Day One of the 30th Alaska Legislature looked much like many others that came before it. The new lawmakers took their oaths of office and traipsed with their staff members to the Third Floor of the Capitol to have their picture taken with Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott.
Coming off the elevator, they were met by a six-member marimba band in the lobby outside the Governor’s Office, merrily playing old favorites like “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” It was unclear who had paid for the band.
When the House gaveled in, Rep. Bryce Edgmon was elected as the new speaker. It was not unanimous, however. Breaking with tradition, Rep. David Eastman, newly elected in District 10, voted against Edgmon.
He said he’d been asked by people in his district if he was going to vote for House leadership that was for a sustainable budget, and who was pro-life.
Eastman said, “I haven’t been able to convince Edgmon to be any of those things yet, so voting for him was more than I could do, but I congratulated him on his election and I have the deepest respect for him as Speaker. I think we’ll have a good relationship going forward.”
Edgmon, a Democrat, was being heralded by the press as the first Alaska Native Speaker of the House. If the Republicans had maintained control, the Speaker likely would have been Charisse Millett, also an Alaska Native. Either way, it was historic.
Of the 60 legislators who were sworn into office, a quarter of them — 15, to be exact — are part of a freshmen class.
Happy birthdays were sung in the House to two representatives, and family members, including plenty of children, filled the seats in the galleries to witness the ceremonial first day. Across the street, Juneau police organized a “kindness” rally to mark the department’s Year of Kindness initiative. About a dozen people gathered, including Rep. Dan Saddler, who wandered across the street to mingle in an area typically used for pro-life demonstrations every session.
In the Senate, the gavel passed from Sen. Kevin Meyer to Sen. Pete Kelly, who took over as Senate President. Senate leadership held a press conference, where Senate Finance Co-Chair Lyman Hoffman said the Senate’s expected $300 million in cuts would focus on the Department of Transportation, the University system, Education, and Health and Social Services.
Leadership in the Senate sent a strong message to the House that a spending cap and cuts are both high priorities and must come before the body will tap in to the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve Account. The Senate is rolling out a three-year plan to cut spending by $700 million.
Over at the Governor’s Mansion, Gov. Bill Walker rehearsed his State of the State Address, which will be broadcast live at 7 pm on Wednesday, Jan. 18.
At the day’s end, many legislators and lobbyists were spotted at Salt, the restaurant, where they’ll all be spending many an evening during what Speaker Edgmon has been quietly warning will be a six-month long battle royale over the Alaska 2018 budget gap. A lot of crispy calamari will be downed between now and adjournment, whenever that is.