Speaking of the spokesman

Libertarian-at-heart Manly logs time in Republican administration

Posted: Monday, November 10, 2003

John Manly's job as Gov. Frank Murkowski's press secretary comes with a few perks, but expedited passport renewal apparently is not one of them.

Despite his proximity to Murkowski, a former longtime U.S. senator, Manly had to stay behind when the governor took a trip to Asia last month because his passport did not arrive in time.

"I paid 60 extra dollars for expedited service, and still didn't get it in time. It arrived two days later," Manly said last week in his office on the third floor of the Capitol.

He has served as Murkowski's spokesman since the governor was elected, but was a presence in the Capitol much earlier, working for legislators in the 1980s before signing on for Gov. Wally Hickel's second administration from 1990 to 1994.

Manly said both governors were men with goals and the initiative to see them through.

"Hickel, of course, had a vision of getting things done and was very successful, I thought," Manly said, citing about $4 billion in oil company back taxes that were collected during the Hickel administration.

These days, the budget is a bit tighter, forcing the current administration to work harder to keep the state under control, Manly said.

Murkowski "understands that oil and gas is what fuels this economy," he said.

Though Manly, 53, has been a registered Republican for some time, his political beginnings were Libertarian. Originally from Washington state, he came to Ketchikan in 1977 to work in advertising sales for the Ketchikan Daily News.

He married his wife, Nancy, and moved to Juneau, attempting to put his graphic design degree to use with a graphic design studio. He also put out a monthly publication called the Juneau Gazette, which folded after 11 issues. But in 1980, during the Gazette's limited heyday, he wrote a story about the Libertarian party electing two people in Fairbanks: Ken Fanning, and Dick Randolph, whose first election as a Libertarian in 1978 was the first instance of a Libertarian being elected to a state legislature.

"They had a caucus!" Manly said with a grin.

In 1981, the Democratic majority in the state House of Representatives couldn't decide who would be speaker of the house, which left legislators in a quandary for several weeks. They could not hire staff until the issue was settled, and were looking for volunteers to fill the void. Manly volunteered in the Libertarian office and ultimately was hired, kicking off a decade-long legislative career.

It was a time of political upheaval in state government. There were no session limits then, Manly said, and after 150 days the Republicans and Libertarians teamed up with dissident Democrats to throw out Speaker Jim Duncan. These days, there is a 121-day statutory limit on the length of the session.

"We haven't had anything like that since then, but it was fun," Manly said.

When Randolph switched to a Republican Party registration during his 1986 gubernatorial bid, Manly switched with him.

"I think I still am quite a bit of a Libertarian," Manly said, scratching his head over why party members recently chose to flock to New Hampshire, rather than Alaska, in an attempt to take over state government. He has no plans to move, though.

"I can live free or die in Alaska," he said, referring to New Hampshire's motto.

Though he claims never to have done anything substantial with his graphic design degree, Manly has developed a bit of a reputation for his political cartooning and has published a book.

Gregg Erickson, a longtime Capitol fixture in his own right, owns a copy of the book.

"It's just hilarious. You have to have been around to understand the political situations, but he is an incredibly talented artist," said Erickson, the editor of the Alaska Budget Report and a former director of research for the Legislature.

A cartoon hanging in Manly's office depicts a sword- and shield- toting Jim Clark, the governor's chief of staff, taking on a fat dragon bearing the words "Bloated State Government." The administration's downsizing of several state agencies since taking office has caused some controversy.

Manly has handled touchy situations in the governor's office with style, and has been influential as a result, Erickson said.

"But John is the consummate staff person. You just never think of him as someone who would want to be a senator. He is very good at what he does," Erickson said.

And to hear Manly tell it, despite routine work days of at least 10 hours, the job isn't that difficult.

"I feel comfortable in it, but it's very demanding at times," he said, rattling off a schedule from a work day last week that lasted 16 hours. "And it can be very nerve-wracking if I say something that I then think I shouldn't have said."

Working for the administration keeps him busier than his jobs in the Legislature, and the authority of speaking for the governor, as opposed to speaking for a lawmaker, suits Manly.

"I don't want to make it sound like we've got big heads here or something, but this is the governor's office," he said.

• Masha Herbst can be reached at masha.herbst@juneauempire.com.

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