Heads and Tails: Juneau’s House of Cards, circa 1981



A COUP TO REMEMBER: The last time the Alaska Legislature stayed in session this long was back in the 1980s, when Rep. Jim Duncan, a Juneau Democrat, was House Speaker. The session went into June.

Old-timers will remember what happened next. The session went too long, so there on June 12, 1981 some legislators staged a coup, and Duncan was out as speaker, replaced by Joe Hayes.

The coup was staged by Reps. Russ Meekins, Rick Halford, Mitchell Abood, Al Adams, Charles Anderson, Ramona Barnes, Betty Cato, Jack Fuller, Michael Beirne, Robert Bettisworth, Bernard Bylsma, David Cuddy, Kenneth Fanning, E. J. Haugen, Joe Hayes, Vernon Hurlbert, Terry Martin, Ray Metcalfe, Joe Montgomery, Patrick O’Connell, Randy Phillips, and Richard Randolph.

Part of the ousted Duncan camp were Reps. Hugh Malone, Brian Rogers, Fred Brown, Don Clocksin, Sam Cotten (now Fish and Game commissioner), Sally Smith, Mike Miller, Tony Vaska and Fred Zharoff. They sued to have Duncan restored, saying the coup was unconstitutional. Their attorney was Doug Pope. They lost.

The Anchorage Superior Court ruled that while “the procedures used by the majority in accomplishing its will lacked woefully in decorum and the orderly parliamentary process by which the business of a public legislative body should be conducted,” the replacement of Speaker Duncan was lawful. The group also lost on appeal.

As for Duncan, he is the only House Speaker to last but one session, but he is still walking the halls of the Capitol, now as the union representative for State employees (some might suggest that he held that position back then, too).

Thirty six years since the first coup in the House, the Democrats once again are in control and have lost track of time. They are holding the Legislature in session well into July, almost as though this is the best-paying job they’ll ever have.

IF YOU HAVE TO ASK, YOU CAN’T AFFORD IT: To answer all those questions we’re getting about where the founder of Facebook stays when he comes to Alaska, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla parked at the Alaska Wilderness Lodge in China Poot Bay in Kachemak Bay, dined at local Homer restaurants, and did not use a guide for fishing, just the lodge staff and equipment.

BEST WILLIAM SEWARD STATUE EVER: The bronze statue of William Seward was dedicated on July 3 in Juneau. It sits in the spot close to where the old much-maligned Nimbus once stood, the most controversial public sculpture in Alaska. By all accounts the dedication ceremony was rainy but the depiction of Secretary of State Seward is being praised for its artistry and its “scars and all” honesty.

APOCALYPSE ISLAND: Juneau Empire reporter James Brooks snapped a photo from the island near the whale sculpture in Juneau, and we think those are fireworks, even though his photo was taken not long after North Korea launched its long-range missile:

NOW THAT YOU’RE HERE, BE A DEAR: We don’t have a “subscribers only” paywall at Must Read Alaska. That means everything we do is for you, free of charge, or you may help us out with contributions — as you wish.

We ask for donations so we can be sure to be here next year … and the year after … a conservative voice and news source for Alaska.

Check out the Donate button to the right of the page, and please consider making a contribution. As you wish. Thank you!


  1. I was born a Baptist and a Democrat; then I learned to read. I was still something of a Democrat in ’80 – ’81. I was working for organized labor as the Anchorage Central Labor Council’s chairman of the Committee on Political Education (COPE), the AFL-CIO’s primary political action committee. I spent the late summer and fall of ’80 assigned to Mike Gravel’s re-election campaign where I learned all about political logistics; how to keep woman A away from woman C and away from husbands B and D. Gravel was a thorough scumbag but he was right; we should have killed ANILCA. Ted Stevens couldn’t think beyond being the Minority Leader in the next Congress. I worked with a bunch of Republicans to put up the “Senator Stevens Please Come Home” ad in most of the Country’s major newspapers. The telegram and the screaming phone call at 6 AM will be in my highlight film.

    Sometime that late winter or spring we had a “retreat,” focus on that word, at some lodge out past Wasilla to contemplate how Alaska’s Democrats had lost their last Statewide office. Now understand that organized labor was the conservative side of the Democrat party in those days; there’d been fistfights between labor guys and the McGovernite wing, the Ad Hoc Democrat Coalition, at Democrat conventions.
    I spent the first day of our “workshop” in awe; who the f**k were these people?

    I sat before the fireplace in the lodge that evening sipping scotch and conversing with a Democrat legislator, the old fashioned kind. The air was filled with sweet perfume, and we talked about what the Hell we were doing there. That was his last term as a Legislator, and that was my last act as a Democrat. As Zell Miller said, I didn’t leave them, they left me.

  2. I was actively involved in the Ad Hoc Committee of Young Democrats during the time Art references above. I thought we did a pretty good job of destroying the Alaska Democrat party but they continue to this day as a minority compilation of special interests trying to create a coalition for the singular goal of winning elections. Once I started my own business and had to make payrolls I left the party. How I as a Republican ended up working for NEA-Alaska nine years in Juneau was an interesting story, too.

  3. Regarding the coup, you missed all the cloak and dagger intrigue. The Legislature had been at a standstill for about three weeks. The Bush Caucus, all Democrats, was not happy with the share of the legislative pie the Democratic Majority Caucus was offering.

    Republicans Rick Halford and Minority Leader Joe Hayes had secretly offered the Bush everything they wanted if they would coalition with us, and they accepted.

    We Republicans, who had been standing around the halls twiddling our thumbs for nearly three weeks, while the Democrats were duking it out behind closed doors, as inconspicuously as possible, wondered one at a time into the House Chambers.

    I took my seat with my feet on my desk and began counting arrivals while pretending to read a newspaper. Once we reached the time at which we had agreed to all be seated, Bush Legislators began, one at a time, excusing themselves from their closed caucus for a bathroom break. One at a time about a minute apart, Bush Legislators took their seats.

    With the required 21 votes in the room, we were waiting for our last anticipated arrival. Russ Meekins was the chair of House Finance and supported the Bush Caucus position. Being the highest officer in the Majority Caucus, it was agreed that he would take the Speaker’s chair and gavel. As Russ walked in, I got up and went to House Speaker Duncan’s office and told the House Clerk she was needed to record events in the House Chambers.

    She grabbed her note pads and headed down the hall as I told every page in sight they were needed in the Chambers. I was the last to reenter the room and I locked the doors behind me. Russ Meekins pounded the gavel and ordered the pages to hold the doors not letting anyone in or out.

    About half way through going through the motions of removing Duncan and installing Hayes, we heard the screams of Sally Smith demanding we open these doors. Seconds later, we could hear the banging of shoulders on the doors, and the doors began to bulge. I was surprised that the doors did not break, and I felt sympathy for the position of the young pages as they were struggling to follow orders to prevent the Legislators who had given them their jobs from entering.

    We finished our business, adjourned, and opened the doors to a hallway full of outraged legislators and staff.

    I recall a reporter with an obvious bias pushing a microphone in Joe Hays face and yelling “do you really think you can get away with this.”

    Now I bring your attention to the real tragedy of the event. The very first big issue Speaker Hayes wanted to pass was the reduced oil tax system known as ELF. It had already passed the Senate but was dead on arrival until Hayes was at the helm.

    I had looked at the proposal and was not planning to vote for it. Speaker Hayes seemed near tears as he made his argument for my vote. Soon thereafter Revenue Commissioner Tom Williams came to my office and assured me that ELF would be revenue neutral and would create a lot of jobs and the President of BP owned Sohio, pled poverty in teleconference testimony. (Sohio was BP owned and the face of BP in Alaska at the time. Tom Williams has had a high paying job with BP for the past three decades)

    Six months after adjournment, I got my hands on a Sohio memo in which Sohio Chairman Alton W. Whitehouse said “all the numbers are large at Sohio these days” because the company’s assets have risen rapidly from less than one billion dollars before it started its Alaskan venture to $9 billion now. He gave income tax expense, as an example, reporting “income tax expense was up sharply by 301 percent for 1979, rising to $891 million from $222 million in 1978.”

    I knew I had been duped. I distributed Sohio’s memo to all legislators on the opening day of the 1982 legislature with a note that we should rethink ELF. Giving that memo to Alaska’s legislators made me public enemy #1 from BP’s point of view.

    Had ELF never passed, Alaska’s Permanent Fund could easily have grown to five times the size it is today. Had ELF not passed, and had the additional revenues been deposited in the Fund, our revenues from earnings could easily provide an annual dividend of $5,000 and fund government at a handsome level for the next hundred years. Feeling responsible for my part in the passage of ELF, for the past 35 years, I have made it my mission in life to educate Alaskans on oil tax issues, and expose oil’s corrupt influences on our legislators.

    Here is what Alaskans need to know today… Alaska doesn’t have a budget problem; Alaska has bribery problems, and gullible legislator problems. Alaska allows oil companies to extract fair payment for their services from net oil production revenues. Additionally, they keep 90% of our ownership equity; equity other owner states keep. At today’s prices, the big three are making over $17 per barrel plus cost of production and delivery from our oil. (See ConocoPhillips’ quarterly reports) That’s about $9 Million per day, or $3.2 billion per year. BP and Exxon have agreements, with less friendly governments, to produce their oil for cost of production and delivery, plus $1 per barrel. $3.76 per barrel would exceed their international average net profits. If that was what the Legislature was to allow them, Alaska would receive an additional $2.5 billion this year. Ten years ago I helped the FBI bust six legislators for taking bribes to give Alaska’s oil away. For six years the oil companies lost control and Alaska saved up $16 Billion; that’s the savings this Legislature is once again reaching into to cover the deficit; Savings now depleted because Alaska’s legislators are once again giving our oil away. Why would Alaska’s legislators agree to pay four and one half times more than a fair market payment for production services? There is only one logical answer and its bribery.

Comments are closed.