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Thursday’s news that Alaska Sens. Bert Stedman of Sitka and Gary Stevens of Kodiak have joined the Alaska Senate Republican Majority Caucus is good for the Senate and all of Alaska.
Their inclusion in the GOP caucus brings a wealth of legislative experience to the group that will be controlling the flow of Senate business during the next two years.
Stedman in particular has a deep understanding of the complex oil and gas issues that will dominate the upcoming legislative session.
In addition, Stedman and Stevens have regional perspectives that had been sorely lacking in the original 11-member caucus announced Wednesday.
Indeed, the original 11-member caucus resembled a Railbelters-only club.
Seven of those 11 members reside in Anchorage itself or within about 30 miles of the city. Three of the 11 reside in the Fairbanks area.
Just one of the original caucus members — the newly elected Peter Micciche from Soldotna — resides outside the Anchorage-Fairbanks Railbelt.
It appeared that fellow Republicans Stedman and Stevens were being snubbed.
“We’re still waiting to be invited,” Stedman told the Anchorage Daily News on Wednesday evening after the original 11-member Senate Republican Majority Caucus was announced by incoming Senate President Charlie Huggins of Wasilla.
Fortunately for all concerned, Stedman and Stevens became part of the caucus on Thursday.
Stedman will chair the Senate Health and Social Services Committee. Stevens will chair the Senate Education Committee.
The new assignments will be a change for both legislators.
At present, Stevens and Stedman have powerful positions in Senate Bipartisan Majority Working Group that has controlled the Senate for six years.
Stevens is the current Senate president. Stedman is co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee.
Both won re-election easily, despite displeasure from Gov. Sean Parnell and oil industry advocates unhappy with the Senate Bipartisan Majority Working Group’s role in turning back the oil-tax restructuring plan proposed by Parnell with the support of major oil companies that operate in Alaska.
Stevens and Stedman opposed the governor’s oil tax changes as proposed, while agreeing that some changes in the tax structure are needed.
We can assume that the original 11-member GOP caucus, most of whom strongly support the governor’s oil-tax plan, kept the most powerful Senate positions to themselves in part to smooth the way for a similar oil-tax proposal next year.
Still, including Stedman in the new GOP majority caucus is a wise move precisely because the group has made increased oil production one of its top priorities.
Stedman is likely the single most knowledgeable individual on oil and gas taxation issues in the Alaska Legislature. He’s a numbers-and-finance guy who has worked tremendously hard to learn how the oil and gas industry works, how it is taxed and how those taxes affect production in Alaska and around the world.
Not only does Stedman understand the complexities of oil and gas issues, he takes very seriously his responsibilities under the Alaska Constitution’s requirement that “the Legislature shall provide for the utilization, development, and conservation of all natural resources belonging to the State, including land and waters, for the maximum benefit of its people.”
While Stedman has been under intense political pressure during the oil tax debates, even the most strident supporters of Parnell’s oil-tax roll back proposal haven’t questioned Stedman’s credibility and motives.
The new Senate Republican Majority could well use Stedman’s understanding of oil tax issues — and benefit greatly from his credibility.
We’re also excited that Stedman will be chairing the Senate Health and Social Services Committee. Health care issues will be huge in Alaska and across the nation in the foreseeable future. It’s good to know the Senate will have a hard-working legislator willing to sort through the details, facts and fictions in leading the effort to develop solutions that will work for Alaska.
Finally, the addition of Stedman and Stevens to the Republican caucus adds some balance to what had looked like a near-exclusive enclave of Railbelt legislators.
A caucus without representation from outside the Railbelt would become all about Anchorage and Fairbanks, all of the time.
Where’s Ketchikan? What’s a Kodiak? Hey, let’s move the capital!
Those conversations are much less likely now with Stedman and Stevens on board.
We can support the new Senate Republican Majority Caucus goals of sustainable state budgets, increased oil production and a gas pipeline.
It’s good to see that the group now is including the broader support necessary to accomplish those goals.