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Hudson: It's time to retire

Posted: Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Rep. Bill Hudson, the Juneau Republican who founded the bipartisan Fiscal Policy Caucus, announced on the House floor Tuesday that he will not seek re-election to an eighth term.

Hudson, who earlier had indicated he would run again for the seat that includes the Mendenhall Valley, said the failure of a long-range fiscal plan figured into his decision.

In an interview, Hudson acknowledged that retirement wasn't at the forefront of his mind on May 2, when the House voted for $930 million in new revenue toward closing a $1 billion fiscal gap that's projected for 2004.

But most of that legislation has since bogged down in the considerably more conservative Senate and remained all but lost as the Legislature voted for a two-day extension of the session just before midnight Tuesday.

"I concluded that I had done everything I could possibly do as far as the issues that were most important to me," he said. "And that's looking after Juneau's interests and trying to come up with a revenue plan that would keep the state and essential services funded. I took great pride in putting together probably the first major bipartisan issue effort for at least the last 20 years."

A few years ago, Hudson started inviting legislators home for dinner and talking about areas of agreement on Alaska's fiscal gap.

"I took advantage of the home court press," he said. "I had a home. I had a beautiful wife who agreed to host. Sometimes I would call up and say, 'Honey, I'm bringing home a few people for dinner.' And she'd say, 'How many is it this time?' I'd say, 'I've got a list - 26 people.' "

The effort became organized and formal on March 27, 2001, when the Fiscal Policy Caucus held its first meeting. It was a show of frustration at working fruitlessly within the Legislature's formal committee structure.

A year to the day later, the House voted on an income tax for the first time since one was repealed in 1980. Although that plan failed, the follow-up effort resulted in the historic actions this month to pass a differently structured income tax, the first major incursion into earnings of the permanent fund for government operations and an increase in the alcohol excise law.

Still, only the $20 million alcohol tax will become law this year.

"I'm obviously very disappointed we weren't able to ride this horse all the way to the finish line," Hudson said. "But I'm also feeling like I've been instrumental in helping to set the course, so to speak. We really put the blueprint together, and now it really is going to be up to the next governor."

He told his House colleagues, in a sometimes shaky voice: "We stood up, we put our name on tough issues, and we voted our conscience, not for our party, but for the public - for the people we serve."

Hudson, who will be 70 this year, was born in Arizona, grew up in Idaho and served 21 years in the U.S. Coast Guard. He came to Juneau in the mid-1970s for Gov. Jay Hammond, whom he served as commissioner of administration and director of the Alaska Marine Highway System. He also is former executive director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

Hudson was first elected to the House in 1986, and except for a two-year break in the mid-1990s, he has been there since.

In the Legislature, Hudson has walked a fine line, staying loyal to his party at critical moments but other times voting with minority Democrats. He said he was happy to see the failure of a proposed $600 million property-tax break for natural gas pipeline developers that was favored by House Republican leaders. The defeat of the bill was "one of the better pieces of work we did," he said.

He has fought efforts to move the capital or the Legislature, but also has pushed for new revenue measures that are particularly controversial in the pro-move hotbed of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

"Bill has been a great friend for the past decade," said House Finance Co-Chairman Eldon Mulder, an Anchorage Republican who has had Hudson on his committee. As a member of the majority, "He has certainly protected Juneau from attempts at times to lash out at this community," Mulder said.

In his office, Hudson looked at several notes that colleagues handed him on the House floor after his announcement. One of them said: "You've been the north on all of our compasses this year."

"I'm really sorry to see him go because he's a very honorable man, and a very intelligent man, and I think he's one of the best people in the Legislature," said Rep. Harry Crawford, an Anchorage Democrat.

"He's just a wonderful person," said Rep. Beth Kerttula, a Juneau Democrat. "He's been very kind to me, and he just keeps a level of civility and thoughtfulness that is just so rare. It's really going to be hard. ... I'm going to miss him a lot."

Hudson, courtly, white-haired and avuncular, apparently has been popular with constituents, too. He was unopposed for re-election in 2000 despite offering bills to reinstate an income tax and tap permanent fund earnings.

However, one Democrat who says he's about to declare his candidacy for the seat said he would have run against Hudson.

Tim Grussendorf, until today an aide to Democratic Sen. Lyman Hoffman of Bethel, said he would file for the seat immediately.

Grussendorf, son of former House Speaker Ben Grussendorf of Sitka, said he told Hudson three weeks ago that he was going to run against him.

"I feel I have more energy than he does now," said Grussendorf, 36, a commercial fisherman who describes himself as moderate and pro-resource development. He said that while he agrees with Hudson on most issues, he also noted that Republican members of the Fiscal Policy Caucus often "came out less than strong" following closed-door meetings with the House majority. "You put me in that position, I don't think I would have buckled."

Hudson acknowledged there was tension with majority members. "We had a lot of our Republican brothers and sisters yelling at us and calling us names for negotiating with the Democrats. But we persevered. And I think we shocked a lot of people when all of a sudden the votes came out. ... I think, all in all, we accomplished a miracle."

Hudson said defending Juneau's status as the capital has complicated his job, leaving him sometimes unable to press as hard as he'd like with fellow Republicans.

"You literally have to tie one arm behind your back," he said. "And that's the arm that you essentially trade off to keep the capital and the Legislature in Juneau. We are the capital city, and as such we have to literally cater to the folks that come down here from out of town to do the process here in Juneau."

Hudson said the city needs to provide more accessible parking, perhaps by redesigning the playground next to the Terry Miller Building uphill from the Capitol to make room for 40 to 60 spaces for vehicles.

"This is a bigger industry than tourism," he said. "The mayor and the Assembly, I hope they don't go so concentrating on trying to put hotels and Taj Mahals down on the waterfront, and neglect the fact that we could do a lot in improving the parking here. ... The people of Juneau are going to have to recognize this capital isn't going to stay here without our continuous effort."

Hudson said he and his wife, Lucy, will travel more to see their 12 grandchildren, who are spread throughout Alaska and the country. But he said he would remain active on keeping the capital in Juneau and pushing for a long-range fiscal plan.

Bill McAllister can be reached at billm@juneauempire.com.



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