Part II: 50 years of Alaska governors

Posted: Friday, November 28, 2008

In Part II, we turn back the clock to the first press secretary after statehood.

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Gordon Evans was the post-statehood governor's press secretary and staff aide to Gov. Bill Egan. Evans had moved to Juneau from the Anchorage Daily News to cover state government for United Press International.

Egan had become ill soon after his inauguration in January 1959. Hugh J. Wade, the secretary of state (a title later changed to lieutenant governor) served as acting governor during the first session of the Alaska State Legislature.

The press room in the Egan administration - today the legislative lounge on the Capitol second floor - was off-limits, declared the exclusive turf of the Associated Press and Bob Atwood's Anchorage Times.

Evans went to the governor. He says Egan persuaded a female legislator who had an office on the second floor to use the women's rest room on the third floor so the second floor rest room could be remodeled into a new UPI office complete with private facilities.

Evans, 75, is a semiretired lawyer and lobbyist, occasionally visiting the Capitol when clients summon him from his family's summer cabin on the Inside Passage.


Scott Foster is a former television news anchor at KENI-TV in Anchorage, today retired with occasional broadcasting gigs for public radio and extended kayak expeditions around Southeast Alaska. He served as Hammond's press secretary during the governor's first term.

"I was a member of the staff, not an adviser," Foster said. "I didn't argue a position at all. I was a facilitator, not a spokesman. He (Hammond) didn't run off at the mouth. He knew what the issues were and what he wanted to say.

"Jay Hammond's greatest accomplishments were the Permanent Fund, efforts to restrain state spending at a time of increasing oil wealth, a belief that development should pay for itself and not be subsidized, repurchasing the Kachemak Bay oil leases and his beloved sense of humor."

"Efforts to restrain state spending were among the tough issues," Foster added.

Hammond's second term press secretary was Chuck Kleeschulte, today a staff assistant to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Washington, D.C.


John Manly served as press secretary to the governor in the 1990-94 administration of Gov. Wally Hickel.

"Becoming a governor's press secretary was a very interesting series of events," said Manly. "Hickel first had a couple of press secretaries on sort of a temporary assignment."

"I was working for Rep. Terry Martin (R-Anchorage) and had only a little bit to do with the Hickel campaign with no intention of going to work for him."

"The relationship with the governor in my experience, is staff," Manly said. "I didn't have a close personal relationship. I was not an advisor. I was more a functionary, a person there to do a job and get the message out."

"Press function is changing all the time," Manly said. "When I first started with Hickel, we were still paying for an Associated Press wire. Every morning we'd have to go through 20 feet of AP wire stories to turn them into the news clips. Now you just go on the Internet.

"We were still collecting newspapers from all over the state. I wasn't so interested in what every little newspaper was saying about the governor every day. I wanted to get the bigger picture."

Manly added, "While Gov. Hickel will be most remembered for the $1 billion Exxon Valdez oil spill settlement; his number one success was creating the community development quota program which generated thousands of fishing-related jobs in Western Alaska.

"His toughest challenge was to make progress on the natural gas pipeline."

More recently Manly served on the staff of the Speaker of the House in the Alaska Legislature


Becky Hultberg had no press experience before switching titles to become press secretary to Gov. Frank Murkowski. She had previously served as Murkowski's special assistant focusing on transportation and education issues.

"An effective press secretary is both staff and adviser," Hultberg said. "I think sometimes he (Murkowski) listened to me; sometimes he did not.

"I would liken Gov. Murkowski to a street fighter. He really enjoyed the give and take with the media. That is both an asset and a liability.

"It's an asset in that the press had more opportunities to speak directly with the governor than they had with past governors.

"But it can be a bit of a liability because the more a governor interacts with the press - and especially the more heated that conversation - the more opportunity the press had to quote him in a negative manner."

Hultberg added, "If I were to give (Murkowski) advice, I would suggest that he not speak as frequently to the media - and when he does that it be more controlled."

Hultberg is communications and marketing manager for Providence Health & Services in Anchorage.

Advice from the seven veterans for aspiring press secretaries?

"Tell the truth."

For Part I of this series, please see the Nov. 21 Neighbors page.

• Joe Holbert served as press secretary in the first administration of Gov. Wally Hickel; as Interior Secretary Hickel's press secretary at the U.S. Department of the Interior and as communications director for Gov. Frank Murkowski. He is an honorary lifetime member of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and a member of the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

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