Sen. Mike Shower: Why Alaskans should want a citizen Legislature

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By SEN. MIKE SHOWER

I’m often asked how difficult it is working multiple jobs as a citizen legislator. No surprise, it’s challenging. While some people think otherwise, for many legislators, serving as an elected official comes at significant personal cost: Lost income, lost family time, and the stress of trying to represent tens of thousands of Alaskans with very diverse views and issues.  

Most legislators are serving during the prime career and earning years of life. As I explain later, that’s important. Unless they are set on being a career politician, it’s not an easy decision to put a career on hold or balance the demands of a second job needed to pay the bills.  

Some may ask, is it worth the cost, the sacrifice? The persistent answer I always reach – yes. What happens in Juneau affects us all. The Alaska my children and grandchildren inherit is the driving force and leaving Alaska better than I found it. Public service should be considered a privilege not a prize.  

With re-districting requiring 59 of Alaska’s 60 legislative seats to be up for election this year, it’s a good time to ponder why we should want part time citizen legislators vs. a career political class.   

Would Alaskans prefer a full-time legislature and career politicians? Would we be better off if we did?  If so, the only people who’d be able to serve would be the wealthier, retired or Alaskans with a working spouse whose job is good enough to pay the bills. I do not believe Alaskans want an elitist political class.  

Look at Washington D.C. for what career politicians give us. Corruption, crony capitalism, crushing debt, special interest run amok, and much more. It’s a long list. Some legislators in Alaska have served two or three decades, a few even longer. Very few people, human nature being what it is, can resist the temptation of power and its corrosive effects over time. As Lord Acton once wrote, “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

A citizen legislature has people from all walks and phases of life, not just a career political class. Many legislators have been or are top income earners and retirees, nothing wrong there. However, a part time citizen legislature has many who must work a job outside the legislature. They are tied to the private sector economy and community in ways which bring a critical perspective to how they govern, thus providing a more balanced legislative body. 

For example, when a legislator returns to their other job, they interact with people struggling to get by and better understand the value of the Permanent Fund dividend to average Alaskans. Or how increased government spending, or regulation, may introduce unintended consequences such as tax burdens or job losses thereby influencing their legislative actions. Real world concerns, not just those inside the political bubble of Juneau or political circles.  

The reality is most working-class legislators don’t stay in office too long, they can’t afford to. If they don’t exit stage left after a few terms, they probably had other plans in mind, ergo career politician. 

Can you imagine an Alaskan legislature under the control of just retirees or wealthy? A career political class with little in common to the vast majority of working-class Alaskans who must survive in the private sector? Our state government is already under significant influence from special interest. Why would we want to model D.C. and cede power to a state oligarchy — rule by a few or dominant class?  

The choice is yours; it always has been.  

Sen. Mike Shower represents Senate Seat O, Wasilla, Big Lake, Chikaloon, and areas east to Valdez, and north to Anderson, in the Alaska Legislature.

18 COMMENTS

  1. “Corruption, crony capitalism, crushing debt, special interest run amok”. These things aren’t just the hallmark of the DC career politicians and Juneau isn’t free from any of those things. Certainly having a citizen legislature is a plus and we would be better off removing the career politicians from Juneau.

    On a different note, I heard Senator Shower on a local radio program talking about the Constitutional Convention, he did a very good job explaining his viewpoint and it is the closest anyone has been to convincing me to vote in favor of a convention. I think it would be beneficial to Alaskans making the decision to vote for or against the Constitutional Convention if Senator Shower were to share his thoughts here.

  2. I wish he would speak out about the malice the sequestered, confused Juneau lodgers feel toward their now distant fellow Alaskans. Everything they do is based on hatred of their fellow Alaskans. He does it too. They imagine the worst about us. Tired of it. Right back at all of ya’s. Get over your dumbing down.

  3. Thanks Senator Shower. Mike Shower is one of the few principled, altruistic legislators. He has taken on the tough job of election reform for several years now. But his bill has gotten little traction due to those legislators who love the current election system–that which got them to the legislature. Kudos to Senator Shower for trying to fix a broken election system and bring integrity to the people’s choices.

    I beg to differ with Mike S on one item: I believe retirees bring a wealth of experience, self-sacrifice and wisdom to the table. Many have little regard for accumulating wealth and have a high regard for the future of their State, children and grandchildren. Many are principled, unlike younger legislators, and only seek to better Alaska.

    And Mike, one other thing. I also believe those whose spouse makes enough income to pay the bills can also provide a great service to the State Legislature.

    Otherwise, Senator Shower has hit the proverbial nail on the head regarding those legislators who are career politicians. “Nail, meet hammer!”

  4. Yeah, right.. like those oil company employees in the legislature who voted their employers a huge raise at the expense of all Alaskans. Those poor citizen legislators. Cut the crap, even the DC swamp creatures are citizens.

    • Have you seen the position oil companies are in, globally? Big oil is dying from the thousand cuts they’ve received over the last year. You are using yesteryear’s Democrat talking points, friend.

  5. Mike, I appreciate your hard work and always stop and listen when you have the floor with your common sense solutions. I don’t ever feel like you are dumbing down the issues, rather that when you speak the truth, you don’t need to gussy it up none. Talking to these career politicians, where they respond to a question with a question or rambling on about something else should be reserved for p.o.w.’s. Evading the issues or using your mastery of the English language to mask your intentions has never impressed me. I hope you will be able to serve us for many years, or at least long enough find a decent replacement, hopefully many. Thanks again for your hard work, it is not unnoticed by the silent majority.

  6. The US Constitution, should we ever get back to it, was constructed with all public servants “re-presenting” on a temporary term as public duty. There was never this ruling class of “leaders” to lord it over others. No one has a special set of privilege over another. There is no lactating, special Karen hoodwinking and waiving doilies, hankies, and face mittens over her substandard imbecile neighbors demanding that they get shots. Sorry palsy walsy no such specialness is supposed to exist in our republic under our US Constitution. So, if we go the US Constitution route we get: servants who meet minimums, don’t cost a lot and don’t stay forever. They do less damage because they are one of us. They don’t have to sell their souls to foreign “leaders/devils” to get enough money to grab and keep power by committing treason. No more big electioneering wastage. I like the US Constitution way better.

  7. Finally, President George Washington set the template. He deserved to rule. He was a winner. He was taller, more handsome, better connected internationally, had superior morals, had unsurpassed intellect, empathy, wisdom, experience in war and peace, accomplished a great republic set up, the target and envy of every nation, a natural leader of actual free men. What did he say? “No thanks. No man should build a dynasty here on this soil” when his powerful associates wanted to offer a longer or lifetime term. So what’s happened since then?

  8. I don’t disagree with any of what Senator Shower says here but I also want to opine that there seldom is one best way to do anything. New Hampshire, the only state that has never had a sales tax or an income tax, has the largest legislature in the nation and they have always been pretty much unpaid. Most legislators there are anything but wealthy, and I would be surprised if the average age is all that much greater than in AK. As a matter of fact I have always observed that at least a few NH legislators traditionally are undergraduates at NH colleges. The NH legislature has much less money to spend and it takes much less time for it to spend the lesser amount that it has. Moreover, the NH state capital actually has no more self-important people than does any other NH town! When I was growing up there (moved here 49 years ago next month) the legislators I knew, one of them two rooms down the hall from me in a UNH dorm, had no staffers, and that may have changed by now. NH is only about the same size as the Chugach NF (6 million acres) so legislators drive to Concord every day when in session, and they can claim mileage; so there are clear structural and logistical differences that seemingly prevent many other states, especially AK, from having the low-cost legislature NH has. A case can be made that the reasons NH has such a superior economy (much higher rate of adult workforce participation, much lower rates of people choosing to give up self-respect and go on the dole, many fewer state and municipal government employees, far better public education test results, etc.) are not unrelated to governance decisions such as whether to pay legislators but that is a discussion for another time. I will sign off with a question someone asked me the other day: Why do you think it is that most of the time all of the serving AK legislators who are attorneys are registered Democrats?

  9. Like many here, I have been impressed with Senator Shower. He can also be quite persuasive, which he was on a recent speech on whether there should be a constitutional convention or not. This article has that same flavor to it. I hope he serves many more years in Alaska’s legislature.

  10. There is and always will be a permanent political class. Only a few are elected officials. Those from the urban and suburban districts tend to be quite transient; they either provoke successful opposition or they perform some great service for someone and go on to greater things. Some from more rural districts have long careers in government. But the real permanent political class is the upper levels of the bureaucracy, the appointee class, and the lobbyists.

    The only thing that shuffles the upper levels of the bureaucracy is the calendar; some reach their desired retirement date, some just get old or ill. Technically, the appointees serve at the pleasure of the Governor but in reality most of them survive transitions. In the Murkowski Administration we caught Hell for offing so many of those “selfless public servants,” but we only got rid of about 30% and paid an awful price for not getting rid of more of them. Governor Dunleavy gave notices to all of them, about 1000, caught Hell over it, and only got rid of about 100. He continues to pay the price for that. The lobbyists and high-level hangers-on go on forever and like the bureaucrats only the calendar limits their influence.

    Few elected officials know much about the intricacies of government and rely on staffers and the professional support staff of the Legislature. Staffers are a mixed bag, but certainly aren’t universally reliable, especially if you hire them from the standing herd in Juneau. If you want a reliably trustworthy staffer, bring him/her to Juneau from the district.

    If you’re a Republican, Leg Legal and Leg Finance are NOT your friends. They live in Juneau, their friends are Juneau Democrats and they much prefer tony cocktail parties in Douglas or Chicken Ridge to hanging with boring Republicans. When I worked for the Legislature I made a point of never talking to either.

    Anyway, I appreciate the Senator’s sentiment but the fact is that the State government handles way too much money and power to not have a permanent political class dedicated to getting their hands on that money and power.

  11. The US Constitution says no one has special privileges. Sovereignty remains with the people not undelegated authority to an agent. Many approved, accepted, certified state constitutions spell that out saying it would be repugnant for the “agents” to become the principal. It would be unlawful. In the equal footing doctrine any one of those constitutions may be relied upon as an underpinning in any jurisfiction basis for any suit under equal footing if Alaska’s constitution and practitioners are weak.. Idaho has a strong clause.

  12. Within mine own frame of mind, a TRUE citizen legislator is not one who seeks out said position by ‘campaigning’ for it, but rather is ‘chosen’ for it within a methodology that a lottery chosen system encourages, such as a system that chooses an individual through jury selection.

    This shall be a full-time position for the period of the term

    Those chosen within said system would need to show just cause why they could not serve as a citizen legislator, and if chosen, would serve a single term with the pay and benefits befitting the position for that term, as well as the guarantee of returning to their previously held job once their term was over.

    Funding of campaigning no longer applies, nor does lobbying or monetary influence of any kind exist.

    Take the influence out of the position, and the position is only contained unto the true citizen legislator.

    Within addition, the position shall not be within a location hidden from the citizenry.

    It shall be held within a location accessible unto the majority of the citizenry by easy means, that is, a location that is accessible by road by the majority of the citizenry, rather than by air.

  13. Some chutzpah, telling Alaskans what they “should” want, Cap’n Mike.
    .
    Maybe Alaskans should want state and city elections that aren’t totally FUBAR’d.
    .
    Maybe Alaskans should want a state law ending ranked-choice voting, mail-in voting, Dominion vote-tabulation gear, ballot harvesting, and expenditure of dark money in state and local elections.
    .
    Maybe Alaskans should want a state law requiring a searchable public directory of state employee and contractor names, salaries, departments, and job descriptions, just like APOC’s Lobbyist Directory does with registered special interests.
    .
    Make those things happen, voters might have a chance at electing (mostly) citizen legislators.
    .
    Until then, anything remotely resembling a citizen Legislature is not happening and you damn well know it, Cap’n Mike.

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