The smell of wet paint wafted through the halls of the Capitol last week as lawmakers and staff rushed to orientation meetings and receptions in preparation for today's kickoff of the 24th Alaska Legislature.
Eight freshman lawmakers will be sworn in at 11 a.m. today with the rest of the 40-member House of Representatives. Two new members will join the 20-member Senate.
House Rules Chairman Norm Rokeberg, R-Anchorage, said workers are putting the final touches on a renovated joint State Affairs and Health, Education and Social Services committee room. The state spent about $20,000 removing an old walk-in safe in the State Affairs committee room, Rokeberg said.
The oft-cramped committee rooms that seated audiences of 20 to 25 people were combined to accommodate about 65 seats, according to Legislative Affairs Executive Director Pam Varni. She said the entire project cost roughly under $50,000. Carpet was replaced on the first and fifth floor hallways, she said. Varni said renovations this year will probably cost less than $100,000.
There was no sign Friday of former House Speaker Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, who was replaced by Rep. John Harris, R-Valdez. Kott served two years as speaker but was ousted by the Republican majority shortly after the November election.
He attempted to reclaim the seat a few weeks later, teaming up with Democratic and some Republicans to form a bipartisan majority coalition. The coalition fell apart a few days later and Kott and some Republican ringleaders were stripped of some committee assignments and chairmanships.
Staffers said Kott would be in Juneau today.
Sen. Ben Stevens, R-Anchorage, graduated from Senate majority leader to Senate president last year, replacing Sen. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, will serve as majority leader.
Rep.-elect Woodie Salmon, D-Beaver, was still looking for staff on Friday and moving in equipment to his first floor office. Salmon represents District 6, the largest in the state. It includes close to 100 Interior villages.
Salmon, a former chief of the Village of Chalkyitsik, said the accommodations at the Capitol are "terrible" and complained that the rooms are "too confined." He had his office window cracked open Friday because there is no knob on his heater to adjust the temperature, he said.
"We have a lot of land in District 6," he said, suggesting that the state move the Capitol there.
Rep.-elect Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Kodiak, said the buildup to the Legislature opening has been "jam-packed with information" and she'd spent most of last week at the Capitol preparing for the session.
"I know Juneau has a lot to offer, but I haven't had a chance to see it," she said.
LeDoux, a former Kodiak Borough mayor and representative-elect for District 36, defeated Murkowski appointee Dan Ogg in the August primary last year and faced no challenger in the general election.
LeDoux said long-time legislators have advised her over the last week to not take votes personally, to keep her word and to maintain decorum during floor and committee debates.