Alaska state Sen. Chris Birch has died. The Anchorage Republican died suddenly Wednesday evening after suffering heart complications. He was 68 years old.
In his work as a lawmaker, Birch spoke about taking the long view in policymaking. In his last speech on the Senate floor on July 29, Birch talked about Alaska’s strengths.
“The largest responsibility we have here as a legislative body is to provide some stability in our communities, in our state,” he said. “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.”
Birch’s son Logan Birch said his father was as positive and outgoing with constituents as he was outside of the public eye.
“He was the same person, whether he was speaking in front of the Senate or he was sitting with me at the cabin, at the campfire talking about how to solve all of the world’s problems,” Logan Birch said. “He was the same guy, and he was true to himself.”
Logan Birch also said he tries to be more like his father every day.
“As I’ve grown older and had kids of my own, I’ve realized that I just could not have had a better dad and a better role model and support system from him,” he said.
Chris Birch was born and raised in the Fairbanks area. He learned about mining from his father, working on his family’s placer mine in the Brooks Range.
Birch attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks and became a mining engineer. He put his industry knowledge to work chairing the Senate Resources Committee. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 2016 and to the Senate last year.
Birch advocated for developing Alaska’s resources. He also supported balancing the state budget without drawing down savings. He cited that position in voting to lower permanent fund dividends.
Birch also served from 1984 to 1990 on the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly. After that, he moved to Anchorage. And he served from 2005 to 2014 on the Anchorage Assembly.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy ordered that state flags fly at half-staff from Friday through Wednesday to honor Birch.
Tributes to Birch poured in on Thursday from lawmakers of both parties.
Anchorage Republican Rep. Jennifer Johnston was Birch’s friend for nearly 40 years. They first met as young parents in Fairbanks, and their families hiked, skied and celebrated birthdays together. Birch and Johnston also served in the Anchorage Assembly and the Alaska House together.
“Chris would just get out front and center and say just what he felt was the right thing to do,” Johnston said. “It always came from the heart. He never met a stranger. He never shied from folks that disagreed with him. Instead, he engaged them.”
Birch hiked frequently, and his family says he was planning a hike in Girdwood when he died.
Birch is survived by his wife Pam and two adult children and four grandchildren.
Dunleavy has 30 days to appoint Birch’s successor. By custom, the political party in the district with a vacancy nominates three candidates for the governor to consider. The appointment is subject to confirmation by the 12 remaining Republican senators. The successor will serve until a special election in November 2020 to fill the two years remaining in Birch’s term.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story was written by Becky Bohrer of the Associated Press. You can read that version at apnews.com.