Peninsula's freshmen legislators taking care of business

Rolling up their sleeves

Posted: Sunday, January 14, 2001

Out of sight, perhaps, but definitely in the loop.

With one week under their belts, the Kenai Peninsula's freshman legislators report from Juneau that they are well in the rhythm of the 22nd Alaska State Legislature.

"The senior members (of the legislature) have been very helpful," said Rep. Drew Scalzi, R-Homer. Scalzi, who served on the peninsula's borough assembly from 1992 until elected to the House in November, shares the House Resources Committee chairman slot with Rep. Beverly Masek, R-Willow, and is a member of the Community and Regional Affairs Committee, the Special Committee on Fisheries and the Transportation Committee.

Scalzi said informal discussions and opportunities to air opinions have helped establish an atmosphere of "mutual respect. So far, it's just been great."

He also praised Pam Varni, executive director of the Legislative Affairs Agency, for ensuring legislative newcomers got their feet on the ground.

"She's been terrific," he said, referring to information from Varni on housing, office needs and tips for dealing with the press.

"A meeting with the co-chair of Finance laid down a pretty good description of the budget process, and we are all on different subcommittees," said Scalzi, adding that the Resources Committee will hold its first meeting on Wednesday.

As one of several sponsors of House Joint Resolution 6, Scalzi opposes President Bill Clinton's Roadless Area Conservation rule and urges the rule's overturn by congressional action or by action of President-elect George W. Bush.

"It's a peninsula issue," Scalzi said of the impact on the Chugach National Forest. The resolution charges the rule with interfering in the forest product industry and contradicting the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. "I wanted to make sure we were doing something in that regard."

Other than that, however, Scalzi's constituents probably won't find him sponsoring other legislation.

"I want anything I introduce to go through committee and have consensus before it goes to the floor," Scalzi said. "Don't expect to see my name on anything else. That's it."

At this point, contact with the folks back home has consisted of requests for agency referrals.

"I'm just trying to direct people's concerns to the right office," he said. "That's about all we've done so far. There's been nothing that's required legislation."

Ken Lancaster, R-Soldotna, has taken his years of community service to the next level for District 8. The former mayor of Soldotna landed a valued seat on the House Finance Committee and is also on the legislative Budget and Audit Committee.

"The first week has been busy and informative," Lancaster said. "I'm learning a lot."

The peninsula representative said the missions and measures process is helping get his feet on the ground.

"Every (state of Alaska) department develops a mission statement," Lancaster said. "And they come back to the Finance Committee and give the facts on how they spent their money and if they met their mission. The other good part is, of course, that administration and economic development are my two subcommittees."

Lancaster is the sponsor of House Joint Resolution 5, which proposes amending Alaska's constitution to limit legislative sessions to 90 days, rather than 120.

"I prefiled the bill primarily because I wanted to hear debate on why (the Legislature) can't do it," Lancaster said.

However, the session's busy schedule may delay debate of the bill.

"Helen Donahue, my chief of staff, has worked this scene for 15 years, and she said she's never seen it this busy," he said.

Starting his day around 7 a.m. and winding it up after 6:30 p.m., Lancaster said the days are long and tiring, but that's what he signed up for.

"I didn't come down here to sit in the office," he said. "I came down here to work, and I'm enjoying it."

Since arriving in Juneau, he reports receiving only a half dozen phone calls, but the e-mails number close to 100.

"Unfortunately I haven't had time to respond to everybody," Lancaster said. "But I've only got a few left to respond to. We'll keep up somehow."

Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said his first week was spent "basically getting familiarized with different committees and looking at what our jobs actually entail."

Chenault is chairman of the Special Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs and a member of both the Resources Committee and the Special Committee on Oil and Gas.

"Our more senior legislators are bending over backwards to get us 'newbies' up to speed on things currently in the works and helping us understand how the system works," he said. "It's been interesting."

Issues of local importance that Chenault is keeping his eyes on include Nikiski's possible incorporation and the construction and operation of a private prison being proposed for the peninsula.

"Myself and Senator (Jerry) Ward sat in on a teleconference with (Borough) assemblyman (Jack) Brown and about 40 to 45 individuals in Nikiski Thursday night," Chenault said of the incorporation move. "We discussed a few things, but I think there's still been no decision made.

"I know we'll be looking at the Boundaries Commission because of the area (Nikiski residents) are considering," Chenault said. "And there's maybe other things that will have to be looked at if the current proposed plan is the one that is the finished product."

With regard to the prison, Chenault said he is waiting to receive a request from the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

"When we see that, then we'll look at it. And since it is in my district, I'm sure that we will proceed with that depending on what they come up with," said the legislator.

The biggest challenge Chenault said he has faced in the session's opening days is finding a place for breakfast.

"One of the hard things is that you can't find a restaurant open at 5 a.m.," Chenault said. "Most don't open until 7 or 8 o'clock. It's tough to find breakfast. That's hard if you're a breakfast eater."

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