Alaska Legislators Should Stop Campaigning in Juneau at Public Expense

I was asked what it is that some legislators have been doing in Juneau this week, since they have no legal authority to travel to Juneau, and the “votes” they have been taking on TV are completely meaningless. The answer: Campaigning.

Why else would you go through the motions of taking votes when you know that there aren’t even enough legislators in the room for the votes to succeed? Truly, if there is no legal obligation for such a vote to be taken, why would you waste the time, not to mention taxpayer expense, to fly legislators to Juneau to take meaningless votes that are mathematically guaranteed to fail?

Why would you stand before the TV cameras and give speeches to persuade other legislators to vote your way when, even if every single legislator within 500 miles had voted your way, the vote would still be guaranteed to fail?

The legislature is a creature of the Alaska Constitution. It’s authority, it’s ability to meet, it’s ability to take votes, flows from the Constitution. It’s not what some have lately dubbed “a sovereign branch of government” that can do whatever it wants.

Some countries have such bodies. They are called “oligarchies“. We do not (at least not in this state) have full-time legislators that can meet whenever they want, wherever they want. The Constitution only authorizes the legislature to meet as a body under one of two circumstances:

1. The Alaska Legislature shall meet during a regular legislative session beginning in January (under Article II, Section 8 of the Alaska Constitution), or

2. The Alaska Legislature shall meet during a special legislative session (called under Article II, Section 9 of the Alaska Constitution).

Article II is the same article that creates the Alaska Legislature. It is the article that explains who may serve in the legislature, how legislators are elected, and whether they can be paid a salary and per diem.

The Constitution limits regular legislative sessions to 120 days. This year’s regular legislative session reached the constitutional deadline and was ended by the Constitution on May 15th (note: if the Constitution hadn’t required it, legislators would never have left and would still be in Juneau). When a regular session ends, the Alaska Constitution only permits the legislature to meet again as a body during a special session. Article II, Section 9 permits only two options for holding a special session:

1. A special session may be called by a vote of at least 40 legislators (Art. II, Sec. 9).
This is to prevent a group of legislators from deliberately scheduling special sessions at times when other legislators are unable to attend (e.g. when other legislators are out commercial fishing), or to prevent a group of legislators from trying to become full-time legislators and wasting time in Juneau at taxpayer expense.

2. The Governor calls a special session (see Alaska Statute AS 24.05.100).
AS 24.05.100(b): “A special session may be held at any location in the state. If a special session called under (a)(1) of this section is to be convened at a location other than at the capital, the governor shall designate the location in the proclamation.”

The group of legislators who have spent the last four days in Juneau had no authority under the Constitution to do so. They did not call a special session by a vote of at least 40 legislators, and the governor did not authorize a special session to convene in Juneau.

The leaders of this group have now been taken to court for breaking the law, with a court appearance scheduled for later today. The court may tell them to stop breaking the law, or the court may decide not to get involved. Even if the court decides not to get involved, the plain fact remains, the group of legislators meeting in Juneau has been operating and spending taxpayer money without any constitutional authority to do so. You don’t need a judge to tell you that is wrong.

I mentioned campaigning. Some legislators have filed for office and started fundraising for their campaigns. Some of them are undoubtedly in Juneau this week for that reason, but not all. In truth, some legislators probably traveled to Juneau simply out of fear.

On Monday, the group in Juneau announced that they had “punished” a legislator for not coming to Juneau with them. Yes, you heard that correctly. They “punished” a legislator for having the audacity to follow the law when they were hellbent on breaking it.

On Thursday, it was announced that the group in Juneau had “punished” another legislator for attending the legislative session called by the governor in Wasilla, and for refusing to vote with the group during their casting of meaningless votes in Juneau.

Legislators have no business being in Juneau without constitutional authority.

Those who want to override the governor’s vetoes have even less reason to be there.

The only location where a real vote to override any of the governor’s vetoes can be taken is at the legislative session in Wasilla. And since the constitutional deadline (Art. II, Sec. 16) to override the governor’s vetoes is today, every legislator who desires for that to happen should make sure they are at Wasilla this morning when legislators meet to conduct business. It really is that simple. Some laws are incredibly complex. This one isn’t. It spells out where legislators are to meet, and the last day that such a vote can be taken. Today is that last day. So come join us in Wasilla.

Whether you are for the governor’s vetoes or against them, come. All legislators are welcome. And so is the public.