Juneau’s gruff-and-lovable Dennis Egan has died/Dunleavy signs budget with $400M in vetoes
“But it’s the little things. You don’t know how much you miss them,” Egan said after his retirement. “And friends I’ve made, it’s really tough. Really tough … It’s the end of a couple of eras.”
Good evening, Alaska.
In this edition: Juneau’s Dennis Egan has died at 75. With a long career that took him from the radio waves to the halls of the Legislature, Egan leaves behind a lasting mark as a gruff-but-charming fixture of the capital city who could swear up a storm and still seal the deal. Meanwhile, Gov. Mike Dunleavy has signed the budget, so we don’t need to worry about the government shutting down on Friday. It was an event largely aimed at mending all the bridges—after all, what else are you going to do with the sixth largest budget in state history—but it’s those $400 million in vetoes that opponents say is a reminder of what ‘non-election year Dunleavy’ has in store.
Current mood: 🌫️
Dennis Egan, Juneau’s gruff-and-lovable senator, has died at 75
Dennis Egan served in the Alaska Legislature as Juneau’s senator for a decade, leaving a lasting impression as a gruff-but-charming fixture of the building and an icon of Alaska’s capital city.
He died early this morning at the age of 75, according to an announcement from the Alaska Senate Democrats. Egan did not seek reelection in 2018, citing health issues that made representing his district difficult.
“Dennis was larger than life. He charmed just about everyone he ever met. I once watched him tell a lobbyist there was no way he’d ever vote for a bill, and the guy still left with a smile on his face,” said Sen. Jesse Kiehl, who worked for Egan before winning his seat following Egan’s retirement. “Dennis always listened to his community, was a straight shooter, and truly respected the people around him. Alaska was his home, he put Alaskans first, and his heart belonged to Juneau.”
Egan also served as the mayor of Juneau from 1995 to 2000, having previously served on the Juneau Assembly. He also worked in the city’s radio world and was regularly on KINY’s airwaves.
In a story by KTOO after he announced his retirement, Egan was remembered as an “old-school dealmaker” who could swear up a storm and still find compromise.
“That directness is what people find endearing, as well as the way he talks. You know, that old, salty, gruff Alaska stuff,” said legislative aide Christopher Clark, who had worked for Egan and previously covered him in his reporter life. “If he’s polite to you, run like hell. If he’s yelling, cussing at you, then you’re in. It’s OK. That’s kind of like ‘Old Alaska.’ It’s that old affability.”
Reflecting on his time in the building, Egan told KTOO that building relationships was a critical part of being an effective legislator.
“As long as they remember, no matter if you are an R or a D — doesn’t matter,” said Egan. “You’ve gotta be a people person. You have to get along. You have to listen to the other side. You may hate it. You may not like it, but you have to give folks the courtesy of listening.”
And it was those friends that he’d miss most about being a legislator.
“But it’s the little things. You don’t know how much you miss them,” he said. “And friends I’ve made, it’s really tough. Really tough … It’s the end of a couple of eras.”
We’ll miss our friend Dennis, too.
Dunleavy signs budget, announces vetoes
In an event that was very much designed to show just how far his administration has come from the days of draconian cuts that fueled the Summer of Recall Dunleavy, Gov. Mike Dunleavy today announced he has signed the state’s budget, which clocks in at the sixth largest in state history. Flanked by officials from the University of Alaska and the Alaska Federation of Natives—two groups that were frequently on the receiving end of Dunleavy’s veto pen and ire in the early days of his administration—the governor touted a swell of capital project spending, a big PFD, boosts to funding for the University of Alaska, a one-time boost to K-12 education, various public safety initiatives and other spending he called a transfer of the state’s windfall wealth.
“Really what this budget does is it adds certainty in an otherwise uncertain world we are in right now. Whether it’s inflation, whether folks are looking at a war overseas, whether it's labor issues, a lot of folks are wondering what the future is going to look like. That all went into this budget, we wanted to make sure we can transfer money to folks and municipalities through bond debt reimbursement,” he said. “I think this is a budget that helps Alaskans now, it’s a budget that helps Alaskans this coming year and I think this is a budget that will help Alaskans for years to come.”
Some of the big highlights that would’ve likely been a target of the governor’s veto pen in recent years but survived in this year’s budget are a $57 million one-time boost to K-12 education, $342 million to partially refill the state’s Higher Education Investment Fund (the endowment that pays for university scholarships that was liquidated by Dunleavy’s expanded reading of the constitutional budget reserve sweep, which spawned its own lawsuit and subsequent legislation) and about $300 million for school bond debt reimbursement for local municipalities (funding that had either been cut or reduced in recent years, shifting the costs to local governments).