UAS celebrates constitution's 50 years

Panel with convention delegates to look at whether document fulfilled creators' intentions

Posted: Friday, April 21, 2006

When the 55 delegates to the Alaska Constitutional Convention sat down Nov. 8, 1955, at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, the big-money lobbyists were nowhere to be found.

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"The big mining interests, the deep-pocket fishing interests, all the big sort of lobbying interests stayed away," said Gordon Harrison, an Alaska constitutional scholar and the author of "Alaska's Constitution: A Citizen's Guide." "It was the middle of winter in Fairbanks, and the constitution was deliberately held out of the way in an academic setting that was neutral and intended to inspire objective thinking. There wasn't lots of wheeling-dealing, the way you might find at a constitutional convention if it were held today."

The University of Alaska Southeast will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the convention (Nov. 8, 1955-Feb. 6, 1956) with "Creating Alaska," a series of events beginning at 1 p.m. today at the Egan Lecture Hall.

Harrison will moderate a discussion at 1 p.m. with former convention delegates Victor Fischer, George Sundborg Sr. and Jack Coghill; Chief Clerk Katie Hurley and economic consultant and temporary secretary George Rogers. The panel will examine whether the constitution has fulfilled its creators' intentions.

"What we were doing was not dealing with issues, and not dealing with special agendas, we were looking at setting up the framework for government to operate," said Rogers, the lone Alaska consultant. "When we incorporated the principles of the federal constitution, one of the big things was the separation of power. You had the judicial, legislative and executive branches each having certain powers, and each had checks and balances which the present administration is trying to undermine.

"Just last year, Gov. Murkowski was supposed to take the (Anchorage Superior Court) nominations that were given to him by the Judicial Council, which is made up of bipartisan representatives of both parties," he said. "He just wanted to ignore the fact that they had given him nominations. What concerns me now is they want very much to undermine the whole constitution."

The constitution was drafted three years before statehood, partially to prove to Congress that Alaskans were politically responsible, Harrison said.

"It had sort of a (public-relations) function, and it was a fairly transparent affair," Harrison said. "Everybody set partisan politics aside and joined into the task of structuring the best possible state government.

"The reason it's a good constitution is the way it's structured the three branches of government," he said. "The authority that it grants the Legislature to act. The way it has given the governor virtually complete control over the executive branch. And the way the judiciary is structured to select judges who are competent and nonpartisan and to provide a unified court system."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at

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