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Good morning, Alaska! It’s Day 42 of the 32nd Alaska Legislature.
The weekend and week ahead
- Covid in the capitol: The Legislature saw its first in-session case of covid-19 last week when Tok Republican Rep. Mike Cronk tested positive on Wednesday night, following a weekend trip to a fundraiser in Palmer where he and several other legislators were photographed maskless. The news of the positive test, which came after three days of Cronk working next to other legislators in several committees and floor sessions, shut down much of legislative business on Thursday and Friday. While some meetings moved to teleconferences, it was clearly a suboptimal arrangement that made it difficult for legislators and the public to track just what was going on at the hearings. It looks like things are starting to get back to normal this week but there’s going to be lingering suspicions about the conduct of some legislators, particularly legislators who in light of everything still decided to travel home for the weekend. The Legislature has identified 15 close contacts of Cronk—which seems to be somewhat charitable given Republicans reportedly caucused with Cronk before he tested positive, but I’m not an expert—who are all under a seven-day quarantine. Separately, the Legislature has already identified an additional case of covid-19 in a Senate staffer on Friday and is currently working out close contacts.
- Weekend travel: Of course, among those weekend warriors was Eagle River Sen. Lora Reinbold and Rep. Ken McCarty, who went back to the district for a maskless town hall (Rep. Kelly Merrick participated via Zoom). The masklessness of the town hall didn’t go unnoticed by Eagle River resident Margaret Cichoracki, who asked why they thought it was OK to hold a super-spreader event in the making. The whole thing was about as grim as you’d imagine with many participants shouting her down with their own easilydebunk-able conspiracy theories, Nazi license plate-defending Anchorage Assemblymember Jamie Allard made an appearance as well as a condescending Reinbold, who concedes that she does, in fact, believe in covid-19. If you feel like being depressed about the state of the world, then it’s worth a watch. But all you really need to know is that the town hall’s participants were so incensed that at one point a man, identified by the Alaska Landmine as Matt Hickey, screams at the woman: “I’m too white. I’m too whiteness too for you!”
- The budget: The House and Senate are set to continue to unwrap and understand the budget this week. The Senate Finance Committee has made for excellent watching thanks to some world-wise senators with strong bullshit detectors. The House Finance Committee has also been off to a good start and I’ve particularly appreciated seeing now-former House Speaker Bryce Edgmon’s participation in the hearings. Having Edgmon in a place where he can speak bluntly about the budget, as he did during the committee’s last hearing all the way back on Wednesday, has done an excellent job at framing the issues facing the state and the decisions facing the Legislature. “We go back to the three majors: major cuts, major new revenue sources or major overdrawing of the earnings reserve. I see no plan for any of that in front of us at this time,” he said, noting that the governor has resisted new revenue, that major cuts are unlikely given the years of cuts and that overdrawing the Alaska Permanent Fund is an unacceptable long-term solution. While the governor wants to push all the decisions to public votes in next year’s elections, Edgmon said it’s like the Legislature is operating with “one hand tied behind our back.”
- Bills moving. Last week, the Senate passed the first legislation of session in Sen. David Wilson’s SB 70, which extends the availability of opioid overdose reversal drugs like naloxone. Another bill by Wilson, SB 24 dealing with remote meetings of corporations, is on the floor today. After a session that stumbled out of the gates, bills are starting to move out of the Senate and the House is getting underway with bills of their own. A big thing to watch is going to be anything related to elections and the judiciary, which are two big priorities of far-right Republicans in the Senate. Sen. Mike Shower’s voter reform/suppression measure is still working its way through his own committee after some shenanigans with public testimony last week where they effectively dodged much of the public outcry against the measure. It’s likely that whatever is produced is moderately better but still not great, which is part of the politicking on the bill “Look, we heard you and made changes.” As with all election-related legislation, it’s important to remember that this is a lengthy process and the Senate Judiciary and State Affairs committees are the most likely to produce the most extreme-right form of a bill. It still has to go through the rest of the Senate and the House.
Passing of Mike Bradner
Former House Speaker Mike Bradner died over the weekend. He represented Fairbanks for a decade from 1966 to 1976, serving as speaker in his final term. He helped contribute to several significant policies in Alaska like revenue-sharing, pipeline regulations and the formation fo the Alaska Permanent Fund. He continued to be a force in the Legislature since then, working with his brother Tim Bradner on the Legislative Digest and Alaska Economic Report. He was a kind and helpful figure with a deep well of knowledge about the Alaska Legislature who was always game to get into the weeds.
“Mike loved Alaska, and his leadership helped build our state into what it is today,” said Rep. Bryce Edgmon in a prepared statement. “I am heartbroken to learn of his passing. His many loved ones are in my thoughts today.”