John Butrovich Jr.

John Butrovich

John Butrovich’s long life and political career bridged not only generations but also political differences. A conservative, budget-pinching Republican in the territorial and state legislatures, he nevertheless drew respect from Democrats for his willingness to support taxes that paid for services to Alaskans.

Butrovich, who was born in a mining camp just north of Fairbanks in 1910, earned that reputation early. After being elected to the Territorial Legislature from Fairbanks in 1944, he advocated taxes that helped pay for growing services, including the University of Alaska. Without such taxes, he saw Alaska’s wealth flowing outside, with little left to support public services for residents.

“The mining companies and the fishing companies owned the territory,” Butrovich said in a 1987 interview with the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. He proposed to raise the territorial tax on a case of salmon from 4 cents to 14 cents. “They just about decapitated me,” he said.

In 1949, the tide turned. The Legislature passed an income tax and raised the salmon tax to 50 cents.

 “The guy from the canned salmon industry came to me later and said ‘Well, I guess we made a mistake,’” Butrovich recalled in 1987. “I said, ‘Yeah, I guess you did.’”

Later, after oil was discovered at Prudhoe Bay, a similar debate arose. Democratic Sen. Jay Kerttula of Palmer, first elected in 1961, told the News-Miner that Butrovich’s 1967 speech to the Senate helped win the votes for a new oil severance tax.

“He really understood that there wasn’t anything free,” Kerttula said.

Butrovich, a high school basketball star, initially attended college at Washington State University on a scholarship but returned to Fairbanks in 1929. He took one semester of classes at the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines, as the University of Alaska was called then.

He married his wife, Grace, in 1936 and they had one daughter.

Butrovich left the Senate in 1978 and largely disengaged from public policy and political debates. He preferred to spend time at his cabins on the Goodpaster River north of Delta Junction.

The university named the Butrovich Building for him. The building, which houses the UA statewide administration, opened in 1988 but wasn’t finished until 1995.

Butrovich died in 1997.

More online about John Butrovich Jr.:

  • A profile in the July 18, 1987, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

  • A brief biography at the UA Journey website

  • A biography, as well as descriptions of the issues facing the Alaska Legislature over the years, at the 100th anniversary website