Closing argument: Sen. Chris Birch on the value of stability

Chris Birch, who served many years as a state and local government official in Anchorage, started learning the basics of community leadership 35 years ago in Fairbanks.

A resident of Alaska since 1959, Birch earned a bachelor’s degree in mining engineering at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1972 and a master’s in engineering management seven years later. For decades he was a leader in his profession and a part-timer in politics. He was a conservative.

Elected to the Fairbanks borough assembly in 1984, Birch said the most important issue facing the community was its economic direction. He said we needed natural resource development, education, transportation, and tourism. He said he wanted to play a role in making this a better place.

He was still working last week in Juneau on that when he delivered his final remarks in the Legislature—a diplomatic plea in three minutes about the need for cooperation and stability in Alaska and why the Legislature was trying to reverse most of the budget vetoes by Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

He said the percent of market value approach to using a predictable level of revenue from the Permanent Fund is a central element in creating a better future, while restoring $110 million of the vetoed money to the University of Alaska is about stability, as is the restoration of small cash payments to impoverished old people.

“I think it is important to note that this is not unfamiliar ground. As mentioned earlier, we passed a budget with many of, if not most of, these same items in it, just a few short months ago.”

“Of particular interest to me as a University of Alaska alum was to see the reinstatement of a large portion of the drawdown against the university. I think the largest responsibility we have here as a legislative body is to provide some stability in our communities, in our state.”

”There’s not a state in the country that wouldn’t give their right arm to be in our predicament—$65 billion in the bank, a tremendous cache of human and capable resources, a youthful population, underemployed arguably, but we have a lot going on for us and lot to be proud of,” he said.

In his closing argument, Birch, who died Wednesday of heart problems at 68, gave Alaskans a good lesson about political leadership, compromise and how to make Alaska a better place.

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