Tag Archives: mike chenault

Johnson to challenge Chenault for Alaska House Speaker  

Current Alaska Speaker of the House Mike Chenault is “leaning” towards going for his fourth term as speaker, he said. If a majority of his caucus decides to support him again in November, shortly after the general election, it will make him the longest serving speaker in the state’s history. He’s survived for so long because he’s cunning, wily and from most accounts, he’s done a good job of keeping things moving and keeping his members relatively content. As content, that is, as 30 power-hungry politicians can be.

But Anchorage Rep. Craig Johnson, who’s been in the House since 2006 and is currently Rules Chair, thinks it’s time for a change. Johnson said in an interview on Thursday night that if he wins his House seat in November—which is likely—he’ll also be vying to be speaker. He’s been Continue reading


Hawker under fire from opponent over Anchorage LIO furniture vote

The Alaska Legislative Council on Wednesday voted to authorize $500,000 to furnish the new Anchorage Legislative Office building. The expenditure, proposed by Committee Chair Rep. Mike Hawker, passed the committee 10-2. Reps. Bill Stoltze and Max Gruenberg voted against the measure.

Hawker came under fire for his vote by his Democratic opponent Sam Combs, who called it an “appalling example of fiscal mismanagement.”

“How on earth can he justify spending a half million on furniture–a 500% increase–while the state is in deficit spending and Anchorage teachers are being laid off,” Combs, an architect, said. Continue reading


Already controversial minimum wage bill gets more so as it passes House

20140409_L&C_cmte_hb384_capture (1)From the beginning, the rushed minimum wage bill which passed the House on Sunday was controversial. It was only heard in one committee and was put on the floor 9 days after introduction. And a sign held in a committee hearing by Ed Flanagan, a former Alaska Labor Commissioner, made it all the more so.

In addition to being a former commissioner, Flanagan is also the chair of Alaskans for a Fair Minimum Wage, the group behind a ballot initiative that would raise minimum wage. During a House Labor & Commerce Committee hearing on the minimum wage bill, Flanagan held up a piece of notepaper onto which he had drawn a dollar sign.

He later said that he was trying to remind a member of the committee to ask about whether or not the bill had a fiscal note. House Speaker Mike Chenault and others in the majority however, saw something more nefarious in the works, which is clear from a speech that Chenault gave on the House floor, after passing out a picture of Flanagan holding the dollar sign.

“I see a man representing organized labor sitting in a committee room, flashing a dollar sign to elected members of this body as they deliberate the minimum wage bill,” Chenault said. “Let me remind you this man, one of the leaders of the group backing the minimum wage initiative, is a former commissioner of labor — a former public servant to the people of Alaska. He damn well ought to know better.”

And there’s more:

You all, and most Alaskans, remember those dark days. Lobbyists leaning over rails — federal investigations — corruption charges. We’ve worked hard to restore faith in a clean process; to restore dignity and integrity to this institution, to the Alaska House of Representatives — the people’s house. And now, this. I cannot, I will not tolerate even the appearance – I cannot, I will not tolerate the reality.

Confused? Here’s a few things you should know:

  • An initiative increasing minimum wage is slated to appear on the ballot in August, along with a repeal of an oil tax bill that was passed last legislative session.
  • The minimum wage initiative has broad support, particularly among those who might be inclined to vote for repealing the tax bill. And it will likely draw those voters to the polls.
  • Although they aren’t publically saying so, word is that the oil industry doesn’t want the two on the same ballot.
  • Those who support repealing oil taxes want it to stay on the ballot.
  • If the Legislature passes a minimum wage bill that’s substantially similar as the one slated to be on the ballot, the minimum wage initiative would disappear.
  • In 2003, the Legislature gutted a similar bill that was also passed to keep the minimum wage off the ballot.
  • Therefore, unions want to keep it on the ballot.
  • The corruption Chenault was referring to was in 2006. Read about it here.

Although they have stayed publicly neutral on the issue, it would appear that the biggest losers in all of this is the oil industry, which is trying to get the message out that it’s trustworthy. Even if it’s not true, if this passes, the perception will be that it pushed to circumvent the democratic process.

The bill is now headed to the Senate, where all eyes will eventually be on Rules Committee Chair Sen. Lesil McGuire. Rules is the last committee to see a bill before it ends up on the floor, or not. McGuire is union-friendly. It’s unclear how much this all means to the other members of leadership. If it’s important to them, it’ll be interesting to see how hard she fights to keep it in committee and off the Senate floor.

All Democrats except Neal Foster from Nome, and Ben Nageak from Barrow voted against the bill.

Republicans who voted against it are:

  • Gabrielle LeDoux and Bob Lynn, both from Anchorage.
  • Bill Stoltze from Chugiak.
  • Lynn Gattis from Wasilla.
  • Alan Austerman from Kodiak.
  • Cathy Munoz from Juneau.
  • Tammie Wilson from North Pole.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com


House Speaker Chenault punches back again at Begich and Dems

If he was going for impact, he succeeded. Sen. Mark Begich’s annual remarks to the Legislature on Monday are still rebounding through the Capitol building. On Wednesday, Alaska Speaker of the House Mike Chenault sent out yet another press release about those remarks. Specifically, he responded to charges by the Alaska Democratic Party, which was responding to a Monday press release issued by Chenault.

To recap: Begich made remarks. Chenault responded. The Dems responded to Chenault. Chenault responded to them.

Note: For Chenault to respond at all is surprising and uncharacteristic. He’s a Republican, but his job demands that he be a bridge builder, and mostly he succeeds. That he did so either means that Begich and the Dems got under his skin or that he truly believes that Begich was out of line in his remarks. Or perhaps it’s a bit of both.

In any case, most of the heat in the debate surrounds education funding. Begich, weighing in on a state issue, scolded lawmakers over education funding and came out against a resolution that would let the public vote on changing the constitution to allow for public money to go to private institutions. It’s debatable if he over played his hand during those remarks, but coming down hard against school choice is smart. For one, it’ll help win the support of the NEA. Secondly, if the issue makes it on the general election ballot, it’ll bring out the Christian conservatives, who likely won’t support Begich.

Begich declined, however, to weigh in on another state matter: whether or not he supports repeal of an oil tax break passed last legislative session. In an election year, it’s a tough one for him. Support to repeal the oil tax bill has turned into a Democratic litmus test, much like support to repeal ObamaCare has turned into a litmus test for Republicans. However, he risks alienating Alaska business and big oil industry if he comes out for repeal.

On Monday, Chenault took issue with Begich’s remarks that the state needed to increase education funding, saying that he “wished to correct the record and call for clarity and results for Alaska, instead of more Beltway-style speeches.”

He also made reference to the upcoming race. “We need a senator that stands up for us, not one who only says he will, then votes with his party against Alaskans,” he said.

On Tuesday the Dems responded, accusing Chenault of engaging in “tired and misleading” attacks. “Any observer of Begich’s speech heard eye opening comments from Democratic and Republican members of the legislature recognizing Mark Begich as a fighter for Alaska,” Chair of Alaska’s Democratic Party Mike Wenstrup said.

The release also called Chenault’s “campaign-style press release” using his official state email “questionable.”

For his part, Chenault said that the Democratic response was “typical” of the Democratic Party.  “Alaskans are tired of character attacks. And that’s what your press release is,” he said. “The fact is, Sen. Begich spoke before he knew the truth about education funding, and wouldn’t commit on oil taxes… public education funds, the dollars out the door to teach our kids, has never been higher.”

Read the Democratic press release as well as Chenault’s response in full below:

From the Democrats: 

House Speaker Mike Chenault should have slept on his questionable decision to send a campaign-style press release from his official state office and akleg.gov email address slinging political attacks promoted by national Republican groups at U.S. Senator Mark Begich.

“We need a senator that stands up for us, not one who only says he will, then votes with his party against Alaskans,”Speaker Chenault said through his official legislative office, channeling tired attacks used by U.S. Senate candidates Mead Treadwell, Dan Sullivan and Joe Miller.

Chenault’s comments attacking Mark Begich drew praise from the Washington, D.C. National Republican Senatorial Committee, but ignored the content of Begich’s speech about successful efforts to expand mining oil and gas development in Alaska, protect the F-16’s at Eielson, save Alaska post offices and expand care for Alaska’s veterans.

Chenault’s colleagues, including Republican Senators John Coghill and Anna Fairclough, praised Begich after listening to his speech. Coghill specifically offered praise for Begich’s successful fight to retain F-16 fighters at Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks.

“If Mike Chenault had listened to Mark Begich’s speech he would have heard Begich’s record of accomplishment which puts Chenault’s tired and misleading political attacks to bed. Any observer of Begich’s speech heard eye opening comments from Democratic and Republican members of the legislature recognizing Mark Begich as a fighter for Alaska,” said Mike Wenstrup, Chair of the Alaska Democratic Party.

From House Speaker Mike Chenault:

“Here’s what I have to say to the Democratic Party: typical. Alaskans are tired of character attacks. And that’s what your press release is.

“You’ll notice they didn’t attack my facts. Facts matter. The truth matters. Especially when we as legislators have to make financial and policy decisions based on some of the choices our federal delegation makes.

“The fact is, Sen. Begich spoke before he knew the truth about education funding, and wouldn’t commit on oil taxes. The fact is, our Caucus and the governor have a strong record on education funding and have made a choice on oil taxes that we believe will lead to a boost to our bottom line and Alaskans’ bottom lines through jobs and opportunity.

“I’ll talk about our K-12 funding record every day, and won’t hesitate to correct the record when someone, regardless of what office or political viewpoint they hold, tries to mislead or misinform the public. The truth is, we’ve outpaced inflation – more than doubling it, fully-funding the foundation formula and then providing even more targeted funding for maintenance, retirement, transportation, and energy costs. Our funding lets districts better utilize the existing base student allocation. Flat funding is a myth. Unfortunately, it’s an easy sound byte that has stuck in people’s minds. The truth is completely different: public education funds, the dollars out the door to teach our kids, has never been higher.

“I’ve got broad shoulders; I’ve been called worse before. But you better be prepared to defend your facts and figures with me. If Sen. Begich has a problem with my comments or if my facts are wrong, I encourage him to call me personally. I’m not campaigning for or against anyone, despite what the Democratic Party has stated. I’m correcting the record. The Democratic Party shouldn’t have an issue with a sitting legislator defending himself when someone misleads people on his or his colleague’s record, period.”

Contact Amanda Coyne at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com



Alaska Speaker Chenault has words for Begich after Begich has words for Legislature

Alaska Speaker of the House Mike Chenault sent a message back to U.S. Sen. Mark Begich following Begich’s annual address to the Legislature on Monday. In a press release, Chenault said that he “wished to correct the record and call for clarity and results for Alaska, instead of more Beltway-style speeches.”

The move was unusual for Chenault, who, although a Republican, is normally more conciliatory.

In his speech, Begich highlighted a variety of federal legislative successes, including keeping the F-16s at Eielson Air Force Base, increased funds for the Arctic, and fighting federal government overreach.

All of that likely would not have rankled the Republican dominated Legislature. However, a large chunk of Begich’s speech was devoted to state education issues. Among other things, he came out against a resolution that would let the public vote on changing the constitution to allow for public money to go to private institutions.

“Public dollars are for public schools, period,” Begich said.

If two-thirds of the Legislature passes the resolution, the question would be on the ballot in the general election, and would likely be a huge poll-draw for religious conservatives, who are also likely to vote against Begich.

In Chenault’s rejoinder, among other things, he blamed the federal government and Begich for shorting the Anchorage School District of funds. He criticized Begich for his refusal to say where he stands on the oil tax repeal, and as is requisite among Republicans, brought up Begich’s vote on ObamaCare.

“We need a senator that stands up for us, not one who only says he will, then votes with his party against Alaskans,” Chenault said.

Read the release in full below:

After sitting through a speech today delivered by Alaska’s junior senator, Alaska Speaker of the House Mike Chenault has a message back to Mark Begich: less talk, more action. Speaker Chenault, following the senator’s annual address to legislators, wished to correct the record and call for clarity and results for Alaska, instead of more Beltway-style speeches. Speaker Chenault cited the following remarks and responses to questions from legislators during and after his address:

Education funding
Sen. Begich said it should come down to increasing the Base Student Allocation. “Anchorage, where he was mayor, has lost $46 million over the past two years due to federal sequestration and loss of stimulus money. That’s from its own financial officer. He should be working to secure federal funding for schools to fill that gap, not asking the state to pay even more than we already do. We’ve well-funded schools on our end, and have more than doubled inflation. He should be making sound decisions and know the facts before he speaks,” Speaker Chenault said. “The federal government shorted the Anchorage School District, not we the legislature. Why is he letting the federal government do that to Alaskan kids, increasing the financial burden at the state and local level?”

Oil taxes
Sen. Begich wouldn’t say which way he would vote on the Senate Bill 21 referendum, citing only that he supports “certainty” in the tax system. “I would hope the senator realizes that that is exactly what SB21 provides, that certainty. Changing the system again would lead to uncertainty. Sen. Begich should be supporting SB21 like a majority of Alaskans, leading to jobs and more exploration, not stagnation,” Speaker Chenault said.

Sen. Begich admitted that he had reservations about President Barack Obama’s signature piece of legislation, despite being the 60th vote needed to pass it. “He can’t have it both ways. Don’t vote for a bill if you know it’s a bad bill. Don’t vote for a bill if you don’t know what’s in it, or the consequences to Alaskans. Now, Alaskans are saddled with a subpar system, a web portal that didn’t deliver, and having to live with the disingenuous statements made by Sen. Begich and President Obama: ‘you can keep your plan or you doctor if you like’ is what they told us. Well, that’s clearly not the case. Sen. Begich is back-tracking. Alaskans deserve better than that,” Speaker Chenault said.

Speaker Chenault said it comes down to taking responsibility and showing accountability. “Instead, what Alaskans heard today was more spin from Sen. Begich, and few solutions. We need a senator that stands up for us, not one who only says he will, then votes with his party against Alaskans,” Speaker Chenault said.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com


Chenault takes swipe at Parnell’s administration

Recently I wrote about how Democratic Reps. Les Gara from Anchorage, and Scott Kawasaki from Fairbanks, sent an email out to all members of the Legislature, trying to get support for a bill that would deny recommended pay raises for Gov. Sean Parnell, Lt. Gov Mead Treadwell, and the governor’s hand-picked commissioners. The bill was seen by some as a partisan move.

Now, however, it looks less so. On Monday, two days before Christmas, Alaska state Speaker of the House Mike Chenault also sent out an email to members of his caucus, which is primarily composed of Republicans, pitching a bill that would also deny the pay raise.

The raises were recommended by a state commission, which said that raises were “consistent with increases received by the majority of state employees.” The Legislature must act in the first 60 days of session, otherwise the pay raise automatically takes effect.

Parnell has already declined his salary increase, which would have bumped his pay from $145,000 to $154,644 by fiscal year 2015.

However, Parnell supports the other pay raises, which include bumping the lieutenant governor’s salary from $115,000 to $122,649 by 2015 and commissioners from $136,350 to $149,796.24 by 2015.

Dozens of state works and at least 40, if not more, members of unions working for the Municipality of Anchorage make significantly more money than either the commissioners or the governor.

The raises would cost the state roughly $140,000 a year by fiscal year 2015.

Some are surprised that the Republican leader of the House has taken such a swipe at his party’s Republican administration. Some see it as a way for Chenault’s caucus to regain the fiscal conservative label following the financial debacle surrounding the lease for the Anchorage legislative office building, the hundreds of millions spent on a natural gas pipeline that has yet to be built, and tens of millions spent on trying to build a bridge across the Knick Arm, famously dubbed one of the “Bridges to Nowhere.” To name a few projects that by most accounts, could be deemed less than fiscally responsible.

In other news: Merry Christmas.

Contact Amanda Coyne at amandamcoyne@yahoo.com