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Katz resigns after 32 years as Alaska's top lobbyist in D.C.

Sean Cockerham
Former Sen. Ted Stevens, former Gov. Sarah Palin, Sherry Katz, John Katz, former Gov. Wally Hickel and Judge John Sedwick gathered Aug. 21, 2008.

John Katz is resigning after directing the Alaska governor's office in Washington, D.C., for almost three decades, citing "the polarization and deterioration of the public policy process at the federal level."

Political appointees like Katz are usually shown the curb when a new governor is elected. But Katz kept his job from one administration to the next, be it Republican, Democratic or Wally Hickel's fling with the Alaskan Independence Party.

He worked for eight Alaska governors and has been a player in the federal issues that shaped the state. Katz wrote in his resignation letter Monday that his 68th birthday in June caused him to reflect.

He wrote that he'd like more flexibility than his current responsibilities allow, giving him more time to spend in Alaska and with his family.

"Professionally, I have become increasingly discouraged by the polarization and deterioration of the public policy process at the federal level. It's the worst I've seen during my 43 year career. In my view, there are several reasons for the current state of affairs, but this letter is not the place to discuss them," Katz wrote in the letter. "Suffice it to say that my hope is that our national leaders will conclude that they can develop pragmatic and workable solutions without compromising their basic values and that it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable."

Katz declined a request for an interview on Tuesday.

"John started here back when senators actually got along and tried to compromise. It's extremely frustrating and I think that is part of it," said Larry Persily, the Washington, D.C-based federal coordinator for the Alaska natural gas pipeline project.

Persily worked for Katz in Alaska's Washington, D.C., office during 2007 and 2008. "John's mind is this amazing multigigabyte hard drive with amazing recall of history and names and dates and laws and background. It's invaluable," Persily said.

"The rest of us have Google, we have to go find it," Persily said. "John has got it in his head."

Katz's resignation is effective at the end of the year. Gov. Sean Parnell praised him Tuesday and Parnell's spokeswoman, Sharon Leighow, said "absolutely he would be welcome to stay" if he wanted.

Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark Begich said in a Tuesday statement that he "appreciated his wise counsel in my public career and will miss his calm demeanor and encyclopedic knowledge of Alaska."

Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski agreed and said "today's announcement comes as a shock to the system of Alaska." Alaska Republican Congressman Don Young said "John's decision to resign is a huge loss for the state of Alaska."

"John never let ideology get in the way of his mission, which was to serve the state of Alaska," Young said in a written statement.

Former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens once said that governors have kept Katz on the job because he is plainly brilliant.

"He's as near a genius as I've seen," Stevens said in 2002. "He's very capable. He's been just a consummate adviser to a whole series of people, different personalities, and he has understood his role completely.''

Katz, whose eyesight long ago deteriorated to the point that he can't read, has relied on his exceptional memory. Katz would take the time to have all the details read to him, former staffers have said, and his "steel-trap" mind would take over.

Katz wrote in his resignation letter that his biggest disappointment from his time in D.C. might be the lack of success in opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development.

"However, there have been compensations, including my staff work on the Native Claims Settlement Act and ANILCA, my tenure as Commissioner of Natural Resources, and my service in the Governor's Washington D.C. office for almost 30 years," he wrote.

Katz worked on staffs of Alaska Rep. Howard W. Pollock and Stevens from 1969 to 1971

He spent 1972 to 1979 as counsel to the Federal/State Land Use Planning Commission for Alaska, established in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act to consider land and Native issues.

Katz became special counsel to Gov. Jay Hammond in 1979, working on the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

He was commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources from 1981 to 1983 before becoming director of state/federal relations and special counsel to the governor in D.C., the position he's held since.

Reach Sean Cockerham at scockerham@adn.com or 257-4344.


By SEAN COCKERHAM
Anchorage Daily News