Thursday, March 29, 2012

Pete's Pantheon: Jay Hammond, The Oracle of Lake Clark

Before the Republican party became the last refuge for opportunists, fools, knaves and scoundrels, there were some GOP giants whom you could proudly vote for. Leading that list was the rugged and charismatic Jay Hammond.  Wally Hickel came up with a jingle called "Alaska Man" to get himself elected in his last race for the office of Governor.  Jay didn't need a jingle like that because everybody already knew he was a Bush-pilotin', wood splittin', homesteadin', WWII Marine.

Hammond was narrowly elected in his second run for Governor, squeaking by Wally in the primary with the thinnest of margins. He and his running mate, Lowell Thomas Jr, had the temerity to run without disavowing conservationism. This hurt them seriously, especially in the Alaska GOP of the time. No GOP candidate would consider this in Alaska today, and, now that I think of it, it would make him a fringe candidate as a Democrat.

He will be remembered in the long run mainly for the Alaska Permanent Fund. When I worked at the Anchorage Daily News, it was a constant source of wonder and amazement to  see how many politicians came in and took credit for the fund. But if you could run a test on it, you'd find mostly the Bush-pilotin', wood splittin', homesteadin', WWII Marine DNA of Jay Hammond.

Even after leaving office, Hammond stayed involved with statewide issues such as the future of the Permanent Fund and the solution to the subsistence hunting impasse. He regularly wrote for the Anchorage Daily News from the Olympian reaches of his remote homestead. He was so constantly courted and cited by Alaska politicians that an irritated Tony Knowles referred to him as "The Oracle of Lake Clark".

I ran into him at a friend's house shortly before he died. He recited poetry, talked politics and told me my cartoons were making a difference. Who was I to argue? The oracle had spoken.

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