What I know…I think: The Governor’s Special Session Blunder

Alaska Governor Bill Walker during a meeting of the National Governors Association at the White House in Washington, DC, February 23, 2015. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)


The more political insiders I talk to, the more I hear one mantra continue to echo out of the Governor’s office: keep the pressure on, keep the pressure on, keep the pressure on.

The Governor, to his credit, seems earnest in his desire to wrestle the Legislature into doing what our entire political system seems designed to prevent: solve a fiscal crisis that every respected voice on the planet says require both significant cuts to government services and new revenues from the public.

Gov. Bill Walker

Gov. Bill Walker

In the last year, the Governor has laid out his own fiscal plan, traveled the state to build public support for his vision, and just days ago called the Legislature into special session.

All of these measures, and many less noticeable ones, were intended to build and keep the pressure on legislators.

With all of these efforts to keep the pressure on, why is the Legislature acting like there is no pressure on them at all? The 90-day legislative session came and went, then the 121-day constitutional limit did too. Now a special session has started with no end in sight and no sense of urgency among legislators.

Perhaps, it’s because the Governor’s subconscious need to be the most populist of populists undermined his cause.

Yesterday was the first day of (at least the first) special session and I have spoken to some of the state’s most notable lobbyists to get a sense of what is going on. The conversations were amazing.

Bill Ray Center

One lobbyist told me he refuses to go into or have meetings in the Legislature’s current temporary housing, the Bill Ray Center. The building itself, he explained is unsuitable for the types of meetings he has with legislators. Virtually no one has their office and the maze of cubicles everyone works from is infested with prying ears.

For that same reason, the second lobbyist I spoke with said he has had clients walk out of the building refusing to have meetings with legislators or staff there.

The third lobbyist told me he wasn’t 100% sure where the Billy Ray Center is in Juneau.

Wow, a building even special interests can’t lobby in? If the pros can’t, how is John Q Public supposed to?

Amazingly, the Governor and the Legislature have wielded their managerial incompetence (Gary Stevens) and political neediness (Governor Walker) to achieve the almost impossible. They have largely found a way to shield the legislature from both special interest and citizen pressure.

It didn’t have to be this way. The Governor should have thought things through and realized that this session was going to end in a special session (as everyone watching the legislative session did).  He then could have spent the last six months building a case to hold the session in Anchorage, where the people, the media, and special interests could easily get in their legislators’ faces and ratchet up the pressure to get something done.

Just imagine if this special session was held in the wildly unpopular Anchorage Legislative Information Office instead of the almost undisclosed location that the Bill Ray Center has become.

In this alternate reality, legislators arriving to work every day would have to pass through a gauntlet of sidewalk protesters made up of public employee unions, small government activists, industry supporters, etc. Their cheers, boos, and chants would be heard by legislators as they held their floor sessions. And all of it would get picked up and reported on by every major media outlet in the state since most of them are headquartered here in Anchorage.

Most legislators would have been within driving distance of home, giving them the time each day to go back to their districts where they would hear a chorus from their neighbors of “why haven’t you guys done your jobs?”

I’m no expert, but that seems like a lot more pressure than toiling away, unnoticed in the far away Bill Ray Center.

Tthe Governor has no one to blame but himself for this situation. When the Legislature was floundering to figure out what they were going to do for office space in Anchorage, the Governor could have said “Do what you like, but if you don’t get your job done, come June, you are going to be meeting in Anchorage. You are going to have to face the people. So start planning now, because that is what’s going to happen.”

Instead his need to be popular kicked in. He wanted to make the relatively few Alaskans who hate the Legislature meeting anywhere but Juneau happy. He not only wanted to jump on the “I hate the Anchorage LIO more than you do” bandwagon, but he also wanted to lead it. So he said without thinking that he’d veto any effort to buy the Anchorage LIO.

That decision gave legislators all the cover they needed to ditch the space and to avoid bringing any further embarrassment to the situation doomed any possibility of a special session in Anchorage.

That means no special session where the people are. That means no special session where the pressure is.

How is that decision working for you now, Mr. Governor?

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3 Comments on "What I know…I think: The Governor’s Special Session Blunder"

  1. The picture chosen and the description make it sound like the Ray Center is some bleak and remote location. I assure you anyone who has been in Juneau more than a day or two knows where it is, and if a lobbyist wants to talk serious business with a legislator it is going to be someplace more private than the legislator’s office whether a private office in the Capitol or a cubby in the Ray Center. And the location and this perceived pressure is just a ruse.

    There will be no action until after the filing deadline on June 1, and the Leg will just have to tough out the Governor sending out layoff notices to Executive Branch employee and the resulting wailing and gnashing of teeth. The unions may sing songs and carry signs a little just for show but they’re in on the plan to stage at least the preparations for if not an actual shutdown of most of the government on July 1. They own the Administration so they know the Administration will do nothing to defend the State’s interests. If adults were in charge the unions not under contract would be facing their dues being cut off on July 1, refusal to bargain because of a good faith doubt of majority, and the decertification petitions would already be written. That would put some pressure on the union-owned Minority where it belongs. July 1 is the tenth anniversary of my retirement; peace had a good, long run.

  2. Locked safely away from the citizens? There doesn’t seem to be urgency to do anything. Why it is almost like the economic tailspin the state is in has no effect on their jobs or future … Hey, wait a minute …

  3. “solve a fiscal crisis that every respected voice on the planet says require both significant cuts to government services and new revenues from the public.”
    True, but we didn’t get in this mess overnight and we needn’t solve it in one big swallow either.
    Make some cuts, use some savings.
    Make some more cuts, use some more savings.
    If we’re still under water after 3 or 4 years of the above then you can consider new taxes and revamped PFD.
    Instead, the Governor wants to confiscate the Permanent Fund (and the dividends) to finance his gas line and tap the over-tapped citizens for money they don’t have to finance a over-bloated government they don’t want.
    Maybe it’s the Governor we should be pitching eggs at, not the legislature…

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