An Address by
Robert B. Atwood
Chairman, Alaska Statehood Commission
Alaska Constitutional Convention University of Alaska November 8, 1955
Madam Chairman, Governor Heintzleman, distinguished guests and ladies and gentlemen of the Convention. You are about to write a document that will be much more than a framework for the state government of Alaska. The document you write will be, can and should be a compelling new argument for statehood itself. The first use your product will be put to will be in the nature of salesmanship. It must be presented to the people of Alaska, sort of as a list of specifications as a thing they have already decided they want to buy. They will scrutinize it as they would a warranty deed if they were purchasing a piece of property or a guarantee if it's a manufactured item. If they like it they will buy it. But remember, they don't have to buy it. They are not obligated that way. This is a custom job you have on your hands. It's to be built and it must please the customer.
The second use for this document will also be of a nature of salesmanship. It will be presented to the highest federal officials of the land, including the members of Congress in connection with legislation to admit Alaska as a state. And again it will be scrutinized as a list of specifications or a warranty deed or a guarantee. This document, once it is backed with ratification of the people, must be real and indisputable proof that Alaskans are ready, able and willing to undertake all the responsibilities of self-government.
In looking toward the day when the duly elected representatives of the people of Alaska would gather to write a constitution, the legislature had foresight. In 1949, when they were creating the Alaska Statehood Committee, the members of that Legislature anticipated that there would be a need for certain information and materials to be available to the delegates, so that they would have a good chance for success. They gave the assignment to gather this information and materials to the Alaska Statehood Committee and as Chairman I am pleased to report to you that the Committee has done well. The material is included principally in three volumes, which will or have been presented to you. We hope the discussions in these volumes will be helpful as guides as you contemplate the technical problems, the fundamental principles that are involved in writing a basic document for state government.
Throughout the years of effort and study that have gone into this statehood movement, it became current quite awhile ago that the best advice would be none too good. We found that the record of experiences of the forty-eight states is replete with failures as well as successes. Much of the greatness of the United States lies in the principles exemplified in the rights of states but also much of the confusion, many of the dismaying features of government in the states and within the states stem from the failure of the people to write a flexible document that will withstand the changes of time. Now, as the previous speakers have mentioned and as Alaskans have mentioned frequently and as many of you have mentioned, it is well known that Alaskans want all of the successes and all of the basic principles that have made this nation great, written into their constitution, perpetuated there and enlarged and expanded, and we all know they want none of the failures that have lead to clumsy, inefficient, costly and complicated government. They don't want duplications and unwise restrictions and all the other abhorrent developments that come from an inflexible constitution.
Now the question before the Statehood Committee was how can we render the best service to Alaska and the delegates in gathering this information? We sought advice in many places. We came to the conclusion that it was necessary to have a careful study of the experiences of the forty-eight states, the failures as well as the successes. We found that many governmental units are making such studies, states, counties and cities looking toward the revision of their constitutions, their charters, their laws, their administrative procedures, and we have also found that these units quite commonly employ professional organizations to do the research work and gather their material.
In studying that we found that one of these organizations was outstanding. It was outstanding in its record of achievement; it was outstanding in its experience throughout the nation and in other countries and it is outstanding in reputation. This was the Public Administration Service with headquarters in Chicago, a non-profit organization that works in close association with the Council of State Governments and the Governor's Conference. In 1955 the Legislature appropriated funds so that we could enter into a contract with Public Administration Service and these three volumes that I have mentioned are the result of their studies. They are presented to you not to tell you what to write into a constitution but to bring you a summary of these experiences of the forty-eight states and discussions of the principles that are found sound so that you may decide which ones you want to adapt to the Constitution of Alaska.
Now in addition to these studies by Public Administration Service, we have taken certain other steps. We have gathered information on the rules that have been used at other constitutional conventions and information on the organization that they have. We have gathered a portfolio on the Hawaiian Constitutional Convention, our sister territory, the most recent convention that has been held. We also have in it some rather intimate details of some of the weaknesses as well as the strong points of their systems. Now these things we thought you would like to have available in case you want to draw upon them in establishing your own rules, setting up your own organization, your system for operating, your committees and such.
Now I have been using the pronoun plural "we" quite frequently, and I might point out that Mark Twain said there are two categories of people who can use the plural pronoun "we." One is the editorial writer and the other is a man with a tape worm. (laughter) I would like to add a third category and that is a chairman trying to report in behalf of a committee. Now, we have interviewed the nation's prominent authorities in the field of political science and have arranged to have them available for consultation here with you at the University of Alaska if you so desire and if you choose to invite them. We have other preparatory measures and files and documents. We are especially proud in all this work of the work of our executive officer -- Thomas B. Stewart who has performed his work so enthusiastically and so successfully. He has exceeded the fondest expectations of the Committee members. We have also arranged to have a Public Administration Service staff member here for consultation as you may wish, and other members who have been engaged in the Alaska study can be brought here if you so desire. Incidentally, we had a little difficulty with that. Dr. Joseph Molkup, whom many of you have met, suffered a broken leg in Juneau just before he was leaving for Fairbanks and couldn't come. We had John Corcoran, another key man in the Public Administration Service organization here to carry on and last week he was taken seriously ill and is now in the hospital. But Public Administration Service never lets us down. The headquarters in Chicago called upon Dr. Emile Sady, a member of their staff who was in Washington D. C., to be here and he is here with us and will remain at your service throughout the Convention barring broken legs and other things.
Our last item in arranging was to have Alaska's greatest leader in the statehood movement come here to address you tomorrow with a keynote address. He will have a message that we hope will be heard around the world. We know it will be an enduring document in the statehood movement. We trust it will be inspiring and informative for you.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, this ceremony is nearing a close. You have been duly convened. The roll has been called. The quorum is present. You have had warm receptions from the hosts. This is the kick-off. The ball is in the air, and it is about to fall in your hands, and you are the ones who are going to have to run with it. We all wish you Godspeed as you follow a course that certainly is no primrose path. Every good Alaskan stands at your service ready to come up with any help they can and they want you to have to write a document that will survive the three most rigid tests imaginable. First, the test of the people who sent you here who must approve it by vote and ratification. Second, the approval. of Congress who must accept it as a sound basic document upon which to build a state government and third, that everlasting test that comes when the document is placed into operation as the highest law of the land. Then we will see how the work of this Convention stands through the changes that we all want to come and try to bring faster in Alaska. Thank you.