According to Tuckerman Babcock, the initial tally from last week’s primary “sent a clear message to many powerful Republican members of the Legislature who opposed the governor.”
That idea is not only an invitation for those members who lose their primary election to leave the party. It’s inconsistent with our form of constitutional government.
Legislators aren’t elected to be a rubber stamp for whatever the governor wants. They belong to an equal branch of government. When their conscience dictates, it’s their duty to challenge the governor’s use of his power. Furthermore, under our constitution, government “is instituted solely for the good of the people as a whole” not the 24% of Alaskans who are registered Republicans.
Cheering on challengers to duly elected Republican representatives isn’t new to Babcock. A month after the 2016 election, Rep. Louise Stutes of Kodiak and two other House Republicans joined Democrats to from a majority caucus. Babcock was chairman of the Alaska Republican Party at the time. Under his leadership, it voted to withdraw support for all three. And later tried to prohibit them from being candidates in the party’s 2018 primary election.
“I am a strong believer in the basics of the Republican Party,” Stutes explained in 2016. “But I am a strong believer in my constituency. My constituency wanted something done with this budget.”
She’s is still a Republican. In the 2018 primary, she beat the two candidates who challenged her. This year she ran unopposed. That says her constituents prefer legislative integrity over the party’s dictatorial rule.
However, the budget problems Stutes was concerned about four years ago haven’t been resolved. Babcock is part of that story, too.
After the 2018 election, he resigned as party chair and became Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s chief of staff. The administration’s plan to balance the budget relied entirely on cutting government spending while paying residents an Alaska Permanent Fund dividend based the statutory formula from 1982.
Senate President Sen. Cathy Giessel, an Anchorage Republican, was among the majority of legislators who believed that was fiscally irresponsible. For the third straight year, they approved a smaller PFD and applied the balance to help close a multibillion-dollar budget gap.
Unofficial results show Giessel lost to Roger Holland by almost 30 percentage points. He may the first Republican candidate in Alaskan history to praise Congress for spending a massive amount of money borrowed against future generations. But “Alaska Legislators just don’t seem to get it!” because, his campaign website falsely claims, they’re “still trying to figure out how to dedicate all Permanent Fund Dividend monies for state government spending.”
Sen. Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage, co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, is one of the other Republicans who opposed Dunleavy’s budget plan. Unofficial results as of Friday morning showed her with a narrow lead over Stephen Duplantis, however, early in voting Duplantis appeared to be in the lead.
Duplantis promised to protect the PFD, but when asked where the money is going to come from, he answered, “I don’t know, because I’m not there.” The only other significant issue he ran on is eliminating the “binding caucus” rule that requires members support the will of the caucus majority regarding the budget.
Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, submitted a bill to make that illegal.
“We have a God-given free will to make decisions that are best for our constituents,” he argues.
That is, unless you’re a Republican like Stutes, Giessel, von Imhof and others whose conscience directed their free will to defy the wishes of the Republican governor.
What’s best for their constituents isn’t defined by the party either. Elected representatives are supposed to consider the viewpoints of any constituent who disagrees with them. And in Shower’s district there’s likely a lot who do. Because the combined totals of registered Democrats, and the number of people unaffiliated with either party outnumber registered Republicans by a margin of two to one.
Giessel should be proud of the way she represented her district for the past 10 years. But she and any other Republican who lose their primary have a choice to make.
They can continue their work advocating ‘for the good of the people as a whole” by endorsing the Democratic candidate for their seat.
Or risk letting the party that booted them from office hand out a dividend the state can’t afford.
• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector.