Rep. Zach Fansler’s resignation from the Alaska Legislature has become official, Senators are grappling with an off-list pick to replace Mike Dunleavy and the Olympics are underway. Here’s what happened in the fourth week of session and what to look forward to.
Just 63 days to go (enough for Senate Republicans to reject Gov. Bill Walker’s pick six times).
Resignation becomes official
Like it did with the seat once held by Rep. Dean Westlake, the Alaska Democratic Party has opened applications for House District 38 to replace Rep. Zach Fansler, who’s accused of assaulting a woman. This process will be overseen by Fansler’s former legislative aide Ben Anderson-Agimuk, who resigned from the Legislature in order to focus on the job of finding a replacement for Fansler according to a report by KYUK.
Fansler got paid per diem through Sunday, accruing more than $5,000 in per diem payments since the Juneau Empire story drove him from the capitol (which he should consider donating to the Tundra Women’s Coalition). His resignation will become official later today.
The replacement process now kicks off for a third time this session, and maybe Gov. Bill Walker will stick to the list.
Republicans fume over Kowalke pick
Gov. Bill Walker has picked Mat-Su Borough Assemblyman Randall Kowalke to fill the seat left vacant by Mike Dunleavy, who jetted to seek the Republican nomination for governor. The off-list pick had been rumored for weeks, but apparently took everyone in the capitol and the Republican political world by surprise. Now everyone is scrambling to figure out what to do with the appointment, and whether they want to let the seat continue to sit vacant (it’s been empty all session).
Here’s a few updates from stories over the weekend:
- Kowalke applied to fill the senate seat, but doubted he had a chance to be advanced to Walker because of “bad blood” between him and Doyle Holmes, one of the district party leaders. Kowalke beat Holmes for his assembly seat in 2015, but Holmes contested the results and accused poll workers of tampering with ballots.
- If Senate Republicans reject Walker’s pick, the governor will have 10 days to appoint another eligible person to the job. The last time there was a multiple appointment fight over a vacancy was in 2009 when Gov. Sarah Palin rejected Beth Kerttula and several other picks for a vacant senate seat before the two sides settled on Sen. Dennis Egan.
- Other elected officials have been relatively diplomatic about the Kowalke’s appointment, but Alaska Republican Party Chairman Tuckerman Babcock said “I am absolutely confident the Republican members of the Alaska State Senate will reject the Governor’s high-handed, arrogant action.”
- There was no further hint about the Senate Majority’s leanings for Kowalke during the Monday morning news conference, where Senate President Pete Kelly said “we’re certainly not going to say if we’re going to vote for him.”
- “Blame Republicans, not Walker for Dunleavy replacement fiasco,” says Mat-Su Frontiersman publisher Dennis Anderson. Anderson explains why the three names put forward to Walker gave the governor little choice.
Education budget drama
The House passed an education budget, or didn’t depending on who you ask. The one thing that’s for sure is that, as is, it doesn’t have any funding attached to it. Expect Republicans in the House and Senate, which now has possession of the bill, to make a lot out of the House Majority Coalition’s unfunded education budget. The question is, however, whether the Senate will put money back in the bill and pass it back to the House.
Walker introduces oil tax credit bill
Gov. Bill Walker wants to pay off the unpaid oil and tax credits with a new plan to sell up to $1 billion in bonds. The unpaid tab of about $800 million has been an unanswered question looming over the budget process, which has been punted a few times. Walker’s latest proposal would, according to a report by KTVA, give oil companies holding these unpaid tax credits two options of cashing them out. They could get paid the credits minus a 10 percent discount or “they can get the rate reduced to 5.1 percent but they would have to agree to one of three provisions: increase the royalty rate to the state once oil gets produced; promise more investment into the fields within two years of payment; receive seismic research data sooner than current law allows.”
Wrestling, boxing and MMA fans rejoice. Gov. Bill Walker has introduced legislation to repeal the Athletic Commission, which hasn’t had commissioners since 1997, and repeals the licensing requirements for professional boxers, wrestlers and events, which themselves were discontinued in 2002. It’s mostly a clean-up bill, and won’t really result in unlicensed backyard boxing matches as most of these activities are regulated under a fee structure put together by the state’s professional licensing agency. According to the bill’s fiscal note, the Athletic Commission carries a debt of about $15,000 that will need to be retired through the legislation.
Canada wins gold in team figure skating
Alaskan Keegan Messing, who visited the Alaska Legislature before heading to Pyeongchang, didn’t take the ice during the team figure skating events over the weekend, but the Girdwood skater was there to cheer along his teammates from the box as they took the gold medal. His preferred programs are later this week.
Senate Judiciary held its first hearing of the session
The Senate Judiciary Committee met for the very first time of the session on Monday. The committee didn’t take up one of the more than 20 bills in committee, but instead heard the Alaska Children’s Justice Act task force.
Last week, the Senate passed Senate Resolution 7 naming the Jan Faiks Conference Room 18-0 (Giessel); Senate Concurrent Resolution 10 proclaiming 2019 the Year of Innovation in Alaska 18-0 (Costello); Senate Bill 4 to create licenses for non-chemical barbering and hair braiders 17-0 (Micciche); Senate Bill 152 to name Sept. 11 “Patriot Day” 19-0 (Meyer).
The House passed House Bill 236 to extend the senior benefits program 35-1 (Kawasaki); House Bill 287 to early fund the education budget 33-3, but failed the CBR vote to allocate money to it 20-16 (Seaton).