Bud Sexton, chief of staff for Alaska House Rep. Justin Ruffridge, reviews amendment language in their office at the Alaska State Capitol building on Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Bud Sexton, chief of staff for Alaska House Rep. Justin Ruffridge, reviews amendment language in their office at the Alaska State Capitol building on Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

In Juneau, making laws is a group effort

Ruffridge chief of staff says team shares commitment to hard work

The coffee mug on Bud Sexton’s desk on the second floor of the Alaska Capitol is adorned with a phrase in Latin: proficimus more irretenti.

“(It) means ‘we make progress unhindered by custom’,” he said Wednesday.

The words are the official motto of the Air Corps Tactical School, which included the phrase on its crest in 1920 and is known for advancing an unconventional strategy for bomb precision that was dismissed by a military establishment unwilling to stray from the status quo.

Sexton summed it up as the idea that things should be done for the right reason and in the right way, even if they’ve never been done that way before.

Since 2023, Sexton has served as chief of staff to freshman lawmaker Rep. Justin Ruffridge, who represents Kenai and Soldotna in the Alaska House of Representatives. He thinks the philosophy applies to the work Ruffridge’s office does in the Legislature, where he said working well with others is a necessary skill to be successful.

“A big part of what Ruffridge (has) and what we’ve tried to do is have great relationships with everybody, regardless of the letter behind their name,” Sexton said. “You have to have the ability to have hard conversations with people in this building.”

Sexton is certainly no stranger to politics.

Originally from California’s Central Valley, his dad, Jimmy Sexton, was the first elected mayor of Hughson, California. In the early 2000s, Sexton worked on the campaign of Dave Cogdill, a former California State senator and assemblyman. Sexton and his family moved to Nikiski in 2009 to be pastors. On the Kenai Peninsula, Sexton worked for both the Nikiski Fire Department and the Kenai Peninsula Borough before moving to Fairbanks in 2022 to be closer to his adult kids.

“My thought process and the whole, whether it’s political or even with the fire department or the church, it’s, I think, it’s all about service and the community,” Sexton said.

Before signing on to Ruffridge’s team, Sexton was working in the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Office of Emergency Management. He described his role as the “point person” during the COVID-19 pandemic for vaccine clinics, which is how he met Ruffridge. Ruffridge co-owns Soldotna Professional Pharmacy and helped run vaccine clinics on the central peninsula.

The high-stress environment and long hours, Sexton said, meant he and Ruffridge got to know each other quickly. It was “a very easy decision,” he said, to accept Ruffridge’s chief of staff offer. He thinks their past working relationship lends itself to a unique dynamic and better work in Juneau.

“When you can work together with someone during high stress times such as that, it’s good practice for what happens in the Capitol,” Sexton said.

As chief of staff, Sexton is responsible for managing the other two staff members in Ruffridge’s office — legislative aides Sabina Braun and Nora Harbour — as well as drafting bill amendments, taking meetings with constituents, attending legislative receptions, managing Ruffridge’s schedule and otherwise ensuring his boss is present and prepared for all the demands of being a state lawmaker.

Sexton said Ruffridge can sometimes spend between 20 and 25 hours on the House Floor and about 20 hours in committee. He is co-chair of House Education and a vice chair on Labor and Commerce and Health and Social Services. He is on the Community and Regional Affairs Committee and also served on six finance subcommittees this session.

That doesn’t include the 20-plus meetings Sexton estimates the office takes each week with a variety of groups that he said run the gamut.

Filtering in and out of the office Wednesday were representatives from the Blood Bank of Alaska, who were lobbying for support for the completion of a blood testing facility in Anchorage, a group of moms pushing for more money for K-12 education and representatives from General Motors.

Sexton said constituents take priority when it comes to who the office meets with, but that they try to meet with everyone who wants to. Because Ruffridge co-chairs the House Education Committee, Sexton said the office also fields a lot of inquiries from people with priorities related to education.

Before meeting with lobbyists Wednesday, Sexton and Braun could be found squinting at one of Braun’s two computer screens, going line-by-line through a potential amendment for a bill. With eyes flitting between the packet of paper in his hand and the screen, Sexton offered occasional comments.

“When we offer an amendment, we really try to offer everything that needs to be included,” he said.

When it comes to preparing for a committee meeting, Sexton said their office is often working weeks in advance. Either he or Braun will “carry” a bill sponsored by Ruffridge, meaning they’re responsible for helping present it to a committee and for ensuring that they have all the supporting documents in order and up to date.

Braun, for example, is carrying H.B. 371, which Ruffridge introduced in February and would change the way medical review committees operate in Alaska. Those committees review deaths in Alaska and compile information to help inform public policy and health interventions to improve the health of state residents.

“It’s presenting it in front of committee, making sure we can answer questions, making sure we have sponsor statements or its sectional (analysis), things like that,” Braun said. “Then we’re charged with making sure it gets to the House floor.”

Last session, two of the six bills Ruffridge introduced were signed into law.

This year, a bill out of House Education and carried by his office that aims to expand use of the Alaska Performance Scholarship has already cleared the House. More than one of his other education initiatives, including full state funding for home-schooled students and a $680 increase to the amount of money the state gives school districts per students, are elements of a conglomerate education package currently before the governor.

Ruffridge said Wednesday that a key part of being a good legislator is having good staff. He said they do all the difficult stuff — which this week included driving him to the emergency room after he broke his arm slipping on ice — and that he’s “blessed” to work with people he trusts and has rapport with.

“You’ll find offices that have success throughout the year are typically offices with really good staff,” Ruffridge said.

By evening, Sexton’s proficimus more irretenti mug is upturned on a towel — retired for the day. Sexton said he’s usually in bed by 9 p.m. so he be in the office by 7:15 a.m. He’s staying in the legislative apartment building — across the street from the Capitol and available exclusively for lawmakers and their staff.

Sexton said he was worried the building would be loud and that people would want to “talk shop.” He occasionally sees Rep. Louise Stutes, who also lives in the building, but for the most part he doesn’t always know who’s around. He’s not sure who lives across the hall, or in the unit to his right, but it doesn’t bother him.

“I don’t know who the other people are and I’m OK with that,” he said.

Whenever he’s not in the Capitol, Sexton said he’s reading, exercising or talking to his family in Fairbanks. He’s reading a book about the diesel engine that Ruffridge gave him and is nearing the end of a pushup challenge he’s been doing with his daughter since Jan. 7, and likes to talk to his family on the weekends.

Over one of the pushup videos he recently sent to his daughter, Sexton included the words “What are you willing to do?” Hard work and effort, he said, are shared values of everyone in Ruffridge’s office.

“Hard work (and) relationships are really important to all of us,” he said. “Fighting the good fight and (being) willing to put in the time and effort. Hopefully you get the result at the end.”

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

This reporting from the State Capitol was made possible by the Alaska Center for Excellence in Journalism’s Legislative Reporter Exchange. Alaska news outlets, please contact Erin Thompson at editor@peninsulaclarion.com to republish this story.

Bud Sexton, chief of staff for Alaska House Rep. Justin Ruffridge, and aide Sabina Braun, left, review amendment language in their office at the Alaska State Capitol building on Wednesday, March 6, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Bud Sexton, chief of staff for Alaska House Rep. Justin Ruffridge, and aide Sabina Braun, left, review amendment language in their office at the Alaska State Capitol building on Wednesday, March 6, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

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