Students revisit Alaska’s Constitutional Convention

Samuel Abney is a senior majoring in history and Spanish. He has served on the USUAA assembly and currently is a member of the University Election Board.

In memory of the 55 delegates that made up the Alaska Constitutional Convention in 1956 at UAF, 55 young Alaskans ages 14 to 27 years who were either in school and/or in the workforce visited to Fairbanks along with prominent statesmen from all over the state.

They were there from January 13 through the 16 for the purpose of meeting at the University of Alaska Fairbanks to discuss the important issues that faced the state. While discussing the issues they deliberated and created action items that could be used as legislation to deal with Alaska’s more pressing problems. Being a devoted UAA student (one of five representing you in Fairbanks) I thought I would hold myself accountable to you by publishing some remarks from my perspective of the conference.

In every way possible, I believe, the conference was a raving success. The selection of delegates was very carefully done and represented all regions, races, religions, branches of the UA system, high schools, sizes of communities and the workforce of the state. We were treated like first class diplomats with technological conveniences for deliberating, voting, and monitoring floor action. Important statesmen like Lt. Governor Loren Leeman, former Anchorage Assemblywoman Jane Angvik, ASD Superintendent Carol Comeau, Fairbanks Mayor Jim Whitaker and former Governor Walter Hickel were there throughout the event.

These people were all very approachable and helpful as occasional sounding boards for our ideas and comments as well as providing advice about the legislative process from time to time.

Succinctly put, in the way of interactions of the delegates, staff, media, guests and sponsors everything that could’ve went right did, and everything that could’ve gone wrong didn’t. For example, all 55 delegates had great minds, were accomplished, had name recognition and were young adult leaders in their communities. But there was no condescension, haughtiness or bad manners of any kind between any of us. All of the conflicts that people might’ve brought that by all rights should’ve been there were not (i.e. rural vs. urban Alaska, Anchorage vs. Fairbanks, UAA vs. UAF).

We came together to ponder the direction our state was moving, and proactively planned to make sure it would be on a good one in the future. We discussed issues under five headings: the Alaska spirit, natural resources, healthy families, education and leadership.

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There were a lot of good ideas presented on everything from sewer and utilities in rural Alaska to a lively debate on the 25th Amendment to the State Constitution. One gentleman from Fairbanks spoke for everyone when he said that he disagreed with some delegates vehemently on some issues, but he would die for their right to voice their opinion. No one was more pleasantly surprising than the high school delegates. They made an awesome contribution by being mature, informed, proactive and cooperative. All initiatives, whether unanimously passed or not, had a strong quality of not being formulated for and sold out to “big oil.” This was very refreshing.

I went to the Conference to learn. I had some insight and ideas that were beneficial, but I went to survey the hands that the welfare of this great land would fall into. I can say without reservation I would vote for any of the men or women that attended for any office in our state. Let me assure you that there is a great deal of hope in the next generation of leaders for this state, but charge and admonish you that they can only lead as far as we will be engaged civically and follow. We all share the responsibility as well.

The Conference of Young Alaskans was indeed a raving success. I hope that you will anticipate the publishing of its findings, take them to heart, meditate and pray on them, and start seeing how you can be involved to build an Alaska that responsibly develops our natural resources, makes education and the exchange of ideas a top priority, builds healthy families and communities, brings the best out of great leaders and furthers the Alaska spirit.