It’s been a week.
A coalition at last
The House finally elected a permanent speaker on Thursday, stopping the clock on the longest-ever impasse at 29 days, 21 hours and 29 minutes by our count (the clock started a little after 1 p.m. on the first day). Newly undeclared Dillingham Rep. Bryce Edgmon was elected to his second term as House Speaker on a 21-18 vote but will take the reins of a somewhat larger bipartisan caucus.
Though they didn’t vote for Edgmon, Reps. Steve Thompson and Tammie Wilson will also be joining the caucus securing Majority Leader and House Finance Committee co-chair positions, respectively. Those who did vote for Edgmon, Reps. Chuck Kopp and Jennifer Johnston will get seats as Rules Committee Chair and Finance Committee vice-chair, respectively.
All those positions were formally announced at this morning’s Committee on Committee meeting. Pretty much everything else was left off the list for the time being as things are still being figured out.
No word on where Rep. Gary Knopp might land, he was excused for the Thursday floor session presumably after recovering from the whiplash earlier in the week.
There’s also talk that the House Minority, which will be led by Rep. Lance Pruitt (not dear Rep. Dave Talerico), is down to 15 members, which had led to plenty of guessing about who the eighth Republican is that will join the coalition.
There’s been plenty of speculation about who, then, number 25 might be for the House coalition with some dearly hoping that it’d be Talerico, but it sounds like it could possibly be none other than Fairbanks Republican Rep. Bart LeBon. Count us as surprised as LeBon has been seen quietly standing in the flanks of the party-line Republicans.
Perhaps that single-vote margin of victory was weighing on him.
Fairbanks, the home of bipartisanship.
A notable member
House Finance Committee co-chairs Reps. Tammie Wilson and Neal Foster is a true sentence that would have been utterly ridiculous and unbelievable just a few months ago, but it’s 2019 and the North Pole Republican has completed over the last month what wrestler nerds would call “the most epic face turn in the history of sports entertainment.”
For real, Wilson entered the 2019 session with a long and ignoble track record in the Alaska Legislature.
After budget stunts like simply dividing the number of university degrees by the university’s budget to get the per-degree cost, suggesting she didn’t believe in inflation and holding a merry little skit about food safety, you would have thought that Wilson would have been the first in line to sign onto Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s mean-spirited and barely justified budget.
Instead, Wilson has been a downright leading voice in reason this session impressing folks across the aisle time and time again. Don’t be fooled, Wilson will be happy to cut the budget here and there, but she won’t be doing so without a heart.
I’ve covered her first-hand as a reporter since 2012—including riding around in her old red Ford Taurus while she knocked on doors throughout her district—and can say that this is a person who genuinely cares about her district and the people who put her in office.
Every single one of her bills can be linked to a specific constituent, and her general thinking has been “If you’re willing to fight for something you care about, then so am I.”
In Juneau, there’s a distinction between legislators who represent their districts and legislators who’re focused on representing the state. The latter are the kind of legislators who do things like propose repealing community revenue sharing (or as Dunleavy has done: repeal the municipal oil and gas property taxes, fisheries taxes and others).
Wilson is the former and after years of being the butt of so many mean-spirited jokes and derision she’s so much less likely to take shit from anyone else.
It, then, won’t be too surprising to hear that word is Dunleavy’s Chief of Staff and Chief Partisan Tuckerman Babcock was thrown out of Wilson’s office after she apparently got tired of him talking down to her.
Speaking about the budget
There’s a lot we’ve heard from the front-lines of the budget and a lot that’s already been said and written elsewhere, so we’ll do a quick rundown:
- Commissioners and their departments were just as in the dark about the proposed cuts and reductions as anyone else was. We heard that most found out about the cuts shortly before the budgets were released, which means they were hardly involved in the decisions. It’ll make the upcoming budget hearings particularly popcorn-worthy.
- State employees were reminded about the Employee Assistance Program, a state-based counseling program for employees, in case anybody needed some help getting through the cuts.
- OMB Director Donna Arduin copped up to the state not really fully vetting the economic impacts of the proposed cuts, but they’re pretty sure that gains in the private sector will more than make up for the cuts to the public sector.
- The budget, which was promised to be clear and transparent, got poor marks from Sen. Bert Stedman, who pointed out there’s literally no value in comparing Dunleavy’s proposed budget to the final budget proposal submitted by Gov. Bill Walker, which included increases that inflated the size of Dunleavy’s cuts.
A large chunk of the effort to balance the budget will come through seizing more than $400 million in local property taxes municipalities collect from the oil and gas properties as well as ending the sharing of some $28 million in fisheries taxes with local communities.
That, along with cuts to education as well as several other places, will simply serve to shift the costs of the state’s deficit and the supersized PFDs back to the communities. It’s the underlying reality of many of these cuts, and was brought up by Sen. Peter Micciche during the Thursday Senate Finance Committee hearing.
“That $15 million cut … will result in that $15 million being made up on the property taxes or sales taxes of the people of the Kenai Peninsula,” he said. “You do in fact realize that revenue will have to be made up locally?”
Arduin, who’s been smirking her way through the hearings so far, answered with her standard “it’s not my job” line by saying, “We cannot comment on how local governments are structuring or will structure their budgets.”
Micciche’s district includes Wildwood Correctional Complex, where the Dunleavy budget plans to close a wing for sentenced individuals and eliminating some 46 jobs, according to local media reports.
We heard that Dunleavy’s not-convicted policy adviser Ben Stevens said municipalities had been freeloading off the state for years when asked about this during the Southeast Conference mid-session update.
He also called Dunleavy a “constitutional scholar.”
“🤣,” said our source.
Why it matters: The administration isn’t doing legislators any help getting on board with his budget. What kind of justification can be given to the hundreds of calls and emails each office is getting on the many different cuts? Other than, of course “unleashing entrepreneurism.”
The parallels between the Dunleavy administration and the Trump administration continue. This time with the administration’s well-paid appointees being confronted in public spaces for their actions.
From a friend here in Juneau. “How lovely of you to tell me this while I’m shopping” 😂😂😂💯💯💯 SMFH. Spoiler: This will not end well. pic.twitter.com/PE5c3JVqFH
— One Hot Mess AK (@libbybakalar) February 14, 2019
We want to know: Were they dalmatian fur shoes? Or perhaps loafers made from gophers?
Everyone’s looking forward to Dunleavy administration economist Ed King’s report that will supposedly show how the public sector gains will replace more than 1,000 tate jobs that are expected to be lost across agencies, the Marine Highway System and the University of Alaska (not including K-12 jobs or local government jobs).
It’s going well so far:
The Institute of Social and Economic Research deeply disagrees with their assessment, arguing that the cuts would plunge the state back into economic recession with job losses far north of the 10,000 job mark.
There’s also this from the Feb. 2019 edition of the Economic Trends.
Accused assaulter out for Dunleavy post
Kodiak chiropractor Christopher Twiford has officially withdrawn from consideration for the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board, where Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy had appointed him before the 45-year-old man was charged with three felony assaults as well as multiple misdemeanors for an alleged attack on his partner, which reportedly included aiming a revolver at her.
The Associated Press account of Twiford’s withdrawal says he had been “drinking continuously over 24 hours” according to the victim’s testimony as well as other pretty ghastly details of the assault that resulted in the woman suffering a concussion.
There were some red flags raised a few weeks ago about the election purge currently being conducted by the Division of Elections, but one experienced campaigner says the concerns are misplaced noting that the purge is set out in state law and is actually one of the better purge laws on the books because those who get struck can still cast a questioned ballot.
One of the big outcomes of the coalition taking over the House will be that Speaker Bryce Edgmon will get to select one of the five members for the Alaska Redistricting Board. Three of the seats will go to Republicans via appointments by Dunleavy and Senate President Cathy Giessel. The fifth will come from the Supreme Court.
That’s a major win for Democrats—or undeclared voters.
Either way, the Democrats really ought to start drumming up money for Rep. David Eastman’s re-election fund. After all his shenanigans, he’s helped 16 15 Democrats take over the House.
GOP Purity Test
Meanwhile the Alaska Republican Party has a “magic wand” fix for the stinging defection of EIGHT Republicans to the coalition. Surprise, it’ll take money.
And that’s it for this week. There are a few other big rumors on our radar that will take a little more vetting before we can put them to press (I know, we have standards?!?) but I’m out on a “vacation” and need to go get some birthday cake with my incredibly patient partner. Have as good a weekend as possible, everyone.