Who benefits from Alaska's binding caucuses? - Must Read AlaskaQ
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Saturday, February 27, 2021
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Who benefits from Alaska’s binding caucuses?



We’ve had many interesting legislative sessions in Alaska this last decade, but these last two years have really highlighted a unique situation we’re in. 

When I say unique, I mean that no other state has a binding caucus in their legislature, and in fact, some have laws against the concept. So what is a binding caucus?

A caucus is just a group of legislators that agree on one or more issues who want to work together to help advance those issues. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. The best legislation comes through cooperation. There is usually one large caucus that determines leadership and the direction of each body of the legislature.

However Alaska’s type of binding caucus controls the whole body with a built-in commitment that says every member must vote for the capital and operating budget. They must also vote with leadership on every single technical process motion. The caucus is joined because of ‘quid pro quo’. The legislators joining the caucus get the benefits of powerful committee positions and extra staff. So what does this all mean?

First, the elected official must agree to vote for bills and motions up-front, up to two years in advance. This is before they’ve read the bill or heard the motion. Second, they have to vote that way even if it hurts their district and constituents. Third, they must vote that way even if it violates their conscience. Finally, there is punishment for those who don’t vote as they are told.

They can be thrown out of the caucus, or as we saw this last session, lose most of their staff and their committee positions, which happened to three different Senators. 

The main purpose for the binding caucus is to concentrate power in the hands of the leadership. Those who are accepted into leadership have the power to do anything they want. That’s how they were able to strip out the COVID stimulus that was voted into the budget. It’s how they were able to steal two-thirds of your PFD this year even though the votes were against them.

The entire budget in the Senate was determined by the six members of leadership, so most districts had no say in the budget.

Alaska’s binding caucus is so much worse than that. The legislative leaders have decided that statute no longer applies to them. So when the Governor called a session in Wasilla in accordance with Alaska statute and Constitution, the legislative leadership decided that they were above statute and they refused to meet anywhere but Juneau (where all their perks and lobbyists were).

What’s “funny” is that that was the same statute that they had used a few years before to not meet in Juneau when Governor Walker called a special session and they voted to meet in Anchorage. So yeah, they obey the law when it works for them.

After the governor changed his mind and everyone was in Juneau they punished the Senate Majority Leader for obeying the law and stripped her of her position. Remember, every time they choose to go over a 90-day session they are breaking statute, since the people voted in a 90-day session limit that hasn’t been revoked.

When I was on the Assembly, if we needed to do something different than what was in code; like waiving Title 16, then we brought forth an ordinance that said that, took public testimony on it, and voted on it publicly. In our Legislature, the leadership of the binding caucus just makes up rules as they go along, being completely unaccountable to the people and even breaking their own uniform rules of conduct.

This whole situation these last two years has really brought the integrity issues of the binding caucus to light, and so many of the Republican primaries around the State are happening because of the dissatisfaction with how our Legislators have been acting or how they have been cowed into inaction.

For those in districts with these kind of primaries this is the critical issue that you need to ask your candidates about. It’s time to free our legislators to vote with integrity as representatives of the people in their districts. Please hold their feet to the fire.

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  • Who benefits from Alaska’s “binding” caucus? Why, the answer is right in the front row. The six ‘dictator in training’ apprentices, of the Alaska senate “leadership” and the house ‘majority leaders’, basically control Alaska. Not the Governor and administration. Not the people. Not the American and Alaskan Constitutions. This gives the “super six”, along with their co-controllers, the leftist Alaska Supreme Court, complete autonomy over Alaskan governance, financially, politically, legally. They place themselves ‘above the law’ that they, themselves, impose on the rest of us ‘commoners’. Leftist, liberal, socialist, pseudo government in action. In many ways, this method of ‘governing’ is worse than dictatorship. Most dictators make no bones about representing anything but their own best interest. With these ‘politicians’ nothing is what it seems. Lies are the rule of the day and the trend of the “leaders”. Power and greed accent their mien. Nothing like our founders envisioned and declared in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. This “binding caucus” practice in Alaska needs to be filed in the trash bin of all leftist, socialist, and now democrat garbage. This is not “representative” government. It is the antithesis of it. It is power over the people at it’s ugliest.
    November can’t get here soon enough. Memories can become foggy, especially at election time.

    • Pretty new to Alaska Politics…So who are the “super six”?

      • JB,
        “Leaders of the Alaska State Senate”. Six in number. With the “binding caucus”, all senators in that caucus are bound to vote with the ‘super six’, their anointed leaders, no matter what individual senator’s constituents say. Rule by ‘committee’, not by the people, like in communism.

      • Senate President Cathy Giessel, Anchorage; Bert Stedman, Sitka; Natasha Von Imhof, Anchorage; John Coghill, North Pole; Gary Stevens, Kodiak; and Gary Knopp, Kenai. (Some one correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this is the super six in charge.)

      • Cathy Bohms Giessel. The Mao-Tse Tung of the Alaska Legislature. Communist Committee Chair. Get rid of this crazy —.

    • AGREE!!

  • It is our system…we legislate by committee….when we elect good people we get a good structure and good government but when we elect bad people we get bad government. When I was in the legislature your word was your bond and I attended many lively caucus meetings in which Romona and Mitch Abood just about just about smoked us to death and a lot of disagreement was voiced between members but in the end we all had our say and agreements were reached…WE had a great speaker who had sound moral and common sense foundation and we more often then not found way to move the ball forward…it is sometimes messy but legislation by committee has served us well as a free nation for over 200 years now…

  • The binding caucus seems on the surface to be antidemocratic (no, not antiDemocratic) in that it ties a legislator to the two or three people who lead the party in charge. Fortunately, as demonstrated in the last legislature, those who do not wish to be bound by their party’s caucus can party with the other party’s caucus. Now that sounds like democracy in action; compromise to obtain an outcome instead of end up locked in a battle that will end up in gridlock. Unfortunately, party leaders, who wish to impose their plans on others , are not happy with this arrangement. Fortunately, things can move forward with this arrangement. Or backward. Depends upon where you’re sitting.
    I’m not sure where Ben Colder is sitting, because he is arguing against the binding caucus, which has been used by the Repubs. to keep their minions in the house and senate in line with the party, and who are arguing that the members who hold a position not in lick-step(sic) with the party leaders are doomed to the purgatory of no committee positions, staff, or an office in a habitable part of the state capitol building.
    As far as the 90 day session goes, it is in the state constitution that the session can go 120 days. The 90 day sessions is, essentially, meaningless.

    • And the binding caucus has been used by the Democrats in the past. It’s awful no matter who is in charge.

      The point of the 90-day session in statute and the Constitution having 120 days is that the legislature shouldn’t be above EITHER. They should follow the law or change it. Very Simple. Otherwise they are just oathbreakers.

    • Greg:
      When we put the 120 day session limit in the constitution we tried very hard for 90 days but Vic Fisher, Joe Josephson, Bill Ray, J Kratula and the solid wall of Dem’s in the Senate would hear nothing of it and traded the Pay raise bill for the session limit of 120 days. and in so doing raised the retirement for themselves for life with the High two years the high pay was in place.

    • Greg R,
      I’m sitting in the position of a lifelong resident and Alaskan voter. I do not argue political ‘party’ platform. I argue for true representation, fiduciary responsibility by our elected officials, honesty and common sense. Party be damned, if the shoe doesn’t fit. If no solution other than ‘binding caucus’ can be discovered to give the citizens authentic voice, the entire system is a fraudulent waste and needs to be revamped with verified representation of the voting constituency. Most ‘career’ politicians do not fit the bill.

      • Agreed as to the binding caucus being unauthentic representation, but we all seem to be hijacked by party designation. We vote for the candidate who more closely represents our political philosophy, but we are only given choices approved by the parties ahead of time.

        • Greg,
          There is a voting opportunity afforded to those not agreeing with either party platform or the candidates and policies put forward by those parties. Lisa Murkowski proved it, among others. With outside money and influence but it happened. If there is a strong enough movement of representative political discontent and the opportunity to change it, it’s a write in campaign. Rare for a winner to be in that category but political discontent at the level it is now is rare also. Admirable candidates with conservative support will work wonders for Alaska and people. The “one”, besides Governor Dunleavy, has yet to step forward with a message that will carry the election but they are there. The message is too. I think we all know the message.

  • I should have said I agree with Ben Colder!!

  • How is a “binding caucus” even legal? WHY would anyone be fool enough to agree to it? Are they just stupid or what?

  • I’m a longtime supporter and voter of Sen. Coghill. He was a good man. Juneau has corrupted him.

    I truly believe a freshman Democrat could do less damage to Alaska than continued representation by Coghill.

    • I am a born and raised Alaskan. I have continually supported and voted for John Coghill, but he will not get my money or my vote this year. Time for a change.

  • does this really sound like , every vote counts ? to support something one knows nothing about 2 yrs in advance.
    complete horse crapp ponzi skeeming. certainally not about by the people for the people. too far left & too far right.
    division invites chaos & well, here we all are, mask or no mask.

  • Agreed as to the binding caucus being unauthentic representation, but we all seem to be hijacked by party designation. We vote for the candidate who more closely represents our political philosophy, but we are only given choices approved by the parties ahead of time.

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