It’s that time of week for our stroll down the unsubstantiated, rumor-filled and damp streets of political rumor and gossip brought to you at this late hour by a WWE pay-per-view that began at 8 a.m. Alaska time.
Just 20 days left in the 121-day session.
The Legislature was abuzz on Thursday with the visit of incredibly popular Iditarod musher and Alaska icon DeeDee Jonrowe. The tough-as-nails musher got a reception hosted by Minority Leader Charisse Millett, Mike Chenault and… House Speaker Bryce Edgmon in the speaker’s chambers after a short floor session on Thursday. The event was very nice with a parade of mostly Mat-Su Valley Republicans taking turns to shower praise and love on Jonrowe in what ultimately seemed to be a “Who loves DeeDee the most?” type of contest (The answer seemed to be Sen. Lyman Hoffman).
Anyways, the reason this visit is headlining this week’s Friday in the Sun is because it appears to be much more than your usual celebrity visit.
The undercurrent of talk throughout the building is that Jonrowe, a registered Republican, is considering a run for the Legislature–or at least is being heavily recruited to consider such a race. She would go up against the increasingly unpopular (at least in the building and with his fellow Republicans) Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla.
There was gossip about whether or not Eastman would even attend the event (he did) or whether they would shake hands (they did).
“We’re new friends,” Jonrowe pointed out as they talked.
Then the ever-personable Eastman went on to talk about his disappointment Jonrowe had to scratch from her final Iditarod race. Eastman also got to introduce Jonrowe over during the floor session (we heard he insisted on this).
During her comments during the ceremony, Jonrowe, a breast cancer survivor, certainly hinted at her desire to be involved in a capacity beyond mushing.
“I don’t want my life to be irrelevant. I want to make a difference,” she said, recalling how she and mushers Susan Butcher and Mellen Shea were all diagnosed with breast cancer within three years. “I don’t understand why I survived, but I know I made a bond with myself that I have to, I have to, I must make my life worthwhile because I’m still here for a reason.”
Her biggest political priority? Increasing access to health care in Alaska, particularly in-state cancer treatment.
Afterward, Millett shuttled Jonrowe from office to office throughout the afternoon, meeting with legislators and signing postcards. (Your humble editor was in an office when one of these visits happened, so here’s an example of what was being handed out).
Jonrowe wouldn’t be the first Iditarod finisher to join the Alaska Legislature.
Four-time Iditarod musher Bev Masek was elected to the House in 1994 and served through 2005. She eventually would plead guilty as part of the VECO corruption probe and served six months in prison as part of a sad series of proceedings where even the judge recognized that Masek was “pawn in the hands of several legislators (and) her husband.”
If you’re wondering why Republicans might be eager to knock off Eastman, then look no further than this week’s House Health and Social Services Committee meeting, where the committee was hearing a bill that would make it easier for victims of rape by a parent to terminate the rapist’s parental rights.
And, well, Eastman had a particularly bewildering hypothetical question:
“If I, as a parent, hire a rapist to rape a child.”
(Bonus: You can hear someone murmuring “that was awkward.”)
The Juneau Empire this week revealed that Juneau Rep. Justin Parish had been the target of a sexual harassment complaint, noting that the paper was aware of rumored complaints for a while. We, too, have heard talk of those complaints but the later disclosure that it was brought by someone outside the building was news to us. That leaves a lot wondering if there will be further hammers to drop on Parish, giving the session a feeling that it’s quickly derailing.
That was certainly this week’s narrative as the House scuttled most of its activities on Wednesday to hold caucus meetings.
Going into this week it appeared the session could be done by mid next week as most people were discussing a May 1 adjournment. That date of adjournment has mostly gone out the window and we’ve even heard some legislators are thinking about heading out of town this weekend, but to blame the incident surrounding Parish seems to be conveniently misplaced.
That’s because there’s a lot more coming together–both out in the public and behind the scenes–that would push the session further out anyways.
…Which would be
The Legislature geared up last Saturday to revive Senate Bill 26, the formal restructuring of the Alaska Permanent Fund to pay for government. The conference committee has requested greater powers to rewrite certain sections of the bill, but no further meeting is on the calendar yet. Update: The conference committee on SB 26 has been scheduled for 2 p.m. on Saturday.
The rumored deal on Senate Bill 26 would set a percent of market value draw at 5.25 percent that would ratchet down to 5 percent after a few years. What’s particularly interesting, however, is the plan is expected to leave out any changes to the existing statute ruling PFDs.
Dropping that would leave the current PFD formula in state statute (even though the Legislature has largely ignored it for the past few years) as a bit of a olive branch to the threats of a referendum that would repeal Senate Bill 26, which would also bar the Legislature from passing any similar measure for two years.
The Legislature could, of course, stave off any referendum on legislation by staying in session through May 10, which aligns with the talk of an adjournment sometime around May 11 or May 12.
But beyond that, there’s talk that thanks to the additional fiscal stability created by passing Senate Bill 26 the Legislature could put together a more traditional capital budget (you know, the kind with something for everyone) via a general obligation bond package that would be put on the ballot.
The pure logistics of figuring out such a deal, we’ve been told, would likely push the end of session to 110 days or the full 121 days, and that’s if they agree that’s the direction they’ll go today.
That’s the numbers we heard on another head-to-head gubernatorial race that doesn’t feature the governor. Yesterday, we reported that a head-to-head poll between Gov. Bill Walker and Republican front-runner Mike Dunleavy is 51-44. These new numbers were reportedly part of that same survey and we’ll have something on it later today.
A friend of the blog pointed out a recent news story where Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Josh Hawley returned a $1,000 campaign contribution from former U.S. Senator Bob Packwood, who resigned amid sexual harassment. The thing is Packwood has been busy with contributions to other senators, including Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan.
Those are how many Senate bills that are in the House Rules Committee (21) and how many House bills are in the Senate Rules Committee (32). The Senate Rules Committee has pretty much taken care of its Senate bills and just five Senate bills are left in the committee. Meanwhile, the House Rules Committee has a whopping 16 House bills. It’ll make for a fun final few weeks.
As we said above, we’ve heard that some legislators are hoping to go home this weekend as the end game is no longer in sight. Still, we’ve heard to expect the House to be playing catch up this weekend with a potential Saturday floor session. It does sound, however, that Sunday will be pretty quiet.