The Bush Caucus is back.
Rural legislators in Alaska are pushing back against the concentrated political power of the state’s urban areas. Twelve members of Alaska’s House of Representatives, in both parties, have organized under the chairmanship of Bryce Edgmon, a Democrat who represents Dillingham.
Democrat Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins has joined up. In the first month of the session, the Republican agenda on issues like oil tax reform, cruise ship wastewater standards, and school vouchers has been moving at lightning speed.
Kreiss-Tomkins says sitting down with other legislators outside the railbelt proved to be a refreshing change.
“That was probably one of the more enjoyable and exciting meetings I’ve had in the capitol meeting thus far. To have that group of legislators from common backgrounds, both parties, finding a lot of common issues to work on.”
Kreiss-Tomkins says the Bush Caucus has been working on priorities. Since coastal communities are prevalent in the group, restoring Alaska’s Coastal Zone Management Program is high on the list. Other issues include concerns over school vouchers, local control of charter schools, trawl bycatch, and the federal fisheries observer program that now includes the small-boat fleet.
One area where the Bush Caucus is not aligned is on the governor’s proposed oil tax reform. Kreiss-Tomkins will say only that he believes most members of the Caucus are skeptical of the idea.
“Every member of the Democratic minority, I can say with some certainty, is going to vote against an oil tax giveaway: A significant tax cut with nothing in return from the oil companies. There are going to be a number of Republicans in both the House and Senate who feel the same way. The question is how many? And what kind of modifications are made to the bill through the committee process. There’s bi-partisan concern with the fact that too much is being given away, with too little coming back in return.”
Kreiss-Tomkins says the Bush Caucus will release a full outline of its priorities in the near future.
Some bills have already passed despite the objections of Kreiss-Tomkins and others concerned with coastal issues. HB 80, which relaxes wastewater standards for cruise ships, is already on the governor’s desk.
Kreiss-Tomkins says this pace is too fast, even for a 90-day session.
“Tlingit and Haida Central Council wasn’t able to get out there resolution on cruise ship wastewater until the morning it came to the House floor. So I was barely able to speak to it, and certainly Tlingit and Haida didn’t have the opportunity to raise issues when it was in committee. UFA – United Fishermen of Alaska – didn’t have the opportunity to raise that group’s concerns on the cruise ship bill until it had left the House. I think the process is a little too fast. There are groups and constituencies that are incredibly affected by these pieces of legislation who simply don’t have the time to organize and react, and be able to speak their peace.”