Longtime rural Alaska legislator and lobbyist Albert "Al" Adams, 70, died peacefully at his home in Anchorage on Monday after a battle with cancer, according to a statement from his family.
Adams was a powerful advocate for rural Alaska, in both his public and private roles within state government.
Adams was born June 18, 1942 in Kotzebue, a hub community for Northwest Alaska. He spent decades in the halls of government in Juneau, serving in the state House of Representatives starting in 1981 and the Senate from 1989-2000.
After his time in the Legislature, he became one of Alaska’s top lobbyists, representing a broad range of Alaska Native interests, from NANA Regional Corp., to the North Slope Borough and the City of Kotzebue.
Adams was known as a deft politician, who in the 1990s chaired the powerful Senate Finance Committee in a Democratic-majority Senate. Known as “Mr. Finance,” according to sister Sarah Scanlan, he had a passion for making sure there was “equity across the board” when it came to providing resources to Alaskans.
State Sen. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, called Adams a champion of rural Alaska who made sure all rural Alaskans -- not just his own district's constituents -- were represented in the Legislature. Adams focused on numerous issues affecting regions across the state -- like health care, education and sanitation -- and was instrumental in creating the Power Cost Equalization program. Kookesh called the project, which offers state financial assistance with energy costs in rural Alaska, Adams' “baby.”
Former state Sen. Georgianna Lincoln, orginally from Rampart and later Fairbanks, said Adams was good at summarizing information in a way that other legislators could digest. She cited the Power Cost Equalization program as an example of that.
“He was able to break that down so quickly, and analyze that and get us to understand what was really going on,” she said.
Lincoln also said Adams was a great listener, but discerning when it came listening to lobbyists. She said he was great at weeding out lobbyists and demanded that they provide factual information that would help Alaskans. That knack would become vital when he became a lobbyist himself.
“I don't think he took all people who wanted him as a lobbyist,” Lincoln said. “He could have had a huge number of organizations to work for, but it was a thing he choose carefully. He had to believe in them.”
Julie Kitka, Alaska Federation of Natives president, wasn't sure if Adams had ever worked as a lobbyist for the organization. But his knowledge and ability to work with so many different people was an asset to AFN. “He solved problems, put together partnerships and loved the Native people so much,” she said.
Adams was an inspiration to rural legislators, and paved the way for Alaska Natives who wanted to serve in the Legislature, said Kookesh. “We saw him there, and we saw that we could do this, too,” Kookesh said.
Adams was not without some controversy, though. In 1989 he paid a $10,000 civil fine for not disclosing his financial dealings with a contractor and the North Slope Borough, according to reports from the Anchorage Daily News. Adams denied a series of other allegations, charges that the Alaska Public Offices Commission eventually dropped.
Adams had been battling pancreatic cancer. Funeral services are set for 11 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 15, at Changepoint Church in Anchorage and in Kotzebue at the Kotzebue High School Gym 1 p.m. Friday, Aug. 17. Read Adams' official obituary.
Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)alaskadispatch.com