Opinions

The strength of coalition leadership in the Alaska State House

Earlier this month, the Alaska State House organized with a tri-partisan majority coalition to continue a tradition that began in 2017. While harsh partisanship all-too-often characterizes the political landscape in Washington, D.C., and the other 49 states, the Alaska House of Representatives is the only legislative body in the country that shares leadership among the parties. Today, the Alaska House Coalition is led by a Republican Speaker of the House, Democratic and Republican co-chairs of the Finance Committee, an independent Rules chair, and a Democratic Majority Leader and Majority Whip. Alaska has much to be proud of.

Members of the Alaska House Coalition share a commitment to putting the interests of Alaskans ahead of partisan party politics, to make fact-based decisions addressing Alaska’s challenges, and to find common ground when others refuse to compromise. Doing “what’s right for Alaska,” as the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens liked to say, also means working with the members of the minority caucus to advance legislation and approve a budget. As our Speaker Louise Stutes often says, the coalition is a “beautiful thing.”

While some may criticize the fact that coalition members cannot always follow a political party’s platform, here are three of the principals that guide me in representing my district as a member of the tri-partisan coalition.

First, find values that can unite us before looking for the issues that divide us. Then put the partisan issues aside. For example, Alaskans share a commitment to improving public safety and making wise use of our public safety resources. With unacceptably high rates of sexual assault and sexual abuse, we can recognize the need for police and prosecutors. Working together, we can find ways to get more resources for this important work and help these public safety professionals do their work more effectively.

Second, remember that it sometimes takes more courage to find compromise among diverse opinions than to dig in with those who share our opinions. For example, Alaskans share a commitment to protecting the Permanent Fund and balancing the budget. On one hand, some want to pay dividends according to the formula in statute, while others believe we should only pay dividends if there is a surplus after paying for essential services. On the other hand, some want to adopt new taxes to pay for essential services like public education — thereby freeing up state funds to pay dividends, while others oppose any new taxes. Working together, can we find a way to protect the Permanent Fund and pay a dividend without imposing new taxes?

Third, recognize that no one has all the answers and we can all learn from one another as we find solutions. Essential to working together are the values of respect in our communications and humility in our day-to-day interactions. For example, Alaskans recognize that education remains our best investment for Alaska’s future. As we move forward, public school families and those who homeschool can learn from one another, just as University of Alaska supporters can work with vocational education supporters to find a path for investing in vocational education in our higher education system.

Moving forward, we must pivot away from hyper-partisanship to build Alaska’s future. I welcome the responsibility of working respectfully and diligently with all members of the Legislature who are focused on uniting our great state. While it’s not always easy, Alaskans with diverse views working together is the strength of the Alaska House Coalition.

Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, is the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

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