A Servant's Heart  

By Vic Kohring, May 11, 2015

When I served in the Alaska Legislature, my focus went beyond passing legislation and securing funding for construction projects and social services. I also gave emphasis to helping individuals. In fact it became my highest priority. My office welcomed people who experienced problems with government agencies, whether it was qualifying for their Permanent Fund Dividend, a child custody issue or an eminent domain matter involving a road widening project.

Not too many legislators spend time with constituent concerns as they are focused on what they see as more important things or the "bigger picture." I decided early in my tenure that helping people would be my number one priority, since many needs exist in the community and because I was in a position to help. Besides, it was the moral - even Christian - thing to do. Once while listening to a Christian radio program, the host noted how the mark of a true leader is one who quietly takes time (without fanfare) to help those on the lowest rung of society. I tried my best to follow that principle.

It didn't take long for word to get around that my office was available and willing to help people. It spread like wildfire and we soon became known as the Ombudsman of the Valley. I was proud of our reputation as my staff and I worked hard to meet the community's needs. I once figured we helped over 3000 people during my dozen years in office. But it came with a price. There was a huge time commitment and we found our office the busiest in the building. At times it spun out of control where the phone rang off the hook as we became inundated with pleas for help. Our office resembled a doctor's office with hundreds of "constituent case" files.

I had to contend with resentment among my legislative colleagues who saw the high standard I set that they were unable - or unwilling - to meet. In other words, my efforts made them look bad, which caused strained relationships. But I was the one in my office consistently at ten or eleven at night with no other legislators around, putting in the time. So I didn't sweat it. I remember once taking a call from a House colleague while I was working late one winter evening who was attending a legislative "conference" (aka junket) in Hawaii at public expense. He even had the gall to brag about the weather and rib me that I should have joined him on the dole to take in the warm ocean breezes, instead of slaving away back home in cold, snowy Alaska.

Helping people was the most gratifying part of my job. Anytime we were successful resolving a problem on behalf of a constituent, it was another small victory we celebrated in our office. One of the most profound was getting a pedestrian underpass built at Montana Creek to improve safety for campers and sports fishermen. The issue was brought to my attention by a Valley mother whose daughter died in a horrible accident when her little girl was  struck by a car as she dashed across the Parks Highway. I still feel terrible to this day and the thought brings tears to my eyes, but I take solace knowing other children now have safe access across the highway. Perhaps more lives have been saved too.

  What resides in my heart comes from the values instilled by my parents.

I've had people tell me that I have a "Servant's Heart," meaning a desire to want to help others. I'm flattered by the reference, but what resides in my heart comes from the values instilled by my parents. I was brought up in a Christian home by a loving father and mother who showed by example that being generous and kind toward others and not selfish or self-serving is how one should conduct themselves.

The Bible also makes it clear that helping others is an important virtue. Galatians 5:13 says that we should "serve one another." Luke 10:27 reminds us that we should love thy neighbor as thyself and I Corinthians 10:24 says, "Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor." These are principles I've tried to live by.

I was grateful to receive many accolades for assisting constituents through the years which was reflected in seven straight landslide elections as well as being recognized as the Best Elected Official in The Frontiersman's annual Best of the Valley survey for several years running. But it was my staff that deserves most of the credit as they did the nitty gritty legwork - the research, phone calling, paperwork and everything necessary to get the job done which made me look good. Without a quality staff, it's impossible for a legislator to succeed. So I thank them. 

The prosecutors assigned to Ted Stevens and me could learn a lot about what it means to be a true public servant. Instead of doggedly pursuing a conviction at any cost, even if it means cheating by hiding evidence and then covering it up, their priority should have been getting to the truth and determining whether a defendant may indeed be innocent.

Prosecutors bear special responsibilities because they wield much power and therefore must uphold the law, adhere to the highest ethical standards and seek justice as the integrity of our criminal justice system relies heavily on them. But it also requires an inherent desire to want to do good, which in most cases is something you can't learn because it's a quality ingrained deep in your heart and soul.

I wish that people remember me as one who tried his best to make the lives of others better and tried to be responsive to the needs of his community. I hope that's my legacy if there's ever to be one. I believe it was my calling, the reason God placed me in office.