Rep. Foster ditched conference committee for Kentucky Derby party

Rep. Neal Foster was dressed to the nines in a white suit for the Kentucky Derby party in Anchorage on May 6. He was supposed to be available as co-chair of a conference committee on SB 26 in Juneau.


Conference committees are where horse trading gets done on bills that end up with two different versions — one from the House and one from the Senate.

But that horse trading can’t get done if the legislators assigned to conference committee decide to play hooky.

At the end of Thursday’s Senate majority press conference, Alaska Senate President Pete Kelly expressed some frustration at the lack of diligence by one particular House member, although he didn’t name him:

“When a critical member to a conference committee, with 10 days left in a session, takes off to go to an Anchorage Kentucky Derby Party and is gone for four days, that’s unacceptable. – Sen. President Pete Kelly

“It was not malicious, don’t get me wrong,” Kelly said. “It’s the kind of mistakes we’ve seen over and over with the House. They don’t seem to understand how you work toward a deadline. The Senate has been very good at that. We said what we were going to do in the very beginning, and we did everything. And we’ll do that in the special session as well. But the House has to engage on a very mature, productive level or nothing is going to get done.”

And with that, Kelly did a mic drop and ended the press conference.

What Kentucky Derby Party? Oh, that one. The annual see-and-be-seen at Simon and Seafort’s restaurant and bar in Anchorage, where ladies show up with bonnets and frocks, and well-dressed men show up with … ladies in bonnets and frocks.

Rep. Neal Foster, a Nome Democrat, attended that party instead of being available for conference committee on the single piece of legislation that can solve the state’s fiscal crisis: SB 26. While he was living large in Anchorage, the conference committee languished and did not meet.

SB26 is the governor’s top priority.  The Republican-led Senate went along with it and passed legislation that the Senate feels will keep Alaskans from having to pay an income tax, while still preserving the dividend program.

The House version put a poison pill into the legislation by requiring parallel adoption of an income tax before the bill can go into law.  The two sides remain far apart on this.

With just 10 days left in the session, Foster was gone until the following Tuesday and was unavailable to meet with his counterparts in the Senate, Sens. Anna MacKinnon, Lyman Hoffman, and Dennis Egan, and Reps. Paul Seaton and Thompson.

Foster is the chair for the House side of the conference committee.

The committee was appointed on April 26 and is tasked with coming to an agreement on the two competing versions of SB 26, easily the most important bill of this legislative session.