JUNEAU — As they consider whether to override Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s decision to veto $444 million from the state’s operating budget, Alaska lawmakers are about to find themselves divided by geography as well as politics.
When the Legislature convenes Monday, most lawmakers say they will be in Juneau, but many say they will be in Wasilla, the site chosen by Dunleavy for the special session. Those meeting in Juneau contend that while Alaska’s constitution allows the governor to select the timing and agenda of a special session, the location is the prerogative of the legislature.
Dunleavy disagrees, and Attorney General Kevin Clarkson told reporters last week, “If they hold a meeting in Juneau, it’s not a session. It’s not a valid session as far as the law is concerned.”
Nevertheless, more than half of the 60-member Alaska Legislature is planning to be in Juneau.
With 45 votes needed to override the governor and the Legislature unable to gather 40 in one location, it’s likely the governor’s vetoes will be upheld, said Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage.
“You have to have 45 people to override a veto, and you can’t even get 40 people to agree on a location,” she said.
Asked whether the Legislature’s failure to agree on a location is a sign of the divide on other issues, Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, said, “It’s a sign, but it’s all got to come to an end sometime.”
“It’s time for people to negotiate with one another and not avoid one another,” he said.
All but one or two of the 24-member coalition House majority will be in Juneau, according to members who spoke to the Daily News. Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole and a member of the caucus, declined to say where she’ll be on Monday. “On Monday, we’ll be in Alaska, somewhere."
“As of this point, every single Senate Democratic member will be in Juneau on the 8th,” said Noah Hanson, legislative assistant for the six-person Senate minority.
Daniel McDonald, spokesman for the Senate majority, said at least seven members of that caucus will be in Juneau.
Three of the four senators whose districts include the Mat-Su Borough, plus Costello and Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, say they will be in Wasilla. (Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, was previously excused for out-of-state work training.)
House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, said his caucus does not yet have a firm figure for how many of its 15 members will be in Wasilla.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, the governor declined to say what he will do if lawmakers convene their session in Juneau instead of Wasilla. Earlier in the week, Clarkson said he presented the governor with three options: allow lawmakers to meet in Juneau and Anchorage; await a lawsuit from a private citizen; file suit against individual lawmakers. Under the last option, the governor might obtain a court order requiring lawmakers to attend in Wasilla.
Lawmakers meeting in Juneau have options of their own. The Legislature’s internal rules allow the House or Senate to place a “call” on the House and compel the attendance of absent legislators. In 1983, the Alaska State Troopers (with the support of the governor) were deployed to gather recalcitrant legislators under such a call.
On Monday, the governor invited lawmakers to attend the signing of House Bill 49, the anti-crime legislation that repeals and replaces much of Senate Bill 91. That signing will take place at 10 a.m. Monday in Anchorage. Given the timing, those lawmakers who choose to start the special session in Juneau at 1 p.m. likely will not be able to attend.
Some lawmakers may not be at either location because of prior commitments. Many legislators schedule personal business for the summer and fall, assuming that the spring and the second half of the winter will be consumed by the legislative session. Sen. David Wilson is only one example.
Rep. DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer, likely will be in Wasilla but is holding off on a full commitment. Her daughter’s wedding is this weekend, and she had requested time off months ago. The wedding had been postponed it so it wouldn’t take place during an election year, then it was put off until after the regular session.
“I said do it after July 1, so we should be done by then,” she said. “Well, here we are.”