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Why I’m going to Wasilla

  • Author: Mia Costello
    | Opinion
  • Updated: July 5, 2019
  • Published July 5, 2019

Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, the majority leader, speaks during a Senate session Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019 at the Alaska State Capitol. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

After 120 days in the regular session and a 30-day special session in Juneau, the Legislature still has a lot of work to do. Gov. Mike Dunleavy called a new special session in Wasilla — but the presiding officers in the House and Senate don’t like the “in Wasilla” part, so they have decided to simply ignore it.

It’s not clear why they have chosen to pick this particular fight with the governor — especially now, with the dividend, capital budget funding and line-item vetoes all hanging in the balance. And it isn’t clear they can do that. It isn’t in the state constitution, and it isn’t in statute.

There is no question that the governor can call a special session — that’s in the constitution. And there’s also no question that the governor can specify the location of the call — that’s in statute. It’s very clear — under current law, he can do all that.

So why do the presiding officers believe they can simply decide on their own to hold the session somewhere else? The crux of leadership’s argument is that the constitution doesn’t explicitly say the governor can specify the location of the session, so the Legislature shouldn’t feel bound to follow that part.

Well, the constitution also doesn’t explicitly say the governor can say when the session starts. Based on their argument, the Legislature doesn’t have to go into session when he says, any more than where he says. And if he doesn’t have the power to say when and where the session is, he doesn’t really have the power to call the session at all — and that just can’t be right.

That doesn’t mean the Legislature is completely at the governor’s mercy. The constitution gives the Legislature the ability to call its own session — it just requires 40 votes. The leaders’ problem is that they don’t have those votes. That’s why their attempt to unilaterally move the location of the governor’s session has the appearance of a cynical attempt to ignore rules they don’t like.

I know that some people — voters and legislators — oppose the idea of a special session in Wasilla. I’ve heard all the arguments, pro and con. I’ve heard concerns about inordinate costs and concerns about adequate facilities. These are practical matters we must address, and I’m confident that we can.

Other arguments against having a special session in Wasilla are less legitimate. I’ve heard some legislators express concern that they may not be safe in the midst of Valley residents; I think that’s ridiculous.

Sadly, I have also heard vulgar slurs against Valley residents and disdain for the communities there. Such statements are hateful and hurtful, and are unbecoming of Alaskans.

But legitimate or not, these arguments all miss the point. The governor has the power to specify where and when the session will happen. He has done so.

Only one constitutional call for a special session has been issued, and the governor issued it. It doesn’t matter how we feel about the governor’s call, or Wasilla, or the governor himself. All that matters is that we follow the constitution and we follow the law.

That’s what I’m going to do. I’ll see you in Wasilla.

Mia Costello is a lifelong Alaskan currently serving as Majority Leader in the Alaska Senate representing West Anchorage.

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