“We don’t give a damn how they do it Outside”: Panel discusses history of legislature in Alaska

Brady Gross/Sun Star Reporter
March 26, 2013

A diverse and influential group of Alaska legistlators gather to celebrate 100 years of Alaska legislature and the end of a successful weekend of lecture and discussion on March 23, 2013. Brady Gross/Sun Star

A diverse and influential group of Alaska legislators gather to celebrate 100 years of Alaska legislature and the end of a successful weekend of lecture and discussion on March 23, 2013. Brady Gross/Sun Star

UAF hosted a symposium with three days of lectures and discussions throughout various locations on campus titled, “By the People: 100 Years of Representative Government in Alaska 1913-2013,” March 21 to 23, 2013. In the panel, “We don’t give a damn how they do it Outside”: Improvisation, Innovation and Experimentation in Alaska, present and past legislators discussed the history of success and struggle seen throughout their involvement in the Alaska State Legislature.

UAF History Professor Dr. Terrence Cole, moderated the panel. The panel consisted of Sen. Victor Fischer, Rep. Terry Gardiner, Rep. Willie Hensley, Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, Sen. Gary Stevens and Sen. Arliss Sturgulewski.

The panelists’ experiences spanned decades, from Fischer, who joined the legislature just before the Alaska Constitutional Convention in 1955 to present day legislator Kreiss-Tomkins.The panelists had no problem keeping the pace and interest alive for the two hour panel. Locals, educators, UAF students, past legislators and current politicians were all in attendance at the Elvey Auditorium.

The panel represented a large history of Alaska’s legislature and worked out well with each panelist being able to contribute different experiences while also seeing overlapping themes that have existed since the days of the Alaska Constitutional Convention.

“I should be saying nice things about the legislature right now,” Fischer said. While undertones of unhappiness were present when the state of the current legislature were brought up, Fischer concentrated on his experience with the Alaska Constitutional Convention. “We looked at other countries and territories on how we should do it. We had the advice from other that built a conscious analysis of what the Alaska Constitution should be and not what to do,” Fischer said.

Fischer also spoke about the current state of our legislature. Fischer said that “our lack of understanding in the legislature about the taxing on property (oil) and what we get as Alaskans – our people,”  is increasingly defining our ignorance of what bills are being passed. Fischer reminded the audience that Alaska’s Constitution states, “It is the policy of the State to encourage the settlement of its land and the development of its resources by making them available for maximum use consistent with the public interest.”

Sturgulewski, who represented Anchorage in the Senate from ’75 to ’92, spoke of the excitement and struggle in getting the Alaska Permanent Fund established in 1976. “We (Alaska) were so new still,” Sturgulewski said. Figuring out how to ensure the Permanent Fund was actually permanent and getting enough votes to ensure inflation proofing were key points that Sturgulewski fought for.

Hensley, who served from ’66 to ’74 talked about his role in establishing the beginnings of the proper rights Native Alaskans deserved. Hensley helped establish various programs in health aide standards to the extraordinary 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

Kreiss-Tomkins wrapped up the panel discussions with his impressions of currently serving in the legislature. Kreiss-Tomkins spoke of the continued struggle between coastal and rural legislators and how much it matters when legislators “listen.” Kreiss-Tomkins, one of the youngest Alaskan legislator ever elected, said, “I’m hopelessly in love with Southeast Alaska.” Kreiss-Tomkins said that type of sincerity helped him win his seat and hopes that the trend of approachability and public involvement will help create a better Legislature in the future.

Chancellor Brian Rodgers and Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins inquired about staffing and local involvement in the past and present. Other audience members also asked various questions before the panel ended. Past and present legislators in attendance were asked to join the panelists on stage for a group photo to celebrate such great discussion and involvement here at UAF.

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