State Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat, speaks in favor of lawmakers overriding Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget vetoes Wednesday, Juneau. Nearly a third of lawmakers were absent from the session at the Capitol, opting to meet in Wasilla instead, leaving only 38 members meeting in Juneau. It would take 45 votes to override the vetoes. (Michael Penn/Juneau Empire via AP)

State Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat, speaks in favor of lawmakers overriding Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget vetoes Wednesday, Juneau. Nearly a third of lawmakers were absent from the session at the Capitol, opting to meet in Wasilla instead, leaving only 38 members meeting in Juneau. It would take 45 votes to override the vetoes. (Michael Penn/Juneau Empire via AP)

Local lawmakers split on session location

Gov. Mike Dunleavy last month called a special session in Wasilla

After a chaotic day that included a citizen takeover of one special session, and a failed veto override vote at another, lawmakers are still divided on where the special session should be held.

On the peninsula, lawmakers are equally split on the issue. Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, and Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Kenai/Soldotna, did not attend either session. Carpenter asserted that the session should be held in Wasilla. Rep. Gary Knopp, R-Kenai/Soldotna, joined the Juneau contingent. Micciche defended the governor’s right to hold session in Wasilla, but said he would support an Anchorage session.

“It’s just kind of a mess,” Knopp said. “We’ll get through tomorrow and go from there to find a path forward.”

Gov. Mike Dunleavy last month called a special session in Wasilla after lawmakers were unable to complete their work during a 121-day regular session and a special session held in Juneau. Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, rejected Dunleavy’s call to convene in Wasilla, and called a Juneau special session, which began Monday.

Minority Republicans in the House called the move illegal. The Legislature’s top legal advisor has asserted that the governor does not have the constitutional power to compel the Legislature to meet outside the Capitol.

There were only 38 lawmakers present in the joint session in Juneau Wednesday, with 22 Republicans in Wasilla or absent from the Capitol. Despite this, lawmakers in Juneau held a vote to override Dunleavy’s $440 million in budget vetoes.

The final vote was 37-1, with Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, voting to sustain the vetoes.

The Legislature has until nearly midnight on Friday to override the vetoes.

Knopp voted against Dunleavy’s vetoes. He said a lot of good and heartfelt comments were heard in the chamber and legislators will try again Thursday — giving other members the opportunity to join them in Juneau.

Knopp said this has been a pretty devastating budget process. Portions of the budget are unfunded, and there’s a chance of federal dollars lapsing, he said.

“These are big issues not to be taken lightly,” he said. “We’ll see if we can override and go from there.”

Carpenter joined other Republicans in Wasilla earlier this week, but was not present in the Matanuska Valley Wednesday. Carpenter said he had obligations at his home in Nikiski, where he operates a small farm. He said he plans to play the next couple weeks day by day.

“I’m following via text message with my counterparts down there, and will go down there when there’s an opportunity to vote,” he said.

Micciche is one of a handful of legislators who were previously excused from session during this time. Micciche said he is a commercial fisherman, and works in July, but is calling on his constituents to ask other lawmakers and the governor to come together and negotiate a compromise.

“Those negotiations should have taken place in February, March, April,” he said.

Micciche said lawmakers need to first settle the issue of where the Legislature should be. He said he’s convinced the governor has the authority.

“They could have gone to Wasilla to move it, and they didn’t,” Micciche said. “We have to work together.”

He said Anchorage seems like a suitable compromise.

“Everyone is frustrated,” Micciche said. “There’s still a lot of work to do. It has to happen.”

On Wednesday in Wasilla, a protest erupted at Wasilla Middle School, where the governor called the second special session. Tegan Hanlon, a reporter with the Anchorage Daily News, was covering the protests in Wasilla on Twitter. In videos posted to Hanlon’s Twitter, protesters could be seen calling the legislators to go to Juneau and override the vetoes. The protesters shouted “don’t hide, override!” and seized lawmakers seats inside the school’s gymnasium after lawmakers walked out of the gym.

“It looks like they had a pretty exciting day in Wasilla,” Carpenter told the Clarion.

Alaska Republican Party issued a press release Wednesday blasting protestors for disrupting the session.

“This afternoon in Wasilla, threatening, shrieking Democrat protesters and their ancillary leftist accomplices disrupted a peaceful session of Republican legislators who were considering budgetary matters pursuant to Governor Dunleavy’s instructions,” the release said. “We have seen these tactics used by similar mobs who injure conservatives around the country. And now the Democrats have brought this type of indecent behavior to our great State.”

Legislators with excused absences include: Micciche, Rep. George Rauscher, R-Sutton, Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, and Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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