Discover more from The Alaska Memo by Matt Buxton
Remembering Vic Fischer
“That all persons have corresponding obligations to the people and to the state.”
Good afternoon, Alaska. It’s Monday, Oct. 23.
In this edition: The last surviving delegate to Alaska’s Constitutional Convention, Vic Fischer, died this weekend at 99. Called “Alaska’s conscience” by some, Fischer was always gracious and generous with his time and energy, leaving an indelible mark on the 49th State. Also, the annual convention of the Alaska Federation of Natives wrapped up this weekend, where delegates approved a wide-ranging slate of resolutions, including one backing the state’s open primary system. Also, the reading list.
Current mood: 😢
Remembering Vic Fischer
Vic Fischer, the last living delegate to Alaska’s Constitutional Convention, died Sunday at his home in Anchorage at the age of 99, leaving behind an incredible legacy that reached far beyond his signature on the state’s founding document.
His life was greatly shaped by his childhood in Moscow under the cruelty of Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin and, later, by his time in the U.S. Army during World War II. After the war, he came to Alaska, where he advocated statehood and worked to instill a sense of shared responsibility and duty to one another.
“The values that would guide me into the future largely had been set by the war’s end. They were, and still are today, liberal and humanistic. They include the belief that people are more important than ideologies, the confidence in freedom that allows each person to fulfill her or his own capacity for good, the responsibility of all to care for those in need, the resistance to discrimination and racism, and the deep distrust of the state’s power to kill. I will carry these values through the next stages of my life, which led to the Territory of Alaska and the founding of a new state.”
-Vic Fischer, “To Russia with Love: An Alaskan’s Journey”
In an interview with Alaska Public Media, Fischer’s wife, Jane Angvik, recalled how he was particularly proud of a section of the Alaska Constitution that mirrors the U.S. Constitution’s rights of citizens to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” but includes an extra idea: “That all persons have corresponding obligations to the people and to the state.”
“And what that means is, you have to be involved in your government,” Angvik told Alaska Public Media. “It’s ours. It’s us.”
Late in life, Fischer remained involved in Alaska politics, lending his name and support to several causes to better Alaska. He co-chaired the effort to remove Gov. Mike Dunleavy from office following vetoes that would have decimated nearly every aspect of government services delivered by the state, calling the effort the most “phenomenal outpouring of citizenship” he’d ever seen in Alaska.
Called “Alaska’s conscience” by some, Fischer was always gracious and generous with his time and energy, leaving an indelible mark on the 49th State.
AFN endorses ranked choice voting, open primaries
The Alaska Federation of Natives wrapped up its annual convention in Anchorage this weekend, including approving a slate of resolutions outlining the priorities of the state’s largest Alaska Native organization on everything from subsistence rights and economic policy to health, education and federal tribal policy.
That included a resolution endorsing Alaska’s open primary and ranked-choice voting system as it faces a far-right campaign seeking to repeal it. The system was first approved by voters in 2020 and used in the 2022 special and regular elections, where U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola made history as the first Alaska Native person in Congress.
In a statement released by Alaskans for Better Elections, AFN Co-Chair Joe Nelson said preserving the system is essential because it frees politicians from the traditional trappings of partisan politics.
“Given the polarization in the country, Alaskans cannot afford to merely preserve the nonpartisan open primary and ranked-choice voting model,” he said. “We have an obligation to lead a movement. Our current elections law will help restore confidence in our electoral system by creating a lane that allows politicians to become public servants–in service of all Alaskans.”
Now, conservatives with ties to Republican candidates who lost in 2022—Sarah Palin to Peltola and Kelly Tshibaka to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski—are pushing to repeal it through an initiative. They’re currently in the signature-gathering stage of the initiative process and have frequently boasted about how they’re nearing the 26,705 signatures needed to get it on the 2024 ballot.
Supporters of the system argue the open primary system makes it possible for more centrist, less divisive candidates to succeed than the past system, where political parties played a central role through the semi-closed primary system. U.S. Rep. Peltola succeeded in that system with a campaign focused on broad, bipartisan appeal with a likable candidate who eschewed petty politics.
AFN’s resolution argues that the new system is friendlier to Alaska Natives.
“The open primary and ranked-choice voting system provides more opportunities for Alaska Natives to run for public office and get elected,” notes the resolution. “Current law allows for more freedom, more choice, more influence, and greater participation among Alaskans, decentralizing power and empowering voters.”
During the resolution process on Saturday, Matthew Nicolai spoke in favor of the resolution and against the efforts of the conservative initiative backers, who he said were trying to collect signatures outside the convention under the banner of “honest elections” when it was really about making elections less friendly for moderate centrists like Peltola.
“This resolution is in dire need of support of our Native people statewide,” he said. “It’s very important our Native people stand up and show up to the elections to fight this (initiative) that they’re presenting, saying it’s honest and fair. It’s not.”
The Alaska Memo by Matt Buxton is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.