We’re a matter of tens of hours away from the end of the session, bringing a merciful end to a thoroughly underwhelming two years. While we sit through at-eases and meetings delayed to the call of the chair, let’s kick back and take a stroll down the shady, unsubstantiated alleyway of Alaska political gossip and rumor.
Just six days left in the 121-day session.
Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, has had quite the freshman year. A year ago Thursday he became the first member of the House to ever be censured after he suggested some women–particularly those living in villages–planned on getting pregnant so they could get Medicaid-funded abortions in order to travel. He’s introduced a resolution calling pornography a public health crisis, and he lost his seat on the Legislative Ethics Committee for an ethics violation (marking the only legislator in recent memory to pay any price for an ethics violation not related to sexual harassment or assault).
He also found himself increasingly isolated from his own fellow Republicans–some of which might refer to him as a “vampire” within earshot–thanks in large part to his record of voting against almost everything. Some of the highlights include registering the sole no votes against honoring black soldiers’ work on the Alaska Highway, voting against a bill require police officers to take sexual assault training and against a long-in-the-works reform of the foster care system.
On Thursday, he cast so many no votes that we decided to dig through all the House’s daily journals to find every single instance that Eastman has been the lone vote against anything, be it bills, amendments or procedural motions. It turns out it’s been the lone no vote 51 times on the House floor with it ratcheting up in recent weeks (perhaps because his Republican colleagues are actively trying to recruit a replacement?).
Thursday, in fact, turned out to be his most busy day of no votes with a grand total of six cast on the floor.
And, hey, because I looked up his no votes the hard way here’s a handy little chart of all of Eastman’s no votes.
Speaking of Rep. Eastman, the Alaska Legislature has officially blown past the referendum deadline. Under the Alaska Constitution, referendums to repeal legislation appear on the first general election occurring 180 days after the adjournment of session. That would have been Thursday.
Eastman has repeatedly tried to urge the Legislature to adjourn before that deadline in order to give voters the opportunity to repeal whatever action is taken on the permanent fund and the PFD.
End of session
The talk is that session will be done by midday Saturday at the latest, but the pieces are coming together quickly and we wouldn’t be entirely surprised if there’s a push to be done today.
As far as the Gavel Classic, things are looking good for Carole Triem. But, hey, this is the Legislature and you never really know.
It’s 3 p.m. on #AKleg day 114 and @thc1972 is officially out of the #GavelClassic. @TriemTeam is now in the hot spot. If they gavel out before 9:30 p.m. Saturday, she wins. @RuthKostik is next in line after that. https://t.co/pnB3ufs3U5
— Jeremy Hsieh (@jmlhsieh) May 9, 2018
With the session in its final day (or two) it’s always enlightening to take a look at what’s sitting in the House and Senate rules committees to see who has leverage over what. And, surprise, things are pretty lopsided in the favor of the Senate.
The House has a grand total of seven Senate bills in hand with some real humdingers like Sen. Gary Stevens’ SB 15 to regulate e-cigs, Sen. Click Bishop’s SB 78 education PFD raffle and Sen. David Wilson’s SB 105 on marital and family therapists. The only key legislator they have an ounce of leverage on is Senate President Pete Kelly’s SB 199 that deals with access to private property off the Dalton Highway.
Meanwhile the Senate Rules Committee has a whopping 19 House bills in its possession, including a bill by House Speaker Bryce Edgmon (HB 8, the enforcement of foreign protective orders), three bills by Rep. Matt Claman, two by independent Rep. Dan Ortiz and plenty others.
Is the smoke-free workplaces bill, Senate Bill 63, scheduled for a vote in the House?
Nope. It’s still in the House Rules Committee as one of those seven leverage-able bills. But we’ve heard there are plans to get it to the floor one way or another.
Sen. Peter Micciche decided it was best to cut off Senate Bill 76 on Thursday, putting to rest his wide-ranging update of Alaska’s alcohol law that was snarled by fighting between the established bar and restaurant industry and the fresh new distilleries and bars.
Some observers says it was a wise move as not only was time running out, but there was also concern that anything done in the House Finance Committee (where the bill currently sits) could be undone in the House Rules Committee. There was also concern that the dreaded 80-20 rule that would require craft manufacturers to sell 80 percent of their goods through wholesalers after a few years in business could return.
Best to put this miserable fight out of its misery.
Kawasaki gets a bill signed into law
After 12 years in the Alaska Legislature, Fairbanks Democratic Rep. Scott Kawasaki can finally say he’s passed a bill into law. Gov. Bill Walker signed into law Kawasaki’s House Bill 236 to extend the Alaska senior benefits payment program.
Rep. Scott Kawasaki from #Fairbanks is an advocate for Alaska’s elders and seniors. His bill to extend Alaska’s vital Senior Benefits Program was signed into law today by @AkGovBillWalker https://t.co/9uhuA1Zzgc #akleg #elders #seniors pic.twitter.com/IKB4Y94rTt
— AK House Majority (@AKCoalition) May 11, 2018
Kawasaki has never found much love from the powers that be during his years in the minority thanks, in large part, to his 2006 defeat of Republican Rep. Jim Holm. He’s since handily held onto a seat that Republicans have felt should be theirs. Republicans will get their best shot at the seat this year as Kawasaki is departing to challenge Senate President Pete Kelly for his seat.
On the other side of town, Rep. David Guttenberg announced this week that he would be retiring from the Alaska Legislature after 16 years in office. He made the announcement to the Laborers’ union hall in Fairbanks over a video call-in.
We’ve heard there are at least two candidates considering entering into the Democratic primary for the solidly liberal district.
At the announcement, someone asked if there’d be a labor-backed candidate to fill the job, which got a “no comment” while your humble editor was in the room. Stay tuned.
Update: In a less-than-surprising turn of events, Grier Hopkins has filed the paperwork necessary to run for the seat. Hopkins is the nephew of Guttenberg and son of former Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins. Grier Hopkins currently works as the UniServ Director at NEA-Alaska.
Speaking of that we’re hearing that Guttenberg may not be the only long-time Democrat who’s considering stepping away from the Alaska Legislature after this term. But unlike Guttenberg, we’re hearing to not expect the news to come out until right before the filing deadline to limit the potential for a crowded primary.
Guttenberg said he wanted to avoid anointing a candidate because he felt it was “rude.”
Gara gets a win
There was major praise in store for Anchorage Democratic Rep. Les Gara, who saw the passage of his foster care system overhaul. Gara, once a foster care child himself, has championed the issue during his long-time in the Legislature, frequently working to educate his colleagues about the system and inviting foster care kids to the Legislature.
The praise poured in for Gara on Thursday night after the House concurred with the Senate changes to his House Bill 151 (on a 37-Eastman vote) sending the bill to governor’s desk.
Couldn’t put it better myself. Congratulations to @RepLesGara on passing HB 151, and changing Alaska’s foster care system for the better. Our kids, and our state, are better because of the knowledge and care you bring to the floor. #akproud #strongeralaska https://t.co/Q1WNnXlXJb
— Governor Bill Walker (@AkGovBillWalker) May 11, 2018
The Alaska Democratic Party held its annual convention in Talkeetna last weekend with special appearances by Gov. Bill Walker and former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich. From reports we’ve heard, the party seems to be hitting its stride and setting aside the infighting between the established wing and the Bernie wing of the party. Chair Casey Steinau was re-elected without opposition, and it sounds like much of the talk centered around the work to implement a state-wide vote-by-mail system.
Speaking of Gov. Bill Walker, after getting the news bump last week that he’d be entering into the Alaska Democratic Party as an independent candidate thanks to the new rules Walker has yet to actually file to run in the primary. Odd.
Bree Moore Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Program
That’s the Senate Finance Committee’s replacement name for Bree’s Law. It’s a bit of a thumb in the eye to the parents of Bree Moore, who’ve fought to raise awareness of teen dating violence and have lobbied heavily (and sometimes confrontationally when the pace has been too slow) to put their murdered daughter’s name into law.
Those lobbying efforts haven’t sat well with the Senate, where members have felt very bullied and threatened. The whole thing blew wide open on Thursday when the Senate Finance Committee rolled out a new version of the bill along with an admonishment against bullying and intimidation.
“When does advocacy cross over to bullying?” asked Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River. “When does it cross over to harassment?”
Though MacKinnon had introduced an updated version of the bill (now with a quarter-million dollar fiscal note for curriculum), she said she was still considering canning the bill because of the bad behavior.
Suffice it to say, there’s a lot more going on here but that’s a story for another day.
Crime bill passes
The Senate signed off on the expanded crime bill House Bill 312, a joint effort by Reps. Matt Claman and Chuck Kopp, that was amended to add just about every other hot-button Southcentral-centric crime issue including pre-trial risk assessment, judicial discretion and boutique drugs.
Just about everyone is hoping to jump on board and claim some piece of credit for being tough on crime. Republican candidate for lieutenant governor Sen. Kevin Meyer carried the bill on the floor, Sen. Mia Costello offered an amendment to do away with automatic release (going a fair bit better than her terrible hearing on her bill to repeal Senate Bill 91) and pretty much everyone’s signed on as a co-sponsor.