Anchorage Sen. Chris Birch reportedly died of a reported heart attack on Wednesday night, taking the Legislature, the Alaska political community and the state at large by shock and sadness.
Birch, a Republican, joined the Alaska Legislature after a long career on the Anchorage Assembly with a win in House District 26 in 2016. He advanced to the Senate in the following 2018 election, filling the Senate seat vacated by Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer.
The 68-year-old retired engineer quickly became a prominent member of the Alaska Legislature and was part of a group of Senate Republicans who argued in favor of a more moderate approach to cuts this year.
Birch is survived by his wife, Pam, two children and four grandchildren.
Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, released a statement remembering Birch as a stand-out senator.
“This is a devastating loss to our state. Chris was a good, principled man of character, one who treated everyone with dignity and respect,” she said. “You could always count on him to stand up for what’s right, regardless of the political consequences. His absence in the Capitol will be keenly felt by all who had the privilege to know him.”
Senate Finance Committee co-chair Sen. Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage, also released a statement fondly remembering Birch as a colleague and as a friend.
“Chris’ passing came as shock to us all. He was extremely fit, in both mind and body. Chris never met a hiking trail he didn’t like and could often be found on top of a mountain range, rain or shine,” she said. “He carried that same mindset to the Senate floor and didn’t shy away from the tough topics. Instead, he worked hard for Alaska’s best future, while always maintaining a positive outlook. He was my colleague, my hiking partner, my dear friend. I will miss him deeply.”
State law requires the governor appoint a replacement to fill the vacancy within 30 days. Typically, the appointee is selected by a slate put forward by the local political party. The appointment must be confirmed by elected Republicans in the Senate.
Very shocked and saddened to hear that Senator Chris Birch died suddenly today. My deepest condolences to his family.
— Sen. Bill Wielechowski (@SenWielechowski) August 8, 2019
I am saddened to learn about the untimely passing of Senator Chris Birch. He was an energetic guy who was often out on the trails in Anchorage and Juneau with his dog. My heart goes out to Pam Birch and the rest of his family in what will be an incredibly difficult time. #akleg
— Ivy Spohnholz (@IvySpohnholz) August 8, 2019
Rep. Shaw: “He was forever smiling and enthusiastic about life. This is a sad day for our community and for Alaska. I will miss our banter over politics, but more importantly, I will truly miss ‘My Senator.’”https://t.co/jlLASjnqWv #akleg #akgov pic.twitter.com/0PjPZ2Qu6a
— AK House Republicans (@AKHouseRepubs) August 8, 2019
Chris was a good person, dad, and dedicated public servant. His passing was sudden and unexpected. His loss will be felt keenly. My thoughts are with Pam and his entire family. https://t.co/V5JCIysCJA
— TomBegich (@TomBegich) August 8, 2019
I was saddened to learn we lost Senator Chris Birch. His hard work and dedication to Alaska was a credit to the legislature. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Pam, and his family. We’ll miss you, Chris.
— Sen. Mia Costello (@MiaCostelloAK) August 8, 2019
truly sad to hear that Chris Birch passed away suddenly from a heart attack. I liked him immensely. My heart goes out to Pam and his wonderful family. He was smart, funny and had his priorities of life we’re focused. Rest In Glory Chris. A sad day for Alaska. #akleg
— jason (@jgrenn) August 8, 2019
My heart goes out to Sen. Chris Birch’s family, friends & colleagues today. May we all hold dear his memory & honor his service to our state. I was privileged to work with him on #BreesLaw & was touched by his unwavering support. #akleg https://t.co/mrhQOEJsZk
— Cindy Moore (@moorecindy1) August 8, 2019
The first time I testified to his committee, we were on opposite sides of an issue & I got after him a bit. As I was leaving he followed me into the hall where he gave me a handshake and told me he knew my dad from school. He was happy to listen and it didn’t matter we disagreed.
— Pat Race (@alaskarobotics) August 8, 2019