Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy says he still plans to call a third special session this year in hopes of delivering the remainder of the $3,000 PFD he promised on the campaign trail, but acknowledged that it’s been complicated by the infighting in the Republican party over the vacant Senate seat.
Dunleavy made the comments on Monday during a call-in appearance on the Michael Dukes Show, saying that his administration is making decisions this week about both the pending special session and what next steps to take after Senate Republicans refused to confirm Rep. Laddie Shaw to the vacant Senate District M seat.
“With the untimely and unfortunate passing of Sen. (Chris) Birch this leaves a seat open, and we were hoping that that would have been answered last week, which would have assisted with the timing of the next special session,” he said. “We’re going to plan a path forward. This hole has caused a problem. We thought we had a solution for the hole in terms of the seat, but we’re going to have to make a decision here in the coming days because it is getting late.”
In order to call a special session, the governor needs to give the Legislature at least 30 days advance notice. With special sessions lasting up to 30 days themselves, he’s potentially starting to run into conflicts with the holidays and preparations for the next legislative session.
Dunleavy has until Sunday to appoint a new person to the seat.
Dunleavy didn’t elaborate on his plans with the appointment as he has less than a week left to name a new appointee to the vacant seat. He said he was looking into whether he could just reappoint Shaw—who’s also been vocally opposed to the senators who rejected his confirmation—to the position.
“We’re going to take a look at that very carefully,” Dunleavy said. “That will be part of the decision-making process as to whether that’s a possibility. If it is, we would consider it. If it’s not, we would move forward and take a look at other candidates.”
Senate President Cathy Giessel announced the Senate Republicans’ rejection of Shaw last week, noting that any appointee should mirror Birch’s politics on the dividend.
Dunleavy called such a requirement unfair even though he also listed the dividend as one of his top priorities for considering a candidate. During Monday’s appearance, Dunleavy said that while the district elected Birch, it also elected Shaw and Rep. Josh Revak, who both support Dunleavy’s pledge for a full PFD.
“I don’t think that’s what the district wants or what the state wants,” he said.
Senate District M, as a whole, voted for Dunleavy but House District 25, which elected Revak, voted in favor of Democratic candidate Mark Begich by a 100-vote margin. Birch also won more votes from the district than Dunleavy did with 8,665 votes to the governor’s 7,975 votes.
Still, Dunleavy is intent on appointing a candidate who runs contrary to Birch’s politics on the PFD.
“I am bound and determined to get this seat filled with somebody that represents that district, and I’m bound and determined to get the rest of the PFD,” he said. “There’s really no reason why things can’t be taken care of. We have plenty of money in the ERA (earnings reserve account), we have qualified candidates to fill these seats and we have plenty of time to go to another special session to get this worked out.”
Why it matters
Dukes didn’t ask why the appointment of Shaw complicated the issue and Dunleavy didn’t offer up his explanation, but it’s all about Shaw’s position on the dividend. All three candidates offered up by local Republicans for consideration were seen as Dunleavy allies and supporters of the full, statutory dividend.
Birch was not.
In office, Birch argued in favor of a more moderate approach to the dividend that allowed the budget to be balanced with minimal cuts and no additional revenue or taxes. His proposals would have put this year’s dividend around the $900 to $1,000 mark.
Birch’s death gave Dunleavy the opportunity to reshape the balance of Senate Republicans on a $3,000 from 7-6 opposition to 7-6 support, something that he and his allies leapt at.
The end goal of bolstering his support in the Legislature has been transparent throughout this process. Birch’s daughter, Tali Birch Kindred, applied for the position but was not put on the list during what’s most charitably described as a “problematic” nomination process.
The biggest takeaway from all of this is that Dunleavy is hellbent on filling the seat with an ally on the PFD even though Senate Republicans are deeply divided on the issue and won’t confirm such a candidate. It’s already a long shot for Dunleavy to extract $900 million of additional spending from the Legislature this year, and the odds aren’t helped at all with a bitter fight over the dividend.
A few more things
There are a few other takeaways from the interview to highlight that might offer some insight into where the Dunleavy administration is at with the pending special session, particularly from this statement:
“We have plenty of money in the ERA, we have qualified candidates to fill these seats and we have plenty of time to go to another special session to get this worked out.”
First, the idea that the state has “plenty of money” when it’s also cutting pretty much anything and everything is an interesting admission. During the interview, Dukes also asked Dunleavy about the unpopular cuts to eliminate senior benefits and gut the ferry system to which Dunleavy replied that he believes a large, $3,000 PFD, would more than make up for any cuts to social services.
“It was our belief that with a $3,000 PFD there would have been more than enough—more money that would be going to the seniors than was going to seniors through the senior benefit program,” he said, later adding, “Sometimes you have to make these reductions and then encounter these ensuing conversations.”
The plurals in “candidates” and “seats” in the plural, as in “we have qualified candidates to fill these seats,” also happens to be some interesting phrasing.
Lastly, the governor’s position that there’s “plenty of time” left for a special session between now and the start of the session is not entirely true. The window for him to call a new special session more or less closes this week or else the special session could run into Thanksgiving week, something legislators are probably not particularly keen on.