By Ted Land
Channel 2 News
5:23 PM AKST, January 21, 2011
After a rancorous few years some Americans are turned off by politics. But don't confuse the partisan noise in Washington D.C. with what happens in the Alaska state capitol.
The halls here are much quieter, in part because Republicans and Democrats are on a team: it's called the bi-partisan working group.
Senate president Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak) leads the coalition, which is in its fifth year.
What makes it work? Partly pragmatism, Stevens says.
"The answer is that the public has elected 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats to the state senate and that forces you to find a way to work together. You can't do anything in the state senate without 11 votes," he said.
That doesn't mean everybody agrees.
"There are vigorous debates over issues, particularly when we had ACES - -there was vigorous debate over that and we saw it on the floor, we saw it in the halls, we saw it in committee meetings," says Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage).
One moderating force is the fact that many senate committees are chaired by both Republicans and Democrats, which tends to filter out extreme legislation. Hot button issues like abortion or the death penalty are unlikely to ever be "completely solved," says Majority Leader Sen. Johnny Ellis (D-Anchorage).
"People have been debating it for many years," he says.
After the federal probe that revealed rampant political corruption in Alaska's state capitol, Ellis says voters were disgusted - and just wanted their legislators to get along and do the right thing.
"There was a realization among Democrats and Republicans that maybe we should try something different, that we should try to work together to solve the problems of the state rather than trying to promote ourselves and our political parties and political agendas," he said.
Four Republican senators are not part of the coalition and are in a minority caucus. They tend to have more conservative views and in the past have criticized the bipartisan working group for spending too much. Conservatives typically have more influence in the House of Representatives, where they're in the majority. But Democrats say the two sides get along.
"The speaker has been incredibly fair and we probably don't vote together ever," said Rep. Beth Kerttula, the House Minority Leader."He runs a good ship and a fair one and we're looking forward to a very civil year."
Alaska politics may not always be as exciting as politics on the national stage, but, they say, most of the time it works.
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