Nearly two weeks into the legislative session, House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, led a press conference Friday morning introducing the four new members of the House minority caucus, which has been reduced in size from the previous Legislature and now stands at 10 members total.
But Kerttula and the other Democratic lawmakers present, including Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins of Sitka, the only freshman in the caucus who does not represent part of urban Anchorage, dismissed questions about the minority’s effectiveness in a chamber where the Republican-led majority caucus controls 75 percent of the seats.
“It doesn’t matter how many people you have in either caucus,” Kerttula said. “What matters is your hard work, your compassion for the people of this state and not having a big ego. Letting other people have your good ideas sometimes saves the day.”
Kreiss-Tomkins said he has experienced a less polarized environment in the Alaska State Capitol than one might expect from the sharply divided politics on display in the United States Congress.
“In more ways than one, Juneau is not Washington, D.C.,” said Kreiss-Tomkins. “And this is something I’ve been really struck with in my first few weeks here, is that there’s a degree of collegiality in this building that I’m really impressed with. And I think it’s something that members of the majority as well as members of the minority are proud of.”
Kreiss-Tomkins added, “It’s possible to have productive conversations with anybody, regardless of their party affiliation. And I think it’s a beautiful thing that that’s still the case in this state.”
In her introduction of Kreiss-Tomkins, Kerttula made reference to the fact that for the first time since 2009, the House minority caucus includes more than one representative from Southeast Alaska.
“I’m glad to have another Southeasterner in the caucus,” said Kerttula.
While new Reps. Harriet Drummond and Andy Josephson identified education as a top issue of theirs — Josephson will serve on the House Finance Committee’s subcommittee on the University of Alaska budget schedule, which is being chaired by Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau — Kreiss-Tomkins named his key issues as energy and transportation.
“There are communities in my district in rural Southeast villages … that are struggling with their energy future,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “Some of these communities are struggling for their survival, and that deeply concerns me.”
Kreiss-Tomkins and Kerttula also took a couple of shots at the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities over its decision to move away from the 350-foot concept for the planned Alaska-class ferry in favor of two smaller “shuttle ferries” last month without consulting the Marine Transportation Advisory Board.
“There’s no reason ever to get the process wrong, and people throughout Southeast Alaska feel that the process was done poorly,” said Kreiss-Tomkins. “It’s deeply concerning when people feel they don’t have a voice in a system that intimately affects their life everyday.”
“The process was bad,” Kerttula added. “When you’ve had a board that was set up by the Legislature and they’ve been participating fully, they came out with a plan, that Marine Transportation Advisory Board deserved more respect.”
DOT&PF Commissioner Pat Kemp apologized Tuesday to MTAB members at the board’s meeting in Juneau, saying he did not know much about MTAB in his previous role as deputy commissioner for highways and public facilities.
The fourth new member, Rep. Geran Tarr, talked about some of her legislative priorities as well, including the adoption of same-day voter registration in Alaska.
Tarr said she wants to eliminate Alaska’s requirement that a voter be registered at least 30 days before an election.
“We want more people to vote, and we want that voting to be as accessible as possible,” said Tarr.
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 586-1821 or at email@example.com.