Rep. Ben Carpenter and House Speaker Louise Stutes got into a dispute in the hallway at the Capitol, as Stutes tried to force Carpenter to meet with her in her office to discuss his face mask refusal, and he simply refused to follow her. The issue was about the Stutes mask mandate in the House Chambers in Alaska’s Capitol.
Carpenter, sitting at his desk on Tuesday morning and ready to conduct business in the House Chambers, was notified that Speaker Stutes wanted to talk with him in the hallway. The Nikiski Republican left the floor and met Stutes in the hall. She then tried to get him to go into her office. He told her, “I think this conversation needs to happen in public.”
Neither raised their voices during the dispute, but Stutes told Carpenter that if he didn’t wear his mask, she would have to gavel out.
“You gotta do what you gotta do,” he said. She soon went back into the Chambers and gaveled out.
It’s unclear if Stutes has the votes to keep the mask mandate in effect. She would need her entire caucus to vote with her on it, if her ruling were challenged. Most of her caucus are Democrats who support the mask mandate, but not all do.
The mask mandate matter came up first on Monday, after a weekend in which several Democrat legislators and staff became infected with Covid at a fundraiser called Sham Jam. At last count, there were 15 cases of Covid among legislators or staff.
With three Republicans refusing to mask up on Monday, Stutes gaveled out of the regularly scheduled meeting, in which the budget bill was scheduled to be read across the floor. The budget bill is now being held up by the standoff between the mask mandate of Stutes and at least three members who will not comply, and maybe more by Wednesday, when Stutes will once again try to have a floor session.