Alaska's Gov. Hickel Rejoins Gop Amid Speculation Over Another Term

JUNEAU, Alaska - Gov. Walter J. Hickel has made his divorce from the Alaskan Independence Party official and returned to the Republican Party.

Hickel joined the secessionist third party in September 1990 before making a successful, last-minute bid for the governor's office. He switched back to the GOP this week by quietly filing a new registration form with the state Elections Division.

Hickel said yesterday he has not yet decided whether to seek re-election. He plans to announce his decision shortly after the legislative session ends in May.

The governor said in an interview that he changed his affiliation because he had been a Republican most of his life.

"I filled it out a month ago and finally filed it. It doesn't make any difference if I'm an independent or Republican or not. My philosophy is Alaska first."

Conventional wisdom in Juneau is that if Hickel runs, he will do so as an independent and bypass the August primary. But Hickel said he may run in the primary.

"That's a possibility. I'm not evading it, but that decision just hasn't been made," he said.

Hickel's switch to the GOP increased speculation that he will run.

"What else could it be?" said Edgar Paul Boyko, chairman of the Alaskan Independence Party.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Campbell told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on Wednesday that he would welcome Hickel to the GOP primary race.

"If he is just registering as a Republican to form another party and circumvent the primary, I'd be completely against that."

U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, has been urged by several prominent Republicans in the state to run for governor. Murkowski has said he is considering the request and welcomes Hickel's return to the GOP.

"The Republican Party has always had a big tent with plenty of extra hay for its wandering elephants. We welcome Wally back to the feeding frenzy."

At a recent Alaskan Independence convention, delegates considered asking Hickel to resign from the party.

Hickel, 74, was first elected governor in 1966 and served about half a term before President Richard Nixon appointed him interior secretary. He is a millionaire developer and hotelier.