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Home  >  Reading and Writing  >  Pass the Word
Writing a Constitution
By Deborah Tobola

The process took four months. The result was a living document, the Alaska Constitution. "It was phenomenal—the most uplifting thing I've ever done in my life. If I had to identify the most important thing I did, the greatest contribution I've made, it would be taking part in the writing of the Constitution," states Victor Fischer, who sees being a part of the writing of the Constitution of Alaska as a peak moment.

Vic Fischer

It was one tough collaborative writing assignment, to set down words that would shape the future of the entire state of Alaska. In November of 1955, 55 delegates, including Fischer, met in Fairbanks to begin writing the law of the land. "No one anticipated the Alaska of today, yet the Constitution serves us," says Fischer. In 1955, Fischer was City Planner of Anchorage. Alaska's biggest city had a population then of about 30,000.

"We had no way of anticipating what happened . . . we didn't know about oil, or 747s, that Anchorage would become an international air hub," Fischer recalls. "We didn't have a University. There was no way to foresee those things."

The delegates to the Constitutional Convention were conscious that we were not only making history, but creating the future. They knew they were participating in a "lifetime experience," Fischer recalls.

"The vision was that we were writing for posterity and in a way, the model was the U.S. Constitution of 1787, which had 55 delegates, a number we copied. We were very conscious of the fact that the U.S. Constitution served as the foundation and framework for the evolution of the country through tremendous changes over two centuries. In the same way, we looked at our Alaska Constitution as something that should be designed in a similar manner, to serve a future that not one of us could really visualize."

Because Alaska is the second youngest state in the U.S., framers of Alaska's Constitution had the benefit of learning from other states. "We had to study the U.S. Constitution and constitutions of all the states, evaluate what was good and what was bad, get advice from national consultants, and think in terms of Alaska's experience and hopes for Alaska's future and put it concisely on paper, as a set of principles and a framework for the future of the state."

Fischer points to strengths in Alaska's Constitution, including a strong executive system, a unified court system, sound local self-government, and the first comprehensive set of natural resources provisions in the country.

The writing process itself, along with the achievement of something outstanding, he says, forged a bond among the writers, which has existed regardless of political and philosophical differences among them. "For instance, Jack Coghill and I are on opposite ends of the political spectrum. We were two of the three youngest delegates. We've disagreed on so many things over the decades, but when constitutional issues come up, we're on the same side."

Which is not to say that it's a perfect document. "There have been amendments to the Constitution that have lifted it to greater heights, such as the amendment to establish and recognize the right to privacy. Things like non-discrimination on account of gender. Both were discussed during the writing of the Constitution," Fischer says.

But in his opinion, some of the more than 20 amendments have been political in nature, and unnecessary. "It's not that the Constitution is a holy document. It's that it has proven very effective."

View the Alaska Constitution.

Victor Fischer received the Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Alaska Anchorage in recognition of his achievements and contributions in service to Alaska.
Victor Fischer has studied and taken part in Alaska government and politics for over 40 years. He was a delegate to the Alaska Constitutional Convention, a territorial legislator, and later a state senator. From 1966 to 1976 he served as director of the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage. His current work includes studying Alaska Native and regional governance issues.

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