While patriotism runs high on The Last Frontier, the legislature has been a less than welcoming place to our Alaska military veterans over the past year. This week, members of the Alaska Legislature’s Joint Armed Services Committee are heading up north to observe the Arctic Eagle National Guard Exercise. Yet, two military veterans initially selected to serve on that committee, Rep. Sharon Jackson (U.S. Army) and Sen. Mike Shower (U.S. Air Force), have not been invited. That’s a shame.
Until last month, Sen. Mike Shower, the longest serving military veteran in the Alaska Senate, led the Joint Armed Services Committee as its new chairman. Considering that he has spent more time wearing a military uniform than all other Alaska senators combined, his selection as chairman seemed to be one of the legislature’s more rational decisions as of late.
Likewise, Rep. Sharon Jackson, having served six years in the Army, was also a natural pick to represent House Republicans on the committee. Notably, the Alaska House of Representatives did not have a single veteran serving on the Armed Forces Committee when I was first elected. In early 2018, I was one of only two veterans serving in the State House, and the only veteran in the legislature to have served since the Vietnam era.
Since 2018, Sen. Shower, Rep. Jackson and Rep. Gillis were each appointed by either Gov. Walker or Gov. Dunleavy (all three veterans). The 2018 election also brought two additional veterans (Rep. Laddie Shaw and Rep. Ben Carpenter) into the legislature, bringing the number of veterans currently serving in the State House up to six.
With six veterans serving in the House, it was encouraging last month to see that Rep. Jackson had also been selected to serve on the committee. With Rep. Jackson’s selection, at least three of the ten members of the committee had seen military service. With her transfer to the Armed Services Committee, I was also invited to replace Rep. Jackson on the Military & Veterans’ Affairs Committee, which I have not yet served on.
But as I mentioned above, the legislature has been less than welcoming to its new military veterans. Rep. Jackson was denied her seat on the committee with no reason offered, and Sen. Shower was removed from the committee as punishment for not voting to cut the PFD last year.
Today, there are only two veterans serving on the Armed Forces Committee, and one of those veterans, Rep. Laddie Shaw, was also punished for not agreeing to cut the PFD. For his efforts, his appointment to the Alaska Senate by Governor Dunleavy was denied by one vote.
Just before denying him the appointment to the senate, Sen. Cathy Giessel, who did not serve in the military, wanted to know: “As a veteran, do you look down on those who haven’t served?“.
I guess that about sums it up, really. The view of the legislature toward its military members in too many cases is initially one of suspicion. This is one of the less praiseworthy parts of the culture that has been permitted to develop within the legislature.
Has the legislature welcomed its new veteran members with open arms? Sadly, they have not. Perhaps this is because all of the military veterans serving in the legislature today are Republicans, for whom the status quo in Juneau is very different than the districts they represent. Or maybe it’s something more than that.
In an especially blatant political attack, Rep. Jackson was even denied the right to vote after being confirmed in the legislature. Some in the legislature insisted that she not be permitted to vote until moments after their candidate had won the election for leadership of the State House. Only after the election was over, were they willing to recognize her right to serve in the legislature and cast a vote on behalf of the 17,000 Alaskans she was elected to represent.
Today, she joined two other legislators, myself included, in publicly insisting that all elected legislators be permitted to speak during today’s floor debates. That we even had to raise the issue today is a testament to just how far the legislature has fallen in recent years. Even so, I was very proud when I noticed that each of the three of us who spoke out to defend the rights of our fellow legislators were veterans.
It is a good thing that we now have six veterans in the State House. We could use a few more.
*I initially reported that Sen. Shower was appointed by Gov. Dunleavy. My thanks to an observant reader (Jeff Landfeld) who reminded me that it was Gov. Walker who made the appointment.