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What Rep. Bryce Edgmon is paying attention to this election

Rep. Bryce Edgmon - talks to reporters after being elected Speak
Skip Gray
360 North
Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, talks to reporters outside the House chambers shortly after being elected speaker of the House, Feb. 14, 2019.

House District 37 Rep. Bryce Edgmon is running unopposed this election. But he says the races for governor and other seats in Alaska's Legislature will determine policy priorities next session.

Edgmon visited KDLG ahead of Election Day to talk about what he's focused on in the coming weeks.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Izzy Ross: Election day is this week. It is November 8, this Tuesday. You're running unopposed for this election. But there are several races in the state legislature that are quite close. What are you looking at this election?

Rep. Bryce Edgmon: Yeah, that's a great question, because elections do matter. And we could see a shift in the power in Juneau just as we might across the country.

Last year, the redistricting process took place. That happens every 10 years in Alaska. And kind of oddly enough, 59 out of 60 legislators are running for re-election in Juneau. There's 60 total House and Senate members. So basically the entire legislature is up for reelection this year, along of course with the governor, and the U.S. senator and the race to replace [the late U.S. House Rep.] Don Young.

So looking at a lot of things, but primarily, once the election is come and gone, we get closer to Thanksgiving, and we understand the full impacts of ranked choice voting and who actually is going to be sent to Juneau and who will be the next governor, I think that will help determine what the agenda is going to be next session. And the year after, too.

[LISTEN: Will the Alaska House have another coalition majority checking the governor? For now, it’s hard to say.]

Ross: What does the legislature makeup look like now? And this is a little bit of a speculative question, but what could it look like after this election?

Edgmon: Yeah, so every two years is what's called a new legislative cycle. And the election of legislative leaders takes place both in the House and the Senate. And we have what we call a majority coalition and a minority coalition in both bodies.

In the last six years, I've been very fortunate to be part of the majority coalition. I was a presiding officer for two of the last three terms in leadership this last go around. But if the House shifts and becomes more conservative, which it may, that could have a pretty decided impact on the priorities of the House, and possibly even the Legislature.

The Senate, meanwhile, looks like it might be more sort of oriented towards a coalition, maybe a moderate coalition of both Democrats and Republicans coming up. But again, just sort of speculating at this point. We'll know more here in a couple weeks after election when things are certified.

So that's what I'm keeping my eye on. There's a lot of things that annually are always a priority. The budget, of course. Policy issues that come up, the Permanent Fund Dividend is always an important issue. With rising fuel prices, people are looking at things in a way of just trying to get by, and the legislature will do everything we can to help out in that regard. Just keeping a close eye on who's going to be in power coming up.

Ross: Heading into this winter and into the next legislative session, what are you going to be paying attention to?

Edgmon: Well, if oil prices continue to stay high I think in Juneau we'll continue to fund a very robust operating budget, continue to fund some capital items that we haven't been able to fund for some time. And then, of course, to provide for as large of a PFD as we can without overdrawing the Permanent Fund and without sort of expending what little bit of savings that we have left down there. So that'll be something that will really sort of dictate what happens in Juneau.

We're also on year two of the federal infrastructure funds, and there will be a lot of that money flowing through the state budget. There will be probably some areas that we're going to have to provide matching funds for.

The impact of inflation has eaten away at all of the budgets, in of course the public sector as well as the private sector and everywhere imaginable.

Education, I think, is going to be a major topic of discussion. You know, the Anchorage School District is sort of headlining the need to really take a closer look at the funding levels for schools and whether or not we need to do more there.

Broadband: That's an area that the state's going to be playing a larger role in, sort of being a go-between between all the federal money that became available and the federal infrastructure act that passed in November 2021 and all the great needs that exist throughout the state. I'm pretty excited to be part of that; it was my bill that set that in a motion last session.

[LISTEN: Planes, trains and bad bridges: NPR's Planet Money breaks down the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act]

There'll be no end to priorities in Juneau, and I keep returning to the theme that the governing coalitions in both the House and Senate, along with the governor, will play a role in defining what in this agenda is going to rise to the top and what wouldn't otherwise.

Ross: We're really going to have to wait until we hear the results of this election to know how the Legislature is going to move forward on all of those issues that you just mentioned.

Edgmon: Yeah, I think that's an accurate characterization. One area that also comes to mind as we have this talk this morning is the Legislature's involvement in Tribal governments. Last session, we passed a bill that puts into state law the formal recognition that Tribes exist in Alaska, which really didn't change a whole lot, because [Tribes'] relationships have largely been with the federal government. But the Legislature — as slow as it has been in terms of recognizing the importance of Tribal governments in Alaska — I think is slowly coming around to the fact that the Tribal governments are not here to stay, but they're a major economic engine, and also a major sort of conduit to improving the delivery of services and the wellbeing of a lot of smart communities throughout the state. Where even if we had every dollar we can imagine at our fingertips in state government, you know, a lot of times we're unable to affect change in a positive way.

[READ: Alaska's constitutional convention question, explained]

Ross: Another issue on the ballot this election is Ballot Measure 1. Every 10 years Alaskans are asked whether they want to open up the state constitution to changes. You are on the executive committee of "Defend Our Constitution" to not hold a constitutional convention.

Edgmon: Yes, I am. Every 10 years, Alaskan voters are asked whether or not they want to vote on having a constitutional convention. It's happened five times since statehood and since the formation of our Constitution back in 1955 and 56, and virtually every time Alaskans have rejected it.

So this time around, it's different. There's a real push to maybe have that convention and to use it as a means to maybe do away with the privacy clause, or to put into the constitution matters pertaining to the PFD, or the selection of judges, or how public schools are referenced in the constitution, things like that.

In as much as we have this sort of safety valve where every 10 years voters can actually vote on whether to have a constitutional convention or not, we also have an amendment process where if residents are concerned about a provision in the constitution, they can go through the Legislature or they can by statewide vote actually call a constitutional convention if the will is there.

So those provisions are in place, and I'm really just afraid of opening up the constitution en mass, and really having sort of a political free-for-all in an environment now where we don't have campaign restrictions, and the delegates will have to be elected in a manner that will probably see a lot of legislators serve as delegates.

So I'm staunchly opposed to it, not in the sense that I don't think those that are concerned about provision in the constitution shouldn't have their day, so to speak. But I'm really fearful of opening up the entire document, and maybe rewriting the entire constitution.

Ross: People who support the constitutional convention point to the fact that there would not be any immediate changes, that it would be a process that would be transparent. And as you mentioned, delegates would have to be voted in or chosen, and that process would take years. What are your thoughts on that?

Edgmon: Well first off, we've never had a constitutional convention since the 50s. Let's just reiterate that.

I am probably one of the more informed legislators on what a constitutional convention might be, and I underscore the word "might" because we simply don't know. It's too open ended.

The legislature being in the driver's seat in terms of putting the rules in place for electing delegates, and then sort of the framework or the structure for the convention itself, sets the stage for the convention to convene, then to elect a temporary presiding officer, a permanent presiding officer, and then go through all of these procedural decision-making points, everything from setting up the committees to how much things are going to cost, the role of consultants, staff, what issues are going to be taken up, what issues aren't.

And again, I would more than tongue-in-cheek say: If you think that that's not going to be political, then you should observe the Legislature in action down in Juneau now. I would tell you that a constitutional convention, I think, would be many times over more political than any session because there's so much at stake.

Ross: Rep. Edgmon, thank you so much for joining me today.

Edgmon: It's been my pleasure. Thank you.

Get in touch with the author at izzy@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.
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