Former Alaska State Senator and well-known Native leader Al Adams has died at the age of 70 from cancer.
Adams served the Northwest Arctic, North Slope, and Bering Strait region in both the Alaska House and Senate for 20 years, including several as the powerful chairman of the House Finance Committee. In the Senate, he also served on the Finance Committee as well as Community and Regional Affairs; and Education, Health and Social Services committees.
His sister Sarah Scanlon says he was a lifelong advocate for rural and Alaska Native interests, working for subsistence rights, and funding for education, social services, and infrastructure.
“He wanted to make sure that foremost there was equity in state funding for the rural communities for the basics: water and sewer, health clinics, roads, transportation, those kinds of programs I think in urban Alaska we sometimes take for granted,” Scanlon says. “He wanted to make sure rural Alaskans got their fair share.”
Adams, a Democrat, was known as a tenacious lawmaker, says former Juneau Sen. Jim Duncan, who served with him during his entire legislative career.
“He understood the process very well, was tenacious, knew what he wanted to get done and was very successful at getting it done,” Duncan said. “He knew how to build the coalitions and the relationships that allowed him to do that. And he got himself into a power position in the legislature and was able to maintain that. I think during his period of time on the finance committee he was looked at as one of the more powerful, if not the most powerful, member of the legislature.”
Scanlon says one of his major legislative achievements was the establishment of the Power Cost Equalization program for rural Alaska.
An Inupiaq Eskimo, Adams was from Kotzebue. He graduated from Mt. Edgecumbe boarding school in Sitka, then attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks and RCA Technical Institute.
Upon his retirement from the legislature, he worked as an adviser to the Northwest Arctic and North Slope boroughs, then as a lobbyist primarily representing rural and Alaska Native interests.
He held leadership roles in many other organizations, including Kikiktagruk Inupiat Corporation, NANA Regional Corporation, Alaska Airlines, Arctic Power and Mt. Edgecumbe High School.
A few weeks ago, Adams asked his lifelong friend Pete Schaeffer, of Kotzebue, to build his coffin, something the two of them had done together many times before for family members. Schaeffer says he thinks Adams would want to be remembered for his kindness.
“He was a great guy, a lot of fun to be with, and never lacked to do anything for you,” Schaeffer says. “I mean he bent over backwards to accommodate whatever it is you wanted, everything from snow machine parts to political favors in the later years and that kind of thing.”
Memorial services for Al Adams are scheduled for Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Anchorage ChangePoint Church, and on Friday at Kotzebue High School.