A Servant's Heart
By Vic Kohring
May 11, 2015
When I served in the Alaska Legislature, my focus went beyond passing legislation and securing funding for social programs and construction projects. I also gave heavy emphasis to helping individuals. In fact it became my highest priority. My office welcomed people who experienced problems with government agencies, whether it was qualifying for their Permanent Fund Dividend, a child custody issue or an eminent domain matter involving a road widening project. Not too many legislators spend time with constituent concerns as they are more focused on the bigger picture. I decided early on that helping people would be number one, since many needs existed in the community and because I was in a position to help.
It didn't take long for word to get around that my office was there to be of assistance. It spread quickly and we became known as the "Ombudsman of the Valley." I was proud of the distinction as my staff and I worked hard to meet the community's needs. I once figured we helped over 3000 people during my dozen years in office. But it came with a price. There was a huge time commitment and we found our office the busiest in the building. At times it spun out of control where the phone rang off the hook as we became inundated with pleas for help. There also was resentment among some of my legislative colleagues who saw the high standard we set that they were unable or unwilling to meet. In other words, it made them look bad which caused strained relationships at times.
Helping people was the most gratifying part of my job. Anytime we were able to resolve a problem on behalf of a constituent, it was another small victory we celebrated in our office. One of the most profound was getting a pedestrian underpass built at Montana Creek to improve safety for campers and sports fishermen. It was brought to my attention by a Valley mother whose daughter died in a horrible accident when her little girl was hit by a car as she tried to cross the Parks Highway. I still feel terrible to this day and the thought brings tears to my eyes, but I take solace knowing other children now have safe access across the highway.
I've had people tell me I have a "Servant's Heart," meaning a desire to want to help others. I'm flattered by the reference, but what resides in my heart comes from the values instilled by my parents. I was brought up in a Christian home by a loving father and mother who showed by example that being generous and kind toward others and not selfish or self-serving is how one should conduct themselves. The Bible also makes it clear that helping others is an important virtue. Galatians 5:13 says that we should "serve one another." Luke 10:27 reminds us that we should love thy neighbor as thyself and I Corinthians 10:24 says, "Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor." These are principals I've tried to live by.
I was grateful to receive many accolades for assisting constituents through the years which was reflected in seven straight landslide elections as well as being recognized as the Best Elected Official in The Frontiersman's Best of the Valley survey for several years running. But it was my staff that deserves most of the credit as they did the nitty gritty legwork - the research, phone calling, paperwork and everything necessary to get the job done which made me look good. Without a quality staff, it's impossible for a legislator to succeed. So I thank them.
The prosecutors assigned to Ted Stevens and me could learn a lot about what it means to be a true public servant. Instead of doggedly pursuing a conviction at any cost, even if it means cheating by hiding evidence and then covering it up, their priority should have been getting to the truth and determining whether a defendant may indeed be innocent. Prosecutors bear special responsibilities because they wield much power and therefore must uphold the law, adhere to the highest ethical standards and seek justice as the integrity of our criminal justice system relies heavily on them. But it also requires an inherent desire to want to do good, which in most cases is something you can't learn because it's a quality ingrained deep in your heart and soul.
I wish that people remember me as one who tried his best to make the lives of others better and tried to be responsive to the needs of his community. I hope that's my legacy. I believe it was my calling, the reason God placed me in office.