Plan to hold subsistence hearings in Fairbanks turned back

Posted: Friday, February 08, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- A move to take the subsistence debate to Fairbanks, where resistance to a rural priority has traditionally been strong, was turned away by Senate Democrats on Friday.

Senate Minority Leader Johnny Ellis called the plan a campaign stunt by Sen. Robin Taylor, who is running for lieutenant governor.

''The whole thing has definite political and electoral overtones,'' said Ellis, a Democrat from Anchorage. ''I think the Republicans really ought to reflect on whether that is a wise use of public funds.''

Taylor is a Republican from Wrangell who chairs the state Senate Judiciary Committee.

On Friday he introduced a resolution urging the Legislature to file a lawsuit challenging the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

Then he sought permission from the full Senate to hold a Judiciary Committee hearing in Fairbanks next Friday so that residents could testify on the bill.

It would have allowed the committee to travel to Fairbanks at the state expense to hold hearings. Fairbanks has been a stronghold of opposition to the federal act that provides a rural priority to subsistence

''It could be setting a precedent of unnecessary expenditures and grandstanding,'' Ellis said.

Taylor withdrew the request after Ellis and other Democrats indicated their objection to the plan. Two Republicans -- Sens Randy Phillips and Lyda Green -- were absent Friday, making it difficult to get the required 14 votes to allow the move under Senate rules.

Taylor said the meeting was at the request of Fairbanks residents and bristled at Ellis' objection to hold hearings outside of Juneau.

''The people of Fairbanks have asked that we come up and hold the hearings there so they wouldn't have to spend $700 or $800 to come down here,'' Taylor said.

Taylor was excused from the Senate from Feb. 13-18 for meetings around the state. He said he planned to travel to Fairbanks during that time.

He described the meetings as issue-related and said he wasn't sure whether they would be classified as campaign visits.

But Taylor defended the Fairbanks hearing, and said he would reschedule the meeting.

''This is normal, this is how you reach out to the people and they get a chance to talk to you face to face. The cheap shot from Johnny Ellis is really offensive to me,'' Taylor said.

Taylor faces several opponents for the Republican nomination for lieutenant general. Also running are Sen. Loren Leman, R-Anchorage, former House Speaker Gail Phillips and Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin.

His resolution, Senate Joint Resolution 25, would urge the Legislative Council to challenge the portion of ANILCA that requires Alaska to provide a rural priority for subsistence.

That rural priority, a nod to the Alaska Natives' tradition of living off the land, is at odds with the state constitution that requires equal access to fish and game.

As a result of the conflict, the federal government now controls subsistence regulations on federal land and waters. Federal land encompasses about two-thirds of Alaska.

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