State Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, addresses a crowd during a May 7 rally at the Alaska State Capitol calling for public employee pension reform. Kiehl received the second-highest score in an annual online survey ranking legislators released Friday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)

State Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, addresses a crowd during a May 7 rally at the Alaska State Capitol calling for public employee pension reform. Kiehl received the second-highest score in an annual online survey ranking legislators released Friday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)

Kiehl finishes second in annual survey ranking legislators

Juneau state senator finishes behind Sen. Bill Wielechowski; Rep. Jamie Allard finishes last

An annual survey of best and worst Alaska legislators is out, and Juneau’s Democratic Sen. Jesse Kiehl ranks second — in the positive category.

The anonymous online survey by The Alaska Current received more than 300 responses after this year’s session ended May 18. Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat, topped the “best” rankings released Friday with a score of 3.89 out of five, with Kiehl second at 3.83.

“It’s nice to be recognized by somebody, even if we don’t know who,” Kiehl said Saturday when told about the results.

The survey asked respondents to score the intelligence, ethics and effectiveness of the 60 state legislators. Kiehl got near-top scores in each with 4.02 for intelligence, 3.93 for ethics and 3.56 for effectiveness.

Kiehl was part of the Senate’s majority caucus for the first time in his five years in the upper chamber and a member of the Senate Finance Committee that was primarily responsible for crafting the budget for next year approved by the Legislature.

Both of Juneau’s Democratic House members ranked above average, with Rep. Sara Hannan finishing 19th with an overall score of 3.47 and Rep. Andi Story tied for 25th at 3.37. Both scored higher for ethics, with Hannan at 3.69 and Story at 3.79, but lower in effectiveness with Hannan at 3.09 and Story at 2.9.

Both representatives were in the House minority caucus, thus lowering their prospects for achieving goals on their agenda, although Hannan as a member of the House Finance Committee was able to have more say on the crafting of the budget that still awaits Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s signature (and possible line-item vetoes) or rejection.

But — as Kiehl noted when hearing for the first time Saturday the top-ranking lawmakers in the survey — the “best” finishers are nearly all Democrats, which may reveal a skewed number of respondents favoring that party.

Wielechowski, who as chair of the Senate Rules Committee was the final gatekeeper in determining what legislation advanced to a floor vote, supplanted Dillingham independent Rep. Bryce Edgmon after he topped the poll repeatedly in previous years. Notable among Wielechowski’s category scores was his 4.22 for intelligence, significantly higher than almost everyone else near the top in that category.

Ranking next highest after Kiehl were Rep. Andy Josephson, an Anchorage Democrat with an overall score of 3.82 and second-place intelligence score of 4.14, Sen. Löki Tobin, an Anchorage Democrat with an overall score of 3.73 who was notorious for her public education and LGBTQ+ advocacy, and Sen. Bert Stedman, a Sitka Republican who got an overall score of 3.69.

Stedman’s individual scores were particularly revealing since as co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee he played a significant role behind the final budget deal reached by the Legislature. He received a 3.98 for effectiveness — by far the highest, with the second-place score of 3.66 going to Senate President Gary Stevens, a Kodak Republican — but his ethics score of 3.12 ranked 25th.

Finishing with the lowest overall score of 1.33 was Rep. Jamie Allard, an Eagle River Republican who spent her first year as co-chair of the House Education Committee. As a former Anchorage Assembly member, Allard’s first year in the Legislature was filled with news and social media headlines about her being one of the biggest supporters of a “parental rights” education bill that most people testifying called hostile to LGBTQ+ persons. She also got into numerous verbal public skirmishes with visitors at the Capitol and on the House floor.

Other low-scoring legislators were Rep. David Eastman — a Wasilla Republican notorious for comments and floor speeches that have provoked outrage — at 1.54, Wasilla Republic Sen. Mike Shower at 1.56, Anchorage Republican Rep. Tom Mckay (1.7) and Homer Republican Rep. Sarah Vance at 1.7.

The survey also singled out the most under-the-radar legislators, with Anchorage Republican Rep. Stanley Wright topping the list. The first-term lawmaker played a significant role in several bills that passed this year, including working with Kiehl to achieve a last-minute deal approving new restrictions on using PFAS chemicals for firefighting purposes.

Kiehl, who responded to questions by the Empire about the survey by phone from Skagway, said he’s been taking part in town halls and other legislative-related meetings in a variety of smaller Southeast Alaska communities since shortly after the end of this year’s session.

“I’m coming back with a to-do list as long as my arm,” he said.

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

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