Legislature says goodbye to Egan with cake, memories

Ahead of session’s end, lawmakers and staff hold retirement party for Juneau’s senator

After nine years, Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, has had enough.

 

Lawmakers, staffers and others in the Alaska State Capitol took a brief break Wednesday to offer their farewells to Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, and Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage.

“Thank you very much, folks, for sticking with me for these nine years,” Egan said as he held a microphone in front of a room filled by well-wishers.

Egan and Gardner have each announced their retirement, and while the legislative session isn’t quite over, each session’s last days bring a frenetic pace with little time for celebration and reminices.

On Wednesday, there was ample time for that and thick slabs of cake.

Even Gov. Bill Walker got into the act, describing the time he first met Egan. It was 1962, and they were in Valdez.

“Are there any media here? Oh, so I won’t tell that story,” the governor said.

Egan was a regular vistor to Valdez with his father, then-Gov. Bill Egan. Walker lived in Valdez.

“We would take him out, and we would show him off to tourists,” Walker said of the younger Egan. “We would pull up and say, ‘Hey, you want to see the governor’s son?’ And there was Dennis.”

Egan shared his memory of the day he learned that then-Gov. Sarah Palin had selected him for a vacant Alaska Senate seat in northern Southeast Alaska.

He had been visiting his mother at the Juneau Pioneer Home and was wearing clothes suitable for cleaning his driveway.

He got a call from Mike Nizich, Palin’s chief of staff, who told him to put on a suit jacket because he was going to be Juneau’s new senator.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, proceeded to playfully tease him about being the “fourth-best” person for the job, an allusion to the extended confirmation struggle that Juneau Democrats had with Palin.

“What’s the number to get hold of Problem Corner? We’ve got a number of problems in this building,” cat-called an anonymous legislator sitting in the back of the room.

Egan was the longtime host of that popular KINY-AM radio talk show.

Various legislators offered gifts, but the largest was an enormous map of northern Southeast signed by sitting legislators.

Republicans and Democrats alike offered stories in praise of Egan, most at least partially in jest.

“You were just a little bit ahead of the time. You broke the mold and set the ground for micro distilleries,” said Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, alluding to persistent rumors that Egan built a still in the basement of the governor’s mansion. (He says it was a brewery.)

Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, spoke formally on the Senate floor, pointing out that beside all the jokes, Egan has stamped Juneau with his imprint as a senator. He helped appropriate the money that made the new State Library, Archives and Museum possible. He found funding for Capitol renovations that helped keep Juneau the state’s seat of government.

“You have been a serious legislator. You have been an effective legislator,” said Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, who recalled when he served with Egan on the Senate Finance Committee.

“You were so welcome in everyone’s office, and that’s how crafty you were. You weren’t being crafty, you were just being honest,” Kelly said.

Egan himself had the final words before knives met cake.

“Thank you very much for the honor of inviting us here, and thank you from me, for the opportunity to serve you,” Egan said.

“Thank you.”

 


 

• Contact reporter James Brooks at jbrooks@juneauempire.com or 523-2258.

 


 

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