Among the first bills to reach the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives this spring will be a resolution sponsored by Rebecca Himschoot, a first-term legislator from Sitka.
House Joint Resolution 5 in support of the Southeast Seafood industry – the troll fleet in particular – had a speedy passage through its first committee hearing on February 14. But Himschoot says that final passage of the resolution is no slam dunk. She says that she has her work cut out for her, bringing the 40-member Alaska House of Representatives up to speed on the issue.
“When I’m working with the other 39 members of the body, the first step is to make sure they understand the difference between trawl and troll, which I didn’t realize would be a barrier, and it is,” said Himschoot. “So you know, depending on which member I’m talking to, they either know the issue well, or they need to learn about the issue.
Note: Read additional reporting on Rep. Himschoot’s legislative priorities in the current session.
It’s the Southeast Alaska Salmon Troll Fishery that’s under threat from an environmental lawsuit in US District Court in Washington state. Educating her colleagues about this critical difference is something that Himschoot, a lifelong teacher, has already shown an aptitude for. Rep. Himschoot was recently in Sitka, and spoke with KCAW’s Robert Woolsey about other ways her background has helped prepare her for the capitol, especially the first couple of weeks when the legislature organizes its majority and minority caucuses.
KCAW – Was there anything about being on the Sitka Assembly that helped you navigate Juneau, or helped you work the halls in Juneau? Was there anything about your assembly experience that is helping you now?
Himschoot – 100%? Juneau is a whole different game. We use Robert’s Rules on the assembly, they use Mason’s manual. It doesn’t seem like it would be a big shift, but it is. So logistically how you do things is different. But the assembly experience really helped me wrap my brain around what is the job of government to provide? What are we there to do? And I’m still having to make some adjustments in my mindset. Locally, where you are supporting either public works public safety or public education, it’s a little more straightforward in some ways, but also more complex, because my friends’ and neighbors’ politics don’t matter. I hold them in equal esteem, no matter which side of an issue we’re coming at a topic on. It doesn’t matter what people think in town politically, I value each Sitkan so deeply that it made decision making more difficult in some ways, trying to weigh what are the best interests of the community, versus the people who are giving me input and my respect for them and my respect for their input. And so it makes decision making more personal at the assembly level. But it also was a great experience and sort of looking at what is the problem we’re trying to solve? And what are the levers we can use to solve that problem? And in Juneau, everything is just 10 times more complex. I think I have a little bit of a leg up because I’m used to examining issues, getting the background, doing the research, and figuring out what the right path is. It (Juneau) is just a much bigger stage.
KCAW – At any point did you feel like going in as unaffiliated was a handicap?
Himschoot – I think the handicap of unaffiliated is for the voters in my district, because they don’t know exactly what they’re getting. And it made it harder to campaign in some ways, because people can’t say, ‘Well, you’re a Republican, I will or won’t vote for you,’ or ‘You’re a Democrat, so I will or won’t vote for you.’ So I had to explain my ideas and, and my positions on things. And so I think it made it harder for voters to know what they were voting for. And harder for me to make sure I get my message out. And then as far as where I’ve landed, in this round everybody who ran unaffiliated is in my caucus. I don’t think it made organization more challenging. I thought it would. But it didn’t really. And I can say that I was never asked to, so to speak, stray from my principles. So that was good that no requests like that came in. And then ultimately, some deals were made by some other people. And I landed in what we’re calling the house coalition, same as what Jonathan (Kreiss-Tomkins) was in, but we are in the minority as the House Coalition. But I feel really confident that we’re a very strong minority in that we’re very unified, we know what our agenda is, we’re very confident in what we’re doing. And we have a good sized group and a very representative group. I feel like our group really encompasses Alaska from the span of age ranges to life experience we have, young people, old people, people who are way to my left, some to my right, all in our little coalition that we have in the minority. So I think I landed in the right place for me and it gives me a longer runway for when we get back to the majority in a couple of years.
KCAW – When organization is happening, it’s not like you don’t fill out a survey with your principles. It just has to somehow become clear. And the dealmaking that was done was in the news. And it sounds like what you’re saying, you would, you would prefer to be in a minority with people who share values and who you feel you can work with, than trade some principles for a stronger voice in the majority, or a committee chair or whatever.
Himschoot – I would say that’s accurate for this year. I can’t say that will always be the rule I live by. I think it’s a good choice for me this year, as I get my feet wet, as I learn the system, as I learn the people in the system, which is I’d say at least half the battle is knowing who you’re working with and what their priorities are. So I can’t say that I won’t make some deals later when the time is right. But I will say I am comfortable with the people I’m working with, and that like I said is more than half the battle.