SENATE FRACTURES, REPUBLICANS INSTALL DEMOCRAT AS MAJORITY LEADER
The second special session in Juneau was eventful, even though on the surface it looked like nothing really got done in the hour that the House and Senate met.
With 23 of the 40 members present in the House in Juneau, there were enough lawmakers to establish a quorum, but barely. A prayer was said and 23 heads were bowed. The Pledge of Allegiance was recited. Guests were introduced, including former House member Justin Parish, introduced by Juneau Rep. Andi Story, the Democrat who ran for and won Parish’s seat after he served just one term before bowing out under pressure from women colleagues.
Parish took the microphone briefly, as it is customary to allow former House members to do. He encouraged the members to override the governor’s vetoes. They politely applauded.
The only items on the call of the Special Session is to fund the Permanent Fund dividend for Alaskans and to pass specific capital budget items, but what seemed to be on the minds of legislators present in Juneau was overriding the governor’s vetoes.
The House and Senate plan to have that override vote on Wednesday, which is the third day of Special Session. They have, by law, five days to override the vetoes, and they’ve burned up one day. After their Wednesday vote, they’ll be down to two days, although the session itself is called for 30 days.
While they were busy introducing guests in the House and attempting to present their proceedings as perfectly normal, over in the Senate, 14 of the 20 members were present in Juneau at what some Alaskans have deemed an illegal special session that may end up in the Alaska Supreme Court.
The main item of business in the Senate on Monday was to remove Sen. Mia Costello from her role as Majority Leader since she attended the special session gathering in Wasilla, where four other Senators also convened out of respect for the governor’s call.
Although the Senate Majority had cautiously organized in January to ensure that no Democrat had a leadership role in their organization, on Monday they quickly installed Democrat Sen. Lyman Hoffman of Bethel as Majority Leader, and also replaced Costello with Hoffman on the Rules Committee.
WAITING IN WASILLA
Costello said Monday that she went to Wasilla because she believes the best way to move forward is to work with the governor cooperatively, not against him. She said she felt settled about her decision because she wanted to follow the Alaska Constitution and statute.
The senator from the Sand Lake area of Anchorage acknowledged the legislators waiting in Wasilla were in unusual circumstances.
“I know it can seem like a lot of fighting with each other for no reason, and that increases the public’s frustration with a legislature that hasn’t been able to get the job done so far. Other senators and House members are convening something in Juneau at this very moment…so why are we not with them?” Costello said in her remarks during a press conference at Wasilla Middle School.
“It comes down to the constitution, and our responsibility to obey it. I believe firmly in our state constitution. And the constitution is clear: special sessions have to be called. They can be called by the governor. They can be called by two-thirds of the legislature. But they have to be called,” she said.
VETO OVERRIDE VOTE AHEAD
The House and Senate in Juneau on Wednesday will take up the matter of attempting to override the governor’s vetoes. They need 45 votes, but have only 37 members present, which has caused observers to ask why they are going to bother with a vote, since they don’t have enough lawmakers in Juneau.
The answer, it appears, is for the coming election cycle, when all House members will stand for re-election and some in the Senate will also need to ask voters to send them back to Juneau for another term. Having voted to override the vetoes, even if it’s simply an exercise in futility, will inoculate some of the legislators who serve in moderate or liberal districts. This is about setting up their campaigns.
Notably absent in Juneau were the more conservative arms of the House and Senate. Sen. David Wilson was out of state at a training seminar and Sen. Peter Micciche was working his commercial fishing permit, which he must do to support his family, and which has a limited season.
Valley Sens. Shelley Hughes and Mike Shower were in Wasilla, along with Sen. Lora Reinbold and Sen. Costello.
It’s almost a certainty that those gathering in Wasilla would not vote to override the governor’s vetoes.
16 House Republicans went to Wasilla, including House Finance Co-Chair Tammie Wilson. Thus far, there is no indication in Juneau that the House Democrat-led Majority will take out punishment on her the way the Senate Republicans has done on Sen. Costello.
The Wasilla gathering took place in a room set up by volunteers, with printed name plates for all 60 legislators.