The Alaska Republican Party Central Committee last Saturday sanctioned three Republican Party representatives — including District 31 Rep. Paul Seaton — for their role in forming a Democratic, Republican and independent majority coalition in the Alaska House. Also sanctioned were District 15 Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, Anchorage, and District 32 Rep. Louise Stutes, Kodiak.
The three Republicans last month caucused with 17 Democrats and two independents to form a new 22-seat House majority. Seaton will be co-chair of Finance for the operating budget. When the new majority formed in November, Seaton told the Homer News he organized with the caucus not by party affiliation but on the principle of creating a sustainable fiscal plan.
In a near-unanimous vote held at the Republican Party’s quarterly meeting, District 31 Republican Party Chairman Jon Faulkner said the central committee enforced an existing party rule that imposes sanctions on a sitting legislator who caucuses with a rival party to form a ruling coalition. According to a press release from the Alaska Republican Party, the vote was 56-4.
“These legislators snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory,” party chairman Tuckerman Babcock said in the press release. “It’s as if they put on a team shirt for the opposing team. We have every right to try to replace the vacancies they’ve left on our team.”
Seaton said throughout the primary campaign in debates and newspaper interviews he supported a sustainable fiscal plan.
“I had told everybody all along that I didn’t see the majority coalescing just on partisan grounds, but on a comprehensive, sustainable fiscal plan,” Seaton said in a phone interview on Monday. “We couldn’t afford to do what we did last year and take $3 billion from savings.”
Faulkner said the party imposed two sanctions on the three representatives: withdrawal of party support, including financial donations, and the right to recruit other Republicans to run against them in the primary. Traditionally, the party remains neutral in primary races, although in the August primary the party supported George Rauscher in the District 9 race, who ran against incumbent Rep. Jim Colver, R-Hatcher Pass. Colver lost to Rauscher, 48 to 52 percent. Rauscher received support from the Accountability Project, a political action committee that also supported former Homer Mayor Beth Wythe in her race against Seaton for the District 31 Republican Party nomination. Seaton won 48 percent of the vote to Wythe’s 24 percent and another challenger, John Cox’s 26 percent. Seaton had no opposition in the general primary.
LeDoux, Seaton and Stutes all attended the Republican Party quarterly meeting and had a chance to defend themselves, Faulkner said.
“Our local district does not begrudge Rep. Seaton his views, but we support the action by ARP (Alaska Republican Party) because Paul has clearly abandoned his team,” Faulkner said.
As evidence of that, Faulkner cited Seaton’s role as chairman of the Sustain Alaska Fund. Faulkner said that fund is raising money to support Democrats Harriet Drummond, Dean Westlake and Zack Fansler. With his press release, Faulkner included a flyer for a fundraiser “to help retire the campaign debt of Jason Grenn, Harrier Drummond, Dean Westlake and Zach Fansler, and to support Gabby’s (LeDoux) Tuesday PAC and Sustain Alaska Fund.”
Seaton said he formed the Sustain Alaska Fund “for making sure we have money to support candidates and campaigns for a sustainable future for Alaska.” Information on the fund can be found at bit.ly/SustainAlaskaFund, he said.
District 31 vice-chairman Jesse Clutts also criticized Seaton. Clutts had been chairman, but resigned to support third-party presidential candidate Evan McMullin. Under party rules, a district chair or a member of the central committee cannot serve if they do not support their party’s candidates in the general election. Clutts recently came on as vice-chairman, Faulkner said.
“Republicans around the district and Alaska have been eager to work with anyone who offers long-term solutions to our fiscal crisis, but people like Mr. Seaton and his Democrat co-conspirators aren’t interested in the tough cuts to the inflated budget that are needed. They only want to pick the pockets of their fellow Alaskans without substantially reducing the budget,” Clutts said.
Seaton said projected revenues for the next fiscal year would fund only about 29 percent of the current budget.
“It’s not doable,” Seaton said of a budget that low. “I don’t think that’s the Alaska Alaskans want to live in. Some people want our economy to take a tail spin like in the 1980s when everybody was turning in their keys to the bank.”
Without coming up with new revenues, the Legislature would have to borrow from budget reserves — a fund that will run out in two years if it’s tapped to fund current budgets. Seaton favors new revenue sources like a personal income tax and directing part of Alaska Permanent Fund earnings into the general fund. Seaton said fiscal conservatism is a core Republican Party value.
“I believe being fiscally conservative doesn’t mean you go and deplete your savings accounts instead of having sources of revenues,” Seaton said.
As a practical matter, Faulkner said the sanctions aren’t that tough.
“When you look at the repercussions or consequences, they’re more than symbolic but they’re not incredibly onerous,” he said.
Seaton has run eight times for the lower Kenai Peninsula representative, winning in both the primary and general elections. He said he thought the Republican Party might have once given him $500. As to recruiting someone to run against him, Seaton said John Cox claimed he had been recruited to run against Seaton by the previous Republican Party chairman.
The Republican Party Central Committee is made up of district chairs, the Alaska members of the U.S. Congress and bonus seats. A district with a sitting Republican representative gets a bonus seat, so by virtue of Seaton’s status, District 31 gets a bonus representative, currently former Alaska Sen. John Torgerson.
“I guess you could say it’s slightly ironic his (Seaton’s longevity) in the Legislature has created an added bonus,” Faulkner said. “It was not voted against him. John Torgerson was not present.”
Michael Armstrong can be reached at email@example.com.