March 28, 2019 - Issue: Vol. 165, No. 54 — Daily Edition116th Congress (2019 - 2020) - 1st Session
TRIBUTE TO LEIF FONNESBECK; Congressional Record Vol. 165, No. 54
(Senate - March 28, 2019)
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[Pages S2101-S2102] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] TRIBUTE TO LEIF FONNESBECK Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, I have come to the floor today to recognize a truly exceptional member of the U.S. Senate--not one who has a vote on this floor but certainly one who has wielded great influence and who has generated great appreciation from many of us who have had the privilege and the honor to serve on the Appropriations Committee, as you have. Today I am here to speak about an individual who has been serving the U.S. Senate on the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee now for two decades, and this gentleman is a friend by the name of Leif Fonnesbeck. Leif started with the Interior Appropriations Committee under the helm of Chairman Slade Gorton from the State of Washington and then also, of course, the chairman of the full Appropriations Committee at that time, my friend and mentor Ted Stevens. So it is actually a little bit bittersweet for me to be speaking about Leif and recognizing his contributions because after two decades--21 years--Leif is retiring from public service, and I understand, certainly, his desire. Twenty years is a good run. It is a significant amount of effort and truly an admirable career. Both Leif and I are born and raised Alaskans, and you can never take the home out of your heart. It is something that is a continual tug, and so I can certainly understand his desire to spend more time at home with the incredible Alaskans whom we call friends [[Page S2102]] and family and to be in our amazing and extraordinary spaces. As I mentioned, Leif is an Alaskan. He grew up there in Anchorage. Leif's mom was a librarian, and his father was a principal. He and his sisters grew up exploring and experiencing everything that is Alaska-- all things great. He attended East High School. He left to get his undergraduate degree in finance from here in Washington, DC, at Georgetown University, my alma mater. He then went on to law school and went out to the University of Arizona. Then, shortly after he got his law degree, he returned home to Anchorage, thinking that he was going to practice law there. So he wasn't there for too very long when then-Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens tapped Leif and said: Look, I would like to have you come back to Washington, DC, and work for me on the Senate Appropriations Interior Subcommittee. So it was at that time that Leif made the big move, leaving from Anchorage and coming back here to Washington, DC, to work with his mentor and my mentor, Ted Stevens. There are a lot of stories that go on around here. I have enjoyed getting to know the great Senator from Vermont, Mr. Leahy, who had a great tenure working with Chairman Stevens on the Appropriations Committee, but you learn a lot from leaders like that, and I know that Leif certainly learned a great deal from the leadership of Senator Stevens. He learned the art of the appropriations process, the art of trying to work with people on oftentimes contentious issues and places, but he really, truly learned the art of looking out for the needs of Alaska and Alaskans while meeting the needs of the Interior bill. He truly, truly served with distinction throughout his tenure on the subcommittee. In addition to being an expert--and he really was an expert at his job--he is just a rock-solid guy. He gave solid advice, was willing to be helpful, and had a nature and a generosity that were really key to all those who knew him and who really had the pleasure to work with him. Oftentimes, you can't say that it is really a pleasure to work with you. Well, it was a pleasure--it is a pleasure--to work with Leif Fonnesbeck. Since becoming chairman of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, I have had the benefit of Leif's experience and knowledge of Alaska and of the appropriations process. I will tell you, when I moved over to Interior to take that on as chair of that subcommittee, it was a little bit daunting at first. It is an expansive portfolio--everything from the EPA to management of our public lands, to the Indian Health Service, to the BIA. It is all over the board, and it is a challenging one, including how we are dealing with wildfires and fire borrowing. We have some significant, significant challenges, but Leif was just that font of knowledge, not only from his experience on the committee but just from his experience in working with so many of these issues and working with so many of the people over the years. He has been an absolutely excellent partner in navigating the really very difficult, complicated, and complex process that is required to produce funding bills in a manner that is viewed as fair and open and just true to the process. I am just so very, very grateful to his service to me, to the State of Alaska, and, truly, to the U.S. Senate. For 21 years now, Leif's work on the Interior Subcommittee has impacted the lives of more Alaskans than he will possibly ever realize. His efforts, particularly on behalf of Alaska's Native communities, as well as our vast natural resources, have had and will continue to have a tremendous impact on our State and our people. Because of his work, more communities have access to clean water through new drinking systems. This was something that Leif really concentrated on. He would go out to the villages. He would see firsthand what it meant to the health conditions of families when they don't have access to clean and safe drinking water and when they don't have sanitation facilities, and he worked to address that. More Alaskans are empowered to build their economy and create healthy communities through investments for new infrastructure and support for programs to address domestic violence, substance abuse, and suicide. Every year we have been able to help those accounts move forward because the needs were so desperate and the needs were so urgent, and Leif helped to advance those priorities. Support for rural healthcare clinics enabled more Alaskans to have access to care. There were the efforts that he went through to help facilitate Native hospitals, whether in Barrow or in Nome, and now down in the Bethel region with the joint venture projects, making sure that we have adequate, strong staffing packages. Investments in our public lands have helped to protect Alaska's tourism industry and our outdoor recreation opportunities. He and I would go back and forth and forth and back as to whether or not the pedestrian walkway to allow visitors in Brooks Camp to view the bears was too Taj Mahal of a bridge or whether it was a bridge that was going to be necessary to protect the tourists from the bears when the bears got disinterested in the salmon that they were munching on. Leif got down in the weeds. He got into the issues. He knew what was going on. His efforts for local governments to construct roads and public schools are investments that will make a lasting impact on the State of Alaska and the people who live there. Knowing that this is a lasting impact that this individual, Leif, has made, is just so huge. So as Leif is preparing to leave this place where he has been for two decades to go back home to spend more time there--whether it is fishing or just enjoying or going back to work--I know that he leaves many, many friends here. He leaves many that have such appreciation for his work, his character, his honesty, and just his professionalism. I want to thank him for all of his years of dedication, his commitment, his service. I wish him and his dog Leo the best as they go back to Alaska. They will be hiking around, wandering around the shadow of the Chugach Mountains. I know, wherever it is that he goes, though, he will be involved in helping the people of Alaska. I look forward to continuing to work with Lee in the next chapter of his life. It is indeed an honor to be able to speak about him and his good work today. I know we are set to wrap up here. It is my colleague from Alaska who usually has the last word on a Thursday evening, and he speaks about the Alaskan of the Week. Senator Sullivan is not here today and will not be giving those comments, but I feel I have kind of filled in with giving him an Alaska of the Week with Leif Fonnesbeck, a gentleman who has served our State honorably over such period of time. With that, I yield the floor. (Ms. MURKOWSKI assumed the chair.) (Mr. WICKER assumed the chair.) ____________________