Joe Hayes, former House Speaker, passes - Must Read Alaska
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Joe Hayes, former House Speaker, passes


Joe Hayes, who was Speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives during the 13th Legislature in 1983-84, died on Feb. 16, 2018. He was 88.

In Juneau, many former colleagues in government learned of his death when U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski noted it during her annual remarks to the Legislature on Thursday.

Hayes served with legends of the Alaska Legislature, among them the late Al Adams, Ramona Barnes, Charlie Bussell, and Ben Grussendorf.

According to the Alaska Blue Book* of 1977, Hayes was “an American retired civil engineer, lobbyist and politician. Hayes moved to Alaska with his family as a teenager, among one of the first civilians to travel the Alaska Highway following World War II. Hayes was a founding partner of Tryck, Nyman and Hayes, one of Alaska’s leading engineering firms. He served as a Republican member of the Alaska House of Representatives from 1977 to 1985 and was the body’s speaker from 1981 to 1985. He later became a leading legislative lobbyist in Alaska.”

He was elected to then-District 9-A in 1976, 1978, 1980 and 1982.

By 2001, he was the state’s leading lobbyist in dollars earned, representing the cruise industry and a multitude of other clients. He was the go-to lobbyist because he kept extraordinarily good relationships with people, always treating them with respect.


Born in Bakersfield, Missouri on Feb. 18, 1930 to “Darby” and Dicy Hayes, Hayes moved to Alaska with his family during World War II. His uncle, Herman Cotter, worked throughout the Territory of Alaska during World War II and had convinced the Hayes family to come north with him and his family. The Hayes family drove the Alaska Highway in June of 1946 and settled in Anchorage. The following year, Joe Hayes graduated from Anchorage High School.

He attended the University of Washington, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. At the University of Alaska, he received a master’s degree in engineering management.

He was a member of the Anchorage Platting Board and on the roster of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce. Hayes was a partner at Tryck, Nyman and Hayes, an engineering firm.


Among the stories that old politicos remember is how, when the confirmation of Norm Gorsuch for attorney general was being debated, Gov. Bill Sheffield called the Troopers to bring in recalcitrant House members, in order to get the quorum needed for the joint-session vote.

That year, the House was controlled by Republicans, with Hayes as Speaker, while the Senate was controlled by Democrats, with Jay Kerttula of Palmer, as President.

The Republicans were going to try to block Gorsuch because of a perceived conflict of interest he had with Sheffield and his hotel business.

But Sheffield called for a joint session on June 7, 1983, and Kerttula supported the call because he knew there were enough votes to confirm.

However, only 17 members of the House attended that day, not enough for a quorum. Troopers searched all over Juneau for the other Republican legislators but came up empty handed. Some had flown to Skagway on a small plane rented by Rep. Vernon Hurlburt, a bush pilot from Sleetmute.

Eventually four were found in their offices and escorted by armed Troopers into the House Chambers, where a vote was held. This short-changed the Republicans, who wanted to hold hearings and bring up information they thought showed the conflict of interest between Gorsuch and Sheffield.

The story of armed Troopers escorting unwilling lawmakers made the New York Times.

Hayes had become Speaker of the House as a result of a political coup, when Democrats formed a coalition with two Libertarians and Republicans, deposing the Democrats House Speaker Jim Duncan, a reverse of how the House is formed in 2018, with a coalition of three Republicans who sided with the Democrats and two “indie-Democrats” to take over the House deliver it to Democrat control.

Hayes opted not to run in 1984, and ran for governor in 1986. It was an unusually crowded field of 14, and he placed fourth after Arliss Sturgulewski, Wally Hickel, and Dick Randolph.

*The author of the 1977 Alaska Blue Book is Robert Burnett, who is Suzanne Downing’s father. This story will be updated as details are gathered. Memories about Joe Hayes are welcome in the comments section below.

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Written by

Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • It was my great privilege to serve in the Alaska Legislature, working with Joe Hayes on many issues facing the State. Joe’s lobbying abilities could always be depended upon and he brought sensible and honest insight to the issues he lobbied for. I greatly appreciated his friendship and help during my years in office. Joe was a true Statesman, he loved Alaska and he will be greatly missed.
    Gail Phillips
    Former Speaker of the House of Representatives

  • Joe Hayes was an effective legislator who held true to sound principles. More than that, he was a real Alaskan who contributed much to the betterment of Anchorage and the state. He was a real gentleman who had the respect of his colleagues on both sides of the political aisle. Today’s politicians would benefit from following his example of using tact and sound reasoning. I enjoyed knowing and learning from him.

  • I had the great privilege of working for Joe Hayes in 1981 when he ran for mayor and also when I was working on auto safety belt legislation as executive director and able to hire him to lobby the issue during his first year as a lobbyist. He was a true gentleman and friend. I learned a lot from Joe, and know that he will be missed by many….

  • Joe was a good friend and also a lover of Seldovia. Once I sucked him into a fight between Ramona Barnes and I. He was a very good sport, and handled it in a very diplomatic way, brokering a deal between us. It was well beyond his job description. Always a gentleman, a statesman, and a man of his word and honor. He was from an era in politics where, as Ramona would say, “your word was your bond.” Rest in Peace my friend.

    Senator (Ret) Scott Ogan

  • I worked directly for Speaker Hayes in 1982 and with him as staff to multiple legislators while he was Speaker of the House. Everything said about him above is true. I would add that he was masterful at holding a multi-party coalition together. When he had moved on to being a lobbyist and I to other pursuits, we dined multiple times together in Juneau. I enjoyed every minute of my time with him over the years. He made Alaska better.

  • Joe was a terrific Alaskan and a natural leader .. Had a large capacity to listen to everyone and then make a good decision on how to move forward….a lover of family and family values….he loved life and he loved the lord….I will miss him but all Alaska is a better place because he lived and worked with us….may his legacy always be a bright and positive memory for us all.

  • I had the honor of serving as Joe’s press secretary during the 13th Alaska Legislative Session. I quickly found that he was among the most decent and honest people I had ever met – then and now. His decency transcended political battles and he was respected by people in all parties. He simple was a good man and I’m fortunate to have known Joe and Diane.

  • My father, John Cowdery, was a great friend of Joe Hayes. They were born within 5 days of each other in Missouri. They served together in the Alaskan Legislative body for many years. Diane, his wife was a wonderful person whom we loved very much as well. Joe and Diane have a gravesite near my Dad’s grave at the Pioneer section of the Anchorage Cemetary in downtown Anchorage.
    Rest In Peace my dear friend, I’m glad you are with Diane now. Condolences to Joe’s family. ❤️❤️❤️
    Much love from Pamela and Juanita Cowdery

    • I met your dad during the 13th Legislature and thoroughly enjoyed his sense of humor! He was such fun to be around.

  • I went to work at Tryck Nyman and Hayes in 1969. Joe was an inspiration to me. He was very successful, but also down to earth. Everyone who knew Joe liked him. Alaska is a much better place because Joe was here.

  • Joe was one of the kindest people I have ever met. He and Diane always were gracious and giving. I will never forget him. I agree that Alaska is a better place because of him.

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