Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, gave his annual address to the Alaska State Legislature on May 3, 2021, but some Democratic lawmakers said the speech brought the partisanship of Washington D.C. to Alaska. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

In letter, Alaska Democrats say Sullivan brought D.C. partisanship to Juneau

Lawmakers say senator’s rhetoric was inflamatory

A group of Democrats in the Alaska State Legislature sent a letter to Sen. Dan Sullivan this week expressing their disappointment for what they said was a deeply partisan speech on the floor of the Legislature earlier this month.

“Today, we express our sincere disappointment for bringing Washington, D.C. partisanship to Alaska and embedding the divisive tone of that partisanship and rhetoric into our chambers,” Democrats wrote. “During your speech, you blamed Democrats, our ideals, and our passion for a better America as the problem in this country.”

In his speech on May 3, Sullivan accused the Biden administration of targeting Alaska working families when he rolled back a number of Trump administration environmental orders.

“Alaska is always the gift that national Democrats always give their radical environmental supporters,” Sullivan said.

He also accused the national Democratic Party of “tempting America with cradle-to-grave European-style socialism,” and said “dysfunctional and mismanaged cities across the nation are hollowing out,” as people seek a lower cost of living.

[‘Time is running out’ lawmaker warns of state finances]

Democrats said in their letter the rhetoric undermined the kind of bipartisanship that had been fostered in the Legislature in the past few years. It was signed by Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, Anchorage; Sens. Elvi Gray, Anchorage; Jesse Kiehl, Juneau; Scott Kawasaki, Fairbanks; Donny Olson, Golovin; Bill Wielechowski, Anchorage; and Reps. Ivy Sponholz; Andy Josephson; and Harriet Drummond, all from Anchorage.

In a phone interview Thursday, Begich said he had never heard such strong partisan rhetoric in an address to the joint session of the Legislature.

“I have a good working relationship with the governor. I have a good working relationship with Senate Leadership. That’s because we treat each other like colleagues.”

Begich has led the Senate Minority for the past two years and has introduced the Alaska Reads Act, a comprehensive reading bill crafted with Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office. He also cited the House of Representatives being led by a coalition of Republicans, independents and Democrats in each of the past three Legislatures.

The speech was symbolic of the division of the Republican Party at the national level, Begich said, and was uncomfortable Sullivan had used “language that’s designed to inflame people.”

In an email, Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said he was sympathetic to Democrats’ concerns but felt the agenda coming from the Biden administration was antithetical to Alaska’s interests.

“I appreciated that Senator Dan Sullivan spoke plainly about the DC-born challenges Alaska faces and our federal delegation’s efforts to address them,” Micciche said. “I took his words during joint session as frustration reacting to the immediate and sweeping actions of the Biden administration that has disproportionately negatively affected Alaska and Alaskans and I personally share that frustration.”

[Few arrivals and many departures: Alaska and Juneau populations continue to shrink]

In an email, Sullivan’s office said the senator stood by the speech.

“Throughout his tenure, Senator Sullivan has consistently been ranked as one of the most bipartisan and effective lawmakers in the U.S. Congress,” said Nate Adams, press secretary for Sullivan’s office. “Senator Sullivan stands by his speech, his disappointment and frustration with the Biden administration’s policies, and his call to all members of the Alaska Legislature to join him in convincing the Biden administration to halt its assault on Alaska working families.”

Adams’ letter cited Sullivans’ rankings from the Lugar Center, a Washington D.C. think tank established by a former Republican Senator, and the Center for Effective Lawmaking, a joint project of Vanderbilt University and the University of Virginia. The Lugar Center ranks him as the 16th most bipartisan senator and Center for Effective Lawmaking rank him as the fifth most effective Republican senator. Alaska’s other Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski, is ranked as the second most-bipartisan Senator and fourth most-effective Republican senator. Don Young, R-Alaska, was ranked as the sixth most-effective House Republican and the sixth most-bipartisan House Republican.

“We cannot imagine that you genuinely believe the rhetoric you professed during joint session because it is not how Alaskans work with each other. We may differ, but we don’t demean or denigrate,” the letter said.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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