“I made the decision over the long holiday weekend not to continue my candidacy for re-election to the State Senate,” Senator Johnny Ellis told me in an interview this morning. And with that, it would appear one of the longest legislative careers in Alaska history is officially coming to an end.
After two years as a legislative staffer Ellis was first elected to the Legislature in 1986. He has been a fixture in the Capitol ever since, having ascended to the State Senate in 1992.
Ellis said he felt this was the right time to leave after securing passage of the crime bill (SB 91) he had been working on for over five years, “I had accomplished my big goal for the legislative session which was the criminal justice reform and reinvestment (bill). I made common cause with one of the most conservative legislators serving, a very honorable and forthright guy, Senator John Coghill, and we were able to accomplish that.”
Ellis leaves office tied with Sen. Lyman Hoffman for longest serving current legislator at 30 years. So in all that time what does he see as his signature accomplishments? He said,”I am most proud of my strong support for Alaskans with developmental disabilities, helping with the creation of the Key campaign. Second was my strong support for the University of Alaska, statewide, not just UAA, and all the buildings and programs I helped fund there.”
Then, of course, there was the aforementioned crime bill this year, “The justice reform and reinvestment bill is a signature issue and huge reform effort for the state that will pay dividends down the road in terms of cutting costs in corrections and positive developments going forward” he said.
Finally, Ellis pointed glowingly to his work as a member of the Senate Bipartisan Working Group that held the majority in the Senate from 2007-2012. He said, “Our big accomplishment was not going on a spending spree, but going on a savings spree. We saved over $15 billion when oil prices were high, and that is the money we are living off of now.” He continued, “Those six years in the majority were a high point for me and I think for the state.”
With Ellis stepping aside, there looks to be an active race among Democrats to replace him. So far Assemblyman Patrick Flynn, political strategist Tom Begich, and Black community leader Ed Wesley have all thrown their hat in the ring.
Ellis declined to endorse anyone, saying only that because of the redistricting work of Republicans to pack the district with Democrats, he is confident the district will be represented by a Democrat.
What now for Ellis? Don’t expect him to step off the political stage completely; Ellis continued, “I want to stay involved in public service and public policy…Anything specific is not clear at this point, but I’ll be exploring options.”
Like most in Alaska who have been involved in politics at almost any level, my path has crossed Sen. Ellis a few times. I’ve battled him across the fog of campaign war and over policy issues, and because I have, I can tell you who read this there is no one in Alaska more respected for their dedication to making good policy or for their strategic skill in getting it passed than Sen. Johnny Ellis.