Thursday, January 25, 2018


Few Alaskans bother to visit our state capital city where elected officials pass laws and conduct state business.

Donn Liston confronts Senator Rodey  

Being a product of Southcentral Alaska myself, as a young man I wondered about what Juneau was like, and on two previous occasions I had traveled to Juneau by plane and ferried a senator’s car, before my first drive there alone–777 miles through White Pass from Costco Gas to Haines. At Haines, I took the ferry ride to the Juneau/Auke Bay Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) terminal.
I first drove to Juneau when then-Sen. Pat Rodey offered to pay the cost of gas for me to drive his Audi Fox automobile there for him. A friend and I made that winter run. The second time was when one of my public relations business accounts, 3M Company, sent me there to cover its attempt to fix the leaky roof of the Capitol Building, which was continuously flooding offices of Lt. Gov. Terry Miller. Both were adventures, and I learned from each, before later going there to work as a Legislative Aide during the 13th Legislative session, for the Representative from the midtown Anchorage district where I lived during high school.

We made pretty good time with the senator’s car until getting to a place, now long closed, called Dezadeash. There we met a metal “Road Closed” bar across the highway. We paid to stay at the lodge with the money we needed to fly home. One staffer for Sen. Rodey was a personal friend, but when I tried to talk him directly, he kept ducking me. That got old fast, and when I finally confronted him in a window seat of the capitol, he decided to immediately pay the $100 we needed to get home. My friend who had driven down with me took a photo of that confrontation.
The second time I went to Juneau prior to 1983 was by airplane, courtesy of the 3M company.
The capitol building, which had originally been completed in 1931, and served back then as Territorial Capitol housing the Legislature, Governor, the post office, Courts, and numerous other federal and territorial agencies. Today our Capitol contains the offices of the State Legislature, Governor, and Lieutenant Governor.
The roof of the capitol is a slab of poured concrete. Over the years it has cracked. No amount of tar and feathers (left over from running off corrupt politicians) could stop the leaks. As the inventor of the “Sticky Note,” 3M had also developed a means for dealing with roof leaks on large buildings–using a coating on the concrete, covering the area with a “membrane,” and putting another coating over that. I dutifully went to Juneau, interviewed the 3M rep and local contractor, took pictures, and wrote a glowing press release about the accomplishment.
No media in Alaska ran the story, but it was a big hit in Outside media outlets. Apparently, a lot of Alaskans who had only a few years earlier voted to move the capitol to Southcentral Alaska, didn’t care if their politicians were drowned in Juneau.
Then I was offered a job as a legislative aide by Rep. John Lindauer. I sold my business of six years and took the job. Lindauer found it novel that I had purchased a 24-ft sailboat on a trailer and planned to drive it down to live on it.
For that winter run to Haines I had purchased a raunchy 1977 Ford flatbed truck from a friend who was an attorney. The fellow who owned it previously had spent a lot of money lifting the truck up from the axles, putting a big carburetor on it, and an intake snout that made it look like some kind of mobile air cleaner. When I stepped on the accelerator, it sounded like a toilet flushing as gasoline gushed in and the big wheels all spun in 4-wheel drive.

The guy who had owned this beast before his lawyer got it was a hot-head.  He had been racing around Anchorage, and somebody had slid into the door and dented it. According to my attorney friend, this guy who loved this truck, got out and pistol-whipped the other driver! His karma was to give up the truck he loved as partial payment for an attorney to represent him in court for assault.
I drove the entire way with only a couple of short naps with engine and heater running. It became very cold after Tok.

When I finally did get to Haines, I had to back the boat onto the ferry. This was an almost impossible task given my exhaustion.  One of the men from the crew walked the ramp next to my open window telling me to turn the wheel, “left, left, right, straight” until it was finally loaded. I was so wiped out I went up to the solarium at the back of the ship, pulled out my sleeping bag, and collapsed on a lounge chair. The ferry trip from Haines to Juneau can take anywhere from 4-6 hours, according to the weather, but it seemed like I had only gone to sleep when I heard the loudspeaker blasting: “The person with the truck and the sailboat needs to come to the car deck immediately or we will be calling the tow truck!”
I was holding up the unloading of the entire car deck.
I jumped out of my sleeping bag, put on my shoes, and ran down the stairways. I had made it to Juneau with my boat, and my life was about to change. That boat would also change, from a shell day-sailor to a cozy magic carpet ride around Southeast Alaska.
Fast forward to today: The 30th Legislature convened in Juneau beginning January 10, 2018, and I’m here again–some 25 years later. Ready for my next adventure.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Life Transition

(2018 @

January 11, 2018 ECHO Magazine

What if I could help people who could not tolerate the public education system? Could I be the kind of teacher to young Alaskans so many others  might have been for me?

There comes a time in every person’s life when one must decide if where they are going is leading to where they want to be. Perhaps you have sought opportunities that are not now fulfilling. Can you dare to change direction?

For me the question arose while I was in Juneau. I had already enjoyed a couple of interesting career moves from my original home in Anchorage.

I had been living a couple of years in the various harbors of the Juneau/Douglas area on my sailboat, working for non-profit corporations promoting Alaska Public Education to lawmakers. Life was streaming by. During the workweek I did paperwork and interacted with various people to promote public education causes. On the weekends I enjoyed a Jimmy Buffett, “A Pirate Looks at 40” lifestyle, or sailed around the area.

But what did I really want to DO with my life? Many people face this challenge at some point.

As a youth I had generally disdained my teachers in high school, with a few exceptions. I had regarded the entire public school system as 19th century learning factories. Now my job was singing praises to public education for those who funded it. As a student I had done only as well as I needed to do to keep the adults who always told me I could do better off my back.

School was a necessary evil and I was attracted to the classroom. I had managed to gain a bachelor’s degree–and the former Chancellor of the University of Alaska, Anchorage had recruited me to be his legislative aide. He had brought me to Juneau in 1982.

Now, a decade later, It occurred to me: What if I could help people who needed more than the public education system could provide? Could I be the kind of teacher to young Alaskans so many others might have been for me?

To become a teacher required a new tack; I needed to pull the tiller in a new direction and quickly adjust the sails. It meant finding the prevailing winds going back to school.

I was no stranger to the University of Alaska, Juneau as it was called then. I had taken a class in photography specifically so I could use their darkroom to process images I had taken for my legislator boss. While I had previously made my living with my cameras, the class was a bust for me and I took an F for lack of participation. That bad grade now haunted me when I needed a good grade-point average to gain Alaska certification as a Type A teacher.

Lesson learned.

So I took classes I thought would help me be the kind of teacher who could be successful in rural Alaska. I had attended public school in a village and understood what might be required to be successful. In addition to the courses required to gain certification I took classes in small engine repair, marine tech, and woodworking. Computer technology was a coming trend so I pursued a master’s degree with emphasis in teaching with technology. In those classes we learned how to teach students to use Apple IIe computers.

I earned my master’s degree in Education in 1989 and did everything but the student teaching requirement to be certified as a secondary teacher. I was scheduled to begin student teaching when life threw me another curve: I fell in love, and got married February 14, 1990.

This created a barrier to reaching my goal of becoming a teacher; only a fool quits a good-paying job to do free student teaching for half a year on a new marriage. I first had to learn how to share my life with another person.

Pursuing a teaching career caused me to look at all of my life differently.

When dealing with other people I now attempted to make my interactions instructional. Sometimes this worked and sometimes it didn’t.

Meanwhile, my wife’s career in banking soared. When the time came, I revisited the idea of becoming a teacher, and my wife, Cathy, supported me in taking coursework required to teach K-8. I finished student teaching with host teacher, Todd Wicks’ fifth grade class, at Riverbend Elementary in Juneau, to become certified in 2003.

I was 52 years old. My newly certified peers in the profession were mostly kids half my age. I became the most requested substitute teacher in the Juneau School District and I loved teaching middle-school. That was the developmental stage in my own life when I had faced the most challenges. I’m still connected to some of those former kids through social media!

But now it was Cathy’s turn to shift gears. She was fed up with Juneau and told me she was moving to Anchorage with or without me!

As a teacher my options were different. I was now on a career path and I was qualified for a range of jobs. Public education in Alaska employs some 8,500 teachers and my first full-year teaching contract was to be an adventure.

Another curve-ball; a life-threatening heart attack at the end of 2003 disabled Cathy, but she didn’t qualify for Social Security disability insurance until 2006. I was applying for full time teaching jobs which would come with benefits. In the meantime, I was substitute teaching in the Anchorage School District and tutoring at Sylvan Learning Systems. Cathy managed our financial resources while we were making mortgage payments on two houses—our Juneau home and our new home in Anchorage.

One teacher application required interviewing over the telephone, answering questions from what on my end sounded like it could have been the entire community of Haines on the other end of the line. They interviewed 23 candidates for the job of teaching sixth grade. When the interview ended I told Cathy: “That was fun but I don’t believe they will be calling me back.”

But they did call back! The superintendent Charlie Jones said I was the first choice of the community but there was a hitch—I had to be there and ready to teach in 11 days!

We were living in a 3600 ft. home in College Village. I didn’t see how we could do that, but Cathy said we could. Movers packed a 42-ft moving van that later filled four single-car garage storage units in Haines. We drove 777 miles from the Costco gas station in Anchorage to the first gas station in Haines.

The lessons in classroom management I had learned from Mr. Wicks saved me in my first year as a teacher and I learned a lot about how public education really works in Alaska, too. This is the front line in traditional public education  and the school we were working in was about to be replaced by a new $14 million monolith that nobody I talked to had voted for building.

After spending the 2006-07 school year in Haines, Cathy’s doctors insisted that we remain closer to a full hospital for her health issues.

Upon returning to Anchorage I pursued my original intent in becoming a teacher—to teach those who have given up on the public education system so they might be successful in a career.

This is what I had set out to do and it had taken me where I wanted to be.

We have Options

Election Reform Bait-And-Switch (2021 © Many Alaskans appear to be in denial that our modern elections could be circ...