Anchorage Republican Sen. Chris Birch, 68, died of heart complications Wednesday evening, according to a statement from the Alaska Senate Majority.
Birch grew up in mining camps near Fairbanks and the Brooks Range, living in the Fairbanks area from 1968-1991. He graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks with a degree in mining engineering in 1972, later returning to receive his master's degree in engineering management 1979.
Birch served on the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly from 1984-1990 before moving in 1991 to Anchorage, where he would later serve on the Anchorage Municipal Assembly. He then won election to the Alaska House in 2017, serving as an Anchorage representative for one year before winning the Senate District M race in 2019. Seat M was previously held by now-Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer.
Birch's death was mourned by members of the House and Senate in statements released Thursday.
Senate President Cathy Giessel, also an Anchorage Republican, called Birch's passing 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.
House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, said the state "lost a true Alaskan statesman."
“Life is short. We all know it, but it’s easy to forge," he said. "That simple fact snapped into focus when I learned of Chris Birch’s passing."
Gov. Mike Dunleavy released a statement expressing condolences to the Birch family and ordering state flags to be flown at half-staff in honor of Birch.
State law sets out a process for filling legislative vacancies that begins with Dunleavy making an appointment within 30 days. Because Birch was Republican, the appointment is to be a Republican and subject to confirmation by Senate Republicans.
Because of the time remaining in the term, there would be a special election coinciding with the next general election, which is in November 2020.
In a statement from the Birch family emailed to reporters Thursday morning it was clarified that Birch did not die of a heart attack.
Birch died at Providence Hospital in Anchorage around 9 p.m. Wednesday. He is survived by his wife, Pam, two children and four grandchildren.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics. The Associated Press contributed to this report.