Rogue Alaska Legislators Make Novel Claim: Legislators Aren’t Required to Follow State Laws

My family and I arrived home from the capital on Monday. We made it as far as Delta Junction on our drive home before hearing the news that a sizable group of legislators is hell-bent on getting back to the capital in Juneau, even if it means breaking the law to do so.

I won’t mince words. Any legislator who meets in Juneau on July 8th should be immediately recalled.

The issue here is the right of the people to be involved in how their government operates, and unfortunately, some legislators have now sided against the people. They may not have realized the seriousness of the offense, and some may not realize it until years after the damage has been done, but Alaskans will be living with the consequences of legislators’ actions, not their intentions.

How did we get here?

We just completed 150 days of continuously being in session in Juneau. That is longer than the Texas Legislature spends in session in two years! Not that I’m counting.

But yes, I am counting. And so are my kids. They’ve been waiting to see their friends and sleep in their own beds for the last six months. That’s a long time to ask a 4-year-old to wait. Many of the Alaskans I represent have been counting as well. There’s a reason the voters asked us to put a cork in it after 90 days.

The last 150 days have been a complete trainwreck for the people. Legislators set a new precedent of literally doing nothing for the first 30 days of session. Legislators also set a new precedent of publicly attacking, and in several cases slandering, innocent Alaskans mere minutes before key votes, some for no better reason than that they had been appointed by the current governor or they belonged to the wrong political party.

After 149 days in session, legislators still could not bring themselves to allow this year’s PFD to be distributed to Alaskans. While a majority of legislators voted to circulate $5,000,000 in dollar coins, a majority of legislators actually voted NO against a full dividend.

Timeline of Events:

  • On June 13th, when the legislature ended 150 days of being in session without appropriating a single dollar for this year’s PFD, Governor Mike Dunleavy immediately issued a proclamation for a Second Special Session on July 8th in Wasilla, in order for the legislature to appropriate the money for this year’s PFD.

 

  • House Speaker Bryce Edgmon and Senate President Cathy Giessel (both of whom voted against a full PFD this year) immediately began polling legislators under Art. II, Sec. 9 of the state constitution to garner the votes necessary to hold a competing special session in Juneau. In a somewhat bizarre process, the results of which have been withheld from the public, they polled some legislators twice, some once, and some legislators they ignored completely during the voting.

 

  • From Monday’s press release, and from conversations I have had with other legislators, I gather that the 39 legislators not listed below voted to oppose the governor’s proclamation and set their own agenda and location for a special session in Juneau. For my own part, I would have joined with 20 other legislators (see list below) in opposing this move, though, strangely, several of us were never given an opportunity to vote.

 

  • State law (AS 24.05.100) clearly assigns the governor the authority to choose the location when he calls the legislature into special session.

 

  • Lacking the number of votes constitutionally required (Art II, Sec. 9), to call themselves into special session in Juneau, Rep. Edgmon and Sen. Giessel have now decided to ignore the law and ask legislators to follow them to Juneau anyway.

My sympathies for the lawyer whose task it was to try and defend the actions of legislators seeking to return to Juneau. You can read the somewhat tortured legal opinion here. In attempting to justify returning to Juneau, it argues that the legislature itself acted illegally each time it has periodically met in Anchorage over the years.

That brings us to today.

More than 75% of Alaskans can drive to Wasilla to see the legislature in session. Compare that to the fewer than 4.5% of Alaskans who can drive to Juneau to see the legislature in session there.

But this is about more than distance or convenience. Fundamentally, this is about whether the legislature, as an institution, is obligated to follow the law. If it is not, then the people have lost the right to direct how their government operates.

This is not a question of whether future legislators will have the freedom to take unpopular positions on behalf of the best interests of Alaska. Under the legislature’s own procedures, “When the place of meeting of a legislative body has been designated by law, it may be changed only on legal authority, and no valid meeting can be held nor business conducted at any other than the legally designated place.” (Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure, Section 705).

The legislature’s own policies presume that the legislature is bound by state law, just as the governor is. If legislators truly are above following state laws, then why would Alaska’s Constitution guarantee the right of Alaskans to change state law (Art. XI, Sec. 4)?

Voters from various parts of the state have been working for the last several months to gather signatures for a ballot measure to change state law and require the legislature to hold legislative sessions in Anchorage. They have to collect at least 28,500 signatures from voters in order for the question to be put to Alaskans in the next statewide election.

Perhaps Alaskans will vote to change that law. But if they do, so what?

If legislators are going to violate the law and legislative procedure with impunity, and are going to continue meeting wherever they want to meet anyway, the right of the people to change the law, guaranteed in the Alaska Constitution, is forfeit.

On July 8th, I will attend the special session in Wasilla on behalf of the 20,000 Alaskans whose vote I carry in the legislature. I encourage each of my fellow legislators to do the same.

Whether your legislator is one of the ones attempting to run back to Juneau or not, engage with them, as appropriate. I know of at least one recall petition already being circulated based on a legislators’ decision to openly defy the law this week.

Here in Alaska, the people always have the last word. That said, when you are competing with special interests in Juneau, there is a cost involved.

Sometimes it means picking up the phone and making an unpleasant phone call. Sometimes it means going through the unpleasant task of potentially recalling a politician. In special cases, it may even mean voting to go through the laborious process of holding a constitutional convention. But the people do always have the last word (if they want it badly enough). Do you?

Preserving freedom has never been a spectator sport.

Here is a list of the 21 legislators who held the line and voted (or would have voted) NO to returning to another special session in Juneau. Are your legislators on this list?

Sen. Mike Shower (R-Mat-Su)

Sen. Shelley Hughes (R-Palmer)

Sen. David Wilson (R-Wasilla)

Sen. Mia Costello (R-Anchorage)

Sen. Lora Reinbold (R-Eagle River)

Sen. Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna)

Rep. Mark Neuman (R-Big Lake)

Rep. Lance Pruitt (R-Anchorage)

Rep. David Talerico (R-Healy)

Rep. Cathy Tilton (R-Wasilla)

Rep. David Eastman (R-Mat-Su)

Rep. DeLena Johnson (R-Palmer)

Rep. George Rauscher (R-Sutton)

Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard (R-Wasilla)

Rep. Kelly Merrick (R-Eagle River)

Rep. Sara Rasmussen (R-Anchorage)

Rep. Josh Revak (R-Anchorage)

Rep. Laddie Shaw (R-Anchorage)

Rep. Sarah Vance (R-Homer)

Rep. Sharon Jackson (R-Eagle River)

Rep. Ben Carpenter (R-Nikiski)

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