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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sen. Lisa Murkowski today spearheaded an Alaska birthday celebration in the United States Senate, complete with a white and royal blue “Alaska’s 50th” cake and floor speeches commemorating the debate leading up to Senate passage of the Alaska Statehood Act 50 years ago.

“I rise to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Senate passage of the Alaska Statehood Act, the act which eventually conferred Statehood upon our great State after a fight for equal rights and representation that lasted decades,” Murkowski said in floor remarks.

Monday, June 30, 2008, marks the 50th anniversary of the date that the United States Senate, by a vote of 64-to-20, approved the statehood legislation. Because the U.S. House had already passed the legislation, the Senate action sent the measure to the White House where President Eisenhower signed it into law seven days later, on July 7, 1958. Alaska was formally admitted as a state with full congressional representation by Presidential proclamation on January 3, 1959.

Joining Murkowski on the Senate floor today were Sens. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Patty Murray, D-Washington. Stevens talked about Alaska’s history and the people he knew and worked with in the struggle for statehood, while Crapo and Murray read from remarks made by senators from their states who participated in the debate 50 years ago. Prior to the floor speeches, Murkowski and Stevens treated their fellow senators to the Alaska flag-decorated cake to celebrate the statehood anniversary.

Once on the floor, Murkowski gave the Senate a primer in Alaskan history, beginning with the Alaska territory’s purchase from Russia in 1867 in a transaction dubbed “Seward’s Folly.” Although polls showed that both Alaskans and the American public supported statehood, it was the wealthy salmon canning industry that formed the main opposition to statehood.

“The salmon canners put fish traps at the mouth of Alaska’s largest rivers, catching nearly 30 percent of Alaska’s salmon every year and sending the yearly salmon catch plummeting from 924 million pounds to 360 million pounds in a 20-year period,” Murkowski said. “Alaska was powerless to resist; with 99 percent of the territory’s land owned by the federal government and with little control over resource policy, the industry was free to devastate one of the state’s most valuable renewable resources – Alaska salmon.”

Although a statehood bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives in 1950, it failed in the Senate. Frustrated by such legislative defeats, Alaskans decided to write a State Constitution in 1955 to show the country that they were politically mature and genuinely ready for statehood. The document was adopted by constitutional convention delegates and ratified by Alaskans, helping to establish the momentum that eventually led to statehood.

“Alaska, once dubbed ‘Icebergia,’ has since made numerous significant contributions to our great nation,” Murkowski said. “We produce over 50 percent of America’s seafood harvest, attracted 1.5 million tourists last summer, and we have been a stable domestic supplier of the United States’ oil needs for 30 years.

“Alaska is proud to be ‘the Great Land’ in the greatest nation in the world, and I am privileged to represent its people in the United States Senate.”