By SCOTT OGAN | CAPITOL INSIDER
I served eight years in the House of Representatives and had the privilege to serve with Speaker Ramona Barnes. Ramona was tough, and even though I beat her right-hand guy Ron Larson (which caused Ramona to lose her speakership), she was not vindictive.
In fact, we became good friends and strategic partners. Her most used quote was, “Your word is your bond.” She reminded all that one’s word is the only thing one has when serving in the Capitol. Once the election was over and leadership positions were decided, the Caucus rolled up their sleeves and got to work. Gail Phillips was my first Speaker.
Republicans hold a slim House majority after sitting out four years on the bench in the minority. The alignment that holds the House Majority organization together should be the fact that Alaskans elect more Republicans in both bodies.
With the Senate going over to “the dark side,” it is more important than ever for the House to hang together, or face being hung separate (metaphorically speaking). If both bodies are controlled by the Left, the paradigm will shift with policy in Alaska and have a profound effect on the state’s future. My next article will outline the significant legislative differences between the key members of the Left and Right in both bodies. It will show that Alaska is standing at a major policy intersection, also-known-as “the fork in the road.”
The Democratic agenda is morphing further to the left fork, exemplified by the recently proposed shift to becoming openly hostile toward any hydrocarbon energy production in Alaska. In the past, the Legislature voted unanimously in favor of a number of resolutions regarding the opening of ANWR. Additionally, with the paradigm shift of state funding now coming from your Permanent Fund dividend, the moderate Left must feel empowered to go ahead and throw the oil industry under the bus.
The right fork, is one of Alaskan energy security. Our climate does not allow us much room to be hugging too many trees. If we do not have hydrocarbons for heat and electricity, we will be cutting down a lot of them to keep warm.
That is exactly what is happening in Europe right now! Oh wait, but trees scrub carbon, right? Name your issue and then look at what Anchorage is becoming: A mini Portland, Seattle or San Francisco. Is the rest of Alaska destined to become more Californicated?
House members to watch:
Republican Speaker Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla. The chief cat herder has her hands full keeping 21 people happy daily (Rule 21). She presides over a razor-thin majority with the Rep. Bryce Edgmon-led Bush Caucus in complete control of House Finance under the watchful eye of master dealmaker, Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel.
During the last election cycle, there was substantial House turnover with many new members who are just now learning how “sausage is made” and have yet to understand “the law of unintended consequences.” Tilton succeeded Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak. One presiding officer from Kodiak at a time, please.
Rep. Thomas Baker, R-Kotzebue. The purported pro-full PFD successor to Rep. Josiah Patkotak will soon be given committee assignments. Watch for Committee on Committee notices. Patkotak was more conservative than some Republicans and many observers were disappointed when he aligned with the Democrats when first elected. Given that Rep. Patkotak was an “Independent,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy was not obligated to appoint a Democrat to replace him. The majority caucus decides how the power deck will be shuffled; will there be a shake up? Welcome to the fray, Rep. Baker. Remember the other Ramona Barnes saying, “When someone is patting you on the back, they are looking for a soft spot that is vulnerable.”
Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer is a rising star in the Republican Caucus; she is intelligent, tough, and principled. After spending four years knowing what it’s like to be in the minority, she has landed the chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Her committee has a lot of hot button issues in it. Thus, she holds a lot of power cards in her hand. Vance’s election reform and Sen. Matt Claman’s involuntary commitment bill are two of them, and it will be interesting to see how deftly she plays those other cards. Can she break the Senate gridlock in a body where age and treachery rules? She was smart enough to beat longtime Homer Rep. Paul Seaton. Don’t underestimate her.
Rep. Calvin Schrage, U-Anchorage, is the Democratic Minority Leader. A relatively new player, Schrage is a “Undeclared” who heads up the Democratic minority in the House. He’s what I would call a “smooth operator” and about as “Independent” as Sen. Cathy Giessel and Rep. Louise Stutes are Republican. Watch what he does, not what he says. Conservatives should be glad he’s sitting out these innings on the bench.
Rep. George Rauscher, R-Sutton. One of the senior House members, Rauscher carries an extensive legislative agenda. His experience and calm demeanor should make him a legislative hard hitter in the House. The Democrat-controlled Senate is where his bills will live or die.
Rep. Ben Carpenter, R Kenai, landed the chair of the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee. He’s a proponent of being one of the adults in the room by advocating for a sustainable fiscal policy. The plan that Shower, Carpenter, and some reasonable Democratic counterparts worked on does not have a heartbeat with the fund-big-government, “Three Amigos PFD raid plan.” He is challenging freshman Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Kenai, who teamed up with fellow union-backed Sen. Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River, to join the Democrat-dominated Senate Majority and make sure public labor contracts are fully funded by your family’s mini Permanent Fund dividends. Carpenter is a solid guy, a former Army officer with real-time battle-hardened combat leadership experience. Bjorkman should be nervous.
Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, is a West Point graduate. David survived a court challenge about his Oath Keepers affiliation thanks to his lawyer, Joe Miller. David is a perpetual loner and a caucus of one. He marches to the beat of a different drum and his philosophical opposite, Rep. Andrew Gray, D-Anchorage, also serves on Vance’s Judiciary Committee. Get out the popcorn when you watch House Judiciary on “Gavel Alaska” with these two wild cards. Spice up the popcorn with fiery Rep. Jamie Allard, R-Eagle River, as vice chair. It’s a good thing Chair Vance has experience homeschooling her children back in the district.
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.