Governor William A. Egan and NEA staffer Dianne Anderson

(later O'Connell) at New YorkDemocratic Convention, 1976

What Happens in Juneau, Stays in Juneau

            It was unseasonably cold and blustery even for Juneau in December.  But very little was going to stop the revelers celebrating the third inauguration of William A. Egan as governor of the great state of Alaska.  The frontier capital was packed.  Hotel space had been sold out since the November election.  The state’s ferry system was called into service to provide sleeping accommodations for out-of-town visitors.  I had a berth on the Malaspina.  The boat had been tied up at the downtown dock when I boarded her that afternoon.

            Now it was the next day, sometime after midnight.  The winds howled off the Gastineau Channel and down the narrow streets.  Taxicabs crawled from saloon to saloon, picking up worn-out celebrants and delivering them to their homes away from home.  But my “home” was gone.  The Malaspina and all my meager belongings for this, my first visit to the Alaska State Capitol, had blown away.

            Well, that’s not exactly true.  The weather had come up fiercely, however, and the ferry had been moved out toAuke Bay for its own safety.  Patrons of the temporary “hotel” had to find their way twelve miles out the road to secure their bags and sleeping place.

            I was twenty-five years old and had just three months earlier been hired by the Alaska Education Association as something called a communications specialist. The year was 1970.  Governor Egan had served two terms asAlaska’s first head of state from 1959 to 1966, and he was now to embark on his third term.  Democrats were ecstatic.  The leadership and staff of the state’s teachers’ association were also quite pleased and had scheduled an executive board meeting to coincide with the above mentioned festivities.

            Juneau was very much a frontier town, perched on the side of a mountain on the other side of which layCanada.  Headquarters for most activities was the bar at the Baranof Hotel, just a block up from the AEA office onFranklin Street.   Down the road a block or two was the Red Dog Saloon and Dreamland, a popular bar and dance floor.  Across the street were the Pioneer Bar and the Viking Bar. There were several other bars in town, of course, and Mike’s Place over the bridge inDouglas. 

            Teachers and others came to Juneau to drink deep, eat heavy, dance hard, carouse, and lobby – I believe pretty much in that order.  They did each with the skill and determination that they had focused on the education of young people through the remainder of the year.  A trip toJuneau was Teachers’ Night Out. 

            I was not a teacher, a short-coming that was often brought to my attention.  But I was a journalist and a person interested in public education.  Hence, I had been hired as a public relations staff person – producing press releases and newsletters, and helping publicize various events and goals of the association.  Legislative activities were always a top priority. So send me to Juneau they did, at least once a year for fourteen years.

            Dancing to “Proud Mary” at the Baranof reverberates in my brain, but the importance of the era does also.  These were the years of big money and big projects:  the $900 Million Oil Lease Sale (September 1969), the Native Land Claims Settlement Act (December 18, 1971), and the loss of Alaska’s Congressman Nick Begich in a Cessna 310 somewhere over Prince William Sound (October 16, 1972).

            I considered myself in the thick of things. I had become friends with Charlie (Etok) Edwardsen for a short while.  Charlie, an Inupiat Eskimo from Barrow, had been one of the movers and shakers responsible for the Native Land Claims Settlement Act.  As a result of the oil lease sale, my former husband, Bob Anderson, went to work building the Alaska Pipeline.  And during the days following the loss of Nick Begich, I sat in the Auke Bay Chapel with AEA Executive Secretary and lobbyist Robert Van Houte, as he cried and prayed for his friend.

            Memories flash like neon signs in the night when I think of  Juneau. “Illusions Here,”  “Excitement This Way,” “Seedy Side Road,” but always, “Lessons in Politics: Through This Looking Glass.”

            The teachers of the Alaska Education Association knew how to play hard, on many levels. Van Houte kept a score card in one hand and held a leash on his people in the other, or at least he tried. When we awoke in the morning, behold: the bill passed out of committee, or made its way through the Senate, or received the signature of the governor.  Dance and clamor as they did, these teachers never lost sight of their goal.  It was a good schooling for a youngster like me, and an education for which I will always be grateful.

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