Last week, Alaska State Senator Mike Dunleavy, whose district includes the Upper Valley, left the Senate Majority Caucus, which has led to a number of consequences, including loss of influential committee seats and much of his staff. Still, Dunleavy says the decision was the right thing to do. KTNA’s Phillip Manning has more.
Republican Senator Mike Dunleavy is now, essentially, a minority caucus of one. Last week, Dunleavy left the majority caucus in order to vote against the budget approved by the caucus. He says voting for the budget is one of the expectations of caucus members, and that he could bring himself to do it due to the absence of budget cuts he desired and the inclusion of a change to the Permanent Fund Dividend formula that would diminish the checks Alaskans receive each year. Dunleavy says he discussed his issues with the budget with caucus leadership, but could not come to a conclusion he supported.
“To their credit, we talked for some time to see if there could be changes and accommodations in the budget, but it wasn’t going to happen. So, I had a choice of…voting for a budget that I could not, in my own heart support…just to hang out in the caucus.”
According to Senator Dunleavy, issues with the majority caucus started well before his final decision to leave, however. He says it started last year, when he voted against a bill to restructure the Permanent Fund.
“I simply didn’t agree with that. I have a philosophical agreement with members of my committee. The majority voted for that; I get that. Then, this fall, when I put forth the concept of restoring the vetoed half of the PFD, things again kept turning south, because I was at odds with my fellow caucus members as well—the majority of them, at least.”
This session, Dunleavy introduced bills to restore the cuts to last year’s Permanent Fund Dividends made by Governor Bill Walker. He says those bills have not made progress in committees, and that his vote against Senate Bill 26, another Permanent Fund bill, caused further disagreement. Still, Dunleavy says he has friends in the majority, and hopes to continue working with them on some issues.
Senator Dunleavy’s decision to leave the majority caucus cost him his seat on the Senate Finance Committee as well as his chairmanship of the Senate State Affairs Committee. In addition, he is losing most of his staff funding, and will finish out this year’s session with just one aide. Dunleavy says the fact that his decision could cost his staffers their jobs weighed on him.
“They came to work for me because we shared similar philosophies, values, and approaches to meeting the needs of our constituents and voting on some of these bills. They understood that, if this budget was going to be put together in the manner that it was, I may not be able to vote for it. And, they actually encouraged me to vote my conscience and vote on behalf of the constituents. So, they were fully prepared to lose their jobs, which, in my opinion, is unfortunate.”
While there are undeniable drawbacks to leaving the caucus, Dunleavy says, in some ways, he will be freer to speak his mind on legislation without having to step in line with the caucus’ wishes.
“You also are totally free, one-hundred-percent free, to talk about legislation, and talk both about the pros and cons of legislation that may come across committees and on the floor.”
Senator Dunleavy’s departure from the majority caucus, and the attention it has drawn, has sparked some speculation on whether or not he will seek higher office. He says that speculation is nothing new.
“If I introduce a bill, I’m running for governor. If I vote against a bill, I’m running for governor. If I go to Subway, I must be running for governor. It’s a funny thing to listen to.”
So, is Mike Dunleavy running for governor? He isn’t saying yes or no at this point. He also isn’t committing yet to running to retain is Senate seat, though he believes his recent moves were in line with a majority of his constituents. Dunleavy says any decisions related to next year’s elections will wait until after this session ends.