When not in public office or taking his ideas and philosophy abroad, Governor Hickel co-founded three organizations that continue to inspire and influence Alaskan quality of life and public policy:  Commonwealth North, the Institute of the North, and Backbone.

Commonwealth North:
In 1979, Governors Bill Egan and Wally Hickel, former political adversaries, along with Anchorage businessman Max Hodel joined forces to create Commonwealth North, Alaska’s premier public policy forum. For over 30 years, Commonwealth North has served as a non-partisan meeting place where Alaska leaders of business and labor, environment and industry can hear from prominent national speakers and discuss how to improve Alaska’s economy and options for the future. Its goal is “to address a multitude of public misconceptions about how our system functions and to inject enlightened vitality into the world of commerce and public policy.”  

The founding Board of Directors of Commonwealth North, June 1979
The founding Board of Directors of Commonwealth North, June 1979.

Institute of the North:
When he completed his second term as Governor in 1994, Hickel created a “think-and-do-tank” called the Institute of the North (ION) to research and develop ideas to assist and enhance the northern regions.  He named the Deputy Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Mead Treadwell, as the first Managing Director.

Governor Hickel, 90, emphasizes the uniqeness and importance of Alaska's "Owner State" to ION Executive Director Nils Andreassen.

The Institute has become a respected source of creative studies and gatherings of concerned Alaskans including the annual Alaska Dialogue in September that attracts over 100 Alaskans from throughout the state to brainstorm solutions to sensitive and challenging issues.  Nils Andreassen, the Executive Director, has also initiated a series of Emerging Leader Dialogues focused on future leaders for Alaska’s Owner State.

The annual ION Dialogue attracts Alaskans of all backgrounds to brainstorm solutions for Alaska's challenges.



A Backbone meeting in Governor Hickel's conference room a the Hotel Captain Cook (2005)

The following are edited excerpts from pages 243-244 of Crisis in the Commons: The Alaska Solution

Be on guard against monopoly!

In the early part of the 20th century, the Alaska Syndicate, owned by the Guggenheim family, J.P. Morgan, and other titans of industry, exploited Alaska's copper at Kennecott and, on departure, sold for scrap the railroad they had built . The Alaska Commercial Company monopolized our fur trade.  Seattle fishing interests, using their influence on the federal government, controlled our shipping and plundered our salmon streams with fish traps.

More recently, we faced an equally dangerous monopoly in the combination of the major oil producers at the North Slope.  In April 1999, BP/Amoco announced its intentions to buy Atlantic Richfield, including all of its Alaska holdings.  If this deal had been consummated, BP/ Amoco would have controlled more than 70% of Alaska’s North Slope oil and natural gas and more than 70% of the trans-Alaska pipeline.  One company would have determined what happened on the North Slope using the resources owned by all Alaskans as but one pawn in their global corporate game.

But government power, especially when it is combined with citizen power can checkmate inordinate corporate power.  Monopoly is not inevitable if the leaders and citizens have the courage to confront it.  Unfortunately, Alaska’s governor actively supported BP/Amoco and put the weight of the state government behind the merger.  This outraged the citizens – Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and Greens – including many long-time Alaskans.  We formed a group called Backbone and rallied the public and the media.  David Gottstein, from a prominent Alaska family, co-chaired the effort.

At our own expense, we flew to Washington D.C. to explain the Owner State to the Federal Trade Commission.  The FTC agreed with our concerns and filed a $1.2 billion antitrust lawsuit, the largest in its history.  To avoid the court battle, BP/Amoco divested itself of ARCO Alaska, selling it to Phillips Petroleum. Competition was preserved in our oil fields, the lifeline of our economy.  This brush with monopoly in modern times stands as a clear lesson to Alaskans of today and tomorrow.

Note:  Since 1999, Backbone has monitored Alaska oil and gas policy issues.

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