Con Bunde had one of the better lines to come out of the Alaska Legislature:
"Rationalization is the key to happiness."
He delivered it some years ago in a voice equally amused and acerbic. He was describing the ability of lawmakers to find good and noble reasons to spend the money they wanted to spend whether they had good and noble reasons or not.
The line and tone suit the lawmaker. Sen. Bunde said Thursday he's ending his 18-year legislative career, opting not to seek re-election in 2010.
Until the bipartisan coalition took over the Senate after the 2006 elections and Bunde joined the minority in the political wilderness, he was used to being a member of the Republican majority, first in the House and then the Senate. That was a comfortable position from which to take a jaundiced view of the foibles of representative democracy.
Bunde criticized some advocates of rural Alaska for romanticizing Bush and village life. He had a point. But if some advocates failed to see village life whole, so at times did Bunde during debates about subsistence and subsidies.
He's never been a lockstep vote. He broke with elements of his own party over tobacco tax increases, which he championed as a public health measure, mandatory seat belt use, which riled the state's libertarians, and the 1998 constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
On that last issue, Bunde stood on the House floor and argued for letting court cases on gay marriage run their course before putting before the public an issue he felt would generate more heat than light.
While saying that he wasn't sure he could support gay marriage, he didn't like some of the campaigning around the marriage amendment, which he described as the work of bullies on the Christian right. And he made clear he didn't like bullies.
Yet the man who wasn't afraid to buck the party line and stand up to bullies could be a bully himself, occasionally treating those testifying before House committees dismissively, even with contempt. That wasn't Con Bunde at his best.
Bunde at his best has been thoughtful and practical, independent and, yes, a little abrasive, but an Alaskan (with dog musher, pilot and professor on his resume) with whom you could shake hands and have a lively, intelligent conversation.
He'll be leaving the Legislature, but we hope he doesn't leave Alaska's public life.
BOTTOM LINE: The Legislature will miss Con Bunde's independent and sometimes contrarian spirit.