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Regional History
Governing Alaska
The Executive Branch

President Truman kept a sign on his desk in the White House that read , "The buck stops here," meaning that he could not ask anyone else to decide important matters for him.

The executive branch of Alaska's government might have that same slogan. By allowing for only one statewide elected official, the constitution fixes responsibility on the governor. The lieutenant governor runs on the same ticket as the governor, but has few duties under the law. The main job of the lieutenant governor is to succeed the governor in case of emergency.

Few states have a governor with as many powers as Alaska's. The governor appoints all department heads and can reorganize the executive branch, subject to legislative review.

The strong chief executive cured one of the problems of the territorial government, which allowed for plenty of "buck passing" to more than 50 boards, commissions and agencies who shared power. The constitution set up a structure so the governor would preside over "no more than 20" departments carrying out specific functions.

The first Alaska Legislature provided for the creation of twelve Departments, headed by commissioners who are appointed by the governor. The number has been adjusted over the years as needs change. Today there are 15 departments, dealing with everything from education to environmental conservation and prisons.

The governor has to be at least 30 years old, a resident of the state for at least seven years and a U.S. citizen for at least seven years. Alaskans choose a governor every four years in an election. The candidate with the most votes wins. With more than two candidates often in the running, Alaskans often elect a governor with less than a majority of the votes cast.

A governor can serve no more than two consecutive full terms. The first state governor, William A. Egan, served three terms, 1959-62, 1962-66, and 1970-1974.

1959-1966 William A. Egan, Democrat
1966-1969 Walter J. Hickel, Republican
1969-1970 Keith H. Miller, Republican
1970-1974 William A. Egan, Democrat
1974-1982 Jay S. Hammond, Republican
1982-1986 William J. Sheffield, Democrat
1986-1990 Steve C. Cowper, Democrat
1990-1994 Walter J. Hickel, Independent
1994-2002 Tony C. Knowles, Democrat
2002-2006 Frank H. Murkowski, Republican
2006-2009 Sarah H. Palin, Republican
2009- Sean Parnell, Republican


  • State of Alaska Web site
  • Biography of Gov. Sean Parnell
  • Handbook of state government

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