In the room where the First Alaska Territorial Legislature first convened, 100 years to the day after its opening session, current and former legislators, their staff, and members of the public met for a reception marking the first day of the legislative centennial celebration in Juneau.
Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, chairman of the Alaska Legislative Centennial Commission and former Senate president, made his opening remarks as attendees of the event at Rockwell, in the former Elks Lodge building downtown, munched on hors d’oeuvres and socialized.
“Just imagine, here we are in this room, in this building, where the First (Territorial) Legislature met 100 years ago,” Stevens said. “Think about this room. The same floor, the same walls, probably the same ceiling, maybe different light fixtures, but for the most part, this is what our colleagues 100 years ago faced.”
Gov. Sean Parnell, a former member of the Alaska State Legislature from South Anchorage, spoke after Stevens’ opening remarks.
“The Legislature, from 100 years ago to today, is a direct reflection of the people,” said Parnell. “It is the biggest collective direct reflection of the people of any of the three branches of government.”
Parnell added, “Think about your reflection in the mirror. Sometimes you like what you see and sometimes you don’t like what you see. The Legislature is a reflection of all that is Alaska. It represents the highest ideals and dreams and aspirations of every Alaskan. And yes, it represents the imperfections of Alaskans as well.”
Parnell said he was “honored” to serve in both the Alaska House of Representatives and the Senate before becoming lieutenant governor in 2006.
“The people count on this Legislature to be their representative voice,” Parnell concluded. “May it ever be.”
Following Parnell, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell spoke about obstacles the Legislature has faced during its history in proving Alaska’s worth to the United States.
“I think there are three questions this Legislature, this legislative body, has always had to answer for the nation,” said Treadwell. “And one is the question, ‘Is Alaska worth it?’ Second is, ‘Can Alaskans pay for themselves?’ And the third is, ‘Can Alaskans govern themselves?’”
Treadwell referred to disputes between Alaska’s leaders and the federal government, which have continued since before the Territory of Alaska was formed up to the present day.
“I’m just proud to have been associated with these people in Alaska who are constant no matter what their party, willing to stand up for the rights and the vision and the future of this place,” Treadwell said in conclusion. “God bless.”
In his own remarks, Stevens thanked the Alaska Committee, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to promoting Juneau as Alaska’s capital city, for sponsoring Sunday’s reception.
The opening remarks from Stevens, Parnell and Treadwell were followed by a round-robin on former legislators’ memories and recollections of their time in the Capitol, which was moderated by former House Speaker Terry Gardiner, D-Ketchikan, and former Senate President Clem Tillion, R-Halibut Cove.
Gardiner, Tillion and other former legislators, including ex-Reps. John Sund, D-Ketchikan, and Clark Gruening, D-Anchorage, and ex-Sen. Arliss Sturgulewski, R-Anchorage, recounted the story of how Alaska Permanent Fund dividends came to be, among other tales.
As part of the centennial celebration, earlier in the day on Sunday, local historian John Venables gave a presentation in character as Delegate James Wickersham on the former judge’s 1912 congressional push to see Alaska organized as a territory.
A panel also discussed “Equal Rights, One Man One Vote, and Alaska Native Leaders in our Legislative History” as Sunday’s lunch event.
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 586-1821 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.