Setting the course for session

The new Senate Republican majority fast-tracks a bill that would halt municipal by-mail elections and make it harder to vote.

Good afternoon, Alaska! The first week of the 32nd Legislative has come to a close with a weak Republican majority taking the reins of power in the Senate under a sounds-good-in-theory “Caucus of Equals,” the recall got a reboot and the House is still stuck in 20-20.

First, I want to say thank you to everyone who’s subscribed. Writing—particularly writing during the pandemic—has frequently felt like a lonely endeavor and I’ve spent a lot of the last year wondering how much longer I’d be able to continue doing something that wasn’t making me happy. This new newsletter format and your support have changed everything and for the first time in a long time I can say I’m excited when I sit down to write. Need proof? I’ve already finished Friday in the Sun!

What’s ahead

The Legislature is off to, well, about the start we would have expected with the 20-20 split in the House and a Senate that’s being pulled in about four different directions. The House still has no organization as it looks like both sides are continuing to dig in—though it looks like the 20-member coalition of Democrats, independents and Republican Rep. Louise Stutes is more solid than the Republicans. Just what’s in store for this year’s Legislature is anyone’s guess as it’ll largely depend on the final layout of the House—and whether the Senate can stick together.

After all, “How you organize determines the outcome.”

Still, taking a look at next week’s legislative agenda ought to give us a pretty good idea about just what to expect from the Republican-led Senate. The budget overviews in Senate Finance and production updates in Senate Resources are the norm for the start of session, laying the important groundwork for everything that’s to come with the budget. It’s the meetings of the Senate State Affairs and Senate Judiciary committees that ought to be very informative about just what a “Caucus of Equals” means when it includes right-wing, prone-to-conspiracy Sens. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, and Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River.

Reinbold’s Senate Judiciary Committee will have a pair of hearings on “COVID health orders & impact on Alaskans by Department of Law & Department of Health and Social Services” on at 1:30 on Wednesday and Friday. Given, Reinbold’s bout with Alaska Airlines’ “mask bullies” over having to wear a mask and continued posting about how the Dunleavy administration’s largely toothless health orders amount to tyranny it ought to be… something.

But those are just hearings without any legislation attached to them. What should raise more red flags is the fact that the Senate’s only bill up for a hearing next week is Sen. Shower’s Senate Bill 39, which will be heard in the Senate State Affairs Committee (which he chairs) at 3:30 on Tuesday and Thursday. Some might be inclined by politeness to call this a voter registration bill or an election reform bill, but make no bones about it, this is a voter suppression bill.

All we have to go on right now is the text of the bill, which appears to be largely inspired by election conspiracy theories floated by Trump and company. It’d implement innocuous-sounding ballot custody measures and an election fraud hotline while also prohibiting people from returning other people’s ballots except for in some very limited circumstances. It’d also end automatic voter registration with the PFD (repealing the automatic registration voter initiative) and, perhaps most critically, would effectively ban municipalities from having by-mail elections.

That last measure is a blink-and-you-miss-it line that would forbid municipalities from sending out by-mail ballots unless specifically requested by a voter.

I’m sure next week’s hearing will be all about election security and about how Americans are “deeply concerned” with the results of the last election, forgetting completely that most of those concerns are based on what President Joe Biden described during his inauguration as “lies told for profit and power.”

This is voter suppression. And it’s the new Republican majority’s only bill up next week—with talk that it has been guaranteed a vote on the Senate floor.

In other news

Something fun

One of my favorite pastimes lately has been deeply nerdy video essays on musicals and music in general. In the spirit of the week’s inauguration, I would suggest this video breaking down Lady Gaga’s rendition of the “The Star-Spangled Banner,” explaining how the composition of her version helps illustrate and tell a story about what America has gone through and, hopefully, where it’s going.

Have a good weekend everyone! I’ll be off playing Hitman 3.