Egan, recovering from surgery, readies for session

Posted: Sunday, January 16, 2011

During last November’s election campaign, candidates across the state were fighting for their political lives.

Libby Sterling / Libby Sterling
Libby Sterling / Libby Sterling

Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, was fighting for his actual life, and underwent a triple bypass operation at Seattle's Virginia Mason Hospital.

The 63-year-old senator these days is back into the governing mode, taking on a challenging slate of committee assignments when the 27th Alaska Legislature convenes Tuesday.

“I feel great — it’s like night and day,” Egan said.

Egan spoke with the Empire Friday about his plans for his first full-four year term of office, after having received the appointment to the office by former Gov. Sarah Palin near the end of her abbreviated term as the state's chief executive.

Egan was running to keep the office when he was diagnosed and sent to Seattle for surgery. No one had filed to run against the popular local leader with one of the state’s best known political names.

Egan’s father, Bill Egan, was the state’s first governor, and in 1970 was elected again as its fourth governor. The younger Egan is also former owner of KINY radio station and was the host of “Problem Corner” prior to the start of the legislative session.

Egan had sold the station and had mostly retired when he was appointed to the state Senate in a compromise with Palin. Palin refused to appoint local favorite Rep. Beth Kerttula to the seat, and then Senate Democrats refused to confirm Palin’s appointments of two candidates who had changed their registration to be eligible for the job.

Under state law, the appointee should have been a Democrat, like former Sen. Kim Elton, who vacated the post for a position in the Obama administration.

Egan, a former Juneau mayor, was put forward by Mayor Bruce Botelho to break the deadlock after Palin's actions left Juneau without Senate representation for much of the 2009 session.

Ready to enter the new Legislature with the mandate of the voters, he instead been focusing on getting healthy enough to put in the long hours the job demands.

Egan’s rehabilitation effort following the surgery has involved three-times-a-week rehabilitation sessions at Bartlett Regional Hospital, where he was first diagnosed, and a concerted attempt to regain the 40 pounds he lost while recovering.

He said he’s now up to 2.1 miles per hour on the treadmill, and over Christmas food began again tasting good to him.

Following the surgery Egan had the appetite loss common to heart patients.

“I didn’t want to eat, I couldn't stand eating, I hate the food,” he said.

During the holiday, however, his appetite returned.

“On Christmas I really started eating again, and really liking food,” he said.

Now he’s ready for the session, with a line-up of committee assignments that will enable him to advocate for Juneau, Southeast and state-wide issues.

While he will chair the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee, he retains his seat on the powerful Senate Finance Committee, which typically acts as an executive committee for the entire Senate. He is also part of the Senate Working Group, the bi-partisan caucus which controls the Senate and elected Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, as president.

Despite having Republicans as its top officers, the caucus in past years has agreed to avoid some of the most contentious issues and focus on budgets and other less partisan issues.

Egan also serves as a member of the Senate's Transportation Committee, where he said he plans to advocate for Alaska Marine Highway System funding, and the Legislative Council, which manages the operations of the Legislature and other issues important to Juneau.

The state has already set aside $65 million for a new Alaska-class ferry, but that's only half the expected cost and Gov. Sean Parnell did not include the remainder in his proposed budget.

One local issue Egan said is a priority is obtaining funding for the new Libraries, Archives and Museum Project. The project’s advocates recently began calling it the LAMP project instead of the SLAM project, dropping the word “state,” which they thought made for an unfortunate acronym.

“I wish they’d kept the word ‘state,’ because it really is a state project,” he said.

That’s the same way with getting a new office building for state workers, he said. That's sometimes seen as a Juneau-specific project when it’s really a state project, he said.

“The new Life Sciences building (at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks) isn't a Fairbanks project, it is there to serve the whole state,” he said.

Egan also serves on the Health, Education and Social Services Committee, making for a total of five committees, including one he chairs.

“It's going to be a busy year, it’s going to be a heck of a lot busier than last year, and it was pretty busy last year,” Egan said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or

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