The first day of the second session of the 31st Legislature got off to a normal start, for the House at least. Not so much for the Senate. The House gaveled in just after 1 pm, as scheduled. Guests were introduced, there was a break for the Committee on Committees to meet, the House came back and adopted the report, and some bills were introduced. Short of an issue Representative Ben Carpenter (R – Nikiski) raised about only one veteran being on the House Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee, it was smooth sailing for the House. Here is the Committee on Committees report and a list of current House committee membership:
— The Alaska Landmine (@alaskalandmine) January 21, 2020
The Senate was a completely different story. They did not gavel in until almost 4 pm. They were supposed to gavel in at 1 pm. The Senate Majority was meeting all day in Senate President Cathy Giessel’s (R – Anchorage) office. They were discussing changes to committees. You may recall back in late July when Senators Mike Shower (R – Wasilla) and Shelley Hughes (R – Palmer) bailed from the Senate floor to avoid having to vote for a budget that did not include a full PFD. Senator Lora Reinbold (R – Eagle River) at least had the fortitude to stay and vote no. See this week’s Loose Unit section of the August 4, 2019 Sunday Minefield for a full explanation.
These actions would have normally resulted in Shower, Hughes, and Reinbold losing their committee chairs and possibly being removed from the Senate Majority. And that was likely going to happen. Except former Senator Chris Birch tragically passed away on August 7, 2019. This stopped everything. Birch was an outspoken supporter of a smaller PFD to avoid taxes. In fact he introduced an amendment last year on the floor for a $900 PFD to avoid a deficit. He was also the 11th vote in the Senate on a less than staturatoy PFD. His tragic passing threw the Senate into a tailspin.
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It got wild from there. Governor Mike Dunleavy (R – Alaska) chose Representative Laddie Shaw (R – Anchorage) to replace Birch. But Senate Republicans rejected him. I like Shaw but it’s probably not a good idea to tell the Senate President to go fuck herself if you want to get confirmed to the Senate. Then Dunleavy chose then-Representative Josh Revak to replace Birch. I think it was thought they would also reject Revak because of his stance on PFD. That would have given Dunleavy and his people ammo to attack Giessel – and other Republican senators who support a smaller PFD – in the upcoming elections. But it turns out Revak went to Giessel and cut some kind of deal. He was confirmed by Senate Republicans in November.
Which brings us to today. Once the Senate finally gaveled in they went through the motions of informing the governor and the House they had gaveled in and then introducing guests. Then the Committee on Committees met. There was speculation all day about the changes that were coming. They ended up making several changes that included Senator Hughes losing chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Shower losing chair of the Senate State Affairs Committee, and Senator Reinbold losing chair of the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee. Senators Shower and Peter Micciche (R – Soldotna) were removed from the Senate Finance Committee. The Finance Committee was increased from seven to nine members last year. It is now back to seven. Micciche is now chair of the Senate Resources Committee. Revak is chair of the Senate State Affairs Committee. And Senator Click Bishop (R – Fairbanks) is now chair of the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee. Here is the full report:
Here is the Committee on Committees report. Was just read in the Senate. Sen. Reinbold currently speaking against adopting it because she says the caucus rule on voting for the budget was unclear. She said she never agreed to vote on all appropriation bills. Getting loose. #akleg pic.twitter.com/b3ePQHcMx8
— The Alaska Landmine (@alaskalandmine) January 22, 2020
When the Senate went back on the floor things really started going off the rails. Senator Reinbold gave a long speech against the report. She said the caucus rule about voting for the budget was not clear and that this report constituted a major reorganization of the Senate. She was interrupted twice by Senator John Coghill (R – North Pole) for not speaking to the topic and for not following decorum. Giessel warned her to stay on topic and not impugn other members. Then Shower spoke. He really went off. He was not happy about basically losing all of his committee assignments. Then Senators Mia Costello (R – Anchorage) and Hughes spoke and said they would not be supporting the report. In the end the report was adopted by a vote of 13-7. No votes were Senators Costello, Hughes, Reinbold, Shower, Micciche, David Wilson (R – Wasilla ), and Josh Revak (R – Anchorage).
It’s not really clear who is still in the Senate Majority. I asked Shower afterwards if he was still in the Majority. He responded, “Apparently.” I also asked Hughes but she would not give an answer. What is clear is the Senate Majority is extremely fractured. I would not be surprised if a reorganization occurs in the next days or weeks. Stay tuned for more updates from Juneau.
Oh, and check out the shirt Shower was wearing around the Capitol today.