The Alaska Legislature’s Dirty MLK Day Tradition


Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Before delving full on into a piece that will surely leave you feeling less than inspired, let me first give you a vision of this day that is inspiring. From the words of Dr. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, here is what this day is about to many:

“The Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday celebrates the life and legacy of a man who brought hope and healing to America. We commemorate as well the timeless values he taught us through his example — the values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service that so radiantly defined Dr. King’s character and empowered his leadership. On this holiday, we commemorate the universal, unconditional love, forgiveness and nonviolence that empowered his revolutionary spirit.

“We commemorate Dr. King’s inspiring words, because his voice and his vision filled a great void in our nation, and answered our collective longing to become a country that truly lived by its noblest principles. Yet, Dr. King knew that it wasn’t enough just to talk the talk, that he had to walk the walk for his words to be credible. And so we commemorate on this holiday the man of action, who put his life on the line for freedom and justice every day, the man who braved threats and jail and beatings and who ultimately paid the highest price to make democracy a reality for all Americans.”

Holidays and days of remembrance mean something different to each of us. Not being a person of color, I don’t pretend to fully grasp or share the power this day holds to those who are.

To me, remembering Dr. King and his legacy is mostly about remembering the power of the individual in our great country. It is a reminder that in America, one dedicated citizen can quickly become a dedicated group, and that small group can easily become a movement. Movements change the world. But it all starts with one – the most powerful number in American government.

This morning I surveyed the websites and Facebook pages of the State House and State Senate majorities and minorities, as well as the Alaska Republican Party and Alaska Democratic Party. I found there no reference, not even one, to Dr. King or the day we celebrate in his honor. Then I looked in my email inbox for press releases. Yet again, nothing from any of them. If any of those groups are planning anything to celebrate or commemorate this day, they are doing a hell of a job keeping it a secret.

That doesn’t mean these politicians and their organizations have nothing important going on today.

Sadly, rather than celebrate the power of the individual, our legislators use this day to celebrate the power of the individual donation. Not a donation to a well-meaning group that peacefully fosters civil change or social justice the way Dr. King did. Nor a donation to a charity that might tend to the least fortunate among us with food, clothing, shelter, and kindness. That too would honor the memory of Dr. King well.

No, unfortunately, the 60 people we elected to represent our values in the legislature and the groups formed to help recruit and elect them spend this day in pursuit of a donation to their own self-interests. 

Both the Alaska Republican Party and Alaska Democratic Party, and the legislators they helped elect have big fundraisers planned for tonight in Juneau.

Here are the invites if you’d like to join them:

Perhaps you notice, as I do, that neither of these flyers includes any recognition of the meaning of this day.

I can be somewhat lenient toward the GOP for the oversight; after all, demonstrating solidarity with or understanding toward people of color isn’t exactly their thing. But what about the Democrats? How is it they can put together an event on this day where dozens of them gather without anyone recognizing its significance?

But what about the Democrats? Aren’t they all about diversity, social justice, and cultural understanding? How is it they can put together an event on this day where dozens of them gather without anyone recognizing its significance?

Maybe these folks just think it would be gross to plaster a note on their flyer that links their pleas for special interest cash to MLK Day. If that were the case, though, wouldn’t those same instincts suggest not having the event on MLK Day at all? Come to think of it, wouldn’t someone who thought that also suggest doing something to celebrate MLK Day itself?

One might be tempted to be forgiving of legislators and party officials. After all, today is the day before the first day of the legislative session, so there’s a lot going on. Maybe they were distracted. Maybe none of them realized they just happened to be planning a big lobbyist fest on MLK Day.

That explanation doesn’t hold up.

By state law, the legislative session starts on the third Tuesday in January, and by federal law, MLK Day always falls on the third Monday in January. That means the first day of the legislative session always comes the day after MLK Day.

There is also a long tradition of holding party fundraisers on the day before the legislative session begins. That’s just a political reality. Legislators are barred by state law from participating in any political fundraising during the legislative session. The last day before session starts, when lobbyists are all in town to peddle their particular policy desires, is the final and most lucrative opportunity for legislators to squeeze them for money until after the session ends.

Here is a flyer for the Democrats’ fundraiser last year:

So politicos in this state have a long and knowing history of spending Martin Luther King Jr. Day lining their respective party’s pockets with special interest cash. Do you feel dirty yet? I do.

Now, in case you’re thinking these fundraisers are just parties or celebrations, and not really anything that targets lobbyists and special interests, I looked up who donated at these events last year.

Here are some of the donors at last year’s GOP event:

And here is a list of some Democratic Party event donors:

This is all the more interesting considering Sen. Kevin Meyer introduced SB 5, a bill to crack down on the ability of Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux’s PAC to raise money during session.

Meyer told KTUU he offered the bill because “we never intended for legislators to be able to collect and accept money from lobbyist [sic] during session or actually any time of the year.”

Is what LeDoux is doing with her PAC really any worse than Meyer and his leadership colleagues pumping lobbyists for donations to party PACs they control on the eve of the legislative session?

Not to sound all Donald Trump or anything, but doesn’t it send some sort of perverse message to the public when the very last thing our elected representatives do before making our laws is to ensure they’ve drained every dime they can from the special interest swamp?

Perhaps Rep. LeDoux should use her power as House Rules Chair to amend Sen. Meyer’s bill to say two things:

  1. No legislator, once elected, may participate in any political fundraising efforts within 72 hours of the legislative session.
  2. No legislator, once elected, may participate in any political fundraising activity for any group or committee that has taken a donation from a registered lobbyist living outside of that legislator’s district during the previous two calendar years.

These amendments would both provide a cooling off period to ensure legislators don’t connect fundraising and legislative activities within hours of one another and would prohibit legislators from being involved in the largely lobbyist-funded party PACs they are fundraising for tonight.    

If Sen. Meyer and his colleagues in the Senate want to strip Rep. LeDoux of her PAC’s lobbyist tentacles and ensure they aren’t connected to legislation, shouldn’t they be willing to do the same?

Most of all, these amendments would prevent our political establishment from distracting Alaskans from thinking about what we should think about on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Again, in the words of Coretta Scott King:

“We call you to commemorate this Holiday by making your personal commitment to serve humanity with the vibrant spirit of unconditional love that was his greatest strength, and which empowered all of the great victories of his leadership. And with our hearts open to this spirit of unconditional love, we can indeed achieve the Beloved Community of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream.”

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