I generally stay out of the legislative majority / minority organizational festivities at the beginning of each session as the results are generally interesting, though unpredictable, and the process borders on incomprehensible. The last major organizational meetings took place Dec. 2018.
Following a full six months of rumors, the Senate Majority in the legislature reorganized itself last week in what can be best described as a mini reorg. The bottom line is that the four conservative senators who opposed the senate majority on the budget and PFD were stripped of their chairmanships, many of their committee assignments. Generally, when this happens, they lose staff and are shoe-horned into tiny offices on the first floor, though I don’t have confirmation of that as yet.
Senators Costello (Dist K), Hughes (Dist F), Reinbold (Dist G) and Shower (Dist E) were reportedly quite irate at this outcome. I spoke and corresponded with a couple of them following the festivities.
So, what is going on?
The original organization agreement required members to vote for the budget or lose their chairmanships. The results of the mini reorg went far beyond this. What changed? Is the majority, much like Darth Vader blithely changing rules on the fly?
Requested a copy of the original agreement from the Senate Majority press office. Was told it was an internal document. However, it did contain the following language in the Senate Majority press release:
“…Members who find themselves unable to vote for the majority budget will not face automatic removal from the caucus. Consequences for such a vote will be determined by the caucus and consider the importance of representing constituents.”
This is what every member of the majority agreed to in Dec 2018. And this is the hook upon which the leadership is hanging their new normal.
Contrast the treatment of the four senate members with that of Gabby LeDoux (Dist 15) who after leaving the House majority at the end of last session, voting against everything, making a big show of opposition and support for the PFD, was welcomed back with open arms and awarded a leadership position. My guess is she had a secret handshake where the Senate 4 did not. Why? Gabby’s a canny politician who is apparently useful in helping the majority achieve its goals. The Senate 4, not so much.
Correction per Gabby LeDoux, 2/04/20: Gabby did not rejoin the House Majority nor does she hold a leadership position. Though she was given two committees, she remains unaffiliated. She also lost staff.
Looks like Tammy Wilson (Dist 3) did not have a deal as she ended up resigning her seat.
Do we have any ideas where the Senate Majority is going as a result of this mini reorg? We have a few hints.
First is the legislature hiring former Walker Budget Director Pat Pitney. That committee has an equal number of House and Senate members. She isn’t hired unless the Senate Majority agrees.
Second is a poll our of newly confirmed Senator Josh Revak (Dist M). It asked several questions about budget and spending priorities prominently including a binary choice between either a PFD or an income tax. Spending cuts were never mentioned. Senator Von Imhof’s poll had a similar problem though she did at least mention spending a few times.
Final is a report that Senate majority Leader Lyman Hoffman (Dist S) has expanded the membership agreement for the majority to include far more than just an up or down on the budget.
My dime or (un)educated guess is that the Senate Majority will do little to control spending, dink around with the PFD once again, and do their level best to make the case that we only have a binary decision between an income tax and a PFD. This is the position they intend to take into the primaries in August where over half of them are up for reelection.
It is up to those of us with differing worldviews to point out the error of their ways.
But they need to be careful, as this year is shaping up to be a rather festive election year. We will have at least a primary election in August and a general election in November. There might even be a special election to recall Governor Dunleavy rolled in. In those elections, we will have the opportunity to reelect President Trump, Senator Sullivan, defeat at least 3 idiotic ballot initiatives nicely designed to benefit unions and democrats while irritating conservatives.
While this is all going on, we have the Senate Majority dumping on four conservatives while refusing to control spending and at the same time grabbing another chunk of PFD, threatening an income tax, and starting a conversation about yet another change in the taxes on the oil patch. Perfect storm, anyone?
One of the things about a small state is that everyone knows everyone, and as such, you can play hard but should never play dirty, as people remember cheap shots for a long, long time. Does the mini reorg constitute a cheap shot, a thrown elbow? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Sooner or later, the voters get to decide.
Alex Gimarc lives in Anchorage since retiring from the military in 1997. His interests include science and technology, environment, energy, economics, military affairs, fishing and disabilities policies. His weekly column “Interesting Items” is a summary of news stories with substantive Alaska-themed topics. He was a small business owner and Information Technology professional.