House Democrats limp across finish line



The drama of the Alaska House both last year and this year culminated this month with a painful limp over the finish line after a brutal 18 months of a “no caucus rules” Democrat-led majority.

To review:

Just last year, the new House liberal majority, feeling its oats and ready to rumble, censured Rep. David Eastman , a freshman Republican, for comments he made while not in the chamber.

Rep. Ivy Spohnholz led the chest-beating about Eastman’s remarks about rural women and their possible abortion-and-shopping trips to the city. Democrats, including Reps. Dean Westlake and Zach Fansler, chastened Eastman and tried to shame the Republican minority in the House, too.

A year later, not one, but three of the Democrats were forced from office for offenses against women: Westlake and Fansler were removed. Rep. Justin Parish was shamed into not running again. At least one other is running scared — scared that people will find out about his dalliances with staff members.

In happier times, Gov. Bill Walker poses with Reps. Zach Fansler and Dean Westlake, who he pushed into office.

The Democrats went from a majority of 22 to a fragile majority that teetered on 21 and at times 20, as first Rep. John Lincoln and then Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky were selected to replace Westlake and Fansler. They were solid, but they were brand new.

The Democrats were in trouble. They had a nonbinding caucus and the Rules Chair, Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, had but one friend left in the House — Rep. Louise Stutes of Kodiak. By April things were going quite sideways for both of those women, who had already been kicked out of the Alaska Republican Party for double-crossing the Republican caucus.

Rep. Sam Kito

Then Rep. Sam Kito of Juneau said he wasn’t running again, and his votes and behavior started making the Democratic majority nervous.  He was erratic. They could not count on him.

This weekend, the operating budget was held up in the House for 24 hours because Kito was demanding that LeDoux be kicked out of the caucus. That, and he wanted $40 million for the ferry system. Or else.

The House leadership was split for much of the session, not only over whether to pay out a full Permanent Fund dividend, but also they were divided on the details of the restructuring of the Permanent Fund, moving to an endowment model — the POMV, as its called.

Between the reputation hits the Democrats were taking with Westlake, Fansler, and Parish, and the mess that the House had made in the fall during special session, when the governor asked for fixes to Senate Bill 91, (Senate Bill 54 reforming criminal justice reform), things had snowballed.

Democrats had sought repeated taxes on Alaskans and had gotten none, as the Senate held firm.

They’d sought levies on the oil industry, and gotten none, as the Senate held firm.

They had rashly tried to stuff the capital budget into the operating budget in 2017 (which ultimately went nowhere) and in 2018 sent over an education funding package to the Senate that had no funding attached to it (yet another embarrassment).

And this year, they all face re-election.

The Senate, a solid conservative majority, recognized that the House was in a mess and offered help: Pass a POMV bill and you can have your education funding for this year and next, the Senate offered. The House could either dig in its heels or agree. It agreed.

Reps. Geran Tarr and Louise Stutes

And miraculously, even Rep. Geran Tarr, who is rabidly anti-oil, pulled back her oil tax bill. Her co-chair of Resources Committee, Rep. Andy Josephson, let the oil tax credit bonding bill move ahead, even through he hates tax credits.

It was almost as if the House Democrats were saying, “OK, we’ve tried it the Bernie Sanders way. Now let’s try it the Joseph Lieberman way.” Enough of ideologues, it was time to deal.

And so, no taxes on Alaskans.

No taxes on oil producers.

Full funding of education.

Creative funding mechanism for past-due oil tax credits.

Funding for troopers.

And a budget that is bigger than what the Senate wanted but not embarrassingly so.

Speaker Bryce Edgmon

Speaker Bryce Edgmon, who had watched as his entire no-rules caucus nearly come apart at the seams with class warfare breaking out all over, was able to bring his whole difficult crew together to adjourn in the wee hours of Sunday morning.

Some say there is a maturing that has occurred. Others say it’s been a humbling experience for the Democrats, who have been embarrassed repeatedly by their butt-grabbing, cheek-slapping colleagues.

Being in a position where they have actually had to lead may have forced some of the Democrats to understand that lawmaking is about the art of compromise with an imperfect organization made up of mere mortals.



  1. I wouldn’t be so praiseworthy of a Senate that just handed us another $3.4 billion deficit. In addition, they have in the past 3 years raided the CBR for another $8 billion. In effect they have reduced the PF corpus by $11.4 billion with no end in sight. Oh but yippee we get another $1600 this year. We are played for fools like the bread and circuses of a doomed Roman Empire.

    • That’s what it takes to avoid taxing ourselves-we preferred it when Oil cos. paid for everything.

  2. Are we being Fooled
    “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” This quote by 19th century philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard. Alaskans are fooled both ways; one of which we are fed by our prominent politicians (that there is a “crisis of financial collapse”). That is a fallacy!
    To what degree it really is or isn’t, is what they (the politicians) are hung up on; not if it’s true or not. Can Alaskans weather the storm they believe exists? This need not be of worry, we will if we rely on our own industry. Why? Because our Constitution gives us the policy and direction to do so!
    The truth of past experience and recognizing the success of those before us will be our courage, drive, & desire to make it happen. The Alaskans that I grew up with have proven that there is no easy way. Yes, work accomplished this. Look around yourself – it is there for all to see.
    We currently live, work and recreate on improvements to the resources that are, for the most part, an accumulation of past land development. We could benefit, as a next step, from the same type of development.
    Don’t accept the “falsified manifestation” we are currently being convinced exists!

    Alaska’s future was of great skepticism at the date of statehood sum nearly 60 years ago. That is why our federal government placed upon us the mandate of our Constitution ART. 8 (the “resource section”).

    This is the other “fools belief” they wish to have us believe. That being: that it’s not possible, or there’s not access, or there’s no one that could or would like to further settle, utilize, or invest in the land Alaska has so much of. That land is currently vacant only because it’s not yet in the peoples hands!

    They, our Leaders (Politicians), don’t put principals first! With greatness, one has to do all the steps leading up to the “Trivium”((input, process, and output ) for this success!

    Is this because they don’t want us to see them? Or is it that they have no knowledge of the basic requirements to get us there? The three levels to get us there are Communicate the (“Classical” past) , second, Cause & Effect, (how did we get here), third Motion (action) can we make it happen.

    Yes,we Alaskans can make it happen if our Leaders & Politicians will hand the power to us ! Our Resources ( Land ) is our future only if we are not played the Fools

    • And we should just take your word for your “falsified manifestation?”
      You must think we are all a bunch of low-watt bulbs.

  3. So absent line-item vetoes from Willie Walker the 2019 budget is about $14,057 per Alaskan. Here in Juneau the city and borough budget is another $11,000 per Juneau resident. Let’s call that $25,000 in state and local spending. So a Juneau family of four represents $100,000 in state and local government spending. But while I type this the local radio news has the co-chair of Sen. Fin. saying, ‘this budget puts us on more sustainable footing and we put our fiscal house in order.’ Can anyone not see (notwithstanding Bill Yankee above) that taxes are not an answer to our aggregate unsustainability? Can you not see that handing money back and forth, and paying even more bureaucrats to collect taxes and pay out the money, might exacerbate this gross imbalance of government over the private sector but cannot possibly help resolve it? Like I said once before; we need to put house-for-sale signs on the backs of our Dunleavy for Governor signs because if Walker is re-elected we will continue on this path of ruin until we go off the economic cliff (so we could just turn the signs around if Walker ended up on top come November 6.

    • Yessir KAYAK, and why is it that almost every other state collects taxes in one form or another to fund government.
      Tell us again why it is that we (Alaskans) should be exempt from taxes-is it that you think we need to go back to when Oil Cos. paid for everything??
      Always OK when the other guy pays for everything (like taking PFDs from even the kids in Alaska). Go ahead and put your house up for sale as you will not be happy here anymore IMO.

      • The answer to your question is: Because they can. But if the question that eventually occurs to you is, “Why can they?” the answer is because to one degree or another other states have broad-based, productive economies. And if and when the wheels fall off in the economy of another state productive residents can and do move a few miles or even a few hundred miles to another state as a first step in the needed rebalancing. AK and HI are much more fragile, and obviously it’s our productive people who will leave as people on the dole are doing better and better with Walker in charge. Alaska consumes far above its productive weight, and one major challenge to the economy is the low adult workforce participation. A tax on working people would increase the scope and the breadth of our problem. By the way, there is one state that has never had a sales tax or an income tax; that state is usually at the opposite end of the spectrum from Alaska so far as unemployment, rates of people on the dole, SAT test scores, and other meaningful measures. We need to reduce state and municipal spending – dramatically – in order to bring consumption and production into balance. I hope this helps you to better understand basic economic precepts.

        • Thanks for that Kayak but think back to when AK had a personal income tax things worked quite well. Your argument doesn’t hold water!

          You just make things up as you go without anything to back them up IMO. And where would you make those cuts to State and municipal spending?? Talk is cheap!

    • Revenue isn’t the problem, spending is. Growing the already bloated budget isn’t a good idea, even with oil making a recovery. Taxes sure aren’t the answer, unless the question is what is the quickest way to run off productive members of our small population base.

      • OK Steve-O where are the spending cuts you feel are necessary??
        We’ve had a fairly conservative legislature for most of the period since oil prices crashed and they’ve found it extremely hard to cut your “bloated budget.
        So……………….;again where do we cut?

        • I would cut all funding from the general fund for the University system. We have an excess of college graduates now; much of what they present has no place in a university system. And they have a huge bloated administrative bureaucracy.

          I would change the eligibility for Medicaid back to 100% of poverty level. Tony Knowles advocated an increase to the income levels that have grown far too unaffordable and will continue to do so.

          I would fund K-12 only for those who are legally required to attend school: age 7-16. It has never been shown that early attendance at school produces any long-term benefits. Our schools are an abject failure and as such they pass their failure on to college to make that more expensive.

          Any other questions?

          • Your opinions wouldn’t make the list of even 5% of Alaskans IMO. And your statement about “early attendance” is utter BS. I’m going to guess here that you have not raised a successful child. Your opinions would devastate this State just by the necessary increase in penal institutions. Would sure decrease population, though.

        • Bill,

          If I were governor for a day I would take the budget and cut 5% off of it, from every department right off the top. I would cut further from individual departments.

          While what Dave proposed below is somewhat extreme he does make a good point. The AK college system is a land grant system, yet they do not use all, or even much, of the land that was granted to them to fund the system. They should use or sell the land to support the college system, not use general funds. Tuition should be raised and departments should be consolidated, not every village or town needs an extention…none do in fact, if you want to go to college and then GO to college. Medicaid should also be slashed, Walker has expanded it to absurd levels.

          If you think we’ve had a fiscally conservative legislature, you haven’t been paying attention.

          • Overall our Legislature has not been fiscally conservative but since our budget problems I believe they have stepped up. And Walker did do the Medicaid thing without their help. I like that bit about Dave’s “somewhat extreme” measure. He would be happier in Alabama or Mississippi.

          • Also, Steve-O UA is right now attempting a timber sale in Haines that is getting a lot of push-back from residents there.

  4. Calling the Senate conservative when they followed Governor Walkers lead to grab a large portion of the PFD is far from conservative credentials. A conservative principle is keeping the money out of the hands of government. Republicans in this state lost their vision of limited government.

    • You’re generally correct but to be fair please recognize Senators Hughes and Shower who disagree with the excessive operating budget. Also the House Minority comes up with very constructive budget reductions each year and neither the House Majority, the Senate Majority or the Senate Minority give them a second look. The truth is however that Alaska is set up to have the strongest executive in the US, and therefore with the lack of honest, sensible leadership in the Governor, and yes, even with the Lt. Governor right now we’re screwed.

  5. Alaska crude approaching $80.00 Chris! The sky is not falling. The founders of the PF did not expect that it would go in forever without being put to good use when needed. The issue is whether it is now needed. I say yes but with the caveat that voters should be wary and diligent. The last thing we should ever want is to give the legislators a blank check. They will spend it all given the chance. That is partially the reason how we got here in the first place.

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