Speculating on rumors and gossip surrounding Alaska politics is a time-honored tradition best done with a heaping helping of salt. It’s time for our weekly trip through the grand, gross, weird, wild and wonderful world of Alaska politics. (Also if you feel like you have something good, you can always shoot me a tip via email at matt at midnightsunak dot com.)
(Also note to self: Don’t edit exclusively in WordPress in case you hit refresh and lose a third of Friday in the Sun moments before you post it.)
Just in time for Halloween, the Frankenstein’s Monster that is Senate Bill 54 lumbered out of the House Judiciary Committee near the strike of midnight on Thursday. It has its bolts bolted on and a handful of rollbacks rolled in, but escaped from the most grievous injuries the pitchfork-wielding SB 91 opponents hoped to inflict. Still, it’s not nearly time to roll credits on the legislation. There’s still House Finance Committee and the House floor to pass before the fate of criminal justice reform in Alaska becomes clear.
And by the looks of it, the action in the House Judiciary Committee this past week could just be the start of things. That’s because there’s talk that a lot of legislators—both Republicans and Democrats—who were considered to be reasonable on the issue of criminal justice (at least that SB 91 isn’t the root of crime in Alaska) are wavering in the face of pressure and criminal justice reform is becoming more and more vulnerable to being picked apart piece by piece. For many legislators it appears to be a day-by-day sort of thing, which is just an excellent way to legislate.
Two days away
Rep. Lora Reinbold made a stunning return to the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning, but as one of the most ardent opponents of Senate Bill 91 it appeared that she also couldn’t be bothered to show up for the first two days of the legislative session. Instead, she stayed behind in the Anchorage to host an Americans For Prosperity town hall on the dangers lurking in SB 91 (or was it SB 21?).
At least that’s the official story.
We’ve heard that after Reinbold’s earlier House Judiciary performance, where she personally attacked fellow Republican minority member Rep. Chuck Kopp, didn’t go over all that well. Instead, a compromise was reached and Reinbold got to stay behind for the town hall and Rep. Charisse Millett—who’s also pitched her own brand of opposition to SB 91—got to fill in and run a few amendments that’ll likely make for good campaign fodder.
The Lora Reinbold Minute
The one thing that kept the SB 54 amendment process together was House Judiciary Committee chair Rep. Matt Claman‘s strict rules on questions and debate. Limiting questions to one minute was an attempt at keeping long, rambling preambles out of the meeting and the committee focused on each amendment. Most of the committee—including the more anti-SB 91 legislators Reps. David Eastman, Gabrielle LeDoux and Charisse Millett—all handled the time limit pretty well.
That wasn’t the case for Rep. Lora Reinbold, who had to be constantly reminded that a question does—contrary to popular belief—need a question mark at the end. Reinbold responded by frequently accusing Claman of intimidating her before eventually calling on Claman to be removed from the chair (we aren’t holding our breath). Claman, for his part, gave Reinbold plenty of extra time to get to her question, which, well, let’s look at how she’s been using her time:
Paying the price
Remember when Alaska Republicans were wringing their hands in worry that U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s stand on health care would doom ANWR and “the strong economic growth, pro-energy, pro-mining, pro-jobs and personnel from Alaska who are part of those policies are going to stop,” as her colleague put it?
Thanks are in order for President Donald Trump‘s long-awaited (though kind of disappointing) national health emergency declaration on the opioid crisis (which just so happens to be a significant driver in crime) on Thursday. Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan got to attend the event along with Gov. Bill Walker. Neither got to stand on stage, but we did spot the two of them in the audience as Trump departed. It didn’t look like the president stopped to shake hands or talk with either.
The Alaska Legislature isn’t the only legislative body intent on rolling things back. The U.S. Senate quietly voted Tuesday night to roll back a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule against forced arbitration in contracts on a 50-50 tie vote that was broken by Vice President Mike Pence. Both Alaska Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski voted in favor of the killing the rule.
Murkowski, as it turns out, is still a Republican.
The shoe finally dropped on Sen. Shelley Hughes for breaking the key rule of majority membership: vote for the operating budget. For stepping out of line, Hughes will have to give up three choice committee assignments to other rule-following majority members. Sen. Gary Stevens will get her seat on the Finance Committee, Sen. Peter Micciche will get her seat on the Labor and Commerce Committee and Sen. Click Bishop will get her seat on the Resources Committee. Hughes, for the time being, gets to keep her seat on the Education Committee.
Also we want to wish Hughes the best as she continues with her cancer treatment, which has forced her to stay home for this week for treatment. We also want to take the opportunity to give Hughes kudos for her frequent Facebook Live town halls. It’s one of the more effective and transparent uses of social media by a legislator that we’ve seen.
Former House Speaker Mike Chenault‘s exploratory bid for governor got a shot in the arm last weekend. A fundraiser for the Nikiski Republican in Juneau last Saturday was a huge success, according to one organizer, who told us more than 100 people showed up for the event that raised about $10,000. “It was a diverse crowd,” our source said. “Fishermen, miners, Republicans, old and young, babies and teenagers.”
Staffers in the news
Legislative aides don’t like making it into the news (that’s their bosses’ job), but Berett Wilber—former staffer to Sitka Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins—is now quite literally making the news in her new position as a reporter for the Haines-based KHNS. Wilber also worked this summer at Unalaska’s KUCB. Congratulations on the new job.
Follow the filings
There’s not a lot of new stuff this week. House Majority Leader Chris Tuck has filed an open letter of intent with APOC, and Fairbanks Sen. Click Bishop has filed an open candidate registration. Bishop was once rumored to be a moderate candidate for either the governor or lieutenant governor’s office, but such talk has cooled in the last year or two.