The first meeting of the legislature in the Mat-Su Valley convened on Monday morning, despite a majority of legislators not accepting Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s invitation.
Dunleavy’s proclamation to call the second special session of this legislative session was set to focus on the Permanent Fund Dividend, an issue constantly on the minds of Alaskans. However, with the release of Dunleavy’s vetoes, the uproar caused by the possible cuts ignited a new cause for debate. Those residents who felt strongly on both sides lined the sidewalk of Wasilla Middle School up to the front doors.
Walking down the sidewalk with masses of people on each side holding signs and shouting, one could audibly hear the change in the volume of the dominant chant from “save the PFD” to “Alaska pride, override.”
The members of the House and Senate who made the trip out to Wasilla other than the Mat-Su delegation included Rep. Sara Rasmuson, Rep. Laddie Shaw, Sen. Lora Reinbold, Sen. Mia Costello and Rep. Lance Pruitt. Pruitt and Costello led the conversation following the brief special session inside the Wasilla Middle School gym, still unable to answer many of the looming questions about the state fiscal dilemma.
“The most encouraging thing that we have going for us as Alaskans is that when tough times come we actually do come together,” Costello said.
Legislators who came to Wasilla Middle School to conduct the business of the legislature were kept safe. Concerns over massive delays in traffic and the safety of legislators being accessible to those in attendance were largely nullified. Pruitt scoffed that the influx of people who visit the Alaska State Fair every year is far greater than that of the legislators.
“Yet 30 some people decided they couldn’t come out to Wasilla because somehow they would be unsafe? The argument doesn’t seem to hold true. I myself did not feel concerned,” Pruitt said. “As a matter of fact, look at me. I’m not packing. Why? Because I’m not worried about the people out here in the Valley.”
Wasilla Police had five officers on scene, including WPD Chief Gene Belden. Two WPD cars were positioned at the entryway and the five WPD officers were joined by Alaska State Troopers Captain Tony April. The hundreds of people who packed into the WMS gym did not bother legislators, who said they had calm and civil conversations with those who came to voice their concerns. Legislators began the day responding to news that was happening outside the walls of Wasilla Middle School. A lawsuit filed by Al Vezey with attorney Bill Satterberg on behalf of the citizens of Alaska will be filed against the members of the legislature who chose to meet in Juneau, as told by Sen. Shelley Hughes.
Costello was informed that she had lost her leadership positions because she came to Wasilla.
“I will continue to be that leader for my district and the state no matter what label I have attached to my name,” Costello said. “If you’re serious about the work that we have left, this is where it can happen it can happen, legally, here. So it’s our hope that those who are in Juneau will join us in Wasilla.”
Costello would not say if the legislators in Wasilla would hold out past the five days that the legislature has to vote on veto overrides.
“As elected officials, it’s our job to work together, not to dig our heels in but to work together to try to find common ground so that we can address these issues,” Costello said. “We were ready and it’s set up in order to conduct business so that’s our hope. We know that the public’s frustrated and Rep Pruitt actually spoke to that in his remarks, we’re frustrated too.”
Costello did admit that the legislators in Wasilla have contemplated putting a call on the house, which would mandate the attendance of missing legislators. Costello said that those in Wasilla had not yet exhausted their ‘basket of tools’ and were optimistic that they could vote on vetoed funding. Costello mentioned the positive of over $1 billion in Federal Highway and Airport match that Dunleavy added. In mentioning the signing of House Bill 49 in Anchorage prior to the session which repeals the unpopular Senate Bill 91, Costello said it was a great day for Alaska.
“Tomorrow is going to be one of the most powerful days in the history of Alaska because HB 49 goes into affect on July 9, 2019,” said Sen. Lora Reinbold.
Hughes also alerted the media that they have organized a new Facebook group called ‘2019 Second Special Session Alaska State Legislature.” Legislators continued to reiterate that the governor called the legislators to Wasilla, and that they felt they were statutorily and constitutionally obligated to oblige.
“We’re here today because we’re following the law,” Pruitt said. “My understanding is that the opinion of the attorney general is that having not gaveled in here where the governor has indicated, it is an illegitimate session.”
Pruitt said that it would have been easier for the larger body of legislators in Juneau to come to Wasilla and use their majority to vote to move the session elsewhere. Pruitt then said that if the governor called him to the remote Aleutian Islands town of Unalaska that he would go there, because that’s what the law passed in 1982 says.
“You could actually argue that those in Juneau want the vetoes to stand because they’d be here where we can actually take action,” Costello said. “This is the place of business for the session and that is backed the by the statue and the constitution.”
The Mat-Su Borough School District is allowing the use of Wasilla Middle School by the legislature free of charge. Hughes made sure to mention that the session is costing zero state dollars, and none of the legislators in Wasilla are accepting per diem. MSBSD Administrative Officials from the District Office were on site to patrol the parking lot and ensure the safety of the session. While safety concerns were not prevalent at Wasilla Middle School, some legislators have been visited at their homes by residents who want to engage in conversation.
Sen. Mike Shower encouraged groups that are encouraging emotional confrontations with legislators at their homes to cease such requests.
“That is nothing but a recipe for disaster,” Shower said. “That is a sanctuary that should not be breached.”
Contact Frontiersman reporter Tim Rockey at firstname.lastname@example.org.