• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
4m 29s

Senate Democrats say gas line partisanship has gone too far

By Rhonda McBride 6:09 AM February 7, 2014

Both Democrats and Republicans alike acknowledge decisions made today will affect Alaskans for generations.

JUNEAU – In a democracy, the majority rules, and the majority makes the rules, which means it’s not an easy time for Democrats in the Senate.

But lately, they’ve been chaffing under the strict discipline of the Senate President Charlie Huggins; particularly Sen. Bill Wielechowski.

The problems started in the first days of the session, when Sen. Hollis French requested that Wielechowski take his seat on the Senate Natural Resources Committee. French, an Anchorage Democrat and candidate for Lt. Governor, was taking over as minority leader from Sen. Johnny Ellis, who is recovering from cancer and other health problems.

Huggins denied French’s request. Then this week, he denied a request from Senate Democrats to send Gov. Sean Parnell’s natural gas legislation for review to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Wielechowski is a member.

His reason? The lawmaker said it wasn’t necessary to send the bill to the judiciary committee because French is a lawyer and can review the legalities of the legislation as a member of the Natural Resources Committee.

Sound like inside baseball?

Democrats call it political hardball and worry that the governor’s natural gas legislation will be fast-tracked in the Legislature with little or no review.

Republicans have said such committee decisions are Huggins’ prerogative as Senate president. They credit him for being the adult in the room, focused on keeping the legislative process moving efficiently.

Democrats consider Wielechowski one of the most knowledgeable lawmakers on oil and gas issues and believe he is being squelched.

Wielechowski is frustrated — yet undeterred — in playing the watchdog role.

“I guess I don’t, sort of, kiss the ring. I just speak my mind,” Wielechowski said. “I’ve been through the oil and gas wars for the last eight years.”

The Anchorage Democrat has also been one of the minority’s most vocal opponents of SB 21, oil tax reform legislation that reduced taxes for the industry. He’s also actively fighting for repeal of the law in a ballot initiative, so it’s understandable why Republicans aren’t particularly anxious to give him a forum on one of the key committees for the gas legislation.

Sen. Cathy Giessel, co-chair of the resources committee, believes Huggins made the right call when he refused to send the governor’s legislation to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“It is a resources and a fiscal issue, so those are the committees it gets referred to,” Giessel said.

She also said the majority is not silencing Wielechowski.

“We all get a vote. This bill will go to the floor,” Giessel said. “We will stand up, each individually and have an opportunity to debate and then at the end of the day, we’ll either push the red button or the green button.”

But Wielechowski said that as a committee member, he would have the opportunity to question industry executives, to push them to answer questions that are important to the state’s future.

So far, the discussion on the Alaska LNG Project, in which the state is seeking a 20-25 percent ownership stake, has been tightly controlled by the Parnell administration, partly because aspects of the proposed deal between the state, three oil and gas producers and a pipeline company are extremely complicated.

“This shouldn’t be about pushing a political agenda. It shouldn’t be about partisan politics. It shouldn’t be about personalities,” Wielechowski said. “It should be about doing what’s best for Alaska. And the way you get there is by having diametrically opposing views and letting them duke it out. That’s what democracy is all about.”

Giessel said there will be checks and balances in the process because lawmakers will utilize consultants who work for the Legislature.

“We sort of have that dueling consultant set-up, where one side will say this and then our side will either confirm or contest.”

There are some Senate Republicans who don’t always agree with Wielechowski’s views, but wonder if it would be better for the Senate to utilize his expertise because it would help the majority better defend the positions it takes or possibly help them avoid a pitfall.

Wielechowski doesn’t plan on being a “wallflower.” He said he will continue to follow hearings closely and remain as active as possible.

“They can keep me off the committee, but they can’t kill my voice,” Wielechowski said.

The bookshelves in his office are filled with big binders of information about gas line projects from both then and now — all within arm’s reach.

Wielechowski said he thinks it’s a mistake for the Senate president to withhold the governor’s legislation from the Judiciary Committee because every major piece of oil and gas legislation has undergone a review by the committee, including SB 21.

In the meantime, on the House side, Republican leaders promise the Alaska LNG Project will get a thorough vetting.

“It’s not just the Democrats,” said House Speaker Mike Chenault. “I think everyone in this room and everyone in this building has some concern on making sure Alaska gets the right deal put together.”

“All of us would love to have a gas pipeline, but not at any cost,” Chenault said.

Both Democrats and Republicans alike acknowledge the costs to the state could be great, because the decisions made today will affect Alaskans for generations.

Latest Stories

  • Lifestyle

    New treatments available in Alaska for Hepatitis C

    by Lauren Maxwell on Jan 27, 20:55

    Hepatitis C is a disease that health officials say kills more Alaskans than HIV and AIDS, but according to state health officials, most of the people who have the virus don’t know it. State Hepatitis prevention coordinator Ginger Provo says more than 16,000 Alaskans have been infected with the Hepatitis C virus since the state […]

  • Weather

    Evening News weather, Jan. 27

    by KTVA Weather on Jan 27, 20:20

    Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound Expect slightly warmer conditions as the clouds push in. Prince William Sound will have highs in the 30s. Southeast Rain returns across the north and the south. Interior/North Slope In the Interior, expect very low temperatures. Fort Yukon will get down to 55 degrees below zero tonight. Expect partly […]

  • News

    Anchorage police: missing 14-year-old girl found safe

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Jan 27, 18:56

    Last Updated Tuesday, 9:15 p.m. Anchorage police have located the 14-year-old girl and say she is safe. Original story Anchorage police are asking for the public’s help locating a missing 14-year-old girl who they say is vulnerable. Tika Simone Hawkins was last seen Tuesday morning when family dropped her off at Central Middle School. She […]

  • News

    Juneau committee approves waste management option in lieu of shipping waste

    by Shannon Kemp on Jan 27, 18:33

    The city of Juneau has had a waste management issue for more than four years now. The city’s sewage sludge incinerator — used to burn solidified waste — broke down in 2010. The Assembly Committee of the Whole has approved at least one option to deal with the problem. Currently, Juneau’s water waste is solidified into […]

  • News

    In Spenard, Celestial Sweets moves into former Sugar Spoon location

    by Heather Hintze on Jan 27, 16:00

    A popular Spenard bakery has a new owner and a new name. Celestial Sweets Boutique moved into the old Sugar Spoon location at the intersection of Spenard Road and 26th Avenue at the end of November. Owner Liz Madsen worked as a pastry chef at Kinley’s Restaurant and Bar for about three years. She says […]

  • News

    Wisconsin plane heading to Alaska crashes, killing 1

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Jan 27, 12:40

    A plane heading to Alaska has crashed, leaving one man dead and two injured, according to Wisconsin officials. The Clark Country Sheriff’s office was notified of the crash around 10:43 a.m. Monday, along Center Road in Hoard, Wisconsin, after two 911 calls were made, one by the pilot. The pilot, 27-year-old Mark Siegwart of Hammond, […]

  • News

    4 rockets launched into northern lights to study turbulence

    by Associated Press on Jan 27, 11:21

    Four NASA soundings rockets were launched within a half hour into the northern lights in an effort to better understand and visualize turbulent air currents in the upper atmosphere. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports (http://is.gd/NTxf0H) the rockets appeared to have produced data in the early Monday morning launches near Fairbanks. The launches into the active […]

  • News

    Bergdahl decision expected in days

    by CNN on Jan 27, 11:14

    The Army is expected to decide in the coming days how to proceed with disciplinary action against Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the soldier who left his post in Afghanistan, and was captured and held by the Taliban for years before being exchanged last year for five detainees from Guantanamo Bay, but Pentagon officials are insisting no decision […]