A Time For Choosing: Republican Legislators in Alaska Cannot Continue to Serve Two Masters

Republican voters in Alaska outnumber Democrat voters 2-to-1. Unsurprisingly, Republicans outnumber Democrats in the legislature as well.

In fact, there are six more Republican legislators than all other legislators combined, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the voting records of those same Republican legislators.

According to the latest rankings put out by the American Conservative Union, five Republican legislators in Alaska vote less conservatively than one or more Democrat legislators. Two Republican legislators, including one from conservative Eagle River, vote less conservatively than most Democrat legislators. In a state like Alaska, where Republican voters outnumber Democrat voters by such a wide margin, achieving that kind of voting record takes effort.

At 2:15pm this afternoon, all 60 state legislators are scheduled to vote on Governor Dunleavy’s veto of the education funding package known as Senate Bill 140.

In other states, the outcome of this vote would be easy to predict. Here you have a Republican governor that has taken a thoroughly Republican position in vetoing the increased funding package because it doesn’t include Republican-supported education reforms that he has asked for, and you have a legislature where Republicans substantially outnumber Democrats. It takes a super-majority in the legislature to defeat (or override) a governor’s veto.

What that means is that up to 12 Republicans (36% of all Republican legislators) could cross over and vote with Democrats and it would have no impact on the outcome.

Even so, there is a great deal of uncertainty right now over whether the governor’s veto will survive. How is that possible, and why is Alaska so very different from so many other Republican states?

Even legislators from conservative parts of the state like the Mat-Su, Soldotna, and Eagle River, are signaling that they may vote to override the governor’s veto later today. Some Republicans, like Fairbanks Representative Will Stapp, have stated very publicly that they will vote to override the governor’s veto. Other Republican legislators are doing their best to nurture hope in both the governor’s camp and the NEA camp that they will come down on their side—and that’s the problem.

In Alaska, we have many Republican legislators who privately pander to both sides of the issue; the side that is fighting for conservative education reforms, and the side that is hell-bent on fighting against them (represented by the NEA and its affiliates). These nominally Republican legislators then lean on their fellow Republicans to block any vote that would force them to publicly demonstrate which side they are actually on.

Under mistaken notions of loyalty to “their fellow Republicans”, too many Republican legislators cave to these requests and prevent votes like the one today from ever taking place. The few Republicans who don’t cave are threatened with being ostracized by Republican members of their own caucus. This is how Republican legislators from conservative parts of the state all too often end up voting against their party and against the constituents they represent so that they can vote “for” some of their fellow legislators in Juneau.

Note: This process does not work the same way on the Democrat side of the aisle. In that respect, this is a Republican phenomenon. There just aren’t many Democrat legislators out there pandering to Republican-aligned groups. It is worth asking why this approach seems to work better on Republican-aligned organizations than it does on organizations traditionally aligned with Democrats.

Fortunately, today’s vote will bypass much of the corruption associated with the caucus system in the legislature. As the veto was initiated by the governor it can’t simply be blocked by Republican legislators acting in solidarity to protect their less conservative colleagues. There will be a public vote, and those who would love to continue to straddle the fence perpetually will be obliged to reveal where their loyalties actually lie.

Today is a time for choosing. Who does your Republican legislator represent on the issue of education reform? Take note. You are about to find out.


Update: The vote has now taken place and the results are shown below. Also, the number of Republican votes required to uphold the veto was incorrectly stated above and has now been corrected. In this case, 40 votes were needed to override and nullify the governor’s veto. Fortunately, the NEA was only able to come up with 39 votes. The veto stands, by one vote. Legislators shown in green voted to override the governor’s veto and to pass the new funding package into law without substantial conservative education reforms. Legislators shown in red voted against the new spending package. In total, 12 Republicans crossed over to vote with 100% of Democrats/Independents. The list of legislators is included below.

Legislators who voted with the NEA to pass the bill without the conservative reforms:

House: Ruffridge, Stapp, Stutes, Sumner, Wright

Senate: Bishop, Bjorkman, Giessel, Kaufman, Merrick, Stedman, Stevens

House: Armstrong, Carrick, Dibert, Edgmon, Fields, Foster, Galvin, Gray, Groh, Hannan, Himschoot, Josephson, McCormick, Mears, Mina, Ortiz, Schrage, Story

Senate: Claman, Dunbar, Gray-Jackson, Hoffman, Kawasaki, Kiehl, Olson, Tobin, Wielechowski

Legislators who voted to uphold the governor’s veto and kill SB140:

House: Allard, Baker, Carpenter, Coulombe, Cronk, Eastman, C. Johnson, D. Johnson, McCabe, McKay, Prax, Rauscher (excused), Saddler, Shaw, Tilton, Tomaszewski, Vance

Senate: Hughes, Myers, Shower, Wilson

Democrats/Independents: None