Keith Miller, Alaska's pipeline governor, dies at 94 - Must Read Alaska
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Friday, November 27, 2020
HomeThe 907Keith Miller, Alaska’s pipeline governor, dies at 94

Keith Miller, Alaska’s pipeline governor, dies at 94

HE WAS THE THIRD GOVERNOR OF ALASKA

Keith Miller, Alaska’s third governor, has died in Anchorage at age 94, after suffering from pancreatic cancer.

Miller, a Republican, was secretary of state for Alaska under Gov. Walter J. Hickel. When President Richard Nixon appointed Hickel to be Secretary of the Interior, Miller became governor.

Miller was born March 1, 1925, in Seattle. As a young man, he moved to Alaska in 1946 and settled in Talkeetna, where he and his wife, who was an artist, homesteaded a cabin with a magnificent view of what was then called Mt. McKinley.

A TWIST OF POLITICAL FATE

Miller was sworn in as Alaska’s Secretary of State on Dec. 5, 1966. When Gov. Wally Hickel was selected by President Richard Nixon to be the secretary of the U.S. Interior, Miller was next in line and became governor. Alaska didn’t have a lieutenant governor position then.

Miller remained governor for two years, and filed for the office in 1970. This writer’s father was recruited to be Miller’s campaign press secretary, and the family fate was wrapped up in that campaign.

However, Bill Egan, who had served as governor at Statehood and was very popular across Alaska, won that election.

In 1974, Miller ran again, but lost in the primary to Jay Hammond, who was able to best Egan, 47.67 percent to 47.37 percent to become governor.

In the Miller era, oil wealth began to flow as Alaska completed leases in Prudhoe Bay, worth a sudden $900 million to the State coffers. At that time, the new money was seven times the State budget. Spending ballooned.

Keith Miller, visiting Sen. Ted Stevens in his Washington, D.C. office

Miller had been a tireless advocate for building the the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, traveling to Washington, D.C. to push for its approval, in spite of objections of federal judge George Hart, who had, in 1970, ordered the Interior Department to not issue a construction permit. Two weeks later, he issued an injunction against the Interior Department permitting and, for a while, stopped the project.

By 1970, as he sought to win re-election, Miller’s popularity was fading. Hickel, who was by then the Interior Secretary, delayed the permits for the pipeline, which made Miller look ineffective. Frustrated voters gave the win to Egan.

It wasn’t until the 1973 oil crisis did Congress pass the law that Miller had fought for:  The Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act.

Gov. Michael Dunleavy ordered the flags to fly at half staff through Sunday in honor of the late Gov. Miller.

“While Governor Miller’s time in office was brief, the “Prudhoe Bay Governor” as he became widely known, successfully managed the historic $900 million-dollar Prudhoe Bay lease sale that led to the construction of the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline and the modernization of Alaska’s economy,” said Gov. Dunleavy. “That’s a remarkable legacy and I ask all Alaskans to remember that significant contribution Governor Miller made to our great state.”

Do you have a memory of Gov. Keith Miller? Add it in the comment section below.

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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

  • I watched Governor Miller’s swearing in ceremony in what is now the Senate Finance Committee room. He proved to be a classy and thoughtful Governor who was blamed for the delays in beginning construction of the pipeline. Governor Miller was the FIRST leader to call for saving part of Alaska’s oil wealth; Governor Hammond simply refined Governor Miller’s idea. Sadly, Governor Hammond gets most of the credit.

    Governor Miller was an unpretentious man who would always take time to speak to people, including me. He had good ideas and was honest. After he was defeated for re-election in 1970, he was elected to the State Senate. Alaska could use many more like him.

  • Gov Miller was crooner and often sang a song before or after giving a talk. Bill C.

  • We had just gotten off the school bus sometime in the fall of 1970 and a group of us kids saw an AK State Trooper vehicle parked at one of the kid’s home. We walked over to see what was going on. The Trooper was in his car reading a book. Other cars were also parked in the driveway. We asked the Trooper what was going on. He told us that a very important man was in the house and would be coming out soon. We waited. In five minutes, out walked Governor Miller and he shook hands with all of us kids. He was attending a brief neighborhood coffee put on by the many mothers who lived in the area. It was our first introduction to politics.

  • Keith and Diana Miller were close friends with my parents before he ran for Lt. Gov. They visited our home many times when I was growing up. I recall him and my mother singing together at the piano bar at The Boatel in Fairbanks back in the ’65 or so. I was still a teenager, but my folks took me with them a couple of times. When he was in the governor’s mansion, I was sent by my office with 5 other co-workers to work for a couple of weeks in Juneau. Keith was out of town so Diana invited us all to come have dinner and a sleepover in the governor’s mansion. Diana hated being in that big house alone. It was quite an experience for us gals! Good people. Keith was a good, honest man. He is fondly remembered.

    • I am so glad you shared those memories Suzanne! I can just see Mom up there in heaven showing him the way to the Piano (or Harp) to sing. Blessings to his family for their loss.

  • FWIW, the various stories I’ve read today contain a slew of inaccuracies. I faintly remember talking with him a few times when I was a paperboy for the Anchorage Times when I first lived in Anchorage in 1978. I remember Bill and Lily Stolt a lot better from that gig because I picked up the papers at their house. Other than that, I remember talking with him when he came back up here from Oregon to do a book signing. Even though I took up an interest in politics at an early age, his political career was obviously before my time.

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