"I don't give a damn about her." -Wally Hickel 1919-2010
Half-Governor Sarah Palin crashed twice-Governor Wally Hickel's funeral today. Trust me, if Sarah Palin was paying her respects, the check would bounce. The guest list was impressive with many Alaskan dignitaries. And then there was Palin with her daughter Piper, the 8-year-old human shield, in tow.
I met Wally and Ermalee Hickel when I was 21-years-old and living in Halibut Cove. I didn't always love his politics, but I loved his spirit. He made me a better Alaskan. Sadly, he couldn't do the same for Sarah.
When Palin was elected governor, I shrugged. Wally liked her. We had proof he was bigger than his party.
Once protested by environmentalists after appointed as Nixon's Secretary of the Interior, Hickel imposed stringent cleanup regulations on oil companies and water polluters after an oil rig explosion off the coast of Santa Barbara, in 1969. He also fought to save the Everglades from being destroyed by developers and advocated for making Earth Day a national holiday. He was an unwitting war protester.
Progressives felt comfortable with his endorsement of the unknown candidate.
He was fired as the Secretary of the Interior by President Nixon when he went public about his opposition to military action in Cambodia and the Kent State Massacre. When pressured to quit, he told 60 Minutes he would only go away "with an arrow in my heart, not a bullet in my back." All Palin needed to quit was a check.
Always an advocate for Alaskan sovereignty, Hickel never stopped pushing for an all-Alaska gasline. He was convinced Palin had the guts to get it done. She didn't. No one had buyer's remorse more than Wally Hickel. He said so.
My friend, Geoffrey Dunn asked Hickel last year for a formal, on-the-record response to Palin's stunted career as governor. Dunn wrote, "He took a deep pause. "She fell in love with the national spotlight and lost her ethical compass," he said thoughtfully. "That was a sad day for Alaska and America."
After the 2008 election, Hickel's Anchorage Daily News article eviscerated Palin's race baiting on the campaign trail.
"Palin became the spokesperson for the divisive voices in American politics. She dismissed the greatness of our immigrant heritage, indeed of today's Alaska, where in Anchorage alone nearly 100 languages are spoken in the homes of the children in our public schools."
A recent endorsement of Arizona's governor Jan Brewer's "Papers, Baby, Papers" policy shows Palin's true leanings to people of any color darker than white. Hickel would have never said "We're all Arizonans". Wally Hickel was part of the human race. He spent the last few years trying to help the government of Sudan see their natural resource ownership potential to overcome poverty. His philosophy of "owner state" would be labeled "socialism" by those who Sarah pals around with. He was very proud of the work his son, Jack, and grandson, Justin, were doing to help the people there. He knew the real "death panels" were poverty-no matter the geography; no matter the ethnicity.
Alaska is mourning a true statesman with the death of Wally Hickel. Our loss isn't bi-partisan, it's non-partisan. It's Alaskan. Just like he was. Not since the death of Governor Jay Hammond have we come together to bow our collective heads and be thankful for leadership. We didn't have to agree with policy to agree we live in an amazing place.
Today, Sarah Palin darkened the door of a funeral. Wally didn't give a damn about her and most Alaskans don't either. She represents herself, and she does that badly.
The Anchorage Daily News reported Palin's comments, "Our state has lost a great leader. What he has left behind will have changed all of our lives, and he spoke so often about energy and security, and energy and prosperity and the nation, and we must not forget that."
You cherry-picked Hickel's positions to support your own. You shill for BP and beg legitimacy from a man you only considered a rung on your ladder to wealth. He wasn't afraid of oil companies-he forced them to pay $1.8 billion in back taxes. Wally Hickel summoned execs and leveraged Exxon for $1 billion in damages to buy land and fund SCIENCE in an effort to recover Prince William Sound. You chant "Drill, Baby, Drill" and embarrass us with your lack of depth and understanding to the true loss Alaskans faced from the Exxon Valdez spill.
Wally Hickel put more restrictions on oil exploration then Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will ever consider. Hickel was an environmentalist. He helped launch Earth Day in 1970. He put seven whales on the Endangered Species List. He ceased aerial wolf hunting because HE LISTENED TO ALASKANS! He believed in workers' rights-his Hotel Captain Cook is a UNION HOTEL! His children were not props. He loved people of all colors, and believed humans were exceptional.
Today, the legacy of Wally Hickel was felt across the state. His funeral was broadcast live into cabins still waiting for spring. This is a familiar homage for generations of Alaskans who loved true leaders like Bill Egan and Jay Hammond. The "servant's heart" truly beat in the chests of those men. The Last Frontier was honored by true First Ladies Bella Hammond and Ermalee Hickel. Their class, heart, and honor are a country mile from the hyperbole-filled bumpit of Sarah Palin.
Palin's legacy is that of a sell-out and quitter. Today is as close as she will ever be to such a celebration of life.
Sarah loves Sarah.
Wally loved people.
The People loved Wally.