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The Legislature's centennial is just the beginning

Posted: March 11, 2013 - 11:06pm

This year Alaska’s Legislature turned 100

This year, 59 recently re-elected legislators raised their right hand and swore they would uphold the U.S. Constitution — and Alaska’s Constitution.

As lieutenant governor, I administered the oath of office, and, as chair of Alaska’s Historical Commission, I offered to work with them on their birthday and other important Alaska anniversaries, coming up now or in the few years to come.

For people, birthdays usually just mean we’re getting older. For a state like Alaska, they’re a chance to renew our mission, and to get better, not just older.

March 3 marked the 100th anniversary of representative government in Alaska. That birthday not only makes this class of legislators our Centennial class, but it gives us a chance to look at the progress of democracy in Alaska over a century, and to rededicate ourselves to the proposition that government is intended first to protect our basic liberties.

Alaska’s Legislature has a legacy of giving women the right to vote before the rest of the nation. Our anti-discrimination laws were also groundbreaking. Telling the story of our democracy and our battles helps maintain these victories.

Within the next few years we will celebrate the centennial of Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage, the centennial of the Alaska Railroad and the University of Alaska, the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Marine Highway, and the 25th anniversary of the ending of the Cold War and the opening of our border with Russia.

This past fall, we saw the centennial of the Alaska Native Brotherhood celebrated in Sitka, and it won’t be long before 2017, when we celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Alaska Purchase, a commemoration held every October on Alaska Day at Sitka where the handover of this territory from Russia to the United States took place.

I told our legislators that a common feature of all these anniversaries is they help answer that age-old chestnut that Alaska was, and is still for the United States, “Seward’s Folly.”

Time and again, our Legislature has had to raise its voice in Juneau to be heard in Washington. Alaskans fought to end federal neglect of our Territory. We fought to win Statehood, and we fight again for the promised self-determination Statehood gave us. At times we have had to demand sane development of our lands, and understanding of the Arctic. We’ve had to insist on the equal protections for our coastline, for missile defense, and support for our Coast Guard, soldiers, sailors and airmen. We must often still make the case for transportation infrastructure, or shout for protection of our fish from predators, be they foreign fishermen or federal managers.

Celebrating the Legislature’s birthday will help us gird for similar battles ahead — especially to gain access to North Slope lands that will help us fill the Alaska Pipeline.

Anniversaries help us make the point that Alaska is worth it. This session is a chance to show that Alaska’s resources on land and sea can, combined with our people’s inspiration and perspiration, provide the world with food and fuel. We can provide our homes with lower cost heat and light. We can provide our people with jobs and opportunities.

Let this be a session, I said in January, where we resolve to compete better on world markets, do more to attract investment, and stand up to those Outsiders who would lock up our state.

I pray this is a year we can say we have fought the good fight for liberty, for life, for religious freedom, and for clearing pathways of opportunity for our property, our common wealth, private and public.

The Alaska Historical Commission, working with the Alaska Humanities Forum, the Alaska State Council on the Arts, the State Libraries and Museums, the Division of Parks, tourism leaders, and federal agencies envisions that during these celebrations of the next few years we can improve our history curriculum, upgrade and strengthen cultural institutions such as libraries and museums, improve and expand our historic park sites and roadside historical markers.

It was only fitting that the day the session opened, many of us joined the ground breaking ceremony for a new State Library, Archives and Museum to be built in Juneau, ready by 2016.

• Treadwell is Alaska’s lieutenant governor.

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