Lawmakers move bill honoring Susan Butcher

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A bill honoring champion dog musher Susan Butcher was passed out of the Senate State Affairs Committee on Thursday after moving testimony from Butcher’s husband and longtime friends.

The bill would establish an annual Susan Butcher Day on the first Saturday in March, the traditional start date of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Butcher won the race four times. She died in August 2006 at the age of 51 after battling leukemia.

The bill was introduced before the start of last year’s legislative session by Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks, and moved quickly through the House. It stalled in the Senate Resources Committee, where committee chair Sen. Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, questioned the idea.

Last week, Huggins asked that the referral to his committee be waived, and the bill was sent instead to the Senate State Affairs Committee.

At a hearing on the bill Thursday morning, Butcher’s husband, David Monson, offered a personal tribute to his late wife.

“Honestly, if I had the choice, I wouldn’t be here,” he said. “If I had the choice, I would be home with her.”

Monson described Butcher as dedicated, self-reliant, and down-to-earth.

The year after her dog team was attacked by a moose on the trail, she came back and won the Iditarod, he said. She met six presidents, but treated them just like she treated everyone else.

Monson said the yearlong delay getting Guttenberg’s bill through had given him the chance to reflect and to see just how much Butcher meant to others. More than 150 letters of support came in from people she inspired, he said, from someone dealing with illness to a young girl convinced she could reach her own goal of becoming a doctor.

Butcher also presented the best of Alaska to the rest of the country and world, he said. “The idea of Susan served the state well.”

Guttenberg, Rep. Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks, and former state lawmaker John Binkley, also praised Butcher’s ability to represent the good things about Alaska.

Committee chair Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, described Butcher as “a national hero and a role model for women,” but also asked Binkley for his thoughts on naming a day after her rather than Iditarod champions in general.

Binkley said it wasn’t so much Butcher’s winnings that stood out to him but her ability to inspire others with them.

Sen. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, also addressed the issue.

He said he was sympathetic to the idea of not wanting to “clutter up” state statutes with days named after ordinary Alaskans.

“But this is the case of an extraordinary Alaskan,” he said.

The bill, HB 37, was passed out of committee without objection and now moves to the Senate Rules Committee to be scheduled for a floor vote.

Guttenberg said later he expects a floor vote in time to have a Susan Butcher Day this March 1.

Source: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

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