Welcome to the latest edition of Friday in the Sun, our weekly column attempting to catch up on and break down the news of the week… or at least what little news can get through the all-consuming misery machine that is the Alaska Legislature and Gov. Mike Dunleavy. It looks like there’s maybe an end in sight… well an end to the current gamesmanship just in time for some more gamesmanship in a mere 38 days.
As always, poking fun at politics is a time-honored tradition, third only to posting about earthquakes on Twitter and complaining about people posting about earthquakes on Twitter. You can get ahold of your dear ol’ editor at [email protected] with comments, questions and unsolicited grammatical advice (that I truly do appreciate).
Also, hey, if you’re a subscriber to the The Midnight Sun Memo (and, if not, why?!? It’s so easy to sign up!) you may have noticed the increasing overlap between this column and the newsletter. Here’s a handy way to jump past the reheated newsletter to the new and/or fleshed out stuff for anyone who’s already done the reading: Too long; already read.
A potential deal is in sight, maybe
It looks like a deal is perhaps, maybe, probably, hopefully coming together in the House to get the effect date on the budget, which may or may not actually be needed to keep the state government open and operating on July 1. As was first reported by the Anchorage Daily News, it sounds like the plan is for the House to hash out some kind of rough outline for the August special session that Gov. Mike Dunleavy has already called to focus on a long-term fiscal plan. The intransigent House Republicans minority will be putting together a written document outlining their asks for the special session—which may be a surprisingly difficult task given just how fractured the minority actually is—and submit it to the House Majority Coalition sometime over the weekend to figure out the final draft. The hope is that they can get a vote on it, likely in the form of a Sense of the House, on Monday that would coincide with the critical revote on the budget’s effective date.
So, yep, after all the drama that has pushed the state closer to a shutdown than it has ever been it was all in service of… getting a non-binding agreement for a special session that’s a little more than a month away.
With Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed fix being a “start over from square one but give me the $2,350 PFD and allow Mat-Su legislators to vote to kill Power Cost equalization without personal consequence” shockinglygetting no traction in the Legislature, it’s not all that surprising that this is the outcome. Not only was it politically unlikely that the majority of the Legislature would be willing to buy those votes with a $1.5billion overdraw on the Alaska Permanent Fund—the very thing they’ve been opposing all session—but the whole thing presented an enormous logistical challenge. Drafting and the litany of anti-abortion amendment votes alone wouldhave likely pushed everything past July 1 anyways.
Thursday’s House Finance Committee hearing not only outlined all the private industry concerns with a shutdown, but also served to make clear that the House Majority wasn’t willing to buy the votes if that’s the cost.
Of course, this could still all fall apart as several members of the House Republican minority seem to be pretty convinced that a shutdown will be no big deal. Rep. Christopher Kurka said on Wednesday that government’s “not being shutdown, it’s just being paused temporarily.” Rep. Ken McCarty, R-Eagle River, told the ADN that his constituents will be fine with the shutdown as long as they can still go fishing. Rep. Ben Carpenter complained about everyone saying a shutdown would be very bad for the state, sniveling that people who supported the shutdown weren’t included in the House Finance Committee hearing, arguing that the shutdown isn’t sending the state off the cliff but that “We are taking a path downwards to the bottom of the cliff.” Sen. Mike Shower, one of the many Senate Republicans who couldn’t be bothered to show up for the special session this week, went on the radio to suggest it’s just a vacation for state employees.
While there’s plenty of bluster here, it’s also notably coming from the fringes.
As much as the House Republican minority looks to be united in chaos, the image is largely driven by who’s whining the loudest—and, frequently, the most ridiculously—while many of the others have known well enough to keep their mouths shut and heads down, focused on getting to a deal.
Still, I think a lot about where we’re at right now speaks to just how isolated much of the Legislature’s far-right Republicans have become. It’s not entirely surprising when you remember that only Rep. Steve Thompson has been there for more than a decade and that he’s just one of three who have any experience in the majority. The rapid turnover on the Republican side of the aisle has seen the near-extinction of your pro-business Republicans, replaced with a crowd that largely sees far-right talk radio as centrist. For them, shutting down government is not a liability but a perk. Luckily, it seems that for now cooler heads have prevailed.
Still, I wouldn’t be banking on anything until the votes are tallied and the budget is signed.
Exclusive: House Republican minority’s initial ask
To the tune of Merry Poppins’ “Perfect Nanny.”
If you want to avoid the shut-down
You’ll agree to what we’ve wrote down
Big PFD, no taxes (Eastman and Kurka, in unison, “That’s the part I put in”)
No funds for UA sports
You must be kind, you must be witty
Fund capital projects in my city
Take us on outings, give us treats
Sing songs, pave streets
Never be cross or cruel, never rule us out of order
No funds for abortion and how about something about the border? (Eastman: “I put in that, too”)
If you won’t scold and dominate us
We’ll still give you cause to hate us
We won’t hide your spectacles so you can’t see,
Just don’t ask us to preserve PCE
Hurry, Speaker Stutes!
The House Republican minority.
‘You can only do this so long’
Given everything it’s not all that surprising to hear rumors that a few of the House Republican minority’s few remaining moderate members aren’t particularly keen on returning. There’s talk that Rep. Laddie Shaw take his mustache and head home, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the only one. It’s been nearly 160 days since the Legislature gaveled in and we’re still several days away from resolution with another 30 days on this year’s calendar. I think there are a lot of people, both legislators and staff, who are exhausted, drained and pessimistic about the path ahead.
In electoral terms, with redistricting still underway, who knows how an open seat might play out but independent candidate Jennifer Sonne, who announced her intention to run for the Legislature earlier this year, is in the boundaries of Shaw’s district. The bigger impact, though, will be the implementation of ranked-choice voting.
We’ve gotten here largely through increasingly conservative Republican primaries that have rewarded the extremes and obstructionists. I’d hold my breath on ranked-choice voting being what turns Alaska blue, but you could certainly see a world where we’d still have folks like Reps. Jennifer Johnston, Chuck Kopp and Jason Grenn representing the pro-business line.
End of next week
That’s when the legislative per diem report is expected to be out. It is, however, before the deadline for legislators to request their retroactive per diem that covers all the overtime it took to pass a budget so there’s a high chance that the list will not be complete.
One thing ranked choice voting wouldn’t have saved is Rep. Lance Pruitt, who saw his bill to APOC ratcheted up to a respectable $19,716.40 for violations spanning the 2016 and 2018 campaigns: Late and incomplete reports; late personal reimbursements; waiting to return over-the-limit contributions and for failing to disclose his spouse’s clients on his legislative financial disclosures in 2019 and 2020.
The order has been sitting in my inbox for a few days and I haven’t gotten a chance to fully dive through it, but it’s always fun to see APOC flex its admittedly atrophied muscles once in a while with this scathing conclusion: “The commission decides that the widespread and serious nature of the violations warrant a penalty of this size. Rep. Pruitt’s testimony before the Commission was unconvincing and appeared to be self-serving—at best, his reporting and attempted compliance with the law was haphazard, at worst, he engaged in deliberate non-reporting. The penalty amount must be high enough to ensure that he takes care to accurately file disclosure reports should he again be a candidate, legislator, or public official subject to disclosures requirements.”
And one last thing
I could spent the rest of the afternoon trying to gin up something to say about the increasingly messy Anchorage political scene, but we’ll save that for another week. Instead, I want to close out this with a big congratulations to the Alaskans who represented the state in the the U.S. Track and Field qualifiers this week: Allie Ostrander and Isaac Updike. Both put in fantastic performances in the steeplechase finals but came up just short of making the trip to Tokyo. Y’all are awesome.