January 27, 2005: Headlines: Obituaries: Alaska Permanent Fund: Anchorage Daily News: RPCV Ron Zobel dies in Alaska

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Peace Corps Library: Obituaries: Peace Corps: Obituaries: Peace Corps: PCV and RPCV Obituaries: January 27, 2005: Headlines: Obituaries: Alaska Permanent Fund: Anchorage Daily News: RPCV Ron Zobel dies in Alaska

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RPCV Ron Zobel dies in Alaska

RPCV Ron Zobel dies in Alaska

RPCV Ron Zobel dies in Alaska

Challenger of first Permanent Fund dividend program dead at 60
Ron Zobel lived in infamy for his part in revision of original distribution plan

Anchorage Daily News

(Published: January 27, 2005)

Ron Zobel, who with his wife, Penny, successfully challenged the original Alaska Permanent Fund dividend program that favored old-timers over newer residents, died Wednesday at age 60.

He had been fighting esophageal cancer since last summer, and died of pneumonia at Providence Alaska Medical Center, weakened from recent bouts of treatment, a friend, Bill Parker, said.

The Zobels in 1980 achieved statewide fame -- and angered many Alaskans -- by suing over a dividend program that would have awarded more money to long-term residents and less to newcomers and would have left out children altogether. Alaskans would have gotten $50 shares for each year of residency since statehood in 1959.

That would have treated Alaskans unequally, the couple argued.

The Zobels received hate mail and threats in the early days of their court battle, according to news reports at the time.

And the Alaska Supreme Court went against them and voted to uphold the law.

But before the first checks could be handed out in fall 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court halted the distribution. In mid-1982, the high court delivered a decision: The program was unconstitutional.

The Legislature had a backup plan approved and began mailing out $1,000 dividends to all Alaskans with at least six months' residency almost immediately. The dividends now go to children and adults who have lived in Alaska for at least a year and are an equal amount for everyone. They are paid for by the interest on a fund set up to save and invest a portion of Alaska's oil wealth.

The Zobels had arrived in Alaska in 1978, and Ron Zobel was a law clerk for U.S. District Judge James von der Heydt when the lawsuit that changed the dividend program was first filed.

He went into private practice in 1981 and became an assistant attorney general for the state in 1988.

Active in the Democratic Party, he ran for the Legislature twice but didn't win.

He left the attorney general's office briefly but spent most of his law career there. He did work for the state commission that regulates Alaska's utility companies.

Zobel and friend Joe McKinnon, a fellow Democrat, were the only assistant attorneys general who lost their jobs after Gov. Frank Murkowski took office in 2003.

Parker, a family friend and a former state lawmaker, said Zobel had not been raised a Democrat. Born in Pender, Neb., he grew up in Oelwin, Iowa.

At the University of Iowa, "he was a right-wing young Republican," Parker said, "a Teddy Roosevelt and Barry Goldwater fan."

When the Vietnam War was heating up, he left the university and joined the Army. He became a Green Beret medic and expected to serve in Vietnam. Instead, he spent his tour in Panama, Parker said.

"The war's what woke him up. He decided he was in the wrong party and became an active Democrat."

He returned to the University of Iowa, met Penny, worked as a seasonal national park ranger for a few years, and joined the Peace Corps with her.

He finished his bachelor's degree at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash. Both he and Penny later graduated from the Gonzaga University School of Law in Spokane.

After he left the state attorney general's office, Zobel and Parker took off on a motor tour of 22 states, concentrating on national parks in the West. They slept in Zobel's new Toyota Highlander.

As they drove across Iowa, where both Parker and Zobel have relatives, Parker asked, what if we'd just stayed here?

Zobel said, "If I'd stayed here, I'd probably have been a member of the Legislature, but I'd have been a Republican," Parker remembered.

But he didn't, and as a result, Alaska's share-the-oil-wealth program became available to all yearlong residents equally, instead of a system that paid some more than others.

A doctor had told Zobel this week that he had two weeks to two months to live, Parker said. Zobel drank a glass of red wine at Providence on Tuesday night and talked about his life, saying he had a successful marriage and his son, Wade, was completely raised.

"He was saying it wasn't a bad run," Parker said.

During the night, his condition worsened, and he died Wednesday morning.

The family has not decided on services yet, Parker said.

Daily News reporter Rosemary Shinohara can be reached at rshinohara@adn.com or 257-4340.

When this story was posted in January 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Anchorage Daily News

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Obituaries; Alaska Permanent Fund



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