New Alaska Senate president on upcoming session: 'It’s OK for politicians to fight'

The incoming president of the Alaska Senate on Thursday predicted the next legislative session would be contentious, marked by an ideological rift between his own Republican-led majority and the new House majority coalition, which consists mostly of Democrats.

As he was predicting conflict in Juneau, Fairbanks Sen. Pete Kelly also offered an enthusiastic embrace of the ideology of capitalism — which he called the "engine of a free republic" — in a breakfast speech to his pro-business audience at the Resource Development Council in Anchorage.

Kelly and Anchorage Rep. Chris Tuck, the new House Majority Leader, addressed the council, a group that promotes Alaska's oil, mining, timber, fishing and tourism industries, two weeks before the Legislature begins.

Rather than speak about the nuts and bolts of legislation, Kelly set his philosophy in contrast to what he called a "socialist" ideology espoused by the left, citing the results of last year's Democratic caucuses in Alaska as evidence. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, took 81 percent of the turnout of 10,600 participants.

Kelly said the likely clash of ideas in Juneau — which he described as a "fight between capitalism and socialism" — would not be a bad thing.

"A lot of times people say, 'Well, we shouldn't fight in Juneau because everybody should just get along.' No, we should fight," Kelly said. "Because the alternative of a government that doesn't fight in Juneau — those governments fight in the streets. And so it's OK for politicians to fight. They should fight. We want them to fight. And they should be good at it."

Kelly's colorful speech — delivered even as he promised to not "go all talk radio on you here" — followed a lower-key address by Tuck, who stepped up to the microphone so the incoming House Speaker, Democrat Bryce Edgmon, could attend to business in his hometown of Dillingham.


Tuck, in his speech, spoke in broad strokes, saying the two-year-long slump in oil prices was forcing lawmakers to turn to other sources of cash to pay for government. He added any deficit-reduction plan would have to be fair, balanced and "not burdening one group over another."

"We cannot cut our way to prosperity," Tuck said.

Aside from addressing the limits of cuts, Tuck didn't identify any specific policy proposals his caucus would get behind.

Neither did Kelly. But he did foreshadow a likely conflict with Tuck's coalition, warning that spending cuts would be "front and center" for his own Senate majority.

"Nothing's off the table," Kelly said. But, he added: "Much of the ideas I've heard thrown around are going to be rejected."

Nathaniel Herz

Anchorage-based independent journalist Nathaniel Herz has been a reporter in Alaska for nearly a decade, with stints at the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Public Media. Read his newsletter, Northern Journal, at natherz.substack.com