(Rep. Sara Rasmussen is sworn in as a member of the Alaska State House on January 19, 2021)
Today, the Democrat-controlled state house will vote to approve a state operating budget. And it will intentionally do so with one of its more conservative-leaning legislators missing.
The votes of all Democrat and Independent legislators added together aren’t enough votes to approve a state operating budget, so it is notable that they would deliberately schedule the vote on a day when one of their own legislators is out of town.
It seems clear that Democrats are counting on obtaining enough votes from Republicans to secure passage. And that is a notable thing indeed.
Less than 90 days ago, Republican legislators were told that they did not deserve to run the state house because they might come up one vote short when it came time to approve a state operating budget.
How quickly the story reverses itself.
Today, we are told that Republican legislators who do not facilitate passage of the Democrats’ preferred budget are obstructionists. The Democrat agenda is inevitable you see, so any opposition to it can accomplish nothing but to slow down the inevitable.
Now that Democrats will come up at least one vote short, it’s Republican legislators’ job to help them across the finish line. Really??? Is that how this works?
On November 3rd, Alaskans elected a majority of Republican legislators to the Alaska State House. Winning a majority of seats in the legislature normally means that a Republican agenda on items such as election integrity, resource development and reducing state regulations will soon follow. But that was not to be.
On February 18th, Republican hopes for election reforms were dashed when Representatives Kelly Merrick (R-Eagle River), Sara Rasmussen (R-Anchorage), Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak) and Josiah Patkotak (I-Barrow) joined with Democrat-backed legislators to give Democrats control of the Alaska State House.
(Legislators give control of the Alaska State House to the Democrat-led majority on February 18, 2021)
With this vote, these four legislators adopted the Democrat recommendations on who should hold each of the various leadership positions within the State House. In exchange for their vote, they received positions of leadership themselves.
By way of contrast, Republican legislators received 59% of total votes cast in state house races in the last election. But today, due to the betrayal of these three Republican legislators, Republicans now hold only 38% of committee assignments in the Alaska State House.
More importantly, of the 26 committee chair and co-chair leadership positions in the state house, only 2 are held by Republican legislators today (after both Republicans pledged loyalty to the Democrat-controlled binding caucus).
As a legislator, you are what you vote. And the Alaska State House reflects that today.
This morning, the state house will resume debate on the state operating budget. Debate was stopped more than a week ago after a handful of Republican-sponsored amendments passed narrowly and were added to the budget.
(One of five Republican amendments to narrowly pass the Alaska State House on May 1, 2021)
Amid fear that additional Republican priorities would find their way into the budget, the Democrat majority paused voting for a full week. Now that one legislator has flown home for a funeral today, they have found their opening, and plan to put all remaining budget amendments to a vote this morning before he can return.
This strategy should raise an obvious question. Why would Democrats willingly put themselves at the mercy of Republican legislators in order to execute a plan to try to kill the very priorities those Republican legislators are trying to pass into law?
I’m serious. As a Republican, in what world does it make sense to cast your vote for such a plan?
From the outset, Democrats formed a “Binding Caucus” in which every member of the Democrat-led majority is duty-bound to vote in favor of the state operating budget—no matter what is in it.
If Democrats are using today’s funeral to limit the ability of Republicans to pass amendments to the budget, why are some Republican legislators going along with this? Proceeding on the vote this morning means that 17,675 Alaskans, and the entirety of the North Slope Borough and the Northwest Arctic Borough, will have no voice in today’s votes. Why would legislators, Republican or Democrat, be ok with a plan that requires disenfranchising an Independent legislator and more than 17,000 Alaskans?
Why is it that if Republican legislators don’t collect enough votes in February for a budget vote in May (on a bill that hasn’t even been written yet), it’s a Republican leadership problem, and Republicans must forfeit their ability to drive state policy? But if Democrat legislators lack the votes needed to pass their budget, it’s a Republican leadership problem if we don’t find them the votes they need to get their budget across the finish line?
I think someone needs to get their head examined.
*The original version of this article omitted population data for the North Slope and Northwest Arctic Boroughs. Population data is taken from the Alaska Department of Labor & Workforce Development July 2020 estimate.