28th Legislature Gavels In
New leadership and Republican domination among changes
JUNEAU - It’s on in Juneau.
The 28th Legislature is officially in session, as of Tuesday afternoon.
There was a big change, and also a little bit of history.
There was a lot of ceremony, as always on opening day, and many expressions of good will, which often don’t hold up over the course of a legislative session.
But for now, everyone is acting the statesman.
There were songs, prayers, oaths and speeches.
Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell swore in 59 of the 60 legislators, missing only Fairbanks Representative David Guttenberg, temporarily absent because of his wife’s illness.
The House gaveled in first, and Nikiski Republican Mike Chenault became the first representative to be elected speaker three consecutive times.
But continuity was broken in the Senate, with a 15-member Republican-led majority taking over from the bipartisan coalition of the past six years.
Charlie Huggins of Wasilla became Senate president, replacing Republican Gary Stevens of Kodiak, who Huggins thanked for his service.
Huggins says everybody’s voice will be heard in the Senate. “But we’re also proud to say we have a cross-section of Alaska. As you know, we have two Democrats in our request to represent all of Alaska, and so we’re proud of that, and think it’ll work out very well.”
Democrat Bill Wielechowski says the dialogue won’t always be adversarial.
“We’ve worked with most of the people in the majority in the past and hope to continue to have good relationships. If there are things that we agree on, we’ll be completely supportive. If there are things that we disagree, we think they’re taking the state down the wrong direction, then we’ll fight as hard as we can to try to do what’s best for Alaska.”
The fights are sure to come. But for now, there’s a sense that they’re all in this together.
It remains to be seen how the new Senate configuration will affect the biggest issue on the table: how to change the oil production tax to encourage more investment and production.
Governor Parnell seemingly has the Republican majority he needs to enact a big cut, but Wielechowski says there still might be enough Democratic and Republican votes in the Senate to block what he considers a giveaway.