After a late start on the first day of the legislative session, the Senate majority leadership stripped several members of their committee appointments, leading to accusation of retaliation from those members.
Senators Mike Shower, R-Wasilla; Mia Costello, R-Anchorage; Laura Reinbold, R-Eagle River; and Shelly Hughes, R-Palmer were removed from committees or leadership positions in committees on which they serve following a vote in the Senate on Tuesday evening.
The senators argued they were being stripped of their committee appointments because they had voted for a full statutory Permanent Fund Dividend during last year’s session.
“We started last year, and I was on eight committees,” Shower said during his objection to the motion. This year, “I was given one. I struggle how I can go back to my district and tell them I am representing them when I have been removed from these committees.”
Shower was removed from the Senate Finance, State Affairs, Transportation and Joint Armed Services committees.
Costello was removed from the Committee and Regional Affairs Committee, Hughes was removed as chair of the Judiciary Committee and Reinbold was removed from State Affairs.
In her objection, Reinbold called the decisions an “absolute restructuring of power in the Senate, and a very serious matter for our republic.” She claimed the decision was made by the leadership behind closed doors.
Senate President Cathy Giessel told reporters following the session the decision was made by the leadership and caucus members following a six-hour meeting earlier Tuesday. She said the members who were stripped violated the agreed-upon rules of the caucus.
“When we organized it was very clear. Our very first priority was passing a budget, a funded budget, on time,” Giessel said. “Everyone agreed to the same guideline, the same rule that we would vote for the budget that came out of the Finance Committee.”
She said the senators still had the ability to vote their conscience on matters and could add their input to the various committees. But those votes come with consequences, she said.
“It’s just like sitting in the exit row on a jet. You choose to sit on that exit row. There are rules you have to follow,” Giessel said. “If you say no, that’s fine, you just get a different seat on the plane.”
Hughes said the senators who had been stripped of their appointments were fiscal conservatives whose absence would lead the state toward taxes. The PFD, she said, was meant to be paid out first.
“I think it’s going to end up that in a small PFD for the people, which is not the concept of the framers (of the PFD),” Hughes said. “It was supposed to be paid out first. The people’s PFD was not considered to be a source for state services.”
Giessel said she wasn’t aware of any more shakeups in committee appointments and that this year’s budget discussion would be difficult.
“The most important thing: No one has lost their freedom to vote their will on the floor,” Giessel said.
Both the Senate and the House will meet again on Wednesday.