Who can run? Why being a legislator costs many their jobs
Alaska's part-time legislature is practically full-time now. Lawmakers are going back to Juneau for a fourth special session next month. It will be the first time a legislature has ever convened for so many in one year.
This year, 2017, has been a tough one for the legislature all around. Lawmakers have spent more than half of it in the capital city, which has left little time for anything else.
"Right now, I'm a legislator. That's my full-time job," said House Minority Leader Charisse Millett (R-Anchorage). "We didn't have a lot of special sessions when I first became a legislator, or if we did they were one day or a week. So, it made it difficult for me, or anyone, frankly, to have a full-time job."
That's the case for many lawmakers -- even in more average times.
Mia Costello gave up her full-time job as a teacher to run for office in 2011. And it's only because of family that she's able to leave her school-age children to serve.
"While I'm in Juneau, my mother-in-law comes down from Fairbanks and she actually lives with our family and helps out because we don't know my husband's schedule from a day to day basis," Costello explained.
A legislative pocket directory shows few lawmakers can maintain full-time work outside of elected office.
Rep. Matt Claman (D-Anchorage), a practicing lawyer, is one of those few.
Claman's managed to rearrange his cases around his legislative duties.
"The [judicial] system has some protections to allow a person that's a lawyer to both serve in the legislature and continue to have an active law practice," Claman explained.
When Claman is in town, he splits his time between the courthouse and his legislative office.
"Right now, I've got my legislator hat on and I'm not thinking about what I need to do when I go to my law office," Claman said, as he answered emails from constituents.
Claman may be one of the few who's found a way to make it work.
"But, it's still-- it's very challenging," Claman said.
It's a challenge that limits who can run for office. Alaska's citizen legislature is now made up of an increasingly narrow category of citizen.
"I wish that more people had the opportunity to run," said Costello.
"You know, I’ve already had a career," added Millett, who used to work in the airline industry. "I fear that we'll lose the younger generation and that young voice."
Gov. Bill Walker has scheduled a special session to discuss revenue on Monday, October 23.