Juneau Democratic Sen. Dennis Egan, one of the Legislature’s saltiest and most beloved members, will not run for reelection this year.
The 70-year-old senator made the announcement official on KINY’s Action Line with Pete Carran, saying that health issues related to multiple sclerosis have prompted the decision. He will complete his current term, leaving the solidly Democratic seat open for the 2018 elections.
“Sometimes you have to start worrying about your health,” he said. “I’m going to be 71 in two weeks, but I’m going to finish out my term, so when the new Legislature is sworn in in January of next year I will pass the gavel to whoever is elected in Juneau. … The main issue, to be honest with you, is my health.”
In a candid conversation with Carran, Egan recalled being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and the health impacts its been having on him. He said recently it’s caused particularly bad dizziness and vertigo, particularly near water.
“My vertigo started getting a lot worse, and in fact it got so bad that we had to sell our boat. Our kids were raised on boats, we bought a boat as soon as we were married. … The last one we had was a 41-footer and they were raised on that doggone thing,” he said. “One of the worst things I had to do was sell it. … It was tough because I couldn’t get to the harbors anymore because of what they diagnosed as severe vertigo. I had a heckuva time around water. What a great place to live if you have issues with water.”
He said the vertigo around water has made it difficult to serve his entire district.
“The main thing to me is I don’t think it’s fair to my constituents in Haines, Skagway, Gustavus, Klukwan, even the night watchmen in Excursion Inlet. It’s not fair to them because I have a heckuva time travelling and I can’t visit those communities,” he said. “It’s not fair to those folks.”
The 22-minute interview between Egan and Carran was full of character, though Egan chided Carran for calling the interview Egan’s “swan song.”
At one point, Carran asked Egan about the roles his genes played in his political career, alluding to Egan’s father Bill Egan, Alaska’s first governor, but Egan decided to have some fun with it.
“Ask Nat Herz,” he said, referencing a 2017 news article about legislative per diem for Juneau legislators. “That was a joke, I got in trouble for that. Sorry, I like jeans, and they’re comfortable.”
Egan didn’t delve much into his family, saying “Pete, I’ve led an incredible life because of my parents, believe it or not. My father was down-to-earth and my mother was a saint.”
Egan thanked his legislative staff that have worked with him since joining the Senate in 2009, and said he felt he’s done a good job representing his district during his time in office.
As far as reflecting on the state of the Legislature, Egan said the legislative bodies, like the Legislature or the Juneau assembly, work better when people can treat each other with respect. Though he said changes to compensation for Juneau legislators didn’t personally bother him, he said he’s concerned about what the Legislature will look like in the future.
“I’m worried about the Legislature becoming a legislature of retirees,” he said.
Egan doesn’t plan to endorse any candidate before the filing deadline and said he’s not sure he’ll even endorse after that. (All eyes will likely be on Egan’s chief of staff, Jesse Kiehl, who’s currently on the Juneau Assembly and was on the short list to be appointed to the House in 2014. He declined to comment to KTUU about his prospects.)
“I may and I may not,” he said.