Legislature's 2018 Choice: Statesmen/Stateswomen Or Politics as Usual
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We have important work to do. It’s been sidetracked by harmful conduct towards women by a handful of legislators, and also by a few who have sought to score political points out of tragedy. You’ve read about it. My bi-partisan House Majority members and I have called for the resignation of both legislators involved in this misconduct. In one case, I’d known and respected both the victim and the legislator, and respected their work for others--but I can’t condone what I’ve heard from public accounts of the legislator’s conduct. In the other case, when facts on the legislator’s sexual harassment started to come in, I was a few days from leaving for a holiday vacation with Kelly out of the country. I left my proxy vote with the Speaker of the House that the legislator should be punished sternly, and as severely as the facts justified. They justified a call for resignation.
Most of the lessons from this offensive conduct should be obvious. Some are less obvious. This state has antiquated sexual harassment policies, has had them under former Republican and Democratic majorities, and I hope we all will agree to strengthen them in an effective way, and I’ve listened to woman who are talked down to in a degrading way, in public and private sector jobs. The latter conduct is less severe than physical harassment, but rightly infuriating. It has no place in 2018. Degrading women only serves to strengthen glass ceilings.
Two women I respect greatly let me know the other day how furious these slights makes them. A workplace that makes women furious isn’t a respectful workplace. This is a discussion that needs to continue until the conduct mentioned above is a thing of the past. As legislators, we have scores of important things to do. That means addressing everything we can. Public officials should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.
Here are some other major problems you sent us here to fix—a charge I take seriously. Alaska is losing residents and great talent to other states. We have a duty to protect the right of all to opportunity, not just the most privileged.
Our Alaska House Majority Coalition and I have voted to protect opportunity for all; for our children and seniors, for those with disabilities, and for those who proactively ask for help with drug and alcohol addiction. As a coalition we’ve agreed to put this state ahead of party and personal politics. Many other legislators have done the same. I hope we can come together to act, not just aim towards deadlock and blocking the progress of good legislation that helps improve lives.
Rep. Paul Seaton has taken the lead on legislation to prevent the annual fight over education cuts. Last year our colleagues across the aisle again demanded over $60 million in public education cuts, 600 teacher and staff losses, and the elimination of state pre-k. I believe these cuts are like eating your seed corn. Students and children deserve the chance to thrive, not an education system that won’t let them achieve their potential. Our coalition wouldn’t agree to those education cuts last year, and they were eventually reversed. The good news, I hope, is that this year it seems enough folks on both sides of the aisle may realize schools have been cut, well, far too far. This week we will vote on an early funding bill that imposes no education cuts, that will hopefully build support across aisles, and that lets school districts know they will have funding so they don’t have to mail thousands of teachers pink slips. This is something schools must do every year that education is funded late, after school districts have passed their budgets. Legally, if a state education budget hasn’t passed, these unsettling, demoralizing termination letters must be sent out by school districts that don’t know what state funding they will receive. House Bill 287 aims to prevent this discouraging practice.
We are losing some of our best teachers, and can’t recruit new quality teachers, with a system that results in late education funding and threatens teacher layoffs. This bill helps us do better.
The Economy Matters
Last year more people left Alaska than moved here. After $3.5 billion in budget cuts since 2013, and a 40% cut to the state’s budget, every additional $100 million more in cuts results in the loss of roughly 1,000 private and public-sector jobs. Looking for waste to cut is responsible. Cutting what gives people opportunity, hope, and dignity isn’t.
Too many legislators are sound-biting Alaska into an extended recession. A balanced budget plan that is fair to all Alaskans matters, or Alaska will continue to shed people and jobs. We need a construction budget that hires people back, lets us fix a crumbling Anchorage Port, and puts a meaningful dent in a more than $1 billion deferred maintenance backlog on state infrastructure. It’s clear construction companies and workers are suffering. The kind of austerity budgeting that harms seniors, our ability to hire needed prosecutors and law enforcement, and those who rely on basic state services will just hurt people, harm opportunity, and continue the Alaska out-migration.
That’s it for now.
More to Come: How You Can Help
We are working on several pieces of legislation aimed at protecting public safety, creating clean government, and giving children and youth a fighting chance in this world. We’re also working on legislation to help address Alaska’s opioid and heroin epidemic. Updates on those topics later. If you’d like to read a bit about some of these efforts, here are a few links.
Comprehensive Foster Care Reform Bill Information:
Consumer Advisories To Prevent Opioid Addiction:
End to the Practice of Partisan Gerrymandering of Political Districts:
If you support any of these bills please send us an e-mail (one per bill), and we will add it to the bill packet and share it with other legislators.
As always, let me know if you have questions or need help.