By SCOTT OGAN | CAPITOL INSIDER
Senators Bert Stedman, Click Bishop, and Cathy Giessel — I’ll call them the “Three Amigos” — run the Alaska Senate. The power divide is always over money that protects the union-backed deep state, which means your Permanent Fund Dividend check.
Stedman, Bishop, and Giessel formed a coalition with every Senate Democrat, rather than bring fellow Republicans Mike Shower, Shelley Hughes, and Rob Myers into the fold. This, after Alaskans had elected an 11-Republican majority in the Senate. Talk about dysfunction; this is where it starts.
Senate President Gary Stevens is a nice guy, but make no mistake about it, he is a weathervane politician. But the utter vindictiveness against the Republicans in the unofficial Senate Minority by the Three Amigos over the PFD is palpable.
Giessel recently returned to the Senate after losing her seat to Roger Holland in 2020. Remember her infamous campaign ad when she and her husband talked about politicians stealing your PFD? Well, she’s back! Hold on to your wallet!
Stedman and Bishop, Finance Committee co-chairs, craft the Legislature’s fiscal policy with impunity. Cross these co-chairs, and one ends up like Senators Mike Shower, Shelley Hughes, and Rob Myers. You pay to play in the Senate majority — with your silence on the PFD and tacit oath to the binding caucus.
After endless Senate Finance “agency overviews” and hearings, the co-chairs dropped their behind-closed-door budget at the last minute during the last session and invoked the “my way or the highway” rule. In the previous session, their arrogance ignored decades of protocol and they didn’t even seek the concurrence of the House on critical budget votes. They rolled the capital budget into the operating and shoved it down their throats.
The Senate Majority Caucus is not supposed to be as “binding” as it was historically. Then, the co-chairs got rolled two years ago by a coalition of Democats and the now-exiled Senate Republican Minority, who supported a full PFD.
Curiously, rather than align with Pro-PFD Republicans, Democrats like Sen. Scott Kawasaki and Sen. Bill Wielechowski, who voted to fund a full PFD two years ago, are now mostly complicit and accept a mini PFD. It boils down to majority power and influence over principle. Those chairman offices and extra staff are really nice. It will be interesting to see who continues to play by the rules set by the Three Amigos during a pre-election session.
The political and policy price for sanctioning fellow Republicans was high. Following, is a list of the critical policy positions ceded to Democrats by the “Republican” Three Amigos and Senate President Gary Stevens, to consolidate their absolute power, absolutely:
Sen. Matt Claman is a liberal Anchorage attorney former Anchorage Assembly member, and the powerful Judiciary Committee chairman. Claman assures the Alaska Bar will continue to have a stranglehold on judgeship selections in Alaska, and is a partisan barrier for any Republican House bills that end up in his committee. Sen. Shower figured out a partial statutory fix to provide more balance to the judge selection process. Prediction: It’s DOA in Dem controlled committees.
Sen. Forrest Dunbar is a former Anchorage Assembly radical leftist and is the Community and Regional Affairs Committee chair. His views on the U.S. Constitution are interesting. He has run for virtually everything. Ranked choice voting finally gave him a platform. Oh, Boy, need I say more?
Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson is the chair of the Legislative Council Committee. A well-spoken, nicely dressed woman, the Legislative Council chair makes big decisions like spending millions to remodel an office building across from the Capitol for legislative housing, a move to strengthen Juneau’s stranglehold on where the Legislature meets. It also empowers sleight-of- hand maneuvers that would not survive the light of day, if legislators met where constituents could watch. The after-session booze party will be right across the street. At least it will move out of the watchful eye of Capitol security cameras. Watch for police reports.
Sen. Scott Kawasaki is the chair of the State Affairs Committee. Election reform is now his game, and he supports same-day registration voting with no identification required and no meaningful proof of residency. Illegal aliens, who cares? Data breach? There is nothing to worry about here. Artificial Intelligence threat to election integrity? What could go wrong? He gives lip service to working with Shower and Vance but pulls sleight-of-hand maneuvers on bills. See this? Watch out for that!
Sen. Bill Wielechowski is the chair of the powerful Rules Committee. He is more of a libertarian than most of his Senate D counterparts. The Rules Committee makes the rule on which bills get scheduled for the floor. If a bill moves at lightning speed in and out of his committee, watch out for fast ones from Wild Bill.
Sen. Jesse Kiehl is the vice-chair of Senate Judiciary Committee: intelligent, well-spoken, respectful, has very good staff, and is from Juneau. He backs up Judiciary Chair Claman effectively and keeps the stranglehold on our judges intact. Every commander needs a solid lieutenant, and he serves this role to Claman well.
Loki Tobin is the ultra-liberal chair of the Senate Education Committee. She recently issued a public statement laced with profanity about the State Board of Education banning biological males from female sports. Tobin advocates for boys in girls’ locker rooms. Inquiring minds want to know if Tobin supports males exposing their genitals to female juveniles without consent, in light of the fact that it appears to violate Alaska Statute 11.41.458, Indecent Exposure, which can be charged as a felony? Does this criminal violation suddenly become legal by virtue of a person’s self-identification as a female who was born a male? Will the Three Amigos and their sidekick Senate president join Tobin in proposing to repeal Alaska Statutes aimed at protecting children from sexual predators in biological women’s and children’s locker rooms, domestic violence shelters, and public bathrooms? Watch for it!
The Three Amigos do not recognize minority Republicans as a formal minority and ensure that they are kept in a small penalty box without an equal voice for their constituents. It is just another abuse of their power against the tens of thousands of Alaska residents that Shower, Hughes, and Myers represent. Thus, the Three Amigos choose to not give them the decency of even minority support staff, like a press officer or even token representation on standing committees, with one exception: Myers was given a seat on the Transportation Committee. Will the Republicans ever regain control of the Alaska Senate? Not likely as long as the Three Amigos and their other complicit Amigos are not held accountable by their constituents. Elections have consequences.
Constituents who elected Republicans to the Senate need to ask very tough questions of the Republican members of the majority. Why did they give the most powerful policy committees to Democrats when a solid 11 Republican majority was elected?
Why do Valley Republicans keep reelecting other complicit Republicans like Sen. David Wilson from Wasilla? I can answer the Wasilla Senate seat question. Too many Republican candidates consistently pig pile on the ticket, giving incumbent Wilson the advantage. Just like they did when Republican infighting elected Mary Peltola. Will history repeat itself?
Meanwhile, Alaskan oil industry investors are watching nervously. Wielechowski is a champion of taxing the goose that lays the golden eggs. And Cook Inlet is running out of booked gas reserves.
Scott Ogan is a former House lawmaker who served from 1995 to 2004, and Senate lawmaker who served in 2003-2004. He is a legislative analyst for Must Read Alaska.