It remains to be seen if Republican and Democrat affiliates in the Alaska Legislature can keep to the people’s business first as they jostle for important committee seats and push political agendas.
On the Kenai Peninsula, we again have Rep. Mike Chenault as President of the Alaska House, but lose Sen. Gary Stevens in our newly-configured Senate District 0 representative. We welcome newcomer Sen. Peter Micciche, who will have a chance to show his own political skills in the newly formed senate majority he joined Wednesday. And we retain the stability of Rep. Paul Seaton’s standings and history.
But there’s no doubt from the activities this past week that Alaska will see a newly shaped legislature. One of the more conservative, main-line Republicans in the Senate, Sen. Charlie Huggins of Wasilla, becomes the new Senate president for the 28th Legislature set to convene Jan. 15.
Called the All-Alaskan Majority Republicans, we watched throughout the week as a core group of 11 Republicans quickly assembled within hours of hearing election results. They were joined by two Democrats and two other Republicans before the week ended. Their 15 in a governing body of 20 legislators means if they chose to stand united, they can block or push any measure to passage. Even the governor’s desired tax breaks for the big three oil producers on the North Slope, BP, Conoco Philips and Exxon.
The jockeying becomes important to home districts because the governing caucus runs the agenda for the Senate or the House by establishing leaders, committee chairs and the membership of key committees like Finance and Rules.
The leadership and chairmen determine the pace of legislation and which bills get hearings. They play a major role in what items get in the budget and which capital projects get funded.
Homer and other lower Kenai Peninsula communities will keep the stability of Seaton’s positions as he returns to the legislature in January for a sixth term. He remains chair of the Fisheries Committee and keeps his seat on Health and Social Services, and on the Resources and Education Committees. He’s also part of the House majority and starts a new alliance with Rep. Curt Olson, who now represents the nearby Kenai-Soldotna area.
Olson and Seaton are seated together in the House, where they have worked together for four years. This should bode well for a good working relationship to strengthen Peninsula goals we may share.
The Senate, however, is the place the watch. The Senate Majority are looking at three key issues of the caucus. They want to get more oil through the trans-Alaska pipeline, build a gas pipeline and bring cheaper energy to Fairbanks and the Interior. There are no rules about how its members must vote on issues, but there is a certain philosophy the members are expected to share.
These are worthwhile goals that many of us share. Certainly Homer residents have much in common with Fairbanks’ dire need for cheaper resources for heat. But the details in maps to get where they’re headed with today’s largest pipeline flow and production questions need public watching.
That they gather forces so soon means we need to watch all the more closely.
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