JUNEAU — Legislators paid tribute Feb. 16 to the late state Rep. Max Gruenberg, remembering the Anchorage Democrat as a kind man and a stickler for details with a penchant for amending bills that he thought could be improved.
There were tears and laughs at the remembrance, held in the House speaker’s chambers, as stories were shared. There were jokes about Gruenberg’s amendments and breaks in floor sessions, known as “at eases,” so Gruenberg could iron out details or nail down answers to questions. There were tears remembering acts of kindness and the impression that he left.
House and Senate lawmakers from both parties attended, along with aides and Gruenberg’s widow, Kayla Epstein. Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott paid their respects, as did several former legislators. Gruenberg served in the House from 1985 to 1993 and from 2003 until his death. He was 72.
House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said Gruenberg had a good heart and tried to improve legislation. Even if he didn’t agree with the bill, he wanted to make sure that if it was done, it was done right, Chenault said.
He enjoyed Gruenberg’s company, “even though sometimes, and I’ll say it, he was a pain the butt,” Chenault said to laughs. “But he was our pain in the butt.”
House Minority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, said Gruenberg was often a crutch for him to lean on. He left a big hole, Tuck said.
Senate Minority Leader Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, said Gruenberg had a joy for life and would listen with his full attention. She said to laughter that there were times he would fall asleep, but when the talking stopped, he would open his eyes and ask a pertinent question.
Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, said Gruenberg’s “true passion was giving people a chance in the world, regardless of their background, regardless of whether they were born wealthy, poor or whatever.”
He believed everyone deserved a fair shake, Gara said.
Epstein asked legislators to consider going back to 120-day sessions. She said her husband was working hard. State law calls for sessions to run 90 days, the result of a 2006 voter initiative. The constitution allows for sessions of up to 121 days, with an option to extend for up to 10 days.
Under the law, when a vacancy occurs in the Legislature, the governor is to appoint a qualified replacement within 30 days of the vacancy. The law states the appointee shall be a member of the same political party as the predecessor and in this case would be subject to confirmation by a majority of House Democrats.
In a release, the state Democratic party and House District 16 Democrats said that district Democrats will accept applications to fill the seat until 5 p.m. Feb. 22. Applicants must live in District 16, the Anchorage district that Gruenberg represented. Interviews will be conducted on Feb. 24 and 25. Three nominees will be sent to Walker.
The person appointed would fill the remainder of Gruenberg’s term, which ends in January.