Katz resigns as head of Alaska's Washington, D.C. office

Posted: Tuesday, November 19, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The man who has headed up the Alaska governor's office in Washington D.C. for the past two decades is stepping down.

John Katz said Monday he will quit once Gov.-elect Frank Murkowski is sworn in.

Katz has kept his job from one administration to the next, be it Republican, Democratic or Alaskan Independence. Katz says the decision is personal, not political.

''I think I was prepared to leave no matter who the governor was,'' he said. ''I've thought for a while that it was time to go.''

Katz is 59 and has worked for the state for more than 20 years.

''He's had a continuum that's, well, it's almost equal to mine,'' said Sen. Ted Stevens, who has been representing Alaska since 1968.

Stevens says governors have kept Katz on the job because he is plainly brilliant.

''He's as near a genius as I've seen,'' Stevens said. ''He's very capable. He's been just a consummate adviser to a whole series of people, different personalities, and he has understood his role completely.''

Murkowski, in a written statement, praised Katz's ''encyclopedic knowledge of complex Alaska policy issues.''

When you hear Katz discuss an issue, Gov. Tony Knowles said, you know you are getting the unspun truth as analyzed by a very smart guy working to the best of his ability.

''He never got personalities mixed up in the issues,'' Knowles said. ''He's one of the most remarkable public servants that I've ever dealt with.''

As for Katz, he has navigated the shoals of politics so long that he makes it sound as though there's no trick to it. Governors, he said, differ in style and emphasis, but the issues haven't changed much in the two decades he's headed the office.

Resource development. Extending federal programs to Alaska. Fending off federal encroachment on the state's sovereignty.

''There's a basic core of federal issues that all the governors I've worked for seem to embrace, and that's made my life a lot easier,'' he said.

He has maintained good relationships with each member of the congressional delegation but says his loyalty was always to the governor -- whoever that happened to be.

''I have an axiom around here that if you accept the king's farthing, you fight the king's wars, and I was very comfortable doing that,'' he said.

This year, with Murkowski campaigning against Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer and, indirectly, Knowles, Katz acknowledged it was difficult for him.

Still, he says with pride, even when the campaign rhetoric was at its highest pitch, his relations remained good with Murkowski's office and, of course, with the governor.

Murkowski spokesman Chuck Kleeschulte said Katz would have been welcome to stay on.

To say Katz chooses his words carefully doesn't tell the half of it.

Knowles' press secretary, Bob King, said when he worked with Katz on press releases about federal matters, he was struck by Katz's command of the language as well as the material.

''He had just tremendous insights and gave some of the best edits,'' King said. ''He understood the nuances of words. He understood the importance of some of the protocol that was involved and he had just tremendous -- what's the right word?''

Well, Katz would know.

Ask Katz about a complicated bill and he's likely to say, ''The answer to your question is in five parts,'' and then list them, thoroughly and precisely.

He does this without benefit of notes. His eyesight, poor for years, long ago deteriorated to the point that he can't read. He doesn't like to talk about it. He avoids the word ''blind.''

''God was good enough, along with bad vision, to give me a very good memory, and I've trained that memory even further, and fortunately that hasn't been a problem,'' he said Monday. ''Once I figuratively see something or hear something, if I think it's important, somehow or another I can remember it.''

Marideth Sandler, one of three associate directors in his office, also said she doesn't think his impairment has undermined his professional abilities. He takes the time to have everything read to him, she said.

And he's able to take it all in.

''He has that steel-trap mind that people marvel over, and he comes out analytically with things from 20 years ago that he remembers with concise and important detail,'' she said.

Katz says he will remain in Washington, D.C. and says he can't imagine not working.

''I'm leaving this job and I'm uncertain about what I will do next, but I know that I will do something next,'' he said. ''If I didn't, frankly, my mother would kill me.''

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