Truck Drivin’ Man: An interview with Senator Robb Myers

Sincerity and politics are stereotypically seen as mutually exclusive – the caricature of the lying lawmaker is well known in popular culture. There are, however, legislators that seem to break the mold. Senator Robb Myers (R – North Pole), a haul road truck driver, may be one of them. His working-class background and “aw-shucks” demeanor combine with a traditional educated conservatism, steeped in Alaskan fiscal and economic policy knowledge.

Elected for a second term in November after he ousted longtime incumbent John Coghill by a razor-thin 14-vote margin in 2020, Myers pointed to North Pole’s conservative, blue-collar constituents as a reason his campaign resonated among 2022 voters.

“I’m a working guy, and you don’t see very much of that down here,” Myers said. “People like the idea of a guy that has a day job. When he comes home, he doesn’t sit in the Legislative Information Office, he goes back to work.”

Myers also attributes his repeated success among North Pole voters to his successful record last term. “I came down here, and obviously I didn’t get everything accomplished that I wanted, but I stayed true to my word and to my principles… I think that’s refreshing to people. Two years – it’s a short record, but it’s a record.”

Along with Senators Mike Shower (R – Wasilla) and Shelly Hughes (R – Palmer), Myers is in a slim three-member superminority, with bargaining power hamstrung by a bipartisan supermajority. (To be a recognized minority in the Senate requires a minimum of five members per the Legislature’s rules.)

The senator’s status as the only minority member on a standing Senate committee (Transportation, a committee he chaired last term as a member of the majority) came as a shock to Hughes and Shower. According to Myers, all three minority members were promised a spot on a standing committee in December. Hughes was told she would have a seat on Education, and Shower was told he would have a seat on State Affairs. Because they don’t have at least five members, the majority is not compelled to give them any seats on any committees.

“Whatever the machinations were that happened inside that caucus, I guess somebody didn’t like even giving us that much of a consideration,” Myers said. “We were already getting less consideration than the last time there was a superminority.”

The first Myers remembers hearing of the discrepancy between the Senate committee assignments and the promises made in December was on Tuesday, through an Alaska Landmine tweet.

“It’s been made fairly clear, that if we want to be involved, we toe the line,” Myers said. “In various ways, we [the Senate minority] don’t.”

Originally, Myers had been invited to join the majority, but turned it down due to his concerns regarding the “binding caucus,” which refers to all members agreeing to vote for the final version of the budget.

“Here’s my view of caucusing – you get together as a caucus because you’ve got some shared goals, some shared principles,” Myers explained. “Not everything gets done the way you want it. That’s fine, as long as we’re heading the same direction as each other.”

For Myers, however, the Senate majority didn’t seem to be heading in a direction that he agreed with.

“In order to join this caucus, you’re going to vote this way – regardless,” Myers said. “I’m here to represent my constituency, and if those positions can’t get represented within the budget, or within how things are done on the floor, then I’m going to have a problem with that.”

According to Myers, from what he’s experienced in conversations with older members of the Senate, as well as new members, he doesn’t think that he’ll be aligned with them on issues surrounding the PFD, the budget, or his vision for the government’s overall role.

“I can sit down and have a seat at the table, but I know my voice is going to be ignored,” Myers said. “Why put yourself into that position anyway, when you know your voice is going to get silenced?”

Technically, one could join the supermajority at the beginning of the term, claim to support the budget, and then vote the other way, since joining isn’t a legally binding agreement. But Myers is opposed to that decision, claiming that he’s not going to join the majority under false pretenses. In the past when that has happened, the majority member who violated the agreement has lost staff and sometimes even their office.

As far as actual policies and priorities for his constituents, Myers wants to keep an eye out for ways to lower property taxes statewide, in the short term. Longer term, he has some serious concerns about the state’s financial situation.

“So much of what we’ve done in the last six or eight years in this building has been short-sighted,” Myers argued. “Nobody’s talking about what that does to the state in the long run.”

When I questioned him about some specific policies he took issue with, Myers’ answer was almost immediate – the Permanent Fund should not be used as the primary source of government revenue.

“It short circuits any attempt to get capital out into the private market, to start other businesses,” Myers explained. “It utterly divorces the state government from the local economy, and it really sets us up to have a stagnant or shrinking private economy and a growing public economy in the long run.”

As a conservative, he believes that the long-term effects of robbing the Permanent Fund will be disastrous – a state economy in the next few decades where every Alaskan either works for the government, or works in a support position for the government. The private economy, Myers argued, will be a thing of the past.

“In a lot of ways, we’re going to be looking like California, without the tech sector,” Myers said. “We’re going to have all of these issues that are a result of the base economy falling apart, but the government’s going to think everything’s hunky dory because it’s going to have all the money it wants.”

Myers supports the continued existence of the Permanent Fund Dividend, which he argued was the best way to get Alaska’s resources into the hands of Alaska’s residents. He also hinted that taxes might be a way to solve financial issues, because a government that taxes also has to take an interest in how to maintain tax revenue – they’d have a vested interest in keeping the private economy alive and viable.

This session, Myers has prefiled two bills: SB 13 and SJR 3. The first is focused on transparency for university textbook prices – essentially, add textbook prices to the course catalog so that students can plan their classes with the prices as another considering factor.

A version of the textbook bill was introduced last year, but postponed due to the University of Alaska’s planned computer upgrade. Now that the upgrade’s finished, Myers is fairly optimistic about the future of SB 13 this term.

“I’m not gonna go out there and tell you what you can and can’t spend on a textbook, but at least let your students know what the price is gonna be when they register for the class,” Myers said.

SJR 3, a proposed spending cap, is more politically dicey, and Myers is ambivalent as to whether it’ll pass.

“The climate in the Senate isn’t looking good for that right now,” Myers said. “I recognize with the players here and a constitutional amendment which requires a two-thirds vote, I don’t see that happening right now, but I do see value in continuing that conversation in the building and outside of it.”

Out of curiosity, I asked Myers if he knew the whereabouts of notoriously AWOL Senator Mike Shower, thinking that if anyone might have an idea, it’d be Shower’s fellow senator. Myers, however, is just as stumped as everyone else.

“Last time I talked to [Shower], it was Monday night, and he told me he wasn’t going to make it in,” Myers said. “I don’t know why, I don’t know where he is.”

Shower, Hughes, and Myers – one is gone, one has been relegated to a special committee on World Trade, and one is still here. Despite being offered a position in the majority, Myers chose his convictions over the in-group, which has to be commended in some way. It’s anyone’s guess as to how much he’ll actually be able to accomplish this session, but the North Pole senator still keeps his constituents in mind.

“I come from a very conservative part of the state,” Myers said. “The priorities that I come down here with, by and large, reflect that, whether you’re talking about the PFD, or the size of the budget overall, or what role we envision for government.”

Senator Mike Shower showed up today in Juneau. 

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Dan
3 days ago

Hopefully, now that his constituents don’t include Northern Fairbanks, he can do a better job of responding to constituent communications.