We all know that we live in City and Borough of Juneau. But did you ever wonder where the concept of a setting up a unified borough came from? It came from constitutional delegate, Vic Fischer as the local government article in the State’s Constitution was his primary focus. Looking back on this accomplishment, Vic says, “My pride in the local government article endures. This unique form of government has proved as adaptable as we hoped it would. The goal of “maximum local self-government” has been successfully realized in [Alaska’s] diverse regions.”
Former Mayor Bruce Botelho agrees, “Juneau would not be the strong, vibrant community today if it were not for the imprint made by Vic Fischer at Alaska’s Constitutional Convention.”
I recently had the privilege of hanging out with former State Sen. Vic Fischer. With his 99th birthday around the corner (May 5) I asked him if had any insights or messages to pass on to his fellow Alaskans. He then directed me to the introduction of his 2012 autobiography, “To Russia with Love, An Alaskan’s Journey.”
“In this introduction, you will find the values that have shaped my life,” says Vic. After re-reading this introduction, I then asked him if I could re-write this in a format suitable for a column. “Go for it,” he replied immediately.
Sixty-seven years ago, when Vic Fischer was only 31, he participated in the drafting and signing of Alaska’s Statehood Constitution. Now, after a full and vibrant career in Alaska’s economic and political affairs, Vic is filled with retrospective wisdom. He also has unique insights from his time growing up in the shadow of Hitler and Stalin and watching his friends’ parents disappear after political arrests.
In keeping with the auspicious occasion of him turning 99 on May 5, here are nine insights; one for each decade, plus one to grow on.
1. Respect everyone’s individual rights.
2. Abhor the State’s power to kill its citizens.
3. Oppose all forms of insidious discrimination due to race, gender and sexual orientation.
4. Dedicate time and effort to those without power – the poor, the underdog.
5. Demonstrate fairness and equality in all your endeavors.
6. Find, evolve, and strengthen your humanistic values. Then live by them.
As a kid, Vic saw the ennobling hope and common cause of those who believed communism could serve all of humanity and defeat fascism. His parents were among those believers. And he saw their dreams for the new Soviet Union become the nightmare of Stalin’s repressive police state. As an American, he lived the miracle of freedom and opportunity; feeling the positive power of democracy in ordinary people’s hands. Therefore, he advises:
7. Do not take democracy for granted. Stand up against any and all authoritarian leanings.
8. Even though democratic government is not perfect and can be messy, start your engagement with the premise that government is often the path to solutions and not necessarily the problem that others are quick to suggest. Let’s not forget that government is the means by which civil society emerges and flourishes.
Vic was also fortunate to become Anchorage’s first city planner and later serve as a state senator for six years. And although there were plenty of bumps along the way, this he knows with certainty:
9. Public service is a noble profession. If you engage in public policy seek to float as many boats as you can regardless of their size. It is possible to do this.
For those of us who’ve come to personally know Vic Fischer, we see that it’s his personality that makes him a full participant in life. But he quickly points out that his sense of obligation to others, and the values that define this obligation, came from the formative people and events of his life. As he says in his book, “What I am, and whatever I may have achieved, is the collective product of my parents and family, of my friends, classmates and teaches, of all the people I have worked with and known. I am the product of all the opportunities I’ve had and of the world around me. I see how any single person can reflect all this input and then help shape our common future.”
As a longtime Alaskan, Vic Fisher is among those who have traveled farthest in space and time toward the better, more just society our state embodies, and which our constitution assures. And as such, here is the tenth insight that he shared with me.
10. Alaska’s future is only bright if we all do our part. Whether through business, academia, trades, public service, or non-profit work, together we can make Alaska, not only the Last Frontier but the Best Frontier. This I believe from the bottom of my heart.
In honor of Vic Fischer turning 99, I will continue to do my part in making Alaska the Best Frontier and I hope you will too.
• Kate Troll is a retired natural resource professional, a former Borough Assembly member and author of multiple books. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.