Alaska: Statehood to the Present

Statehood to the Present

In 1958, Alaskans approved statehood by a 5 to 1 vote, and on Jan. 3, 1959, Alaska was officially admitted into the Union as a state, the first since Arizona in 1912. William A. Egan, a native Alaskan, served as the state's first and fourth governor (1959-66; 1970-74). On Mar. 27, 1964, the strongest earthquake ever recorded in North America occurred in Alaska, measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale, and taking approximately 114 lives and causing extensive property damage. Some cities were almost totally destroyed, and the fishing industry was especially hard-hit, with the loss of fleets, docks, and canneries from the resulting tsunami. Reconstruction, with large-scale federal aid, was rapid. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (1971) gave roughly 44 million acres (17.8 million hectares; 10% of the state) and almost $1 billion to Alaskan native peoples in exchange for renunciation of all aboriginal claims to land in the state. In 1989 the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, releasing 11 million gallons of oil into the water in the worst oil spill in U.S. history up to that time and severely damaging the ecosystem. A jury in 1994 found Exxon Corp. (now ExxonMobil) and the ship's captain negligent, but the amount of punitive damages ($507.5 million) to be paid to some 33,000 commercial fishermen and other plaintiffs was ultimately fixed by a Supreme Court decision in 2008, which severely reduced the original award ($2.5 billion).

Since 2002, the Republican party has controlled the governorship with the exception of Independent Bill Walker's single term (2014-18), which ended with his resignation. Sarah Palin was the first woman to serve as the state's governor (2006-09), but became a controversial figure on the national scene when she ran for Vice President with John McCain in 2008. She resigned amid mounting legal problems in 2009. Her lieutenant governor, Sean Parnell, completed her term, but lost his bid for election in 2014 to Independent Bill Walker. Walker withdrew from the 2018 election, endorsing Democrat Mark Begich, but Begich lost to Republican Mike Dunleavy.

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