Sunday, February 14, 2016

Fond Memories of Rep. Max Gruenberg

I was saddened to hear just now that Rep. Max Gruenberg died this morning.  He had invited me to come to Juneau after I retired to become a 'scholar in residence.'  His idea was to both get legislative advice from the scholar as well as hoping the scholar would write about what he saw.   He said at the time I could work out of his office - as a volunteer - and pursue whatever interested me.  He wanted to set up a program that would support a scholar in residence at the legislature to record what happens in the capitol in a more academic way.  I was caught up with other things for a couple of sessions but I finally accepted his offer for the 2010 session.

Max Gruenberg (r) with staffers and Anchorage Transportation Chief in 2010

By then I was an active blogger and asked that we set up some ground rules for my blogging from Juneau.  Max, who still dictated memos and letters, really didn't know what a blog was, but I showed him a couple of posts - including the one I did when he and I went to talk to Joyce Anderson in the ethics office - and he said that was fine.

Signs of trouble began right away when he was told I couldn't have an email account and they got worse when communications from Nancy Dahlstrom, chair of the rules committee, were telling Max that he couldn't have a volunteer staffer.  Max was getting legal opinions from the legislative legal office saying he could.  But while Max, an attorney, was arguing law, Dahlstrom was arguing power and eventually I was in a meeting in the Minority Chair's office where I got lots of apologies, but I wouldn't be able to be a volunteer staffer for Max.  By then I'd been learning a lot - mainly from people responding when I said I was a staffer for Max.  Things like, "He works his staff harder than anyone else" and "He's known as the Great Amender" because he's always making little fixes to bills.

The whole time in Juneau, Max was always extremely helpful.  He proved, over and over, that his mind was very sharp.  He was at the time, if I recall correctly, the person who had been in the legislature the longest, with a couple term break in service.  He remembered legislative history and how and why things were done.  Sometimes I'd be thinking, Max, leave it be, you're getting too nitpicky, and then it would become clear that he had a very good reason for making the points he was making.

He was a strong defender of justice, of the poor, of people of all backgrounds, of dogs and their owners, and he was a proud Navy veteran.  His invitation to come to Juneau gave me a session long window into the legislature that was stimulating and very enlightening.  While I was waiting to see how the conflict would resolve between Max and Nancy Dahlstrom, I had decided that I would stay in Juneau one way or the other - either as a staffer or as a blogger.   And as I left the meeting where I was told volunteering for Max wasn't going to happen,  Rep. Dahlstrom found me in the stairwell and  assured me that the decision had nothing to do with me personally and she was very supportive of my staying in Juneau to blog.   Nearly all my posts from mid January 2010 to mid April 2010 are about the legislature or Juneau.  Here are the ones tagged Alaska Legislature 2010.  I didn't quite fulfill Max's vision of an academic in residence, but my blog did give a close up view of things happening in Juneau, and a few posts did step back and look at things in a more academic way.

My condolences go out to Kayla Epstein - Max's wife - and the rest of his family.  His solid voice, backed by lots of legislative history and an excellent legal mind, will be sorely missed.

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