Nearly every seat in the lecture hall of Egan Library was filled Friday night for a book talk by former state Sen. Victor Fischer, one of Alaska’s “founding fathers.”
Fischer, who helped write the Alaska Constitution, is in Juneau to talk about his autobiography, “To Russia With Love: An Alaskan’s Journey.” His appearance at the University of Alaska Southeast was part of the university’s “Sound and Motion” spring event series.
Fischer was born in Germany in 1924 and spent much of his childhood in the Soviet Union, before his family emigrated to the United States. While serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, he said, he became fascinated by the idea of becoming a town planner and moving to territorial Alaska.
“Just as I had been looking for jobs, had job offers, a notice went up on the bulletin board: Interior Department Bureau of Land Management town planner for Alaska. And I pulled the notice off the bulletin board,” said Fischer to laughter from the audience.
Fischer moved to Alaska for the job in 1950 and was eventually elected to serve as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.
While taking questions from the audience, Fischer was asked several times for his opinion of the Constitution and how it has held up over time.
“I would revisit some parts,” Fischer replied. “I think as a whole, it’s worked very effectively. I think having a strong chief executive, strong governor, despite my dislike of some — it’s worked well.”
Fischer also praised Alaska’s judicial system, which he said was the main reason why he has never voted for a new convention despite wishing some elements of the Constitution were different.
Among the changes Fischer would like to see, he identified the glossing over of Alaska Native history in the preamble and the Constitution’s failure to outline a strong role for tribal governments. He also said he would like to revisit the state’s decennial redistricting process.
One proposed change Fischer was asked about was Senate Joint Resolution 9, a proposed constitutional amendment to remove a prohibition on public funds being used for the “direct benefit” of private schools, including religious institutions.
Proponents of the resolution argue that the language is ambiguous and that the state already provides scholarships to religious universities.
“If it’s already being done, why amend the Constitution?” Fischer asked. “If it’s being done adequately for those purposes, leave it alone. And I hope the Legislature will not move that forward.”
To applause, Fischer said that if the proposed amendment makes it before voters, “I’ll certainly work against it.”
Fischer also talked about his lifelong relationship with Russia. He served as the University of Alaska Anchorage’s director of Russian affairs after serving in the state Senate during the 1980s.
“The ‘To Russia’ was essentially the parallel between my parents going to Russia in the 1920s, full of hope, only to be disappointed, (and) in the ‘90s, Alaskans worked very strongly to establish ties,” Fischer said, mentioning Juneau’s sister city relationship with the Russian port city of Vladivostok as an example.
Fischer spoke negatively about Russian President Vladimir Putin, but he responded to a question about the future of Russia-United States relations by saying he is “optimistic.”
“Russia’s going to join the world more,” Fischer predicted. “So basically, I’m hopeful. It may not be in my lifetime, but yours, it will happen.”
Fischer took questions for about an hour on topics ranging from his feelings on Alaska’s political and social transformation since statehood, the role of Native languages in education, and his thoughts on the state’s role in promoting resource development. After wrapping up, he received a long standing ovation from the audience.
UAS Chancellor John Pugh thanked Fischer for coming.
“It’s remarkable to still have a living legend with us,” said Pugh.
After his talk, Fischer signed copies of his book for members of the audience.
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 586-1821 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.