Grussendorf announces plan to leave House

Posted: Thursday, February 24, 2000

After 20 years in the Legislature, Rep. Ben Grussendorf wants to take some time away from politics and walk his dog.

The Sitka Democrat, considered one of the most accomplished parliamentarians in the state House, made his announcement Wednesday, the day he turned 58. He made public his plans on the House floor after asking if it was OK for him to speak ``on fading into the forest.''

``I have celebrated 20 birthdays in this building,'' Grussendorf said. ``It's time to go have a birthday someplace else.

``I think it's time for a person like me to take a walkabout.''

He said he plans to spend time with his old dog, Jill, work on his family's old cabin in Minnesota and raise a new puppy. He also plans to work on his writing. He said he has about 10 manuscripts, involving politics and the outdoors, that he'd like to work on as well.

Grussendorf has represented Sitka for 20 years in the House. During that time, he's ruled over Democrat-led majorities and argued as a minority member. He was speaker of the House for three sessions.

The former teacher said he has convinced Sitka's mayor, Stan Filler, to run for his House seat. If Filler gets the job, but doesn't like it after a couple of sessions, Grussendorf may end his walkabout and return to the Capitol, he said.

``My wanderings may lead me back in this direction,'' he said. ``But like I said, I have some things I'd like to do.''

Rep. Bill Hudson, a six-term Juneau Republican, said he, Juneau and Alaska will all miss Grussendorf, and he understands why his colleague would want to take a break from politics.

``I hate to see him leave,'' Hudson said. ``He's like a philosophical institution to me. Ben Grussendorf is truly going to be missed. (But) I can understand how after so many fights you'd want to go walk your dog.''

For four years, Hudson served in a Democrat-led majority with Grussendorf.

The leader of today's House Democratic minority, Rep. Ethan Berkowitz, said he's learned a ton about politics from Grussendorf.

``Ben is a giant,'' he said. ``He cast a very big shadow. He's had a lot of influence on a lot of people and has done a lot of good for the state.''

Grussendorf's political influence stems largely from his understanding of the ins and outs of the Capitol, Berkowitz said.

``He knows more about inside politics then anyone in the state,'' he said. ``Patience and discretion. Picking your spots and knowing how the system works.''

Grussendorf said he can't really think of any big changes within the Legislature, and no particular highlights or lowlights stand out in his memory of his time, saying, ``don't brag about the good and forget that which is bad.

``It's pretty much the same,'' he said. ``Different people, same issues. It's been a fascinating ride. When you're dealing with people and politics, it's interesting.''

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