Sharp comments reflect ill will as Legislature starts 2nd special session

Most members of the House Republican minority met during a break on Thursday. The caucus criticized the swift introduction and passage of a combined capital and operating budget. The Senate didn’t consider the budget. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

On July 1, Alaska’s state government will shut down unless lawmakers can reach an agreement on a budget.

Two groups that may be difficult to bring together are the majority and minority caucuses in the House.

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House minority Republicans say they were blindsided by the majority’s late push to pass a combined operating and capital budget ahead of the end of the first special session last week.

And it led some lawmakers to denounce the majority, including Eagle River Rep. Dan Saddler.

He said the fast introduction of the 89-page budget amendment and the 2-minute limit on each House member’s comments were a travesty comparable with the attack by Imperial Japan on Pearl Harbor, which brought the United States into World War II.

“FDR once said that December 7th, 1941, (is) a day which will live in infamy,” Saddler said, adding that the Pearl Harbor attack “will be nowhere near June 15th, 2017, in the annals of infamy.”

Anchorage Democratic Rep. Chris Tuck said Friday that Saddler’s comments were misplaced.

“There’s 2,400 Americans that died … on that one day,” Tuck said. “To compare something as traumatic as that in Americans’ history is really, really over-the-top.”

Anchorage Republican Rep. Lance Pruitt also condemned Dillingham Democratic House Speaker Bryce Edgmon.

Pruitt said the minority didn’t have time to read the proposed budget.

“When you think about tyrants, you think about (Vietnamese Communist leader) Ho Chi Minh, (Zimbabwe President) Robert Mugabe and (Russian President Vladimir) Putin,” Pruitt said to Edgmon. “Welcome to their club.”

Edgmon said the majority had a sense of urgency to pass a budget to give the Senate enough time to decide whether to pass it ahead of the end of the first special session.

The Senate majority adjourned without discussing the bill.

“When I was a staffer here in the ‘90s, I heard a lot worse,” Edgmon said. “Back before social media, and Gavel to Gavel, and this, that and the other. … I think it’s all in a day’s good work, and, you know, it is what it is.”

Criticism of the mostly Democratic House majority spilled over into the Senate.

Wasilla Republican Sen. David Wilson compared the House majority’s handling of the legislation with the laws that enforced racial segregation in the South until 1965.

“It only reminds me of issues that I can only describe, for I feel for the other side, as separate yet not quite equal,” Wilson said. “And given that, it just reminds me of those people in power that’s supposed to be a party of inclusion and a party of bringing people together is only seen as (or) best described as, a party that just wants to support Jim Crow laws in the state of Alaska.”

Anchorage Democratic Sen. Berta Gardner condemned Wilson’s likening procedural decisions to racism.

“There was an allusion to supporting the Jim Crow laws, and I think that’s completely out of line. And I want to refute that,” Gardner said.

Whether hard feelings over the House majority’s handling of the end of the first special session make a difference in the second special session remains to be seen.

The House minority could still exert influence if any budget agreement between the House and Senate relies on drawing money from the Constitutional Budget Reserve.

Tapping this reserve account requires support from three-quarters of the House, or at least eight of the 18 House minority members.

The other option is to draw money from Permanent Fund earnings to pay for the operating budget, which has never been done in the fund’s history.