With no leadership appointed or caucus in place, the Alaska House of Representatives is not allowed to conduct any business.
It did anyway.
A video posted to Rep. Josh Revak’s Facebook page Wednesday shows Republican Sharon Jackson being sworn in as a new representative by a court clerk, which goes against Alaska statutes. The ceremony was conducted without notice to the public, and also involved Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla.
“Lets end the partisan gridlock and put Juneau to work,” Revak, R-Anchorage, wrote in his Facebook post, adding that the Legislature does “not have a single day to waste” in getting to work.
The swearing-in wouldn’t be an issue, except that Jackson is an appointee to the House, not an elected official. Gov. Mike Dunleavy had appointed Jackson to fill the vacancy in District 13 in Chugiak, after he had appointed Nancy Dahlstrom to be the new commissioner of the Department of Corrections in December.
The legislative procedures for swearing in elected representatives versus those appointed to the position are different, as outlined in Alaska Statute. The other 39 representatives were sworn in during a ceremony on Tuesday, the first day of session, by Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer.
It’s doubtful Jackon’s swearing-in ceremony was legal, according to experts.
Doug Wooliver, the deputy administrative director of the Alaska Court System, said in an interview Wednesday that a person can’t become a representative just by going to court and swearing an oath. Someone must still go through the legislative process to become a member of the Legislature, he said.
Wooliver said Jackson filled out the same state employee affidavit that any other state employee fills in, swearing to uphold the state’s constitution. It carries no further importance in this case, he said, without having gone through the legislative steps.
“You can’t bypass the regular process,” Wooliver said. “She just filled in ‘state representative’ in the blank. She could have filled in ‘governor.’ That would not have made her governor.”
On Tuesday, the first day of the 31st Legislative Session, Lt. Gov. Meyer had tried to swear in Jackson with the others, but the procedure involved became a sticking point. When Healy Republican Dave Talerico tried to read a communication from the governor regarding Jackson’s appointment, Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, reminded Meyer that the rules would not allow for the House to receive communications from the governor until the House was organized. Right now, there is no clear House majority caucus, which means there is no House leadership to conduct business. A back-and-forth led to tensions rising, which led Meyer to call for a recess. When Meyer reconvened the session later, he said the governor’s communication would not be read, and moved on with the swearing in ceremony.
On Wednesday, after the video of Jackson’s swearing-in surfaced, Talerico in a written statement expressed disapproval of the way the ceremony took place.
“The House Republicans were notified this afternoon that a Deputy Clerk had administered an oath of office to Rep.-Appointee Sharon Jackson,” he said. “While the sentiment of this effort to get Ms. Jackson seated quickly is appreciated, the House Republicans anticipate the official swearing-in of Ms. Jackson to take place on the House floor, as in accordance with Alaska Statutes and the Constitution, and we look forward to welcoming her to the body as soon as possible.”
New Rep. Sara Hannan of Juneau expressed her disappointment with Wednesday’s events as well, before heading to caucus with fellow Democrats with the Wednesday’s drama surrounding the unorganized House.
“I’m very disappointed with this situation,” Hannan said. “The 40 of us had never been in the room until yesterday. That was the first time that all 40 of us have been in the room. I don’t have baggage with them.”
Hannan also questioned the legality and validity of Jackson’s swearing-in, too.
“There are three lawyers in my caucus. Those are the three people I know certified to practice law. I assume they’re all over that,” Hannan said.
The House did not meet Wednesday. The session was postponed and eventually cancelled. It is slated to reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday.
Contact reporter Kevin Baird at 523-2258. Reporter Alex McCarthy contributed to this report. He can be reached at 523-2271.