The Great Alaska Earthquake and the 20-20 split House of 1964




Former Speaker of the House Bruce Kendall died in 2012 at the age of 93, but I had lost touch with him long before that, some time after he left the second Hickel Administration and returned to Anchorage.

Bruce and I had been pretty good friends in the late 1970s and early 80s.

One of Bruce’s proudest achievements was having been Speaker of the 20-20 split House of Representatives in 1963 and 1964, and he loved to regale anyone who would listen with stories of that time.

Art Chance

The State of Alaska was still aborning, completing the transition from the Territorial structure, and building and buying new things. In 1963, the State took delivery of the first “big” ferries, the Taku class, two of which were later enlarged and became the Malaspina and Matanuska, and brought mainline service to Ketchikan, Petersburg, Wrangell, Sitka, and Prince Rupert. The Tustumena was delivered in 1964 and service to the Gulf Coast, Kodiak, and The Chain began.

Indeed, liberating Alaska travel from Lower 48-controlled shipping concerns was almost as important as liberating Alaska from the Alaska canned salmon industry and fish traps.

Then life changed forever late in the afternoon of March 27, 1964: The Great Alaska Earthquake.

The Legislature was in its second session and remained in session through April 14, when it recessed until May 24 — when it reconvened until it finally adjourned on May 30.

Then Gov. Bill Egan called a special session from Aug. 31 through Sept. 2 to deal with appropriations to match federal revenue for earthquake relief and provide State relief to Alaskans whose homes and businesses had been damaged or destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami.

The State also retired or adjusted mortgages on homes damaged or destroyed and borrowed what was then the princely sum of $17.8 million for earthquake relief.

Along the way the Legislature established the Human Rights Commission, enacted Aid to Families with Dependent Children legislation, passed the Mandatory Boroughs Act, and started the first of many of Alaska’s Boondoggles to Nowhere, the Rampart Dam Development Commission.

In total, the Third Legislature was in session 164 days. Some 836 bills were introduced, and 231 bills were passed.

Some members of that Legislature went on to become household names in Alaska politics and government for a generation. A couple are still around and still politically active, and some have sons and daughters who followed in their footsteps. I knew quite a few of them; they were and are smart, industrious people, but none of them are superhuman.

Today’s conventional wisdom, at least the conventional wisdom of one House member, is that a tie or a narrow majority either guarantees stasis or causes individual members to have unwarranted veto power over legislation.

The actions and results of the Third Legislature graphically demonstrate that the conventional wisdom is either a delusion or a contrivance.  To my mind, it is more likely the latter.

I think Rep. David Eastman has it exactly right in his column, in which he characterized the current situation in the House as a contrivance by the Democrats and three false-flag Republicans to deny the People the results of the last election and preserve the Holy Grail of the union-owned Democrats, an untouched operating budget with no cuts to the State’s extortionary education funding, no cuts to Medicaid, and no layoffs of employees paid from the General Fund.

The unions/Democrats could get away with this under Gov. Bill Walker by holding the Senate hostage; they had to pass a budget the Democrats and the governor would sign or have a government shutdown on their heads.

The only objective I can see the Democrats and their quisling allies have now is to force the governor to call a special session after the 90 day goes by without action, which would continue the session through the 120th day, the constitutional limit.

If they can stall until June 1, the governor has to give almost all State employees a layoff notice effective at 12:01 am on July 1.

At that time, the government of the State of Alaska will all but cease to exist.

School Districts/REAA’s totally reliant on State funds will follow suit as will “polisubs” (political subdivisions) with employees whose positions rely on State funds.

The School Districts that have local funding in addition to State funding don’t have to give immediate layoff notices, but since they’re all union chattel, they will.  The unions/Democrats and their allies are counting on the governor not having the will to look into the abyss. We’ll see.

Frankly, nobody has ever seen anything like this before. There are only a handful of us still on this planet who’ve ever seen and dealt with significant labor strife at the State level and who remember when June 1 layoff notices were really a matter of routine.  Everyone heard the wailing and gnashing of teeth over a few hundred requests for the resignations of political appointees, but wait until you hear the howl from 20,000 State employees getting layoff notices and perhaps as many as another 20,000 education and polisub employees potentially getting them as well.

I used to have a sign above my desk that said: “If you have to eat frogs, eat the big one first, and don’t spend too much time thinking about it.”   Somebody is going to have to eat some frogs.

Art Chance is a retired Director of Labor Relations for the State of Alaska, formerly of Juneau and now living in Anchorage. He is the author of the book, “Red on Blue, Establishing a Republican Governance,” available at Amazon. 


  1. Thanks for another insightful article. If Republicans cannot prevail in passing the Governor’s budget I am just fine with a shutdown scenario. Prefer a compromise but only if Governor gets most of what he wants.

    • A shutdown for lack of an operating budget for the State isn’t like the partial shutdowns and fake/media shutdowns that the federal government treats us to from time to time; there is quite literally NO money to operate the State. Even programs with program receipts authority such as the ANC airport, the ferry system, Pioneer Homes, etc. have no authorization to spend the money absent an appropriation. I’m told there is a Knowles era AG’s opinion that holds that you can spend if there is a reasonable expectation of a forthcoming appropriation, but I’ve never actually seen the opinion and considering when it was done I question the reliability. I guess if I were on the Third Floor and facing no money to operate prisons or catch criminals, I’d spend whatever money I could get to and wait for somebody to sue to stop me.

      There is also the distinct possibility of a work stoppage by the ferry unions who are working on expired contracts and only need to reach a state of impasse to move to strike. They could do that any time, but would probably wait until tourist season if they were allowed to so they could extract maximum impact. I used to tell them I didn’t care if they struck between September and May; it would just save us money. There is even the possibility of a General Government Unit strike after July 1, even if there is a budget. There 11th hour sweetheart deal with the outgoing Walker Administration still awaits Legislative action and the Legislature may not fund it; it’s a bunch of money. I never took strike threats from the GGU seriously. They’ve only gone to impasse twice; once early on when they had a Democrat governor that they could be confident wouldn’t lock them out or cut off their dues and once during Murkowski when they overplayed their hand. I called their bluff and dared them to do something, and they struck their colors and signed an agreement. Basically, the bulk of their bargaining unit can’t afford to miss a paycheck and the State can do without them for awhile, so the State wins if it wants to.l

      • Art, 1964 was a completely different era in AK politics. There was no political correctness. No identity politics. No constant name-calling. They were in it to get something done for AK. Mike Stepovich had been Territorial Governor, a Republican picked by Eisenhower following the Statehood Act. But he lost to Bill Eagan in the first election. Opposite parties, but both thinking ahead without all the bullsh*t we see today in politics. A 20/20 split in 2019 is a give-in to the Democratic by Republicans who dont know how to fight.

  2. If they pass another budget outside our means I think it’s time to take another run at this. I was a state program manager in 1985 and 1986 when Sheffield and Cowper tried to do the responsible thing. They ordered us not to spend money we didn’t have. Administrative Order 90 was later overturned and declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

    The new statute reads: “AS 37.07.080(g) The governor may direct the withholding or reduction of appropriations to a state agency at any time during the fiscal year only if the governor determines that the planned expenditures can no longer be made due to factors outside the control of the state which make the expenditure factually impossible.”

    This was considered sufficient to overcome the lack of clarity in the earlier statute which the court held “the legislature unconstitutionally delegated legislative authority when it enacted AS 37.07.080(g)(2) without providing any meaningful guidance.” The new guidance provided above is supposedly constitutional.

    If the legislature appropriates funds that exceed revenues received, could that be considered “factors outside the control of the state which make the expenditure factually impossible.”? If the legislature does not do it’s job and pass a budget within its means, then might the Governor be able to use this principle to reduce the expenditure? Perhaps the threat of this might cause the legislature to do the responsible thing and adopt a more austere budget.

    • It’s been a long time since I read Kelly v. Hammond, but I understand the line of argument. It’s kind of like an argument to rescind or abrogate a contract because of demonstrable inability to perform. The problem I always had in interest arbitrations when I tried to argue inability to pay was some $60 Billion sitting out there in the PF and all sorts of reserves laying around in mattresses and coffee cans. I accept inability as a valid defense to the Court’s thinking in Kelly v. Hammond, but it is damned hard to demonstrate that the State of Alaska is unable to pay for something.

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