Four members of the 14-member Senate Majority are in the doghouse with their Republican leadership because of their votes favoring a stimulus dividend during the final hours of the legislative session that ended last week.
Before the session came to a close in Juneau, Senators Mia Costello, Shelley Hughes, Mike Shower, and Lora Reinbold did not vote the way the Republican majority leadership wanted them to vote regarding a COVID-19 relief check for all Alaskans.
IN THE WEEDS: A VOTE ON THE STIMULUS DIVIDEND
It was a procedural vote and involved parliamentary maneuvers that most readers will skip over:
The votes came after Sen. Reinbold proposed four amendments to the COVID-19 relief money appropriation.
Senate President Cathy Giessel ruled those amendments out of order, and Reinbold objected and challenged the ruling of the chair.
Votes were then taken on whether Reinbold’s amendments could be voted on. Ten Republicans voted one way, but the four conservative Republicans were more varied in their votes on the amendments, voting for some but not others. They did not vote as a bloc.
In summary, Giessel prevented a vote on a dividend stimulus check.
Then, after she gaveled out, she punished the four Republican legislators who wanted the ability to vote their conscience.
NOW TO THE PUNISHMENT
The punishment for the four came after they were called to a private meeting with Senators Click Bishop and Bert Stedman in Anchorage this week. Bishop, who flew down from Fairbanks, and Stedman, who flew up from Sitka, told the four that there would be punishment for their rogue votes.
Sen. Mia Costello said her punishment is that she lost 21 “points,” the equivalent of one staff position. Today, she broke the news to the longest-serving legislative aide in Alaska history, Tom Wright, that he would be let go. Giessel was not allowing the four Republicans to divide up their remaining points so they could keep one person part time.
Sen. Mike Shower, Sen. Lora Reinbold, and Sen. Shelley Hughes had already lost staff due to previous votes that went against leadership, so punishing them was more difficult.
Giessel told them that they would no longer have access to the general legislative staff that serves the entire Republican Majority: Press Secretary Daniel McDonald, I.T. expert Peter Torkelson, Attorney Chad Hutchinson, and natural resource expert Rena Miller, who is no longer Giessel’s chief of staff but who is now staff to the Majority.
QUESTION: IS THERE ACTUALLY A REPUBLICAN MAJORITY LEFT IN THE SENATE?
The four senators who represent conservative strongholds in the state are now so marginalized by their Republican leadership team that they have no benefits left for staying in the Majority at all.
If the four decide to walk away from the Republican caucus, that majority would be reduced to 10 — not a majority. Giessel would have to turn to her allies on the Democrat Minority side — Sen. Tom Begich, Sen. Bill Wielechowski, and Sen. Lyman Hoffman. (Hoffman already serves Giessel as her majority leader and suffered no punishment from Giessel even after he broke ranks and voted against the budget.)
Forming a coalition with Democrats during an election year is tricky business for those Republicans up for election. But the punishment given to the four conservative Republicans will only burnish their own credentials in their districts. Up for election this year is Shelley Hughes, but also Cathy Giessel.
With the latest punishments, coming after the session gaveled out “sine die,” the Giessel-led majority has no more sticks to use to beat the Senate Republicans into submission.