New Lawmakers Sworn in at State Capitol

Today was a day of pomp and circumstance here at the state capitol building. Sixty lawmakers, twenty of whom are brand new, were sworn in. It’s been a day filled with ceremony all to mark the start of the 33rd Alaska state legislature. 

The galleries were crowded with families and supporters, as Lt. Governor Nancy Dalstrom led the official swearing in of our state senators and representatives. Many fresh faces filled the room. Some lawmakers find themselves in new seats because of redistricting, others have an entirely different job. Three state representatives moved over to the senate side and twenty lawmakers are freshmen. Regardless of their experience, or lack thereof, the capitol was buzzing with excitement today, there are high hopes for getting things done for Alaskans.

Senate President Gary Stevens, a republican, is ready to get to work.

“The biggest thing we have to consider, of course, is the budget, you know. We’ve gotten the governor’s suggested budget. We know what revenues are coming in and we have to figure out what we can afford to pay for and what do we do what’s the best thing to do with the money we have.”

Senator Bill Wielechowski, a democrat, says there are a number of big issues lawmakers have wrestled with over the years and he hopes this year common ground is found.

“I think if we could come up to some consensus on funding education, that would be a huge accomplishment. The other thing would be figuring out a way to improve our recruitment and retention.”

We have people outmigrating all the time, people leaving the state. And this is a big problem. And so, what can we do to attract to keep the best and brightest in the state of Alaska?”

Freshman senator Forrest Dunbar, who’s a democrat, is diving head first into his new role. He recently left his position on the Anchorage assembly and is excited about getting things done at the state level.

“It’s exciting to be here and it’s great that we have a strong bipartisan coalition in the senate and so I’m optimistic we’ll be able to get down to work pretty quickly.”

“I think we can make real progress on energy, health costs, and also, importantly, on retirement. We have a defined contribution system right now that’s making it very difficult to recruit and retain employees to Alaska, we’re just not competitive anymore.”

While the senate is anxious to get to work, over at the House things don’t seem to be as organized, as lawmakers are still in talks over who should be their permanent speaker. This afternoon representative Josiah Patkotak got enough votes to be named speaker pro tempore.