Newly elected Rep. Jason Grenn wants to make sure that any legislator who works for an oil company cannot vote on anything related to oil, taxes, tax credits, or even exploration and development in Alaska. Ditto for oil services companies or those who contract with oil companies.
In fact, no one with any kind oil-patch job would be able to vote on the budget, in Rep. Grenn’s ideal scenario, because the State of Alaska budget is paid for by oil revenues.
If you can’t vote on the budget these days, what are you even doing in Juneau as a lawmaker?
Blocking oil company workers is Grenn’s real reason behind HB 44, “Voting and Conflicts,” which was to be heard today in House Judiciary (Democrat Matt Claman, chair), but which was delayed to Friday with no reason given.
It’s also why in the Capitol, aides refer to HB 44 as the “M&M Bill,” code for the “Meyer/Micciche Bill,” because both Sen. Kevin Meyer and Peter Micciche work for ConocoPhillips, and they are always attacked by Democrats for holding down jobs with Big Oil.
As a candidate, Grenn said he was running for office because, “Our current Legislature failed Alaska when it went back to Juneau for five overtime sessions to deal with the most serious fiscal crisis in state history and took no action.”
Yet, as someone who has been put in charge of vetting the budget for the Department of Administration, Grenn is now busy working on his first “practice” bill. And he’s chosen Republicans Meyer and Micciche as his targets.
Before Grenn sits in front of Judiciary and offers his bill for deliberation, we’d offer members of the committee some additional questions:
Should union lawyers like Senate Democrat Bill Wielechowski be forced to sit out their votes on anything related to the budget, since nearly all budget items pertain to union members?
Will House Democrats Andy Josephson and Geran Tarr have to sit out any votes on oil taxes or environmental policy? After all, in December Josephson offered the official state offices of Josephson and Tarr to the environmental lobby group The Alaska Center, which is a clear indication that the two have already prejudged environmental matters to come before them. (This is a matter the Legislative Ethics Committee should take up, regardless.)
Will House Democrat Zach Fansler vote on the budget if it includes cuts to the University of Alaska, where he teaches math (at the Kuskokwim campus)?
House Democrat Chris Tuck works for a union — will he have to abstain from voting on the budget, since it will affect his employer?
Or, as Senate Republican Mia Costello noted, will anyone with children in the public schools have to recuse themselves from voting on the budget, since their children will be affected?
Speaking of conflicts, the sponsors of HB 44 include House Rules Chair Gabrielle LeDoux, who now runs Gabby’s Tuesday PAC, where she accepts money from lobbyists through a loophole that only a crafty lawyer like her could have found.
Those lobbyists now know what it takes to get legislation past her committee and onto the House Floor: “That’ll be $5,000, please.” They don’t need to be told — they’ll just fork it over because they know they have to.
Should LeDoux be banned from voting on ethics legislation that would close that loophole? For that matter, should she be banned from voting on fishing legislation because she owns a driftnet permit in Bristol Bay? Or how about landlord legislation, since she owns several rental properties?
Other HB 44 sponsors are Musk Ox Republican Rep. Louise Stutes of Kodiak, and Democrats Ivy Spohnholz of Anchorage, Justin Parish of Juneau, Fansler of Bethel, Geran Tarr and Harriet Drummond, both of Anchorage.
“Whatever happens on Nov. 8, let’s make a commitment to put partisan agendas on the shelf and deliver the responsible fiscal plan that our state desperately needs. Alaskans deserve it. And I would be honored to be a part of it,” Grenn wrote last year.
That was so last year.
This year, Grenn is starting out of the gate not with serious intent to trim state government, nor make it more efficient. He is going after the people in the Legislature who hold jobs in the private sector.
Grenn’s statement on HB 44 says: “HB 44 contains provisions to ensure conflicts are “substantial” before a legislator would be required to abstain from voting. Any benefit a legislator or a member of the legislator’s immediate family might receive from supporting a particular piece of legislation would have to be greater than the benefit a large group of Alaskans would receive in order to require abstention. The bill and resolution recognize the responsibility of legislators to vote, except in clear cases where the outcome of the vote would result in substantial personal financial gain. This includes cases where an immediate family member or a legislator’s employer would receive a large and direct financial benefit.”
Substantial financial benefits might include having a job, which Grenn himself had until he left it to become a lawmaker.
If HB 44 was passed, lawmakers like him would try to block others from voting on matters by raising conflict questions that would have to be sorted out before a vote could proceed. Lawmakers who have no jobs would hold the hammer over the heads of those who do.
These challenges would be taken to the Legislative Ethics Committee time and again, and the process being used to block progress.
Grenn’s bill is a solution in search of a problem. He would introduce a layer of uncertainty into the ethics law, which today features simplicity and accountability. Fellow legislators already declare their conflicts and their colleagues vote on whether or not they should refrain from voting on an issue. This is transparent. Citizen voters have the final say come election time.
BIG STATE, SMALL COMMUNITY: Alaska is a medium-sized U.S. city in terms of population and it’s a place where employment options are limited, and the oil industry is one of the major employers.
Grenn’s bill runs the very real risk of disenfranchising the voters of districts where there is actual employment, in favor lawmakers who have no real jobs. This undermines the principle of a citizen legislature.
Grenn, who is a nonprofit guy whose last job was funded by the Rasmuson Foundation, has his own conflicts, including his acceptance of substantial support from the Alaska business community during his election.
Now, he’s going after those who are employed by the business community. His bill would make it less likely that people who work in the private sector even bother to run for office in the future.
By using his M&M bill to pick fights with legislators rather than focus of trimming the budget, Grenn is off to a questionable start.