A Humble Beginning 

B y Vic Kohring, January 10, 2016

My start in politics was not my surprise election to the Alaska Legislature in 1994 as a young man in his mid-30's. It actually can be traced back to 1976 when I was a 17-year old senior at Dimond High School in Anchorage. It was our country's bicentennial and a presidential election year when incumbent Gerald Ford faced off against challenger Jimmy Carter. It would be my first opportunity to cast a ballot, although I wasn't impressed at the time as I was basically apolitical.

One weekend afternoon after the nominating conventions that summer, a broadcast of the Kennedy-Nixon debates from 16 years earlier was on TV. I happened to overhear the political chatter in the next room and for some reason it caught my attention. I had zero interest in politics as a teenager, but the debate grabbed me by the collar. 

I remember being struck by the poise and intellect of Senator Kennedy, the thoughtful, knowledgeable Vice President Nixon and the vigorous give-and-take between the two. I sat mesmerized by the smooth-talking pols and ended up watching the entire debate. After this experience, I took note of politics, and in particular, the Ford-Carter campaign which concluded in November with Carter's victory. By then, I was hooked. I began to read extensively about American politics and became an avid watcher of the news, paying close attention to current events.  

Years later after moving to Wasilla, I was doing remodeling work at Alert Realty's office on Herning Avenue, when owner Jenny Wasey, a long time Valley resident and local Republican Party chair, engaged me in conversation and asked about my political leanings. It was March 1984 and at the time I was a college student of 25 working part time in construction. I explained to Jenny that I was a big Reagan fan, so she suggested I attend the Republican's district convention that week, explaining it was the first step in renominating the president for a second term.

I was being recruited, but still intrigued, so I said yes. To participate as a delegate, I was required to register as a Republican. Until then, I never had an allegiance to a political party and saw myself as an independent, although I leaned conservative with Christian values and identified with Reagan's supply side economics philosophy.  

The district convention captured my attention and opened my eyes to the nominating process. It was like a replay of '76, with my interest in politics again sparked. The convention was held at Wasilla High School where I sat next to Sarah Heath (now Palin), a future governor. We struck up a conversation which eventually led to a strong friendship and helping each other as office holders years later. Sarah and I were assigned to the platform committee, which discussed the party's platform and debated changes. I recall Sarah's focus on the pro-life cause and her speaking in favor of restricting abortion.

Wasey, who was chair of the nominations committee, placed my name on the slate of delegates for the state convention in Fairbanks that May, the next step in the process. She saw how captivated I was, so she volunteered me. Jenny even introduced me to friends as a "future state legislator," the last thing on my mind. But her words proved prophetic as a decade later I was elected to the Alaska Legislature.   

Just days before my arrival in Fairbanks, on May 3, 1984, President Reagan met Pope John Paul II there with great fanfare and extensive news coverage. At the convention, I managed to get selected to the delegation representing Alaska at the national convention in Dallas, Texas. It was thrilling to see the president in person and participate in his renomination, but also meet other notable leaders including future House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Congressman Jack Kemp who became the 1996 Republican vice presidential nominee.

I even met and had a fairly lengthy conversation with Maureen Reagan, the president's daughter. She told me she had just spoken with her dad a few hours before who planned to wear his "long underwear," code for bullet proof vest, while delivering his acceptance speech that night at the convention.

During Reagan's speech on national television, I gave him a big thumbs up when he looked in my direction (the Alaska delegation was seated up front, so we were close to the podium and about 50 feet from the president). He smiled and gave me a thumbs up in return, a moment that found its way with a large photo on the front page of the next day's New York Times. 

By now, my interest in politics really took hold, although I decided my role should be quiet and behind-the-scenes, limited to campaign management and consulting. The idea of running for office wasn't appealing as I was a very private person and didn't wish to draw attention to myself. So I focused on attending subsequent conventions and volunteering in campaigns. I was driven by a desire to elect conservative, God-fearing people to office.

I worked vigorously on Reagan's reelection campaign in Anchorage in-between full time college classes. Then in 1988 and again in 1990, I helped my friend and political activist Tuckerman Babcock in his quest for the state house from Wasilla where he came up short.  Little did I know that in four years, I would be a candidate for the same seat at Tuckerman's urging and would prevail. 

While on a business trip to Sitka on my birthday on August 2, 1994, I received a call from Babcock. He dropped a bombshell by suggesting I run against incumbent State Representative Pat Carney, explaining Carney was vulnerable for several reasons - he was a Democrat in a Republican stronghold, he was not viewed as an aggressive campaigner and was raising little money. I had met Carney a couple times over the years, a man twice my age, and he seemed like a nice fellow whom I had nothing against.

At first, my answer was an emphatic "no."  But after pressure by several friends who apparently saw potential in me and after thinking it over, I reluctantly agreed. Once committed, it was downright no-holds-barred. I wasn't about to embarrass myself and get wiped out at the polls. So I barnstormed neighborhoods, knocking on 5000 doors over six weeks time to introduce myself to the public, literally running from door to door. The result was a stunning 59-40% win followed by six straight landslide reelections. 

The rest is history as they say. It was a fascinating experience despite some very dark days beginning with my resignation during my final term of office in 2007. But I thank God for the victories along the way and for the honor of representing my community in the legislature.

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