The first day of the 2019 Alaska Federation of Natives annual convention was a big one for Bethel. The 2019 Iditarod champion, Bethel's Pete Kaiser, was the keynote speaker for the event.
"Let’s bring our best team to the starting line and race to a bright future for our state. Thank you." Kaiser said, as the crowd stood up and applauded. Then, another Bethel icon stepped on stage to receive AFN’s Citizen of the Year Award: Sen. Lyman Hoffman.
"My definition of a good citizen is someone who sees something and wants to make it better," Hoffman said.
Hoffman has served in the Alaska Legislature for more than three decades, and is hitting his 33rd year. He’s the longest-serving state lawmaker, and chairs the Senate Finance Committee. One of a handful of Alaska Native lawmakers serving, Hoffman is considered a powerful advocate for rural Alaska. Hoffman mentioned other Alaska Native state senators who mentored him, like John Sackett and Frank Ferguson, just to name a few.
"I’ve learned a lot from them, and the most important is to keep your word when you give your word," he said.
Hoffman said that he is not just a senator for Southwest Alaska. Many rural Alaska Native communities view him as their senator as well. He was gifted the Athabascan chief necklace, the highest honor for a leader within the Interior.
Hoffman urged aspiring politicians to start at the local level. He spent seven years as Bethel’s city manager before jumping into state politics. That experience came in handy as he served on the Senate Finance Committee for years, and battled Gov. Mike Dunleavy over the budget this past year, specifically over the Power Cost Equalization Endowment Fund.
He took a moment to congratulate Pete Kaiser, whose wife, Bethany, is Hoffman’s niece.
"I believe, and I heard other people say this too, that he is going to be the best representative as Champion of the Iditarod that the state has ever had," said Hoffman.
When asked by KYUK if he cried a little when Kaiser was on the stage delivering his speech, Hoffman chuckled. "I'm not that sentimental," he said.
Hoffman is getting ready for another session in Juneau. He has three years left in this term, and says that he might not hang up his hat just yet.