Lawmakers still in stalemate as joint session in Juneau fails to gather 45 members

Alaska State Capitol in Juneau, Alaska (KTUU)

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Alaska lawmakers are still in a stalemate over the location of the special session – and therefore on a number of issues, the most pressed for time of which is the decision of whether or not to override 182 budget vetoes made by Gov. Mike Dunleavy late last month.

Thursday morning, a joint session of the House and Senate gathered in Juneau, where a planned vote to rescind Wednesday’s vote on veto overrides was canceled. Without 45 members present in Juneau, Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, withdrew his motion to hold a rescinding vote. Both overriding vetoes and rescinding a vote require three-fourths of lawmakers – 45 – to agree.

The $444 million in vetoes have sparked protests among Alaskans, and lawmakers had attempted Wednesday to override all vetoes at once. Sen. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, was the only one of 38 lawmakers in Juneau to vote against overriding the governor’s cuts.

The joint session in Juneau lasted just under an hour. Lawmakers spoke about the need for unity, and working together with the lawmakers meeting in Wasilla, and the Governor.

“Let’s do this together,” said Minority Leader Sen. Tom Begich, D – Anchorage. “I appeal to my colleagues (in Wasilla) to come together and do that. I appeal to the governor to release them so that they can join us and be a party to building a better Alaska.”

House Speaker Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I - Dillingham, said there were a number of other issues lawmakers needed to address, like the PFD, and the capital budget, which is only partially funded, and as of yet, not included in the agenda of the special session, though Gov. Dunleavy has said he'll add it once lawmakers agree on a place to meet.

In Wasilla, a few lawmakers gathered for a quick technical session, before speaking with constituents who had come to Wasilla Middle School to talk about the cuts. Those lawmakers hold that the legitimate special session should be held in Wasilla, where the governor called lawmakers to meet.

Sen. Shelley Hughes, R – Wasilla, who was at the Wasilla session, said while she would not have voted to override all 182 vetoes, there were a few specific vetoes she wanted to look at more closely, like the Senior Benefits and the hemp program.

She said as the five-day deadline to override vetoes approached, she thought progress would be made.

“It’s day by day,” Hughes said in the gym of Wasilla Middle School. “I think the logjam is going to start moving, especially as we get to that midnight (Friday deadline). People have been holding tight: ‘You guys come to Juneau!’ ‘You guys come to Wasilla!’ but I think people are realizing we have to start having a conversation.”

Hughes said lawmakers in Wasilla would be meeting with Budget Director Donna Arduin Thursday to go over the budget.

Sen. Mia Costello, R - Anchorage, said she hoped lawmakers would soon come to a consensus on where to meet. "We're reaching out to our colleagues to either look at Anchorage or Juneau. It needs to be something that we work together and get consensus on."

Hughes expressed frustration with the Juneau lawmakers.

"What I say, if it's so important, if they want to override the vetoes, they should come here because this is the legal location," Hughes said.

As for the constituents showing up in Wasilla, Hughes said the feedback is a mixed bag. “I’m hearing people that want me to hold the line and not give an inch on the $444 million, and I’m hearing people that want a full override, all 182, and on specific items from others,” Hughes said.

Channel 2's Sean Maguire contributed to this story from Wasilla.

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