HE SIGNED THE STATE CONSTITUTION
John B. “Jack” Coghill, former lieutenant governor of Alaska, has passed. He was 93 years old.
Coghill was a political leader who was witness to and participant in some of the most dramatic events of Alaska’s short history, including Statehood. He was one of the last surviving authors and signers of the Alaska State Constitution.
Born Sept. 25, 1925, Coghill was a businessman who served as lieutenant governor from 1990 to 1994 with Gov. Walker Hickel. He had run as a Republican, but he didn’t abide the views of his running mate Arliss Sturgulewski. He switched over to join Hickel on the Alaska Independence Party, and the two of them denied Sturgulewski a Republican victory. They then governed as Republicans.
Coghill was mayor of Nenana for 22 years and served in both the territorial and state Legislature. He was elected to the territorial House in 1952 and 1956, representing the 4th District, which at the time was Interior and Southwestern Alaska. After Statehood, he was a senator in the first three Alaska Legislatures. He then chose not to run in 1964, but later he was again elected to the Senate in 1984-1990, when he became lieutenant governor.
Born in Fairbanks and educated in Nenana public schools, Coghill was elected to Alaska’s constitutional convention, serving as one of the “55 Club,” the 55 who wrote the Constitution in 55 days, and his personal copy of the Alaska Constitution is on display in Constitution Hall on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus.
The only remaining signer of the Alaska Constitution is Vic Fischer.
CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION SPEECH
In a speech given on the 48th day of the Constitutional Convention, Coghill spoke on behalf of public education and an education tax:
“I believe that the way our government was set up 175 years ago, that the founders felt that public education was necessary to bring about a form of educating the whole child for civic benefit through a division of point of the home taking a certain part of the child, the church taking a certain part of this education, and the government or state through public schools taking the other part. I adhere to that principle… I think that sectarianism segregation in our educational system is bad for the children. I do not deny the right of people to have their own schools. However, I think that we should always look to the interest of the founders of our nation when they brought about the separation of church and state. The problem was brought, and it was brought about by Thomas Jefferson quite well when he said, ‘If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in the state of civilization, it expects something that never shall be.’ Therefore out of his deliberations with James Madison they brought about a form of free public education starting in Virginia, and it has come forward ever since under the intent of having the tax dollar only brought to the public educational system.”
Public offices and organizations held by Coghill include:
- Territorial House of Representatives – 1953-57
- State Senate – 1959-65, 1984-90
- Mayor, City of Nenana – 1962-85
- Lieutenant Governor – 1990-94
- Nenana City Council
- Veterans of Foreign Wars
Coghill was often referred to in Alaska political circles as “Mr. Republican.”
[This story will be updated]