Lawmakers honor first African American woman elected to the Alaska House

Late Sen. Bettye J. Davis was the first African American woman elected to the Alaska House

Sen. Bettye J. Davis, D-Anchorage, 1938-2018, was the first African American woman to be elected to the Alaska House of Representatives and the first African American elected to the state Senate. (Courtesy photo | State of Alaska)

Sen. Bettye J. Davis, D-Anchorage, 1938-2018, was the first African American woman to be elected to the Alaska House of Representatives and the first African American elected to the state Senate. (Courtesy photo | State of Alaska)

The Alaska House of Representatives voted overwhelming in support of renaming a Capitol committee meeting room after the late Sen. Bettye J. Davis.

Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, sponsored the resolution which would rename Room 106 the Bettye J. Davis Committee Room.

Davis was an Anchorage resident who served in both the House and Senate; she passed away in 2018. She was the first African American woman to be elected to the House and the first African American to be elected to the Senate.

“Her commitment to children and those living hard lives earned her recognition as the ‘Conscience of the Legislature.’ Her tireless advocacy for all Alaskans serves as an example for future generations of legislators,” the text of the resolution says.

Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, sponsored a bill to rename a committee room at the Capitol after the late Sen. Bettye J. Davis, the first African American to be elected to the state Senate, on Monday. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, sponsored a bill to rename a committee room at the Capitol after the late Sen. Bettye J. Davis, the first African American to be elected to the state Senate, on Monday. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Several representatives rose to speak in favor of the resolution, calling Davis a “trailblazer” and an inspiration. Many told anecdotes about cordial interactions they had with Davis.

Even though Davis was a Democrat, a number of Republican lawmakers rose to speak in favor of naming the room in her honor.

Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, comes from the same district as Davis. He said that despite political differences, he and Davis never let those issues come between them and always had respectful dialogue as they worked together on several issues.

Rep. Sharon Jackson, R-Eagle River, asked what better way was there to begin the first floor session of February, which is Black History Month, than to honor Davis’ legacy.

Rep. Sharon Jackson, R-Eagle River, speaks in support of a bill to rename the House and Social Services Committee room at the Capitol after the late Senator Bettye J. Davis on Monday. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Rep. Sharon Jackson, R-Eagle River, speaks in support of a bill to rename the House and Social Services Committee room at the Capitol after the late Senator Bettye J. Davis on Monday. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Support for the resolution was not universal, however. Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, said that while he had respect for Davis, he called the resolution, “a mistake.”

Room 106 is currently used by the House Health and Social Services Committee, and could be the site of debates on “the sanctity of life,” Eastman said. Because Davis was an advocate of access to abortion, Eastman said he felt naming the room in her honor would be improper. He also suggested that future legislators might change the name of the room as politics changed over time.

Many of Eastman’s colleagues said that one issue should not prevent the Legislature from honoring Davis’ legacy.

Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, called Eastman’s reasoning a “slippery slope,” saying that if past politicians were judged on a single aspect of their lives, monuments such as the Washington Monument would have to be torn down.

Lawmakers ultimately voted 38-1 to rename the room, with only Eastman voting against. As the resolution is a concurrent resolution, it will be sent to the Senate for approval, according to Megan Wallace, director of legal services at the Legislative Affairs Office.

More in News

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. A medical director at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control says the numbers of active COVID-19 cases that are variants of concern are higher than what has been publicly reported in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID-RML via AP
COVID at a glance for Thursday, April 15

These numbers come from reports from the City and Borough of Juneau… Continue reading

Has it always been a police car? (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire)
Police calls for Thursday, April 15, 2021

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

COVID at a glance for Wednesday, April 14

The most recent state and local numbers.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Wednesday, April 14, 2021

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

This photo shows an envelope containing a 2020 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident. On Wednesday, March 24, 2021, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the state of Ohio that tried to get the U.S. Census Bureau to provide data used for drawing congressional and legislative districts ahead of its planned release. (AP Photo / Matt Rourke)
Alaska joins 15 other states in backing Alabama’s challenge to Census privacy tool

The case could go directly to the Supreme Court if appealed.

Has it always been a police car? (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire)
Police calls for Tuesday, April 13, 2021

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

This photo shows the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine sits on a table at a pop up vaccinations site the Albanian Islamic Cultural Center, in the Staten Island borough of New York. The U.S. is recommending a “pause” in administration of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to investigate reports of potentially dangerous blood clots. (AP Photo / Mary Altaffer)
CDC freeze on Johnson and Johnson vaccine sets clinics scrambling

The odds of being affected are vanishingly rare, but CDC says better safe than sorry.

After over 30 years at 3100 Channel Drive, the Juneau Empire offices are on the move. (Ben Hohenstatt /Juneau Empire File)
The Juneau Empire is on the move

Advertising and editorial staff are moving to Jordan Creek Center.

Most Read