The 2nd regular session of the 30th Alaska Legislature concluded on May 13, 2018. Despite exceeding the voter mandated 90-day limit, and lots of internal issues in both bodies, they were able to pass a budget within the 121 day constitutional limit. Considering all the disagreements between the house and senate, it is pretty incredible they were able to make a deal. The fact that many of them are up for re-election probably had something to do with it. Legislators can’t campaign and are prohibited from fundraising when they are in session. Now that they’re done, it’s campaign season. Look out for signs, mailers, and requests for money!
The filing deadline to run for the legislature, lieutenant governor, or governor is fast approaching. Hopefuls have until 5 pm on June 1 to decide, less than two weeks away. I expect a lot of last minute filers as the deadline approaches.
Legislative Session Recap
This was definitely one of the more interesting legislative sessions in recent memory.
The House Majority struggled with a myriad of issues. Democrats Dean Westlake and Zach Fansler, who were both first elected in 2016, resigned this year due to sex scandals. The process for replacing Westlake was long and fraught with issues. The first three nominees the Democrats submitted to Governor Walker ended up causing a real dumpster fire. In the end, John Lincoln (who was not on the original Dem’s list) was chosen and confirmed. He seems to be doing a great job and is running for the seat this year.
The replacement process for Fansler was much smoother. Tiffany Zulkosky was chosen and confirmed. Once in Juneau, she decided to clean house by firing all of Fansler’s staffers. It was just a bit odd considering the ADN ran a favorable story about them after his resignation, “Former state Rep. Zach Fansler resigned amid scandal. His aides are still quietly carrying on.” Other than that, she also seems to be doing a great job and is also running for the seat again this year.
Representatives David Guttenberg (D – Fairbanks) and Ivy Spohnholz (D – Anchorage) both dealt with health issues this session, causing them to miss some work. Normally this would not be an issue but because of the slim margin in the House Majority, every vote matters. Thankfully they both seem to have recovered. Guttenberg announced he will not be seeking re-election. Spohnholz is seeking re-election.
Then there is Representative Sam Kito (D – Juneau). See this week’s Loose Unit for more on that.
Despite all of this, and the fact that the Democrats only took control of the house last year for the first time in many years, they were still able to pass a budget this year. They deserve some credit for that.
The Senate Majority also dealt with some internal issues this year, but nowhere near the same degree as the House Majority.
Former Senator Mike Dunleavy and Senator Shelley Hughes (R – Palmer) both ended up leaving the Senate Majority due to their votes on the budget. This put the Senate Majority at 13 members, two short of the 3/4 majority needed to access the Constitutional Budget Reserve Fund.
Mike Dunleavy resigned his senate seat (Wasilla) to focus on his campaign for governor. The process to fill that seat was one for the record books. Remember the “BDSM FREE ZONE” sticker Representative George Rauscher (R – Sutton) put on his door? Damn George. Then Governor Walker went rogue and chose Randall Kowalke – who was not among the three recommendations sent to him by Republicans – to replace Dunleavy. Senate Republicans rejected Kowalke. So Walker then picked a guy named Tom Braund. Braund made Representative David Eastman (R – Wasilla) look moderate. One of Braund’s more memorable Facebook posts was about hunting down abortion providers and killing them. Braund ended up pulling out because there was no way he was getting confirmed. Walker then chose former USAF fighter pilot Mike Shower, who was finally confirmed! Shower ended up not joining the Senate Majority because they require members to vote for the budget, which he felt it was too large. Shower, along with Kowalke and Rauscher, are all running for the seat in the next election. What a grouping.
And who could forget Senator David Wilson (R – Wasilla). This guy is a perpetual Loose Unit. Slapping ADN reporter Nat Herz was just the beginning for this guy. The way he treated a legislative staffer while trying to listen in on a private meeting of the House Majority was next level weird. Although he was eventually cleared of sexual harassment by the Legislative Affairs Agency, they did conclude he acted inappropriately and put the staffer in a no win situation. The videotape of the incident has yet to be released. Then Wilson’s bizarre press conference, where he basically called the media fake news and called for Speaker Bryce Edgmon to resign, resulted in him being cited for retaliation. The Senate Majority responded by restricting his travel, meaning they did nothing at all. One thing about Republicans, they sure protect their people. Fuck it, let’s make him President for a day!
Then there was the whole business of Senator John Coghill (R – North Pole) doing everything in his power as Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman to block renaming part of the Alaska Safe Children’s Act to Bree’s Law. Blocking the name change was extremely unpopular with the public. The bill did eventually leave the Senate Judiciary Committee but was then strangely referred to the Senate Finance Committee by Senate President Pete Kelly (R – Fairbanks). The bill did end up passing, but it was a hell of a weird process.
Senator Anna MacKinnon (R – Eagle River) announced she will not be seeking re-election. Word on the street is Representative Lora Reinbold (R -Eagle River) will run for the seat. YES! Some also wonder if Representative Dan Saddler (R – Eagle River) will go for it as well.
Many in the Valley are praying for a reasonable (by Valley standards) primary opponent for Representative David Eastman (R – Wasilla).
Republican candidate for governor Scott Hawkins was supposed speak at Mat-Su Republican Women’s club meeting on Saturday (5/19/2018). Instead, he cancelled at the last minute and went to a meeting of the Republican Governors Association in New York City. Slow down, Scott. I wonder if Mike Dunleavy was there too?
Representative Mike Chenault (R – Nikiski), who is running for governor, was campaigning in Southeast Alaska this week. Word is the folks in Southeast are not big Dunleavy fans and were very receptive to Chenault. Some wonder if Chenault is going to get out of the governor’s race and instead run for his house seat. But it seems like he is committed to running for governor. Go big or go home!
There has been some talk for a few weeks that former radio personality Mark Colavecchio was going to run against Representative Gabrielle LeDoux (R – Anchorage). My sources tell me he has decided not to. I would have contacted him but he appears to have blocked me on Facebook. Weak. Never took him for a snowflake. That sure would have been an entertaining and high energy race though.
Don Jones filed to run against Representative Lance Pruitt (R – Anchorage) in the Republican primary. I don’t know Don but judging by his Facebook and people I have talked to, he is a VERY conservative fella. According to his Facebook page he served in the U.S. Air Force. He unsuccessfully ran for the Anchorage Assembly against Pete Petersen in 2017. This will be a race to watch. Game on, Lance.
Jesse Kiehl made it official. He will run for the seat that Senator Dennis Egan (D – Juneau) is vacating. Kiehl serves on the Juneau Assembly and currently works as an aide to Egan. Don Etheridge and Larry Cotter are also running for the seat.
There’s a rumor that Representative Les Gara (D – Anchorage) may not seek re-election this year if he can find someone he likes to be his successor. Word is Elias Rojas is considering running – and many have encouraged him do so. Rojas has a lot of political experience and is very high energy! He played on my men’s rec soccer team a few years back. I can attest that he definitely knows how to bring it. Let’s see if he decides to jump in the race.
If you missed my article this week, “Wanted: Primary Opponent for Charisse Millett” check it out. For every person who contacted me that didn’t like it, five loved it. Charisse has a lot of powerful and influential Republicans who want to see her gone. There are several potential candidates in the district. I expect her to have a primary opponent. Tick-tock, Charisse!
Governor Walker and a delegation of Alaska business people are heading to China this week to try and make some deals. I suspect there will be some legit high-level meetings. Press Secretary Austin Baird – you better send the Landmine some good stuff!
Kati Ward was hired as the political director for the Walker/Mallott campaign. She was recently the campaign manager for the successful No on Prop 1 campaign. They are definitely lining up the talent.
This Week’s Loose Unit
In a first for the Loose Unit, we have a repeat winner this week! The unique distinction goes to Representative Sam Kito (D – Juneau). He was first chosen as the Loose Unit in the April 15 column. Click here to read that one. Kito has had a rough session. He flipped some chairs over outside his office, was the lone vote against his friend Leslie Ridle for Commissioner of the Department of Administration, and he quit the House Majority. All acts deserving Loose Unit designation. But it’s what happened at the end of the session which earned him repeat winner status.
In exchange for his vote on the budget, he had a variety of demands. The majority needed his vote so he was in a good position to ask for a lot. One demand was a lot of money for the ferry system. He got that. Word is he also wanted Representative LeDoux removed as House Rules Chair. This goes back to chair gate. I guess he was really pissed she put those chairs back by his office. Classic Loose Unit move. Kito ended up voting for the budget, but not long after that Speaker Edgmon removed him as Chair of Legislative Council, a very powerful position. Several sources said that during the replacement of former Legislative Affairs Agency (LAA) Director Pam Varni, who retired this year, Kito was extremely unpleasant with LAA staff. Even yelling at them. Very loose. And that beard tho!
Kito has definitely had a rough session. He is not seeking re-election. All the best to him when he is done. I’m sure a job other than the legislature is just what he needs.
If you have a nomination for This Week’s Loose Unit, or if you have any political news, stories or gossip (or any old pics of politicians or public officials) please email me at [email protected]