Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Last Territorial Governor Passes

Alaska's last Territorial Governor, Mike Stepovich, was only Governor a couple of years, but he was in the Governor's mansion when it counted, during the statehood fight. He was appointed by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1957 and Eisenhower signed the Statehood legislation the next year. Stepovich lobbied hard in the year preceding that signing. Statehood came in 1959 and that was the end of the Lower 48 owned and operated fish traps that prevented the growth of the Alaska salmon fishing fleet of locally owned vesssels. It's always a big fight to keep big business interests from degrading local standards of living..

How is Alaska doing now in that fight? Well, not so well, but I won't get into that here. This is about the passing of a great man, a man that many Alaskans have forgotten about and maybe didn't even know about. The point is, single men of conscience can make a difference. And of course nobody can assume that someone will come along to be their white knight. I always say to act like nobody else is going to do it. Mike Stepovich was a model for modern social reformers. Now reform means the same as it always has, to keep the rich from taking everything from the rest of us, and that seems ever more obvious. This has been going on in this country since the 1700s, becoming obvious after 'The Great Debate' between Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine, which kicked off progressives vs statists.

Mike Stepovich passed away in San Diego on Friday, Jan. 14, 2014 with all thirteen of his children present. He was 94 years old. In Oregon they call it 'crossing the bar,' going out over the river bar for the last time. Mike bought a home in the Rogue Valley of Oregon in 1977 and lived here since then, but he still practiced law in Alaska, traveling up there frequently. He loved the climate here according to his daughter Andrea Spepovich of Fairbanks. He was a founding board member of a pregnant teen center here and actively supported the food pantries in Medford and St. Mary's School. He was an active member of the country club here and played in numerous golf tournaments at the club golf course. Of course I feel disappointed that I didn't make his acquaintance living in the same place.

People here remember him as kindly and a real gentleman. Is it possible to get politicians cut from the same cloth anymore? And of course dedicated to the well-being of his constituents. He worked hard for Alaskans and was successful in his endeavors. Alaska coastal communities especially should lift a toast to his life and times. I know I will. The big cannery in Petersburg, that my Great-grandfather was production manager for briefly, passed into local hands after statehood. The outlawing of fish traps upon statehood forced many 'outside interests' to lose interest. Alaskans were plenty interested in self-determination though, and there was no shortage of expertise and determination to make it work for themselves. Funny how given an opportunity, people will step up. Mike Stepovich sure did.

There is a picture in the back of a book on pioneers of Petersburg that my folks spearheaded that I'm in. It's of the ribbon cutting ceremony on main-street Petersburg. My brothers Arnold and Steve and a friend, Mark Sandvik, had been trying to start a batch of salmonberry wine when we heard about the ribbon cutting. Seems we walked right into history standing in the picture of the ribbon cutting. I also was at the ribbon cutting ceremony when Petersburg Fisheries Inc. started up after purchasing the old Pacific American Fisheries plant. As a side note, I figured out later that a loan officer I worked with at the Alaska Commercial Fishing and Agriculture Bank in the '80s, had been there too. Ivar Amundsen was a loan officer for the Small Business Administration then and traveled to Petersburg for the ceremony and appreciation for his help.

I don't know how I bump into ribbon cutting ceremonies so much, but I was at the one that ceremoniously opened the new big water-line into town, for the sake of keeping the canneries running seamlessly for one thing. I guess I had some hand in promoting that and entertained the grant guy from the Economic Development Administration, Bernie Richert.

I think the main point here is to give Alaskans the opportunity and they will build up their communities accordingly. There are lots of ways to do that still, such as giving Alaskan small boat fishermen a crack at the Pacific ocean perch resource that a relatively few trawlers, are hogging for themselves. I think a new form of conversation needs to be implemented, like a Wikepedia type format, to get these issues out of the hands of corporate interests. Anyone want to step up?