many Republicans and called him "an independent Republican."

"He was a very imaginative individual with a lot of ideas," said Stewart, who became more acquainted with Hammond about 15 years ago, when Hammond stayed at his house to rehearse with the Juneau Symphony for Aaron Copland's "Lincoln Portrait." Hammond recited Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

Proposals to move the state capital from Juneau festered throughout the eight years Hammond served as the governor.

In his autobiography, "Tales of Alaska's Bush Rat Governor," Hammond said the capital move was one of the three land issues that tore Alaskans asunder.

In 1974, the year Hammond was first elected governor, Alaskans voted to relocate the capital. In 1976, voters picked Willow as the site.

In 1978, the year Hammond was re-elected, voters were to decide whether the state should issue $966 million in general obligation bonds to build a new capital. Hammond fought ardently against relocation, arguing that the cost would be exhorbitant. Voters nixed the bonds and the capital move was suspended.

"It was with immense satisfaction that, at the end of my term, we were able to lance the boil," Hammond said in his autobiography.

Hammond once joked that maybe the state should put the capital on a ferry and move it from city to town to village.

Gruening said Hammond's support for Juneau had to do with his understanding of the role each region plays.

"He knows what is beneficial in the long run," Gruening said.

With his self-effacing humor, powerful character and political will, Hammond steered the state through other far-reaching issues.

"He will be remembered for how he guided the state through the turbulent years of constructing the oil pipeline," Gruening said.

To mitigate the construction's environmental and economic impact, Hammond worked with the Legislature to create programs that helped communities deal with the influx of workers.

Hammond also was instrumental in developing the Alaska Permanent Fund and instituting the dividend program.

"He believed that the permanent fund had to be constitutionally protected and could not simply be spent by appropriation," said Gruening, a former trustee and chairman of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. "The dividend program gives the public a great interest in how the fund is managed and treated."

Hammond remained active politically after retirement. Three years ago, a group that advocated moving the Legislature to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough or Anchorage went inactive at Hammond's request.

"He measured every issue in terms of what was in the best interest of all residents in the state, no matter where they lived in the state," Gruening said.

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