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Alaska Legislature

Top House Republican was in Hawaii but posting as if in Juneau, opponent says

The leader of Alaska's House Republican minority, Charisse Millett, was actually in Hawaii last week when she posted on Facebook from "Juneau," according to one of her political opponents.

"It's kind of hard to deal with someone who's on a vacation in Hawaii who's not telling you what they want in order to settle something," said Anchorage Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, the House Rules Committee chair and one of three Republican members of leadership in the largely-Democratic House majority.

Millett, an Anchorage Republican who last year was House majority leader, made two Facebook posts from her personal account Tuesday morning last week, both of which identified her location as "Juneau, Alaska."

The House, in the middle of a special session convened by Gov. Bill Walker, didn't meet Tuesday. But Millett had an excused absence when the House convened for its floor session the previous day, and she also missed a four-minute "technical session" Wednesday that was attended by less than half of the House's members. She missed another technical session Friday, which are sessions in which the House or Senate meets on the record but has no quorum to conduct business.

Anchorage Republican Rep. Charisse Millett, the House minority leader, made these Facebook posts from “Juneau” when one of her colleagues said she was actually in Hawaii.

Millett held a constituent meeting Saturday in Anchorage and was back in Juneau for a three-minute technical session Tuesday.

Millett didn't respond to requests for comment Thursday, and neither did her second-in-command, Nikiski Rep. Mike Chenault, or the House minority spokeswoman, Mallory Walser.

Asked last week about her whereabouts — and about whether she was collecting daily expense payments of $295 — Millett responded with a series of text messages saying she wasn't claiming per diem and said she paid for her "own trip home." Millett hasn't claimed any expense payments for last week, though she still could, according to the Legislature's finance manager, Jessica Geary.

Millett didn't respond to a follow-up question asking why she posted to Facebook as if she were in Juneau.

Millett was not the only House member to leave Juneau last week — dozens of lawmakers missed technical sessions Wednesday and Friday, including House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham.

Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, talks with Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, at the Capitol in January. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)

But Millett's minority caucus was particularly critical of the pace of work in Juneau, which has stalled as the House majority has clashed with the Senate's Republican-led majority over how to close Alaska's $2.5 billion deficit.

"It is very troubling to see the House Democratic leadership send members home at state expense instead of keeping members in Juneau working on the operating budget — the Legislature's single most important responsibility," Walser, the press secretary for Millett's minority, wrote in a press release last Thursday that was headlined: "State fiscal work stalls as House Democrats take a break/operating budget conference committee ignored at Alaskans' expense."

The 18-member House minority could also factor into end-of-session negotiations since spending money from the state's primary savings account, the Constitutional Budget Reserve, requires a three-fourths vote in both legislative chambers. The House has 40 members.

LeDoux, the House Rules Committee chair, made her comments in an interview Tuesday about emails sent to state workers warning them that they could be laid off July 1 — the start of the state's next fiscal year — if lawmakers don't agree on a budget deal by then.

LeDoux didn't return calls Thursday seeking clarification about how she knew Millett had been in Hawaii. But she wrote in a subsequent text message: "Everybody knew. She was talking to people freely. It was her mother's 80th birthday."

LeDoux wrote that one of her own colleagues exchanged a text message with Millett on May 22 — last Monday — that showed she was in Hawaii.

"I don't begrudge Charisse being in Hawaii for her Mom's 80th birthday," LeDoux wrote. "I have problems with her pretending to be in Juneau when she was not here."

One member of Millett's minority, Anchorage Republican Rep. Chuck Kopp, said he knew Millett had previously canceled a trip to Hawaii so that she could stay in Juneau. But when asked if she traveled there later, he referred a reporter back to Millett.

"I strongly believe the members should be here working," said Kopp, though he also acknowledged that he'd missed sessions last week to attend his son's graduation from Boston University.

One House majority member who missed sessions last week, Bethel Democratic Rep. Zach Fansler, said he went home to do "constituent outreach" and to set up a district office.

He said it was an appropriate time to leave Juneau given that he's not one of the legislative leaders expected to be negotiating a session-ending deal. But, while stressing that he wasn't criticizing Millett, Fansler also said he wouldn't have gone to Hawaii.

"I would not schedule a pre-existing vacation within the month of May or June probably ever, as long as I hold this job," he said.

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