Praising their own bipartisanship, Senate GOP blocks minority Dems from key committees

Alaska State CapitolThe Alaska State Capitol as photographed in March 2017. (Photo by gillfoto/Creative Commons)

The Senate Majority has blocked minority Democrats from positions on two key committees—the Legislative Council and the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee—as the chamber settled on its organization today.

The six-member minority Democrats have at least one position on every other committee according to today’s organization, as is required by the Legislature’s uniform rules. But with membership of the Legislative Council and LBNA are determined instead by state statute—which requires membership be from the two major parties instead of the caucuses—the seat owed to Democrats was instead awarded to Bethel Democratic Sen. Lyman Hoffman, who joined with Republicans today in return for a seat on the powerful Senate Finance Committee.

It’s not necessarily an unprecedented maneuver but represents a significant break from what had been a generally positive working relationship between the Republican majority and Democratic minority under former Senate President Cathy Giessel.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, raised an objection to the appointments today. He acknowledged that while it was within the law it would lock out a significant portion of the Senate from representation on committees that decide how the Legislature is run, including when it comes to covid precautions, and significant budgetary decisions during the interim. 

“It’s not about an individual, it’s about the representation of the caucus. I admire the years of service of the senator from Bethel,” Begich said. “The motion is to ensure that we have a representation.”

Begich proposed a pair of motions that would have placed Sen. Jesse Kiehl on the Legislative Council in Hoffman’s and Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson in Hoffman’s place on LBNA. 

Senate Majority Whip Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, opposed both motions, arguing that the maneuver is within the law and that it’s actually the very model of bipartisanship.

“The statute says that the membership of the committee includes the minority party. What better example of working together is it than the Republican majority invited a Democrat, one of the longest serving senators and legislators in the history of the State of Alaska,” she said.  “We’ve invited this individual to be a part of our caucus. I think that in itself is an example of wanting to work across party lines.” 

Begich disagreed with Costello’s assessment of the maneuvering.

“I take exception to the comments of the majority whip. This is not a matter of working together. This means we will not be working with you on the Legislative Council and will not be working with you on the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee because we will not have a voice on either of those committees. I think that is a tragedy,” he said. “In the face of this pandemic, as a member of this Legislative Council I helped draft some of the policies that have been put in place. I helped coordinate some of the efforts that went forward. You, and members of the majority, know that. That role of minority and majority collaboration is meaningfully met when we have a place at the table.”

The Senate voted along caucus lines 13N-6Y to defeat both motions.

Other committees

The remaining committee positions were decided and are as follows: 

Finance — Co-Chairs Bishop (R-Fairbanks) and Stedman (R-Sitka), Hoffman (D-Bethel), von Imhof (R-Anchorage), Wilson (R-Wasilla), Olson (D-Golovin), Wielechowski (D-Anchorage)

Community and Regional Affairs — Chair Hughes (R-Palmer), Vice Chair Myers (R-North Pole), Hoffman (D-Bethel), Wilson (R-Wasilla), Gray-Jackson (D-Anchorage)

Education — Chair Holland (R-Anchorage), Vice Chair Stevens (R-Kodiak), Hughes (R-Palmer), Micciche (R-Soldotna), Begich (D-Anchorage)

Rules — Chair Stevens (R-Kodiak), Vice Chair Micciche (R-Soldotna), Hughes (R-Palmer), Stedman (R-Sitka), Begich (D-Anchorage)

Health and Social Services — Chair Wilson (R-Wasilla), Vice Chair Hughes (R-Palmer), Costello (R-Anchorage), Reinbold (R-Eagle River), Begich (D-Anchorage)

Judiciary — Chair Reinbold (R-Eagle River), Vice Chair Shower (R-Wasilla), Hughes (R-Palmer), Myers (R-North Pole), Kiehl (D-Juneau)

Labor and Commerce — Chair Costello (R-Anchorage), Vice Chair Holland (R-Anchorage), Revak (R-Anchorage), Stevens (R-Kodiak), Gray-Jackson (D-Anchorage)

Resources — Chair Revak (R-Anchorage), Vice Chair Micciche (R-Soldotna), Bishop (R-Fairbanks), Stevens (R-Kodiak), von Imhof (R-Anchorage), Kiehl (D-Juneau), Kawasaki (D-Fairbanks)

State Affairs — Chair Shower (R-Wasilla), Vice Chair Reinbold (R-Eagle River), Costello (R-Anchorage), Holland (R-Anchorage), Kawasaki (D-Fairbanks)

Transportation — Chair Myers (R-North Pole), Vice Chair Shower (R-Wasilla), Bishop (R-Fairbanks), Micciche (R-Soldotna), Kiehl (D-Juneau)

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