29 JUL 1974
Anchorage Chamber of Commerce
Candidates’ Luncheon Speech
My job as Mayor of the North Slope Borough takes me often out into the outlying villages of the North Slope, and into the homes of my constituents. I often find myself drinking coffee with men and women who have known me all my life. They tell me how they feel about their leaders in Barrow, Juneau, and Washington, D.C.
Our people are honest people, hard-working, and very democratic people who have lived lives closely connected to the land — to the whale and the caribou. Ours is a tradition of equality and self-reliance that made the United States a great nation. We have enjoyed democratic freedom for thousands of years. We enjoy this freedom and we will maintain it.
We can understand, I think, the anxiety that we feel toward recent events in Washington D.C. I thought today that I would share with you my view of the meaning of the recent political scandals to the people of rural Alaska. I was particularly disturbed to hear that the Lt. Governor of California was convicted of perjury in connection with the ITT bribery of President Nixon. It is apparent that International Telephone and Telegraph attempted in 1972 to bribe the President to win a favorable Justice Department decision about its purchase of the Hartford Insurance Company.
Viewed from Barrow, this kind of thing is fascinating and a little scary. We don’t see much of this sort of thing that far North, and we hope never to see it. It is clear to me that the entire Nixon tragedy is a story of a decent man corrupted by dishonest executives of socially irresponsible corporations, of which ITT has become a worldwide symbol.
Alaska has had to deal with socially irresponsible corporations in the past. The first white men in Alaska were employees of a Russian fur trading corporation who came to plunder our fur for the European fur market. They were men who felt little responsibility to those of us who lived here. The story of Alaska since then has been one of corporate exploitation of our natural resources, fish, gold, timber, and now, our oil.
I think that you can understand our anxiety when we feel that corporations begin to bribe public officials when they are strong enough to defend the people against the irresponsible actions and policies of the corporations. I don’t feel that there is much need for bribery here in Alaska. There has been so little strength and leadership in Juneau during the past twenty years that corporate exploitation has never been much endangered by the protective strength of state government.
I have had first hand experience with the political power of the organized oil industry, and this experience has caused me to conclude that Bill Egan is no match for it. Through the leadership of such people as Marty Farrell and Chancy Croft, the state legislature organized a fairly strong state oil policy. The oil industry reacted to this policy by intimidating Governor Egan who allowed oil company lawyers to subject his Attorney General, John Havelock, into negotiating away much of the state’s strength to regulate and control oil exploitation in Alaska.
Included in the negotiations was the North Slope Borough’s power to tax oil industrial property at Prudhoe Bay. I am told that the measure sent to the 1973 Special Session of the Legislature was drafted by an oil company lawyer and which would have entirely removed all Borough power to tax the oil industry. I think that Governor Egan’s attempt to destroy the North Slope Borough to appease the organized oil industry revealed him unfit to govern. By attacking the Borough’s power to tax, he attacked the financial foundation of our nation’s democratic strength and political stability.
America will survive Watergate and Richard Nixon because she is a nation of strong local governments ruled by hundreds of thousands of honest county supervisors, city councilmen and school board members. Those who tax themselves rule themselves, and property taxation is a strong American right of local government. And this fundamental right of local government would have been denied those of rural Alaska merely because the property to be taxed was oil company property.
Such insensitive social irresponsibility has seldom been encountered in America, but in Alaska it became even a part of Governor Egan’s legislative program. I had to employ some of Alaska’s most effective lawyers and lobbyists to beat down this attack which was only partially successful. By denying our North Slope Borough the right to tax oil company leases, the Legislature forced the Borough to raise its mill levy from two mills to 15 mills.
In the 1974 regular session of the Legislature, the oil companies attacked again, this time getting Andy Warwick to introduce legislation that would have limited our Borough’s ability to sell municipal bonds to raise money so badly needed for new schools and village water and sewer sanitation systems. This measure passed the House, but died in the Senate. Governor Egan didn’t lift a finger to help us.
We’ll hear more about the social irresponsibility of the oil industry in Alaska. The oil industry will not find Alaska as easy to manipulate and push around as Texas or Oklahoma. Thanks to the strongly democratic legislature in 1972, Alaska has a fairly detailed oil policy.
I worry more about the communications industry, of which ITT has become such an unhealthy symbol. Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about the social irresponsibility of ITT and the dishonesty of its executives here in Alaska. But, we do have to worry about the social irresponsibility of RCA, another multi-national communications conglomerate. Because of the complete lack of leadership on the part of Bill Egan, Keith Miller, and Walter Hickel, Alaska has no cohesive state communications policy, and this entire field has been left to the tender mercies of RCA.
RCA is in Alaska because of the military communications system that it inherited from ACS. RCA Alascom, Inc. is but a relatively unimportant operating division of RCA’s global communications business, a business operated for the single purpose of maximization of profit. RCA has no sense of responsibility to the people of Alaska, for the use of new communications technology for the improvement of health care and education in rural Alaska, the development of local government throughout the state, or the facilitation of economic development.
RCA’s communications satellite marketing plans are designed to exploit America’s large urban market, and Alaska is of only peripheral interest because of military contracts and the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline communications contract with Alyeska. If RCA’s narrow and shallow marketing plans for Alaska are allowed to succeed, all of Alaska will suffer.
RCA has submitted an application to the Federal Communications Commission for exclusive rights to Alaska’s communications Satellite market. This monopolistic control over the use of modern communications technology in Alaska would be a great tragedy for the people of rural Alaska. This impending tragedy is due to the remarkable lack of leadership and policy direction on the part of Bill Egan, Walter Hickel, and Keith Miller. Egan’s Office of Telecommunications, I am told, has been a total failure. I am told that this office is coordinating the new NASA ATS-F communications satellite experiments and will include much of the North Slope, but I have not been informed or kept advised, and I am told that this is fairly generally true of other leaders in the Interior. Satellite communications is once again something that is being done for the people of rural Alaska, rather than done by them or even with them.
Not all is gloomy. I take cheer from the fact that the Alaska Federation of Natives has resolved to provide leadership in the development of a village-serving satellite communications network to be aimed at village health and education programs and improved village telephone and television service. And our North Slope Borough is planning the development of Alaska’s first municipally-owned regional communications utility to begin with telephone service at Prudhoe Bay.
Were I Governor of Alaska, I would make communications a high priority management concern, just as I have as Mayor of the North Slope Borough. I would negotiate with the communications industry as a whole, rather than just with RCA. I would see what kind of deal we could get from Western Union’s Westar program, or from General Electric’s new communications satellite program. I would explore the economics of state ownership of its own communications satellite. I would investigate communications satellite program cooperation with Canada. There are many options, and I would explore them all with a view of realizing what Senator Willie Hensley called “The Industrialization of Knowledge” in Alaska.
What with the promise that socially responsible development of Alaska’s communications industry has for the people of Alaska, is it any wonder that I am alarmed at the behavior of ITT, and worry about RCA? Alaska can be a proving ground where America’s largest corporations can demonstrate social responsibility in full view of the rest of the underdeveloped world. The future of Alaska can be one of economic cooperation rather than one of continued economic exploitation. Perhaps Watergate is the watershed for new corporate morality and responsibility. It is clear that the multi-national corporations doing business in Alaska will rise only to the levels of expectation that our Governor and his administration set for them. But I don’t presently see a high level of expectancy on the part of the present administration.
It is clear to me that the Governor of the State of Alaska will have to exercise stronger leadership in behalf of the public interest if Alaska is not the experience new heights of gross economic exploitation.
I would like to provide that leadership.