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The Department of Alaska existed as a sui generis overseas possession of the United States from 1867 until January 1, 1983. It was neither a territory, nor a commonwealth, nor a state, nor a federal district - and it certainly was not organized.
The following article is written in the ethnographic present, circa 1980 ATL.
Demographics of Alaska
Alaska has its own immigration controls, but for most of its history it had none whatsoever. However, the government has never impeded the movement of American settlers into the territory. Even today, Alaska is one of the few places where Americans and in some cases foreigners can settle without going through bureaucratic formalities (it is still necessary to obtain homestead land if needed - a long, complicated process). Anyone can come, regardless of their social status. However, as the independence referendum approaches, this situation will likely change with the adoption of modernized laws.
Economy of Alaska
Alaskans do not pay federal income tax, and though they pay territorial income tax, it is very low since the 52 agencies (See Politics of Alaska, below) receive all their funds from Washington. This arrangement means that the citizens of the 48 states pay for more than 95% of Alaska’s expenditures, something that has not gone unnoticed by voters. The people of Alaska, due to the unique but unwieldy form of government they have been saddled with, have the lowest tax burden in all of the American states and territories. In addition, Alaska has also eked out a niche as a tax haven, hosting many banks and financial instituions of dubious origin.
Duties and Tariffs
Alaska’s trade has historically been oriented towards the continental US. For most of its history, successive customs laws strangled Alaska’s ability to trade with other countries, thus resulting in its high cost of living for many years. However, in 1965 a new Alaska Tariff Act was passed which allowed Alaska to make its own customs laws, which are now passed by the exclusive fiat of the Commissioner (See Politics of Alaska, below). This has resulted in a drop in the cost of living, a rise in overall living standards, and broadening of the territory’s economic base. Even so, there is one rule that cannot be changed: all trade between Alaska and the US must be duty free.
Politics of Alaska
Currently, Alaska resembles a bureaucratic demilitarized zone. No less than 52 federal agencies have plenipotentiary jurisdiction over one area or another. The 52 agencies operate almost entirely against instructions from Washington. There is little in formal government structure – the Department’s Washington-appointed executive lacks power and its elected legislature, the Assembly of Alaska is more consultative than real. It takes the patience of a saint to get anything done and turf wars between agencies occur daily and are considered to be perfectly normal.
Constitutionally, Alaska's basic law is the Alaska Act of 1916. The Act has only rarely been revised, and even then it is written in the vagueist terms. For the most part, Alaska depends on a long, long line of Executive Orders and regulations from the White House for the authority to create its institutions, organize itself, and make decisions. The Department has never been under the jurisdiction of the US federal constitution, and it exists largely in a constitutional vacuum.
The president of the United States appoints a Commissioner with the advice and consent of the Senate to oversee Alaskan affairs. He and the cabinet he appoints are responsible for drawing up a yearly plan to coordinate Alaska’s administration. He must also ensure that the interests of Alaska’s native peoples are protected, that the territory’s development goals are being met, and that progress towards self-government is being made. In the areas where Alaska can legislate locally, the Commissioner is permitted to legislate at will. The present Commissioner is Einar Debrett, who has been a vocal advocate of reform since being appointed.
The Assembly of Alaska is a unicameral legislature. It consists of 60 members, 40 elected from the common voters’ roll and 20 chosen by native chiefs and elders and apportioned between the various tribes according to population. The Assembly has no power to pass laws for Alaska – only the US Congress and the various federal agencies can do that. However, it is influential in the territory’s development, and it will ultimately decide on Alaska’s future status when the time comes. The leader of the Assembly and its primary spokesperson is is the Assembly Leader, Martin Smith (D).
Alaska is internally divided into 6 boroughs and 5 districts. Their boundaries were originally drawn according to white settlement patterns, with boroughs intended to be where whites constituted the majority of the population. Although the borough boundaries were originally supposed to expand and shift over time, an act of Congress froze them in 1931 and they have not changed since.
As such, borough and district boundaries do not reflect Alaska’s modern demographics and only loosely reflect its geography. Boroughs are analogous to municipalities and have elected councils carrying out local government functions according to the regulations issued by the 52 agencies; they are fairly small. Districts, on the other hand, are theoretically in the hands of both the federal agencies and native tribal governments. There are no elections in districts, and white voters there have no political voice.
Public opinion strongly supports reforming the system of local government to make it more equal.
Alaska generally follows the continental American pattern legally, with common law being the norm. That said, the courts are much weaker as an institution. Most cases are resolved without court intervention.
As an alternative, tribal governments and district agency officers have jurisdiction in the districts and over the native people in the boroughs. Police officers and sheriffs have the same powers over whites. Their decisions can be appealed not to any court, but to the US Secretary of the Interior. He is for this system the final judicial authority in Alaska. Although it goes against democratic norms, public opinion is against changes to this unique system of informal law which was born in Alaska’s lawless pioneer days
The formal court structure consists of three levels: the Supreme Court of Alaska, the regional Superior Courts, and the local District and Borough Courts. No case can be appealed beyond the Supreme Court of Alaska. The federal Supreme Court in Washington has never had jurisdiction in the Department and will only get it if Alaska becomes a state.
Alaska has generally imported the American Democratic-Republican system. Public opinion tends to revolve around the independence vs. union issue, and both parties contain members advocating both positions. Neither takes any official position on it as a result. Individual candidates, however, are free to declare themselves as they see fit.
Alaska is divided between those who are US citizens – the majority of the population – and those who are only Alaskan citizens and mere US nationals. Most US citizens here inherited their citizenship and also have Alaskan citizenship as it is granted by birthright.
In the past, citizenship was closely connected to racial issues and tension in Alaska, but as the territory has grown and evolved demographically, this is no longer the case due to most of the population having dual citizenship. Most Alaskans place their Alaskan identity ahead of their American one. Today, US citizenship is viewed simply as an ‘add-on’ to Alaskan citizenship.
A referendum is scheduled for July 4th, 1982. It will consist of two questions. The first will simply ask voters whether or not Alaska should remain part under US sovereignty (‘union’) or become independent. The second question will ask what status Alaskans would like if they were to choose union: freely associated commonwealth with a coherent, normal government or statehood. Public opinion currently favours independence by a slight margin.