Anchorage, Alaska (AP) - Republican Alaska state Sen. Chris Birch has died. He was 68.
Birch died late Wednesday of a torn or ruptured aorta after experiencing chest pains and being taken to an Anchorage hospital, Birch's family said in a statement Thursday.
"Our family is devastated," the statement says. "He was the ultimate cheerleader and it is difficult to imagine this world without him."
The Senate majority communications director, Daniel McDonald, had earlier said that Birch had suffered a heart attack.
It was determined that he did not have a heart attack but as tests were being done to try to find the cause of the pain, Birch went into cardiac arrest and died from an aortic dissection, the family statement said.
Birch was a former state House member who previously served on the Fairbanks North Star Borough and Anchorage assemblies. He was also an engineer.
He was elected last fall to the Anchorage Senate seat that had been held by Republican Kevin Meyer, who was elected lieutenant governor. Birch chaired the Senate Resources Committee.
He campaigned on supporting resource development and a state spending cap. He also was among the lawmakers who questioned the sustainability of efforts to pay a full dividend from the state's oil-wealth fund, the Alaska Permanent Fund.
Senate President Cathy Giessel called Birch's death "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. "You could always count on him to stand up for what's right, regardless of the political consequences. His absence in the Capitol will be keenly felt by all who had the privilege to know him."
Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, an Anchorage Democrat, in a statement on behalf of his caucus, called Birch a friend who "worked tirelessly on behalf of his constituents and Alaska."
Republican Rep. Laddie Shaw of Anchorage described Birch as "forever smiling and enthusiastic about life. This is a sad day for our community and for Alaska."
Birch is survived by his wife, two children and four grandchildren, the Senate majority said.
State law sets out a process for filling legislative vacancies that begins with Gov. Mike 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.
Maria Bahr with the Department of Law said the department was putting together an outline with details on the process.