JUNEAU (AP) -- Former state Sen. Fred Zharoff, who represented Kodiak for nearly two decades, has died of cancer. Tom Panamaroff, Zharoff's former longtime legislative aide, said he died in his sleep Tuesday morning. He was 56.
A Democrat, Zharoff served six years in the House and 12 in the Senate. Because his district shifted with reapportionment, he at one time or another represented communities from the tip of the Aleutians to Metlakatla in Southeast Alaska.
Former state Rep. Ramona Barnes, R-Anchorage, said she and Zharoff were friends despite being on opposite sides of the political aisle.
Zharoff served during the early 1980s when Alaska was flush with oil revenues and brought home to his district a long list of construction projects, including the Near Island Bridge and the Terror Lake Hydroelectric Project.
''He worked very hard for the people he served,'' Barnes said, recalling his efforts to get a new school built for the village of Ouzinkie. ''We saw the state develop from where people had nothing practically to where people's lives are much more comfortable today.''
He chaired the powerful Senate Rules Committee during one session and Barnes recalls cajoling him to schedule a bill for floor action.
''We took him flowers and we took him Gummi Bears and we took him jelly beans to get him to calendar my bill,'' Barnes said. ''He sure played with me with that bill.''
Zharoff also booted the news media out of the Capitol when he was Rules chairman because legislators wanted the second floor office space reporters occupied for a committee room.
Freelance reporter Bob Tkacz sued to try to get that decision overturned, but lost. Tkacz said despite that, he had a good relationship with Zharoff afterward. Tkacz, who covers fisheries, said Zharoff did a good job advocating for the commercial fishing industry, an economic mainstay in Kodiak.
Senate President Rick Halford, who was elected to the House the same year Zharoff was, said he'll remember Zharoff's sense of humor.
''He had the ability to break the tension in a difficult moment,'' Halford, R-Chugiak, said. ''One time he got up and gave a long dissertation about how he'd discovered on the height and weight chart that he really wasn't overweight, he was only a foot short. I will always remember that about him.''
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