West Anchorage High School
I slept through most of high school. I failed Physical Education (PE) and most of my other classes, mostly for not showing up. Classes started much too early, the sun did not come up until 10 a.m. and was down again by 3 p.m. for most of the school year. Waking up in darkness and going home in darkness is how a person lives in Anchorage, Alaska. Like most days I was asleep at my desk, when two people walked into the classroom and changed my life.
Mary McKinnon and Bill Weimer had been invited by my senior civics teacher to speak to the class about, “taking over the Alaska State Democratic Party”. It sounded like fun. They called themselves Ad Hoc Democrats. I was to graduate in the spring of 1972, but instead of going to my graduation ceremony, my sister Becky and I drove to Fairbanks as delegates to the Alaska Democratic Convention. My Mother still has doubts I ever graduated from high school.
McKinnon and Weimer told us the fundamentals of the McGovern party rule changes that had been adopted by the National Democratic Committee (DNC), following the disastrous 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago that had erupted in riots and arrests; and the year Richard Nixon was elected President. The Party rule changes were intended to open Party participation from the boys in the back room, to women and people of color, with a few “Superdelegates” thrown in for protection of the status-quo.
Following their appearance in my West Anchorage High School class, I began attending the weekly strategy meetings of the Ad Hoc Democrats. Their plan was simple. Go to precinct meetings, and get elected as delegates. On a snowy night, 7 of us showed up for our neighborhood precinct meeting at Mike and Bee Rose’s Turnagain home on the Bluff for coffee, cookies and precinct party politics. We outnumbered the regulars 7 to 5, and elected ourselves delegates. It was that easy.
As elected delegates we showed up at the district convention, where the Ad Hoc newbies were a new faction and voting block. We elected ourselves as delegates to the State Convention. By this time, however, the old party guard had realized what was happening. Our delegates were challenged at the state convention. It was there I learned the importance of a credential committee and Roberts Rules of Order. At the State Convention we had a full-blown floor fight over the credentials and seating of delegates and adopting a progressive party platform. The party regulars were mostly labor union bosses and rank-and-file members, especially Jesse Carr and his Teamsters. This is one of the true ironies of my life. Years later I would be one of those rank-and-file union members, and/or staff who would participate at every level of Democratic Party politics, mostly knocking on doors and getting out the vote (GOTV). I have worked elections in Alaska, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. But my introduction to the Democratic Party, was because of Ad Hoc.
Alaska (and other states) need a new Ad Hoc movement. It is high time for a bunch of young insurgents to take over the party. Going into classrooms and registering voters as Democrats and electing themselves as delegates, or better yet candidates. Because of Ad Hoc, and after the 1972 Alaska Democratic Convention a whole new generation of candidates were elected to the state legislature, city councils and even as Governor. I remember a very attractive couple attending the weekly Ad Hoc strategy meetings. Susan often asked questions, and make very clear smart suggestions. Her husband was very tall and handsome. Tony would later become the mayor of Anchorage and Governor. Susan would serve on the Alaska Utilities Commission.
Alaska was a progressive state for 10 years after Ad Hoc Democrats took over the party. There was a personal income tax, marijuana was legal for personal consumption, and the state was not facing a self-inflicted budget deficit because the entire population was on ‘the dole’ (PFD) – dependent on the high price of oil. It is perverse that Alaskans are happiest when everyone else is paying over $4 a gallon for gasoline. Today, Alaskans complain about high taxes. What a joke! Alaska receives more in federal spending then they pay in taxes. Alaskans pay NO personal income tax, no statewide sales taxes, and Anchorage the largest city with half the state’s population has NO sales tax. Alaska ranks 33 of the 50 states in property tax rates, the average American household spends $2,197 on annual property taxes for their homes, Alaskans on average pay $2,901. Alaska also has 17% veteran population and per-capita one of the highest government payrolls of local, state and federal employees. I love the fact when public employees don’t make the connection their salaries are paid by taxes! Trust me on this I worked for public sector labor unions.
Considering what they aren’t paying elsewhere, they shouldn’t complain. But they do.
Alaska eliminated the personal income tax in 1980 against the wishes of Republican Governor, Jay Hammond, the father of the Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD). I am proud to say I voted for Jay when he ran for re-election. The state was swimming in oil riches, and Hammond knew the politicians would spend every dime on stupid projects if he didn’t cut-off the trough. Hammond thought if Alaskans all shared equally in the oil revenues, they would protect the Permanent Fund and practice fiscal responsibility. HA! He didn’t see the damage the PFD would cause to the Alaska psyche. Alaskans all DESERVE their PFD. They would rather schools, road and bridges fall into a huge hole of disrepair and underfunding, then pay taxes for services. Alaska is TRUMP country and Red as Red can be. Total voter registration is 567,403, Republicans 140,060, Dems 74,964. You do the math.
I love my Alaskan friends, but they are delusional Democrats. Maybe they have been smoking too much Pot.
Mary McKinnon was active in party politics until her death. Her son Joe was elected to the Alaska Legislature as one of the Ad Hoc Dems. Bill Weimer ran for the legislature three times, but never was elected. Thankfully. Weimer became a lobbyist and went over to the dark side, working for the private prison industry, and other shady causes. He was indicted on illegal campaign contributions, jailed and I heard also had child molestation charges against him in Florida. He was a creep then and later. But Mary was the true believer, and the architect of Ad Hoc.
I left Alaska in 1995, because of the darkness: both lack of light and the state becoming so conservative. Alaska’s GOP was taken over by the religious rightwing-nuts 20+ years ago. Years later it produced Sarah Palin – enough said. Most of my Alaskan friends no longer live there, and those that do visit the Lower-48 often, so I will never have to step foot in that crazy state again.
I wish there could be a new Ad Hoc in Alaska and elsewhere. It was a great run while it lasted, and introduced a lot of people to politics, I for one.