Alaska's 1974 Elections
Thelma Garcia Buchholdt became the first Filipinx American legislator in the U.S. when she was elected to the Alaska House of Representatives in 1974.
The 1967 discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay led to a period of political change in Alaska. From early statehood, the majority of elected officials in Alaska were members of the Democratic Party. In the early 1970s, the left-leaning wing of the Alaska Democratic Party expressed dissatisfaction with the status quo and revolted against the party establishment. The Alaska Ad Hoc Committee of Young Democrats, of which Buchholdt was a member, went so far as to endorse Jay Hammond, a Republican, for governor against the incumbent of their own party, Governor Bill Egan. Jay Hammond won the governorship and the 1974 election became a turning point in Alaska’s political history, opening the door for Republican-led administrations and state legislatures for many years to come.
From Claveria, Phillipines To Anchorage, Alaska
Buchholdt was born in the coastal city of Claveria in the northern Philippines in 1934. This was also the year that the U.S. Congress passed the Tydings-McDuffie Act that committed to giving the Philippines its independence over a 12-year transition. The Philippines was in political turmoil during the early 1930s as global conflict was about to turn into World War II. Some political factions wanted independence and others wanted to remain a territory of the U.S. The constitution of the Commonwealth of the Philippines was approved by the voters and the first legislative elections were held in 1935.
Buchholdt graduated high school early, when she was 15, and traveled to the U.S. to continue her education. She attended Mount Saint Mary’s University in Los Angeles, earning a degree in Zoology. She completed graduate school at University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she met her future husband, Jon Buchholdt. Following graduate school, she had a career as an elementary school teacher. Buchholdt and her husband moved to Anchorage with their four children in 1965.
In Anchorage, Buchholdt committed herself to her new home. She actively worked to assess the needs of the Anchorage community and improve community services for children and women. Buchholdt co-founded the Boys and Girls Club of Alaska and was an active member of the March of Dimes, the League of Women Voters, the Ad Hoc Committee of Young Democrats in Alaska, and was an appointed member of the Alaska State Advisory Committee to the US Commission on Civil Rights. During the 1972 presidential elections, Buchholdt was the Alaska coordinator for the George McGovern presidential campaign.
After The Election
After the 1974 election, Buchholdt was reelected for three more terms as a House Representative for the Anchorage District and served until 1982.
During this time, Buchholdt participated in passing legislation to improve education, environmental protections, public art programs, supporting victims of domestic violence, mental health services, oil and gas taxes, infrastructure, and establishing legislature governing the Permanent Fund Dividend program.
Buchholdt returned to college in 1988, attending the District of Columbia School of Law, from which she and her husband both graduated in 1991. Together they opened a law firm in Anchorage.
Cultivating the Anchorage Community
Buchholdt researched the lives of important figures in Filipinx Alaskan history and published Filipinos in Alaska: 1788-1958, the only publication to date that focuses on the contribution of Filipinx Americans to Alaska’s history. She produced a documentary film on the same topic. Buchholdt also served as president of the Filipino-American National Historical Society.
Buchholdt is known for her active membership and leadership in civil rights and community organizations. Other notable leadership roles include serving as president of the National Order of Women Legislators in 1980, the first Asian-American to hold the position. She was the first woman president of the Filipino Community of Anchorage and served for two terms. In 1994, she served as director of Alaska’s Office of Equal Opportunity. Although she died in 2007, the Anchorage community continues to recognize and benefit from her contributions.