Some first-day fireworks set the Alaska House of Representatives alight Tuesday to open the 31st Alaska State Legislature. Meanwhile, the Alaska Senate opened their session with an apparent shift in power.
In the House, objections to a committee assignment and a journal entry provided much of the early action on the first day of the legislative session.
Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux’s, R-Anchorage, assignment to the Joint Armed Services committee drew an objection and several comments before ultimately being OK’d. The crux of the objection was that a veteran should have filled the seat vacated by former Rep. and current Sen. Josh Revak, R-Anchorage, an Army veteran.
Revak was appointed to fill the seat left behind by the late Sen. Chris Birch, R-Anchorage.
“I think a veteran should be assigned to that seat,” said Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski.
Rep. Laddie Shaw, R-Anchorage, a former Navy SEAL, said a veteran would add value to the committee, benefit the state and veterans specifically.
Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, also spoke in favor of appointing one of the six veterans in the House to the committee.
“The idea that you need to be a veteran to support veterans is foreign to me,” said Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak.
That sentiment prevailed after a 23-15 vote. The Committee on Committee’s report and committee assignments were approved.
Over at the Senate, things started slowly as senators didn’t gavel in until 4 p.m.
“The governor has been informed the Senate is ready for business,” Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, told the body after returning from notifying the governor’s office the Senate had convened. “The governor is in Vancouver at a mineral conference saying Alaska is open for business.”
At approximately 5:30 p.m., the Senate reconvened to discussed committee appointments. The proposed appointments appeared to point to a shift in power.
Sen. Laura Reinbold, R-Eagle River, objected to the new committee report. She called the new appointments an “absolute restructuring of power in the Senate,” and said the decisions were made by leadership behind closed doors.
Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, said he felt the new committee appointments punished conservative members for voting for a full PFD.
Last session, several conservative members sided with Gov. Mike Dunleavy in seeking a fully funded PFD. Their efforts were ultimately stymied in favor of a $1,600 PFD.
Back at the House, a 23-15 vote OK’d some changes to the makeup of committees and committee chairs.
Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, will chair the Labor and Commerce Committee. Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky, D-Bethel, was made chair of the Health and Social Services Committee and Stutes the Transportation Committee.
The 38 votes cast for the committee report reflects the excused absences of Reps. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, and newly appointed Rep. Mel Gillis, R-Anchorage.
The journal entry reflecting Gillis’ appointment to Revak’s seat caused back-and-forth between Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham.
Eastman made a motion that the entry reflect that Gillis’ appointment was unanimously approved by House Republicans.
“The wording in the message that the chief clerk provided is standard language. It’s technical language, and I think it suffices at this point,” Edgmon said.
Eastman said his motion was valid, and he wanted it acted upon.
That led to an at-ease and some visible frustration.
Ultimately, Eastman withdrew his motion after he said he was satisfied the unanimity would be reflected.
After the House was adjourned until Friday morning, Eastman said he insisted on the motion because just as representatives’ votes are recorded for legislation, they should be public knowledge for an appointment confirmation.
“It should be reflected who voted which way,” Eastman said.
The walking wounded
Two representatives came into the session bearing visible injuries.
Rep. Laddie Shaw, R-Anchorage, and Rep. Harriet Drummond, D-Anchorage, each had some hardware. One of Shaw’s arms was in a sling, and Drummond made her way around the House floor with a pair of crutches.
“I got a new shoulder,” Shaw said.
Drummond said she had minor knee surgery earlier in the month and was recovering.
Her crutches had flip-down spikes — sort of like point kickstands — for traversing slick surfaces. “You really need it,” Drummond said.