Panel discusses legislative history
Jason Hersey/Sun Star Reporter
March 26, 2013
Sunday morning’s panel entitled “Serving the Sausage Factory,” featured current and past Alaska state legislators reflecting on long careers and contributions to a government now very different then its first sessions of statehood in 1959. The morning panel at the Elvey Building in the Geophysical Institute housed a moderate crowd, yet receptive crowd.
The six person panel, moderated by UAF Professor and writer Jerry McBeath, included former five term Rep. Terry Gardinar, former five term Rep. Gail Phillips, UAF Chancellor and former two term Rep. Brian Rogers, 18 year legislator and current Alaska Rep. Bill Stoltze, former Fairbanks Representative and Juneau mayor Sally Smith and 13-year-legislator Alaska Sen. Gary Stevens, kept the weekend’s lighthearted commentary going while touching on more serious problems Alaska faces today.
Rogers and Gardinar gave examples of how the Legislature ran differently back in the ’70s. Gardinar, then dubbed one of the “sunshine boys,” advocated for press and public to be present for sessions because most important decisions were made behind closed doors. At 22 years old, Gardinar was shocked to see the head lawyer of Exxon present for a senate meeting.
Rogers received gasps and laughs from the crowd when he told of a buy back bill for Kachemak Bay oil leases getting “hustled” through the senate in ’76. The majority leader waited for a confused moment, then called a quick voice vote. Before many had realized what was happening, the controversial bill had already passed. Then Gov. Jay Hammond signed it into law, however voice voting is no longer allowed, Rogers said.
Smith, who now works as Representative for U.S. Sen. Mark Begich in Southeast Alaska, joked about working at the Golden Nugget Motel in Fairbanks in the early 1970s and editing Bill Egan’s governor campaign speeches during his Thursday night poker games. Smith’s testimony later became more serious, and received the only round of applause during the panel, challenging citizens and legislators to prepare for “how we develop for the future of no money,” and warned of corporate influence in political advertisements. “We’re being bloody brainwashed,” Smith said.
A slowing Alaska economy remained an undertone throughout the weekend. Stoltze said “this is probably going to be one of the most challenging sessions I’ve ever had.” This coming week there is the gas line bill, a bill to truck natural gas to Fairbanks and the capital budget must be decided, he said. Recalling more boom times and reckless spending, he said this session “will be much more disciplined and it will be much more defensible to the public.”
Stevens, who voted against the recent Senate Bill 21 on oil tax reform was questioned by Arliss Sturgulewski, long time former Alaska senator, during the question and answer period. Sturgulewski said there was no “we do this and you do that,” referring to the bill that lowers tax incentives for oil companies without promise of any revenues in return. “In my opinion, it’s a blank check. I’m shocked,” Sturgulewski said.
Audience member Sen. Joe Paskvan remained optimistic along with Stevens about Alaska’s monetary future with oil, siting reference to “the heavy oil and shale oil resources up on the north slope… That will be Alaska’s future,” Paskvan said.
Put into historical perspective once again, former Majority Leader and Speaker of the House, Phillips remembers a more grim budget when oil prices dropped below $8 a barrel during the ’90s. Unanimously, panelists told how the state has relied on revenue from oil, though not all felt the money was properly spent to ensure long term growth.