A few weeks ago the Alaska House of Representatives passed a bill I very much hope will become law this year. House Bill 101 was introduced by the House Rules Committee at the beginning of the session in January. It was referred only to the House State Affairs Committee, which in the legislative world is a good thing, as fewer committee referrals tend to mean a bill will move more rapidly through the legislative process increasing its chances of ultimate success. House State Affairs heard the bill at the end of March, and it was given a vote of “do pass” by all seven committee members, after which it moved on to the full House.
HB 101 establishes a new state holiday for a person whose legacy richly deserves honor from all Alaskans, some one previously accorded many accolades and honors who was named “Alaskan of the Century” in the 1990s by the Alaska Legislature. The late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens was a man who truly did more to shape the Great Land in good ways than anyone over the course of his life.
HB 101 as originally drafted would have designated Nov. 18 as Ted Stevens Day, in honor of the birth of Theodore Fulton Stevens on that day in 1923. Indeed, Gov. Sean Parnell issued a gubernatorial proclamation last fall naming this day in honor of Stevens. Between the bill’s introduction and its being heard in House State Affairs, Stevens’ family contacted the House Rules Committee and respectfully suggested an alternative. Stevens’ family put forward the idea that instead of naming his birthday in his honor, a weekend day in summertime be designated as a time to remember this great man and all he did for Alaska.
House State Affairs rewrote HB 101 to make the fourth Saturday in July Ted Stevens Day. This removes any possibility of having another holiday that occurs during the work week, and also increases the likelihood of a holiday that falls when those remembering Stevens will be comfortably able to do so in the vast, beautiful, wonderful outdoors of the Last Frontier. The end of July also was a time when the United States Senate was in recess, and thus when Stevens was in many years able to return to Alaska and interact with his constituents and enjoy the beauty of our northern summers.
When HB 101 was debated on the House floor, many members told stories about their memories of Stevens. These were all worth hearing, and provided concrete examples of Stevens’ humor, humility, and statesmanship. Among these many poignant recollections I especially appreciated Juneau Rep. Beth Kerttula’s recollections of her time in Juneau as a girl when her father Jay Kerttula and Stevens served together in the State Legislature, times which Stevens fondly mentioned during his annual address to the Legislature on at least one occasion.
Out of all the words spoken during the House floor debate, I was most appreciative of the words of Anchorage Rep. Les Gara, who spoke about the unpleasant, misguided attempt to prosecute Stevens a few years ago. These events could easily have been seen as too awkward to address at a time when Stevens’ greatness was being honored, and I give Gara tremendous credit for saying what he did, which was that the United States Department of Justice’s decision to dismiss all of the charges against Stevens spoke to a very simple truth: Stevens was innocent of the crimes with which he was wrongly charged.
In the interests of disclosure I am a Republican, indeed I am co-chairman of the Capital City Republicans and am active in my party, which was also Stevens’ political party. I supported Stevens in every election, and I worked for him while I was at law school. But my profound admiration and deep respect for Stevens is not borne of my political affiliation but rather because he lived his life and served Alaska in a way that deserves the utmost respect and gratitude.
HB 101 unsurprisingly passed the House unanimously, and was thereafter referred to only the Senate State Affairs Committee on the first day of this month. While there is only a week left in the legislative session, and committees will soon be ceasing their work for the year, it would be very sad if HB 101 were not to pass this year. The bill states “Ted Stevens Day may be observed by suitable observances and exercises by civic groups and the public,” and I fully plan to do that on the July 23 this year. There is no good reason for the legislation officially designating the day not to pass the Senate and become law this year, and I hope the Senate will see fit to make that happen. Stevens’ memory deserves nothing less.
• Brown is an attorney who lives in Juneau.