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Amanda Coyne: Who gets to speak and who pushes the mute button?

Amanda CoyneThe New York Times

You know how Wally Hickel used to talk about the little guy on his shoulder who guided him? More and more I'm feeling like we all have a little version of Sen. Cathy Giessel sitting on our shoulders, her little egg timer in one hand, her little finger on the mute button in the other.

Two minutes, exactly! That's what she gave the public when testifying on HB 77, the bill that would radically alter Alaska's water and land use laws to benefit mining and other commercial interests. A second more and they got muted.

Sen. Hollis French's egg couldn't even parboil during a committee hearing last week in Senate Resources. At issue was whether oil executive witnesses should take an oath before giving testimony. The U.S. Congress does it. Why not Alaska? Particularly as the industry has a history of, well, being a little creative with the facts.

Giessel chairs the committee and she can smell a trick from a mile off.

Here's the conversation:

Giessel: As the chair it is my decision, and I've gotten a legal consultation on that.

French: I guess I'll just -- As a point of personal privilege I will say that ...

Giessel: Sen. French, you are out of order.

French: The only ...

Giessel: Brief at ease.

French: I'm going to keep talking ...

And then she pushed the mute button. French was true to his word and continued to talk at a dead mic. What did he say? Maybe he borrowed the quote from "Les Misérables": "If I speak, I am condemned. If I stay silent, I am damned."

"We are to conduct ourselves with some decorum," Giessel said later on the Senate floor. Which for her apparently means that industry executives can talk as long as they like. But the public? Two minutes exactly. An elected official who's a Dem? Your egg only gets seconds in the pot, politico.

And speaking of talk: With my own tiny version of Giessel and her timer sitting on my shoulder, every time I open my mouth to talk about the Alaska Dispatch buying the Anchorage Daily News, she pushes the button and I go mute.

But unlike French, I can't even muster up the energy to continue to talk over her. I cry, instead. (Which she really doesn't have a lot of patience with: "Decorum!" I can hear her say.)

They're bittersweet, wishing-the-best-for-all movie tears. A movie, truth be told, into which I've written myself only a minor part. A writer who struts and frets her hour upon the page ...

Kind of like what certain members of the minority in the Legislature must feel.

Word has it that Fairbanks Sen. Click Bishop, a Democrat dressed in, well, Democrat clothes but who claims to be a Republican, is trying hard not to play a bit part. Apparently, Click thinks the best way to do that is to be "Republican lite," which might be backfiring on him. The word is that ugliness transpired in a meeting over his vote to change the way the Alaska Constitution picks our judges. The pressure is enough to make a grown man named Click tear up.

Pressure defines everything during the last week of session. Medicaid and abortion. The gas line. The ever-growing budget. The unions, led largely by AFL-CIO Prez Vince Beltrami, aka Baldtrami, are putting pressure on legislators to vote against an increase in the minimum wage, ironically enough. If it passes, it's taken off the ballot in August. Then the Republicans can change it back and gut it, as they did in 2003.

And here's the big one: if it stays on the ballot, it'll draw folks out in August to vote for the oil tax repeal, which will also be on the ballot. Oilies don't want that, and they're pushing hard. Their argument de jour? Since there's so much broad support for a minimum wage increase, why wait for August?

Or something like that. Last I heard, there's pretty broad support for repealing the oil tax bill passed last session and for legalizing marijuana, also on the ballot.

Speaking of The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol in Alaska, or TCTRMLAIA: There's some debate over how to pronounce the acronym. The campaign chimed in, saying it sounds like "tic-tram-la." Juneau Assemblyman Jessie Kiehl says to him it's more like "tacit ramallah."

In any case, the opposition to pot, led by former Democratic Party chair Deb Williams, supposedly met with talk show host Bernadette Wilson about joining the campaign to fight against party-planning treats.

And speaking of parties: There was a surprise going-away gathering for Sen. Fred Dyson in the Capitol. Even Gov. Sean Parnell, who rarely strays from his office on the third floor unless there's a fundraiser on tap, showed up. Stories were told, as were non-condom jokes. Turns out the Guv was Dyson's paperboy way back when The Anchorage Times was probably still around and this was a two-newspaper town.

Things got ugly for a while after the ADN won that war. I wasn't around but I've heard some at the ADN weren't as gracious as they might have been about winning.

People's lives are wrapped up in what they do, particularly when they believe they're fighting the good fight, as those who work for both organizations truly believe.

A very wise woman named Alice Rogoff once told me: "You're going to do what you're going to do, Amanda. The important thing now is how you do it."

I didn't listen then. I often wish I had. I hope everyone else involved does.

Finally, a huge congratulations to Sen. Anna Fairclough, who got engaged to John MacKinnon, the executive director of Associated General Contractors of Alaska. The ring is said to be lovely.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com