• Sen. Micciche to visit Homer 5-7 p.m. Friday in Homer City Council Chambers
By Naomi Klouda
Sen. Peter Micciche’s first 45 days proved a “trial by fire” as he was immediately installed on eight committees and initiated into a leadership role on four of them.
Micciche’s many legislative roles shows an unusual track that could be a boon for District O constituents. It lost an experienced senator in Tom Wagoner who carried enough clout to get rules for Cook Inlet oil development changed. And through reapportionment, the district lost its long-standing Sen. Gary Stevens. But it gained a senator who’s been welcomed with open arms among the Republican leadership in Juneau, critics and admirers say.
“There is no question that the trial by fire of serving on eight committees and leading several is a benefit to a forced and early initiation into the intricacies of the Alaska Legislature,” Micciche concedes. “The assignments, often not awarded to most folks many years into the process, expose me and our team to influence nearly every bill coming through the Legislature with the needs of District O in mind.”
He finds it also allows him to consolidate power by building key relationships with legislators from other districts and geographic areas.
No time was wasted assigning freshman Sen. Micciche as he was sworn into office Jan. 15 in the Alaska Senate. Perhaps the biggest assignment is on the Trans Alaska Pipeline Service Throughput Decline Committee as co-chair with Sen. Mike Dunleavy.
The former mayor of Soldotna who otherwise had previously only served on the city council was chosen by conservative Senate Speaker Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, for committee assignments. Huggins is a retired U.S. Army colonel chosen to lead the more partisan Republican-dominated senate. He placed Micciche on the Community and Regional Affairs Committee, which he chairs. He’s vice chair of Health and Social Services; vice chair of Labor and Commerce, vice chair of the legislative council and holds a seat on Resources, the World Trade Committee and Instate Energy.
Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, one of the longest serving legislators in the Senate (since 1986), said he doesn’t see Micciche’s committee assignments as extraordinary.
“When you add in regular standing committee assignments and finance subcommittee memberships, it adds up to many meetings and a great deal of work,” Ellis said. “His assignments could not be characterized as plum or top power positions, but he has plenty of opportunities to express his opinions on a range of issues.”
But there’s no doubt Micciche is in the thick of it.
Micciche is also a Conoco Phillips employee on leave during the session. He is the supervisor of Conoco’s LNG Plant in Kenai and he’s off the clock, not earning a paycheck – a reminder he reiterates often. “I felt it was important to separate all my other interests. I’m not receiving a paycheck, and I’m not in contact with anyone from the company. We’ve drawn very hard lines.”
With a major discussion on oil taxes as the governor’s priority, the feeling is that it’s no secret why the freshman senator finds himself so popular. But Micciche insists he is District O’s man first, not the governor’s man or owing allegiance to oil interests.
“(I think) Senate leadership felt that I had the tools to manage a difficult workload and I intend to continue proving them to be correct,” Micciche said.
District O, ranging from Seldovia to Kenai, may be in a good spot, given the light on Micciche. Legislative grant and capital priorities range from new infrastructure projects like a new fire station at Skyline, harbor and museum help to borough hospital and school requests.
The past three sessions, Homer didn’t get to cross much off its wish list when it came to state funding. The natural gasline money stayed in the budget after two previous governor vetoes, but roads, infrastructure and energy projects languished.
This year, that could change, he says.
“The benefits are significant. First, and perhaps most important, is that District O has not suffered the typical loss of seniority that occurs when there is a new senator or representative. The issues of District O are heard often and over a wide audience of many committees as opposed to the audience of a few,” Micciche said.
Of the committees, the TAPS discussions seem to garner the most attention as work toward restructuring oil taxes grinds on. But with his eye on the budget, the other committee work might help him lend a competitive edge.
Micciche numbers his priorities this session as the budget, revenue and energy. “So my positions on TAPS, Resources and Instate Energy are important. Yet, depending on the issues of the day, all of the committees of the Legislature are important, especially the eight where I serve.”
When it comes to getting what they want, Juneau is an egalitarian environment where all senators and representatives are equal. “Each issue we deal with in the Capitol is important to someone in this building or their Alaskan constituent,” he said.
The key to passing legislation involves convincing 11 senators and 21 representatives that the issue is worthy of hours of discussion to find a solution. That’s a tough place to be heard.
“In many instances, the folks convinced that there is a problem do not reach the necessary level of support and the bills languish or die,” he notes.
A lot of bills deserve to die, but occasionally party politics or parochialism kills a very good solution for a real problem. That’s when it gets painful to watch, he said.
“I’m busy down here. There is no doubt about it,” Micciche said. “However, I went from a guy with three jobs to a guy with one. I am also blessed with an incredible, experienced staff that all have individual areas of expertise. I’ve always been busy, and I’m geared to efficiently handle many responsibilities at a time, which is key to being effective in Juneau.”
For now, that means long days that begin in the morning and end at night, with few weekends in between.
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