Monthly Archives: April 2013

Kawasaki has tongues wagging

The past 72 hours has not been the best of times in Rep Scott Kawasaki’s (D-Fairbanks) political career. First, there was the Annual Legislative Skits on Sunday, where lawmakers were roasted by legislative staff. A skit that made fun of Kawasaki was one of the evening’s most embarrassing, one person who was there said, and involved hip grinding and allusions to an alleged incident last year where Kawasaki was said to have groped the girlfriend of a legislative staffer.

Then on Tuesday morning, Kawasaki asked if he could be excused from the call of the House from the time the legislature is set to gavel out in mid-April until the time they are back in session next January. Basically, he asked for 9 months off of work. He did so, he said much later but not at the time, to protest the possibility of a special session. However, he said that if there were one, he’d be here for it. And that he plans to work this summer.

That didn’t stop fellow Fairbanks House member Rep. Steve Thompson from calling it “appalling.”

It gets worse. Now there’s “tongue gate,” the biggest breach of decorum in the 100 years of Alaska legislative history, Rep. Craig Johnson said, with a straight face.

This incident began at about 11 p.m. on Monday, when House Speaker Mike Chenault was giving the last speech of the evening on the House floor before the passage of HB 4, a hugely significant bill that facilitates the building of an instate pipeline.

If you weren’t watching Gavel to Gavel closely, you, like me, might have missed it. Kawasaki first sticking out his tongue as Chenault talked, then puffing up his cheeks with air, like, well, children often do. (See animated giff here.)

All in all, the episode lasted only a few seconds. An eagle-eye out there however, caught it and told someone else who told someone else.

By Tuesday morning it was all over the building and a group of Republican Interior legislators called for a press conference in the speaker’s office, dubbed by those wittier than me, “tongue presser.”

The group wanted to distance themselves from his behavior and was worried that such inappropriate actions threatened bills that are important to Fairbanks, like natural gas trucking, they said. (This is something that’s roundly denied, even by the speaker, but didn’t stop the somber group from looking really somber).

What followed was a series of questions by Anchorage Daily News reporter Richard Mauer about whether or not Rep. Mike Hawker’s phrase on Monday night imploring members to ”pass” gas, which drew its share of giggles, was more inappropriate than a simple showing of the tongue.

Why wasn’t Hawker being called out for telling a “fart joke?” asked Mauer.

Things devolved from there.

Finally, a chastened and surprised looking Kawasaki arose to his defense and apologized for his actions.

Who was he sticking his tongue at?

“The camera,” he said.


“You’ve all have been there in the house floor late night, when folks are having a humorous time,” he said, speaking to reporters.

“I wish I hadn’t been caught,” Kawasaki said later in a phone interview.



Alaska House passes gas

Late into the evening with a virtually empty gallery, the Alaska House passed HB 4, which would facilitate and partially fund a small gasline that would run through the center of the state bringing North Slope gas to Fairbanks and Southcentral Alaska. It’s one of the most significant bills that the legislature will deal with this session. Nonetheless, the public was absent, the lobbyists were absent, and only a few sleepy eyed reporters sat looking bored, while the bill was being debated awaiting a final vote.

It was a long day for the sponsors of HB 4. House Speaker MIke Chenault and Rep. Mike Hawker, along with their key staffers, were in the Capitol early in preparation for what they were hoping would be the final House Finance committee meeting on their bill scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. But, as these things go, it got delayed until 1:30 p.m.

Chenault, anxious to get the bill to the Senate, didn’t close out his legislative day as is the normal procedure and instead announced that the body would reconvene at 6:00 p.m.- – a luxury the presiding officer has to accommodate a bill he wants to expedite

At 7 p.m., the bells finally rung, legislators gathered, seven eight Democratic amendments were offered and killed, Hawker urged the body “to pass gas” and at about 11:15, the bill sailed through 30 to 9. As expected, votes went mostly along party lines. Rep. Feige, who represents Valdez and who has been a behind the scenes supporter of the bill, voted against it. So did Rep. Neil Foster. A handful of Dems voted for the bill.

Through the years, hundreds of thousands of hours, and millions of dollars have been spent both trying to pass and kill the bill. And it’s not over yet. Four other big bills– oil tax, trucking natural gas from the North Slope to Fairbanks and two budget bills—are still getting hammered out in committees.

No doubt during these last two weeks of session, egos will erupt, and at least one of the big bills will be held hostage for another. But with a Republican dominated legislature, it looks as if the gasline bill will pass this session.

The Democrats dub the bill a “Pipeline to Poverty,” due to what many in that party consider poor regulatory oversight and consumer protection. (Chair of House Finance Rep. Bill Stoltze added substantial oversight and accountability to the bill, but it wasn’t enough for the Dems.)

Republicans by and large say that more regulatory and consumer protection will only mire the project in politics and will delay the market from working its magic. (An irony that isn’t pointed out nearly enough is that while the Republicans continually invoke the magic of the markets, it’s asking the legislature to fund a state agency to a tune of $400 million to facilitate building the line. And few doubt that the agency won’t come back for more state money.)

Democrats say politics are part of the public process. Republicans say politics kills projects.

The arguments go on, but one thing is for sure: Alaskans, who are sitting on the largest energy fields in North America, are natural-gas starved. Some residents in Fairbanks have resorted to chopping down trees to heat their homes. Some in Rural Alaska are going hungry in order to pay their heating bills. Anchorage is facing blackouts.

For decades the state has been chasing the dream of a big gasline, one that was almost always on the cusp of being built. Then, right before it looked like it was going to happen, really happen this time, the markets changed, plans changed, and more than 40 years after it was first dreamt, the big line is no closer than it has ever been to becoming a reality.

The small line seems the only one the state has left—at least in our lifetimes.

The bill will now be read across the Senate floor tomorrow, where it is likely to receive only one committee of referral. That committee, Senate Finance, has already noticed the bill and has a hearing scheduled for Friday of this week.

Update: Oops. I did it again. The bill is getting two referrals. One to Finance and one to Resources.

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