It’s been nearly a week since Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy vetoed a bill that sought to put tighter restrictions on who the governor could hire and how much he could pay them, but time has done little to blunt how bill sponsor Rep. Tammie Wilson feels about the move.
House Bill 48 would have eliminated the administration’s ability to hire “temporary exempt” employees, a tool that Wilson and others say locks the Legislature out of oversight and can be misused to put political allies in high-paying positions, as well as eliminate a 2013 law that currently allows the administration to give raises to certain positions without legislative oversight.
“I truly don’t think that the governor understood what the bill did and those around him made it sound like it tied their hands,” she said, arguing that the bill would have allowed business-as-usual for the most part as long as there was some oversight of the hires. “The only difference is that you’d have to justify what special qualifications they would be bringing to the job.”
The governor defended his veto by arguing that the 2013 provision that gives the administration the ability to offer some positions raises without legislative input was a “valuable tool” for various state agencies “to recruit and hire individuals with specialized skills or experience.”
Wilson fired back on social media and in an interview with The Midnight Sun, arguing that the legislation was never specifically about the practices of the Dunleavy administration but about all administrations current, present and future. She thought that it would have been a slam dunk for Dunleavy to show he was serious about cutting the budget and adding some transparency back to the government.
“He had a bill very similar to what passed, right? I honestly thought he would sign it. I thought the things that he was talking about when he ran: It was about transparency, which is something he was very clear he wanted to bring to government, and how we shouldn’t be doing things behind closed doors,” she said. “This bill was not about the current administration. It was about what happened in the past and what will continue to happen. … I think he had a great opportunity to do something right.”
Instead, she said the list given to her by the administration of 40 positions given salaries outside of the state’s normal pay schedule through the 2013 law only raises more questions than answers. She wonders if the list is even complete.
“You have assistants to the commissioner, you have deputy commissioners, you have a DOT regional director making over $198,000 … what makes that region harder to fill than others? You saw no oil and gas, you saw no geologists, no one who specializes in oil and gas taxes. So, what are they trying to hide?” she asked. “It’s been misused for a long time. … Why are we paying these exorbitant amounts?”
The Legislature will have five days once it returns to consider an override of the governor’s veto. The Legislation passed the House on a 37-1 vote and the Senate on a 19-0 vote. Wilson said she never heard the administration come up with any significant problems with the legislation during the hearing process.
She said she’s not sure what will happen with the veto, but hopes her fellow legislators stick to their votes.
“If the Legislature wants to show who’s in control and choose to override the veto, it will set the stage in a way that didn’t have to happen,” she said. “He’s the one who’s putting it out there to go right back into the fights that we ended in July.”
An override of a non-budget bill requires a two-third vote from the combined Legislature, 40 votes.
This is not the first time that the North Pole Republican has sparred with the governor. Wilson was a prime critic of the governor’s stonewalling during the budget discussions and still has concerns about the budgeting process.
She said in her interview with The Midnight Sun that she’s still waiting on the prioritization lists that were allegedly a central piece of how former Office of Management and Budget Director Donna Arduin put together the budget.
As to how she got here as one of Republican Party’s most vocal critics of the Dunleavy administration, she said she feels that she’s been consistent. It’s the governor who’s shifted since entering the office.
“I feel like I’ve been really consistent in how I feel about the PFD, how government should be run, about how we should reach a sustainable level,” she said. “Those are all things that I believe the governor ran on—I don’t think I’ve changed—but it seems that his interpretation of his campaign promises seem to be changing.”
Why it matters
Even though Wilson left the House Majority over her attendance of the Wasilla special session and even though she voted against overriding much of the governor’s vetoes, Wilson again proves that she’s more than a one-dimensional figure in Alaska politics.
It’s exceedingly unlikely that she would ever agree to coming back into the fold of the House Majority (and that’s to say nothing of whether they’d even have her), but her stubborn refusal to cozy up to the Dunleavy administration as other minority Republicans have will continue to make her a wild card going into the next session.
Wilson’s also right that a veto override to open the next session would certainly be sending a message to the governor and such a vote could also make political hay for the 2020 elections.
Here’s the list as provided by Rep. Wilson.