The day after a vote on a major infrastructure project, the House majority didn’t tout their political win. Instead, messaging focused on childish behavior from a Fairbanks Democrat during debate on the legislation.
Rep. Scott Kawasaki was filmed playing with his phone and sticking out his tongue on Monday night in the middle of a floor speech by Speaker Mike Chenault (R-Nikiski) on a bill advancing an in-state gasline. The morning after, the Speaker’s press office circulated images of Kawasaki before announcing that the majority’s Interior representatives planned to chastise their minority colleague in a news conference.
Violations of the legislature’s uniform rules are not uncommon, but public condemnations of the transgressors are rare. Members of the media, including this one, responded with some incredulity that a press conference had even been called.
“Is this the first time anybody has ever been rude on the House floor?” asked Matt Buxton, of the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer.
Rich Mauer of the Anchorage Daily News asked Rep. Tammie Wilson (R-North Pole) why the group was singling out Kawasaki when others had used toilet humor that same night. A group of legislators laughed at the repeated use of the word “but” in one speech and some encouraged bill supporters to describe voting for it as “passing gas.”
MAUER: You and the other representatives weren’t there trying to convince him to make a fart joke at the end of the session?
WILSON: Oh, absolutely not …
MAUER: Gas? Pass gas? What was that?
WILSON: I didn’t see it that way. If you took it that way, then I’m sorry for that. But it was to make it short and sweet. We’d made our points through the night, and to me, it was not in that response.
Wilson was seen laughing at the phrasing during deliberation on the bill.
At the press conference, Rep. Pete Higgins (R-Fairbanks) explained that the reason for the scolding was that Kawasaki appeared to be openly mocking Chenault at a time when the Speaker held the floor. It was later established that Kawasaki was not reacting to Chenault’s speech, but a text message from someone watching the debate on television. Kawasaki stuck out his tongue at cameras to respond to that person, since text messaging is forbidden on the House floor.
No formal disciplinary action is planned against Kawasaki. Higgins said the group only wanted Kawasaki to say he was sorry for the way he acted. However, the five Fairbanks-area legislators cut the press conference short and rushed out of the room for other committee hearings before Kawasaki could address them. Kawasaki ended up offering his apology to reporters, and said that he regretted making faces during discussion of a bill that he ultimately voted “yes” on.
House Speaker Mike Chenault was not present for the press conference. But when asked later if his feelings were hurt by Kawasaki’s behavior, Chenault jokingly responded, “What feelings?” He elaborated that he was not personally offended, but thought the behavior was disrespectful of the legislature.
Earlier this session, Chenault was involved in his own controversy over comportment when a member of his staff inadvertently sent out an email describing the City of Valdez’s opposition to the gasline bill as a “crock of sh-t” to the city’s clerk.