Rise to Power
As Alaska gears up to celebrating its fiftieth year of statehood, its constituents stagger under the accusations of special interest politics and watch its legislative assembly crumble under a federal investigation whose implications are so far reaching as to include its most powerful, long-standing Senators and Congressmen. The naivete of a Continental United States quickly joins the band wagon of indignant cries concerning “pork barrel” politics, imagining a state that usurps federal funding to maintain a welfare system of tax payers dollars for the benefit of keeping its general populace wealthy. This implication has the effect of kicking sand into the public eyes to hide the real agenda; one of militarization and transference of natural resources into the private sector of investors and companies through advertising, propaganda and legal statutes.
Alaska is not alone with its share of legislators catering to this agenda, but as a state isolated from the rest of the union, with a low population, an enormous wealth of natural resources and a global strategic location, it receives the most attention. The immediate question that comes to the mind of those ignorant to their own political climate, is how Alaska could continue favoring representatives who have come to symbolize the worst in corruptive legislation. To answer this, it’s necessary to look at Alaska’s territorial history, and remind ourselves that the influence of today’s political structure dates back to the era of post-World War II America.
The original giants of territorial Alaska and the craftsmen of the petition for statehood revolved within the spheres of Presidents’ Truman and Roosevelt. Senator Bob Bartlett was a delegate with the Anthony J. Dimond staff, representing Alaskan interests in 1932. By 1939, he had been appointed the Secretary of Alaska. Ernest Gruening was a member of the Alaska International Highway Commission from1938-1942, then appointed Governor of Alaska by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1939 and twice re-appointed by President Truman, the first President to openly advocate for Alaska’s introduction into the Union. He was elected to the United States Senate October 6, 1955, by the Territory of Alaska as an advocate for Alaska statehood but he did not take the oath of office and was not accorded senatorial privileges. William Eagan, the only governor who has been able to say he was born in Alaska, belonged to the territorial House of Representatives during this time period. The concerns of these three men were unified. The end of the war had brought a population boom to Alaska, but the Territory found itself in the jaws of colonial subservience. They were required passports to enter and leave the United States, although they were technically US citizens. High import/ export taxes were levied on all goods and services, including taxable wage although Alaska had no legal representation in Congress or in the Senate. They were subject to military service for the nation yet had no voice in the making and ending of the wars into which their young men were drafted. In 1950, Senator Bartlett introduced a bill for Alaskan Statehood. It was passed by a forty percent margin in the Senate, but was stifled in the Congress.
That same year, Ted Stevens headed the law office of Usabelli Coal Mine, in Healy Alaska, as a representative of Alaska’s natural resource issues. In 1953, he was appointed Attorney General by President Eisenhower, which upset the citizens of Fairbanks, Alaska who favored a local representative, Carl Messenger. Vice-President Nixon had just finished his role as chief prosecutor in the conviction of Julius and Ethel Rosenburg for treason, which resulted in their electrocution. Three years into his interim as a member of the Eisenhower staff, Stevens filed charges against Jack Marler, an Alaskan Territorial citizen, on failure to pay taxes. He lost the case to Edgar Paul Boyko, who argued that there should be no taxation of Alaska’s citizens without representation. At the time of the decision, Stevens commented, “there is no hope of Alaska becoming a state now.”
Senator Bartlett and Congressman Gruening didn’t feel this way. In 1956, they again petitioned for statehood, after winning 81% of the popular vote from the Alaskan people. The address given by Congressman Gruening at the Alaska Constitutional Convention, entitled “Let Us Now End Colonialism”, was a broad and clearly itemized list of the population’s grievances and is considered the cornerstone for the state’s Constitution, but President Eisenhower’s feelings were still negative. He cited the sparse population and vast land resources as difficulties for receiving adequate military protection. Privately, he confessed he was afraid if Alaska became a state, it would always vote on a democratic ticket.
Ted Stevens worked with Gen. Nathan Twining, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who had served in Alaska, and Jack L. Stempler, a top Defense Department attorney, to create a compromise that would address Eisenhower’s concerns. The compromise refined the lines that would grant statehood and those that would remain within federal power. Under the new bill, which included the entirety of Alaska’s North Slope, the Seward Peninsula, most of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, the western portions of the Alaska Peninsula, and the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands — would be part of the new state, but the President would be granted emergency powers to establish special national defense withdrawals in those areas if deemed necessary, conditions unique only for Alaska.
According to Stevens, he lobbied actively for statehood under the new proposal, although his political campaign was illegal. “We were violating the law,” Stevens told a researcher in an October 1977 oral history interview for the Eisenhower Library. “We were lobbying from the executive branch, and there’s been a statute against that for a long time…. We more or less, I would say, masterminded the House and Senate attack from the executive branch.” The lobbying included applying pressure to individual members of the House and Senate, advertising and writing editorials for the newspapers. The lobbying paid off. In 1959, Alaska was voted in as a state.
Although Gruening and Bartlett continued being Alaska’s very popular representatives, Eagan suffered a different fate. Elected twice to the governorship during statehood, he was defeated in 1966 by Walter J. Hickel, only to recover his governorship for the years 1970 to 1974. By a curious twist of fate Senator Bartlett died of complications following heart surgery during the tenure of Hickel’s administration, and in 1969, Ted Stevens was appointed by Hickel to take his place. Stevens’ long history as Alaska’s leading Senator began, just as the pipe-line was looming on the horizon.
An even stranger circumstance is that although Hickel claims to be the author of the pipeline, stating, “I had to make it happen. The oil companies were leaving the Slope. They had hit only dry holes, and there was no way to get the oil to market even if they did find it. Only Atlantic Richfield Oil was left, and they wouldn’t have drilled Prudhoe Bay if I hadn’t forced them to,” it was William Eagan who lost his popularity and the vote to another interim of governorship in 1974 by the unhappy Alaskan people who opposed the Arctic drilling when the Pipeline Bill was finalized. By then, Walter J. Hickel was working as Secretary of Interior for President Nixon. Jay Hammond was elected as the new governor, crafting the conditions for the permanent fund that gave all Alaskans a yearly share from the profits generated by oil drilling. Before leaving office, Eagan endorsed the land claims position of the Alaska Federation of Natives in hearings before the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, testifying that the state favored a land settlement of 60 million acres, 2 per cent overriding royalty in oil and gas revenues and $500 million federal appropriation to the Alaskan Native People..
A time of change was in the air. Democratic candidate, Nick Begich was voted to office in 1970 defeating the Republican candidate, Frank Murkowski, and again, in 1972, against Don Young, even though he had disappeared in a plane with Senator Hale Boggs shortly before the election. Begich had just completed the largest cash and land transfer on record to the Native community; 44 million acres and one billion dollars, prior to his disappearance. Senator Boggs had served on the Warren Commission. At this point in his career, he had retracted many of his earlier statements on the Warren Report, saying J. Edgar Hoover had lied through his teeth, and purported to have new evidence concerning the Watergate investigation. The plane was never found and after thirty-nine days, the search was abandoned. A special election was held and Don Young voted in as Alaska’s new Congressman.
The changes ended abruptly at this point. With Stevens, Young, Hickel and Murkowski firmly in place as Alaska’s leading representatives, the days of Democratic or Independent leadership were over. The ear-marks of an Alaskan campaign were the same tactics Stevens admitted to so freely using in advancing Alaska’s application to statehood; massive advertising, individual selections; editorials and opinion commentaries to the newspapers. They have swept the fore-runners of Alaska’s history under the carpet, claiming the glory for whatever benefits the Alaskan people may have received under the hard-working, conscientious statesmen of their territorial days. They wish the constituents to believe that without their endeavors, Alaska would still be in the poverty stricken throes of a colonialist society, but when looking at the time line of the most important advances to the well-being of the Alaskan people, one can only conclude that these masqueraders who hid themselves in the shadows while great decisions were being made, did nothing at all.
Dismantling the Round Table
During fifty years of catering to a growing demand for capital investments, the transference of resources into the private sector and militarization is practically complete. Under the Homeland Security Act, the Federal Government has been given almost unlimited power. Per Capita, more funds have been transferred into Alaska for security measures than any other state. These securities are placed to protect Federal interests, which extend over two-thirds of the state, and include oil, mining and timber. In a recent letter to the Alaskan constituents concerning his reasons why he voted for the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, Senator Stevens used as one of his arguments a number of villages that he claims have been effected by the lack of federal funds for timber development. The villages are primarily dependent on State funding for their developmental projects. Alaska legislators worked with a hundred million dollar surplus when it crafted this year’s budget. The reason the villages are so much in crisis is because practically all rural development has been shut down.
Senator Stevens would have us believe it was necessary for Congress to take action to prevent inflation from further threatening retirement accounts, saving plans for college educations, and a widespread freeze on the ability of individual Americans to obtain credit. The curious thing is, these accounts were never listed as an issue when the financial institutions first began their tumble. The significance of the statement would be as much to say that all savings accounts held in banks or trusts, regardless of their earmarks, would be liquidated if the bailout plan was not passed.
An appeal was made to the Alaskan people for the loss of assets in the permanent fund, a little understood kick-back received once a year by the constituents. It is not funded by State or Federal dollars. It is an allotment received by the people each year by the oil companies, as agreed upon when the first lease/sale contracts were signed. A large portion of this allotment is placed in the stock market each year to generate additional revenue. When the stock market plunged, so did the permanent fund. The most practical solution for generating funds within a failing market is to transfer the stock to more stable investments. Apparently, this has not been done. The preference was to continue bolstering a false prosperity based on fifty year old policies of what once worked, but isn’t working now.
Senator Stevens placed his appeal to a people isolated from the Continental United States, a people who have already gone through their first year of economic crisis and are about to face another winter of soaring prices and energy shortages. The effects of his legislation, however, is not limited to the Alaskan people, nor can it be assumed the Alaskan people will receive any direct benefits from the executive decision. The stock market, despite the bailout, continues its downward plunge, making the argument for the permanent fund, a moot point. Retired Alaskans continue to be jeopardized, not by losing their checks, but through high property taxes and soaring living expenses.
There is a reason King was placed in front of the name of Senator Stevens. He has been the mainstay of deep rooted political circles dating back to the Nixon era. Despite an indictment, he continues to wield enormous power and influence within the Senate. His abilities stem from the bargaining tables of Alaska’s enormous natural resources. The recent lease sales of the Chuckchi Sea netted the Federal Government enough money to pay off one-third the debt for the Iraq War. ANWR, part of the federal reserve, would not illicit Alaskans one penny of revenue other than in possible jobs, but it would satisfy the oil industry’s craving for extending their monopolies, and pay off some federal debt so as to justify more illicit squandering. Within the private sector, White Dynasty and Anglo-American mining company, are cranking up a campaign for a multi-million dollar venture in the pristine Bristol Bay; a project both Senator Stevens and Governor Palin support despite the extreme environmental dangers. The enticement is gold and other metals to bring back into the economy.
What had been primarily an Alaskan issue has become a National one. With a maximized federal debt, people are going to want quick solutions. How quick will they be to turn down projects that tell them there will be more oil, more precious metals, less debt? Especially in an economy dissolved of most of its liquid assets? This solution, rising in the horizon, would boost industry perhaps another ten years before we’ve completely exhausted our fossil reserves. The only way to make it through this crunch is by protecting and developing our renewable resources, practicing and investing in more energy efficiency, and renewing the art of trade and barter. We can not, we must not continue listening to the knights that sit around the King’s table.