The Senate Majority projects unity but for what, exactly? MEMO

The Senate Majority press availability from Jan. 20, 2021. (Screenshot from Gavel Alaska)

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Good morning, Alaska! It’s the third day of the Legislative session, the Senate has announced its committee assignments (and hoooooooboy, is that going to be interesting), chilly Bernie Sanders memes will never, ever get old and the House is still out. 

Yesterday, I talked about how the moderate Republicans are at the most critical levers of power in the Senate with Sens. Click Bishop and Bert Stedman as co-chairs of the Senate Finance Committee and Sen. Gary Stevens as chair of the Rules Committee. Of course, that left a lot of committees for the conservative members of the majority and now we have a Senate Judiciary Committee that will be chaired by a legislator who personally signed on to support the Texas lawsuit to overturn the presidential election. 

Both the House and Senate judiciary committees have been a great source of entertainment and aimless legal guesswork, but a Judiciary Committee chaired by Eagle River Republican Sen. Lora Reinbold with Reinbold-adjacent Sens. Shower, Hughes and Myers at the table is going to be a show… of some kind. Also something to keep in mind is that Reinbold began the 31st Legislature as the chair of the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee, where it could politely be described as a “shitshow” until she eventually lost the seat to Bishop as the chamber sidelined its most conservative members. Thoughts to Juneau Sen. Jesse Kiehl, who’ll be the committee’s lone Democrat. He’ll have his work cut out for him.

Here’s the full breakdown of committee assignments in the Senate for the 32nd Legislative Session: 

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

Foundation for what? 

The Senate had a floor session where the most notable action came from Democratic Minority Leader Tom Begich, who asked that the minority to have a spot on two key committees and also asked that the Senate actually enforce the masking policy—and masking fines—that the Legislative Council adopted on Monday. His bid to get members on the Legislative Council and Legislative Budget and Audit Committee were rejected, with Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, bragging that giving the seats to the lone Democrat in the majority, Bethel Sen. Lyman Hoffman, was 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.” 

So that ought to give you an idea of where things are headed in the Senate. 

With all that in mind, the Senate Majority’s news conference following the floor session was the usual feel-good, generally meaningless back-patting about working together, about everything being on the table and succeeding where the last group of losers didn’t. Like when the 21 House Republicans attempted to lay claim to the majority after the 2018 elections, there wasn’t a whole lot of specifics to be had about just what’s uniting them. 

That they’ll be going in without the traditional agreements binding membership to a vote on the budget and that Republican infighting nearly drove moderates to caucus with the Democrats (which I’m starting to hear some more juicy details about) was cast as a good thing in terms of finally settling the state’s budget discussion as Senate President Micciche said all parts of Alaska (well, mostly the Republican parts) are represented in the majority. 

Behind the scenes, it sounds like things were incredibly close to reaching a bipartisan coalition in the Senate if not for a few egos running up against the clock. The news conference was largely Republicans trying to put up a good-looking facade when much of the foundation isn’t there. 

Key quotes: 

  • Stedman, in pledging that the Senate Finance Committee will swiftly be getting to work on understanding the budget: “We’re all entitled to our own political philosophies but we’re not entitled to our own numerics.” 
  • Micciche, on whether the Senate Majority has any priorities: “We have problems financially. We have a significant fiscal gap so we’re focused on that gap. We’re focused on the fact that the Permanent Fund dividend is an extremely important aspect of the social structure of Alaska and all of us support, um, a substantial dividend but we’re going to have to work that into the system. How does it fit? What can we afford? How can we make it so that perhaps, um, every aspect feels a little bit of the pain, if you will. We’re trying to balance that and we’re goign to be reaching out to Alaskans to talk about should it be an all-in approach, should there be an industry impact, should perhaps Alaskans participate in the cost of some of their services. Should there be somewhat of a reduction to have a sustainable PFD?”
  • In general, a lot of talk about “unprecedented outreach” to the public. 

On the agenda

10 a.m. House Floor Session where there were no attempts to elect a new speaker pro tempore and they adjourned to Monday. 

Spotted #akleg

From the web

  • The Legislature’s closure to the public extends to lobbyists, who are struggling to figure out how to influence legislators this year. Read about the plight of the lobbyist from Alaska Public Media: Banned from the Capitol, Alaska lobbyists contend with pandemic predicament
  • Among President Biden’s executive orders on Wednesday was a pause to oil and gas leasing activities (a critical word that I’ll follow up on in a separate write-up) for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a largely expected move given Biden’s positions from the campaign trail and the precise kind of fodder for Alaska’s Republican statewide elected officials to get riled up over. If they’re mad about the temporary pause, then they’re gonna be really riled with the hiring of at least two dedicated opponents of Arctic oil and gas development in Marissa Knodel and Melissa Schwartz. Read all about it from Alaska Public Media: Biden hires more Arctic drilling opponents for Interior Department

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