The 20-20 House of 1963



Former Speaker of the House Bruce Kendall is no longer wit us, but I lost touch with him after he left the second Hickel Administration and returned to Anchorage.   

He and I had been pretty good friends in Anchorage in the late 1970s and early ’80s. 

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

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. Liberating travel to Alaska from Lower 48 controlled shipping 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, at 5:36 pm — the Great Alaska Earthquake struck. The Legislature was in its second session and remained in Session through April 14 when it recessed until May 24, then reconvened and adjourned on May 30.   

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, 836 bills were introduced, and 231 bills were passed.   

Some members of that Legislature went on to be 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 blog 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 extorted 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 having is to continue the Session through the 120th Day.  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 political subunits 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; wait until you hear the howl from 20,000 State employees getting layoff notices and perhaps as many as another 20,000 education and political subunit employees potentially getting layoff notices.    

I used to have a sign above my desk that said something along the lines of, “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. 

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    • Thank you for the kind words. This is actually a recycled piece from a year or so ago when the Legislature was having troubles forming functional majorities. I trotted this out to show that it could be and has been done and produced a Legislature that could handle all sorts of issues including the greatest disaster the State has ever known.

  1. Thomas Jefferson said it best and I’ll paraphrase, when a government is no longer doing the will of the people and damage is done, the people have no recourse but to overthrow that government and install a new one. Take that into consideration Bryce edgemon.

  2. Last Tuesday I spoke with one House Rep. who told me that the issue with organizing was that there were 5 members on each extreme that are the problem. The 30 others, in the middle, are along for the ride.
    Just my opinion here, but I suspect that Eastman is part of the problem. Also my opinion that Eastman should not be part of any majority.

    • Other than the fact that Bill Yankee has more access to our elected representatives than the average Alaskan, this is a reasonable post on Bill’s part. The 5 extremes on either side number is obviously off, Eastman is definitely a problem…but that’s only 1, I guess Stutes could be 2 on the opposite realm of extreme Republican side. If anyone can point to 5 Democrats who would be considered extreme compared to the others I’d like to see it, they are all pretty far left…hell the majority of Republican House members are left of center!

      • It’s no “fact” that I have more access than average Alaskan-I just happened to be looking at an item this Republican House member had for sale. I asked about how their organizing was going and that was the reply. You evidently don’t agree with that Rs assessment-like you might get a better idea in your dreams. Heheh!

        • If I were to try and contact the same Republican House member for the same reason you did, I would need to get on a couple of planes and get a hotel room. People in Juneau have more access to elected officials during the session than those outside of Juneau, that’s a fact.

          • You are really reaching here-ever hear of e-mail or phone? Nobody needs a face-to-face for a contact anymore. My contact was originally over the phone and yours could well have, too. I know this is not rocket science but you are trying to make it more than it is. Tough noogies!

          • You’re right Bill, if every reprentative and senator were to put a knicknack or doodad for sale right now on Craigslist or Facebook you could potentually contact them and pick up that doodad or knickknack in person today, but you don’t have more access than the majority of Alaskans to our representatives and senators.
            If I were to contact the same people for the same item, I would have to take time off work, book multiple plane trips, get lodging, and then maybe in a day I could do what you could right now.
            Or I could wait until the end of the session and when my representative and senator return home I can have access to one representative and one senator…and you don’t have greater access to our representatives and senators, what you say strains the limits of credulity.

        • Unless you have a direct line number, personal cell number, or private email address only if you are well enough known that the Member’s staff recognizes your name are you going to get directly to the member. The young staffer who answers the public phone number will take your name, ask you about your issue(s) and tell you s/he’ll pass it on to the member. Likewise an email will be treated the same way. The staffer will look up your voter registration and note your affiliation and district and will look in APOC’s database to see who you’ve given money to and how much. If you and your contributions look interesting, the member might actually see your communication and if you’re a constituent in his/her district you might get a call or a letter/email that the member might have discussed with the staffer who writes it. Unless you’re well known or a significant contributor you’re unlikely to get any direct communication with the Member, though there are a few exceptions that try to make personal contacts. It doesn’t matter if you live in the Mendenhall Valley or in Mentasta Lake unless you’re well known or are a supervoter that gives a noticeable amount of money, you’re unlikely to get any personal attention from a legislator.

          I lived in Juneau for 26 years and worked for either the Executive Branch or the Legislature for 23 years. I’ve written a lot of letters for the signature of various elected and appointed officials. By the time email became common I was far enough up the org chart that sort of thing fell to others unless it was something really important.

          The big advantage that anyone interested in interacting with the Legislature has in Juneau is proximity and the fact that Juneau is a small town and it is easy to know a lot of the people there. In Juneau during the Session, I could find a way to run into elected and appointed officials including legislators pretty much whenever I wanted to long before I worked for the Legislature or became an appointee. In my day the circuit was The Triangle, The Hangar, and The Bubble Room at The Baranof. I got into a beef with my commissioner’s office over my divisions budget and we’d all been prohibited by the so-called commissioner from going over to the Legislature. It got a bit heated and I just said, OK, I’ll just go to The Triangle and get my effin’ money and walked out. I got my money, but that isn’t a recommended way get along with people who can fire you at the drop of a hat.

          You didn’t even have to write a check to see a legislator in any of those places, though picking up the tab helps. A surefire shortcut is getting to know a staffer, preferably a pretty one, and use the staffer for entre. If you travel in the circles where political things are interesting, you get to know everybody, the wait staff at the popular watering holes, the counter and gate staff at Alaska airlines, the security guy(s) at the Capitol and SOB. I arranged the conversation that ultimately got me an appointment in the Murkowski Administration because I was flying to ANC and noticed Murkowski and Clark were on the flight, and I kinda’, sorta’ knew them both though certainly not well. But I did know the AS Station Agent at the Juneau Airport, and I went to him and asked him to change my seat and put me in the row ahead or behind them. He did, we exchanged pleasantries, and then had very nice hour or so conversation about State issues on the way to Anchorage; the rest is history. Want to think about what an hour-long conversation with a sitting US Senator and soon-to-be Governor and his COS would cost you?

          You can live your entire life anywhere else in Alaska, actually anywhere else in America, and never have casual contact with an elected or appointed official above the local level unless you write a check and go to a fundraiser. In Juneau, all you have to do is go to Fred Meyer or Home Depot or have drinks after work.

          • Art, what you are mentioning would have no bearing on where you lived. This particular situation was done by answering an ad from that particular legislator-Thanks for your attempt at muddying the water here, though.

  3. Gee Bill what a surprise I was certain that you would have said “ pushing us Alaskans off the Edge…mon“ , as your House Representative problem.

  4. Nice trip down memory lane.
    I worked a tad with Bruce Kendall when you were in Walter J. Hickel’s second tour as Alaska’s Governor. Decent guy to work with. Kendall also was part of a syndicate that owned a really good Rockwell Kent painting that he and his pals in the syndicate donated to the Anchorage Museum. Whatever you think of Kent’s politics, he was a first-rate artist and someone who lived in Alaska and captured a select slice of the North very well. I think about old Kendall every time I view the Kent painting he donated to the ANC museum.
    Thank you Arthur.

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