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Alaska lawmakers meet for confirmation votes on governor's appointees but leave without voting

  • Author: Nathaniel Herz
  • Updated: April 28, 2017
  • Published April 27, 2017

Alaska Senate President Pete Kelly speaks with reporters Thursday. (Nathaniel Herz / Alaska Dispatch News)

JUNEAU — The Alaska House and Senate convened together Thursday to take confirmation votes on Gov. Bill Walker's appointees to lead state departments, boards and commissions — then left without voting.

The bizarre development in the House chambers came after the Republican-led state Senate canceled an earlier set of votes on appointees scheduled for April 13, saying they'd take up the nominations later. Walker then issued a formal proclamation Wednesday ordering lawmakers into a joint session Thursday to act on his appointments.

The House and Senate convened shortly after 11 a.m. Thursday. But as soon as they gaveled in, Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, moved to adjourn — a motion upheld in a caucus-lines vote, 32-26, that saw the Republican-led Senate majority joining with the House Republican minority.

In a joint session of 40 House members and 20 senators, Republicans hold the advantage even though a Democratic-led bipartisan coalition runs the House. The three Republicans in the House majority, Gabrielle LeDoux of Anchorage, Paul Seaton of Homer and Louise Stutes of Kodiak, voted with Democrats against adjourning the joint session.

"We have our own schedule and we'll do our stuff on our own time," Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, told reporters afterward, citing other outstanding business like the Legislature's work on a plan to fix the state's massive deficit.

Kelly also acknowledged that by postponing the votes, lawmakers leave themselves a point of potential leverage over Walker's administration as they try to negotiate budget and deficit-reduction deals. Similar postponements have taken place before, like when Republican lawmakers delayed consideration of Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles' appointees in 2002.

"Everyone that's in a negotiation has to have something at stake," Kelly said.

Walker issued a prepared statement immediately after the joint session saying he was "disappointed that the Senate majority has, once again, refused the House's invitation to participate in this process."

Alaska House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, right, sits with Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, before Thursday’s brief joint session. (Nathaniel Herz / Alaska Dispatch News)

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, also said he was disappointed. He pointed out that more than 100 Alaskans are waiting to see if they'll be confirmed, including major political appointees like Jahna Lindemuth and Andy Mack, Walker's nominees to be attorney general and natural resources commissioner, respectively.

"We wanted to get the joint session out of the way," Edgmon said at a brief news conference.

Walker and House leaders have grown impatient as the appointments have languished nearly two weeks past lawmakers' standard 90-day deadline.

The 90-day deadline was set in a 2006 citizens initiative, but the state Constitution allows the Legislature to keep working for 121 days. Thursday was Day 101.

"We've got another 20 days," Anchorage Republican Sen. Kevin Meyer told one House member as he left Thursday's joint session.

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