“We can agree to disagree. A diversity of viewpoints makes us stronger.”
By SENATOR MIKE SHOWER
In 2018, Alaskans turned out and cast their votes for governor and legislative representatives, overwhelmingly electing Republicans statewide. The governor’s race was won by a Republican who ran on balancing the state budget, bringing spending in line with revenues, and constitutionally protecting the Permanent Fund Dividend.
In the 40-member Alaska House of Representatives, Republicans won 23 of the 40 seats, a majority. In the Alaska State Senate, Republicans won 13 of the 20 seats, again, a majority. The Senate Republican majority is substantial.
Lately there have been rumors afloat that Senate leadership is rearranging the makeup of the Senate Finance committee, which would favor Democrats. The intent of rumor-mongering by less-than-honest characters is false bait that seeks a reaction to drive wedges between majority members and Senate leadership.
The same rumor mill falsely alleges some majority members are attempting to unseat current leadership.
Alaskans shouldn’t fall for this sleight of hand; I’m not.
As a member of the Republican majority, I took the Senate Republican leadership at their word when we formed as a modified non-binding caucus. I assume they intend to honor the commitments we made to one another.
We’re human, and at times we disagree on policies, sometimes vociferously. This is natural and nothing is wrong when it happens.
However, we represent our constituents first and foremost above those of a caucus, and this is vitally important on a fundamental voter level. We are still professionals who do our best to be respectful. As majority members, we are always seeking common ground where there are differences. The bottom line is we agree on more than we disagree — a tenet that is the common thread that keeps us talking in the same room.
To go one step further, the current nine-member Senate Finance committee is a well-replicated mirror of the Republican majority held on the full floor of the Senate. Six Republicans and three Democrats represent the nine-member committee. The full Senate includes 13 Republicans and seven Democrats. The current parity is an almost perfectly balanced representation of the full Senate on the Senate Finance committee. The Senate Finance Committee is made up of 66 percent Republicans, and the entire Senate body is made up of 65 percent Republicans. Diminishing this balance would hand power to the Democrat minority.
When the Senate organized and expanded the Finance Committee from seven to nine members, it wisely balanced the current Republican/Democrat percentage split of the Senate as a whole.
With the tragic passing of Senator Chris Birch this year and his replacement now appointed, there will be some new committee assignments to account for the vacancy left by the loss of Chris.
Perhaps leadership will simply replace Senator Revak into Senator Birch’s assignments so there is as little disruption as possible as we dive right into year two of this legislative session.
But reducing Senate Finance Republican presence by reducing the size of the committee? Changing the balance of power to three Democrats and four Republicans from the current makeup of three Democrats and six Republicans? It’s hard to imagine our Republican leadership would choose to put Alaskans at a disadvantage by over-representing the minority agenda and under-representing the majority agenda.
I believe republican forms of government should have enumerated powers (constitutionally limited government), maximize personal liberty, promote individual responsibility, devolve decisions and control to the most local level possible, and be fiscally responsible (balanced budget).
In the Alaska House of Representatives, a 57.5 percent Republican majority handed the 37.5 percent Democrat minority great power and essentially control of the chamber (and making a Democrat ‘turned’ Independent the Speaker).
This was the result of six Republican legislators joining with the Democrat minority. The ‘defectors’, in essence, gave the Democrats a 57.5 percent majority and left the duly elected majority Republicans as the new minority at 37.5 percent. Are Alaskans well represented under this scenario? The result was the disenfranchisement of the Republican, Conservative, Independent, and Undeclared voters who voted for a Republican majority in the House.
Why did six House Republicans choose such a path? Alaskans should ask them.
On Senate Finance, there are significant policy differences, the most contentious being the Permanent Fund dividend. Last session, as it turned out, traditional PFD supporters on the Senate Finance committee were a five to four majority. If Sen. Peter Micciche and I were both removed, as alleged by rumor mongers, it would tilt not only fiscal policy to the more liberal minority, but leave fewer traditional PFD supporters on the committee.
I do not believe, however, Senate leadership fears a debate on the merits of differing ideas. We may strenuously disagree, but it makes our majority stronger, this diversity of viewpoints. It prevents anyone from living in their own ‘echo’ chamber because we are not, nor should we be required to be, homogeneous in our positions.
Senate majority leadership has not attempted to silence my voice to win a fight, and it’s hard to believe they are suddenly going to begin now. It may cause tension at times, but I’ve been free to voice my opinions or positions. No responsible Senate leader or majority caucus should or would dilute the will of the voters like that. I am confident Senate leadership and our Republican Caucus understand and respect this.
The future of our state is at risk if we cannot come together with solutions to our fiscal and policy challenges. Diluting the percentage split on Senate Finance would only drive a wedge in our Republican Senate majority and push us closer to a house like majority coalition. It would disenfranchise every Republican and others who labored and put resources into electing a clear Republican majority in the Senate. The distinction is incredibly crucial for Alaska as we confront budgetary constraints, education issues, welfare & healthcare reforms, public safety concerns, resource production declines, and the long-term preservation of our Permanent Fund and Dividend program. It’s a path I simply don’t believe leadership is interested in pursuing.
In fact, and to prove the point rumor mongers are looking to foster nothing but trouble with these “credible” sources, our office just today received paperwork for staff hiring for Senate Finance committee members for the upcoming session. Why would the Senate Finance Co-chairs, two of the five in Senate leadership, include us if they really planned to do something different?
Rumors are just that, rumors. We can do better, I believe we will.
Senator Mike Shower represents District E: Mat-Su, Delta Junction, Copper River Valley, Talkeetna and Valdez.