Backwoods Home Magazine

Political activism, backwoods style

Political activism,
backwoods style

By Massad Ayoob

Issue #75 • May/June, 2002

People don’t seek the backwoods home lifestyle so they can become involved in politics. Indeed, it’s usually just the opposite. But sometimes, the politics come to you. When that happens, it takes people of strong ethical fiber to stand up and be counted and speak for freedom and individuality.

I’m typing this on a laptop on the second floor of the rustic Lions Club in Eagle River, Alaska. A floor below, teeming throngs are packed shoulder to shoulder at the Eagle River Gun Show. Amidst the displays of fine firearms and knives, there is but one booth that represents a political candidate, and there the Alaskans are packed three deep. It is the booth of Wayne Anthony Ross, Republican candidate for Governor.

Wayne and his lovely wife, Barb, came to Alaska in the late 1960s, right after Wayne graduated from law school. They built a beautiful country home on a hillside overlooking Anchorage, on what was then only a mountain slope covered with scrub wood. As Wayne and Barb raised their kids, they watched the lifestyle they had come for, that of the Last Frontier, be slowly subsumed by the infiltration of corporate influence and Yuppified values that crept up from the “lower 48.”

Wayne decided to do something about it.

W.A.R. at war

Those who know him don’t think the fact that Wayne Anthony Ross’s initials spell “WAR” is a coincidence. He is not afraid to fight to the wall for things he believes in.

I had known about him for years. As an NRA Life Member, I get to vote for the organization’s Board of Directors. Wayne has served there for all but one year as a Director, rising to the position of First Vice President in the early 90s. In more than a score of years fighting for the civil rights of gun owners nationwide, he never lost sight of the situation in his native state.

The current Governor of Alaska, Tony Knowles, has won as many terms in Juneau as state law allows. In the immediately coming election, he has thrown his support to his Lieutenant Governor, Fran Ulmer, the pre-ordained Democratic gubernatorial nominee. Ms. Ulmer is by all accounts a nice lady and a good person. She has also been the long-serving right hand of her mentor Knowles, to the point where many from both parties are known to refer to her as “little Tony.”

An Ulmer victory would not bode well for the civil rights of gun owners, nor of those who feel they have a right to honestly harvest Nature’s bounty to feed their families. Governor Knowles in the past ordered the destruction by welding torch of thousands upon thousands of dollars worth of fine firearms. Some were confiscated from criminal suspects, while others were recovered stolen property. Many were surplus state-owned service handguns purchased for issue to state troopers and state Fish & Wildlife officers.

Alaskan gubernatorial candidate Wayne Ross fought for concealed carry privileges in Alaska, and he will broaden them if elected; the current administration vetoed the bill but it was overridden. Note S&W .357 in waistband.

When Ross, a respected trial lawyer in Anchorage who at one time worked for the State Attorney General’s Office, found out about this he sought a court order to cease and desist. The judge did not issue the order because a representative of the AG’s office told him that the Governor only intended to destroy “Saturday Night Specials” and “sawed-off shotguns.”

Ross later came into possession of more than 50 of the guns that had been put to the torch. They included fine-quality Smith & Wesson, Ruger, and Colt .357 Magnums, and such valuable collectibles as the Colt Woodsman .22 pistol and the .22 Hornet pilot’s survival rifle. A number of the torched guns were Smith & Wesson Model 686 .357s as issued to state law enforcement officers prior to the transition to the .40 caliber Smith & Wesson auto pistol. Some appear to have been brand new.

The Governor’s office was saying that guns were bad and could not be sold to legitimate dealers for resale to law-abiding citizens, as had long been the custom in Alaska. Governor Knowles was also wasting many thousands of dollars worth of taxpayers’ money.

Outraged, Ross amended his complaint to seek damages from the governor personally. To make a long story short, he won. The Governor and the State agreed to cease and desist in their destruction of valuable publicly-owned property. Today, thanks to Wayne Ross, the state has returned to the practice of selling surplus firearms to licensed dealers who in turn can re-sell to honest individual citizens.

Many of the guns that Ross had saved were traded in for the Smith & Wesson Model 4006 now issued to the Alaska state troopers. Ironically, a local newspaper carried a photo of the anti-gun governor firing one of the new pistols, and taking credit for his frugality with the taxpayers’ money by getting so much in trade for the state’s previous guns.

In the mid-1990s, the Alaska State House passed a bill that would provide “shall issue” concealed carry permits to private citizens in Alaska. The need to carry firearms for personal defense is palpable. Attacks on humans by bear and even angry moose are well documented in Alaska, and when human predators strike, the police are seldom present. They can’t be. The state is twice as big as Texas and has only a little over 300 state troopers. Local law enforcement is also thinly spread. At this writing, the city of Anchorage employs only 320 armed police officers to protect 260,000 people within city limits roughly the size of the state of Delaware.

State representatives and senators saw the wisdom of concealed carry and passed this reasonable law. Governor Tony Knowles vetoed it. Fortunately, there were enough votes in the state house to override the veto, and today Alaskans are safer because they have the option of carrying loaded and concealed handguns for personal protection.

Ross had been a staunch supporter of the shall-issue concealed carry law. He pledges that, if elected, he will instruct the state Attorney General to recognize more out-of-state concealed carry permits than the few currently accepted. This will also increase the options of Alaskans, whose permits will now be recognized in many more of the “Lower 48” states through such an agreement.

The subsistence issue

Alaska’s wealth of game and fish is legendary. Priority of access to these resources has for many years been given to Alaska Natives. Under present Federal law, those in rural areas have access and those who live in or near cities do not. Unfortunately, Alaska is a notoriously expensive place to live, and it is no secret that two of the state’s primary industries, oil and commercial fishing, have been in the doldrums of late. A great many Alaska Natives are now living below the poverty level and would greatly benefit from being able to feed their family salmon they had caught and moose and caribou they had harvested. If their zip code is in an urban area, their access is restricted.

Wayne Ross wants to change that. Here’s what he has to say on what many consider the most important issue in the state right now, the matter of subsistence:

“No issue has been more misrepresented to Alaskans by campaigning politicians than ‘Subsistence.’ I want to set the record straight.

“Federal law and regulations contradict the constitutionally guaranteed equal right of all Alaska citizens to use our fish and game resources. That right was recognized by the federal government when our Statehood Compact was accepted. The only way to reclaim our state’s rights is to challenge the Alaska Lands Act in court or get Congress to change it without a court challenge. I am committed to doing whichever it takes.

“Proposed constitutional amendments divide us further and do not begin to solve the real problem. The solution must unite us, not divide us. The subsistence rights of all Alaskans must be protected. When a particular resource is scarce, it should be Alaskans that determine priorities. Those priorities should be based solely on need.

“Alaskans are good people and can manage our wildlife resources fairly and responsibly without Federal interference controlled by special interests.”


Political reality—what Richard Nixon called realpolitik—puts Ross in an interesting position. His current race for Governor is his second. During the primaries he came in close behind a Republican who, because of campaign fraud, was later taken by Tony Knowles like Grant took Richmond. In the current race, published “official” polls show him a strong second to veteran Republican US Senator Frank Murkowski. Private polls show the race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination to be even closer than that.

Alaskan journalists proclaim the voters in their state to be a singular breed. Iconoclastic, independent to the point where “maverick” is not too strong a term, and above all, well imbued with common sense. In talking with countless Alaskans during more than a week there, I was struck by how many consider Murkowski’s throwing his hat in the gubernatorial ring to be a bad move that ill serves the people there.

Alaska’s other senator is Ted Stevens. I’ve met the man, and I’m impressed by him. He’s pro-gun, pro-individual rights for the most part, and has used his high seniority in the Senate to good advantage on behalf of his constituents. In short, he has brought home a helluva lot of Washington pork.

Murkowski is the junior senator from Alaska, but is nonetheless one of the most senior and well-respected members of the United States Senate. Throwing away that hard-earned clout in the nation’s Capitol to re-invent himself as Governor of Alaska is an act that puzzles most who voted for him. They see him as one of their two strong Washington connections, and have no reason to believe that he is up to speed on state issues.

Ross, on the other hand, is recognized as being not only on top of important issues at the state level, but a prime mover in fighting for the citizens against government encroachment of their rights. The Anchorage Daily News recently editorialized about the fuzziness of the senator on critical local matters.

Consider campaign financing. While I was in Anchorage, President Bush flew in for a thousand-dollar-a-plate dinner to raise funds for Murkowski. At that same time, Wayne Ross was accepting $25 contributions from one citizen at a time.

Many of the guns destroyed as “Saturday Night Specials” by the Knowles/Ulmer administration were these S&W Model 686 revolvers, the model purchased for state troopers and conservation officers at taxpayer expense.

Says Ross, “Alaska has some of the strongest campaign finance laws in the country. Corporate money is largely banned and individual contributions are limited to $500 per year. Even so, special interests aggregating their resources give a distinct advantage to candidates they wish to appoint to high office. Special interest influence dominates the decisions of establishment candidates, effectively suppressing the ability of ordinary Alaskans to have a say in how our state is managed.”

Promises Ross, “This is not how I will manage the Governor’s office. I will represent everyone equally and fairly. I am not an establishment political candidate who expects you to fork over $1,000 or $500 to shake my hand at a fundraiser…I am honored to accept the legal maximum of $500 from my committed supporters who can afford it, but I know that many of my supporters are the hard working people who make Alaska strong and just don’t have that kind of money to throw around. We are campaigning, and will win this election, with the support of regular Alaskans who help us with $25, $50, $100, or $250.”

Can Wayne Anthony Ross win against the might of the political machines? He’s the underdog, but I absolutely think he can do it. His opponents are getting iceberg size chunks of campaign funds and Ross is getting his support one voter at a time. He is beholden to no special interest group, including even the NRA, which surprisingly has offered him no financial support. He cannot afford the media blitz advertising campaigns of his opponents.

But, the debates are coming.

The last time he debated the current governor, Ross caught him waffling and nailed him to the wall in public. Exposing what he called the governor’s “weasel words,” Ross flat out said that this was the sort of thing he was fed up with from incumbent politicians, and the reason he was running for office. The press declared Ross the clear winner of the debate, and Governor Knowles has refused to discuss the issues with him in a public forum ever since.

A soft-spoken “ordinary guy” in person, Wayne Ross is also a master trial lawyer. He is famous among the local bar for a case he argued for an Alaska businessman against outside special interests in Federal Bankruptcy Court in Seattle. A cadre of high-powered “LA Law” types in thousand dollar suits went first, reeling off a list of caselaw citations as they advocated for the fat cats. Then Ross stood up in what he calls his “Alaska Tuxedo,” a whipcord suit and flannel shirt with a string tie, and began to speak. He didn’t even touch the caselaw. Instead, he spoke movingly and logically about common sense as seen by the ordinary reasonable, prudent, and fair citizen.

The court ruled in Ross’s favor.

Let me tell you another true story. It was the case in which I got to know Wayne Ross. An elderly, disabled war veteran lived in a modest trailer home on the edge of Anchorage. He found a man dressed in black and wearing a ski mask standing silently at the inner door of his house, peering through the window. The senior citizen grabbed his Ruger .357 and confronted the intruder, who ran. The citizen ordered the suspect to halt, and when the menacing figure turned on him suddenly and made a motion as if drawing a gun, the old man fired one shot. The shot wounded what turned out to be an unarmed 14-year-old boy, who never did explain why he made that terrifying movement.

The prosecutor, a state employee working at the direction of an AG who took orders from the anti-gun governor, charged the old man with Assault in the First Degree. Under the Alaska guidelines, this serious felony would have sent the old man to the state penitentiary for eight years. Knowing that the old vet had no money to pay him, Wayne Ross took the case anyway. To make another long story short, the old man is free thanks to an honest lawyer who didn’t feel he needed to be paid to prevent a terrible injustice.

Backwoods civics lesson

It will be interesting to follow the campaign of Wayne Ross, the homesteader and outdoorsman who literally “took politics into his own hands” on behalf of people like those who read this magazine who happen to live in Alaska. I for one would not be surprised to see an upset victory in the August gubernatorial primary, and to see Ross emerge as the official Republican nominee to challenge the Democrats for the governor’s mansion they have occupied for so long.

If it happens, it will be a victory for individuality and individual rights, and a triumph of honesty, common sense, and civic commitment over “politics as usual.” It was a pleasure for me to take some unpaid time from the police training assignment that brought me to Alaska to campaign for a man who is a genuine American original.

If you’re interested in supporting this most worthwhile candidacy, boot up your computer to, or write for information to Ross For Governor 2002, PO Box 240425, Anchorage, AK 99524-0425.