Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire 
Members of the Alaska State Legislature introduce themselves before a mock floor session for new lawmakers in the House chambers of the state Capitol on Friday. Most of the 19 new members, the most since 1984, are going through three days of orientation before the session starts Tuesday.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire Members of the Alaska State Legislature introduce themselves before a mock floor session for new lawmakers in the House chambers of the state Capitol on Friday. Most of the 19 new members, the most since 1984, are going through three days of orientation before the session starts Tuesday.

‘Freshmen 19’ bring unusual heft to Capitol

Class of incoming lawmakers includes many with legislative experience.

The “freshmen 19” isn’t about new politicians gaining more weight than new college students, but as a group of first-timers they relative heavyweights.

The number of new members of the Alaska State Legislature is the highest since 1984, due largely to 59 of the 60 seats being open in November’s election. But Rep. Andi Story, a Juneau Democrat beginning her third two-year term when the session starts Tuesday, said Friday a lot of the newcomers have previously served as legislators or staff at the Capitol.

“There’s a lot of experience in that legislature that will help us,” she said.

Among such “newcomers” is Rep. Dan Saddler, an Eagle River Republican, who is returning after serving in the House from 2011 to 2018, when he resigned to work for newly elected Gov. Mike Dunleavy. Saddler was among the newly elected lawmakers attending three days of orientation this week, including a mock floor session Friday, even though almost everything presented was familiar.

“There’s more decorum than I recall, which is good to see,” Saddler said after the mock session. Also, new to him is the spiffy electronic vote board, which “looks like a Jumbotron.”

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire 
House pages distribute scripts for a mock floor session Friday. The script, featuring obviously fake proposed legislation, guided legislators though the various complexities that can arise during everyday business while in session.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire House pages distribute scripts for a mock floor session Friday. The script, featuring obviously fake proposed legislation, guided legislators though the various complexities that can arise during everyday business while in session.

Saddler also has years of working as a staff member at the Capitol, including serving as the press secretary for the House’s Republican majority.

“Having been in this building for 25 years I thought I had a lot to offer,” he said when asked why he opted to run again after losing his last election in the Republican primary for a state Senate seat in 2018.

Still unknown as the opening of the session approaches is the composition of the House majority, similar to the past two sessions where near-even party resulted in negotiations going well past opening day and ultimately bipartisan majorities. The results of the most recent election suggest a Republican majority is feasible, although legislators involved in the discussions generally say the focus is on what parameters are needed for another bipartisan coalition.

“There are a lot of conversations happening,” Story said. “I think it’s going to be the commonality of what we have in a new multi-partisan coalition.”

Saddler, having observed the stalemate of recent years from outside Juneau, said perhaps the arrival of the 19 newcomers will resolve the majority issue quicker.

“Maybe shuffling the deck and changing the cards will help us move forward,” he said.

Logistics employees push hand trucks down a hallway at the Alaska State Capitol on Friday after placing chairs in the Senate chamber. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Logistics employees push hand trucks down a hallway at the Alaska State Capitol on Friday after placing chairs in the Senate chamber. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Mocking up isn’t hard to do

Most, but not all, of the newly elected lawmakers arrived in Juneau this week for three days of orientation including a walkthrough of the building, overview of security procedures, rules and protocol instruction and meetings with various agencies involved in session-related work. There was also a mock committee meeting Thursday afternoon before the new members, along with the previous session’s leaders, gathered in the House chambers Friday morning for a mock floor session.

While real-life floor sessions are sometimes perceived as scripted based on decisions made in closed-door caucus and other meetings beforehand, Friday’s mock session had an actual script. Members during the 90-minute meeting were guided through all of the usual orders of floor business from offering an invocation to motioning for adjournment.

None of the newcomers were likely distracted by anything the script being actual policy items when the real session starts. Among the first items, for instance, was a citation from Juneau’s delegation honoring the 2017 Alaska Teacher of the Year (listed as Hayden Clark — who according Google might be a mighty flight commander or high school quarterback — when the actual winner was James Harris of Soldotna High School).

A bill introduced as fake fodder for exploring the various actions legislators can take on the floor proposed limiting the number of bills and resolutions a member can introduce during a two-year session to 10. One freshman was then scripted to introduce an amendment raising the limit to 20, followed by another member objecting to the increase.

“Mr./Madam Speaker, I stand to oppose Amendment #1,” the scripted response declares. “The purpose of the legislation is to reduce the volume of bills and resolutions, not put in place a meaningless cap. I urge you to vote no on Amendment #1.”

Other matters covered by that one bill included placing a Call on the House, voting on the amendment, changing a vote, calling for an at ease before voting on the bill itself, moving the effective date and serving notice of reconsideration.

Several veteran legislators watched the mock session from the audience section, including Rep. Sarah Hannan of Juneau. When asked about something new she learned during her mock floor session as a freshman four years ago she cited a nuance — but an important one — of parliamentary procedure.

“That our chief clerk serves as our floor parliamentarian,” she said. “Why that matters is we use Mason’s (Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure), not Robert’s Rules of Order.” (The latter is commonly used by municipalities and school boards.)

Whetting appetites for what’s ahead

Juneau’s delegation hosted a lunch featuring local Filipino food for the newcomers Thursday, one of many meet-and-greets and receptions arriving lawmakers will be invited to during the coming weeks. Among the first is the 39th Annual Community Welcome Reception, hosted by Juneau municipal and business leaders, from 5-6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall.

Lawmakers, their staff and other workers in the Capitol will have plenty of activity to built up their appetites for those free food gatherings in the meantime.

Workers moving furniture in and around the building said they expect to be there during the weekend, as do many legislative staff. The Legislative Affairs Agency is among the entities that will be open Monday despite the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday.

The 33rd Alaska State Legislature is officially scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Tuesday when the Senate gavels in. The House is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.

Once that happens a plethora of additional “move-in” actions will follow, including members moving to new offices — although in the House a majority needs to be formed before those are assigned — along with replacing the physical and electronic nameplates for the incoming “freshmen 19.”

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com

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