In January, the Alaska Legislature will have 17 new members from this time just one year ago. 35% of the house will be new, and 25% of the senate will be new as well. For the second election in a row, there will be a 30% or greater turnover in the State House.
With a new governor, new lieutenant governor, and more than a dozen first-time legislators, you can be sure the powers-that-be in Juneau are already working overtime to try to maintain the status quo.
There are some things that should remain the same. There are others that need to change. Legislators were in session for 211 days last year, and another 118 days this year. That needs to change.
The first vote that legislators cast in Juneau will be a vote for new leadership for the coming legislature. That leadership will have a lot to say about how long the legislature will be in session next year, and whether the legislature will honor the 90-day session limit that currently exists in state law. Excellent leadership will find a way to do so.
If the Texas Legislature, with a state population of more than 28 million, can honor a 140-day cap on its session every two years, then Alaska can honor a 180-day cap over the same time period.
Excellent leadership recognizes the importance of preserving Alaska’s future for posterity and will not ask legislators to support an unsustainable budget that condemns future generations to a standard of living beneath our own.
Excellent leadership recognizes that we will accomplish very little over the next two years if we do not acknowledge and address the profound sense of betrayal felt by so many Alaskans when they think of the actions taken by their legislature, their governor and their senior US Senator in recent years.
There is much work to be done.
Two years ago, Alaskan voters elected a Republican majority, and were caught by surprise when some Republican legislators voted to elect a Democrat Speaker of the House. The most charitable description I can offer of that experiment is that it was a train wreck.
This year, Alaskan voters elected 13 Republicans, a majority, in the State Senate. That the majority should be made up of those 13 Republicans seems so intuitive as to be obvious to even the most casual reader.
This year, Alaskan voters elected 23 Republicans, a majority, in the State House.
As with the Senate, that Republican majority needs to be comprised of Republicans. If we would avoid yet another betrayal of the people, it must be led by a Republican Speaker of the House who will make critical issues, like the repeal of SB91, a personal priority. It feels quite odd that this even needs to be said.
Likewise, as voters elected a Republican majority in the House, a Republican Speaker must make it clear that they will vote against bringing any Democrat legislators into the Republican majority while an elected Republican legislator is not included in that majority.
If we are going to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, this is the kind of new leadership that we are going to need going forward.