Attorney General Kevin Clarkson said today that Alaska Statute clearly states the governor, when he or she calls a special session, determines the location of that special session.
It could be in Huslia. It could be at Mile 137 of the Sterling Highway. It could be in Tok. Or even Wasilla.
The Alaska Constitution gives authority to call a special session to the governor. And in all of the Law Department’s research, it could not find discussion at the Constitutional Convention that contradicts that, nor conversation among members of the Constitutional Convention discussing that the Legislature must meet in Juneau, Clarkson said.
The Legislature’s attorney, Megan Wallace, has a contradictory view. She says that the Legislature has the constitutional authority to meet where it wants, despite what Alaska Statute says about the governor setting the location of special session. After all, the Constitution says the Legislature can call itself into special session with two-thirds vote.
That’s 40 votes.
And there’s the rub: The Legislature doesn’t have the 40 votes to meet in Juneau, even if Wallace was right in her thinking that the Legislature can essentially ignore the executive branch proclamation.
Senate President Cathy Giessel, a Republican, and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, a Democrat (who reregistered as an undeclared to win the speakership) are at a standoff with the governor. They had 39 votes to call themselves into special session. One vote shy. But they said they won’t go to Wasilla because, well, they don’t want to. They think Juneau is better.
This morning, several members of the House Republican Minority told Must Read Alaska that they will go to Wasilla, where the special session has been called on July 8. It looks like at least 15 members of the House will head there.
On the Senate side, it’s anyone’s guess, but as many as seven of the 20 members could go to Wasilla as well. Sen. Shelley Hughes made it clear in a press release that she’ll be in Wasilla.
Giessel and Edgmon, however, will head to Juneau on July 8, they say. They’ve been working Legislative Legal to give them the constitutional underpinnings that allow them to gavel in where they choose.
But it’s likely that some members of the Legislature will be in neither location, due to excused absences or other sudden family matters.
What is the governor’s next move?
Dunleavy still needs to get the Permanent Fund dividend funded by the appropriators. He wants a full Permanent Fund dividend, as established by statute, and Sen. Giessel apparently does not, at least at this point. She’s with a few senators who believe the dividend needs to be trimmed down to some amount that the Legislature will need to decide at some point. Until then, the amount of the PFD is under negotiation in the House and Senate. Edgmon has held his cards close on the dividend.
Dunleavy has been clear: He wants the PFD paid the old fashioned way this year, and then he wants the Legislature to focus on the Capital Budget, which passed it during the first special session but which the House and Senate majorities were unable to get funded. They needed three-quarters vote to break into the Constitutional Budget Reserve for a loan; the House Republican minority denied them the loan — they weren’t budging until the Permanent Fund dividend is resolved.
There is history for some of this and it’s not pretty. It involves troopers and handcuffs.
In 1983, several members of the Legislature “went missing” when Gov. Bill Sheffield called for a special session. Speaker Joe Hayes made himself scarce that month.
Among the stories that old politicos remember is how, when the confirmation of Norm Gorsuch for attorney general was being debated, Sheffield called the Troopers to bring in the recalcitrants in order to get the quorum needed for the joint-session vote.
That year, the House was controlled by Republicans, with Hayes as Speaker, while the Senate was controlled by Democrats, with Jay Kerttula of Palmer, as President.
The Republicans were going to try to block Gorsuch because of a perceived conflict of interest he had with Sheffield and his hotel business.
Sheffield called for a joint session on June 7, 1983, and Kerttula supported the call because he knew there were enough votes to confirm.
However, only 17 members of the House attended that day, not enough for a quorum. Troopers searched all over Juneau for the other Republican legislators but came up empty handed. Some had flown to Skagway on a small plane rented by Rep. Vernon Hurlburt, a bush pilot from Sleetmute.
Eventually four were found in their offices and escorted by armed Troopers into the House Chambers, where a vote was held and Gorsuch was confirmed. The four included Rep. Ramona Barnes, who was hiding in her office. She had one last long cigarette before being escorted to the floor by a Trooper. Richard Shultz, a Republican of Delta Junction, was brought in in handcuffs.
The move by Sheffield short-circuited the Republicans, who wanted to hold hearings and bring up information they thought showed the conflict of interest between Gorsuch and Sheffield. The story of armed Troopers escorting unwilling lawmakers made the New York Times.
If the Legislature doesn’t convene as outlined in the governor’s proclamation, he cannot actually sue the Legislature as a whole, but he can legally go after individual legislators, and get a writ of assistance from the courts, which would then cause him to send Alaska State Troopers after them.