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Good morning, Alaska! It’s Wednesday, Joe Biden is president, the Alaska Senate has organized with a Republican Majority led by Sen. Peter Micciche and the House is stuck in 20-20.
The inauguration was a beautiful ceremony, particularly the poem reading by Amanda Gorman, and served as a reminder that public office ought to be about service to the people, but that’s all thousands of miles away. Let’s talk about the first day of the 32nd Legislative session!
The biggest development of the day was the Senate’s organization around a loose Republican majority with Soldotna Republican Sen. Peter Micciche at its helm as senate president, dashing hopes that Republican infighting could open the door to a bipartisan coalition of moderates and Democrats. Described as a “Caucus of Equals,” the group will be moving ahead without the traditional agreement that binds membership to a budget vote. Suffice it to say, that ought to make things very… interesting in the Senate and I wouldn’t be surprised if the votes to pass the budget look more like the hypothetical bipartisan coalition at the end of the day.
Probably the most interesting takeaway from the Senate organization is its layout of power. Namely that it’s the moderate members of the Senate who are at the most critical levers of power. Sens. Bert Stedman and Click Bishop will co-chair the Senate Finance Committee, where nearly every bill makes a stop, and Sen. Gary Stevens will chair the Senate Rules Committee, where every bill makes a stop before heading to the floor. Bishop is a pro-labor moderate with a long career with the Alaska Operating Engineers, Stevens was the Senate President of the 2009-2012 Senate bipartisan coalition and Stedman is Stedman, a sharp budgeter and a big fan of the Alaska Marine Highway System. They also give Fairbanks in Bishop and coastal Alaska in Stevens (Kodiak) and Stedman (Sitka) key seats at the table while Anchorage’s representation goes from having Sen. Natasha von Imhof as co-chair of Finance and now-former Sen. Cathy Giessel as Senate president to just Sen. Mia Costello as Senate Majority whip… which I guess is technically a leadership position.
The full layout of power is as follows. Committee assignments have yet to be announced:
- Senate Majority Leader Shelley Hughes;
- Senate Majority Whip Mia Costello;
- Senate Rules chairman Gary Stevens;
- Senate Finance co-chairs Bert Stedman and Click Bishop; and
- Senate President Peter Micciche.
The Senate Minority will be led by Anchorage Democratic Sen. Tom Begich, who forged a surprisingly effective working relationship with Giessel over the last two years.
Meanwhile, the House is stuck in 20-20 with no signs of change. House Republicans put forward Rep. Bart LeBon, a Fairbanks Republican who was a member of bipartisan coalition, as their candidate for speaker pro tempore, a position that basically is just there to oversee the election of a speaker. Last time around, Nome Democratic Rep. Neal Foster had the job for nearly a month as the House figured out its organization (a move that was largely driven by the need to get now-former Rep. Sharon Jackson sworn in).
The members of the 20-member House Bipartisan coalition didn’t put forward its own member. Without a significant change, it’ll be Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer’s job to continue as presiding officer over the building.
“You guys must like me,” he quipped.
The House was scheduled to return today at 10 a.m., but that was cancelled and pushed to Thursday. We’ll see.
On the agenda
11 a.m. — Senate Floor session, which is mainly to get bills introduced and perhaps an opportunity for some speeches.
Reboot the Recall
The Recall Dunleavy campaign announced its reboot on Tuesday as it pushes for the final 22,000 signatures needed to call a special election to remove Gov. Mike Dunleavy from office. You can read more about that on the blog, but I wanted to highlight this quote from activist Erin Jackson, who was on the recall train before it was cool as one of the two women who unfurled the “Recall Dunleavy” in front of the governor all the way back in March 2019, about what it means to have gone from that day to now:
“It means the future of our state. I’ve lived here since I was 1. Alaska is my home and I love it dearly and I love the people and it means the world to me to see it thrive and this governor is the antithesis of a good leader. He has broken the law. He has misrepresented himself. He has decimated our economy. He has destroyed our university system. He’s going after education. He’s going after the ferry system,” she said. “As a lifetime Alaskan, he doesn’t represent me and doesn’t represent what I know to be Alaskan. What this means to me is that 2020 was a dumpster fire, right? This whole year was just a nightmare. This is a new start. 2021 is when we start to set our state to right. We take it back and we do what we need to do so we make sure everybody has opportunity and everybody can thrive.”
From the blog
- Recall Dunleavy campaign announces reboot to push for final signatures
- Senate elects Micciche as president, Democrats say ‘party politics’ won out
Around the web
- One of the Trump administration’s final actions in office was the finalization of leases to drill for oil in the coastal plan of ANWR. Today the Biden administration plans on signing a “temporary moratorium on all oil and natural gas leasing activities” From Alaska’s Energy Desk: Biden to slam brakes on oil drilling in Arctic refuge
- In the realm of things that we can count on Dermot Cole to catch, the Alaska Mental Health Trust Land Office quietly approved a plan for mining exploration in a residential neighborhood off Chena Hot Springs Road in Fairbanks. “Amanita Road is pretty much a one-lane affair and the people who live along it and in nearby areas are worried about the lack of information, the potential for a big loss in property value and the end of a lifestyle they cherish. There was no discussion by the trust in its announcement of access to the property or what sort of vehicles would be used if development takes place,” he writes. From Dermot Cole: Open pit mine prospect alarms residents of Amanita Road off Chena Hot Springs