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Perot Can Look to Alaska’s Gov. Hickel for Precedent, But Probably Won’t

July 3, 1992

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) _ A wealthy businessman enters the race late at the urging of his supporters. Running as an independent, he pays for his campaign with his own riches, casting himself as an political outsider.

His Republican and Democratic rivals dismiss him until it’s too late and his momentum too strong. He wins by a comfortable margin in a three-way race.

Meet Alaska Gov. Walter J. Hickel, back in office as a result of his Ross Perot-style campaign in 1990.

″They both reflect a popular enthusiasm, a popular consensus, as opposed to a consensus of one of the two major parties. People no longer feel that they must vote according to party lines,″ said Tamara Hardy of Seattle, Northwest regional coordinator for the Perot campaign.

But don’t expect Perot’s independent campaign to cite Hickel as its prototype. Hickel the governor has been far less successful so far than Hickel the businessman.

″Wally’s not the most popular person in Alaska right now,″ Anchorage pollster David Dittman said.

Hickel suggested some of the criticism of his performance comes from those who expected too much change, and warned that a President Perot may befall a similar fate.

″A lot of outsiders will run against government. Reagan did that. And they’ll talk about making it very efficient. But government isn’t efficient by the way it’s structured. Yet it’s necessary.″

Hickel entered the gubernatorial campaign in September 1990, less than two months before the general election. Like Perot, he avoided the messy and expensive primary season. Hickel deserted the Republican Party, took its lieutenant governor nominee and joined the Alaskan Independence Party.

The conservative party, which advocates Alaska’s secession from the union, served as a last-minute vehicle for Hickel to get on the ballot. Though still officially an Alaskan Independent, he refers to himself today as an ″independent Republican.″ He supports the re-election of President Bush.

The Republican and Democratic gubernatorial nominees at first dismissed Hickel. But Alaskans tired of the months of political sniping between the two major-party candidate saw Hickel as a breath of fresh air.

Like Perot, Hickel sold himself as a prophet of change, a common-speaking outsider who would apply his business sense to cutting a bloated bureaucracy. He won with 39 percent of the vote.

″Some of the same attractions are clearly there, as far as the outsider and people dissatisfied with the other candidates,″ Dittman said.

Hickel, 72, said he, too, sees some similarities with the Texan.

″He’s an energetic guy,″ Hickel said. ″He’s definitely a symbol out there for change. That’s the big drawing card.

″The people are disenchanted .... They don’t think they’re getting their voice heard. It has nothing to do with Democrat or Republican - it’s just sort of an anti-political kind of thing.″

But there also are major differences between Hickel and Perot.

Hickel, unlike Perot, had previous government experience. In 1967-68 he served half a term as governor before President Nixon appointed him interior secretary.

Hickel’s decision to run also came at the last possible minute, with far less public deliberation than Perot has shown.

″Hickel’s really was a last-minute decision,″ Dittman said. ″Perot’s is a more calculated maneuver.″

The press did not begin to scrutinize Hickel’s positions and statements until the final two weeks of the campaign when polls showed him surging into the lead. Perot’s record has begun to come under intense scrutiny, and there are still more than four months to go before election day.

Billionaire Perot and millionaire Hickel claim rags-to-riches success stories.

″Business is very political,″ said Thomas Senter, the Perot campaign coordinator in Anchorage. ″To be a successful businessperson you need to negotiate, you need to compromise.″

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