According to former Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell, when Rep. Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River, chose to support Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, as speaker of the house, she “gave the Democrats the power to run the House.” And to him that means the Legislature won’t accomplish anything “for the next two years.”
The Legislature has one job to do right now. The state needs a sustainable budget. And we don’t have one because for five years too many Republicans have been performing a ritual dance around the idea that government spending is the source of all our fiscal problems.
Campbell should have little credibility on the party’s call to drastically cut state spending. For seven years, his nearly quarter-million-dollar salary as the president and CEO of the Alaska Aerospace Corporation put him among the highest paid individuals on the state payroll.
Furthermore, the Kodiak Launch Complex that Alaska Aerospace owned and operated was almost entirely subsidized by the state and federal government. It was never one of the “essential services” that Gov. Mike Dunleavy argues should be all that state government funds. Nor was it “a critical facility for the United States” as Campbell claimed after former Gov. Bill Walker ordered him to halt negotiations on a contract with Lockheed Martin.
It was Walker who inadvertently exposed the state party’s performative style of legislating. He was a lifelong Republican who decided to run as an independent against the incumbent Republican governor. In the party’s eyes, that political misdemeanor became a felony when he joined forces with Democratic gubernatorial nominee Byron Mallott. After they won the election, Republicans who controlled both the Senate and House were committed to ensuring Walker wouldn’t accomplish anything. Especially after new taxes and a cap on the Permanent Fund Dividend were included in his sustainable budget proposal.
The year after Walker put that on the table, Stutes and two other Republicans joined with Democrats and independents to form a majority coalition like the one Merrick helped establish by supporting Stutes this year. That facilitated a compromise in which Senate Republicans agreed to cap the PFD. And it set the stage for Dunleavy to begin his shrink the government to save the PFD performance.
This don’t compromise mentality is entirely inconsistent with the protection of minority rights that Alaska’s Republicans demand from Congress. That’s the reason they support the Senate filibuster. Voters on both sides mistake that as tool to prevent the majority from passing legislation opposed by the minority. But it should be about pushing the majority toward compromise as a means to mutually acceptable progress.
And that’s the principle that guided Merrick to her decision to support Stutes.
“There are members that have unyielding positions” she said, “and when you’re in a deadlock, somebody has to be willing to compromise.” And she’s right that as co-chair of the House Finance Committee, an appointment earned by supporting Stutes, she’s in a better position to defend conservative values.
If Campbell and others want to recall Republican legislators for getting nothing done, Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, should be a target. He was described by conservative blogger Suzanne Downing as belonging to the Republican Minority “in-name-only.” Not for siding with Democrats, but for refusing to cooperate with members of his own party, violating common session decorum, and being so objectionable that he gets “on the nerves of every member of the House.”
Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, is another performative obstructionist. Her open defiance of the state’s COIVID-19 response earned her an unprecedented rebuke from the governor.
“It is clear you have abdicated the tenets of your oath as a public servant” Dunleavy wrote last month in a scathing three-page letter to her. He documented the ways in which she’s deceived Alaskans. And blasted her many “superfluous inquires” of his administration’s decisions as “baseless, deleterious, and self-serving” and “an abuse of public services.”
Reinbold’s follow-up act was to make news twice this week for refusing to comply with the Legislature’s face mask policy. U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., would be proud of her for doing that. Because he thinks “if you aren’t making news, you aren’t governing.”
And those, like Merrick, who understand real governance is more than performance are being challenged by characters who don’t know the difference.