July 1, 2010 |

Control, money led to vote on creating city of Haines

Why did the settlers of the Chilkat Valley vote to create a City of Haines 100 years ago?

Stories told for years by old-timers averred that the need to control stray dogs was the issue that tipped the scales toward support of a local government. In "Haines: The First Half Century," late historian Lib Hakkinen said residents supported incorporation "for the purposes of maintaining order and improving the school system."

But accounts in The Haines Pioneer Press, a newspaper that served the town at the time, suggest that incorporation was about local control, opportunity and money. The vote passed 72-19, on Jan. 6, 1910.

Established in the summer of 1909, just months before the vote, The Pioneer Press was an unflinching supporter of forming a local government. The fledgling Haines Chamber of Commerce paid to organize the issue and bring it to a vote.

Pioneer Press business manager B.A. "Ben" Barnett used his newspaper as a cudgel to beat down opposition to the idea in the weeks leading up to the vote. He called opponents of incorporation "tories," characterizing them as "outside property owners" who feared having to pay new taxes on their land in town and "several local men who do not even own one dollar of taxable goods."

Barnett broadcast incorporation’s benefits, including that by incorporating, the City of Haines would gain $4,650 or more each year that was going to the U.S. federal government.

Plus, voters would be spared an $8-per-head federal poll tax.

In 1909, federal "licenses," including for saloons and shops, brought in $4,650, money the town could keep, if incorporated.

"The City of Haines will have $4,650 the first year and an increasing amount every succeeding year to spend on home improvements (including) street grading, lights, an extension of the water system and sidewalk repairs. We will have police protection and better protection from fire," Barnett wrote.

Although license fees helped pay for schools in Haines, federal money did not go to other local needs.

"(Under incorporation), this money will be expended exactly as the voters of the town desire (and) the people will pay less direct taxes than they do now," Barnett argued.

"The poll tax is not assessed in the limits of incorporated towns and this one item will more than offset the personal taxes which the people of Haines will be called on to pay… It is not probable that the people of Haines will pay any taxes," Barnett said.

Barnett’s argument for "home-rule" tapped into a broader sentiment of the era that Alaskans have more say in their own affairs. The topic was a hot one in 1910, two years before creation of a territorial legislature, when progressives were pushing for "a legislative council" to oversee Alaska’s affairs.

"Alaska is being systematically exploited," read an editorial Barnett reprinted from the Skaguay Daily Alaskan, which wanted "big corporations to pay a return commensurate with what they strip from the country."

"The coal lands and copper mines, our fisheries, our waterways and the seals are all being used by interests which pay no adequate return. We are required to pay taxes in the form of federal licenses," the editorial said.

Barnett was not above using patriotism or populism to push his point. "The people who believe in the American form of government and American institutions should" support incorporation, he said Dec. 17, 1909. "Men who fought for the development of the territory by the people instead of exploitation by corporations are expecting to see Haines vote for (incorporation)," he wrote on Dec. 24.

A final, economic driver Barnett employed was speculation about a railroad to the Interior coming through Haines. "Within a short time it is probable that certain individuals will be seeking a railroad right-of-way through Haines. Do the people of Haines want a say in granting this franchise or do they want the matter adjusted at Washington, D.C. without their knowledge or consent? If there are any benefits to be derived, we should be the ones to derive them."

The Jan. 14, 1910 Pioneer Press carried a brief story that the election was protested, including on the grounds that one of the candidates for the new city council served as election judge. "If all the men who protested were counted, incorporation would still carry a big majority," Barnett wrote.

George Vogel, described as "the popular postmaster," received the most votes for seven positions in the local government – 61 – and thus became the town’s first Mayor. Vogel also was serving as president of the chamber of commerce at the time.