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Citizen Max – Tribute To A Friend
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I am writing this between tears today. Yesterday Alaska lost a statesman. Many of us lost a good friend. I’ve served with Max Gruenberg my whole career in the legislature. I got to know a man who – despite how some in the press who didn’t know Max might describe him (they saw that he fixed a lot of bills with amendments) – was a passionate, funny husband and father who cared deeply about others. He cared deeply about giving people born with little a chance in this world a fair shake. He cared deeply about fairness.
He believed in the words we pledge to when we look at the flag: Liberty and Justice for All. Not just for some. Not just for those with privilege, lobbyists, or special access to the political system. But justice for ALL.
A gift of sand from the beaches of Normandy Max gave to legislators
To his wife Kayla, his sons Daniel and Bruce and his family, thank you for sharing Max with us. And I wish you peace and privacy. To Max, thank you for all the times you told me you “love me like a brother.” The feeling is mutual.
Max would say that to me in two ways. One would simply be an affectionate, “Les, I love you like a brother.” The other, as my elder, would be when I . . . let’s say . . . did something he thought I could have done better. In those cases he’d come in my office, close the door, and say, “Les, I love you like a brother, but….(insert advice here).
Last week Max and Kayla gave me a birthday gift. Fishing equipment, of course. Every day Max gave us the gift of a keen sense of humor, a keen intellect, and something not every politician in this country has: the gift of unwavering honesty.
That gift of unwavering honesty was to all of you. As a public servant he felt that’s what he owed. He felt that was his duty. He never compromised on that.
What about the rest of Max’s legacy? We owe it to him to be accurate here. The legislature can be a, well, weird place, and I want his legacy to be set straight.
If you don’t pay attention, or don’t know a legislator and what that person does, you might think of them by the bills they pass. But the reality is that the greatest thing a good legislator does is work with others, and find ways to get their strongest beliefs translated into law. Sometimes it is through the budget, like when Max joined with those of like mind to help children, seniors, those who could not afford college or trade school, and those who needed a hand to succeed and join in the American dream. Sometimes it’s by writing a bill and putting another person’s name on it. Press members, unless they pay very close attention and have an institutional memory, don’t know those things when they comment on a legislator’s accomplishments.
In a place where majority party bills pass at a more than 9 to 1 rate to bills by members who are not in the majority, folks like Max have to be crafty in getting their work done and passed. Sometimes only they know what they did. Sometimes they have to find members across the aisle to collaborate with them, and don’t issue a press release that they did that. Those things don’t make headlines. Max worked tirelessly to give all a chance in life. When he got enough votes, those accomplishments often didn’t have Max’s name on them. Most things in the budget don’t have someone’s name on them. To pass, some had another person’s name on them other than Max’s.
Max served the public, as a combat veteran, as a civilian, and as a legislator. In all those roles he served with dignity, humor, and for the good of others. Max didn’t do things to benefit himself. He did things to benefit his community, his state and his country. And he loved his family. He and Kayla were a team, at home, and in talking about ways to make Alaska a better state.
Finally, I need to say something that Max would do, and that might help the rest of us in life. Max complimented others. His nephew Tor relayed some nice words Max would say about me. But Max would say those nice things about many, many people. In this world of politics, people like talking about themselves. Max talked about others. In our world people don’t compliment their peers enough. Max did.
So, we could all stand to improve by being more like Max. Or, as the cool kids would say with a hashtag - #BeLikeMax.
I miss my friend very much today. We’ve all lost great friends. It’s part of life. This weekend was my turn. And, if you didn’t know it, because Max didn’t talk about himself and what he did for all of us – you lost a friend too.
Peace to All.