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Lawmakers split on decision to send 21 to D.C.

Posted: Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sending 21 state lawmakers to an energy conference in the nation's capital last week might have been a bit much, according to one Kenai legislator.

But Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, the only member of the Kenai Peninsula delegation to attend the event hosted by The Energy Council, stopped short of criticizing any other lawmakers.

Wagoner serves as chair of the Center for Legislative Energy and Environmental Research, a contingent of the Council, which includes energy companies as well as lawmakers from energy producing states, Canadian provinces and Venezuela.

Wagoner said he thought sending five to six Alaska legislators would have been more appropriate for the trip, which has been criticized by some who thought having a third of the Legislature out of town for a week effectively shut down business.

He noted some senators and representatives who went don't even sit on legislative committees that directly deal with energy issues.

"I'll cut them some slack too," he said. "We're dealing primarily with energy issues in this building and not much legislation is getting much traction at all unless it deals with energy so maybe it is justifiable, I don't know."

State officials still didn't have costs for this year's trip, and said they likely wouldn't be available until mid-April.

According to Karla Schofield, the deputy director of accounting for the Legislative Affairs Agency, in 2009 26 legislators went to the same conference at total cost of $59,488.96. She said that while fewer members went this year, she couldn't speculate as to whether this year would be more less expensive because airline ticket prices have changed.

House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said he didn't attend as he felt the state was sending enough people.

He said it was important for state lawmakers to go however, to establish contacts in D.C.

"It lets them know that we have our own agendas and we would like to work with them but we don't want to be pushed around," he said.

Chenault countered criticism that the conference tripped up the Legislature's 90-day session saying: "Some committees did work, some members took time to go back to their home and spend time with constituents. Was it a waste of time? I really don't think so."

He said as well that the House wasn't set back by members' absences.

"Our biggest concern right now is the operating budget," Chenault said. "We're right on schedule, usually the operating budget comes out a day or two later or earlier, but about this time of year every year."

Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, who represents the southern Peninsula, also passed on the trip this year, but echoed some of Chenault's comments.

"Oil and gas is extremely important to Alaskans; 92 percent of the budget comes from oil," he said. "I think people are shortsighted when they say the Legislature should stay home, that's a tom foolish saying."

Stevens also lashed out at minority leader Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, for his criticism that attendance at the meeting by 11 members of the Senate shut them down.

Stevens pointed out the three of the four members of the Senate minority traveled to D.C., including Wagoner.

Who went?

Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage; Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla; Bert Stedman, R-Juneau; Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage; Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel; Joe Thomas, D-Fairbanks; and Linda Menard, R-Wasilla; John Coghill, R-North Pole; Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai; and Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River.

The representatives are: majority members Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage; Kyle Johansen, R-Ketchikan; Jay Ramras, R-Fairbanks; Mark Neuman, R-Wasilla; Anna Fairclough, R-Eagle River; Carl Gatto, R-Palmer; Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage; Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham; Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage; Harry Crawford, D-Anchorage; and Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks.

Dante Petri can be reached at dante.petri@peninsulaclarion.com.



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