Just like King John back in merry old England, our state’s ruler, King Mike, doesn’t govern, he simply rules, regardless of the legislative branch. And he’s not very popular for a wide range of reasons, just like King John, whose 12th century exploits are described in Marc Morris’ book, “King John: Treachery and Tyranny in Medieval England.” John was also memorialized in a poem, “King John’s Christmas,” by A.A. Milne of “Winnie the Pooh” fame. It begins, “King John was not a good man / He had his little ways. / And sometimes no one spoke to him / For days and days and days.”
John started off well enough, but soon there “was no doubt that John’s reign had been a disaster,” as Morris wrote. “He had come to the throne in 1199 as the ruler of a great empire, the most powerful prince in Europe. Yet within five years most of his continental inheritance had been lost, and now he was being buried in the midst of a bitter civil war.” Being deceitful, in a low-cunning way didn’t help; even a “friendly” chronicler from the time described John as “a very bad man, more cruel than all the others … whenever he could he told lies rather than the truth. He set his barons against one another whenever possible and was happy when he saw hate between them. He hated and was jealous of all honorable men … He was brimful of evil quantities.”
Morris noted that “Besides his reputation for treachery, John lacked boldness … As soon as the outcome seemed anything less than certain, the king preferred to cut and run … Being a poor warrior put John at a great disadvantage, which he managed to compound by being a poor politician.” And so on.
Librarian extraordinaire Melvil Dewey ranks up there with the worst bad guys, and last month the American Library Association finally removed his name from its top library world award given annually for “creative leadership of a high order.” Dewey is “widely regarded as the father of modern librarianship,” according to Smithsonianmag.com. After all, he published the famous “Dewey Decimal System.” He also was a founder of the American Library Association and the first library school at Columbia and was director of the New York State Library. However, he “did not permit Jewish people, African-Americans or other minorities to the resort” at Lake Placid, New York that he and his wife owned. And Dewey “made numerous inappropriate physical advances toward women,” as mentioned in the resolution removing his name from the ALA award. His bad behavior peaked during a 1905 ALA-sponsored trip to Alaska during which Dewey sexually accosted four female ALA members. Like most librarians, these ladies didn’t suffer fools well and reported his actions to the association, which in turn forced him to resign his membership.
Dewey was essentially ostracized by the profession, a reprisal adored by the Greeks, who institutionalized the practice. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “a method of temporary banishment practiced in Athens and other cities of ancient Greece, by which a citizen whose power or influence was considered dangerous to the state was sent into exile for five or ten years … so called because it was affected by voting with potsherds or tiles, called ‘ostraka’ on which the name of the person whom it was proposed to banish was written” by jurors. It’s interesting to reflect on the modern method of exile for politicians: recall.
Alaska Statue section 15.45.470 address the ins and outs of how you recall a governor, lieutenant governor or legislator for “lack of fitness, incompetence, neglect of duties or corruption.” Presenting a budget that threatens the entire state’s economy, just by his words, much less his vetoing deeds, seems to fit the first three bills. King John’s mean-hearted actions resulted in the British National Library producing an animated documentary about him called “Worst King in History,” but his incompetence resulted in him signing the Magna Carta. Political ostracization might be our answer. Sometimes, as Michael Bassey Johnson wrote, “The world needs someone they can admire from a distance, from a very far distance.”
Greg Hill is the former director of Fairbanks North Star Borough libraries.