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Due Tribute: A Friday Talk on Sen. Stevens; Memories Of A Very Bright Dana Tindall; and Sympathies To the Families of the Victims of Monday's Tragedy

ear Neighbors:

It is with sadness that I write today's e-newsletter.  All most of us can do is help honor those who passed away in Monday's terrible Western Alaska plane crash, which one journalist described as the way too many Alaskans die; and offer our, thoughts to the families of those who passed away, and those who are struggling for recovery.

In honor of the two victims I knew, Ted Stevens and Dana Tindall, I can offer you a few stories - one of some significant legislative intrigue I don't think has ever been written about.  Dana knew that story.  She had a very honorable role in it.

Voice Your Opinions!
Letters to the editor make a difference. You can send a 175-word letter to the Anchorage Daily News by e-mail (letters@adn.com); or by fax or mail (call them at 257-4300). Feel free to call us if you need factual information to help you write a letter.
Contact the Governor. The Governor can be reached at 269-7450; sean.parnell@alaska.gov; or www.alaska.gov.
Contact us. My office can be reached at: 716 W. 4th Ave, Anchorage, AK 99501; by phone: 269-0106; visit my website at http://gara.akdemocrats.org; or email: representative.les.gara@legis.state.ak.us

My deepest sympathies go to the families of Senator Stevens, Dana and Corey Tindall, Bill Phillips, and Terry Smith.  And my hopes for recovery are shared with those who have survived, Willy Phillips, Sean and Kevin O'Keefe and Jim Morhard.

Friday Radio: Former Staffers Max Gruenberg and Dave Dittman Honor Sen. Stevens With Their Personal Stories.

Before I share a few memories about Dana, a few words about Senator Stevens.  On Friday, at 3:00pm, Rep. Max Gruenberg and David Dittman, a Democrat and Republican respectively, will talk about their work for Senator Stevens in his Senate Office.  A lot of great Alaskans worked in Senator Stevens' Office, and have recounted only the most favorable stories about working for him.  I plan on listening at KUDO radio in Anchorage, 1080 AM.  You can also tune in on line.  Sen. Stevens served Alaska through his hard work for four decades.  He's earned the honors that are coming his way, including today's unanimous U.S. Senate resolution honoring him.

Dana Tindall: A Story To Share Involving A Bright GCI Executive With Beaming Integrity

I first met Dana shortly after being elected, in 2003.  She was one of the brightest people I've ever met.  And she had a starring role in a legislative story I've never seen printed before - about a sort-of victory we both felt good about after the session ended.  Here goes.

Through hard work, Dana rose in the ranks at GCI.  She was a Senior Vice President at the time of Monday's tragedy, and earned that job because she was smart, dedicated, and honest.  She had the respect of many, and certainly earned my respect.

During my first year in the Legislature - which I expected to involved debates about things like the budget, oil and gas policy, abortion, education,  - I learned a new term - "phone wars".  Dating back to before I was elected, there was an annual battle between ACS and GCI.  Bill Allen, back then, donated money to candidates who he felt would support ACS - for reasons I still don't really know, other than that he was a close associate of then-ACS President, Chuck Robinson.  And, despite the turf both sides staked out, the battle was waged by lots of honorable people.  None brighter or more honest than Dana.

To oversimplify things, ACS owned most of the phone lines around the state - and before wireless communications exploded a few years later, that was important.  GCI wanted access to those lines to serve communities around the state and provide competition to ACS.  ACS felt GCI shouldn't have unfettered access, since it paid to build the lines.  At the time, it was felt GCI would provide competition and lower prices for consumers if given access; but ACS's case - that GCI shouldn't benefit from the fruits of the substantial ACS investment - carried weight too.

There.  Case oversimplified.  Enter Dana.

Lobbyists and policy folks from each company flooded the legislative hallways.  I studied as hard as I could, and learned that some of these folks overstated their cases, and some didn't.  Dana didn't.  She made her case well, intelligently, without hyperbole, and conceded the weaker points behind her company's arguments.  In politics, people like that stand out.

I'm often hard on interested parties, and not always trustful of what an advocate for one side or another says.  But Dana was someone we all learned could be trusted to tell the truth.  She'd certainly advocate hard for her side, but would never show you misleading information.

The Phone Wars debate came before me because the two competing bills (one favored by ACS, one favored by GCI) came to the House Judiciary Committee, of which I was a member at the time.  I didn't really like either bill, and succeeded at re-writing one through a series of amendments I offered.  By the end, I don't think either company loved that version of the bill, but that ACS really didn't like and saw it as a pro-GCI piece of legislation.

Then weird things started to happen.

After a hearing and work-session that lasted until I think, 2 a.m. (unusual event number one), the Judiciary Committee did something I've rarely seen repeated.  We passed both the version I re-wrote; and a competing version written by the Chair, Lesil McGuire, that ACS (and lots of other folks) supported (unusual event number two - but not close to as unusual as event number four will be - stay tuned).

Dana's input, I felt, was honest, credible and invaluable.  She stayed until 2 a.m., as did many other folks.  She offered no hyperbole, she didn't complain about provisions she didn't like.  One of her counterparts on the other side of the issue, I felt, complained loudly, and offered lots of hyperbole.  In fact he still complains to me loudly and with hyperbole.  Dana was a welcome contrast.

The version of the bill I worked to re-write ended being the one Dana - somewhat - supported.  It essentially provided that GCI should have access to use ACS' phone lines; that the state regulatory agency (the RCA) should require GCI to pay fair rates to ACS for using them; and that in setting rates, the RCA should recognize that the consumer's interests were paramount.  Many of the points she made - especially that consumers would benefit if GCI were allowed to compete in markets where ACS had a monopoly presence - resonated with me.  They resonated especially because Dana had mastered very complex facts, and didn't ever overstate them.

Then both the competing versions passed the House (unusual event number three), and went to the Senate.  As the debate continued, folks I spoke to were impressed with Dana - for the reasons stated above.  And then - after lots of work - that bill passed.  Because of unusual event number four. . . .

One day both bills were being debated in a Senate Committee.  Gene Therriault was then the Senate President.  Things were going ACS' way during that hearing, and then a break was called in the proceedings.  All the legislators left the room.  Then one entered.

Sen. Therriault, who supported the version of the bill Dana and I supported, ran in and, how should I say this?  Well.  He snatched the version of the bill ACS didn't like off the table while no one was looking.  I was waiting for the Keystone Cops music to play as the Gavel to Gavel camera showed this.  My aide Cindy Smith then explained to me why this was significant.

As it turns out (I didn't know this at the time), a committee cannot vote on a bill if it does not have possession of the "original" version of it.  Copies won't do.  And you need the Senate President's consent to re-issue an "original" bill - something Sen. Therriault had no intention of doing.

With the competing version of the bill, uh, "confiscated", the only bill the committee could vote on was the one Dana and I supported.  Not a proud way to get a piece of legislation passed.  But also, nothing Dana or I had any input on.

We each continued to educate Senators in hopes that they'd support the version of the bill we supported.  I assume Dana's intelligence and credibility carried weight with some of those folks, whose votes were needed to pass this legislation.  And at the end of session, that bill passed, and the competing version remains - well - in a place only one person knows about.

There.  Probably not screenplay worthy, but I'm smiling, and thinking about Dana right now.  She was a truly good person, and her loss will be felt by many.

Conclusion

The best that can come out of this week's events is the recovery of those who have survived, and comfort for the affected families.  I will offer my prayers and hopes.  Tragedies like this are a reminder of the suffering so many go through every day, because of losses we never read about.  Life is fragile.  Try to enjoy it.

With Sadness and Regards,

Les

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