WASILLA — Valley legislators were pleased by the display put out for the first ever meeting of the legislature in the Mat-Su Valley at Wasilla Middle School which began Monday. A crucial vote on veto overrides is set for Wednesday morning. The hundreds of protestors that lined the walkway to the doors of Wasilla Middle School did not seem to make anything unsafe, as was wondered about when Governor Dunleavy called the legislature to Wasilla in his proclamation.
“There was also a warm welcoming for us when we got here, not just from the local community members but the Borough, the city of Wasilla and our state police who came by, and I happen to know Captain April and he’s a very good friend of mine and I appreciate him being here. It was very good seeing the men in blue. I don’t believe there was anything that anyone had anything to worry about,” said Representative George Rauscher ( r ) Sutton.
The Valley delegation of reps Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, David Eastman, Mark Neuman, DeLena Johnson, Cathy Tilton and senators Shelley Hughes and Mike Shower were joined by Dave Talerico, Sharon Jackson, Kelly Merrick, Sara Rasmussen, Josh Revak, Laddie Shaw, Lance Pruitt, Ben Carpenter, Sarah Vance, Gabrielle LeDoux, Tammie Wilson and senators Mia Costello and Lora Reinbold. Senator David Wilson was absent due to work, and Rep Wilson returned to Juneau to participate in the special session from there on Tuesday.
“If they had all shown up we could’ve absolutely done business and we are set up for that just like we would be on the floor. You don’t get your fancy dash, you don’t get your fancy button and you don’t have your fancy office, but there’s plenty of places and spaces here for us to go meet and do the things that we need to do,” said Shower. “Everything we need is here. You know what, we need to suck it up and get the job done. They did a really good job of putting this together.”
Valley legislators remained adamant that the call to Wasilla was the only call they would answer, as they believe it is the legal call of the legislature. As senior member of the house, Neuman is particularly displeased in the nearly two thirds of legislators who are working in Juneau.
“I said I was going to be your voice in Juneau, and these legislators who know more than the people in their district, I don’t know if you’re aware, the chamber of commerce did a survey on using the PFD and stuff again overwhelmingly in every district in the state, the public said a full PFD and support the governors reductions, and even the senate in their own surveys have done that,” Neuman said. “You have senators down there not doing the will of the people doing what they personally think and that is disgusting.”
The legislators that make up most of the House Minority predominantly represent inland districts of Alaska surrounding the Mat-Su Valley and Fairbanks, with little coastal representation at the session in Wasilla. While Governor Dunleavy claimed that the session at Wasilla Middle was available to over half a million Alaskans, Shower did not feel that the supposed increased availability was a safety concern and was happy with how the residents interacted with legislators at Wasilla Middle.
“There’s more people in Juneau protesting on the capitol steps than there were here, and the people here weren’t chanting outside on the steps. They were here, they were respectful, and clapped and they put on a great set up. All of this was put together, we didn’t spend any state money so far. Wasilla did this, none no state dollars spent to be here and most of us can’t even get per diem because we live within 50 miles of the Mat-Su,” Shower said.
Legislators would not provide a clear path as to what the process will be for continuing business, but noted that options are still on the table.
“If time goes on and we’re the adults in the room and the people from Juneau decide to join us, great, and if they don’t decide to join us, maybe we’ll have to look at something different, but I think that we are open to negotiation and talking but the leadership needs to come forward from the legislature and be willing and open to talk again,” Tilton said.
Tilton spent time working for the city of Wasilla prior to her legislative career, and was happy to be conducting the state’s business in her old stomping grounds.
“I think it’s absolutely fabulous for myself being a resident of the Mat-Su and working for the city of Wasilla back a million years ago, it’s kind of like I’ve come around full circle,” Tilton said. “I was really proud of the city, of the chamber, of the republican women’s clubs, and just the constituents in general. We put out a message of let’s be inviting and welcoming because we want to get the state’s work done. We’re here because we’re following the law. We’re following the only legal call is the governor’s call.”