Commentary: Alaska's 50 years of statehood

This editorial appeared in The Anchorage Daily News.

In the long fight for statehood, the most compelling symbol of Alaska's grievances was the fish trap. The device, authorized by the territory's federal overseers, allowed Outside-owned canneries to elbow aside local fishermen, vacuum up Alaska's salmon, and haul huge profits back to the Lower 48. Almost the instant Alaska joined the union, the new state abolished fish traps. Alaska went on to rebuild healthy salmon fisheries under more enlightened state management.

Since then, the most compelling symbol of what Alaska has done with our newfound power as a state is the trans-Alaska pipeline.

Oil flowing through the pipeline from the North Slope has produced an astounding $96 billion for the state treasury. The oil bonanza at Prudhoe Bay, located on land owned by the new state government, settled the question of how the fledging state would support itself.

Today oil drives a third of the state's economy. Once among the poorest of states, Alaska consistently ranks near the top of those with the highest household income.

Without the pipeline, Alaska probably wouldn't have the Permanent Fund – the single wisest political decision of our young state's history. Even after the current market crash, the oil money stashed in that savings account is still worth $29 billion. An Alaskan living here since 1982 has collected $29,600 in dividends.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Anchorage Daily News.