Alaska's newest senator settles in

Dennis Egan learns the ropes while awaiting his committee posts

Posted: Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Juneau's new senator is learning just how much work is involved in being a legislator, even when the Legislature is not meeting.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

"I found out that you don't get the interim off, like everybody thinks," said Sen. Dennis Egan.

And it's going to get tougher, after behind-the-scenes negotiations come to a conclusion and Egan gets his committee appointments.

"It's taken a lot more time than I thought," Egan said, but that's not a problem.

"I'm semi-retired and I'm committed to doing what's best for Juneau and the region, or I wouldn't have accepted it," he said.

Egan, a Democrat, was appointed on the final day of the 2009 Legislative session, following a bruising battle between Gov. Sarah Palin and local and state Democrats.

Palin three times attempted to name a replacement for former Sen. Kim Elton, but none could win confirmation from Senate Democrats. Two of her failed appointees had re-registered as Democrats to be eligible for the appointment.

She refused to appoint Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, the choice of local party leaders. Egan said he had not submitted his name earlier because he thought the position should have gone to Kerttula.

The popular radio broadcaster was a compromise candidate who won widespread approval. After years in city politics with service as Assembly member and mayor of Juneau, Egan had broad local support.

Egan is now the most junior member of the Alaska Legislature, and quickly found out what that means. Elton had been a member of the coalition that controls the Senate, as Egan expects to be, but Elton's years of service won him a prized corner office.

That was quickly claimed by Sen. Donny Olson, D-Nome. Sen. Joe Thomas, D-Fairbanks, claimed Olson's office, and Egan took Thomas'.

Now Egan and his staff are trying to get the office furnished.

"I've got a really old couch, but they said they're going to replace it," he said.

Yet to be decided is the key issue of which committee Egan will serve on.

"I'm hoping that will be decided sooner, rather than later," he said.

Elton held a prized seat on the powerful Senate Finance Committee, as well as the chairmanship of the Senate Education Committee and other positions.

"I'm hoping to get on the Finance Committee," he said.

That seat played a role in the negotiations over the Juneau appointment, but has not yet been committed to anyone, said Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak.

Egan said if he can't get on the Finance Committee, he hopes the position goes to Sen. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon.

"I'm hoping that the Finance Seat will be held for Southeast, at least," Egan said. "Albert is a personal friend, and has been a good friend to Juneau."

Without committee assignments, Egan has been mostly working local and constituent issues. Among those has been working with other members of the Juneau delegation, Kerttula and Rep. Cathy Munoz, R-Juneau, on capital issues.

"The main issues for Juneau are retention of jobs, capital creep and construction of the Mental Health Lands Trust facility" on the subport property, he said.

The members of the Juneau delegation are long-time friends, though Egan described himself as the "old goat of the group."

"We're personal friends, and we all work very well together," he said.

Muñoz was a member of the Assembly when Egan was mayor, while Kerttula's husband, Jim Powell, also served on the Assembly with Egan.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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