JUNEAU — Republican Alaska state Sen. Chris Birch, a former state House member who also served on the Fairbanks North Star Borough and Anchorage assemblies, has died, his family said Thursday. He was 68.
Birch died Wednesday of a torn or ruptured aorta after experiencing chest pains and being taken to an Anchorage hospital, the family said.
“Our family is devastated,” the statement said. “He was the ultimate cheerleader and it is difficult to imagine this world without him.”
Birch, an engineer, was elected last fall to the Anchorage Senate seat that had been held by Republican Kevin Meyer, who was elected lieutenant governor. Birch chaired the Senate Resources Committee.
He campaigned on supporting resource development in Alaska and a state spending cap. He also was among the lawmakers who questioned the sustainability of efforts to pay a full Alaska Permanent Fund dividend.
Senate President Cathy Giessel called Birch’s death “a devastating loss to our state.”
“Chris was a good, principled man of character, one who treated everyone with dignity and respect,” Giessel said in a statement.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, an Anchorage Democrat, in a statement on behalf of his caucus, called Birch a friend who “worked tirelessly on behalf of his constituents and Alaska.”
House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, an independent, said he will remember Birch as a family man and for his “fierce advocacy” for what he believed to be in his constituents’ best interests.
Birch is survived by his wife, two children and grandchildren.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy ordered state flags to fly at half-staff in Birch’s honour from Friday through Wednesday.
State law sets out a process for filling legislative vacancies that begins with Dunleavy making an appointment within 30 days. Because Birch was a Republican, the appointment must be a Republican and subject to confirmation by Senate Republicans.
An election to fill the seat would coincide with the next general election in November 2020.