Saturday, May 8, 2010

Former Governor Walter Hickel, Dead at Age 90

Former Alaska Governor Wally Hickel passed away late Friday of natural causes. He was 90.

I worked in Juneau during Wally's second governorship. There were many things, politically and policy-wise, that I have disagreed with Mr. Hickel about over the years.

But whether you were his political friend or foe, some things about him no one can disagree with:

He loved Alaska, and spent most of his life trying to make it a better place to live.

He was genuinely a decent, caring man.

There will be plenty of eloquent eulogies about him... but for my part, I'm simply going to repost something I wrote last September.

Rest in Peace, Wally. 

Former Governor Walter Hickel Gives Us Some Fatherly Advice

Former Governor Walter J. Hickel penned an OpEd piece which appears in today's Anchorage Daily News, entitled "Alaskans can rise above petty politics, hateful acts."

Bravo, Mr. Hickel.

During his long career, no matter what his stance on issues, and no matter what less-than-complimentary things one might say about him, even his detractors (and as a life-long Democrat, I fall into that category) have to grudgingly agree on this point:

Walter Hickel has always followed his conscience.

Just as Pinocchio had his Jiminy Cricket, Walter Hickel has always had his "Little Man."

When appointed in 1968 by President Richard Nixon to serve as Secretary of Interior (an appointment Mr. Hickel agonized about accepting, for it required him to step down as Alaska Governor), Wally didn't turn out to be quite the "plunder and pillage" pro-development voice many environmentalists expected him to be.

Listening to his "little man," Hickel supported strong liability laws concerning oil companies drilling offshore, and supported environmental standards on Alaska's rapidly developing oil industry.

As a populist (and perhaps because he was a populist with a conscience), Mr. Hickel confused and confounded the people in the White House at the time.

He saw his role as Secretary of the Interior as doing the best job he could do for the American people. By doing his best, Hickel surmised, he would help the Republican Party as well.

When that style conflicted with the political agenda of Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew or the cadre of Republican henchman in the White House, they saw his actions as "disloyal."

It didn't take long. More and more, Wally Hickel was being frozen out of the Nixon White House, his access to the president that hired him cut off. The president was isolating himself more and more from those who might disagree with him, because any thing viewed as internal dissent would not be accepted, nevermind encouraged.

After the shooting death of four student demonstrators by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University in 1970, Mr. Hickel's "little man" took charge again.

Hickel wrote a letter critical of Nixon's Vietnam war policy, urging the president to listen to the voices of young people opposing the war. The contents of letter was leaked before the president saw it, and it didn't sit well with the White House.

The president subsequently created the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration within the Commerce Department, and created an independent Environmental Protection Administration. The creation of these agencies intentionally removed their mission from the purview of the Interior Secretary. The handwriting was on the wall.

Eventually, Hickel was called to the White House. After a half-hour or so conversation between Wally and the president, Mr. Hickel was shown the door.

True to what he told 60 Minutes: "If I go away, I'm going away with an arrow in my heart and not a bullet in my back," Mr. Hickel returned to Alaska, and eventually (like it or not) served a second term as governor.

(Side note to ex-governor Sarah Palin: Wally Hickel was a "maverick" when you were barely out of diapers. His willingness to take responsibility for his actions is a concept that's alien to you, I'm sure.)

Some of my liberal friends will criticize me for lauding Mr. Hickel.

Too bad.

In retrospect, Walter Hickel emerges as a progressive. Hell, compared to today's current crop of Republicans, he sounds like a "liberal."

Besides, when you're right, you're right.

In a time when the GOP is controlled by the right-wing fringe, hate speech is running rampant, and crazy people like Sarah Palin claim to speak for Alaskans (and the "real" America), 90-year old Governor Walter Hickel's is a voice that should be heeded.

By all of us.

h/t to Progressive Alaska for the photo.


Rosie said...

Well said. Both times. RIP, Governor Hickel.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget Wally was the man who gave us Ted Stevens.

He campaigned for Nixon to become president, his Interior appointment was quid pro quo for work done getting Nixon elected.

As far as contrasting Hickel and Palin, that narrative just isn't reflective of the reality, Hickel was one of the prime groomers and supporters of Palin.

Yes, Hickel made a few common sense moves, but his bone-headedness and idiotic moves paint a far different picture.

Shotgunning wolves from airplanes and helicopters ? Wally's policy.

It was Wally who said 'you can't let nature run wild'.



Wolfe Tone said...


If dancing on Hickel's grave somehow makes you feel better, by all means, do so.

I won't participate.

Anonymous said...

You'd prefer the fantasy version ?

Just edit out any sordid bits of reality that don't suit you today ?

Yeah, that'll help.

Wolfe Tone said...


I guess I was mistaken.

Speaking ill of the dead always helps.

Anonymous said...

Speaking the truth is the only thing that ever helps.

Pasting over the truth has never led to anything positive.

Wolfe Tone said...

Pasting over the truth has never led to anything positive.

In my experience, neither has acting like an insensitive jerk.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, daring to speak truth is denigrated as 'dancing on someone's grave', or 'being an insensitive jerk'.

Well, so much for any false decorum from the lofty perch atop the height of 'blog' self-stardom, eh?

Some more truth about Hickel can be found here:

Cross posted on an Alaska blog here:

Therein you can find out about Hickel's attempts to take Native lands from the indigenous Alaska resident owners of that land.

And why did Hickel wish to take Native lands from the owners of those lands ?

In order that he might gift it to big oil.

Wally was working hand in glove with BP, Exxon, and the rest of the extraction industry multinationals bent on raping the resources of Alaska.

And guess what ? Adorable Wally paved the way for the failures of policy that are all around us.


While some are thinking that only good thoughts should be shared concerning Wally's impact on this state, our nation and the world, the truth is, Wally's impact was generally regrettable, and in Wally's own candid moments, he acknowledged as much.

Too bad his doting fans can't allow themselves to be as candid with the truth as the man they think they're draping with their blind adulation.


Wolfe Tone said...

Being "candid with the truth" about a dead old man has fixed everything.


Anonymous said...

Was there some fantasy version of Wally's life that you would have preferred remain unchanged by reality ?

Sure seems as if you're disappointed that the truth was even mentioned, disappointed that the fantasy couldn't have preceded without the truth having any bearing on the matter.

Are you of the belief that upon one's death all that may be viewed in a negative light is suddenly to be made to disappear ?

Seems as if you agree with those who promoted Reagan to sainthood upon his death, as if all the negatives from Ronnie Reagan should never be mentioned again.

I suppose when Bush dies, you'll join the chorus selecting him for sainthood and never speak of any reality that doesn't support the new fantasy version.

Odd position to stake out, that position that fantasy should replace reality.

Was it that reality wasn't as much fun as the fantasy ? Didn't wish to trouble yourself with a reality that contradicted the fantasy ?

Despite all your efforts to cast shame on anyone who might speak of reality, the shame is all reserved for those who wish to revise reality to suit fantasy and illusion.


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