Sen. Bert Stedman spent six months finishing the woodwork in his Sitka home, including carved banisters, Brazilian rosewood flooring and steamed cherry and padouk inlays.
Now the house, a three-story, 3,900-square-foot custom home being touted by Baranof Realty as "one of the finest homes in Sitka," is on sale, and Stedman is anticipating all the work that will need to be done on the interior of the new home he plans to build.
"I don't know when I'll get to building that other house. Now my wife wants me to make all the interior doors," he said. "When you're a one-man band, there's only so much you can do."
That's true, particularly considering that his new job, as the Republican senator representing Sitka, Petersburg, Ketchikan and Wrangell, requires him to move to Juneau for four months a year. Gov. Frank Murkowski appointed Stedman, 47, when Wrangell Sen. Robin Taylor resigned to take a job in the state Department of Transportation. Stedman was appointed after Murkowski withdrew the name of his first choice, Ketchikan businessman Jim Elkins.
Stedman has jumped right into the mix, assuming chairmanship of the Senate Community and Regional Affairs Committee, as well as seats on five Senate finance subcommittees, the Senate State Affairs committee and the Joint Legislative Salmon Industry Task Force.
He is sponsoring a bill that would reduce taxes for salmon fishermen who direct-market their products, and said one of his top priorities is to improve conditions for the salmon and timber industries in Southeast.
"We have a fishing industry that needs to be restructured," he said. "I want to do what I can to help revitalize the timber industry. There's sawmills in Southeast that need more predictable access to timber resources."
Stedman was born at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage while his father was stationed there. He attended elementary school in Petersburg, and moved to Sitka with his family when he was in the ninth grade.
He said he has hopes the Legislature and the administration will be able to restructure the salmon industry and make it a viable player in the global economy. He has background in the industry himself, having fished summers with his uncle in Petersburg while in high school and college.
"I was fishing with my uncle Arnie, and he was encouraging the boys to go to school and get an education and get out of the fishery as soon as possible, because at that time there was no limited entry and the future of the fisheries looked questionable," Stedman said.
So he went to the University of Oregon, intending to work toward becoming a machinist. Instead, he graduated with a bachelor's degree in business administration. It was at Oregon that he took up woodworking.
"I was too poor to buy furniture, so I took woodshop and started making it," he said.
Stedman's first project was a bread box, which he followed up with a stereo cabinet and coffee tables. Now he's working on a bedroom set for his 8-year-old daughter, Susie. It's meditative - a different type of work from his financial services business and certainly from the public positions he has held over the years. Stedman has served on Sitka's planning commission and assembly, and served a year as deputy mayor.
"It's a different thought process and it's relaxing. You've got to concentrate when you do it, though," he said of woodworking.
Senate Majority Leader Ben Stevens, an Anchorage Republican, said Stedman is a good addition to the salmon task force.
"He understands fish business. He grew up here in Alaska, so he knows that it's a vital industry to the Southeast community as well as the whole state," said Stevens, who is also co-chairman of the task force. "He's going to do well for his district, and works hard."
Masha Herbst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.