Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated that Sen.-elect Jesse Kiehl was an intern for U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens while attending the University of Alaska Anchorage. It was actually while he was attending Whitman College in Washington.
Juneau’s freshman legislators — Reps.-elect Andi Story and Sara Hannan, and Sen.-elect Jesse Kiehl — are gearing up for the 31st legislative session which starts on Tuesday.
“As a teacher, it’s like that whole sense of the first day of school — all of that,” Hannan said. “Everyone’s excited to see each other. There’s lots of energy.”
Story is excited too.
“People are ready to get to work. You campaign for a long time and you want to get the state’s affairs in order,” Story said during a Wednesday phone interview.
Story, who will represent House District 34, spent 15 years on the Juneau School District Board of Education. She has seen first-hand how budget cuts to education — about $11 million cut in recent years — have impacted the district.
Story believes that students are the state’s greatest resource, and training the next generation and adults for success should be a priority.
“We cannot neglect education. In order to plan we need early funding … I would like to put forward a three-year funding bill with a modest budget increase,” Story said. “I want to know how others see that. I want to put forward a realistic plan that has a good chance of passing.”
Last year, the Legislature forward funded education for one year. Without forward funding, school districts around the state have made tentative budgets and then waited for the state to deal out appropriations. Oftentimes districts have had to readjust their budgets after receiving their state appropriation.
Story is also concerned with economic stability and growth, which are important in creating a good business climate. She hopes a stable budget is passed and hopes they can talk about general obligation bonds to address the states deferred maintenance.
Story said improving public safety is something everyone can agree on. She stressed that all facets of public safety — drug treatment, prosecutors, open courts, etc. — must be addressed.
Hannan is not currently writing any legislation, but her enthusiasm is palpable. Hannan’s political aspirations were fueled by the 2016 election and Trumpian politics. She became involved in a local group called The Resistors, which spawned from the Women’s March.
“I had no idea I was a radical feminist until I met frat boys,” Hannan said, speaking of her college years during a Tuesday interview. It was also in college that Hannan became enamored with Juneau and politics while working as a seasonal legislative staffer. She went on to teach government and other social sciences at Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka. She continued teaching at Juneau-Douglas High School for 20 years.
After first looking over the prefiled bills this week, Hannan was particularly excited to see Rep. Geran Tarr’s, D-Anchorage, House Bill 20, which would require law enforcement agencies to send sexual assault kits out to be processed within six months. The Department of Public Safety’s 2018 legislative report showed that although progress had been made on the state’s backlog of unprocessed sexual assault kits, more than 2,500 kits were not processed as of November 2018.
And she is “definitely supportive” of Rep. Matt Claman’s House Bill 21, which would require insurers and medicaid to offer contraceptives and prescription contraceptives.
Public safety is an important issue for Hannan, too. She said her meeting with Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Monday was productive. She explained how many of the cuts to the public safety budget in recent years have been made on the executive level. She said she wanted to make it clear to Dunleavy he does not need to make those cuts.
When asked about any prefiled bills she does not like she said, “There are some really ugly ones I hope never see the light of day.” She was referring to Sutton Rep. Steven Rauscher’s proposal to move the capital from Juneau to Anchorage, and Rauscher’s House Bill 5, which would prevent the state from paying for gender confirmation surgery and also prevent the state from offering that surgery or related drug treatments as an insurance benefit.
Sen.-elect Jesse Kiehl got his start in politics as college student as an intern for U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens at his Washington, D.C. office, while attending Whitman College in Washington. He has been enamored with politics and policy ever since.
He has worked as a staffer for Sen. Dennis Egan, whose seat he’ll take on Tuesday when he is sworn in. The last seven years he has worked on the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly.
“I’ve enjoyed working on thorny public policy issues,” Kiehl said.
He discussed the budget, which is perhaps the thorniest of all issues in Alaska right now. He would like to see a constitutional amendment passed to protect the Permanent Fund Dividend, but also use that amendment to appropriate a portion of the Fund’s earnings toward the operating budget.
“Only the (Alaska) Constitution constrains the Legislature,” Kiehl said.
Kiehl is well aware his budget fix doesn’t align with Dunleavy, who has talked extensively of making cuts to align expenses with revenue. However, Kiehl said it’s easy for people to get caught up in the disagreements. He said there is so much work to do and he’d rather focus on building off common ground.
Whatever budget the Legislature adopts, Kiehl said the budget must be sustainable.
“We have to have the infrastructure, public safety, education and quality of life that makes (Alaska) a good place to live,” Kiehl said.
Kiehl is in the process of writing legislation, but would not say what it concerns or when it might be released.
• Contact reporter Kevin Baird at 523-2258.