Kerttula finds minority role a challenge in first session

Representative logged long hours on merger, pushed one bill through

Posted: Tuesday, May 16, 2000

In terms of bills pushed through, Rep. Beth Kerttula, the Juneau Democrat, didn't have a dramatic impact on the 21st Legislature.

After two years, she's pushed one measure through the legislative process.

However, she said, by being a member of the Democratic minority she managed to help kill measures and put in a lot of time on one of the biggest issues to face Alaska during her two years in the Legislature - the merger of BP Amoco and Atlantic Richfield Co.

Kerttula, who had worked on oil and natural gas litigation for the Department of Law before being elected into an office at the Capitol, was put on a joint committee charged with looking into the merger. Most of her work on the subject took place outside of public view as she poured over box after box of merger documents and logged hours on the phone talking to regulators, she said.

As the only lawyer on the committee, she was charged with managing the attorneys hired by the committee to review the merger.

``I was exhausted by it,'' Kerttula said. ``That committee ... will be one of the best things I've every done.''

In the end, after the Federal Trade Commission moved to block the merger, the deal turned out to be better for the state, Kerttula said. To win approval for the merger, BP sold Arco's Alaska holdings to Phillips Petroleum Co..

Kerttula's one piece of legislation that was approved changed the way notices of regulation changes are sent to lawmakers. Rather than hard copies of each change, notification will be done via electronic mail. Kerttula said using a digital means of distribution is more efficient than sending piles of papers to all 60 members of the Legislature. Paper copies can still be had by request, under the measure.

``It's a small bill, but it's an accomplishment just to get a bill passed these days,'' said Kerttula.

Only four other bills sponsored by Democrats made it through the Legislature during the past two years.

Another bill Kerttula sponsored didn't make it, but made a splash late in the session.

Her proposal to mandate that the cruise industry report on pollution discharges stalled in the House. But a Senate version of her bill was introduced by Chugiak Republican Rick Halford in April, and passed the Senate after a proposed $50 per tourist cruise ship tax was added to it. It did not make it through the House.

If she has her way, Kerttula will get another chance to get bills passed. Kerttula said she will be running for another term.

She already has one opponent signed up with Alaska Public Offices Commission. It's Mike Race, a Juneau Republican.

He said Kerttula hasn't been active enough, hasn't shown enough strength.

``I don't think she has the power personality for negotiations,'' he said Monday. Also, he said, with Democrat Kerttula in the House minority and Rep. Bill Hudson, Juneau's other House member, in the Republican majority, the two canceled each other out on floor votes.

Kerttula said that on issues of particular importance to Juneau, such as approving contracts for state workers, Juneau's legislative delegation worked well together.

Race said Kerttula's performance deserves a ``C''grade. That, he said, isn't good enough, especially with the persistent threat of legislative efforts to push for a capital relocation.

Kerttula, along with her GOP counterpart from the Mendenhall Valley, Rep. Bill Hudson, said there's a chance for a less conservative House next year.

``I think we have a real chance of seeing the House come back to a more moderate stance,'' she said. ``I think there will be a change in the House next time.''

As a member of the minority, Kerttula said her job was often about stopping ``bad legislation'' rather than trying to push bills through. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, she said she helped stop a bill that would have required women to wait 24 hours before obtaining an abortion and to receive what some considered biased information on possible side effects of abortion. She called it ``anti-choice'' legislation.

She said her biggest disappointment of the just-ended session was ``the bizarre nature that we funded and didn't fund schools around the state.''

She's still annoyed with the $300 million bond package the Legislature passed. Under the measure, she said, Fairbanks got partial funding for a high school voters there didn't want to pay for. Not in that bill was funding for a new Juneau high school, which voters here have supported.

``I'll remember that for a long time,'' she said. ``That was really hard to understand. This was probably one of the worst ways we could do it.''

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