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Former state Rep. Ron Larson of Palmer, known for his budget work in the Legislature, died Thursday morning at the Sitka Pioneers' Home. He was 65 and suffered from Alzheimer's disease.
Gov. Tony Knowles ordered state flags lowered to half-staff in honor of Larson, who served 12 years in the House.
Larson, a Democrat, was first elected to the House in 1982 after he retired from high school teaching. He served on the Finance Committee for much of his tenure and was known for his expertise on education funding and local government issues.
He sometimes brought a sense of humor to the otherwise dry budget work. At the start of a House-Senate budget negotiating session, he handed his Senate counterpart a dueling pistol ``as a means of settling our differences.''
Born and raised in northern Michigan, Larson moved to Alaska in 1959. He worked as a teacher and coach at Palmer High School and led the Palmer boys basketball team to the state championship in 1969 and 1970.
Larson began his service in elected office in the Palmer City Council and as a member of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly in 1968. In 1971, he became the first elected mayor of the Mat-Su Borough, presiding for nine years over the transformation of the Matanuska Valley from a rural and largely agricultural community to a major population center.
Rep. Ben Grussendorf, a Sitka Democrat first elected to the House in 1980, said he met Larson when both were mayors. He said Larson's municipal experience served the Legislature well.
``He knew what we were here for,'' he said.
Grussendorf said Larson was a good legislator, a hard worker and sincere.
``People called him ``Coach'' because of his past experience, which he seemed to enjoy,'' Grussendorf said.
Larson is survived by his wife, Emily; their children Dean and Michelle; and two grandchildren, Madison and McKinley. Services are being planned in Palmer.
Sen. Rick Halford, a Chugiak Republican, said Larson was a legislator who could disagree without being disagreeable.
``Our hearts go out to his family because of how hard it is to deal with Alzheimer's disease,'' Halford said. ``It's particularly close to me because I lost my father that way.''
Halford said Larson will live on through all of the students he taught, the athletes he coached, and the things he did in public service at the local and state level.