Mendenhall Valley voters gambled big on Tuesday — and come Wednesday all of Juneau hit the jackpot.
Juneau now has two members in the House majority after a stunning announcement Wednesday that three Republicans and two Independents would caucus with House Democrats to form a new 22-member bipartisan majority.
We at the Empire, when deciding our endorsement, hedged our bets on Cathy Muñoz. We played it safe (and smart) — or so we thought. Our editorial board felt it crucial to ensure Juneau had at least one lawmaker in the majority once votes were counted. For the last several legislative sessions we’ve witnessed minority members in both chambers placed at the kiddie table while members of the majority made, or avoided making, every key decision.
Newly-elected House District 34 Rep. Justin Parish wrote in a recent Empire “My Turn” that voters shouldn’t worry about who is or isn’t in the majority, and that caucuses could change. He obviously was right considering Thursday’s committee assignments.
We’ll admit it: We were wrong.
District 33 Rep. Sam Kito III is the new chairman of the Legislative Council, the group that blundered its way through a failed $34 million deal to purchase an office building in Anchorage that’s now the subject of a lawsuit. Kito was opposed to that deal. Now he’ll be the one setting the Council’s agenda.
Parish will be co-chairman of the House Community and Regional Affairs Committee alongside Rep. Zach Fansler, D-Bethel. He also has a seat on Education and Resources, and is an alternate for the Ethics Committee.
After being forced to sit and watch as the previous majority fought amongst themselves over how much, or how little, to cut from the budget, the new majority gets its turn at the wheel. But the bipartisan caucus will have just two years to stabilize Alaska’s budget before the next election, when the target will undoubtedly be placed on their backs.
We wish the new House majority nothing but good luck in the legislative sessions ahead. It’s every bit as daunting a task now as it was three years ago when oil prices first plummeted. We also hope they’ve learned some valuable lessons from how the previous majority treated them.
It’s understandable if many of these returning lawmakers enter 2017 with a chip on their shoulder. They’ve been largely ignored for too long, but common ground must be found with the Republican minority for all Alaskans to prosper. The new majority should treat the minority like they wish they had been treated. We’ve seen the result of marginalizing the minority, and few have prospered as a result.
With a Republican Senate, bipartisan House and Independent governor, the 2017 session is sure to be interesting if nothing else. Here’s to hoping it’s productive as well.
— Juneau Empire, Nov. 13, 2016