Legislator breaks ice on House floor

Nome Democrat ribs fellow lawmakers whose birthdays fall in session

Posted: Friday, March 31, 2006

Rep. Les Gara's graduating high school class doesn't have reunions, only "flashbacks," according to Rep. Richard Foster, D-Nome.

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Also, the Anchorage Democrat gets no respect from his dog, Foster told colleagues on Gara's birthday.

"He says (the dog) doesn't want to go out - he wants Les to leave," said Foster, during a House floor session last year.

House birthdays falling during the legislative session are subject to a biographical reading from Foster, who has a knack for embellishing certain details.

In the top drawer of Foster's office desk is a book of jokes, from which he gets some of his material. He buys a new book every year so he doesn't repeat himself, Foster said.

"The hard part is finding jokes that are clean and politically correct," he said.

"We all pretend to be embarrassed," Gara said. "And we all love it when anyone wishes us a happy birthday."

On Monday, it was learned that Rep. Kurt Olson, a music fan, collects works of pop group Duran Duran and has more than 100 of the band's LP records and eight-track tapes.

"The 'Antiques Roadshow' recently appraised his collection for insurance purposes at $1.95," Foster said.

Some lawmakers happen to be country music fans, and Foster takes the liberty to mention their favorite song, such as Rep. Bob Lynn's "Her Teeth May be Stained, but Her Heart is Pure."

For hobbies, several legislators say they like to read. Foster added that some of the popular titles include "The Wild Years," by Lt. Gov. Loren Leman, and a thick book entitled "The Collected Speeches of (Rep.) Carl Moses."

And others enjoy writing. For example, Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau, plans to author a small slender book called "Alaska's most popular lawyers," Foster joked.

Rep. Sharon Cissna, D-Anchorage, enjoys talking about health issues in her spare time, Foster said.

"As a matter of fact, she talks up to 120 words a minute, with wind gusts up to 180," Foster said.

Of course, the topic of age is not overlooked. When Lynn, R-Anchorage, turned 72, Foster quipped: "He said he remembers when the Dead Sea was still alive."

These eulogies are delivered during the end of the floor sessions, often preceding several hours of agonizing debate.

"He brings the right kind of humor, quite often at times where we take ourselves too seriously," said Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole.

The tradition of wishing lawmakers a happy birthday was the responsibility of the majority leader and later the majority whip. The previous leader simply read through the biographies but didn't add anything funny, Foster said.

When the duty was passed to Foster in 1996, he had the House in stitches with his rewrite of the life synopses. Foster became too good at reading birthday homilies, and legislators with birthdays during the interim wanted a piece of the action, too.

"About 16 legislators have birthdays during the session," Foster said, so on random days they would honor the others. Foster was roasting two to three legislators a week before the practice was scaled back to only well-wishing those with birthdays during the session.

Rep. Norm Rokeberg, R-Anchorage, whose birthday falls on Jan. 4, narrowly misses the session.

"I regret my birthday is too early in the year to be honored by Sir Richard," he said.

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