New legislators planning to dig in as session reaches halfway mark

JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) — Alaska’s two newest legislators don’t share a lot of characteristics: one is male, the other female; one is in the Senate, the other the House; one is white, the other Native; one is from the railbelt, the other from a rural hub; one is a Republican, the other a Democrat; one is old enough to get an invitation to join AARP, the other is just 33.

But Mike Shower and Tiffany Zulkosky both say they have a lot of studying to do to catch up with a legislative session that’s half over — assuming it runs the standard 90 days. And neither is sure about running for the job in the next election, though Zulkosky, at least, is leaning in that direction.

Shower, a Republican from Wasilla, has been in office since Monday afternoon. Zulkosky, a Democrat, is still at her regular job in Bethel and plans to fly to Juneau next week for her swearing in — just in time for the House debate on the budget.

They are joining a third new legislator, Rep. John Lincoln, a Democrat from Kotzebue. Lincoln already seems like an old timer — he took his seat in January, when the session was only a few weeks old.

Shower, in his small new office on the fourth floor of the Capitol, agreed to a sit-down interview. Zulkosky talked by phone from Bethel during her lunch hour at the regional nonprofit health corporation.

Both sounded enthusiastic, if slightly stressed, by the prospects ahead.

Shower is a former Air Force fighter pilot and a current FedEx cargo jet pilot, and he said he wasn’t sure he wanted the job. More libertarian than traditional Republican, he described a series of phone calls and volunteering that got him deeper and deeper into Mat-Su politics — and finally an appointment by Gov. Bill Walker to the Legislature in place of Mike Dunleavy, who quit to pursue a race for governor.

“This is a whole other adventure,” Shower said. “A wild ride.”

Talk about wild rides — there was also a big slip.

In his first day in Juneau, Shower wore dress shoes to work — and promptly slipped and fell on the ice. An aide to Juneau Sen. Dennis Egan saw it happen and the next day, Shower got a note and a package from the Juneau Democrat. The note was a joke about sliding into the Capitol. The package held a pair of YakTrax ice grippers.

Shower talks about that story as a way to explain that despite his conservatism, he can get along well with Democrats.

“I’ll always reach across the aisle — there’s no reason not to do that,” he said. “I will listen to anybody with any topic — doesn’t matter, right, left, it doesn’t bother me. My duty is to listen to everybody — I don’t represent conservatives in the district, I represent everybody that lives there, so everybody has a right to give me a voice and what they believe in.”

Shower hasn’t decided whether he will join the ruling Republican-led coalition in the Senate. He said he’s too new and needs to learn about what the coalition will require of him. He’s not yet on any committees and has only one staffer, a young man who was a Senate page last year.

Zulkosky said she will take a leave of absence from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp., the main healthcare provider for the region, where she is vice president for communications. She was the mayor of Bethel when she was in her 20s and spent several years as former Sen. Mark Begich’s rural director, based in Anchorage.

Even with all those accomplishments already, she said, she didn’t grow up too fast, she said.

“I’ve head a lot of amazing opportunities and experiences,” she said. “I feel very grateful to my district for their faith in me, and honored and humbled by the governor and the Democratic confirmation.”

Zulkosky said she will “naturally align” with the House majority coalition, but wasn’t asked to make promises on organization or legislation. And other than that alignment, Zulkosky said she isn’t sure how she will make her mark legislatively.

“I have a lot of big decisions that are going to be coming to me in the next couple of weeks,” she said. “My first priority is getting down there and understanding the issues and hearing from the constituents and staying in touch with the constituents of district 38 to understand what their priorities are and how that can shape the last several weeks of session that I’ll be in Juneau.”

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