Drama in Legislature turns into yawner as veto override goes down late Thursday

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A surprise joint session of the Alaska Legislature was held Thursday night, with only a few hours notice to members.

The session turned out to be a yawner, and within about 10 minutes the two bodies did not override Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s veto of a portion of education funding from last year’s appropriation bills and gaveled out. There was not a single floor speech for or against. All the legislators are able to count, and they all knew what the outcome would be — there would be no override. It needed 45 votes and they didn’t have the votes.

But the drama did create a new and interesting precedent, one that will be tested time and again until it ends up in the Alaska Supreme Court some day.

It started on Tuesday, when Rep. David Eastman said on the House floor that a joint session was “required” by the Alaska Constitution to determine if members want to override the governor’s veto of some of the additional education spending — above and beyond the regular funding formula — that was appropriated in 2023.

It came down to grammar. The Alaska Constitution wording is that “bills vetoed after adjournment of the first regular session of the legislature shall be reconsidered by the legislature sitting as one body no later than the fifth day of the next regular or special session of that legislature.”

It’s never been interpreted to mean that the Legislature must hold a vote. The “shall” is tied to the “no later than” portion, meaning that if they want to override, they need to do it within five days.

Based on the sentence structure in the Alaska Constitution, the words “shall be reconsidered” refer to the clause “no later than the fifth day” — part of the verb phrase and giving direct restrictions to that verb.

“Shall be reconsidered” does not refer to “by the Legislature sitting in one body,” which is a prepositional phrase describing who and how they meet if they meet.

There is no precedent in Alaska history for interpreting it the way Eastman and the House Democrats interpreted it. Additionally, nothing in the Constitution indicates that it intends to force the two bodies together.

A joint session can, after all, only occur with an invitation from one body to the other. Without an invitation, the other body cannot just barge in and force a special session. There are uniform rules for how this takes place and the Constitution in no place forces the House to invite the Senate for an override vote.

But House Democrats pounced and decided Eastman was right. They argued that the Constitution demands a joint session. Legislative Legal disagreed with them but they were undeterred.

Then, Republican Reps. Ben Carpenter and Sarah Vance were swayed by the persuasiveness of Rep. Andy Josephson, a Democrat. They flipped and went with Eastman and the Democrats fo the joint session, and the calculus went from 20-20 to 23-17. That meant the earlier vote to not go into joint session had flipped, and the session was on for 8 pm. It was House Speaker Cathy Tilton’s decision in the end.

Although surprising to see Democrats like hard-core Rep, Alyse Galvin and Josephson agreeing with Wasilla’s Rep. Eastman, who is one of the most conservative members of the Legislature, the Democrats wanted to get everyone on the record so they could later use the vote as a campaign weapon to punish those who voted against the override.

Thus, they were willing to sign on to an argument from Eastman, whom they had tried to remove from the Legislature for two years due to what they said was his attempted insurrection against the U.S. government, due to his membership in Oath Keepers and his attendance at a Jan. 6 2021 rally for President Trump.

Also surprising, if Eastman actually believes his argument in 2024, then he and the Legislature have violated the Constitution for the last several years by not forcing the joint session to consider vetoes.

House vote on veto override.

In the end, legislators had 33 to override, and 26 against the override. Most of the Senate, which is dominated by Democrats, voted in favor of the override. Eagle River Republican Sen. Kelly Merrick, along with Republican Click Bishop, Bert Stedman, and Cathy Giessel voted to override.

Republicans in the House generally voted against the override.

Senate vote on veto override.

And with that, the joint session adjourned.

26 COMMENTS

  1. Representative Eastman seems to be a one horse crusade. And as you say, Eastman and the rest of the legislature have violated the AK Constitution by not requiring the joint session to meet to override any governors’ vetoes. There seems to be a precedent set which was not followed today. Yawn!

  2. It will likely surprise few to discover that I made the very same argument and voted the same the last time a veto reconsideration joint session came before the legislature, which was SB86 on March 22nd 2023.

    In that case my Republican colleagues agreed and voted with me 17-22. Of course, in that case the issue was the pay increase for state legislators, which many legislators wanted to be on record voting against.

    Today, the issue was a Republican governor’s veto of education funding, which few legislators wanted to be on record voting either for or against. Our state constitution strongly parallels our U.S. Constitution on the responsibilities of the legislature when it comes to vetoed legislation, but Congress is actually more faithful than our state legislators when it comes to following that process.

    Perhaps if voters could drive to their state capital our legislators would take greater pains with respect to our state constitution.

    • How many of the R’s (percentage is good enough, unless you want to name names) are either D’s in disguise or deadwood in the House? In the Senate?

  3. Representative Eastman proves once again that he is the best Democrat in the legislature. When will the “most conservative district in the state” actually vote in a conservative Representative?

  4. This doesn’t make me feel any better tonight. People who have college degrees, management material they struggle reading like me and going through the motion of learning new work disciplines while trying to model that for child. I miss the legislators of 2002. As imperfect as they lived and worked. At least I remember them not acting dumb like these past legislatures. One can understand when I act dumb or lazy. But one can’t understand when this crowd of legislators and aids act dumb and lazy too. These guys are supposed to know more and not be wishy-washy.

    • Jen
      Thanks for the mention. I was Senate Finance Committee Co-Chair in 2001 – 2002 and Vice Chair in 1999 -2000 and our per capita spending was the lowest in many years both before and since.
      Dave Donley

  5. So, Eastman opened the floodgates that gave them a second chance to override Dunleavy’s veto of the education funds?

    …I am surprised…and confused…

  6. If it’s good for advancing Eastman, Eastman will do it regardless of the cost or collateral damage. If it’s bad for Eastman he’ll have a very persuasive argument why he won’t. He’s a one man show alright. He should register as the party of Eastman.

  7. Rules- those damn rules keep getting in the way. Wow! You all complain that hey don’t follow the rules and then when they do you complain even more. Make up your minds. Thats the way it’s written and that’s the way it goes.

    • As was pointed out above, that’s a debatable interpretation. Only his pompousness has ever bothered to look for or care about. And to what end?

  8. This is all minutae. Let’s get down to the real business of a statutorily, fully-funded PFD of $3500 to every Alaska citizen in 2024….. as proposed by the governor. The only issue worth fighting for in the eyes of most Alaskans.

      • erak: I very much agree with you about the PFD. First, the $ belongs to the state, not individual Alaskans. Second, EVERY YEAR we go through same bullshit and waste a lot of time and good will.

  9. If nothing else, Eastman’s move guaranteed TRANSPARENCY, something missing far too often in government / legislative functions. If you are a fiscal conservative, own it, that is why people like me vote for you. If you are a democrat who votes to spend regardless of available funding, own it, that way other fiscally impaired idiots can vote for you. With everything always happening behind closed doors and in committees, you definitely lose transparency. Thank you Mr. Eastman for attempting to stick to the letter of the constitution, rather than the informal acceptance of the good old boys club. Cheers-

  10. It is sad to see that Senator Click Bishop voted to override Governor Dunlevy’s veto of a portion of the education bill from last session. I hear that he is going to run for Governor this year. If so, this veto override vote could hurt in Republican circles, but if we still have Ranked Choice Voting, it will help. Depending on who else is running, he could be the lesser of two evils for some people who lean right.

  11. The education cartel really wants to steal more of our money. They ought to get nothing. Government schools are poison to young minds and are hostile to creating thriving, healthy children. These terrible places have got to go.

    Support alternative educational opportunities: charter schools, trade schools, homeschooling, and private schools.

  12. Oops, I guess that didn’t go as planned for house democrats….at least now we have hard facts to see, who is the education lobby’s pocket and who isn’t. I agree with some of the other posters, that this vote, shines a light and gives transparency.
    For that thank you Rep. Eastman.
    As for Kelly Merrick, she was never a Republican and she got re-elected because redistricting shifted her partly out of her old district.

  13. Interesting how Shall became Required. They are not the same and should not be misinterpreted. On the other hand, today’s English is getting more uncommon every day.

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