Alaskan Independence Party
Although the origins of the Alaskan Independence Party, or AIP, date back to the early 1970s, it wasn't until 1984 that it became an "officially recognized" party by the State of Alaska. Advocating an "Alaska First" policy focused around the land and resource development, the AIP has since emerged as one of the most significant state-level third parties operating in the late 20th century.
The formation and history of the AIP largely revolve around Joe Vogler, a plain-spoken gold miner, non-practicing attorney and charismatic icon of local politics who ran unsuccessfully for governor three times between 1974 and 1986. After getting 4,770 votes and 5% as an independent in the 1974 election -- a race decided by less than 300 votes -- Vogler formed Alaskans for Independence (AFI) in 1978 in order to promote the idea of an "Independent Nation of Alaska." As AFI was non-partisan and devoted to issue advocacy, Vogler later formed the AIP in order to support the more political and campaign-related aspects of the Alaskan independence movement and his candidacies for governor. His success in the 1986 campaign, in which he received 10,013 votes -- 5.6% of the total -- retained "official party" status for the AIP in Alaska, placing it alongside the Republicans and Democrats. Vogler served as Chairman of the Party from 1986 until his death in 1993.
The platform of the AIP is, as one would expect, centered on Alaskan issues. Although it is widely thought to be a secessionist movement, the Party makes great effort to emphasize that its primary goal is merely a vote on secession, something that Party advocates say Alaskans were denied during the founding of the state. A plebiscite was, in fact, held in Alaska at the state's inception in 1958, but AIP members argue that voting was corrupt and that residents were not given the proper choice between statehood, commonwealth status, or complete separation -- something they say has been granted to other U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico.
Ideologically, the AIP is considered to be a hybrid of conservative Republicanism, populism and libertarianism. Among the issues advocated by the party: the direct popular election of the state attorney general and all judges, the right to keep and bear arms, the privatization of government services, the right to home schooling by parents, and a constitutional amendment to ban property taxes. The AIP, following Vogler's infamous confrontations with officials from the National Park Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, remains steadfastly opposed to environmental regulations and actively promotes the private ownership and widespread development of Alaskan land. Sixty-six percent of the land in Alaska is owned by the federal government and it has fewer miles of highways than New Hampshire.
One of the key events in the AIP's history came seven weeks before election day in 1990, when the Party's gubernatorial nominee John Lindauer, a newspaper publisher and former Chancellor of the University of Alaska, and his running-mate Jerry Ward abruptly withdrew from the campaign -- purportedly after the illness of Lindauer's wife. Vogler and Republican State Senator Jack Coghill maneuvered to offer the nomination to Walter J. ("Wally") Hickel, a Republican who had served a half-term as governor from 1966 to 1968 before being named as Secretary of the Interior by President Nixon. Hickel accepted the AIP nomination and filed his candidacy papers a mere hour before the official deadline.
A wealthy developer known for his unconventional ideas, Hickel remained well known to Alaskan voters through his repeated attempts to recapture the statehouse. He lost in Republican primaries in 1974 and 1986, and gathered 33,555 votes (26%) in a 1978 write-in campaign, finishing second ahead of the Democratic nominee. Calling his defection to the AIP "a spontaneous revolution", Hickel named Coghill as his running mate, after Coghill had won the GOP primary for Lieutenant Governor. Coghill, along with other Alaskan conservatives at the time, was dissatisfied with the Republican gubernatorial nominee, Arliss Sturgulewski, a State Senator who was thought to be too liberal on abortion, school prayer and the death penalty. His last minute defection angered and divided the state GOP and reportedly came after he had promised Sturgelewski that he would not abandon the party.
In the election, Hickel joined Lowell Weicker of Connecticut that year as one of only six third party candidates in U.S. history to ever win a governor's race. The Hickel/Coghill ticket won 75,721 votes, taking 38.9% of the popular vote, and defeated the runner-up, Democrat Tony Knowles, by eight percentage points (30.9%). But in spite of the comfortable victory, Hickel and Coghill's term in office was rocky. Hickel's administration and grandiose proposals were often attacked as outlandish and wasteful, and drew the colorful label "Wally World" from journalists and locals. Within a year of assuming the governorship, Hickel became embroiled in a series of controversies -- among them an ethics charge that threatened to bring impeachment hearings and allegations that he was mentally unfit for office -- that provoked several recall movements. Some of the efforts were, in fact, instigated by dissident members of the AIP, who claimed that Hickel was not properly chosen as the nominee of the Party and had used it only as vehicle for his own ambition. Vogler, for his part, dismissed the dissidents as "soreheads" and, in the end, Hickel was able to complete his term.
In 1994, Coghill, then serving as the chairman of the AIP, became the Party's nominee for Governor. Along with running mate Margaret Ward, he earned 27,838 votes, 13% of the total. Coghill's presence in the race was thought to have undermined the Republican candidate much in the same way that Vogler had done in the election of 1986. In the following summer after the race, Coghill resigned the chairmanship after being charged with mismanaging the Party's finances. The leadership of the AIP was then handed to Mark Chryson, who remained as chairman through 1998.
The AIP claims that its support comes from a coalition of native Alaskans and white and black working people who primarily reside in rural Alaska, away from the state's population centers. An analysis of the 1990 election returns shows that Hickel's strongest support came in districts in the central part of the state, south and east of Fairbanks. The 1994 vote for Coghill shows similar patterns, along with some support extending into areas south of Anchorage in the Kenai district.
Figures released by the Alaska Division of Elections in July of 1998 show that the AIP has 17,639 registered voters, approximately 4% of the total. This represents more than a quadrupling since 1990, when the Party had just 4,086 members. The strongest areas of AIP registration are located in the rural northwestern and western regions, around such cities as Barrow, Bethel and Nome. In some of these remote districts, the AIP has as many as 10% of the registered voters.
In 1992, the AIP elected Carl Moses to the State House and estimates that it has won nearly a dozen non-partisan seats in borough and city councils.
There is little written about the Alaskan Independence Party beyond news reports and magazine articles. On Joe Vogler and the AIP: "Maverick Again Roiling Alaska Governor Race", New York Times, October 13, 1982; "Alaska Group Seeks New Vote on Independence or Statehood", Los Angeles Times, September 26, 1987. On Walter Hickel: The Seattle Times, August 5, 1993; "'A Great Country' -- Too Big for an Ordinary Governor -- Welcome to the 'Owner-State' of Alaska, Also Known as Wally's World", The Seattle Times, November 29, 1992; "Time Hasn't Tamed Wally Hickel", Business Week, April 13, 1992; "Hickel in a Pickle", The Economist, January 4, 1982; "Recall Pressure Mounts Against Alaska Governor", The Christian Science Monitor, December 18, 1991; "Alaska Governor Facing Challenge", The New York Times, December 13, 1991; "Party Pooper", Time, April 29, 1991; "Hickel Faces Challenge", The Washington Post, April 7, 1991.
Also, CBS' "60 Minutes" aired a segment called "Wally World" on May 10, 1992, which discussed Hickel's rocky tenure in office. A transcript is available through LEXIS/NEXIS.
The Party's website (www.akip.org) provides full copies of the party's platforms, by-laws and resolutions. The Alaska Division of Elections website (www.gov.state.ak.us/ltgov/elections/homepage.html) provides information on party qualifications and gives updated party registration figures.
Joe Vogler: A gold miner, merchant and developer by trade, and a lawyer by education, Joe Vogler was born in 1920 in Kansas and migrated to Alaska in 1942. Known as a "man of principles" who taunted National Park Service officials and gave speeches in -40F weather, Vogler became a mythical figure after a lifelong battle with the federal government to gain an independent Alaska. In 1974, he formed the non-partisan Alaskans for Independence (AFI) as an offshoot of the Placer Miners Association, and later founded the Alaskan Independence Party (AIP) which became the third officially recognized party (with the Republicans and Democrats) in the state in 1986 -- after Vogler's own gubernatorial campaign attracted 5.6% of the vote. Altogether, Vogler mounted three campaigns for governor in 1974, 1982 and 1986. He served as chairman of the AIP from its founding until 1993, when he mysteriously disappeared from his Fairbanks home. After a sixteen month search that captivated Alaskans and drew nationwide media attention, state law enforcement officials determined that Vogler had been murdered during a robbery attempt.
Walter J. ("Wally") Hickel: One of a handful of independent or minor party governors ever to win office, Walter J. Hickel has a mixed legacy in Alaskan politics. Born in 1919 in Kansas, Hickel came to Alaska in 1940 with "37 cents in his pocket" and became one of the state's richest men, making millions in real estate development. In 1966, Hickel became Alaska's second governor, by upsetting the two-term incumbent, Democrat William Egan. He left the Alaska statehouse in 1968 after being nominated by President Nixon as Secretary of the Interior, but was fired two years later after criticizing Nixon's policy in the Viet Nam war. Hickel then mounted a series of attempts to reclaim the statehouse, including a 1978 write-in campaign that got 33,555 votes and placed him second. In 1990, he left the Republican Party seven weeks before the election and ran for governor as a candidate of the Alaskan Independence Party (AIP), carrying the three-way race with 38.9% of the vote. An ardent pro-development "boomer" famous for his unorthodox policy proposals, Hickel was hampered by scandals and in-fighting throughout his administration -- what critics derisively called "Wally World". In April of 1994, Hickel returned to the Republican Party, fueling speculation that he would seek the GOP nomination for reelection. A few months later, however, he announced that he would not seek reelection.