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Day 32: The Alaska model
"People are remembering that politics, first and foremost, should be about fixing things, not just launching cable news careers or racking up retweets."
Happy Friday, Alaska!
In this edition: U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola had her homecoming on Friday, delivering her first address to the Alaska Legislature as the nation’s first Alaska Native elected to Congress. The former state representative gave a speech that praised the Legislature’s bipartisan spirit in what she said has gained national attention as the “Alaska model.” While the Alaska Legislature’s no stranger to bipartisanship, this year’s Legislature is quite different from those of the past thanks in large part to the changes to the state’s electoral system that also made Peltola’s election possible. Also, the reading list and weekend watching.
Current mood: 🥲
The Alaska Model
“People are remembering that politics, first and foremost, should be about fixing things, not just launching cable news careers or racking up retweets.”
When U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola stood in front of the joint session of the Alaska Legislature on Friday, she looked out at a group of legislators shaped by some of the same forces and energy that made her historic victory possible. The moderate Democrat carved a bipartisan path to victory in Alaska’s new electoral system of open primaries and ranked-choice voting with a campaign committed to decency and issues with broad appeal. Those same forces produced more independent legislators, more moderate Republican legislators and, in the Senate, more Democrats.
A bipartisan supermajority now controls the Senate, and the Republican-led House Majority owes its majority status to two rural Democrats and two rural independents.
But even before the 2022 elections, Alaska’s Legislature has been no stranger to bipartisanship with bipartisan organizations of one form or another holding a chamber more years than not since she left the Legislature in 2009. Peltola told legislators that word of the bipartisanship—referred to by some in the Lower 48 as the “Alaska model”—is starting to get around.
“It’s strange, to hear that something we take for granted here at home is so foreign in the rest of the country. But it’s also inspiring because it gives me faith that for all the challenges Alaska faces, we’re doing something right—we’ve sparked the interest of Americans who are tired of a broken system in DC that too often highlights gimmicks over policy,” she said. “To those of you in this room who put together those bipartisan, or really multi-partisan coalitions, or co-sponsored a bill with someone from another party, or joined a bipartisan working group to tackle a complex issue—thank you.”
She also gave a special shout-out to the bipartisan freshman caucus in the House, an informal organization led by Reps. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, and Andrew Gray, D-Anchorage, that’s been committed to finding commonalities across the political spectrum.
“I’m glad to hear you’ve been shaking things up already,” she said. “A bipartisan freshman caucus never would have crossed my mind when I first joined the House. You made it happen.”
The bipartisan Senate and the willingness of some members in the House to work across party lines has given new hope that issues like increased education funding and long-sought reforms to the state’s public employee retirement program could make it through the Legislature this year. Typically, both would face hard uphill fights with far-right Republicans but many of those far-right Republicans have already found they can’t steer policy the way they did in the days of the semi-closed partisan primaries.
And it’s far-right frustration with how the 2022 election went—with the election of U.S. Rep. Peltola, the re-election of U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and a slate of generally more open-minded legislators—that’s fueling the effort to undo the changes to the election system, whether it be through legislation or through Kelly Tshibaka’s sore-loser campaign. At least in the Legislature, the best defense of the new system will be the legislators who’ve won because of it and who can legislate for the entirety of the district rather than in fear of a small group of primary voters.
Peltola told legislators that angry and divisive politics should be a thing of the past.
“I think people ask me about this Alaska Model because they realize that business as usual in D.C. isn’t working anymore. Slowly and surely, the partisan rancor from recent years is losing its appeal. People are remembering that politics, first and foremost, should be about fixing things, not just launching cable news careers or racking up retweets,” she said. “We must work together to fix things. That is the Alaska Model boiled down to its essence. It is rooted in our values—it comes from the way we live our lives, every day.”
As far as what bipartisanship has already accomplished, Peltola highlighted federal money the Alaska delegation secured to help fund the state’s ferry system, improvements to the state’s internet infrastructure and increased national defense spending in Alaska. She highlighted work between her office and Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office to deliver help to western Alaska in the wake of Typhoon Merbok, as well as efforts to advocate for the Willow project.
To the Legislature, she called on them to make investments in young people, care for older Alaskans, improve the public workforce system to recruit and retain the Alaskans, build out improved internet infrastructure and energy diversification.
“I feel confident that this group of legislators is ready to build an Alaska that invites a new generation to live and work in our state,” she said. “We all know a few people who came to Alaska for a season and never left. My dad was one of those people. But this is not necessarily the case anymore. Now, outmigration is the norm. Alaskans move to the Lower 48 for school or work and never come back. Others want to move here or stay here, but worry about how they will educate their kids, buy a home, and retire comfortably.
“We need to make it easier and more affordable to live, work, and raise families here. As a mom, I can tell you that the times I had reliable childcare were the times when I felt most able to work and contribute to my community. I promise to work with all of you to bring down the overall cost of living that’s strangling our economy and pinching our wallets. Stemming the tide of outmigration also requires that we invest in ourselves. In our education and in our workforce. This includes the workers who care for our elders in facilities across the state, and for our children. This includes the union workers who build our ice roads, fight our fires, care for us when we are ill, and deliver our packages. And it includes our indispensable public employees: teachers, police officers, and SNAP administrators–many of whom are not eligible for Social Security.”
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The reading list
From the Alaska Beacon: Alaska’s new elections director, a Trump donor, stays quiet on 2020 election fairness nationally
From the Alaska Beacon: New study provides snapshot of increase in maternal deaths in Alaska
We may have a lead on the latest raft of balloon sightings over Alaska, which means I’d be remiss to not dig up this old classic story of the best ballooner we’ve ever had:
Have a nice weekend y’all.