Speech before Alaska Society of Public Administrators: June 2004,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me. Where there is good food and good company, there am I.
I just want to say from the outset here, what a great honor it is to be elected to the Alaska State Legislature. I can’t believe I’ve already served in the legislature for over a year and a half – and it’s election time - and campaign time again.
That’s the one big advantage of the Senate. The Senate only has to go through election purgatory every four years. Those of us in the house get to campaign every two years – and that means communicating with constituents more often, if for nothing else, to save our hide. In the military, getting shot at was a wonderful attention getter. In politics, trying to get re-elected is another wonderful attention getter – because we get shot at during campaigns too.
During the past year and a half, I’ve gained some experience, had some disappointments, made some good friends on both sides of the aisle, and had some good laughs. I’ve spoken out on the issues, and accepted the flak.
A lot of folks told me that a freshman legislator should be seen and not heard, and maybe I should have taken their advice. But I’m not that kind of person. That’s probably both a virtue and a vice.
I’ve made a lot of good friends in the legislature, both Republicans and Democrats. If there’s one thing I don’t understand, it’s how some of some of those Democrats can be so nice, and so darn smart – and they are - and be so screwed up on so many issues!
You can’t believe how much a legislator has to concern himself with. My first "customer" on the my first day in office in Juneau was a woman wh wanted to tell me moire than I ever wanted to know about body piercing and tattooing. I kind thee not! Twenty seconds after she left my officer, "customer two" came into my office. He wanted my ideas on the gas pipeline. Wow!! Within twenty seconds I had to shift mental gears between body piuercing and tattooing and the gas pipeline. That experience helped my understand the range of issues legislators get to learn about. And every issue is important to somebody.
Let me talk on three big issues – or at least three big issues to me: Funding, Education, and Procedures.
During the session, my goal was to call back to my district, and talk to 5 to 10 constituents almost every day. That adds up. We talk about a lot of issues, everything from A to Z, but it always comes down to one: what are you going to do about the budget?
They tell me you’ve got proposals for all kinds and varieties of solutions to fiscal problems. They tell me "For crying out loud, pick your poison, and get on with it!" So I said when I voted, NO to doing nothing. I voted for the POMV proposal, with a 50/45/5 split. And I expect I’ll do the same thing during the upcoming special session.
I frankly think our constituents are more likely to kick us out of office if we do nothing, rather than if we do something. But I announced on the House floor, that I thought the POMV plan, as presented, was a “Pontius Pilate” solution.
There should be a some kind of “backup plan.”
I have a special place in my heart for teachers – because, after a military career, and various other adventures, I retired as a teacher. That was in California – where frequently I was the only unarmed person in the classroom.
Let me say from the outset, money alone will not solve all the problems of public education. But that said, schools need a certain amount of money to do their job.
It’s outrageous for teachers to receive pink slips every summer, and not know if they’ll be teaching in an Alaska classroom come September. When that happens, many good teachers are forced to take a job outside someplace. Then, when those teachers are gone, and some money finally comes in, we get to hire inexperienced teachers who couldn’t get a job in the Lower 48. The losers in all of this are the kids.
Protecting our resources includes protecting our kid’s education. That’s why I voted yes for over 82 million for education. One of the reasons we have to get our financial house in order is to create a stable and predictable economic platform for education – and for every other business, for that matter.
Now let me turn to a perhaps touchy subject. It’s possible on this subject that I may be parting ways, with some of my colleagues here.
I think it’s long past time that we open up legislative business and “let the sun shine in.” Nothing is more important than ethics, and the “appearance” of ethics, for practical purposes, is just as important. I support open caucuses.
I believe the need for open caucuses is more important for the majority party, than the minority party. By definition, a majority has the potential to pretty much make any laws the majority wants to make – and that potential shouldn’t exist behind closed doors. Closed caucuses don’t build trust; closed caucuses invite suspicion – not good. Not only should there be no impropriety, in what we do as legislators – there should be no APPEARANCE of impropriety. The more the government, the better the government.
We all understand it’s OK to “talk politics” behind closed doors – we do it around the dining room table, and it’s OK for a few legislators to meet in somebody’s office to “talk politic,” but that’s a far different thing than a caucus of the majority meeting behind closed doors.
Now I’m well aware that a number of states, other than Alaska, have closes caucuses (one caucus – two or more “cockeye”). So what? Just because things are done one way in the Lower 48, doesn’t mean it should be done the same way in Alaska.
I want to thank you again for giving me this opportunity to give my thoughts on some of the issues. There are 60 legislators, and we don’t always – not even usually – agree. Trying to get consensus is akin to herding cats.
Now you’ve got some good legislators here today, and we may disagree on a number of topics, but that’s what representative democracy is all about.
I must tell you, I really don’t know why the governor is calling us back down to Juneau, for a special session. The four of us here can solve every problem there is, and we could do that right here – and that would save time and money, and I’m in favor of that.