Legislature

Senator Mike Shower: Why Alaskans should want a citizens’ legislature

By SEN. MIKE SHOWER

I am often asked how difficult it is to hold multiple jobs as a citizen legislator. No surprise, it’s difficult. While some people think otherwise, for many lawmakers, serving as an elected official comes at a significant personal cost: lost income, lost family time, and the stress of trying to represent tens of thousands of Alaskans to opinions. and a wide variety of problems.

Most legislators serve during the senior career and earn years of life. As I will explain later, this is important. Unless they’re determined to be a career politician, it’s not an easy decision to put a career on hold or balance the demands of a second job needed to pay the bills.

Some may wonder, is it worth the cost, the sacrifice? The lingering answer I always come to – yes. What happens in Juneau affects us all. The Alaska that my children and grandchildren inherit is the driving force and leaves Alaska better than I found it. Public service should be seen as a privilege, not a price.

With a redistricting requiring 59 of Alaska’s 60 legislative seats to be elected this year, now is a good time to ask why we should want part-time citizen legislators rather than a career political class.

Would Alaskans prefer a full-time legislature and career politicians? Would we be better off if we did? If so, the only people who could serve would be the wealthiest, retirees, or Alaskans with a working spouse whose job is good enough to pay the bills. I don’t believe Alaskans want an elitist political class.

Look to Washington DC for what career politicians give us. Corruption, crony capitalism, crippling debt, special interests gone mad, and much more. It’s a long list. Some legislators in Alaska have served two or three decades, some even longer. Very few people, human nature being what it is, can resist the temptation of power and its corrosive effects over time. As Lord Acton wrote, “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

A citizens’ legislature has people from all walks of life and all stages of life, not just a career political class. Many legislators were or are high earners and retirees, nothing wrong with that. However, a part-time Citizen Legislature has many people who must work outside the Legislature. They are linked to the private sector economy and the community in a way that brings a critical perspective to how they govern, thus providing a more balanced legislative body.

For example, when a legislator returns to his other job, he interacts with people who are struggling to get by and better understand the value of the Permanent Fund dividend for average Alaskans. Or how increased government spending or regulation can introduce unintended consequences such as tax burdens or job losses, thereby influencing their legislative actions. Real-world concerns, not just those inside Juneau’s political bubble or political circles.

The reality is that most working class legislators don’t stay in office too long, they can’t afford to. If they do not leave the scene after a few terms, they probably had other plans in mind, ergo career politics.

Can you imagine an Alaskan legislature controlled by retirees or wealthy people? A career political class with little in common with the vast majority of Alaska’s working class who must survive in the private sector? Our state government is already under the significant influence of vested interests. Why would we want to model DC and cede power to a state oligarchy – ruled by a minority or a ruling class?

The choice is yours; it always has been.

Senator Mike Shower represents Senate Seat O, Wasilla, Big Lake, Chikaloon, and areas east of Valdez and north of Anderson in the Alaska Legislative Assembly.