Day 106: 'Expect nothing less'
The House State Affairs Committee gets an earful on the RCV repeal; The Senate Finance Committee gets to work on pensions.
Good afternoon, Alaska!
In this edition: The House State Affairs Committee held its much-anticipated hearing on legislation to repeal ranked choice voting and got an earful from people supporting the system. Meanwhile, the Senate Finance Committee drilled into the public pension legislation with a healthy bit of skepticism. And I’ve got some other notes about the legislative end game and the reading list.
Current mood: 🤧
It’s been six years, not eight, since either chamber in the Alaska Legislature passed a PFD rewrite. Unfortunately, I may have looked up the wrong SB 26…
House gets earful on RCV repeal bill
The House State Affairs Committee began the public testimony process today on House Bill 4, Homer Republican Rep. Sarah Vance’s proposal to repeal the voter-approved ranked-choice voting system. The public delivered near-unanimous opposition to the repeal. While Vance argued that ranked-choice voting is a confusing, unconstitutional system that subverts the will of the voters—claiming the repeal of ranked-choice voting is more important to her constituents than school funding or the PFD—most who testified said they found the elections conducted in 2022 not only easy but was the first time they have ever really felt represented.
“It’s the first time that I felt my opinions really count,” Juneau resident Mukhya Khalsa told the committee. “When I have to calculate whether I should vote for the person who most closely resembles my ideas for governance versus one that I feel is electable, I feel like I’m sending the wrong message to the elected people. Ranked choice voting lets me vote for who I want as well as someone who I think can win, and it makes me very happy.”
Frankly, for all the talk of “confusion” around ranked-choice voting, we didn’t hear much at today’s hearing. Instead, the testifiers, by and large, praised the system for offering a greater choice of candidates to voters through the new open primary system, forcing candidates to work harder to appeal more broadly and stay away from the negativity that has soured much of politics. Several also credited the system for the influx of moderates who’ve made recent developments in the Alaska Legislature—like modest steps toward a fiscal plan and increased school funding—a reality.
“If I had to put a reason why this shouldn’t move, it’s two words: Cathy Giessel,” said Douglas resident Robert Welton of the Anchorage Republican, who returned to the Legislature in the 2022 elections after being primaried out in 2020. “She’s doing a great job.”
Among the limited support for the bill, we got a dash of right-wing conspiracy theories about Dominion voting machines and Lisa Murkowski, as well as some of the usual talking points we’ve been hearing about low turnout (it was low nationwide) and general confusion about filling out ballots. But, tellingly, some of the testimony did express frustration that the new system made it more difficult for Republicans to vote in a unified manner, worrying that the system ultimately diluted GOP votes.
In the big picture, though, that’s the point.
The idea behind the open primary system is that it gives voters a more comprehensive option of candidates in the general election rather than a slate of candidates produced by the semi-closed partisan primaries. We saw several races where the general election was ultimately a question of what flavor of Republican or Democrat a district wanted to see represent them in Juneau—and more often than not, the districts chose the more moderate option.
Looking ahead, those moderates like Sen. Giessel are why House Bill 4 really doesn’t have any meaningful shot of passing through the normal legislative process or even through a last-minute effort to staple it onto some Senate legislation in the hope of pulling a quick one. Even if crucial legislation is dangled over them, signing off on repeal would be akin to signing their political death sentence.
The committee ran out of time on testimony, and it sounds like a follow-up hearing will be scheduled for a later date. In the meantime, written testimony can be sent to: House.State.Affairs@akleg.gov.
Follow the thread: The House State Affairs Committee hears HB4 testimony
Public pension bill faces scrutiny in Senate Finance
Speaking of Sen. Cathy Giessel, the Anchorage Republican had a busy day presenting SB 88 to the Senate Finance and fielding some pretty skeptical questioning from Sen. Bert Stedman. The legislation contains the long-sought-after return to a defined benefit pension system for public employees after nearly two decades of only offering public employees a defined contribution 401k-style for retirement, and it’s the reason for that change that seems to be weighing heavily on Stedman.
Framed as a way to address the state’s recruitment and retention problems, Giessel argued that public employees deserve a retirement system that’s adequate and dependable, pointing to several headlines of staffing shortages in just about every corner of the state and local government. In addition, she noted that the bill is far more conservative than what the state had before it switched to the 401k-style plan in the mid-2000s.
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