Olga Katherine “Katie” Torkelsen Alexander Hurley: 'Grand Dame' of Alaska Democratic Party
March 26, 2021
Olga Katherine “Katie” Torkelsen Alexander Hurley was chief clerk of the Alaska Constitutional Convention and “the grand dame” of the Alaska Democratic party. Katie was born in 1921 in Juneau and began her long career in politics at 19, when she was hired to be the stenographer for Territorial Governor Ernest Gruening. She went to work for Gruening for 12 years as his assistant and executive secretary. In an interview for KTOO’s Alaska Statehood Pioneers series Katie stated that working for “EG” was “a big adventure” and that it was then she realized she was “a part of history.”
In 1955 and 1956, Katie served as chief clerk for the Alaska Constitutional Convention, recording meeting minutes and taking copious notes. She reflected on that time as “the biggest thrill” of her life. Following Statehood, Katie served as Secretary of the Senate during the first Alaska State Legislature (1959-1960).
In 1971, Katie was chosen to lead the State Board of Education, a position she held for the next 7 years. She retired from the Board of Education to run for lieutenant governor in 1978 and was the first woman to win a statewide partisan race, becoming the Democratic nominee for the position. The Democratic party lost the race to Republican incumbent, but that did not discourage Katie. She went on to serve as the executive director of the Alaska Commission on the Status of Women from 1980 to 1984.
In 1984 Katie ran for the Alaska state House and was elected representative of Wasilla, appointed to the State Affairs and the House Education Committees. In 1987 she was appointed to the Commission for Human Rights. Katie continued to serve on boards and committees well into the 2000s, even running as a write-in candidate against House District 14 incumbent Vic Kohring in 2006 at the age of 85. In 2009, she was inducted into the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame.
Katie Hurley passed in February 2021. Governor Mike Dunleavy has ordered all US and Alaska state flags to fly at half mast on March 30th, on what would have been Katie’s 100th birthday.
Special thanks to Susan Derrera for sharing her mother’s story and photos.
Photo credits: Anchorage Museum, Steve McCutcheon Collection, B1990.14.5.ConConv.15.6, B1990.14.5.ConConv.10.17a, and B1990.14.5.ConConv.10.37; photos courtesy of Susan Derrera; and the Alaska State Library.