Honoring Alaska’s Constitutional History
by Brian Rogers, Co-Chair, Creating Alaska Advisory Board
Brian D. Rogers is principal consultant and chief financial officer for Information Insights, a Fairbanks-based management and public policy consulting firm, and currently serves as the Chair of the University of Alaska Board of Regents. He earned his Master's degree in Public Administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He was a member of the Alaska House of Representatives from 1979 to 1982, where he co-chaired the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Convention. Rogers sponsored the legislation creating the Alaska Statehood Commission and served as a member of that commission from 1981 to 1983.
Fifty years ago, on Nov. 8, 1955, fifty-five Alaskans sat down to draft the future of Alaska. The delegates to Alaska’s Constitutional Convention took on the task of writing a constitution for a state that did not yet exist. They had 75 days to complete their work.
These 49 men and six women, of varied walks of life, elected from all over the state, arrived with differing ideas, interests and political persuasions. Yet, they worked together with a nonpartisan spirit that inspires us today.
Through the Fairbanks winter, they studied and debated and considered important issues that would affect the lives of all Alaskans – individual rights, the powers of local governments to meet local needs, how to organize our courts to promote justice, and what fundamental principles should guide management of Alaska’s resources. On February 5, 1956, delegates signed the document and sent it to Alaskan voters for approval.
Alaskans quickly approved the constitution, a clear sign to the nation that Alaskans were ready to join the Union. When statehood came in 1959, the document written at Constitution Hall at UAF became the foundation of our state government. Since then, it has been hailed by impartial observers as a model constitution for its brevity, flexibility and protection of individual rights.
This winter, to honor their effort, the University of Alaska invites Alaskans to heed the call Constitutional Convention delegates made to future generations: “We trust you; you are our future. We ask you to take tomorrow and dream; we know that you will see visions we do not see. We are certain that in capturing today for you, you can plan and build. Take our constitution and study it, work with it in your classrooms, understand its meaning and the facts within it. Help others to love and appreciate it. You are Alaska's children...”
Over the years Alaskans have looked at our constitution, grappled with the issues it addresses, and have sometimes chosen to amend it. The foundation of our government, crafted 50 years ago, remains strong. The work done at the Constitutional Convention is reflected in our daily lives. Every time we vote to elect a mayor or pass a bond proposition, go fishing, receive a permanent fund dividend, the Alaska Constitution is shaping the benefits and privileges we enjoy as residents of the State of Alaska.
As host of the Constitutional Convention, the University of Alaska has a special interest in preserving the history of this event. In February 2004, we launched Creating Alaska, a project to gather, preserve and promote public understanding of Alaska’s constitutional history, through collection of oral histories, archiving of historical artifacts and development of public education efforts. We are grateful to noted Alaskans who have given of their time and wisdom serving on the Creating Alaska Advisory Board.
Recently, Creating Alaska launched a series of public events to commemorate the writing of our constitution. The series will run through February 2006. A new museum exhibit opening now in Anchorage will travel around Alaska; our campuses will host panel discussions and presentations; UAF will host a Conference of Young Alaskans in January to hear recommendations for Alaska’s future from our young leaders. Many of the events will include talks by participants in the Constitutional Convention.
The series will culminate in February. In honor of the signing of the constitution, special ceremonies will be held in Fairbanks; and on February 6, 2006, a documentary on the constitution and statehood being produced by KUAC will air statewide on public television stations.
I hope all Alaskans will take the opportunity this winter to learn about the Alaska constitution, its history and the ways in which it is reflected in our lives. It is our document, to decide to preserve or to change. Its history is our heritage to honor.