All politics is local

Ken Koelsch

I called Dennis Egan early Tuesday morning to wish him the best before he made his retirement announcement on KINY. He was his usual self — a little cynical, somewhat caustic, but vintage Egan. I asked him if he was going to write a book and he quipped “No, I’m going to read a book.”

 

Marian and I moved to Juneau in 1968 from Ionia, Michigan, for a one year adventure in Juneau. The last function we attended (beside family) was a political picnic organized for us by the 5th Congressional District of Michigan and its Congressman: Gerald Ford. We were impressed by Ford when we worked on his campaigns and even more so when he came to our sendoff.

Imagine our surprise when driving out the road that fall of 1968, we heard on the radio that Ford was at the Baranof attending a function hosted by Governor Wally Hickel. We crashed it and had a great conversation with both of them.

Tip O’Neill, 47th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, is associated with the phrase “All Politics is Local.” That phrase rings especially true for Alaska and Juneau — interesting that the bridge between Michigan and Alaska for us ended up being Gerald Ford and Wally Hickel.

We first met the Egans through Dennis’ dad, Gov. Bill Egan, when we attended our first Christmas open house at the Governor’s Mansion. Gov. Egan complimented Marian on her fashionable coat and asked how we were enjoying Juneau. From then on, every time we met him on the street, he would acknowledge us. Bill Egan had a remarkable gift for remembering names but even if he didn’t, he made you feel like he remembered who you were.

In the 80s’ we listened to this guy on the radio named Dennis Egan. Dennis has always been a radio superstar, with a voice made for a microphone and a natural ability to communicate. He could have used his great voice to signal gravitas — but he much preferred peddling used tires on Problem Corner and wishing happy birthday to the relatives in Juneau and outlying communities.

As a Juneau-Douglas High School teacher and student council advisor, I interacted with the Egan family through Dennis and Linda’s daughters, Jill and Leslie. Carrying on family tradition, both daughters were active in student government.

Dennis tried politics in 1986 when he ran in a Primary against Bruce Botelho for a Juneau House seat. Dennis lost but then Bill Hudson beat Bruce in the general election. In 1989 Dennis ran for Assembly and then rose to Mayor in February 1995 when Byron Mallott went to work for the Permanent Fund.

In 1997, after I won election to the Assembly, I served with Dennis (who was mayor) for three years. He was a good teacher. The first major vote I took was in December 1997, and it was on the Road. Dennis’s advice was to listen to all sides respectfully but to also remember that many people will not come to Assembly chambers to voice their opinion — as an Assemblyperson, you need to seek out their opinions also. We both voted to support the Road.

At the January 2018 joint meeting between our legislative delegation and Assembly, Dennis led off with the importance of protecting the Road money that was appropriated last year for Upper Lynn Canal transportation.

When I became mayor in March 2016, I started going to the Capitol every week to talk with legislators about any capital city concerns they might have. Those visits became more important when Cathy Muñoz lost her race in November 2016, and Juneau was suddenly represented by a one party delegation. Cathy and Dennis had worked well together from both sides of the aisle to strengthen Juneau’s ties around the state.

It really matters who represents Juneau and what I quickly learned was that both Democrats and Republicans genuinely like Dennis Egan. He’s authentic and ideologically moderate. His priorities were to do what it takes to keep the capital in Juneau, build the Road and protect the ferry system. Having people actually like you went a long way.

Thanks for your service Dennis; you’ve represented Juneau well. We’ll be waiting for the book.


Ken Koelsch is the mayor of Juneau.


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