On the session’s first day, Alaska lawmakers talk about working together

A meeting room with people in masks
Alaska House Speaker Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak), center, listens as Rep. Cathy Tilton (R-Wasilla), left with back to camera, speaks in the House chamber in the Capitol on the first day of the session on Tuesday. (Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

Tuesday was the first day of Alaska’s legislative session, which began with lawmakers saying they wanted to work together. 

Last year’s session was marked by disagreements that nearly led to a partial state government shutdown, as well as differences over COVID-19 safety rules.

House Speaker Louise Stutes said she wants the members to be respectful. She is a Kodiak Republican leading a mostly Democratic caucus. 

“Decorum will be returned to this House,” she said. “We can disagree without being disagreeable, and I expect you all to treat one another with the respect and civility that we all deserve.”

House Majority Leader Rep. Chris Tuck, an Anchorage Democrat, said his caucus will focus on improving job and educational opportunities. He read from a letter he co-wrote with other House members: 

“It is time for lawmakers and the governor to put aside the campaign rhetoric and embrace the language of statesmen,” he said. “It’s time to do less finger-pointing and come together to make good public policy. It’s time to stop negotiating via press releases and instead sit down together in a room.”

House Republican Minority Leader Rep. Cathy Tilton of Wasilla said passing a stable, long-term plan for the state budget is the greatest issue facing the Legislature — a goal that eluded lawmakers last year even after several special sessions.

“That was the mission of the caucus last session and will continue to be on the top of everybody’s minds,” she said.

In the other chamber of the Legislature, Anchorage Democratic Senator Elvi Gray-Jackson drew inspiration from the life of Martin Luther King Jr. 

“Let us continue to walk in the footsteps of a King, never stop fighting for the right to live with honor and dignity,” she said. “Let us continue to dismantle hate, by seeking to understand the things that we don’t understand and to continue to let our differences strengthen the nation.”

Work will begin on the state budget in the finance committees later this week.

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Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at akitchenman@alaskapublic.org.

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