AKLEG Recap, Day 36: Walker’s GOP-approved pick for Senate is not a registered Republican. Whoops.

Lt. Col. Mike Shower speaks with a staff seargent after completing a training mission. Shower is the latest appointment to a vacant Senate seat. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott Wolfe)

Update: Mike Shower has had his party affiliation since sorted out and he’s been confirmed by Senate Republicans.

The 36th day of the Alaska legislative session is in the history books. The House is starting to hammer away on shaping its operating budget, the latest appointment to the Senate looks like he’d be an easy appointment if not for one glaring problem and Alaska’s Kikkan Randall has brought home the gold with Jessie Diggins in the team sprint final.

Just 54 days to go.

More personal legislation

Yesterday’s recap of the personal legislation submitted before the deadline for personal legislation was a little premature, it turns out. That’s because the deadline for personal legislation was at the end of the workday Monday not sometime before the Monday floor sessions. It sounds like senators got most of their personal bills in to be submitted on Monday, but it could be a pretty long day on the House floor. Senators slipped in 25 bills on Monday, while the House seemed like it had a modest two personal bills. Expect that tally to change considerably today.

An appointment problem

So Gov. Bill Walker’s appointment of Mike “Dozer” Shower to the vacant Senate District E seemed like a sure-fire dunk yesterday. The guy’s an veteran Air Force pilot and capable of submitting a complete resume, which is an improvement over the last appointee. But no way are we out of the woods, yet. That’s because the latest highly vetted candidate from the Republican party is not a registered Republican. Alaska Republican Party Chairman Tuckerman Babcock told media yesterday that he was pretty sure Shower updated his registration back in January and would update it again, but as of this morning Shower’s online registration still says he’s undeclared.

Even though local input is not required by law for a candidate to be appointed to the Legislature, the correct party affiliation is.

It’s also giving time for more people to get a handle on Shower’s politics. He’s a relative unknown with an impressive record of service to his name, but from what we’ve heard is he’s very, very conservative. The sort of conservative that would push the seat to the right from the pretty conservative former Sen. Mike Dunleavy. We’ve heard him described as more of an Rep. David Eastman-like candidate (which might be an important piece of information later) in his politics. It could make Senate Republicans nervous as they would certainly prefer a candidate who will caucus with them and support the draw from the constitutional budget reserve, something Dunleavy and later Sen. Shelley Hughes opposed. And that’s not to mention the more moderate Republicans, who might’ve preferred the pro-business appointment of Mat-Su Assemblyman Randall Kowalke.

Republicans push for Medicaid work requirements

After spending the first third of the session beating up on the administration for bigger-than-expected Medicaid costs (though the Legislature intentionally underfunded it in the last budget and was told to expect some degree of extra spending this year) and committee questions about work requirements, Republicans in the House and Senate have introduced legislation imposing work requirements for Medicaid recipients. The bills are sponsored by Rep. Chuck Kopp and Senate President Pete Kelly, who told the Associated Press that the requirements should be seen as a “privilege” and not a punishment. Kopp told the Associated Press that the legislation was aimed at “helping people get back on their feet.”

State officials have earlier this session explained that most people on Medicaid are either children, the elderly, people with disabilities or already in a working household. They’ve also deflected concerns about Medicaid expansion, saying that most of the increase in the Medicaid spending is due to the traditional Medicaid population.

Work requirements for Medicaid and other social safety net programs have gained more traction under the Trump administration, which is pushing for an overall reduction in social safety net programs in its latest budget. With Walker in the governor’s office and the House Majority Coalition in charge of the House, we don’t see either bill having any real chance this session, but that hasn’t stopped either chamber from pursuing legislation in the past.

State of the University

University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen delivered his annual State of the University address in Anchorage on Tuesday, outlining the efforts the university system has worked to handle budget cuts and position the university to better meet the needs of Alaska. It was an overall pretty optimistic vision of the university, but he warned against the Legislature’s further “divestment” from higher education could severely damage those efforts. He urged attendees to contact legislators and urge them to oppose further cuts.;

Budget closeouts

House Finance subcommittees closed out the budgets of the governor’s office, the Department of Fish and Game and the Department of Administration on Monday. The committees left the governor’s office alone, but added funding to the Department of Fish and Game and axed funding for the Department of Administration. The Department of Administration recommended reducing inter-agency receipt authority for facilities, cutting about a half million dollars out of the budget, and all receipt authority for the information services fund about $55,000. The House restored nearly $1 million to the Department of Fish and Game budget with increases to fisheries management.

“The cuts that are made in each department can sometimes go too far and be counterproductive to the overall betterment of the statewide economy,” said chairman Rep. Dan Ortiz, noting that the committee had testimony that there was lost economic opportunities because of state cuts to the fisheries management.

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